On August 19, 1976, in Paris, the secretariat of the International Sports Commission, an organ of the International Automobile Federation, announced that it had officially received, through the Automobile Club of Italy, Ferrari's appeal against the decision of the court of the Royal Automobile Club to consider James Hunt winner of the British Grand Prix. The Brands Hatch race took place on July 18, 1976 and was contested for alleged favoritism used by the organizers towards Hunt after a break. The FIA appeals tribunal will meet to examine the Italian Csai's appeal in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Ferrari has not yet announced when it intends to return to competition ten days before the Dutch Grand Prix, the twelfth round of the Formula 1 World Championship. But in the Maranello racing department, the technical staff continues to work on updating and studying, independently of a possible and hoped-for return to racing.
It is believed, in specialized circles, that if the situation at the top of the international motorsport will be clarified, and if the attitudes so far shown towards Ferrari will be changed and important decisions will be taken, the reappearance of the Ferrari cars is possible, at least in the Italian Grand Prix of 12 September 1976 that marked, last year, the triumph of Clay Regazzoni on Ferrari 312 T and the triumph of Niki Lauda World Champion.
"If they don't reconfirm me, I have no problem finding another team, but I think I will be Lauda's second driver in 1977 as well. I talk this evening with Ferrari, I don't know if they start again or not, I am ready anyway. A week ago I set up the car and a mule".
This is the testimony of Clay Regazzoni, who on August 23, 1976, at 13:30, from Lugano confesses:
"I race because I still have fun, otherwise I wouldn't do it. For my liquidation a Fiat-Ferrari dealership? But we're crazy, when I stop I certainly won't sell cars".
But all the rumors about Reutemann, Peterson and Fittipaldi?
"I don't know anything. Then, it's not so easy to be, I won't say drive, but to be at Ferrari, to get along with the environment. I get along fine. Think about someone like Scheckter, who is always complaining to everyone, what would happen to him at Ferrari? Peterson? Yes, he is strong, but he still has to prove it. Reutemann? He is no longer very young, he lacks pugnacity, he gets demoralized easily. Fittipaldi? I take my hat off to him, but I think he is hopelessly tied to Coopersucar and its sugar...".
So does Clay stay?
"When I tested the cars the other week, I wanted to talk to Ferrari but I couldn't, When I changed teams in 1973 I had Lotus and others to choose from, then I opted for B.R.M. because Marlboro wanted it that way. At Ferrari you need a second driver, Niki and I get along well; yes, certainly for me this year has been an unlucky year, things did not work well, at Maranello they know it. In 1974 they made me lose the title. If they were okay with that, I am okay with that. I spoke the other day on the phone with Lauda, he told me he's fine, he only has external burns, his lungs are fine, he's debilitated certainly, but let's not forget that after my accident at Kyalami, three weeks later I was another time in the car".
There are rumors that Watson may take Clay's place. How does the Swiss driver see the recent Zeltweg winner?
"Zeltweg I saw on television. Everyone said it was a good race, but if Ferrari had been there they would have all been behind. It was a race without me and Niki as the stars. Watson is a driver that I have always liked; I don't think he will come to Ferrari, he is fine where he is".
But aren't you resentful that Ferrari dropped out?
"No, if they decided that way I'm fine with it. Of course, you could defend Niki's title by putting three cars on the track. Theoretically, if they had found a good partner, I could still have won, but that's the way it went".
Who would you see in your place at Ferrari?
"Well, I don't know what to say. Apart from the fact that I think I will team up with Lauda again next year. It's not easy today to drive a Formula 1 car. It's not because Ferrari wins, whoever gets on it can win. Today you drive to the limit of the car, not to the limit of the driver. When I race I know that I could go faster, but the car doesn't allow me to. Look at Brambilla: he's generous, but he's always out, because he drives at his own limit and not at the car's. Twenty years ago Nuvolari was making the most of the car. Twenty years ago Nuvolari amazed the world with his human feats; at that time Brambilla could be a Nuvolari, today also Nuvolari would look like Brambilla. Improvisation is over in Formula 1".
And of gasoline beyond regulation, what does Clay think?
"Bullshit, I don't believe it."
The conversation is interrupted by a phone call from Audetto from Maranello, who tells him to get ready to leave for Zandvoort.
In fact, in the meantime, on August 22, 1976 good news about Lauda arrive, who is in continuous telephone contact with James Hunt. The Austrian is about to leave Salzburg for Ibiza, where he will continue his recovery process.
"Salt water is good for the skin and sea air is good for the lungs".
Niki also reveals that he drove a car to get from home to the airport, but:
"It was tiring. I'm down. My reflexes are normal, but my eyes, my body has to get back in shape. I won't be able to compete for a month".
From the burns clinic in Ludwigshafen, Lauda's attending physician, Dr. Rudolf Zellner, declares that the transplant has been successful and the patient now looks satisfactory.
On August 5, 1976 Ferrari had decided to suspend its activity in the Formula 1 World Championship. But after this good news, and after having had a frank explanation and a rapprochement, evidently on the basis of a certain type of commitment assured by Carpi de Resmini and Rogano, on August 23 Enzo Ferrari decided to return to the track.
The interval, therefore, was short and it is a fortune for the championship itself and its protagonists, given what had happened in Austria. This very welcome return happens with only Clay Regazzoni, being Niki Lauda in convalescence and not wishing Ferrari to engage other drivers, at least for now. There is an agreement within the Formula 1 Manufacturers Association that prohibits members from dealing with their respective racers before September 1, 1976; therefore, for the Italian Grand Prix, scheduled for September 12, 1976, something could change.
The decision was taken after a meeting held in Maranello and attended also by the president of the Automobile Club of Italy, Carpi de Resmini. Therefore Regazzoni will be on track on Sunday in the Dutch Grand Prix. Here is the press release from Ferrari:
"The Board of Directors of Ferrari met today at the Fiorano track, with the presence of lawyer Carpi de Resmini, president of the Automobile Club of Italy, and engineer Rogano, president of the Italian Automobile Sports Commission. During the meeting, the causes and effects of Ferrari's decision to suspend its sporting activities were evaluated, noting that this decision, also due to the unanimous consensus obtained, has contributed to promoting a moralizing process at the highest level of international motor sport. It was agreed that ACI, Csai and Ferrari, within the scope of their respective competencies, will work to ensure that this process leads to the desired reform of the CSI, with the institutionalised inclusion, among other things, of representatives of the manufacturers. Immediately, the commitment of ACI and Csai is to obtain from the CSI, since the session scheduled for early September, a firm resolution that calls all to strict compliance with the rules of the sporting code and that commits the disqualification for any and all non-compliance. In fact, there is no doubt that this is the only valid admonishing premise for the correct development of the technical and competitive activity, which is on the verge of being prevaricated by speculative, advertising and spectacular interests that distort a gymnasium of loyal human daring and intellectual capacity. With regard to the ongoing disputes, also in light of the elements and documents brought to our attention today, Mr. Carpi de Resmini confirmed his commitment to have the FIA re-examine as soon as possible the ruling regarding the Spanish Grand Prix; Mr. Rogano guaranteed all assistance to Ferrari at the FIA's International Appeals Tribunal on the occasion of the examination of the appeal against the result of the British Grand Prix, an appeal that will have to be discussed before the Italian Grand Prix. Furthermore, Rogano ensured the assistance to Ferrari in all the Grand Prix through the presence of a qualified Csai official. That being said, the Board of Directors of Ferrari:
- Noting that in the meeting with the representatives of ACI and Csai, the lines of a common policy aimed at removing the underlying causes of the decision suspending racing activity were defined;
- Taking note of the collaborative assurances received from the top Italian sports managers in order to reach a positive solution to the ongoing disputes;
- Adhering to the desire of all sporting friends, of which the president of ACI and the president of Csai have once again made themselves interpreters;
He decided to resume the activity starting from the Grand Prix of Holland with the driver Clay Regazzoni, waiting for the champion Niki Lauda to return soon as he has already decided and yesterday communicated".
Solid arguments have been added to the usual words and chatter: in Ferrari's communiqué, the board of directors is mentioned several times. In fact, decisions like this one involve not only the racing management but Ferrari, with its group ties. But above all, the last lines of the communiqué should be read carefully: Lauda has decided to return to racing, not abandon it. It means that Niki feels sure of himself and that the Nurburgring accident has not altered his balance and his desire to race. This is also great news.
On Sunday in Holland Regazzoni will have a more difficult task than usual: in addition to racing for himself and his team, he will have to go on the track trying to defend Lauda from James Hunt and the McLaren.
In Austria Hunt had to be content with a fourth place, in Holland, where he won last year just ahead of Lauda and Regazzoni, he will probably try an en plein. If he does not take advantage of this favorable period for him, he risks finding Lauda in front in October, also because the FIA rulings on the Spanish and British Grand Prix could be negative for him.
Niki Lauda himself - it was written on the invitation cards - will hold a press conference at the Frankfurt airport hotel and, of course, many journalists and photoreporters will rush to talk to the Austrian driver on Tuesday, August 24, 1976. But they will have to be satisfied with a telephone interview, as the meeting had been scheduled before the Nurburgring accident to advertise a company linked to Niki by financial reasons, but after what recently happened it is clear that the Austrian cannot be present.
Therefore, a Salzburg-Frankfurt connection was set up, showing that even a convalescing Lauda, barricaded at home, had to bow to the reasons of the sponsors. Lauda repeats things already said in the previous days and adds a few details about his condition, not renouncing to some witty remarks:
"Now, I have a thigh on my face."
Referring to the fact that in the Ludwigshafen clinic the doctors have transplanted flaps of skin from the upper part of a thigh to be transplanted on the face. The Ferrari ace, who reiterates that he remembers nothing of the accident and that he is intent on returning to racing in early October with the Canadian Grand Prix, is asked what his wife thinks of his decision to resume racing as soon as possible.
"Marlene believes that the decision is up to me. I can do what I want."
He then talks about his state of health, admitting that he can see with both eyes, and giving a portrait of his face:
"I have skin put back on my forehead and around my eyes; when new skin is put on the face it is completely white. Then, when the blood flows into it, it turns bright red. I am about halfway through my recovery: part of my face has a normal color, part is blood red".
The driver concludes by saying that he will not drive anymore at Nurburgring, at least until a special commission, including a representation of the drivers, decides to make substantial changes for the safety of the track: on the other hand, Niki had never hidden his aversion for the German circuit.
Meanwhile, this incredible, dramatic and controversial 1976 World Championship will resume on Sunday, August 29, 1976 at the Zandvoort circuit, a few kilometers from Amsterdam, with the Dutch Grand Prix. This is the twelfth round of the season, which is now drawing to a close: apart from Holland, there are only four races left to determine the new champion of the wheel, namely Italy (September 12), Canada (October 3), the United States East (October 10) and Japan (October 24). At the top of the world ranking Niki Lauda remains in first place, now on the road to recovery and return to competition, scheduled for the Canadian Grand Prix.
The Austrian has 58 points compared to James Hunt's 47, Jody Scheckter's 34 and Patrick Depailler's 26. His advantage over Hunt, therefore, is eleven points: a slim margin, which the Englishman should make up between Holland and Italy. However, this gap could, in reality, become more consistent in the short term, because on Hunt's head there is an appeal by Ferrari to the FIA appeals tribunal for the facts of the British Grand Prix and the possibility of a reconsideration by the FIA itself regarding the verdict on the Spanish Grand Prix.
We are in the field of hypothesis, even if reliable, so for now it is convenient to remain anchored to that margin of eleven points that divides Lauda from his rival. Hunt has already wasted an opportunity in the much talked about Austrian Grand Prix, failing to win but settling for a modest fourth place, and now he has no more time to lose.
This time, however, on the track there will be also the Ferrari with Clay Regazzoni, called to prove his value especially in these days of rumors on the driver market. The Zandvoort track, among other things, has always been appreciated by the Maranello cars and by Regazzoni. In the last four years Ferrari won twice (1971 with lckx and 1974 with Lauda), and Regazzoni got the second place in 1974 and the third in 1975 behind Lauda, beaten by Hunt - then with Hesketh - who was able to take advantage of the bad weather and to exploit a daring change of tires.
The circuit is designed among the sand dunes on the outskirts of Zandvoort, the beach of Amsterdam. It is a mixed-fast track with a straight that allows to reach 290 km/h and a sinuous part, behind the pits, rather slow. It is a global track, in the sense that it encompasses different characteristics and therefore obliges a single-seater to express all its qualities. Engine, grip and aerodynamics are indispensable factors for success.
Now, it is well known that Maranello's 312 T2 is a complete car, and that in such racing theaters it can offer the most effective performance. It is hoped that in Holland the sporting authorities will apply the pre- and post-race controls with seriousness, and that in particular a check will be made on the fuel used by the various competitors. It is better for everyone, for those who find themselves at the center of rumors and insinuations, like McLaren in Austria, and for those who participate in racing with a sporting spirit. And it is better also for the Formula 1 Circus, in the last months shaken by too many disheartening polemics.
On Friday, August 27, 1976 Ferrari returns to the Formula 1 World Championship, but in this first day of practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday at the Zandvoort circuit, Clay Regazzoni fails to emerge. On the contrary, the Swiss driver's performance was modest and in the second practice session, after the morning rain had soaked the track, resulted in a time - fifteenth - that dampened enthusiasm and hopes. However, there is still Saturday to make up for it and to get a better position in the starting grid. Regazzoni laps in 1'23"59, while Hunt, with the McLaren, is the fastest with a time of 1'21"57.
They are at the level of the English Watson, with the Penske, recent winner of the Austrian Grand Prix, and Vittorio Brambilla, with the March. The Irishman and the Italian are the authors of excellent performances, respectively in 1'21"75 and 1'21"89. Then, Laffite in 1'22"06 and Reutemann in 1'22"16, a more than good time, and that could have been improved if the engine had not failed and if the mule had not mounted a new type of rear suspension not very appreciated by the Argentine driver.
Why this modest test of the Regazzoni-Ferrari duo, usually brilliant protagonist at Zandvoort, both in training and in the race? The explanations offered are double. Now, even if the rib may have bothered Regazzoni (who, in the interval between the first and second practice session, gets an injection of novocaine), the two seconds that separate him from Hunt certainly depend more on the problems of the car. Ferrari uses for the first time at Zandvoort a type of tire that the other teams have already tested in Austria, fifteen days earlier. The coupling with the suspensions does not work properly and the power of the engine is not able to discharge to the ground. Result: in the corners and in the straights the Ferrari is much less fast than expected.
"We will make up for it tomorrow, the important thing is to be here".
Regazzoni mumbles, while smoothing his moustache and stroking his hair. Many people want to interview him and the operators of two or three TV stations try to pose him.
"On Monday I was at home, in Lugano, Daniele Audetto called me to inform me that we were coming to Zandvoort. It was good news. The why and how we're coming back to racing has already been explained, and it's not for me to comment. All I know is that this decision by Ferrari makes me very happy".
However, Regazzoni risked not being able to be present in Zandvoort, and for a really trivial accident, when on Tuesday, playing tennis, he stumbled and fell on his side. In a pocket of his shirt he had a ball or two that pressed against his chest.
"I felt a terrible twinge; I got checked out and the doctors said I had a cracked rib. That was crazy".
Then, talking about the race, the Swiss driver admits:
"It is clear that in Zandvoort I have a greater responsibility. There is only my car, I have to subtract points from James Hunt and McLaren to favor Niki Lauda and Ferrari, I will try to make an attack race, to win, provided that tomorrow the situation improves. Today my rib gave me some discomfort and the car had some traction problems: I have two seconds from Hunt, they are far too many. The Ferrari engineer had a very nice gesture towards me. He phoned me in Lugano and told me not to create problems for myself, to race as usual, not to overdo it. On Sunday I would really like to have a race here like the ones in the past years. It was at Zandvoort that I made my debut in Formula 1 in 1970, coming fourth. In 1974 I was second and in 1975 third. If tomorrow we can fine tune the car, then I will have fun. I have always liked the circuit and our cars have often behaved well".
However, this is only discovered in the interval between the first hour of practice and the second. Enzo Ferrari is informed by Audetto, but the Modena manufacturer was already aware of the accident. Obviously, he is very angry and tells Audetto to take Regazzoni to the hospital for an X-ray.
At the end of the tests Regazzoni will go to Overveen, to the Marine Hospital, where Dr. Gitz will subject him to X-rays to check his exact condition. The X-rays will confirm a strong hematoma in the left region and a crack in a rib. Dr. Gitz will therefore give an injection, followed by a painkiller and a novocaine injection to be given before the race, the duration of which should be two hours, so that the pilot will not feel anything during the Grand Prix.
The Swiss driver doesn't hide that in his end of season program he has put two victories, one in Zandvoort and the other in Monza on September 12, 1976 in the Italian Grand Prix. They would serve to straighten out the balance of the year, which is not one of the luckiest, and to increase his chances of remaining with the Maranello team.
"Only in the United States, at Long Beach, was I able to run a race without problems, and I won. In the races in Europe everything happened, sometimes because of my fault, sometimes because some trouble happened to my Ferrari. If things had gone right, I would have twenty more points, I could be at least behind Niki and Hunt".
Clay is convinced that Lauda still has a great chance to keep the world title.
"However, these possibilities are linked to two factors: a double defeat of Hunt in Holland and Italy, a return of Niki for Canada, or at least, for the United States and Japan. I think Niki can get on the track and go as strong as before. In South Africa, in 1973, I had a serious accident with the B.R.M. and I was burned. I resumed after a few months, in England, and I ranked third".
Regazzoni preferred not to comment on the rumors about his replacement in the Ferrari team.
"I read the newspapers too. Of course, I have never courted anyone. If Ferrari wants me, I will stay, and with joy, otherwise patience, I will find another arrangement. But I would like to underline one thing: there is a special relationship between me and Ferrari. I have driven the Maranello cars even when they were not competitive as in the last two years, I have worked hard to improve them together with the whole team, I have never been discouraged, I have fought. Not all drivers today know how to do the same: there are those who only want money or the winning car, like Scheckter, or those who are easily discouraged as soon as things go wrong, like Reutemann, who now wants to leave Brabham, I have always raced with Ferrari for love".
The end of the Formula 1 World Championship is approaching, and as every year this is the period in which the drivers' market is on. So, in Zandvoort there are phone calls, meetings, more or less secret negotiations. It is a waltz that few escape and that sees in first line the Ferrari, the Brabham, the Tyrrell. In the Maranello team the position of Regazzoni became delicate, in the British team Carlos Reuteman and Jody Scheckter were shaky. The Swiss is accused of some exits from the track and some careless statements, the Argentinean and the South African are tired of Bernie Ecclestone and Ken Tyrrell respectively. To this we have to add that also Vittorio Brambilla would have liked to leave the March, and Pryce the Shadow.
The affair is a bit demeaning and it is hard to understand why Martini does not make a decisive intervention on Ecclestone to unblock the situation. This company prides itself on participating in the events of Formula 1 with a different spirit from that of the other sponsors and on believing in sport: is it ever possible that Reuteman cannot be validly helped?
Finally, Scheckter: his probable destination is Brabham, even if someone asserts an interest of Ferrari. It's a strange thing because Jody is a guy who loves dollars, he has the reputation of the car breaker and he doesn't know how to test cars. Also Brambilla would not mind the English team, which uses Alfa Romeo engines and is financed by Martini and Rossi.
An important innovation, seen on the Ferrari, is the automatic fire extinguisher activation system. Experimentation was accelerated after the Lauda accident and now the system has been applied. It is a thermocouple contained in a copper tube, placed above the dashboard and obviously calibrated to certain temperatures. When the temperature exceeds fifty degrees, the thermocouple informs two electromagnetic switches that, by closing, set off the fire extinguishers, the front and the rear ones. At one hundred degrees, however, the control of the oxygen cylinder is turned on.
Saturday, August 28, 1976 between the first part of the practice of the Dutch Grand Prix and the qualifications there is an interval of about an hour. Between the pits and the square where the big trucks of the Formula 1 teams are parked there is a continuous flow of people. People chat with a technician, chat with a mechanic, chat with a driver. In short, people are talking until suddenly the name Lauda comes up.
"I wonder if he left for Ibiza?"
The journalists ask each other and decide to call him on the phone. So far, Lauda has never had a conversation, even a phone call, with Italian journalists. It is therefore worth a try. Settled in an office of the timing tower in Zandvoort, where there is a device from which they can call live, without having to go through the usual procedure of the operators, the journalists dial the Austrian prefix, then the number - very short, three digits - of Lauda's home. The phone rings a few moments, then they answer.
The caller exclaims. A second later, Niki's voice comes on, slightly hoarse.
"What does Regazzoni do?"
Asks the Austrian, who then comments when the journalists finish telling him a summary of the day's events:
Niki speaks in his curious Italian, and every now and then he stops and asks if they have understood, or adds a word in English to better explain a concept. With him, in the villa, are his wife Marlene, who with affectionate devotion has been assisting him since the terrible days of the Nurburgring, and Willy Dungl, the physiotherapist of the Austrian trampoline jumping team, who already played an important role in Spain, when the reigning World Champion took to the track with two fractured ribs.
"I will stop here for a week, then, if everything continues to go well, I will move for four or five days to Ibiza. I need to breathe sea air for my lungs. I won't be sunbathing or swimming, that's clear. I will just rest. During this time, I'm popping into the hospital in Salzburg every morning for a follow-up exam, and in the afternoon Dungl drenches my face with creams and ointments and massages me for two to three hours. When I get back from Ibiza, I have to do a three-week medical training, which is a cycle of exercises and training under the guidance of specialists to recover, first of all, my physical fitness. Right now, I'm a little down, I get tired easily and my reflexes are still slow. But I'm not worried, I'm following a program and I hope to be soon, as soon as possible, at Fiorano to do a first test behind the wheel of my Ferrari".
Have you driven a car before?
"Yes, I often take a few laps on the roads around my house in my Lancia Beta. For me it's a physical exercise, the first stage of a certain journey. You know, I work all day long to do it faster, to speed up my return to the racing world. Yes, I work like crazy".
Knowing Lauda, one is not surprised by such statements: Niki is a man with an iron tenacity and will, capable of concentrating entirely on reaching a specific goal. He made a miracle by participating in the Spanish Grand Prix with two broken ribs, he is making another miracle in this August in which he has passed from the condition of a dying man to that of a sick man who is angrily trying to go back to being like before. But the question on everyone's mind is: when will he be back in the Formula 1 Circus?
"I don't know yet. It depends on my physique, on the training. For sure not in Monza, I hope for Canada or the United States".
How will this long-distance battle between you and Hunt for the world title end?
"Difficult to answer now, I only know that in Holland and in Italy Hunt should not win. The ideal would be for Regazzoni to assert himself and for Hunt to retire, at least once. Ours is a very competitive car, and if there are no particular problems it can still beat everyone. I really hope that Clay will be able to help in some way. Tomorrow I'll be watching the Dutch Grand Prix on television and I'll be cheering for him".
Speaking of Regazzoni, there are rumors that in 1977 he will no longer be at Ferrari: what does Lauda think?
"Every decision is up to Enzo Ferrari. I am the driver, he is the boss. I can only say that I have worked very well with Clay in these years. I would like to be able to continue with him next year".
Then Lauda pauses and reflects for a moment, before adding:
"I had a very bad month, which started in a way that I still ignore. But two things, above all, have helped me: the closeness of my wife Marlene and the behavior of Ferrari. Marlene has been wonderful, Ferrari fantastic. The engineer's decision to suspend the activity was in those Mannheim days a miraculous pill for me. When you're there, almost dead, it's important to know that the men you race for are by your side, supporting you, working for you. In Salzburg, Luca Montezemolo and Piero Lardi came to see me. We discussed many things for an afternoon. I am grateful to all of them. I have worked one hundred percent for Ferrari, but Ferrari has worked one hundred and ten percent with me".
One last question: does Niki think he can still be the driver he always was?
"Yes, I'm sure of it. I don't have nightmares, I don't have dramatic memories of the Nurburgring accident. It happened, but I had budgeted for the possibility of something like that. Niki is always Niki, you know? Of course, the experience was not easy, I thought and reflected. Now I feel I'm stronger and more mature than before, here, in the lead, understand?".
Alright, alright, we understand; bye Niki, best wishes and thanks. The journalists answer and shortly after they leave the timing tower and meet a German colleague. The German colleague takes the Italian journalists to see a film about Lauda's accident, shot by a filmmaker. The images are dramatic: the Ferrari is seen cutting a corner, partially climbing the concrete curb, skidding, despite an attempt to recall by the driver, ending up against a slope and bouncing around in the center of the track while a wheel and other parts fly off.
Suddenly a sea of flames is lit on one side of the car. Lauda has no helmet on his head. A single-seater avoids the Ferrari, then there is Guy Edwards' Surtees: an almost head-on collision, more spins, drivers arrive from all sides to save Niki, they fight against the fire. I wonder if I really talked to Lauda, if that voice coming from Salzburg was his. Better, much better that Niki doesn't remember anything.
As far as the German track is concerned, the protest by the drivers after Lauda's accident has given its results. A special commission is being studied to modify, according to the drivers' directives, the circuit.
The biggest problem is to create large spaces for the parking of cars because, it is the opinion of the organizers, it is not possible to sell tickets at 80 marks to the south stand without being able to give adequate parking to those who pay that amount. The projects currently under study are three and include several important modifications that cut the famous twenty-three kilometer circuit at different points, profoundly modifying the salient features of this famous track.
The works will undoubtedly last for a long time and starting from the next one, the 1977 German Grand Prix and in the following two years until 1979 will be held in Hockenheim.
The new Nurburgring will be ready, if all goes well, in 1980. It will be in fact in that date that - probably - the German Grand Prix will be held again at the Nurburgring. In the meantime, work has begun on the expansion of Hockenheim, where the maximum capacity is now 83,000 spectators, in order to increase it to 105,000.
For now, however, for Niki Lauda's teammate, and for Ferrari, it's time to think about the Dutch Grand Prix, which ends quite well. The Swiss driver, in the only hour valid for the starting grid, manages to go down from the modest 1'23"59 of Friday (fifteenth time) to a comforting 1'21"85, obtaining the fifth absolute performance. Better than him are only Ronnie Peterson, who with the March takes away the pole position from Hunt and McLaren, Pryce at the wheel of the Shadow new model, and Watson on Penske.
Regazzoni was in better shape and the rear end of his car was adjusted in order to balance more effectively the problems created by the tires. The Swiss driver was examined in a hospital near Zandvoort and the X-rays confirmed the existence of a scratch on a rib. A minor thing, but annoying, to the point that Clay got behind the wheel of the Ferrari after having a painkilling injection.
"The real problem is the tires, not my rib. At Zandvoort there's always the wind pushing sand from the dunes onto the track. If the tires don't warm up enough, grip becomes precarious and you can't accelerate hard coming out of corners. The English teams also have similar problems, but in a lesser form due to the different disposition of the weights on the cars: a McLaren or a March is much heavier than a Ferrari at the rear and this, obviously, gives them an advantage in this situation. Moreover, we have never been able to test these tires. However, testing is one thing and racing is another. For tomorrow I'm confident: I'm used to start in the second or third row and here it's not difficult to overtake".
Between Ferrari and Goodyear's men there was a squabble that testifies the tension of the moment. Daniele Audetto wanted to mount on Regazzoni's car a set of tires used in the previous days on Ferrari's private track at Fiorano and different from those brought to Zandvoort by Goodyear. But while Tomaini took them from inside the truck, the manager of the American company objected, claiming that Ferrari had to use the tires of the other teams, and after deflating them he threatened to cut the tires in question with a knife.
Big words flew and, in the end, after threatening to tear up the contract, Audetto won the battle. Regazzoni was able to run on these tires and it was with them that he obtained his best time. It seems, on the other hand, that the difference in performance between the two types of tires is rather modest, so much so that tomorrow Clay will use the one recommended by Goodyear. In this regard, it should be noted that the difference was further diminished when Regazzoni ran with a full tank of gasoline. For the weight, the tires almost immediately reached the optimum operating temperature and the Swiss driver ended the test with a time very close to that obtained with a few liters of fuel in the tanks. A time that helps to hope for the race.
In any case, the disconcerting behaviour of the American technicians remains: after all, Ferrari had bought those tires and they were still a product of the American company. The situation remained tense and it is not surprising if the relationship between Maranello and Akron should break down at the end of the year. Apart from the tires, the Dutch Grand Prix was uncertain and hard fought, with eight drivers within six tenths of a second of each other. Behind Regazzoni, in fact, there are Andretti and Brambilla with the same time of 1'21"88, and Scheckter who lapped in 1'21"91.
"I don't collect Goodyear shoes, but victories and possibly titles. I'm not interested in controversy, I race to win. The race will be tough, I'm more afraid of Watson who is behind me than Peterson who is by my side. I don't think I will repeat tomorrow a race as unsatisfactory as in Austria. And the fuel, believe me, has nothing to do with it. My McLaren goes better here, even if there are some slight grip problems caused by the sand on the track".
Declares James Hunt at the end of the tests, going on to say:
"So much for those who said it was a monotonous championship. One day there is the Ferrari, then the Lotus, the Tyrrell, fifteen days ago, when everything seemed easy, Penske and Watson did that extraordinary race. Today Peterson with the March also pops up...certainly not an easy championship. Ferrari today? I don't know, I didn't see it...".
While Ronnie Peterson simply said:
"The car went well, but between me and Hunt there are only eight hundredths of a second, what advantage is that? Seventy-five laps are long, and anything can happen".
Both Hunt and Peterson, however, complain about how the Goodyear tires don't come up to temperature, and that therefore the cars in the corners tend to drift too much, while Ferrari's sporting director, Daniele Audetto, states:
"The tires of compound 66 front and 82 rear, which Goodyear gave, harder than those we usually have, are suitable for the cars of the British teams that have the weight behind. Our Ferrari has very well distributed weights, so it needs more tires".
And indeed Clay, after using front 14 and rear 57 tires, admits:
"I did the time with the old tires we brought from Maranello, then when in the non timed practice I drove full throttle and the tires given by Goodyear to everyone, the car went better than before. For the race I will use everyone's tires, I've seen that there is no difference."
In the hour and a half of non timed practice that closed the day, Perkins, with the Penske, crashed into Peterson, who was driving the March forklift, and the two left the track at the end of the pit straight, fortunately without suffering the slightest damage. Also Mass, with the new McLaren, flies out of the road in the same point, ending up in the protection nets: him unhurt, the car is a bit battere.
In this race weekend McLaren brings to the debut, but only in test, the new model M26, entrusted to Jochen Mass. Also the Shadow brings a new model, the DN8, used by Tom Pryce, also in the race.
Surtees replaces Brett Lunger with Conny Andersson, at his debut in the world championship. With Andersson, who is fighting with Riccardo Patrese for the European Formula 3 title, the number of Swedish drivers in Formula 1 rises to three. The Belgian Jacky Ickx, after having raced in the first part of the season with Wolf-Williams, finds the steering wheel of Ensign, where he takes the place of Hans Binder. The Dutch race saw the return of the local company Boro, with a car driven by Larry Perkins, and the debut in the world championship of the local driver Boy Hayje on a Penske of F&S Properties.
The RAMs were not seen: after the seizure of the cars made on the occasion of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring by Kessel, who claimed a credit from McDonald for not having let him race after having paid twice what had been agreed, the judge gave reason to Kessel, entrusting the three Brabham cars of last year to the latter.
After the Austrian Grand Prix, the cars left to go to Holland, but when Remino, Kessel's trusted man, came to Zandvoort, the cars had not yet arrived. What had happened? First it was thought to be an accident, then a breakdown, but when Remino went to look for McDonald, he had disappeared, along with all the other teams.
What had happened was simply that McDonald had given orders to his men not to go to Holland but to take the cars, despite the judge's injunction, to Great Britain. Mosley said that Kessel was unlikely to be able to claim, in such cases, the injunctions of other courts.
In practice, that of McDonald was a shrewd move because it seems that he had already changed the name of the team and that Kessel was at this point...screwed.
Sunday August 29, 1976, at 14:05, in front of an audience of 70,000 people, at the start of the race Ronnie Peterson takes the lead followed by John Watson, James Hunt, Mario Andretti and Tom Pryce. Regazzoni passes between the first and second lap both Jody Scheckter and Tom Pryce, thus entering the points zone.
Peterson is pressed by Watson for the first position; the duel between the two ends up with James Hunt approaching. After yet another unsuccessful attack on the Tarzan curve, during the eighth lap Watson makes a mistake, which allows Hunt to take second position. In the same lap Clay Regazzoni also recovers two positions, first overtaking Pryce and then Andretti.
During the eleventh lap Nilsson goes off the road at Sheivlak corner: the car catches fire but the driver is unhurt. The yellow flags are immediately shown to indicate the danger.
At the twelfth lap both James Hunt and John Watson pass Peterson at the end of the bend of the pit straight, taking advantage of a mistake by the Swede who slips on an oil slick while braking. The March driver moves down to third position, ahead of Clay Regazzoni, Andretti, Pryce and Scheckter. At the fifteenth lap, Scheckter passes Pryce at the first curve and, three laps later, Regazzoni gets the better of Ronnie Peterson.
In the meantime an exciting duel begins between Hunt and Watson. The Irish driver tries in every way to overtake his rival, especially delaying the braking at the bend of the pit straight, but the McLaren driver defends himself very well, keeping on the right side of the track, almost close to the guardrail, to close the trajectory. While Regazzoni was observing the spectacle, the two drivers brushed against each other several times, making the spectators in the stands and the sand dunes around the Zandvoort circuit gasp.
"I knew James was fighting for the world title, but I had to think about winning my battle".
In the end, after some thirty laps on the edge, Watson had to surrender. The duel for the first place between Hunt, with a tire crisis, and Watson, lasted for many laps, with the Penske driver who tried several times, at the first braking, to pass Hunt. Behind the two there is always Regazzoni, followed by Peterson, Andretti, Scheckter and Pryce.
On lap 40 there was also a contact between Hunt and Watson, which damaged the latter's single-seater that had to reduce the pressure on the tread. Right in the straight where he had given a performance, the Penske's gearbox got stuck in fifth gear. Watson, recent winner of the Austrian Grand Prix, returned to the box to vent his disappointment.
The forty-fifth lap is marked by an accident to Larry Perkins' Boro, which slams into the guard-rail, spins and ends its race in the middle of the track. To move the vehicle a service car is sent to the track. Jody Scheckter, who slows down because of the white flags indicating this event, is passed by Tom Pryce.
Regazzoni moves up to second position, and Scheckter returns to the points zone. Four laps later Peterson retires because of an engine failure. Jacky Ickx enters the points zone, getting dangerously close to Scheckter.
Game on for Hunt? It seems so, but at this point Regazzoni asks the possible and the impossible to his Ferrari, which seems a nervous and recalcitrant thoroughbred. Because of the tires the road holding is precarious and the Swiss driver has to make incredible efforts to tame the car, which is too oversteering. On the other hand, also the Englishman finds himself in trouble with his McLaren, which, ironically, is understeering too much.
There are twenty-seven laps to the end of the Grand Prix and the gap between Hunt and Regazzoni is around seven seconds. Thus begins a countdown that gives the McLaren and Ferrari men moments of suspense. The Swiss driver, lap after lap, reduces the disadvantage: 6"3 at the 57th lap, 5"3 at the 60th, 4"2 at the 66th, 3"5 at the 68th, 2"8 at the 71st, 1"8 at the 73rd, 1"2 at the 74th and penultimate lap.
Clay is faster on the straight because he has to face with some caution the curve that leads to the straight itself. Last lap, with Hunt and Regazzoni to play for everything. And here comes into action Alan Jones, Australian, twenty-nine years old, driver of the Surtees.
Jones, in eighth position, was joined by the Englishman and the Swiss driver at the end of this pit straight where, it seems, the Dutch Grand Prix lives its climax. Jones facilitated Hunt's passage while closing Regazzoni for the duration of the sinuous stretch that was drawn behind the pits. A stretch of just a few hundred meters, but decisive. Hunt, with a sigh of relief, manages to maintain a small advantage, Regazzoni, who hoped for a final sprint, sees him cross the finish line with anger in his heart.
A bitter end for the Swiss driver and for Ferrari, who, however, have nothing to blame on themselves. Regazzoni drove a wonderful race, first waiting intelligently for Peterson, Watson and Hunt to finish their uncertain battle, then unleashing an attack that did not have a happy outcome only because of Jones. At the base, of course, there is the problem of the tires: Regazzoni, as he himself declared, with a less unstable Ferrari he would have overtaken Hunt without problems.
In the meantime Jacky Ickx, at the wheel of the Ensign, was unjustly blocked by a banal electrical failure during the 66th lap. Andretti, struggling in the final with fuel problems, had to be satisfied with third place. Tom Pryce closes in fourth place, while Brambilla, whose stubbornness is unfortunately due to the engine turning off every now and then, ends in sixth place. Scheckter (fifth) and Depailler (seventh) made a modest test with their almost unrideable six-wheel Tyrrell. Negative - once again - the test of the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, with Reuteman stopped by the breakage of the clutch pump and Pace by that of the engine.
Emerson Fittipaldi was very unlucky. This time his Coopersucar seemed at least in line with the performance of the rivals, but after holding an honorable position Fittipaldi had to stop because of the breakage of the ignition switch.
Nilsson with his Lotus, and Perkins with the Ensign, went off the track and their cars had a fire start, quickly tamed by the circuit services, finally efficient.
Hunt, at the end of the Grand Prix, expresses kind words towards the Austrian, that the dramatic accident of the Nurburgring has momentarily removed from contention.
"The challenge for the title just starts now, I only hope that Niki can get back on track as soon as possible. I know he won't be there for Monza, but I hope he'll be back in Canada. What a duel we could have together".
The Englishman had to work hard to win and - as he confessed - there were moments during the Grand Prix when he really didn't hope for it. At the beginning for the attacks made on him by Ronnie Peterson and John Watson, at the end for Regazzoni's wonderful comeback that honored his name and that of Ferrari.
Sunday evening James Hunt celebrates his birthday and victory in a typical restaurant in Zandvoort. The British driver is in the company of a beautiful lady: his mother. The blond driver who races for England and is always surrounded by beautiful women, behaved for once like a loving son. The success conquered in the Dutch Grand Prix, after all, is a particular success: first of all because it was obtained after a really hard fight; and secondly because it could prove decisive in the challenge for the world title with Niki Lauda, who could only follow the race on television from Salzburg.
Shortly after the arrival at the finish line, the organizers of the Grand Prix bring Hunt a cake made in the shape of a circuit to celebrate his birthday with his mother and his brother David, who have watched the race from the grandstand. The mother, who was very nervous while waiting for the start of the race, gives way to happiness. The lady had already attended the races run at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, and would be invited along with her husband by Marlboro to attend Monza.
"It's the best birthday of my life. I really didn't hope to win, first with Watson trailing me then with Regazzoni who didn't give me a moment's rest. I had a bad start, I was dazed. Then I overtook Peterson under braking and I resisted Watson by appealing to my experience. The McLaren was understeering horribly and the fiberglass brake air intake also came off, which contributed to the car's imbalance. Ten laps before the end I thought I had to give the victory to Regazzoni: he was faster than me and I could not push my car more. In the last lap I said a mental thank you to Jones. Good guy. Too bad he didn't block Clay earlier. I would have suffered less. Now I have to win at Monza: in this way I will go to Canada with seven points of advantage on Lauda".
A victory that also redeemed the opaque performance of Hunt and the McLaren two weeks earlier in Austria. Let's say immediately that, to avoid any misunderstanding, the technical commissioners of the Dutch race have taken petrol samples from the tanks of the first six cars in the ranking. The analysis will follow in the next days. Now Hunt is just two points behind Lauda: the Austrian has 58 points, the Englishman 56. And since Niki should be back in the race in the Canadian Grand Prix, on October 3, 1976, James still has a chance to run, so to speak, against a shadow, a chance that is called the Italian Grand Prix.
If Hunt also asserts himself at Monza on September 12, he puts a really serious claim on the championship, as he goes on to lead by seven points over Lauda.
"I gave Watson's engine a macumba because it made me stand for two-thirds of the race with a heartbeat. Then I breathed a little bit".
Jokingly exclaims Teddy Mayer, who then adds:
"Regazzoni came through in that impressive way. Of course, if the Ferrari driver had attacked earlier instead of deciding when he had Andretti behind him, it could have been worse".
Once again it was Clay Regazzoni's turn, and perhaps Carlos Reutemann's turn, now free from Brabham Alfa Romeo, to block Hunt's way in favor of Lauda and Ferrari. The feat was only grazed, because the Swiss driver arrived second, a placement that in other circumstances would have been appreciated and that, now instead, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Unfortunately, in the decisive moment, that is in the last lap of the race, when he was reaching Hunt, Regazzoni found himself closed by Alan Jones' Surtees.
"I certainly did not purposely hinder Regazzoni and I am very sorry for what happened. I saw very well that Hunt and Clay were coming and I moved over. James passed, he didn't. After the curve I tried to go wide again, but going off the line I ended up on a stretch of track dirty with oil and sand and I was afraid of flying off the road. I didn't trust myself to repeat the maneuver".
The Australian, unintentionally, hindered the Ferrari driver while giving Hunt the green light. Hunt did not waste the good opportunity, he regained a small advantage over Regazzoni and crossed the finish line first (just 92 hundredths of a second), avoiding the risk of a wheel-to-wheel sprint with his rival. If Hunt, forced to perform acrobatic driving stunts due to the excessive understeer of his McLaren, has made a beautiful race, Regazzoni has not been less than him. After having let Peterson, Watson and Hunt himself go wild at the beginning of the Dutch Grand Prix, having retired Peterson and Watson, the Swiss driver began a splendid comeback, reducing lap after lap his disadvantage.
He was not lucky but his merits are equally remarkable. Regazzoni also had to work hard to tame his Ferrari, which was unstable because of the tires that were forced on it. The car was oversteering and forced Clay to continuously concentrate. Without this basic problem, Regazzoni probably would have won the Dutch Grand Prix. At this point, it was clear that Ferrari would have to try everything at Monza.
"Ah, what a shame. Without Jones I might have won the Grand Prix. Hunt was now there, within reach, and since he was slower than me in the curve leading to the straight, I could have beaten him in the sprint. Unfortunately, because of the tires, I drove a car with too much oversteer today. It was a difficult and challenging task. The car was leaning in the corners, then suddenly this support was missing and you had to do stunts to control it. A bit like the Nurburgring. I'm sorry for Ferrari, for Niki, for me. I would have been happy to beat Hunt".
Regazzoni is joined by another driver, Reutemann, who should be in Maranello on Tuesday, August 31, 1976 for a courtesy visit to Enzo Ferrari. On Wednesday and Thursday Ferrari will be engaged on the Lombardy track for a series of tests on the track of the Italian Grand Prix. Reutemann might as well start his preparation right away. In such a situation, one anxiously awaits the discussion of the appeal filed by Ferrari against the decisions of the English court regarding the events in England and Hunt's success. The appeal judges of the FIA will meet on September 8 in Paris. If justice is done, Hunt will be stripped of the nine points of his success and Lauda will be able to be more relaxed.
The situation - it is useless to hide it - has become precarious for the Lauda-Ferrari duo. Even though Niki will take the wheel of his Ferrari again in Canada, and then participate in the last two races of the championship in the United States and Japan, he will certainly not be one hundred percent fit. He will fight as only he knows how to do, but against a highly charged rival in perfect psycho-physical shape. What to do? Lauda has the right to be helped to the end by Ferrari, especially if the commissioners of the International Automobile Federation decide to overturn certain verdicts.
But there has already been a postponement of the session of the Court of Appeal to after Monza, probably to take time in the hope that the results on the field will define in a decisive way the Lauda-Hunt duel.
Among other things, between Ferrari and Goodyear, after the tire war on Saturday, relations are tense and on the horizon of Maranello seems to appear Michelin, that in 1977 will enter in Formula 1 supplying its tires to Renault. The manufacturers' association is also involved in the affair and would like to protest against Ferrari for having used different tires from those brought to Zandvoort by the American company. There would be a tacit pact whereby each team can only use the type of tyre prepared by the American specialists, say the British team managers, but in reality Ferrari has not accepted any such pact and has repeatedly communicated this to the association.
Moreover, the contract between Goodyear and Ferrari explicitly states that the two companies develop the Formula 1 tire program together and that Ferrari can use them at its own discretion. There is another fact that weighs heavily in the relationship between Maranello and Akron: Goodyear in Germany, Austria and Holland brought a single type of tire and not the two or three of the previous races. This type of tire favored the British single-seaters because of its characteristics; furthermore, the tires used at the Nurburgring, even though they had the same identification markings as some of the sets tested at Fiorano, gave very different performances. It ends up excessively conditioning the performance of the cars.
In conclusion, with regard to Reutemann, it is worth adding that the Argentinean driver managed to free himself from the heavy constraint of Bernie Ecclestone especially thanks to the support of Martini. The penalty was reduced from $100,000 to $30,000. Carlos, however, will have to give back to Ecclestone the $40,000 he has received so far for the 1976 season. For Reutemann a heavy sacrifice to finance it, but what wouldn't one do to run with that Ferrari that has once again confirmed to be at the top of Formula 1?