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Rolf Stommelen


Eifelland-Cosworth 21


Monte Carlo


1972 Monaco GP


The first metaphysical law of race car design reads thus: "If a car looks right, it will go fast." Certainly the examples to support this law are present in overwhelming numbers but sometimes real-life physics tend to interfere. The Eifelland Typ 21 driven by Rolf Stommelen during the 1972 season was a stunner by outward appearance but lacked any form of real speed. Compared to your usual Ford Escort the car was a flyer but next to the horribly chunky Tyrrell 005 - the dominating car of the time - the Eifelland was purely and simply a dog.

What had gone wrong? Obviously, the machine - or rather, its new bodyshell - was designed for good looks, and good looks only.

Essentially built around a standard March 721 the car carried bodywork drawn by Swiss industrial design guru Luigi Colani, who started out as a Fiat bodywork designer, then produced the 1957 Colani Alfa sportscar - the first sportscar to lap the 'Ring in under 10 minutes - and the 1959 BMW 700 monocoque sportscar. Then he branched out into aircraft and furniture design before going on to produce such artefacts as the Colani Highscreen PC, another one of his futile attempts to introduce soft lines and spacy curves into a design area dominated by effectiveness and function rather than appearances.

The Eifelland was a similar failure. With no previous single-seater design experience whatsoever, Colani attempted to realise a boy's Formula One dream machine, sporting such items as an outlandish one-piece rear wing, another one-piece cockpit including a peculiar air duct, a periscope-like mid-mounted rear mirror, and a nose which owed more to fiction than science. The same actually applied to its aerodynamics: although the car's lines suggested a lot of air effectiveness and certainly looked the part - and like nothing else in the paddock - the downforce they created in reality was well below the expected level.

Having said that, the Typ 21 made use of probably the worst platform the collection of 1972 F1 cars could offer: the singularly dreadful March 721 the Bicester marque wheeled out for its customers. The plural is just about accurate since the car was shipped to just two customers: Frank Williams and the Eifelland company. Nothing much but a 711 update with a chisel nose, the car was an average performer at best, so how was the 721 ever going to help Rolf Stommelen, who had to make do with an ineffective bodyshell and a fraction of the works March budget. But then the factory team had the "revolutionary" 721X waiting in the wings! Described by Lauda as the worst car he ever drove - and to make it worse he borrowed a shocking amount of money to pay his way into it - it made the Eifelland look good at times.

So, in light of the circumstances and compared to Lauda and Peterson's equally ineffective low-polar machines, Rolf didn't do all that bad. In fact, he finished ahead of Peterson here at Monaco! On other occasions, he qualified well up and managed to get his car across the line. These were great efforts since the team was nothing more than a beefed up private outfit realising the dream of German motorsport-loving magnate Günther Henerici.

The owner of caravan manufacturer Eifelland Wohnwagenbau, Henerici had been a long-time backer of Stommelen, financing Rolf's F2 exploits in a semi-works Brabham. The German's ties with Brabham had come through Rolf's first full season of F1 in 1970, when Brabham fielded an Auto Motor und Sport-backed works BT33 for the upcoming sportscar star. Stommelen, buoyed by a superb Austrian GP performance which saw him haul his Brabham from 18th to third, then left to pursue a second season with Surtees. Although he scored three points, much more was expected of a man who time and again produced stunning drives for the Alfa Romeo sportscar team. So, the idea of running a team - and car! - of his own in F1 came after the dreadful episode at Surtees. Henerici was willing to fund Stommelen's attempt to make it to the F1 big time, and suggested to contact Colani.

During the season, parts of Colani's design were dismantled to extract more speed from the recalcitrant Typ 21. Already before the first race of the season at Kyalami, a standard March 721 nose was fitted while the aircraft-fighter rear wing was soon ditched by a more conventional bi-plane model. Here, at Monaco, the car was running without its revolutionary means of creating downforce. Things finally turned sour during the summer, when Henerici sold out his caravan business to a new owner totally uninterested in motor racing. In Austria, the crew fielded the car under the Team Stommelen banner but funds had dried out and the Eifelland was a forfeit for the remainder of the season. The Eifelland F3 cars - March 723s which had undergone severe nose surgery to become a Typ 23 - underwent the same fate, although as late as 1974 one of the Typ 23s briefly returned as the F3 Rheinland.

Meanwhile, because of the Eifelland fiasco, Stommelen's F1 career had suffered a serious setback. In sportscars, Rolf had his Alfa drive to keep him busy, and it was because of this and his close ties with Brabham that he was chosen to step into Andrea De Adamich's shoes in the third Brabham, the Alfa protege having hurt himself in the notorious 1973 Silverstone pile-up. There was new light in 1974 when Graham Hill approached the four-eyed German to replace the underperforming Guy Edwards in his Embassy Lola outfit. A couple of fine qualifying performances saw Rolf being signed for the 1975 season. For the first time in his career, he was to concentrate on F1 alone, having left the Alfa squad at the end of 1974.

The first few races of the year were spent in the year-old Lola T370 before Hill's own Lola-built GH1 - a car with probably the largest airbox ever! - would be ready for the start of the European season. Amidst the qualifying wrangles at Montjuich Stommelen produced a splendid 9th on the grid on GH1's debut. Showing the car's huge potential, Rolf had the car into the lead by mid-race, but then disaster struck. Approaching one of Montjuich's hairiest corners a wing stay failed on the car, launching Rolf into the barriers, which were constructed with typical seventies Spanish build quality. They just crumbled under the pressure of Stommelen's uncontrollable machine, just as they had under Emerson Fittipaldi's weight during a pre-event photo shoot. While Fitti was the only driver to eventually cop out of the event, what should have been Rolf's finest day turned into a nightmare. Not only Stommelen was seriously injured but in the process four spectators were killed. Hill's rise to the top was also halted.

Though Stommelen's replacement Tony Brise took the GP scene by surprise, few in terms of real results was gained. Brise however did enough to effectively end Stommelen's stay at Hill and in F1 on the German's return at the Austrian GP. While Brise took 6th on the grid at Monza, the recovered Stommelen could only manage 26th and last on his favourite track.

For 1976, Rolf was glad to sign for Martini Porsche, hoping to return to the winning ways he got used to in the late sixties winning the 1967 Targa Florio, the 1968 Daytona 24 hours and the 1968 Paris 1000kms for Weissach. And he did: with wins at Enna and Watkins Glen, even F1 once more lured in the distance, his sportscar exploits leading to several showings for the Martini-backed Brabham team. His comeback in a third entry at the Nürburgring proved to be successful, as Rolf hauled the No.77 car into sixth at the line. A one-off for Hesketh at the Dutch GP followed before he was called back to replace Ferrari-bound Carlos Reutemann at Monza. Stommelen did well to qualify 11th but had to retire in the race due to a failing fuel system. It did not lead to full-time employment, however, since Brabham picked John Watson for the 1977 No.7 seat. Staying with Porsche, Stommelen notched up the Nurburgring 1000kms and took the DTM title in the huge Gelo Porsche 935 turbo.

Then German beer company Warsteiner transfered its attention from Harald Ertl to the Arrows GP team and Rolf's fourth F1 comeback became reality. In the end, it became an unhappy final season in the big league, as the prodigious Riccardo Patrese completely outpaced his team mate. Finished with F1, Stommelen returned to sportscar and GT racing, taking his Porsche to his second Daytona and 'Ring 1000kms wins during a highly successful 1980 season. Before getting killed during a Riverside IMSA event on board one of his beloved 935 turbos, Stommelen got top sportscar rides with Lancia and Rondeau.

Rolf's Grand Prix may have never got off the ground, he still was the first real German GP driver since Wolfgang "Taffy" von Trips. Germany had to wait before BMW and ATS got involved before Manfred Winkelhock became the next German sportscar driver to successfully switch to single-seaters. Only since the German F3 championship has gained international credibility has the stock of German single-seater stars increased. Today, with Michael Schumacher causing an influx of big German car manufacturers and the huge sponsorship money available in Europe's leading economy, there is no end to German dominance in F1.

Reader's Why by Leo Breevoort

"The earth is round, all the heavenly bodies are round; they all move on round or elliptical orbits. This same image of circular globe-shaped mini worlds orbiting around each other follows us right down to the microcosmos. We are even aroused by round forms in species propagation related eroticism. Why should I join the straying mass who want to make everything angular? I am going to pursue Galileo Galilei's philosophy: my world is also round."

These are the words of Swiss designer Luigi Colani. Take a look at his numerous design studies and you know what he means. And that he sticks to his words too. From the earliest part of his career Colani has been involved in the automotive industry. He worked for Fiat, designing prototype bodies and he also created the BMW 700 sportscar. There has even been a car with his own name, the Colani GT, a kit car of which 1700 units have been produced. But Colani is probably most famous for the Canon T90 photocamera and the Mazda MX5 sportscar.

When you take some time to study the outrageous works of Colani, from tea glasses to a 5-deck, 1200-passenger airplane, you won't be so surprised when you see his only Formula 1 car ever, the Eifelland 21. Personally I like it, but I won't be surprised if anyone disagrees. Underneath the curvacious bodywork is a March 721 chassis, powered by the regular Cosworth engine. In the factory team, Lauda did his first full season, but couldn't score points. The other works driver, Ronnie Peterson, took 12 points in 1972, with a third place in Germany his best result. So the 721 wasn't the quickest car around, and Eifelland didn't improve it. By the way, those who think the Eifelland is an ugly car, should take a look at the March original. With its striking "tea table" front wing it's also not mother's finest.

Rolf Stommelen already had established himself as sportscar driver, winning the Targa Florio in 1967 and Daytona in 1968, before coming to Formula One. His first appearance on a Formula One grid was in 1969. He was driving a Formula 2 Lotus for Roy Winkelman in the German Grand Prix. But Stommelen's Formula One career really took off in 1970. He drove a Brabham-Ford alongside Jack Brabham himself, with the backing of the German car magazine Auto Motor und Sport. It turned out to be a rather good debut season. Stommelen took 10 points in the championship and a podium finish in the Austrian Grand Prix.

For 1971 he changed to John Surtees' team, but Stommelen only managed to earn 3 championship points: a sixth place in Monaco and 5th in Great Britain. Stommelen had an interesting one-off this year too. He drove a Mercury at the Talladega Speedway in the NASCAR series. He qualified in 6th spot, but due to early retirement he was only classified 39th. Then in 1972 Stommelen tried it with his "own" team. He secured the support of Günter Henerici of Eifelland caravans. As said a March 721 was bought and its body replaced with Colani's creation. The car was renamed to Eifelland in favour of the financial supporters. However, the car was not very successful, and even before the end of the season the team had seased to exist, because of the lack of funding. Stommelen's best achievement with the car was qualifying 14th for the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. His best finish positions were 10th place twice, in Monaco and Brands Hatch. No championship points were scored.

The Monaco Grand Prix in the picture was run in appalling conditions, there was rain from start to finish. Jean-Piere Beltoise drove the race of his life, and took his only and BRM's last victory. Beltoise took the lead at the start and kept his car on the road for two and an half hours, even outpacing wet-weather specialist Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari. Rolf Stommelen drove not a bad race himself. Although he finished 3 laps down in 10th position, coming from 25th on the grid that is rather good. He even finished in front of March works driver Ronnie Peterson.

At the end of 1973 Stommelen briefly returned to Brabham, to drive the third car. He did so in the last 4 races of the season, but was unable to score points. In 1974 and 1975 Stommelen drove a Lola from Graham Hill's Embassy Racing Team. In this car he also experienced one of the tougher moments of his carreer at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. Although protests from the drivers, the race at the Montjuich street track started anyway. Emerson Fittipaldi had tried to prevent that, because of the bad safety situation, mainly the bad fitting of guard rails. Fittipaldi couldn't get an unanimous vote against the race, so it was on. Fittipaldi pulled into the pits immediately after the start, but he was the only one. The race itself was an accident packed event, which reached its climax when Stommelen, while in the lead, lost his rear wing and crashed into a spectator area. Four people died, but Stommelen was uninjured. The race was red flagged after that incident, and Grand Prix racing never returned to Montjuich Park.

In 1976 Stommelen took part in 3 Grand Prix. He finished 6th in a Martini sponsored Brabham on the Nürburgring. He had another outing in that car, as well as one in an Hesketh. After many podium finishes in sportscar racing, mainly for Alfa Romeo, he finally won again. He took victory for Porsche at Watkins Glen and Enna. In 1977 he completely concentrated on sportscar racing, which resulted in two more victories for Porsche (Mugello and Nürburgring) and the overall win in the German Touring Car Championship, also with a Porsche.

1978 was the last year we saw Stommelen in Formula One. He raced for the Arrows team alongside Riccardo Patrese. While Patrese took 11 championship points, with a runner-up spot behind the Brabham fan-car in the Swedish Grand Prix, Stommelen stayed without points. He won Daytona again, however. So no more Formula One for Stommelen after 1978, but he stayed with the Porsche sportscar team and won a number of races the following years. The unfortunate end to Stommelen career and life came in 1983. He crashed in a Porsche 935 Turbo during an IMSA at Riverside.