On March 6 1971, South Africa was the scene of the first race of the season. Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell and Chris Amon in the Matra were fastest in qualifying, with Ferraris third on the front row with Clay Regazzoni and fourth with Mario Andretti, the latter called into the team after the death of Ignazio Giunti at the Buenos Aires 1000 Kilometres. Jacky Ickx was doing less well and was only eighth on the third row.
At the start, Regazzoni was off like a rocket to take the lead from Emerson Fittipaldi, Denis Hulme, Pedro Rodriguez Andretti and Stewart. In the early stages, Hulme moved up to second and on lap 17, the New Zealander also passed Regazzoni who shortly after was also overtaking by John Surtees.
The McLaren driver seemed to be heading for the win, but then his car began to develop suspension troubles. Mario Andretti in the 312 B was in close attendance and when his rival stopped for repairs, he went into the lead and kept it to the flag. To complete the celebrations, Regazzoni was third behind Stewart. It was a grandiose win for Mario, all the more valuable because it was also his debut GP for Ferrari. Up until then, only the great Juan Manuel Fangio had managed that feat, and afterwards, it was repeated by Nigel Mansell in 1989, Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and Fernando Alonso in 2010.