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A classic contest between the Tyrrell and Lotus teams dominated 1973, with Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart crowned champion for the third time in his final year of Grand Prix racing. Despite that title success, the year ended tragically for the team when Francois Cevert, the man groomed to replace Stewart as team leader, was killed during practice for the United States GP.
Lotus retained the constructors’ title with Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson scoring a total of seven victories for Colin Chapman’s team. For Peterson, who had not won a race before, the start to his first year with Lotus proved frustrating. The final slice of bad luck was a puncture during the closing laps of the Swedish GP. That allowed Denny Hulme’s McLaren M23 to pass and denied Peterson what would have been a famous home victory.
Peterson would find that elusive first success at the next race in France. Jody Scheckter, confidently leading in what was only his third GP, was eliminated in an accident with Fittipaldi, leaving Peterson to cruise to the first of four wins in 1973. Scheckter was a true star in the making but his inexperience showed on the second lap at Silverstone. He spun at Woodcote and caused a multiple-car pile-up that stopped the race. McLaren team-mate Pete Revson eventually won that day and again in Canada – the first GP to feature a safety car.
Niki Lauda had an impressive second year in Grand Prix racing, and his performances in an increasingly uncompetitive BRM were enough to attract interest from Ferrari for the following season. The flamboyant new Hesketh team arrived with novice James Hunt driving a private March 731. He finished second at Watkins Glen in a successful if unconventional first year.
Two acts of selfless heroism earned recognition from the British monarchy. In South Africa, braving flames that had engulfed the car, Mike Hailwood rescued an unconscious Clay Regazzoni from his crashed BRM. At Zandvoort, however, David Purley’s similar attempt to save Roger Williamson from his overturned and burning car was sadly unsuccessful. Both Hailwood and Purley received the George Medal. Williamson was the first in a talented generation of British drivers to meet with tragic deaths over the next four years.
These accidents hastened an urgent and largely fruitful review of safety, with special emphasis placed on reducing the chance of fire after an accident. In a bid to improve safety at the start of a race, two-by-two grids became mandatory following the Dutch Grand Prix, whereas rows of up to four cars had been commonplace in previous years.