The 1972 Formula One season was the 23rd FIA Formula One season. It featured the 23rd World Championship of Drivers, the 15th International Cup for F1 Manufacturers and numerous non-championship Formula One races. The World Championship season commenced on 23 January and ended on 8 October after twelve races.
For 1972 Team Lotus focused again on the type 72 chassis. Imperial Tobacco continued its sponsorship of the team under its new John Player Special brand. The cars, now often referred to as 'JPS', were fielded in a new black and gold livery. Lotus took the championship by surprise in 1972 with 25-year-old Brazilian driver Emerson Fittipaldi who became the youngest world champion at that point. Stewart came second in the championship.
This was the first year where all the races were run on circuits with safety features on them, and considerable progress had been made since 1968, the last year where all races were run on circuits with no safety features.
The British Racing Motors (BRM) team took its last victory when Jean-Pierre Beltoise won the rain-affected 1972 Monaco Grand Prix in a BRM P160.
The Dutch Grand Prix was cancelled this year because of safety arrangements that were not completed for the race. It was supposed to be held between the Belgian and French Grand Prix's at the usual location, Zandvoort. Also, a second American motor race called the United States Grand Prix West, originally supposed to be held in April at the Ontario Motor Speedway near Los Angeles, was cancelled. The Mexican Grand Prix was scheduled to be the last race of the season, but it was cancelled after local interest dissipated after the death of Pedro Rodríguez.
The Formula One circus returned to Argentina in January for the first time since 1960. The short No.9 arena configuration of the Buenos Aires city autodrome was used, and Argentine Carlos Reutemann, in his first ever F1 race took pole position in a Brabham-Ford/Cosworth. Reutemann unfortunately did not win – defending champion Jackie Stewart of the UK won in a Tyrrell-Ford/Cosworth.
The southern hemisphere tour continued in South Africa at the Kyalami circuit near Johannesburg in March. Denny Hulme won the race in a McLaren-Ford/Cosworth, which was McLaren's first F1 victory since 1969.
Formula One started its 4-month European tour in Spain at the Jarama circuit near Madrid. The Lotus 72, improved after suspension revisions to the chassis to make the car better suited to slick tires won in the hands of Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi – winning his 2nd ever F1 race.
The Monaco Grand Prix in 1972 was run in atrocious conditions – it poured down all throughout race day. The circuit had been changed to move the pits away from the start-finish line, which proved to be too narrow to fit a wide-enough start-finish line and wide-enough pits. The pits for the first and only time were moved next to the harbor straight after where the chicane is, and the chicane was moved further forward towards Tabac. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise won his only championship F1 race after producing a stirring drive in his BRM.
There was some controversy when the F1 troupe arrived at the Nivelles circuit just outside Brussels. A lot of people were unhappy with the replacement of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which Formula One stopped racing at because of safety issues with the circuit. But the racing continued, and Fittipaldi won again in his John Player Lotus 72D.
There was a 4-week break between Grand Prix's as the Dutch Grand Prix was cancelled due to safety issues with the Zandvoort circuit. So the next Grand Prix was in France at the dauntingly challenging 5.1 mile Charade circuit – which was made of closed-off public roads located in hills surrounding an extinct volcano above the large central French town of Clermont-Ferrand. The circuit's twisty, undulating and sometimes fast nature provided a considerable challenge. New Zealander Chris Amon took pole with his new Matra MS120D, eight-tenths faster than the next fastest driver, Amon's countryman Denny Hulme in a McLaren. Amon, Hulme, Jackie Stewart and Belgian Jacky Ickx in a Ferrari went away from the field. But then Ickx and Hulme fell back, and Amon found himself being chased by Stewart. Then, Amon's perennial bad luck in Formula One hit him yet again: as was often the case at the Charade circuit, the circuit was littered with rocks, and Amon's car punctured a tire and had to pit – and then, Stewart and Fittipaldi passed him. Amon charged through the field, but only was able to secure 3rd place, behind Stewart and Fittipaldi – the former returning from illness after missing the previous race in Belgium. In other news, Austrian Helmut Marko – who later went on to work for Red Bull Racing – was hit in the eye by a rock thrown from Fittipaldi's Lotus, and he never raced again. And the Charade circuit was never used again for F1 – although they were supposed to go back for the 1974 and 1975 seasons, the safety improvements with the circuit were not good enough.
The British Grand Prix was at Brands Hatch in 1972, and Jacky Ickx in a Ferrari took pole ahead of Fittipaldi and Stewart. The race proved to be exciting as the Briton and Brazilian battled for top honors – and it was the Brazilian Fittipaldi who came out on top 4.1 seconds ahead of Stewart.
The German Grand Prix was held at the historic 14.2 mile (22.8 km) Nürburgring Nordschleife – the longest, most demanding and most difficult circuit of the year for Formula One. The race distance was extended from 12 to 14 laps, and Jacky Ickx took pole with a record-breaking time of 7 minutes and 7 seconds flat, ahead of Stewart, Fittipaldi, Swede Ronnie Peterson in a March and Stewart's teammate Francois Cevert in a Tyrrell-Ford/Cosworth. Ickx went on to dominate the race – he set fastest lap and led from start to finish. Fittipaldi retired with a seized gearbox in his unusually reliable Lotus, and Stewart and Clay Regazzoni in a Ferrari battled for a long time – until the two tangled on the 14th and last lap at the Hatzenbach, where Stewart went off and crashed, and Regazzoni was able to finish behind his teammate Ickx to make it a Ferrari 1–2. Ickx, known as a master of the Nürburgring, celebrated his 2nd German Grand Prix victory and what was to be his last ever Formula One win.
The Austrian Grand Prix was held at the fastest circuit of the year – the spectacular Osterreichring in the Styrian mountains. Stewart and Fittipaldi battled all throughout – but Stewart, with a new model Tyrrell-Ford/Cosworth 005, eventually fell back and finished 7th – while Fittipaldi won ahead of Denny Hulme and American Peter Revson.
The European season concluded 4 weeks after Austria at the historic Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The Monza autodrome – already notorious for being very fast – had chicanes fitted just after the pit straight and at what was the flat-out Vialone left hander, where Alberto Ascari crashed fatally testing Ferrari sports cars in 1955. Fittipaldi – with his win in Austria and Stewart's failure to score points meant that Fittipaldi could win at the historic Italian venue. And he did just that – after Stewart retired right at the start with gearbox failure, Fittipaldi was never bothered, and won the race and his first driver's championship at the age of 25 – a record that was not to be beaten for some 3 decades.
The Formula One season traditionally concluded in North America, and the first of 2 North American rounds was in Canada, at the challenging Mosport Park circuit near Toronto. The race was originally supposed to be held at the Mont-Tremblant circuit in northern Quebec, but a dispute with the local authorities at the St. Jovite circuit meant that the race was moved back to Mosport, which had received safety upgrades after a fatal accident during a Formula Ford race during last year's event. Jackie Stewart won the race from McLaren drivers Revson and Hulme.
Two weeks after Canada, the 12th and last race of the 1972 Formula One season was at another challenging North American venue – Watkins Glen in New York State, only 4 hours from New York City and 5 hours from Toronto. Stewart won again ahead of his teammate Cevert, in a race that had 31 cars and drivers start the race.
Points for the 1972 World Championship of Drivers were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race. For classification, only the best five results from the first half of the season and the best five results from the second half of the season could be retained.
Points for the 1972 International Cup for F1 Manufacturers were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race. Only the best placed car from each manufacturer was eligible to score points. For classification, only the best five results from the first half of the season and the best five results from the second half of the season could be retained.Bold results counted to championship totals.
Other Formula One races were also held in 1972, which did not count towards the World Championship.