Jacques Laffitte and Tico Martini swapping notes as the old mates catch up in 1977…
This shot is dated 1 June 1977, note the presence of Didier Pironi’s ’77 Monaco F3 GP winning Mk 21. There are a few cars being assembled in the Magny Cours ‘shop, by the looks of the brakes on the monocoque in the foreground it’s probably a Mk22 F2 chassis.
Jacques first sprung to prominence with a win in the ’72 French Formula Renault championship aboard a Martini Mk8 and proved his inherent speed with Monaco F3 GP and French F3 championship wins in a Martini Mk12 Ford in 1973. He was also 4th in the British Championship in the same car. His Martini pedigree went back further though, to 1969 when he started to put together some good results in the F3 MW4, he was not an overnight success mind you, doing plenty of time in the junior formulae before his ultimate progression.
Tico Martini built his first racing car, a hillclimber in Jersey in 1962. At the Boulay Bay hillclimb he met Bill Knight, who was running the Jim Russell Racing School at Magny Cours. The following year Martini moved to Magny Cours to look after the school cars and prepare a fleet of its F3 cars which he also raced.
In 1965 the Knights acquired the school and renamed it ‘Winfield’. In 1968 Martini built the MW3 F3 car (MW-Martini Winfield) F3 car. And so a firm which went all the way to F1 with Rene Arnoux in the Mk23 Ford DFV in 1978 was born, the full history of the marque a feature for another time.
Jacques jumped up to F2 in 1974 initially with a March BMW, he switched to Tico’s Mk16 BMW in 1975 winning the title in emphatic fashion with six round wins; Estoril, Thruxton, Nurburgring, the Pau GP, Hockenheim and Enna. Michele Leclere and Patrick Tambay completed a French sweep of the placegetters in March 752 BMW’s.
Mind you, by ’75 Jacques had made his F1 debut the year before, in one of Frank Williams Iso Fords.
Martini’s 1977 F2 car was the Mk22 Renault which convincingly won the European F2 title in Rene Arnoux’ hands from Eddie Cheever’s Ralt RT1 BMW and Didi Pironi in the other works Martini.
Tico took the journey with Arnoux to F1 in 1978, a tough year to do so with Lotus 79 ground effects dominance. The Ford DFV powered MK23 with backing from Elf, RMO and Silver Match was uncompetitive. The team failed to qualify at Kyalami and Monaco but Rene made the field and finished 9th in the Belgian, Austrian and US GP’s and 14th in France. He retired in Holland and Canada, lack of sponsorship caused the teams withdrawal from F1 at seasons end.
Martini bounced back with Alain Prost’s success in the 1979 European F3 Championship, he won 7 of the 11 races in a Martini MK27 Toyota.
The company continued to win in F3 right through the 1980s and returned to F2 in 1983-84. Tico continued to build Formula Renault chassis with much success until 2004 when he sold the company to Guy Ligier and a new assault began on Formula 3.
The car beside Tico and Jacques, Pironi’s Monaco winner is a Toyota powered Mk21 chassis, behind him at Monaco was Elio De Angelis’ Chevron B38 and Anders Oloffsson’s Ralt RT1, the ‘Class of 1977′.
The Martini chassis were period typical aluminium monocoques with upper and lower wishbone front suspension and single top link, twin parallel lower links and twin radius rods for fore and aft location with outboard coil spring/shocks and roll bars at the rear. We are a couple of years before the ground effect era and its knock on impacts on chassis design and aerodynamics.
The gearboxes were Mike Hewland’s ubiquitous, reliable 5 speed transaxles; the Mk9 and FT200 for F3 and F2 use respectively. Both classes specified 2 litre engines, the F3 rules inlet restrictions limiting the 4 valve, fuel injected 4 cylinder Toyota unit to circa 190bhp. Francois Castaing’s gorgeous ‘CH’ Renault Gordini 90 degree, 4 valve, fuel injected 1997cc V6 gave around 300bhp @ 10500rpm. It won Euro 2 litre sportscar and F2 titles and spawned Renault’s successful turbo-charged Le Mans and GP winners, stories for other times.
There is a great book about Tico and his cars, inevitably its only published in French, which is a bumma for me at least!
Benjamin Auger, Gerard Rouxel, Rainer Schlegelmilch
Tailpiece: Jacques in his ‘Winfield Racing’ F3 Martini MW4 Ford, ‘Coupe de Salon’ Montlhery October 4 1969…
He didn’t finish the race won by Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus 59 Ford from Francois Mazet and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud both in Tecno 69 Fords. The field included Depailler, Brambilla, Jarier, Jabouille, Wisell, Schenken and Peterson in a sea of talent!