Success is found in the details. When two teams invariably compete with the same equipment, success will come down to the team that exploits every single detail possible. And it would be in the details in which March's 761B would be discerned from its predecessor. And, unfortunately, it would be the details that would mean the difference between success and failure.
Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd each pitched in £2,500 of their own money to begin a car production business that would provide competitive chassis to customers competing in all categories of racing. Thus, M.A.R.C.H. would be born.
March's goals were ambitious to say the least, but March Engineering would set to work creating its first designs. March's first efforts would be in building a Formula 3 car. This first venture would be mildly successful. However, for everyone involved at March, building the Formula 3 car would prove to be a watershed moment as the following year, 1970, would see March make the leap into Formula One.
Ambitious perhaps didn't adequately describe the men at March. Not only would the company build racing cars for all categories of racing, but it would also move forward with efforts to enter its own factory team.
In just two years after establishing the company, March would be routinely providing Ronnie Peterson with a podium-scoring car. And though the car would never achieve victory, the March 711 would help Peterson to be the 2nd place finisher in the fastest ever Italian Grand Prix and would eventually lead to him finishing 2nd in the World Championship behind Jackie Stewart.
The March 711 would become famous for its intriguing 'tea-tray' nose wing. March would follow up the 711 with a design that appeared to take March backward instead of forward. The 712 chassis would feature a much more pointed nose with the radiator angled to help make the slimmer nose. However, the high-speed adaptation of the chassis would look more from the 1960s than the 1970s.
Then came the 721. The 721 would see March move into the more modern, or at least current, era of Formula One. While the 'tea-tray' nose would make an appearance on the original model, thereby seemingly harkening backwards once again, the rest of the body seemed much more modern.
The massive, deep rear wing; the forward-slanted radiator sidepods and the seemingly one piece engine airbox, cover and cockpit fitting gave the car a modern, sleek look. Finally, it seemed March was heading back in the direction of the future after having taken a little foray into the past.
In time, the design of the 721 would mature until it would become the flat, wedge-shaped chassis that had been made famous by Lotus and others. Still, it seemed March was playing catch-up. In fact, the 721G model, as it would become known, would have a rather humorous nickname attached to it. The 'G' was jokingly meant to refer to 'Guinness Book of Records' as the car would be built in record time. It would be built incredibly fast due to the fact the 721 wasn't proving to be very successful. Therefore, the company would take a Formula 5000 chassis and would stick a Cosworth DFV engine in it. The result would be a small, light and rather nimble chassis that could have become a race winner had March had the time to develop it. However, the car did help to settle the direction in which March was to go in Formula One.
Up until that time, March had been developing chassis for Formula 3 and Formula 2, and then, designing and developing chassis specifically for Formula One. The 721G, however, highlighted the direction the team wanted to go in Formula One and the company found it could be achieved just by adapting Formula 2 cars to Formula One regulations.
Unfortunately, March would find itself on the back-foot once again. This would lead to the design team taking a step backwards in order to conform to Formula One regulations. Losing sponsorship money from STP, March would struggle.
March had become spread thin and the lack of focus in Formula One was translating into retirement after retirement and customer teams performing better than the actual factory effort. Finances proving precarious, March would find itself in a period of existence when it would say it had produced a new model chassis only to have its customers find out later that the car actually was more old than new. Just ask Frank Williams.
At the heart of this confusing period of March's history would be its 761B chassis. The 1975 season would see March debut its 741 chassis. Teams like McLaren would introduce its M23 chassis sporting the wide, low-profile nose with wings protruding out of each side. The radiator sidepods would feature distinctive leading edges to help direct airflow into the radiator or over the top. Then, of course, there would be the rectangular-shaped airbox sitting high above the driver's head.
The 741, however, appeared to be a step back. Tyrrell had been one of the first to use the wedge-shaped nose to help with airflow around the radiator inlet and to help the aerodynamic effect over the suspension and the front tires. This was not a new concept, not by any means. And yet, on the 1975 March 741, it would be the most prominent feature. A picture of the two models, the March 741 and the McLaren M23 side-by-side at Interlagos made for what appeared to be a contrast between modern and historic.
Then came the updated chassis, the March 751. While the 751 certainly appeared very similar to the 741 there would be a couple of noted differences. The most dominant of these differences would be noticeable right away at the nose of the car. The 741 had been designed with an arrow-shaped wedge nose. This arrow shape would be retained on the 751. However, the front splitter to the car's nose would be extended much further out front of the car giving the 751 a very pronounced lip. Additional changes to the monocoque of the car could be seen mostly in the sidepods of the car. The 751 would feature much more rounded, smooth sidepods with the radiators no longer canted outwards.
While the 741 would prove to be rather slow, the 751, which would make its first appearance in the Grand Prix of South Africa in 1975, would prove much quicker. In the hands of Vittorio Brambilla, the 751 would be just a little more than a half a second off of the qualifying pace of Carlos Pace in a Brabham-Ford.
At the wheel of the 751, Brambilla would prove to be surprisingly quick. He would start out a number of races up near the front row of the grid and would even take a surprise victory in the Austrian Grand Prix toward the end of the '75 season. However, the pace of the 751 would not be matched by a cool head from Brambilla. There would be, unfortunately, more than one moment in which Brambilla would either suffer from car unreliability or would retire from a race as a resulting of pitching the car into the barriers taking himself and the team right out of contention.
One of the biggest ailments the 751 would suffer from would be a nagging suspension problem that would often result in failure over the course of a race. More than once Brambilla would have his race come to an end as a result of the problem.
The 751 had proven to be fast, but it had also proven to be extremely fragile. Therefore, March would set about building upon the positives of the 751 and fixing the negatives. To help with handling and reliability, the monocoque would be stiffened on the new model chassis. Keeping with the Formula 2 theme, March would also focus on lightening the car as much as possible. A wider track would also be employed on the new model car. And, of course, the Cosworh DFV engine would be improved to help improve performance. The result would be the 761.
The 761 would continue with the same body style as the 741 and 751. However, there would be some changes made between the 761 and its predecessor. The nose of the car would feature a much less prominent lip and front splitter on the newer 761 than the 751.
The sidepods would continue to go through revisions as well. The 761 would feature beautifully-shaped sidepods that contoured outward around the cockpit and then made for a flush mount for the large radiators attached longitudinally on the aft portion of the sidepod.
The radiators on the 751 would undergo a series of evolutions that would all lead up to what would be used on the 761. One arrangement used on the 751 would be similar to the 741 with canted radiator turned outward into the air flowing along the side of the car. Another layout featured smaller radiators standing as tall as the sidepods and filling in the space between the rear wheels and the sidepod. One of the other arrangements, and the one that would be employed on the 761 would include flush-mounted tall radiators. These tall radiators would then feature angled leading edges that would help to protect the radiators from the on-rushing air. However, the tall radiators would help to create a channel for the air to flow between, thereby reducing drag some by channeling airflow away from the rear tire and directing it through the space between the tire and the exposed engine. This would then help to channel airflow to the exposed oil coolers just attached at the very back of the car.
The 761 would make its debut at the Brazilian Grand Prix, the first round of the World Championship for 1976. In the hands of Brambilla and Hans-Joachim Stuck the car would look impressive but still a long way away from being a race winner. The Grand Prix of South Africa would see two 761s finish the race, but well off of the pace of eventual race winner Niki Lauda.
The 761 continued to be about a second off the pace of the front-runners in qualifying and was proving to be as fragile as some of its predecessors. March focused on making fast, simple and competitive cars. It just seemed as though they forgot about reliable.
The retirements just kept coming for the 761. Therefore, March would look to revise the car in order to achieve better results, better reliability. This would give birth to the 761B. Ronnie Peterson would give the 761 its one and only victory before the 761B came onto the scene at the start of the 1977 season.
Upon its debut, it was believed the car was just a 761 rebranded. And it wasn't far from the truth. But there were some subtle differences between the two models. The most obvious change to the naked eye would be found at the rear of the car. The 761B would sport a different rear wing from that which had been used on the 761. Another, less obvious, evolution could only really be found if one had some kind of measuring device. The reason for that is the wheelbase on the 761B would be altered slightly from its predecessor. The 'B' featured a shorter wheelbase than that on the 761. Finally, although the 761 would see evolutions throughout the 1976 season, the 761B would utilize the air inlets positioned on either side of the driver's head unlike previous model March chassis that sported the highly-positioned airbox.
The 1977 season would see two teams using the 761B as its chassis of choice. One team would be Team Rothmans International. Bearing the Rothmans livery, the car would see no less than three different drivers at the wheel over the course of the season. The other team using a March 761B would be the Hollywood March Racing team. This team would be much more stable employing Alex Ribeiro throughout the whole of the season.
While merely an evolution of the 761, the new 761B would still suffer from terrible unreliability. It seemed reliability was the one thing March could not improve, not at least early in the season. In fact, through the first four rounds of the season, the new 761B would be outperformed by an older 761 driven by a customer team. It would take until the Spanish Grand Prix, the 5th round of the championship that year before Ian Scheckter managed to bring a 761B home for its first race finish. Frustratingly, Scheckter would be beaten still by a customer 761.
The low point of the 761B's career would come early when it failed to even qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix. It would get even worse when, through the first ten rounds of the championship, not a single 761B ever finished inside the top ten. Then, finally, at the Germany Grand Prix at the end of July, Alex Ribeiro would manage to claw his way to an 8th place result. By the Italian Grand Prix, just three rounds later, the 761B was phased out in favor of the 771.
March had started out its Formula One career on an incredibly strong note but then would go flat for close to a decade. The struggles would leave such entities as BMW begging them to forgot Formula One and concentrate elsewhere. This would prove successful as March would remain a dominant force in Formula 2 and would begin a force to be reckoned with in American Indycar racing. But throughout most of the 1970s, in Formula One, March could do very little right. Their cars had the potential, but failed to have the follow-through. This would be something of note for a company so widespread.
There is the statement out there that goes, 'Jack of all trades, master of none.' This could not have been a more fitting vision statement for March in Formula One. March was certainly involved in many categories of motor racing. Their cars were more than competitive. In fact, they would often win a race or two over the course of a season. But the one thing March certainly was not in Formula One, and that was being a master. And the 761B couldn't more appropriately reflect that.Sources:
'1976 March 761 News, Pictures and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/z13642/March-761.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/z13642/March-761.aspx. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
'March: History', (http://www.marchives.com/). Marchives.com. http://www.marchives.com/. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
'March: Chassis Types', (http://www.marchives.com/). Marchives.com. http://www.marchives.com/. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
'1971 March 711 News, Pictures and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/z21550/March-711.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/z21550/March-711.aspx. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'March Engineering', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 October 2012, 02:59 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=March_Engineering&oldid=517853389 accessed 18 December 2012
'1977 World Drivers Championship', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1977/f177.html). 1977 World Drivers Championship. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1977/f177.html. Retrieved 18 December 2012.By Jeremy McMullen