The lack of success in Sweden, the double painful failure of the engines of Lauda and Clay Ragazzoni's cars in France, the decision of the CSI to give back the victory in Spain to the disqualified James Hunt, and finally the incredible success of Hunt himself in England represent a series of blows to Ferrari. Granted that Lauda's situation at the top is still very strong, that Niki is ultra-favorite in the title race, and that the single-seater 312 T2 remains the car to beat for every team, it must be said that the myth of the Maranello team's unbeatability has been somewhat shaken.
Moreover, in the Maranello team - apart from the successes achieved so far - one can notice a wear and tear that was not present in 1975. Certain mechanisms appear a little rusty, certain human relationships are no longer as happy as they once were. For example, Lauda arrives at Maranello for testing, stops for a few hours and leaves again for Salzburg; the long training sessions of '74 or '75 are already a memory, and the lack of a man like Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, capable of mediating between the press, the technical director and the drivers, can be felt. Nevertheless, between the British and German Grand Prix, Niki Lauda, Enzo Ferrari and Piero Lardi meet for lunch in the room behind the Cavallino restaurant in Maranello, to discuss the contract to be signed for the 1977 season. Niki speaks an acceptable Italian, but during these negotiations Piero Lardi always plays the part of Italian-English interpreter. Ferrari wants Lauda to stay in 1977 as well, and asks him if he has any special request.
"A team with two drivers and not three, so as not to exceed the availability of technicians and fitters".
And as a second driver Lauda would still like Regazzoni.
"This will be difficult, because I will fire him".
Ferrari answers, before continuing to talk until we get to the economic question. Lauda indicates the desired figure in shillings. The Modenese constructor does not say a word, he gets up, goes to the phone, calls the accountant of the House and asks him: how many are they in Italian lire? He waits for the answer, puts down the receiver, returns, sits down in front of Lauda, very calm, then starts shouting.
"An impudence, a filth, how dare you, are you crazy? It's useless to keep talking about it, let everyone go their own way."
When the builder catches his breath again, Piero quickly translates the last expletive. In these negotiations an interpreter is a very useful tool, because the anathemas become a little more abstract. Lauda then begs Lardi to translate for him that if everyone has to go their own way, they might as well take the plane and go home. But Piero convinces Niki to stay and continue talking, until the Austrian invites Ferrari to make a counteroffer.
"No, I can't make any counter-offer because I want my drivers to be happy, and my counter-offer would not make you happy."
Niki then retorts, talking to Piero Lardi:
"Alright, then I can go back home because he doesn't accept my proposal and doesn't want to make any counteroffer, there is no possibility of understanding".
When he is cornered Ferrari makes his counter-offer, a good quarter less than what the Austrian driver asked for, expressed in Italian liras. But now it is Niki who is furious and tells Piero to tell Ferrari that his team manager has already offered me a couple of million more.
"Do you perhaps want to make fun of me?"
Ferrari then shouts:
"But is that story with Audetto true?"
And Lauda replies:
"Sure, call him".
Ferrari has Audetto call, and asks him if the amount mentioned is accurate:
"Yes, I proposed this amount to him".
Audetto says, whereupon Ferrari, at this point, turns to Niki:
"If one of my crazy employees has offered so much, then I must agree".
And he dismisses Audetto, telling him they will talk about it later. He then yells in Lauda's direction:
"But this is my last offer".
At this point Lauda, enraged, turns to Piero Lardi and says:
"Piero, translate this: tell him that without me, Ferrari would never have become World Champion".
But Piero Lardi retorts:
"I can't translate this, I won't do it".
Lauda insists, he must say it calmly, but quickly. Piero then takes courage and translates while blushing. Ferrari starts barking again, going on for another hour, until he asks again what the Austrian driver wants. Lauda raises another four percent, the last offer.
Ferrari concludes, and from this moment on he becomes a seductive and courteous person, a charming old man, the most cordial interlocutor imaginable.
The Formula 1 World Championship resumes on Sunday, August 1, 1976 with one of the classic races of the season, the German Grand Prix, on the fast and dangerous Nurburgring circuit. The theme of the German Grand Prix is soon identified: will Ferrari, protagonist of a formidable beginning of the championship, be able to find its way back to success?
On the technical side there should be no problems. The 312 T2 remains the top car, the one to beat, and this is true in particular at the Nurburgring, a track that has always exalted - even in difficult moments - the qualities of the cars of the Cavallino, their constructive setting. Thursday 29 July 1976 Niki Lauda arrives at the Nurburgring, where he is met by a rather atypical character, a fan who knocks on the window of the Austrian driver's car to give him a photo of Jochen Rindt's grave.
Friday 30 July 1976 on the ups and downs of the Nurburgring, in the first day of practice for the German Grand Prix, tenth act of the Formula 1 World Championship, the fastest driver is James Hunt, with the McLaren: the Englishman runs in 7'06"5, at an average speed of 192,745 km/h. Lauda gets the second best time, 7'07"4, and Depalller, with the six-wheel Tyrrell, is third, with a time of 7'08"8. Then there are Stuck with the March, who is at home on this terrible track and runs in 7'09"1, and Regazzoni with the other Ferrari, with a time of 7'09"3.
Apart from Stuck, these are drivers and cars that are the protagonists of the championship, confirming what has been outlined in the last Grand Prix. Hunt is by now the rival number one of Maranello's men while the six wheels Tyrrell, with Depalller and Scheckter, is a valid single-seater, even if not certainly superior to Ferrari or McLaren, that continue to have only four wheels. Between Hunt and Lauda there is a difference of nine tenths, a trifle for the Nurburgring, which is almost twenty-three kilometers long. According to the Austrian, this gap could be cancelled on Saturday:
"I think I can significantly improve my performance. Today I had some troubles: the car tended to oversteer suddenly. The rear end grip was poor and there were vibrations".
The problem turns out to depend on the tires. Regazzoni also had some problems: besides the same problems as Lauda, first the Swiss driver was the victim of a heart-stopping spin at 180 km/h after ending up on some dirt at the exit of a curve (and, fortunately, the adventure ended with the destruction of the Ferrari's front wing), and then a progressive drop in the engine prevented him from emerging in the final part of the tests. But Clay remains optimistic.
"You'll see. We, especially on this circuit, have a better chance than the others. I bet on a one-two Ferrari for Sunday. However, for me Lauda is now World Champion for the second time".
The controversy that followed the British Grand Prix, the absence of most of the team, from sporting director Mauro Forghieri to Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, and above all Enzo Ferrari's call to order to his men, had an effect, at least at first sight. Lauda and Regazzoni, for example, were never so much teammates.
"There is no problem between us, we are professionals, not kids. At Brands Hatch I had no intention of overtaking Niki in that damn corner. He braked a little bit before me, and I simply ended up next to him".
Among the others, Vittorio Brambilla went off the track in one of the jumps of the Nurburgring ("I touched a kerb, my fault"), damaging a suspension. Merzario returned to the wheel of the Williams, which left the Belgian lckx free. Pesenti Rossi made his debut in Formula 1 with an old Tyrrell four-wheel obtaining the twenty-sixth time. In the course of the evening, after the tests, the 1975 Brabham BT44 Ford rented to Lella Lombardi and Rolf Stommelen by the English manager McDonald, head of the RAM team, are seized. The initiative starts from the Swiss driver Loris Kessel, who accuses McDonald of fraud, and is advised by two lawyers from Koblenz. The accusations are:
- Of not having him compete despite the fact that he had paid in advance the entire sum agreed to do all the European races, about 200,000 Swiss francs;
- Not having returned the money paid by Tissot, another 200,000 Swiss francs as agreed: McDonald allegedly asked to have the first part of the sum sent to him in England for tax purposes, with a promise to return it immediately.
Kessel, for this money has committed the workshop that he has in Lugano in partnership with his brother, after the promises to bring the money for him and for Flammini made by an alleged partner of Ecclestone have vanished. McDonald not only did not respect the contract with Kessel, but he even made Evans and Stommelen run - making them pay for it - in addition to having rented a car to Lombardi for the two European races with the sponsor Lavazza. At this point, Kessler consults Ecclestone showing him all the documents in his possession, and the British manager tells him to go to justice. Mosley intervenes, and after reading the documents in the Swiss's hands, he advises him to take legal action immediately in Germany.
If it had gone to England, RAM, by changing its name, would have been able to escape payment of the amount due and seizure. Kessler, accompanied by a friend, went to see the lawyers Moc and Casoers and explained the situation to them. In three hours they present a petition to the judge of Koblenz, who orders the seizure of all the material, including trucks, spare parts (and two engines that belong to Ecclestone) in addition to the two cars of course. McDonald's motorhome escapes seizure because it has the name Thursday and in small RAM on the door. The RAM mechanics somehow try to escape justice by refusing to put the cars on the truck, and leaving them without wheels in the pits. Then, however, at the threat of the judge's deputy to call in a tow truck, they set about assembling the cars, hoping that a lawyer from Hanover who has been called in will arrive in the meantime.
Under the threat of uniformed police with guns and truncheons, the matter was resolved at 3:00 am, in the middle of the night, with the RAM trucks being taken to a local police impound lot. On Saturday McDonald assures Lombardi and Stommelen that the cars are on their way, but Stommelen doesn't believe it and turns to Ecclestone who gives him the third Brabham-Alfa, while Lombardi waits.
And in the meantime the lawyer arrives to defend RAM's interests: in a meeting with Kessel's lawyers several possibilities are suggested, such as an immediate cash payment, a check guaranteed by an entity, with the rest after the race, or the balance of the amount on Monday after the race, when English banks are open. Kessel and his attorneys say no: either the money Kessel has given to race, or the cars remain impounded. In the following hours Kessel returns home with his two lawyers, while McDonald goes around the pits almost asking for understanding. But he doesn't receive it from anyone.
Larry Perkins is also entered in the Grand Prix with the Boro, but he does not take part in the tests as well as Mike Wilds, entered on a Shadow of the PR Reilly Team. Another important note is the hiring by Coopersucar of Maurice Phillippe, the Lotus 72 designer who, being free, has accepted to help Fittipaldi to try to improve the car, while Baldwin and Divila work on the new car. Lotus lost also Nilsson's chief mechanic, accused by the driver to be the fault of all his troubles. Repentant, Nilsson would have wanted to mend the rift, but the chief mechanic decided not to return to Lotus, and his farewell was celebrated by his fellow mechanics during the race weekend.
Saturday 31 July 1976 the bad weather spoils the second and conclusive day of tests for the Grand Prix of Germany. In the hour and a half of practice without official times, and in the hour valid for the qualifications, falls at times a boring drizzle that keeps the track wet and slippery in the points where it crosses the thick of the pine woods of the Nurburgring. A day to be cancelled, confess the drivers, who certainly cannot improve their performance and had to stop for a long time in the pits.
Therefore, the times of Friday remain valid, with Hunt and Lauda on the first row, Depailler and Stuck on the second, Regazzoni and Laffite on the third, and then, little by little, all the others. At the Nurburgring the positions in the starting grid count relatively, at least at the top. From this point of view, therefore, the bad weather did not cause great damage. The real trouble is that many teams, especially Ferrari, cannot have a check on the work done to improve the cars: on Friday, both Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni had grip problems on the rear end of their 312 T2s and the Austrian had noticed rather strong vibrations. Maranello's technicians made some set-up corrections and fitted the cars with narrower rims, in order to allow the tires to reach and maintain the optimum operating temperature. Commented Daniele Audetto, Ferrari's sporting director:
"Unfortunately, we have not been able to fully verify the effectiveness of these works. The cars, according to the drivers, behaved better, but we lacked the comfort of a time. We noted in Lauda this morning a decidedly good 7'18", if you consider that Niki drove about four kilometers on the wet. It could have been 7'03" or 7'04". In short, we can look forward to tomorrow, rain permitting".
It has never rained this year, either in practice or in the race, and the prospect of probably having to run under water up and down the ups and downs of the Nurburgring on Sunday worries all the drivers a bit.
"This is a very dangerous circuit in itself. With the rain the risks increase, everything becomes more complicated. The Grand Prix could become a lottery. If, instead, the track will be dry, I think it is possible to aim for success with serenity. I will at least try to do it, because the advantage I have over Hunt in the world ranking is not as consistent as it used to be. I'd rather win than get a placing".
Admits Niki Lauda, while friend-rival James Hunt says:
"Today I rested, and I'm happy. My McLaren is going well, tomorrow I can give another disappointment to Niki. The rain? It's an unknown that applies to everyone".
And Depailler confesses that:
"The technicians say that the six-wheel Tyrrell should behave better than the traditional cars in the wet. That may be, but I wouldn't want to have that experience at the Nurburgring. I have never driven the car under water and I would not like to find out that, instead, it goes wrong".
In the chronicle of the day it is worth noting another Brambilla's exit from the track, this time at the end of the pit straight, with the consequent destruction of the front part of the March, as well as Merzario's exit from the track at 250 km/h due to the collapse of a Williams' hub-holder, Stommelen's passage to Brabham-Alfa Romeo, and Pesenti Rossi's qualification, who drove the old Tyrrell sold to him by the English team, with great judgment. The forecasts for the German Grand Prix are similar to those of the other races: a three-way challenge between McLaren, Ferrari and Tyrrell, provided that the rain does not bring other protagonists to the top. The dreaded rain makes its appearance on the track a few minutes before the start, which is initially postponed due to the need to repair the protections along the track, damaged during a side race.
At 1:20 pm, the drivers admitted to the start make a reconnaissance lap, and the last to arrive at the finish line tell the race director that it is raining at the Karroussel. Shortly afterwards, confirmation arrived by telephone from this point on the course. It is therefore decided to wait. All the drivers choose wet tires, and at 1:50 pm they make the change; the only exception is Jochen Mass of McLaren who, advised by a friend, chooses dry tires, imagining that the weather could improve quickly.
Shortly after, a meeting takes place between the drivers and the race director, in which it is decided to start the race. At the start, which takes place at 2:08 pm, the lead is taken by Clay Regazzoni, who precedes Jacques Laffite, James Hunt, Jochen Mass and Carlos Pace. Lauda starts badly and is eighth, passed almost immediately by Jody Scheckter and Ronnie Peterson, while Stuck is forced to start last because of a clutch problem. Hunt passes Laffite already at the first corner; the Frenchman will be then passed by Mass, Pace and Ronnie Peterson, shortly after.
During the first lap the protagonist is Ronnie Peterson who climbs several positions, until he finds himself in the lead after a spin by Clay Regazzoni, who is overtaken by Mass and Pace. The Swede of the March now leads ahead of Hunt, Mass, Pace, Regazzoni and Mario Andretti, another protagonist of several overtakes. The first lap ends and a long line of drivers, led by Hunt, goes back to the box to mount dry tires. The information given by the organizers was completely wrong: there were twenty dry kilometers, and only three wet ones. Lauda also goes into the pits, where the Ferrari mechanics complete the operation in just over nineteen seconds. The only ones who do not return to the pits are Ronnie Peterson and Clay Regazzoni.
Now behind the Swede is Jochen Mass, followed by Regazzoni, Andretti, Nilsson and Hunt; during the second lap Mass, using slick tires, passes Peterson. Lauda, instead, is tenth. Shortly after, while Mass is leading the race, the race director shows the red flag and stops the German Grand Prix: this is because shortly before, at 2:31 pm, in the climb that follows a bridge over the road to the small town of Adenau, Lauda had lost control of the Ferrari, the car had skidded and ended up at over 200 km/h against the protective nets that enclose the track. Harald Ertl, the German journalist who races in Formula 1 with an old Hesketh, and who was behind Niki before the accident, will tell:
"My first feeling when I saw the Ferrari go sideways on the track and turn to the right side was to think of a loss of control of the driver. However, then, thinking about it with a cold mind, I thought that, if in a curve that turns to the left and has to be faced at over 200 km/h in fourth or fifth gear, depending on the gear ratios, it was the driver who made a mistake, the car would point towards the outside of the curve. Someone asked me if it is true that I also saw, as reported in the press release issued by the organizers, a rear wheel come off. In all honesty, despite these doubts I can't declare it. I only know that the surface was dry, at least at that point, and that the Ferrari, after hitting the barriers, bounced back onto the track already on fire, even losing one of the fuel tanks in the middle of the track. I tried to brake and pass through the gap I saw opening on the right after Edwards had closed the other gap on the left. However, as a result of the blow that Lunger, who was in front of me, gave to the Ferrari, moving it from the center back to the right, not only did I fail to pass, but I in turn ended up against Niki's car. The flames were already high. I looked for a fire extinguisher. It seemed to me that Edwards had one in his hand, but a small one. The one that I personally used, directing the jet on the flames, while Guy and Merzario were working in the cockpit, I had to snatch it from the hand of a commissioner. Niki in those moments was still in the car and seemed to be unconscious. I heard that help arrived after a long time. I don't think so. Even if I am referring to the official ones. To those of us who were there, it is clear that time seemed to flow with lightning speed. However I believe that after forty or fifty seconds from the accident Niki was out of the cockpit on fire. The marshals, who were not more than one hundred meters away from the scene of the accident, can be blamed for not having been prompt in entering the flames and for not having used the fire extinguishers immediately. After the arrival of the ambulance I went to see the place where the Ferrari had skidded. On the ground there were traces of magnesium and aluminum pieces".
While a commissioner present at the site of the accident puts a fire extinguisher into action, Ertl, Edwards, Lunger, Reutemann and Arturo Merzario, who had stopped with his Williams a few meters before, jump to the rescue. Ertl snatches the fire extinguisher from the uncertain steward's hand and sprays the Ferrari's cockpit, while Merzario and Lunger unfasten the seat belts that tie Lauda to the seat, laying him on the grass. This will be the story of Brett Lunger:
"When I restarted from the pits after changing tires, I saw right after a few miles that I had Lauda's car in my mirrors. Since I was lined up with Edwards, Niki had to wait a few more kilometers to pass me. When he did, he didn't seem to have any problems. On the contrary, I saw him very loose and clean. When I found him in the middle of the track at Bergwerk with his car on fire, after I had seen him disappear in front of me at the entrance of the curve with a sudden shift to the right, I didn't realize it was him. Also because I was looking for a place to pass and I had the left closed by Edwards and the right covered by Ertl. After the bump against the Ferrari I jumped to the ground. The Austrian's single-seater was lying on its side in flames. I don't know who I snatched a fire extinguisher from, but he didn't know how to use it, so I threw it to my side where someone, maybe Ertl, picked it up. I for my part walked up the side of the car and tried to pull Niki out by grabbing him by the straps on his overalls. The heat was awesome. Thanks to my gloves I didn't burn my hands but I had to let go because my left shoe was on fire. I turned away scared and I saw Merzario throw himself into the flames".
Guy Edwards also confirms the dramatic details of the incident:
"I saw the Ferrari disappear on the right side of the track, as if the driver had suddenly lost control of it. I braked and threw myself into the whole curve. In the middle, while I was stopping, I saw Lunger who could do nothing but hit the already burnt Ferrari. I got out and rushed towards the wreck. The damage was considerable even though maybe not even thirty seconds had passed yet. Niki was trying to move. I don't really remember who it was that was trying to remove his caste. Then I saw Merzario unbuckle his seatbelt and I realized that I had to do as the Italian did, and I grabbed Lauda under the armpits. When we laid him away from the car on the asphalt, his face was all bloody".
Arturo Merzario, still shaken, will recount:
"Lauda's car was burning in the middle of the track and nobody seemed to want to do anything. The marshals seemed to be petrified. Time was passing. I decided to go into the fire. Niki's seatbelt was very tight and couldn't be unbuckled. When they did, I grabbed him under the armpits. Edwards, on the other side helped me. The heat was considerable, but the jet that Ertl had directed with the fire extinguisher against the cockpit was beginning to take effect. When Niki was lying on the asphalt, his face was a mask of blood. Niki recognized me and in Italian he mumbled: Arturo, how's my face? I told him: you're fine, don't worry".
The Italian driver, and with him Reutemann, blamed the rescue services for intervening too slowly.
"If it wasn't for us, Niki would have burnt out".
The marshal stationed on the outside of the curve, at the entrance to it, as soon as he sees the accident he gives the alarm by phone. About a minute later, one of the special rescue Porsches arrives, but its arrival is useless. Its extinguisher will finish extinguishing the wreckage when by then Lauda is already out of the car. The arriving ambulance has to slaloom between the cars that in the meantime have stopped before the accident.
Chris Amon arrives on the scene of the accident when seven or eight cars have already stopped, so he instinctively thinks of getting out of his Ensign to signal the hitch to the arriving drivers. Shortly afterwards he admits that he was frightened by the time it took the ambulance to arrive and by the thought that, if the other drivers had not stopped to help him, there would have been nothing more for Niki to do. All this because the track services were not adequate to the extent of the accident.
On the reasons that caused the accident there are no valid explanations at the moment. A press release from the organizers of the Grand Prix mentions the detachment of the left rear wheel, but it is only a thesis that was spread through the speakers present along the pit straight. Upon the car's return to the pits, Ermanno Cuoghi, Lauda's chief mechanic, checks the car and discovers that originally all the wheels had remained solid before the impact.
In the meantime, Enzo Ferrari, who is feverish in bed (37.2), follows the events from Maranello listening to the radio: the Modena manufacturer decides to cancel the tests that were to take place on 2 August in Zandvoort, and at first he even thinks of issuing a communiqué in which he would have declared Lauda's retirement from racing. Only a brief consultation with an Italian journalist will prevent this from happening, as the latter advises Enzo Ferrari not to proceed without first having Lauda's opinion. A little later, lawyer Agnelli calls the Modena manufacturer to make sure that the accident has not been caused by a technical accident.
Dramatic moments follow: at 2:41 pm, ten minutes later, the ambulance arrives and Niki is transported inside. At 2:49 pm the ambulance brings the Austrian pilot to the helicopter that in the meantime is ready to take off. In the meantime, a young 24-year-old Italian, Vincenzo Milano, takes a sequence of twenty photos that capture the moments of the rescue, while James Hunt, who has arrived on the scene, asks for a coca-cola, and when he gets it he opens it splashing the foam and improvising a show, almost as if he wanted to play down or draw attention elsewhere, while Lauda is served the first aid.
The moments after the accident are frantic for Daniele Audetto, who first rushes to Huschke von Hanstein, the German representative to the International Sports Commission, to find a helicopter to take Lauda to the hospital in Adenau. Shortly thereafter, Audetto is accompanied to a large military aircraft ready for takeoff, where he finds Niki conscious. The driver asks Ferrari's sport director to retrieve his personal briefcase at Bilstein's motorhome and to call Marlene to reassure her. Audetto cannot accompany Niki, so he returns to the circuit and calls Enzo Ferrari, who instructs him to hire Emerson Fittipaldi to race the next Austrian Grand Prix, before going to the military hospital in Koblenz.
In the meantime, at 3:32 pm a new start will be given, for a length equal to the one initially established, of fourteen laps, and a few minutes later, at 3:45 pm, the first information about Niki's state of health will arrive, which at first do not seem alarming.
"What can I say? I had a 30-second lead on the second when they stopped us. For me it was a great opportunity. Of course now that I know why they stopped us my anger is less. But it hasn't disappeared completely because now I will only win next year. In fact, with Hunt in the world championship, McLaren will not give me a car to win for sure. And the one I have, apart from today, was maybe a little too soft on the jumps, but still very slow. If I can, I'll leave this team in 1977".
Declares Jochen Mass, who had started with dry tires and had, as if by a bitter joke of fate, meanwhile, the sky became clearer and the day became beautiful. The drivers are not allowed to use the mule to line up on the starting grid and Henri Pescarolo, the only one not qualified with a car available, is not given the chance to replace one of the retired drivers. In addition to Lauda, Lunger, Ertl, Stuck who burnt the clutch of his March, Laffite who broke the gearbox of his Ligier-Matra, and Chris Amon did not appear. The New Zealander's Ensign is in excellent condition, but Chris prefers to be a spectator.
"I don't have sponsors forcing me to race at all costs, I'm my own boss, and I'd rather not go back to this stupid and too dangerous circuit".
Amon keeps thinking about the German Grand Prix of a few years earlier, when he started last: if he had had a similar accident, no car would have arrived before five minutes. And he still broods to himself about the negative record of mechanical failures suffered by Ensign this season.
"Maurice, I'm sorry, but I'm going home".
He says moments before the start to Mo Nunn.
"It's bloody ridiculous for the ambulance to take five minutes to arrive, it's not passable".
And he returns to the pits, abandoning the race and probably Formula 1 racing just as he seemed on the verge of resurfacing. At the second start the drivers restart from the position obtained in the qualifying, without the starting grids of the retired drivers being occupied. James Hunt takes the lead of the race ahead of Clay Regazzoni, Patrick Depailler, Jody Scheckter, Pace and Peterson. At Flugplatz the Swede loses control of his March and has an accident, while Scheckter, in an attempt to pass Depailler, puts part of the car off the track, losing several positions. Clay Regazzoni will be victim of another spin and Depailler, to avoid the Ferrari, will go off the track and will be forced to retire. shortly after Pace overtakes Scheckter and so he finishes the lap in second position, behind Hunt. The classification sees, after the first three, Regazzoni, Nilsson, Brambilla and Andretti.
In the second lap Jody Scheckter passes Pace, while Mass enters the points zone passing Andretti. Vittorio Brambilla is victim of an accident at the Adenau bridge due to a problem with the braking system of his March. Regazzoni the following lap overtakes Pace. A little later, on the fifth lap, Mass also overtakes Nilsson. On the seventh lap a mistake by Gunnar Nilsson allowed Andretti to pass in the points zone, but three laps later the American driver was forced to make a pit stop to replace the battery, while Mass also passed Pace, moving into fourth place.
On the twelfth lap Regazzoni is the author of a sortie on the Karrousel track that destroys the nose of his car. Returning to the pits, the Swiss driver loses several positions; Rolf Stommelen enters the points zone. Hunt wins, for the fourth time in his career, before Scheckter and Mass, with Pace fourth, Nilsson fifth and Stommelen sixth. The Englishman makes a further leap forward in the World Championship, of which the German Grand Prix is the tenth episode.
Hunt now has forty-four points, against the fifty-eight of Lauda: the advantage of the Austrian, therefore, goes down to only fourteen points and it is not known for how much time he will have to leave free field to the rival; for the Ferrari this season 1976 is revealing dramatically two-faced. The world of Formula 1 is deeply struck by Niki Lauda's drama, which reminds what happened six years before to another Austrian ace of the wheel, Jochen Rindt. In particular, James Hunt, winner of this unfortunate German Grand Prix and number one rival of the Ferrari driver, expresses words of regret.
"It is clear that I am happy to have won this race as well, but I would have preferred to do it fighting against Lauda and his Ferrari. What happened to him pains me deeply. I only hope that he recovers soon and can get back on track. Only in this way I would like to obtain the world title".
Similar expressions of pain and regret came from drivers and technicians of all the teams. The mechanics of the Maranello team, after having recovered the blackened wreckage of Lauda's car, looked at it with astonishment. The Austrian driver had completed one and a half laps, or about thirty-two kilometers, and the Ferrari's tanks were full of gasoline, at least one hundred and sixty liters. Drivers have in their helmets a tube connected to an oxygen cylinder in order to avoid breathing intoxicating vapors, allowing the driver to survive a fire for about two minutes, but the device, in Lauda's case, did not work because it came off following the impact of the car against the rock.
Moreover, in the Ferrari, as in the other Formula 1 single-seaters, there is also a fire extinguishing system, but during the course of the evening the Ferrari technicians could not immediately ascertain whether the Austrian driver had put it into operation or not. The point of the accident, which occurred on a very fast stretch of the Nurburgring, and the remains of the Ferrari are carefully examined by the Maranello mechanics.
On the asphalt there are the black marks of the four wheels, but not scratches caused by metal, as it would have happened in case of a mechanical failure, such as suspensions or a wheel hub holder.
Therefore it seems that Niki lost control of the car: the car hinted to spin, crawled sideways on the track and then slammed with the left side against the nets and the embankment. The exhaust pipes are filled with soil. In the dynamics the left side was smashed and the wheels were ripped off.
The clarification is motivated by the fact that the press office of the German Grand Prix, on the basis of who knows what testimonies, issues a statement in which it claims to be the detachment of a wheel the cause of the dramatic accident, but Edwards, who followed Lauda closely, for example, denies it with decision.
The circuit wanted by the Germans in the 1920s to improve the country's car production, had been the subject of discussion, to the point that Lauda himself had worked with his colleagues to convince them to boycott it in favor of the safer Hockenheim racetrack.
"It's too fast, too long, with excessively tight spaces and at the edge of the track."
"I'm sorry, I'm very sorry. Niki, despite what some people claim, is my friend, so my pain is double. He has been unfortunate. I hope he can return quickly among us. His accident reminds me a little bit of the one I had in South Africa with B.R.M. At that time Hailwood pulled me out of the car".
Clay Regazzoni now affirms.
"Now I have to try to help Niki by winning a few races. It's the only way to stop Hunt, to keep, if possible, Lauda at the top of the world championship. Of course, I hope things don't go the way they did today. My Ferrari was difficult to drive, I spun three times, which never happened to me in the same race".
"At the first start I took the lead because while I started very well, all the others were strangely stationary. Then at Flugplatz, in the wet, I spun and Depailler touched me at this point, messing up my car. In any case, I managed to get back to the third position when two laps from the end, out of Karusell, I spun again and ended up against the guardrail where I damaged the whole nose. Evidently for us at Ferrari, August 1 was a black day and everything had to go wrong. The car with the 18" rims ran worse than on Friday when I had 19" rims".
To round off the day, back at the hotel Regazzoni injured his forehead after crashing into a window frame while simulating a header from a soccer player.
On the circuit and on the rescue services, the opinions among the drivers were divided. In any case, they have threatened to stop racing on the Nurburgring circuit if no further improvements are made to the track.
In the meantime, Niki is first taken to the military hospital of Koblenz, in Adenau, at 14:55, and from there transported to the hospital for initial treatment at 15:10. The conditions initially do not seem critical, so much so that Niki makes a statement to the German radio and television at 15:25.
"I am Ferrari's number one driver, Niki Lauda. I think I lost a wheel and went into the guardrail. Someone then hit me and from that moment I don't remember the dynamics of the accident. I only remember the flames and two drivers, including Merzario, who helped me to get out of the burning car".
At 16:10 the doctor in Adenau decides to transport Lauda to the Trauma Clinic in Ludwigshafen, which is better equipped to treat burns. At 17:30 he is informed that Lauda has a fracture on his left cheekbone, first degree burns on his hands and third degree burns on his face.
At 19:15 the chief physician in Ludwigshafen decides to have Lauda transported to the Städliche Krankenanstalten hospital in Mannheim. At 19:20 Lauda begins to have difficulty breathing and at 20:10 he is joined by Marlene, Ferrari sporting director Daniele Audetto, and friends, while a crowd of journalists awaits news.
Starting at 20:20 there is a continuous regression of Lauda's health conditions, to the point that at 22:20 the head of the clinic imposes silence on the entire medical team invoking professional secrecy and the serious state of the patient.
Only at 24:00 do we begin to see some hope, as the doctors make Lauda alternate an hour under the oxygen tent with half an hour of free breathing. In the meantime, James Hunt, who understands that he will not be able to visit his friend and rival, decides to send a telegram to the hospital, urging the Austrian driver - with perhaps unorthodox methods, but with effect - to fight to regain his health.
The following morning Professors Horst Lutz and Klaus Peter make some statements about Niki Lauda's condition. The head of the resuscitation institute of the Mannheim hospital draws a rather heavy clinical picture, letting it be understood that not even the doctors know, at the present time, whether the World Champion will be able to win his battle or not:
"Lauda suffered first, second and third degree burns to his face, hemithorax and hands. Basically, only two percent of the surface of the face remained intact. There is a fractured cheekbone and some rib injuries. Adenau was given a tracheotomy. All of this, however, is not a concern. It is a serious problem, however, that Lauda breathed in burning toxic gases. They have caused intoxication in the blood, which poses a latent danger of demise from kidney failure. The patient must get through an initial three-day period, and then another critical time in about two weeks. Lauda has never been in a coma. His physique as a sportsman allows him to stand up validly to this ordeal. Another person, probably, in his place would have died."
Professor Peter doesn't want to quantify Lauda's chances of salvation.
"We'll release the first reserve after the three days, then we'll see."
But Lauda's brother Florian, a 25-year-old fifth-year medical student, is more explicit.
"Niki has a fifty percent chance in favor and a fifty percent chance against. However, if he gets through these terrible three days the hopes will increase, and after that the recovery could happen even in two months."
At this point all that remains is to hope, while there are some doubts about Lauda's full recovery, not so much as a man, but as a driver. If this drama has a happy ending, will the World Champion be able to get back behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car?
It is not known.
What we do know is that the Austrian driver is fighting his battle with vigor, assisted with the utmost competence in the städtische krankenanstalten of Mannheim, a hospital linked to the university clinic of the famous Heidelberg: it is an avant-garde medical center, known all over the world. Niki is in a reanimation room, supervised by a group of specialists directed by Professor Klaus Peter.
His parents, his wife Marlene and his young brother Florian are watching over him.
Lauda is lucid and, as Professor Peter says, has never lost consciousness or gone into a coma. Rather, it is the doctors who give him sedatives to make him sleep as much as possible.
In the meantime, in the course of the evening, a meeting is called by the International Sports Commission to discuss the verdict of the appeals tribunal of the International Automobile Federation with which James Hunt and McLaren have been reinstated in the success of the Spanish Grand Prix, despite the obvious irregularity committed.
The International Sporting Commission takes position against the readmission in the ranking of the Spanish Grand Prix of James Hunt and Jacques Laffite, decided by the Fia Tribunal (on July 22, in the meantime, the French Automobile Federation had readmitted John Watson in the ranking of the French Grand Prix, in third place).
The CSI takes a position on the fact with an official statement that, even in nuanced terms, sounds a criticism of the Fia. In the document, premised on the fact that sporting power (represented by the CSI) and judicial power (Fia tribunal) are quite distinct, an urgent invitation is addressed to the same federation to change the current procedure - from oral to written - with the faculty on the part of the tribunal, on its own initiative or at the request of the interested parties, to carry out further investigations on the facts under examination.
"Only the rigor and mandatory nature of this procedure can ensure the guarantee of adversarial debate for all parties involved and the serenity essential for the application of good justice."
Rumor has it that the president of the CIS, Belgian Pierre Ugeux, in addition to having the solidarity of the members of the bureau of the commission, has threatened to resign.
During the morning of Monday, August 3, 1976, during a brief period of awakening, Niki Lauda is approached by his wife. Marlene, who is a strong and courageous woman (only the night before she had a violent crying crisis in the hotel), tells the journalists - with a brief smile to light up her tired and drawn face - that Niki wanted to be informed about the outcome of the German Grand Prix.
"He's a fantastic man, he can't talk because he has a probe in his throat, but he made me understand, moving the fingers of one hand, that he wanted to know who had come first, second and third. I answered him: Hunt, Scheckter and Mass. He waved his hand, making a sign of annoyance."
Lauda's clinical situation - as stated in the declarations released by Professor Peter - is serious, only for the possible complications caused by the incandescent toxic vapors (burnt oil, carbon monoxide, gases derived from the combustion of the car). The World Champion breathed this terrible mixture in the forty seconds he was trapped in the fire of the Ferrari, while Arturo Merzario, Brett, Lunger, Harald Hertl and Guy Edwards carried out their brave and splendid rescue operation.
The prognosis will not be able to be dissolved before a few days, but a positive factor is Lauda's will to live, and the cooperation he is offering the doctors.
"On the occasion of that stupid tractor accident I saw how much strength Niki has. Here things are different, much more serious, but he can still make it."
Meanwhile, Daniele Audetto, Ferrari's sporting director, reconstructs some moments after the accident.
"I arrived in the Adenau hospital a few minutes after the arrival of the ambulance carrying Niki. I asked to see him. He recognized me immediately and begged me to call Marlene. With the German doctors, we studied a list of hospitals that specialized in treating burns or fractures. The head physician in Adenau, after X-ray checks, recommended the clinic in Ludwigshafen, which is excellent for treating burn victims. At the time it was thought that Lauda's main problem was burns. But in Ludwigshafen, where Niki was taken by helicopter, they noticed the lung lesions and the immediate transfer to Mannheim was arranged".
While Audetto rushed to Adenau, after a brief stop in the Ferrari garages at the Nurbungring, to Ludwigshafen and then to Mannheim following Lauda, Marlene lived terrible hours.
"I had an appointment with Niki at the Cologne airport. I had come to pick him up with his aircraft and our usual pilot, Hans Kemetinger. We were to return home immediately, to Salzburg. On the small bus that was taking us to the police and customs offices, after landing we learned from the driver that a rider had been seriously injured in the German Grand Prix. The policemen told me almost immediately that it was Niki".
Marlene recounts that she had telephoned the circuit, before getting back on the plane and flying to Mannheim. From here, by car, she rushed to the Ludwigshafen clinic, from where she was sent back to Mannheim to the städtische krankenanstalten. Marlene, a former model who married Lauda on March 11, right after the South African Grand Prix, does not like motor racing and what surrounds them, but respects her husband's business.
"If they're good enough for Niki, they're good enough for me".
In Mannheim, Marlene, who in the evening will be joined by her in-laws and brother-in-law, together with Audetto and the chief mechanic of the Austrian driver, Ermanno Cuoghi, spend endless hours while doctors scramble around the Ferrari ace.
"Niki is given a special machine every half hour that helps him breathe and cleans his lungs. To me the doctors have said that if Niki gets through the next two or three days without complications, within a month and a half or two he could be recovered".
To those who ask him for a comment on the fate of the world championship, Audetto replies:
"In these hours I haven't really thought about racing and the events of the title challenge. Now I say that I have high hopes in Niki's ability to recover. He's in the hands of skilled doctors, he's in a very well equipped clinic. The day after tomorrow I will go to London, where our appeal on the Brands Hatch events will be discussed. It would be wonderful if Lauda was assigned the first place and if Niki could take advantage of it".
In the meantime, on Monday, August 2, 1976 Merzario arrives in Bellaria, after a tiring trip on the freeway, with interminable queues, to enjoy a little vacation - very little - together with his wife Anna and his two children, Ugo, eleven years old, and Claudia, eight, when, intercepted by the newspaper La Stampa, he recounts the moments that involved him in the rescue of Niki Lauda:
"What does it feel like? So many sensations that come together, overlapping. All in less than a minute, which never seems to end. First the fear that it's all for nothing, that it's all useless. Then hope, which gives strength. Then despair, because we can't open those damn belts, we can't free Niki who is a mask of blood, I don't even have the courage to look him in the face. And then again the fear, he's on a stretcher and I have the feeling that maybe he won't be able to get out of it, in this state."
But for himself, wasn't he afraid?
"They say we're cynical. They've stuck a pretty good label on us. In those moments you only think about saving a friend, helping him: maybe you think that one day it could happen to you, but it's a thought you quickly banish. Fear for myself? No, I wasn't. Anger, this yes: because it could all be useless, I have already said".
Merzario is still shaken: now he's on the beach, but twenty-four hours before he was struggling with the flames and cursing those seat belts that just didn't want to open. Can he reconstruct the accident?
"I can't, I didn't see, I arrived a few seconds later. I realize that Lauda's car is on fire, I immediately decide to stop, I jump out of my car and try to give some help. There is a marshal with a fire extinguisher, but he looks scared, he keeps his distance and then Ertl snatches it from his hand. In the meantime Lunger, Edwards and I try to unfasten the safety belts that tie Niki to the seat, but everything is immediately, unfortunately, more difficult than expected. They are moments of anguish".
"The belts don't release, the car burns, Lauda can't move, but he screams. Very long, terrible moments. Niki's cheekbone throws blood on my suit, the Austrian's face and hair are burnt. Finally we manage to get him out of the car, we lay him on the grass, waiting for the ambulance. Niki is full of blood, it's amazing to watch. But he is not unconscious. He is awake, perfectly lucid. He asks me how his face looks. What should I say to him? I should tell him that I can't see him. His face? I try to reassure him, I tell him a few sentences, but maybe by looking into my eyes Niki understands that I lied".
"The ambulance comes, they take him away, I think I just don't know if he's going to be safe. And then I get a knot in my throat. Without our help Niki would almost certainly be burned. No, we're not cynical, we're not robots: we're men like any other. It's just that we risk our lives more than others, and we know it".
Were the rescues quick?
"The rescues? There were not at all, we can say. The ambulance took a long time to arrive, but the rescue vehicles arrived when she was already gone. On the other hand, you have to consider this: the circuit is twenty-two kilometers long, it's impossible to put that much personnel. It was Niki's turn, it could have been any of us. I still have his face in my eyes: terrible".
Afterwards, while on August 3, 1976 Audetto and Cuoghi leave for Maranello, Lauda's family members move from the hotel, where they live retired, to the hospital.
Another day has gone by, and for more than forty hours Niki Lauda has been fighting in the Städtische Krankenanstalten in Mannheim, where he is hospitalized after the dramatic accident in the German Grand Prix. His condition is on the whole stationary.
Reports Florian, Lauda's brother:
"Tonight Niki's breathing became labored, but this is an expected event. They also took some X-rays to examine his lungs."
In the aseptic room where he is housed, Lauda is kept under close and continuous surveillance by a specialist, where he spends a peaceful night. But it's an uncertain balance, one that could also break down at any moment, tragically.
Lauda is threatened by a very serious danger: the burning gases breathed in the fire of the Ferrari have contaminated his lungs and the medical team of the institute of anesthesia and resuscitation that treats him fears the possible development of an infection, because this would spread immediately to the blood, with lethal consequences.
Professor Horst Lutz was on vacation in Taormina before being called back to Mannheim to look after Lauda. Lutz, who loves motor racing and is a personal admirer of Niki, makes the point of the situation.
"The case of the Austrian driver is very serious and dangerous. When Lauda arrived here from Ludwigshafen he was in a desperate condition. There was then a slight improvement, but for now we can't really say anything. The critical phase is yet to come. Within three days, a pulmonary infection could occur. In seventy-two hours, we will take samples with a probe to ascertain the condition of the lungs. Then, and only then, I believe it will be possible to determine whether the patient will be saved."
"If Lauda gets through this period without any problems, he can be fully recovered not only as a man but also as a driver. He will have a very normal life and I don't see why he cannot, if he wants to, resume driving a Formula 1 car. The fracture to the cheekbone is a trifle and the burns do not worry at all. It will be, at most, a matter of plastic surgery, and not serious ones".
Professor Lutz also gives some explanations about the treatments the World Champion is currently undergoing.
"Lauda is in an aseptic room. We have introduced two probes into his throat. We help him with enriched oxygen and, at intervals, intervene with an artificial respiration machine. He is not blindfolded and is free to make any movement. Tomorrow morning, if necessary, we will sit him up in bed. He is a patient who reacts in a very positive way: he is very lucid and goes along with us magnificently".
Professor Lutz's department is located in a modern wing of the old but efficient städtische krankenanstalten. To access the special room where Lauda is hospitalized, doctors and nurses must change clothes twice. It is a ritual to which Marlene also submits, and twice a day she spends a few minutes at her husband's side. The Ferrari champion's wife takes strength and faces these terrible hours with dignified firmness.
"Niki is an exceptional man. Before we got married he had prepared me for a test like this. He had explained to me the dangers that a driver has to face and asked me, if anything ever happened, to keep calm and not to be scared."
Marlene then adds some touching details about her visits with her husband.
"When I walk into the antiseptic room, he smiles. He can't speak, but I can tell he's happy to see me. He explains himself in gestures, waving his hands. She often asks me the time, I don't know why. He has made me realize he has an appetite, that he wants to eat something solid."
Niki is fed by means of IVs containing amino acids and glucose; as she recounts the episode, Marlene's face lights up. Around her neck, on a gold chain, is her husband's wedding ring, which she touches nervously from time to time.
"Niki is really a fabulous guy. Right now he's taking an interest in the room he's in, how the various medical equipment works. He's always trying to delve into everything. When he was a kid he took his father's Volkswagen apart to see how it was built inside. God willing that in a few days he could do the same thing here".
For Marlene, the future is measured in hours; every minute passed is a step forward, perhaps towards salvation. However, she is already thinking about after Mannheim, about when she can return to Salzburg with her Niki.
"I will ask him and beg him not to run anymore, to stop this very dangerous activity. We don't have financial problems, he doesn't have to go down the track for the money. I know that Niki has chosen to be a pilot also to realize himself, to respond to something he felt inside himself, but I really hope he will give up, that he will satisfy me".
Marlene's in-laws and brother-in-law are always with her, and a sister has been added to them, while the switchboard is constantly receiving phone calls from all over the world, all with just one question: how is Niki? In this regard, Professor Horst Lutz, director of the institute of anesthesia and resuscitation at the hospital, says:
"In recent years we have had cases similar to Lauda's, but not as serious, let alone as dangerous for the patient. But we have never had a person with the physical and psychological characteristics of the Austrian pilot. I used to be an admirer of his in racing and I'm becoming one now because of his capacity for resistance. We are giving him a whole series of treatments to help clear his lungs. I don't know, however, how this will end. It's too early to tell. The dangers now are lung infection and the advent of kidney failure. At this moment, it is not yet known if we can avoid them".
Niki Lauda is lucid and responds in an exceptional physical and psychological way, arousing the astonishment of the medical staff, who have never encountered a similar case in their activity.
Jochen Mass and Emerson Fittipaldi go in person to inquire about the conditions of the Austrian driver, who in the afternoon has a light crisis under the strict surveillance of the doctors, who alternate at his side.
In the meantime people continue to wonder what happened: is it a driving error or a technical defect? This is the question that is still being asked about the causes of the skid that caused Niki Lauda's Ferrari to leave the track and catch fire. According to testimonies it is possible that both factors led to the accident. Only the Scuderia Ferrari, however, could give a definitive answer: even before the public prosecutor's office in Koblenz - which has taken over the investigation of the case - could seize Lauda's car, the Ferrari representatives had already taken the wreck away.
Already at the beginning of the race, the Austrian's car had lost a screw, which was collected by a fireman and returned to the Ferrari mechanics. Someone had suspected that it was a wheel fixing bolt, but this hypothesis is not viable, since Formula 1 cars - as explained to the organizers of the race by the spokesman of the Automobil Club of Germany Michael Briechle - have a single fixing bolt on all four wheels. Experts think that it was one of the fixing screws of one of the two petrol tanks, which in Ferrari, unlike in other racing cars, are not welded to the body of the car.
The version of the loose fuel tank, however, does not seem sufficient to explain the dynamics of the accident; more significant, however, is the testimony of a spectator, Hans Oberhofer, who, being near the site of the accident, was able to observe closely what happened to Lauda's car.
"Lauda clearly shifted gear before the bergwerk turn, lagging behind the other racers; you could hear it distinctly from the roar of the engine. I also noticed the movement of the right arm as of someone who is changing gear. An instant later the car slid away towards the safety net."
Oberhofer believes it is possible, based on the frenzied movement of Lauda's arm, that a defect in the gearbox impeded the maneuver, albeit a late one, of changing gears.
Regarding the failure of the German police to seize Lauda's Ferrari, on Wednesday, August 4, 1976, it was learned that the police had deemed it appropriate to grant the nulla-osta for the shipment of the car to Italy, since Lauda's condition did not initially appear to be serious.
Still on the subject of the causes of the accident, it seems ascertained that no mistake was made by the mechanics in charge of changing the wheels of Lauda's Ferrari. Witness statements agree that three of the four wheels of the car came off only after Ertl and Lunger's cars ran over Niki Lauda's Ferrari.
On the afternoon of Wednesday 4 August 1976, Luca Montezemolo arrives from Sardinia - where he was on vacation - on Umberto Agnelli's personal plane. He reaches the hotel in Mannheim where the Lauda family is spending days of anguish.
The swelling on the face caused by the burns has meanwhile subsided and during the morning Niki Lauda is able for the first time to see his wife Marlene, who has gone to visit him in the aseptic room of the institute of anesthesia and resuscitation.
"Her eyes opened, looking for me. Niki let me know right away that he could catch a glimpse of me".
It is a small progress, as it is psychologically positive that Lauda always reacts with lucidity to the indications of the team of doctors, directed by Professor Lutz, who is trying to save him. In the morning the medical staff asked the Austrian driver to make a series of movements with his shoulders, arms and chest, to help him breathe. Then, tired, he falls asleep.
However, it is useless to hide it, the conditions of the Austrian pilot remain critical, because on his head hangs always, tremendously threatening, the possibility of a pulmonary infection. The night before there was a slight crisis, however, predicted by doctors and kept under control, while the night did not change the situation and Lauda rested with a certain tranquility.
Wednesday, basically, Niki feels a little bit worse, but always less than the specialists expected. In the afternoon, the pilot will still have a small crisis with breathing difficulties, but the situation is largely kept under control. Professor Lutz, in this regard, states:
"We hope that this first critical period can be resolved tomorrow or the day after".
Marlene, speaking with Luca Montezemolo and a few friends, reports that Niki wanted to know if Enzo Ferrari had called.
"I told him yes, and he let me know he was very happy."
In the morning, Clay Regazzoni also calls from Lugano for news of his unfortunate teammate. The conversation slips for a moment on the condition of Lauda's face and his future. The burning gases released in the fire, besides dangerously intoxicating his lungs, have burned Niki's head, forehead and cheeks. A specialist in Frankfurt states that, in his opinion, at least ten operations and two years will be needed for it to be possible to reconstruct the face of the reigning World Champion.
"It doesn't matter. Whether Niki comes back uglier or more beautiful than before has no value, I love him anyway".
While Lauda struggles to live, a jumble of hypotheses about the causes of the accident continues to unfold. The prosecutor of the Republic of Koblenz, on which the Nurburgring area depends, Heribert Braun, opens a procedure against unknown persons for culpable lesions, and interrogates various witnesses in an attempt to establish whether Lauda's exit from the track was caused by a mechanical failure or by other causes.
The magistrate, in particular, wants to ascertain whether, by chance, the operation of replacing the tires at the box was never carried out. Someone would have also reported to have seen a fuel tank cap flying off.
In the meantime, the German commentators, who are trying to shift the public's attention away from the safety issues raised at the Nurburgring by Lauda's accident, wonder why the Ferrari was not impounded, almost suggesting that the Scuderia of Maranello, having recovered the wreckage, loaded the car onto a truck and quickly returned to Italy.
In reality, as mentioned, it was the organizers of the Grand Prix themselves who begged the Maranello mechanics to remove the wreck, which was leaking gasoline and was considered dangerous. Later, the police authorities present on the circuit, who are responsible for any intervention, gave their nulla osta to the departure of the team with the remains of the World Champion's single-seater.
In defense of the Nurburgring, but above all to clarify certain dynamics and possible inferences, after reading the telegram of warning sent by Maranello, on Wednesday, August 4, Baron Huska Von Hastein spoke, appearing in the Mannheim hotel hosting Lauda's family.
"It's a dangerous track like all the others. This year, to improve it, we spent one hundred and twenty million liras. I would like to point out that twenty-eight seconds after the accident, a fire-fighting car was on the spot and an ambulance arrived after two minutes and eighteen seconds, stopping, however, behind the row of single-seaters in the middle of the road after the stop sign imposed by the race director. I apologized to Enzo Ferrari for certain inferences about the causes of the drama. We never talked about technical defects".
However, a few days earlier Metternich and Von Hanstein, trying to exonerate the Nurburgring circuit, had called Ferrari's fire extinguishing system into question.
"At Ferrari they say that the mechanism worked perfectly, Our commissioners, on the other hand, confirmed that the pressure gauge still marked full".
And they had added:
"At the site of the accident, at the point where Lauda's car began its tragic skid, we found traces left by mechanical details that had crawled on the asphalt."
The President of the FIA and the German ADAC, Prince Metternich, who went to the hospital to pay his respects to the Austrian driver, also supports the same hypothesis:
"The pressure gauge of the Ferrari car's fire system marked maximum charge; which could mean that it failed in the accident."
Luca Montezemolo, who wouldn't really want to deal with such topics at this time, nevertheless can't hold back, and says:
"We don't say crazy things. Each wheel of the Ferrari 312 T2 has one big fixing bolt. Either it screws in or it doesn't, and there's no middle ground. Niki couldn't have gone three meters, let alone ten kilometers. Plugs? But there are none on our single-seater. There is only a plastic cover that covers a special valve device. It seems to me that too many things have been written and said out of order. However, Lauda's car is currently being examined in Maranello, where a technical expertise will be carried out, the results of which will be made known in the next few days".
At the same time, the Automobil Club von Deutschland announced that the accident was not caused by the responsibility of third parties. In a statement, the ADV, which organizes the race, also says that according to an authorized expert, the breakage of the suspension of Lauda's Ferrari occurred at the moment of impact against the protective barrier and then against the rocks that are near the circuit. There is therefore no reason to suspect that it was technical negligence that caused the accident.
As far as the wheels are concerned - continues the Avd communiqué - from the first investigations it appears that they have been properly fixed. From the investigations carried out so far by the Avd, it appears that the fire extinguishing system of the car was not operated manually and that Ferrari did not equip the vehicle with an automatic device, as recommended by the technical regulations.
On the same day, although still feverish (39 degrees), Ferrari asks Autosprint's editorial staff for Arturo Merzario's address to send him a telegram:
"Thank you for your act of courage, looking forward to a direct testimony of personal gratitude at the first opportunity".
And he asks Csai for an expert commission composed of three representatives to verify the 312 T2 arrived in Maranello from Germany. The commission will be composed by the engineers Galmanini, Nosetto from Csai and Peter Jowitt.
At the same time, in London the Real Automobile Club rejects the complaint made by Audretto, regarding Hunt's restart at the British Grand Prix and the request for disqualification, then the and Ferrari announces that it will appeal to the Fia.
Thursday 5 August 1976 Niki Lauda is improving and the doctors of the hospital of Mannheim hope in few days to dissolve the prognosis.
In the course of the morning a cannula is removed that Niki had in his mouth and that helped him in breathing. Afterwards, the Austrian driver talks to his wife Marlene and his brother Florian, and asks to eat a plate of cooked plums.
Lauda, in a period of time yet to be defined, could also resume his sporting activity: some concern, however, arouse the conditions of an eye, damaged by the burns. Probably, already the following week, Niki will be transferred to a clinic specialized in the treatment of burns.
These are complex days also for Ferrari, which after having considered the idea of taking a replacement for Lauda, decides to suspend its participation in the Formula 1 World Championship, making the choice known through a statement released on Friday 6 August.
"Ferrari informs its sporting friends:
- After noting the regulatory interpretations of the responsible organizers of the World Grand Prix from Brazil onwards, culminating with the dramatic Nurburgring.
- Noting the lack of consideration given by the Fia to the rulings of the A.C. of Spain and the International Sports Commission.
- Disgusted that the Fia itself did not even feel the need to respond to Ferrari's petition, which pointed out that the procedure followed by the Appeals Tribunal should be considered null and void for not having admitted our company as equally interested as the plaintiff.
- Bitter about the absence of real technical-juridical assistance from the Italian sporting authorities.
- Wanting to defend the honorability of its technical managers of the sports management, engineers Forghieri, Rocchi, Bussi, attacked with reckless accusations of technical deficiencies.
- In order to give Engineer Giovanni Sguazzini, the company's managing director, the possibility to take recourse to the judiciary, having noticed that sports justice with its sentences could appear to be a defense of interests that do not fall within its institutional aims.
He has decided, with immediate effect, to suspend participation in the world championship".
At Maranello it was also studied an attempt to keep Niki the championship: Regazzoni should have been flanked in the next six races by a very strong driver, and precisely - after Fittipaldi's denial - the Swedish Ronnie Peterson, whose loan from March would have been made possible by the good offices of Ferrari's friends.
But when Lauda learned about the contacts between Ferrari and the Swedish driver, he immediately questioned his own will and rejected the idea of having him in the team. So, Ronnie Peterson, who in the meantime arrives at the Milan airport on Thursday, August 5, 1976 to be able to move to Fiorano to test the 312 T2, where Forghieri has prepared a car for the tests to be carried out on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, is sent back to Great Britain by Audetto. Nevertheless, Lauda telegraphs Maranello:
"I have won the most beautiful race of my life. I am happy that you have decided not to race in Austria. I am sorry I cannot race in Monza".
In addition, on Friday 6 August 1976 a telegram sent by Max Mosley arrives at Maranello, in which the British lawyer threatens legal action in the event that Ferrari has withdrawn Ronnie Peterson from the March.
The reasons for the suspension - not withdrawal, so it seems almost certain that Ferrari will be back in the race next year - are basically five. The communiqué, handwritten by Enzo Ferrari, lists with clear clarity that the Fia, i.e. the International Automobile Federation, is under accusation. The FIA, through its Court of Appeal, has re-qualified James Hunt and McLaren in the Spanish Grand Prix classification and has ignored a petition by Ferrari in this regard, and the Csai, i.e. the Sports Commission that should be the guardian of Ferrari's rights and that, unfortunately, apart from formal communiqués of assistance and commitment, does nothing.
And, after all, Mr. Carpi de Resmini, president of the Automobile Club of Italy, is also vice-president of Fia. The latter, the same evening, retorts declaring:
"Ferrari has and has always had our support and solidarity, even on the occasion of the cases in Spain and England. Ferrari's decision comes from the bitterness of many adverse circumstances. But even if we do our best in the international arena, we must not forget that we are not alone in deciding and weighing decisions, which are also the result of balances, meetings and different ideas".
"I understand Ferrari, I regret its decision, but you cannot say that we did not make ourselves available after Lauda's accident. We got our engineers Nosetto and Galmanini back from vacation for the expertise at Fiorano, we immediately contacted Jowitt."
Above all, Lauda's accident sparked off a flurry of tendentious hypotheses, fuelled by the German Automobile Club itself, the organiser of the Grand Prix, such as the fact that the cylinders containing the extinguishing liquid could not be used.
However, it is necessary to point out that Formula 1 technical rules do not oblige at all to place side by side a manual control able to activate the device other automatic systems, based on thermal sensors, able to register a sudden increase of temperature.
And, secondly, the manual control had been operated, it is not known whether by Lauda or by one of the rescuers, since the three cylinders were found empty, showing that the liquid had been sprayed in the cockpit and in the other key points of the car.
Moreover, the car hit an embankment at over 200 km/h, but the structure of the cockpit, with its double roll bars, resisted magnificently, so that Lauda did not suffer any fractures, except for his cheekbone and jaw.
Finally, the Ferrari mechanics, in the course of their expertise, found that the gearbox was in fourth gear; this would make the allegations about a presumed failure or inconvenience to the device initially reported by Hans Oberhofer, a fan present at the venue, fall apart.
In conclusion, a small significant detail: the engine ignition command will be found on the off position. This would therefore lead to the assumption that Lauda managed to disconnect the contacts while he was flying off the track.
On the same day, the technical commissioners Nosetto and Galmanini carry out the survey at Fiorano on Lauda's car, and issue the following statement:
At the invitation of the Ferrari Company, on August 6, at 11:00 a.m., we, the undersigned, proceeded to inspect the wreck of the car in question coming from the Nurburgring circuit where, on August 1, 1976 at the wheel of the driver Niki Lauda, had suffered the accident.
The wreck suspended on jack-stands presented:
- Missing front and rear left wheels, with evident breakage of the suspension elements attaching them to the chassis, as well as the steering rod. The characteristics of the breakages of these elements unquestionably show that they are the consequence of an anomalous load due to an external action (impact);
- Chassis - Outer left side deformed at the height of the driver's knee: evidence of impact with another car;
- Left central side - fuel tank area - body becomes in the lower external part and without the tank;
- Left rear side - exhaust pipes crushed by external impact;
- Right side exhaust tips clogged with dirt;
- Widespread burn marks particularly noticeable on the right side of the car;
- Bodywork, particularly of the passenger compartment, on the whole almost intact, except for slight deformation. Cockpit and adjacent areas covered with light gray dust;
- Engine electrical circuit breaker, located on a race of the steering wheel, in off position;
- Five-pound fire extinguisher and medical air cylinder air pressure gauge, with index at zero. Fire extinguisher and medical air cylinders: empty;
- External fire extinguisher control handle and main electrical switch (left side of body base upright safety center) in off position (not operated);
- Gearshift in speed IV position;
- Battery clamps (+ and -), positioned vertically in the rear central part of the vehicle, torn by impact;
- Engine air intake control guillotines: sliding (functioning);
- Steering system: intact from steering wheel to steering box included;
- Right side wheels: free;
- Accelerator pedal: free;
- Brakes on front right and rear wheels: not locked;
- Gearbox and differential in perfect working order.
Upon examination of the detached parts, it was noted:
- Left front and rear wheels, connected to their respective hub carriers, free to rotate;
- Left front wheel brake: not locked;
- Pirelli FT/3 safety tank with internal sponge, production March 1976, leaked as a result of deformation by impact of the left container compartment: intact;
- General electric switch control device housed on the rear wing support: intact, torn cables, unexploded charges;
- rear wing heavily deformed due to evident impact against a pole.
Following disassembly it was found:
- Control detonators of extinguishing system (two independent cylinders) and medical air exploded, resulting in perforation of fluid passage control membranes;
- Engine free to rotate.
After the above mentioned clarifications, the careful examination of the wreck and the detached parts, we believe we can conclude with absolute certainty that:
- The accident could not be caused by defects in the mechanics of the car;
- That all the devices and systems related to the safety measures imposed by the current technical-sporting regulations have been observed and that they have been operated from inside the cockpit;
- That the safety tank has come out of its housing (left side) as a result of a strong external load that has produced the deformation of the housing itself up to the limits of breakage;
- That the detachment of the tank has caused the leakage of fuel that has ignited for causes not ascertained, but presumably for the production of sparks due to impact with other vehicles in collision, or contact with incandescent parts (exhaust pipes).
P.I Vincenzo Galmanini
(President S/C Tecnica Csai)
Dr. Ing. Roberto Nosetto
(Secretary S/C Tecnica Csai)
The news of Ferrari's withdrawal from the World Championship aroused great surprise in the English automotive world, but the London press limited itself to reporting the news without commenting on it.
The Times, for example, publishes the news at the end of an article of about twenty lines on Niki Lauda's current condition; the British newspaper gives the withdrawal just three and a half lines. The Guardian, the other important British newspaper, assigns half a column to the abandonment of the Maranello Scuderia.
On the contrary, the Formula 1 teams do not hide their surprise and regret for Ferrari's decision. While James Hunt and the general manager of McLaren, the American Teddy Mayer, are in Austria to test the brand new M 26, which should probably debut in the next race, Friday, August 6, 1976 Harry Piers, is surprised:
"Certainly we would have preferred that the Italian cars continued to race, because only in this way our eventual victory in the World Championship would have obtained greater significance".
And also Ken Tyrrell, who is in contention for the World Championship with his six-wheel car, claims to have been painfully surprised by the abandonment, but not to understand the reasons yet:
"What I can only say is that Ferrari has been able to create a formidable car, beautifully designed and built. Any person who knows about racing knows this absolute truth. Without Ferrari, the races will undoubtedly lack sap. Renunciation is undoubtedly detrimental to the sport. It is probably a hasty decision. I only hope that Commendatore Ferrari will change his mind as soon as possible. This decision of his will not help Lauda anyway and it cannot be good for anyone else. All over the world the motor racing fans want to see Ferrari again, and even more we, the constructors, want it. If I were to win the Austrian Grand Prix, what could this success mean?"
Ferrari's sudden renunciation doesn't seem to have surprised John Surtees much, who, as you may recall, won the 1964 World Championship in a Maranello car:
"I think I can understand the reasons for the renunciation, and I would like to express all my sympathy to Ferrari at such a difficult time. His decision seems logical to me. In fact, the Maranello company does not need to prove that its is the best car in Formula 1 and racing to race does not make sense at this point".
While March CEO Max Mosley states:
"I understand how contrite Ferrari has been after what has happened recently. The incident at the Nurburgring was perhaps the final blow. All in all, it seems to me that Ferrari's decision is a wise one. I do not share the opinion of some who claim that it is a hasty decision, on the contrary for me it is the result of a very convincing reasoning".
Brands Hatch race director Dean Delomont, the Royal Automobile Club's most senior sporting official, who was much discussed for the chaos that occurred during and after the British Grand Prix, states:
"We must all regret Ferrari's decision, it has always been an integral part of motorsport. Our wish is that it will return as soon as possible. While we realize the problems Ferrari has encountered since the loss of Lauda, its decision seems very drastic".
And Bernie Ecclestone, president of the Formula One Manufacturers Association, states:
"As president of the Formula 1 Association I respect Ferrari's ideas. Of course if he has decided to retire he has his good reasons. He can retire and at the same time he can come back whenever he wants. As the owner of Martini-Brabham-Alfa Romeo, I am immensely sorry; we are two teams with Italian affinities, so we understand each other and we are good friends. We have lost, momentarily I hope, some friends and top players in the Formula 1 circus. I hope they can return as soon as possible to continue the sporting battle".
The news upsets above all Italy, to the point that on Friday, August 7, 1976, the Social Democrat deputies Luigi Preti and Giuseppe Amadei address a question to the President of the Council of Ministers, to the Minister of Tourism and Entertainment and to the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture, to know, in relation to the announced withdrawal of Ferrari from participation in the Formula 1 World Championship, if it is true that one of the reasons for this serious decision is the absence of real technical and legal assistance from the Italian sporting authorities.
Moreover, the people in question would like to know what urgent initiatives are intended to be adopted in order to remedy the shortcomings reported by the Maranello factory, thus recreating the conditions for its prompt return to competition, which brings so much prestige to Italian sport throughout the world and also indirectly benefits the motor industry itself. In this regard, Mr Amadei states:
"We can't help but be in solidarity with our friend, engineer Ferrari, who for many years, without asking anything of the State, risking, indeed, and losing out on his own, with the sole strength of his technical ability, his passion for sport and his pride as an Italian who still believes in certain ideals, for politics, or this or any other kind of initiative, follows a commitment of exceptional value in the industrial field. It often happens, abroad, that the name of our country is linked not to this or that event but to the victories, and in any case to the name of Ferrari".
"The episode of the withdrawal of the Maranello company from international Formula 1 competitions is something more than a sporting fact, and we hope from the sensitivity of government men, and in particular of the Prime Minister himself, the Honorable Mr. Andreotti, an urgent clarifying intervention, identifying any shortcomings and indicating appropriate initiatives to express tangible solidarity with Ferrari".
Asked about the decision of the Maranello company to no longer participate for this season in the Formula 1 World Championship trials, on Saturday morning Clay Regazzoni declares to the newspaper Tribune de Genève:
"I'm still not aware of this decision, I don't know anything. On Thursday morning I went to Milan. Ferrari gave me some directives for some tests to be carried out. There was no sign of this decision. I am therefore waiting for confirmation from Ferrari before making a decision".
It seems in fact that Ferrari has quickly changed its mind, since Regazzoni had stated, among other things, during an interview broadcast by the Ticino radio on Thursday, August 5, 1976 at 12:00, that Ferrari:
"It will continue the competition until the end of the season hiring as second driver the Swedish Ronnie Peterson".
In the meantime, just Thursday 5 August 1976 Niki Lauda overcomes the most critical moment and, for the first time, the doctors of the städtische krankenanstalten of Mannheim, where the Austrian driver is hospitalized since Sunday, smile and offer comforting forecasts to family and friends.
In short, Lauda is not completely out of danger and the prognosis cannot yet be dissolved, but his chances of survival have increased dramatically. Professor Klaus Peter, one of the specialists of the modern and super-efficient institute of anesthesia and resuscitation directed by Professor Horst Lutz, pronounces the first words of hope after four long days of uncertainty and anxiety, addressing them to Marlene and Florian Lauda, who at 9:00 a.m. went to the hospital for the usual visit to Niki, and to Luca Cordero di Montezemo and Sante Ghedini, who accompanied them.
Montezemolo had to leave for Rome, but before going to Frankfurt to catch his plane he wanted to find out about the Ferrari driver's condition. In a hallway with pale pastel tones, Professor Peter said:
"The patient spent a quiet night, immersed in a restful sleep. We don't yet have the mathematical certainty of his victory in this battle, but the physicist has reacted very well in the last forty-eight hours, overcoming two crises in a way superior to the forecasts. This morning he let us know he has an appetite and asked when he will be able to leave the hospital. At this point it is possible to say that Lauda can be saved".
These are cautious words, but they naturally light up the faces of Marlene Lauda, Florian, Montezemolo and Ghedini. In the moments that followed, Marlene burst into tears, embracing her brother-in-law and Montezemolo. Tears of joy after the anxiety of these days and the bitterness for certain articles in the German press, whose bad taste touches unimaginable heights. One newspaper, for example, in addition to insisting on the problems of the burns on Niki's face, publishes a slightly hosé photo from the days when Marlene was a model.
"It's a miracle, a miracle, Niki didn't realize the seriousness of the situation and we, of course, kept it from him. Niki thinks he's only hospitalized because of the burns: he knows he's burned, but he feels his legs and arms are intact. He didn't realize that he had been poisoned by the gases he breathed in the fire".
Then Marlene pronounces very nice words towards the drivers who extracted her husband from the cockpit of the burning Ferrari.
"They were all wonderful, but I think Arturo Merzario was the best and the bravest. If it wasn't for him, for them, I would have lost Niki. Now I want to look for Merzario, to tell him that I thank him".
While Montezemolo admits that:
"This is the first time we are told that Niki can really save himself. This is great news for Ferrari, for Enzo Ferrari, for those who, like me, have been thinking of Lauda in these days as a man and a friend before being a driver. It seems to me, at this point, that Niki, whom I will always consider the 1976 Formula 1 World Champion, has won his most difficult Grand Prix. Once again, he has shown what it means to be able to react and to fight".
And, shortly thereafter, Professor Lutz makes the point about Lauda's condition:
"Perhaps we can release the prognosis in the next two days. The driver's breathing and blood circulation have improved considerably, so much so that we have removed the cannula that had been placed in his throat to help him breathe. The pulmonary infection is under control, but we do not exclude the possibility of possible crises, also in relation to the burns."
"Lauda asked me if, in case of recovery, he would be able to return to racing. I told him yes, and he seemed relieved. The driver had no brain injury. There is only one problem, we don't know what condition Lauda's eyes are in. We fear that the visual function of one of them, the left one, could have been compromised by the burns".
Other details are later provided by Florian Lauda:
"Niki is breathing by his own means today. He asked for something to eat, a cup of cooked prunes, but we told him to be content with IV fluids. At this point I'm optimistic, although I don't forget that my brother, beyond the progress, is still a patient in the resuscitation room. The worst moment was Tuesday afternoon: I spent terrible hours, because I feared he might shut down at any moment".
"The fact that I was almost a doctor certainly didn't help, because I always knew what Niki's real situation was and I had to hide it, as much as possible, from Marlene and my parents. I love my brother very much, I know a Niki that you can't imagine. I don't care much about racing, but I have realized one thing: the rescue services, everywhere, are badly organized. For example, along the tracks there are not the most important men for an emergency intervention, that is the resuscitators and the anesthesiologists".
Marlene Lauda, back in the hotel from the hospital, does not eat, but prefers to throw herself on the bed. Then, in the afternoon she returns to see Niki after having refused, abruptly, an interview on Italian television.
"I finally slept a few hours. Niki also asked me if his plane was in Mannheim and if the new cockpit instruments, just bought, were working well".
The news of Enzo Ferrari's decision to suspend participation in the Grand Prix indirectly offered other reasons for consolation to the Lauda family.
"Niki will be happy."
Ernst and Elisabeth Lauda also appeared happy: Niki's parents, confirming their son's improvement, decided to return to Vienna on Friday, August 6, 1976, and Florian should do the same, while Marlene and Sante Ghedini, the efficient factotum at Maranello, would remain in Mannheim.
Further good news came during the day on Friday, as Niki Lauda's condition continued to improve, undergoing a progress defined as extraordinary by Professor Horst Lutz, who in addition declared that the feeding through phlebotomy had been reduced and that Niki was now in condition to eat light meals:
"We'll start with some cooked fruit, then move on to more substantial foods."
Breathing and blood circulation are normal, to the point that Professor Lutz communicates with a smile:
"That it will no longer be necessary to issue periodic medical bulletins."
He then adds that:
"Lauda - barring any crisis at the present time unforeseeable - will be able to leave the Städtische Krankenanstalten on Monday. He will be transferred to Ludwigshafen, in the specialized clinic for burns where he was brought from Adenau one hour after the accident on the Nurburgring circuit".
The doctors at Ludwigschafen will begin plastic surgery treatments immediately. In this regard, Lauda's situation is better than had been thought at first.
"Niki's face is deflating. The flames have not affected him. The worst burns are on the neck and the back of his head."
Lauda's progress is exceptional, but it must be considered that the Austrian driver has an exceptional physique, as a sportsman, intact and well trained. Moreover, in these cases the psychological reaction skills play a big role. And Niki turned into a restless patient, who would like to hurry up and leave his bed.
On Saturday, August 7, 1976, the Austrian driver was placed on a chair in the aseptic room where Marlene brought him a huge bundle of Italian and foreign newspapers and magazines that Sante Ghedini had gone to buy in Frankfurt. Niki glances through them, making himself read the passages that most interest him. His wife, who had already informed him the previous evening, illustrates to Niki Ferrari's communiqué on the suspension of activity.
"My husband was very pleased with Ferrari's decision. He said that the commendatore has done very well and that this way it will be less difficult for him to regain II lost time when he returns to racing. Niki is sure to be back on track in a few months and I will respect his wishes. He's interested in everything now and doesn't want to be lost when he gets out of the hospital".
Knowing the World Champion's character and will, one can be sure that he will work hard to get back behind the wheel of his Formula 1 Ferrari. Will he succeed?
It is probable, also because contrary to the fears that were initially expressed, the doctors note that Lauda's eyes have not been injured. The dramatic adventure that began last Sunday at the Nurburgring is therefore coming to an end in the best possible way. Having won the biggest battle, the Austrian driver will now face a second challenge to become the champion he has always been. For himself and for Ferrari.
Sunday, August 8, 1976, Niki Lauda continues to improve and takes giant steps towards recovery every day. Having overcome the critical phase caused by the intoxication of the gases breathed in the fire, the Austrian driver begins to walk and remains seated on his bed for a long time, eating cooked and raw fruit and the first soups.
"In the coming days, the pilot will be able to resume a normal diet."
And in the meantime, it is confirmed that on Monday Lauda will be transferred to the burn clinic in Ludwigshafen, where plastic surgery specialists should start operating on Niki's head. The hands do not need any special care, except for the right one, which has been burned but fortunately not seriously.
Lauda remembers nothing of the accident, but Marlene tells him in detail the various phases of the disaster, emphasizing the splendid behavior of his rescuers.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here now. They saved me."
At the same time, Ferrari's decision to suspend participation in the Formula 1 world championship began to set off a chain of problems.
While the leaders of motor sports are agitated, the Austrian Grand Prix, scheduled for August 15, 1976 on the circuit of Zeltweg, goes through a delicate moment, to the point that it is thought, even, that this can not be disputed.
From Austria come controversial and contrasting news: first of all, the organizers of the Grand Prix threatened to sue Ferrari for damages because they feared they would incur a financial loss - about three million schillings, since it is calculated that Italians and Swiss would lose twenty percent and Austrians ten percent - due to the absence of the Maranello team and its drivers at their race.
Peter Ramensthelar, administrative manager of the company that manages the Zeltweg circuit, says that the Italian company had already entered two cars, thus concluding a contract that can only be invalidated for reasons of force majeure. This would obviously be the case for Lauda, but not for Regazzoni.
The organizers, according to Austrian sources, claimed not to have yet received official notification of Ferrari's withdrawal, and they added that they had not been able to get in touch with Maranello.
However, it is proven that between the parties there has been a dense exchange of telexes, and to a specific request of the Austrians to run at least Regazzoni, Italy responded with a polite and dry denial. The Austrian government is also involved in the affair, albeit in the background.
The authorities in Vienna would be extremely perplexed as to whether or not they would give their approval to the Grand Prix for two reasons: on the one hand, out of a sense of solidarity with Lauda - who is an idol in Austria - and with Ferrari, and on the other hand, for fear of unrest.
In Vienna they are afraid that Niki's and Maranello's fans - Austrian, Italian or of any nationality - could make unconscious gestures before and during the race. In any case, the police service, if the race will take place, will be reinforced.
Certainly, the tension in Formula 1 continues, and more than ever a definitive clarification is necessary, also because in the meantime, Clay Regazzoni, present in Bordighera and about to reach Maranello, on Sunday August 8, 1976 declares:
"Following the decision of the engineer Ferrari not to participate in the next championship races I would like to clarify the following: first of all, from the moment when Ferrari decided to abstain from the next Grand Prix I did not have the opportunity to speak with any representative of the press, and I was very annoyed reading presumed statements of mine about it. After Ferrari's decision I spoke with engineer Forghieri, who confirmed that, despite the situation of the moment, the testing program will continue as planned. As for the decision itself, I fully agree with Ferrari's position even if, as a sportsman, I am sorry not to be able to defend the colors of the Maranello factory and Lauda's position in the next Grand Prix".
Sunday 8 August 1976 Niki Lauda leaves the hospital of Mannheim, transported to the one of Ludwigshafen, specialized in the treatment of burns. Now Lauda can also drink wine, while Hunt tests at Zeltweg the new McLaren N26 and beats the track record turning in 1'34"46.
Monday 9 August 1976 Regazzoni does comparative tests with the tires used by him and Lauda at the Nurburgring, and then he tries the new Goodyear tires at Fiorano.
When Regazzoni tests the tires used by Lauda, he finds the same vibrations coming from the rear tires that the Austrian had reported on Friday. This should be caused by the problems of the too big production of monotype tires: one hundred and eighty tires produced together would give rise to these differences of compound and general condition.
In the meantime, Sante Ghedini came back to Maranello and confirmed to Ferrari (in the meantime he was sfebrile) that Lauda unfastened his helmet while he was inside the car, immediately after the first impact, to check the effects of the blow to the cheekbone (but actually the helmet slipped off during the impact). So he was engulfed in flames to the face while he was defenseless, at the new investments.
On Tuesday at the Fiorano circuit it rains, so Regazzoni cannot continue the tests. Meanwhile, in Germany, Lauda is interviewed by Austrian television:
"Now I think about getting well. I will think about coming back to the races only if I will be healed one hundred percent".
And from Cologne Chris Amon announces his definitive withdrawal from the races, so that the Ensign replaces him - after payment of 16.000.000 liras - with the Austrian Binder. While from Great Britain the vice-president of Ford, Walter Hayes, defends Enzo Ferrari's position and his decision to retire from racing, declaring:
"At least I took Ferrari literally, and on June 21, 1976 I told Michael Kranefuss that in my opinion Ferrari would retire before the end of the season, and for a very long time, if the appeal for the British Grand Prix was rejected. It is not a question of agreeing or disagreeing with Ferrari's point of view, nor do I believe that he is seeking your support, but the fact is that motor racing for the rest of the year will be much less valid because of the absence of Ferrari. Then there is no doubt that it would be just as well if the people most administratively attached to the sport learned by heart the lesson consequent upon this incident, for the people our sport must above all concern itself with are the spectators who, however nationalistic they may be, have a right to see it fairly governed."
He then continues:
"It is my opinion, for what it may be worth, that Hunt won fairly and deservedly at Brands Hatch: it was a completely new race, but he won it. I don't even believe that his performance in Spain was in any way favored by the infinitesimal measurement error. But just as there can be no such thing as almost-virgin women, there can be no such thing as flexible regulations, and our sport would do well to remember that it has only been able to achieve its current position of power and enormous advantages by virtue of being exciting and fair, and because it has largely avoided falling into the discrimination and diatribes that have distorted so many other sports. Now it would be an excellent idea if the journalists of the European specialized press would make Ferrari see that everyone wants its return: it would be an even better idea if the manufacturers would send one of their representatives to Ferrari to appease its indignation".
And from Paris, Tuesday, August 10, 1976, the newly appointed Secretary of the CSI, Yvon Leon, in a brief statement explaining:
"The Csi confirms that the Italian Grand Prix will be held on the scheduled date at the Monza circuit, since the Milan area is not affected by the pollution problems".
This clarification, apparently gratuitous, was actually requested by the organizers of the Grand Prix, concerned about certain rumors circulating in Great Britain. In the same week after the German Grand Prix, a specialized British weekly reported that the Italian Grand Prix would not be held because of the leak of poisonous substances at ICMESA in Seveso. In fact Seveso is not so far from the park of Monza, but certainly the area of the racetrack is far from even the most peripheral affected by the toxic cloud.
Wednesday, August 11, 1976 in Rome the extraordinary meeting called by the Csai after Ferrari's accusations about the lack of sport-legal assistance takes place. The meeting concludes with expressions of solidarity for Ferrari, and with the admission of the moral wrongs suffered by Ferrari at the hands of international sporting bodies.
On this occasion the expertise of the Csai engineers, Nosetto and Galmanini, was made public and an invitation was expressed to resume participation in the Formula 1 championship in Italy, at Monza.
"It is guaranteed that Csai will do everything possible to obtain satisfaction from the International Appeals Tribunal so that Hunt and McLaren will be removed from the classification of the British Grand Prix".
Will Ferrari say yes? The assent does not depend only on him, but also on the managing director of the company, Giovanni Sguazzini.
The president of ACI, lawyer Carpi, echoes what Csai has issued, and reiterates that it is important for Ferrari to return to racing soon.
"To avoid a penalization to Italian and foreign motor sportsmen, not responsible for the deprecated decisions of certain international bodies".
Carpi's telegram to Ferrari's address concludes:
"I trust that its high sportsmanship will not want to miss the traditional appointment of Monza the presence of its prestigious cars, the result of the hard work done by her, her technicians and all the workers of her industry".
Nonetheless, on Wednesday 11 August 1976, Scuderia Ferrari clarifies what happened in Germany through envelopes with the Prancing Horse emblem, addressed to newspapers throughout Italy. Inside the envelopes there is a tidy documentation on the Lauda-Ferrari-Nurburgring case: a communiqué from the Maranello factory, written in the original minute by Enzo Ferrari, shows the text of the technical report of the specialists of the Italian Motor Sports Commission, and a series of photographs taken in the workshop on the wreck of the Austrian driver's single-seater.
From the documentation prepared by Ferrari, it emerges irrefutably that Lauda's accident was not caused by a failure of the car, but rather by causes that can be hypothesized but cannot be specified, apart from the fact that the track was not yet completely dry.
So a series of circumstances, from the damp road surface to Lauda's driving at the limit, engaged in a frantic pursuit, to the tires. It is interesting to report some of Ferrari's clarifications, which hint at rash statements and considerations made by the organizers of the German race and the media, in particular:
- It was stated that the first cause of the accident was due to the loss of a wheel, as stated in the organizers' communiqué number 39 of August 1. Ferrari, in the light of the conclusions of the technical report, requested from Csai, can state that this is completely false, as also shown by the subsequent report of the Avd technical commissioners;
- It has been said that Ferrari managers and technicians sneaked away from the Nurburgring, removing the wreck of the car from any technical investigation. This is also completely false. Ferrari left the Nurburgring only after the organizers' technicians had invited the team to recover the wreck of the car. This was also with the agreement of Von Hanstein, president of the Avd sports commission and vice president of the CSI, once the five commissioners had finished their inspection, as stated in their communiqué number 51 of August 4;
- It has been said that the 312 T2 did not have a fire extinguishing system, but this is contrary to the truth, as the report has shown. It is enough to remember that the same scrutineers would not have allowed our cars to start, if the safety rules related to the systems had not been found regular during the verification;
- It has been reported in the press that the Fia president declared that the pressure gauge of the main extinguisher was broken. The report found that the pressure gauge was in the empty position, a condition in which the on board extinguisher was found, after having been manually operated from inside the car and this was detected by the drivers who rescued Lauda.
The reconstruction of the accident is meticulous. It does not deviate from what was already known, but it offers some additional details of considerable interest: Lauda was struck violently on the helmet by one of the wooden poles of the safety nets. Edwards avoided the Ferrari, stopped after a hundred meters and ran back on foot to help his colleague. Lunger and Ertl made the 312 T2 fly fifty meters. From the bodywork gutted by the collisions, the left rubber tank leaked, soaking the exterior of the Ferrari with gasoline. The statement concludes with words of bitterness and accusation:
"Ferrari is saddened to see how it has speculated on such a sad event, throwing discredit on an entire factory that has always worked with a high sense of responsibility, in an attempt to safeguard the viability of a circuit now condemned by the evolution of the times".
What else to say?