After the great disappointment suffered in Great Britain, Ferrari returns to appear as a protagonist in the Formula 1 World Championship, which reaches its eleventh event with the German Grand Prix. For what it is worth, the German Grand Prix is given the title of the European Grand Prix this year, a dubious honour it last received in 1968. As long as it remains a 14 mile-per-lap drive round the Eifel mountains, the Nürburgring will always remain the Nürburgring, no matter how much it is smoothed out, widened or made easier, for the better the circuit gets the more exacting is a fast lap and seven minutes is the aim that a lot of people have in their sights for a lap time when they begin to assemble in the paddock. The last piece of tidying up has been completed, this being the long undulating straight from Döttinger Hohe to the chicane at Tiergarten which has been widened and resurfaced, one bridge removed completely and another removed and replaced with a better one. The result is a much smoother passage along the straight, with no chance of becoming airborne. An arbitrary figure of 25 starters has been chosen, for reasons best known to the financial wizards of the Formula One Constructors Association, and 31 drivers are ready for practice. Among the new faces on the scene are Howden Ganley with the Japanese British Kit-Car called the Maki, Chris Amon making a return with his own car much modified since it last appeared, with the front brakes inboard once again, the water radiators on each side of the engine and new aerofoils front and rear as well as a million other mods. The Token of Ray Jessop is being driven by Ian Ashley, Derek Bell is driving the second Surtees, Jacques Lafitte is driving the second Williams and Edwards is back in the second Embassy-Lola, more or less recovered from his F5000 accident. Mechanically there is nothing startlingly new, though B.R.M. has finished off a third P201, which Pescarolo took over, Ferrari has a brand new 312B3 which Regazzoni is using and Brabhams had built a fourth BT44 which the Hexagon mechanics are finishing off for John Watson.
Everyone else is with their usual car, the Lotus team having the modified Type 76-JPS/10 as a training and test car for Peterson, while Scheckter has the use of Tyrrell 007/5 as a test car. Fittipaldi is using the latest McLaren, M23/8, with the new rear suspension using parallel links at the bottom instead of a reverse wishbone and the Marlboro-Texaco team’s spare car, M23/5, has also been changed to this layout. The Surtees team with their Mark 3 versions of the TS16 has new full-width front aerofoils to try out in practice and Ferrari confuses everyone by turning their rear aerofoils through 180-degrees, the Vee edge, which is the trailing edge, now becoming the the leading edge. This they did on 016, the new car, and 012 which is Lauda’s car, but the T Car which is 014, keep the old wing layout. On Friday, August 2, 1974, during the first day of practice at the Nurburgring, Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni were the fastest, as they often were together or in turns on many other tracks. They confidently navigated their 312-B3 cars through the ups and downs and countless curves of the Nurburgring, arguably the most challenging circuit in the world for both drivers and cars. This achievement, confirming the competitiveness and consistent performance of the machines and the complex organization supporting them, as well as the undeniable skill of Lauda and Regazzoni, makes the memory of the narrowly lost victory at Brands Hatch and the subsequent theft during the final track invasion even more bitter. With those two well-deserved points, corresponding to fifth place in the standings, Niki would enter the German Grand Prix as the leader of the World Championship, which would be fair and logical for both him and Ferrari. However, Emerson Fittipaldi is currently leading with 37 points compared to Lauda's 36 and Regazzoni's 35, along with Jody Scheckter. The English misfortunes have stirred emotions within the team, and Lauda has drawn a particular motivation from it. Niki, if possible, is even more focused and determined than usual, and one would be wise not to mention the organizers of Brands Hatch to him, as insults and curses would likely follow.
"It was a shocking experience. I realized that even in sports, being right is not enough to be justified. The organizers repeated it to me for four hours, but in the end, they rejected Ferrari's protest. What angered me more was not being able to continue the race and losing the two points for fifth place, rather than stopping at the box to change a tire".
But when the pit signal stopped him, why didn't he try to continue?
"No, when they show you the red flag, you have to stop. I am a professional driver, and I must honor my driving license. One thing, however, is certain: this incident gave me a rage and a desire to win like never before in my life. It's not fair to work so hard and end up with nothing".
Perhaps, thanks to this anger, Lauda flew at the Nurburgring. The time is remarkable: 7'00"8, equivalent to an average speed of 195.356 km/h. Regazzoni follows in second place with a time of 7'01"1. The two drivers did not encounter any particular problems; perhaps the gear ratios (fourth and fifth gears) were a bit too short and needed to be changed. There are the usual questions about tire choices, but this is a problem that persists from track to track. The adoption of a new wing, still a swallowtail design but reversed, is considered positive. The only driver from British teams who manages to get close to the two Ferrari drivers is the South African Jody Scheckter, the fortunate winner of the British Grand Prix. The young driver laps with his Tyrrell in 7'03"4, a great time, especially considering a simple but important fact: it's the first time Jody is racing at the Nurburgring.
"An impressive performance".
Comments Luca Montezemolo, slightly worried but legitimately satisfied with Lauda and Regazzoni's one-two. Several authoritative names are six to seven seconds behind Niki and Clay. Reutemann with the Brabham, Depailler with the other Tyrrell - confirming that the latter brand will likely be Ferrari's strongest rival on Sunday. Then there's Fittipaldi with the McLaren. The Brazilian continues to complain about his car:
"The problem is always with the suspension".
But in the end, he manages to finish the race, more or less, and places among the top six. Finally, among the top finishers, those from Lotus, Peterson and Ickx, who set his time despite the engine running on seven cylinders due to a faulty spark plug. Peterson, Hailwood with the McLaren, and Howden Ganley with the Japanese Maki are involved in separate incidents. The Swede went off the track due to a broken wheel rim on the fast descent to the village of Adenau, irreparably damaging his Lotus 72: Ronnie will race on Sunday with the new model, much less competitive; the Englishman spun at the corner leading to the straight in front of the stands due to the failure of a front suspension; finally, the New Zealander, probably for a similar reason, flew at 200 km/h into a guardrail, traversing a series of breathtaking curves following the pit lane. While Peterson and Hailwood escaped unharmed, Ganley suffered fractures in both feet and was in a state of shock. He was hospitalized in Adenau, from where he would be transported to London in a week.
"It's a miracle that he's alive".
On Saturday, August 3, 1974, at the end of the second day of practice, for the third time in this Formula 1 World Championship, the verdict declares that Ferrari will field Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni on the front row for the start of a Grand Prix: after Monaco and the Netherlands, in Germany, the two drivers from the Maranello team were the fastest. No one managed to improve their double performance from the first day of practice. Fittipaldi tried everything, using front tires of a special compound not usable in the race, but could only get close to the Austrian and the Swiss, overtaking Scheckter's Tyrrell with the McLaren. The overall balance of power, at least as it emerges from the practices, sees Ferrari as the protagonist and, as has been the case for a long time in this successful season, as the team to beat. It should be noted that Lauda - for the sixth time in the prestigious pole position - on Friday set a time of 7'00"8, and Regazzoni of 7'01"1; Fittipaldi dropped to 7'02"3, gaining five seconds. Alongside him are Scheckter and, in the third row, Depailler - the Frenchman also performed well - with the second Tyrrell, and Reutemann with the Brabham.
Ferrari's superiority is undeniable, even at the Nurburgring. Drivers, cars, and the team's organization are all working like clockwork. It's even surprising that Lauda or Regazzoni are not decisively leading the World Championship but are still in contention with Fittipaldi and Scheckter. Luca Montezemolo says:
"For tomorrow, we don't wish for anything special, we just hope not to be as unlucky as in England. Because if the race is regular, then...".
Montezemolo doesn't add more, but it's clear what he means. And Jackie Stewart, who has vacated the Formula 1 throne, agrees with Ferrari's sporting director.
"Tomorrow a Ferrari wins. If I have to choose between Lauda and Regazzoni, I bet on Clay. The Nurburgring is a circuit made for him, for his determination and combativeness. I don't think anyone can take the victory from the men of the Maranello team, but certainly, the toughest challenge will come from Fittipaldi. Scheckter doesn't have enough experience here to trouble Lauda or Regazzoni".
The Austrian and the Swiss, naturally, are in excellent spirits. Proclaiming with a smile, Niki Lauda says:
"Tomorrow, Clay and I will say goodbye to everyone, at least I hope so. The time achieved today by Fittipaldi doesn't worry me because it's not real. Emerson used tires that he can't use in the race, while we achieved our feats with race tires".
Regazzoni agrees and adds:
"If I have a good start, no one will catch me".
Regazzoni was involved in an incident that caused moments of fear for Ferrari executives and mechanics. While descending towards Adenau, the fuel distributor seized: the throttle got stuck, and simultaneously, a fire started in the engine. The Swiss stopped, but he didn't even have to intervene because the flames went out on their own without causing damage. The 12-cylinder Boxer was stuck (the belt broke, among other things, and, as a precaution, another engine will be installed), and Regazzoni had to wait until the end of the first part of the practice to be towed to the box, where there were already talks of a dramatic incident and a frightening fire. Clay Regazzoni recounts:
"I saw the flames in the rearview mirrors, and now I immediately stopped. Nothing serious, fortunately".
The Ferrari mechanics add:
"The distributor broke, the gasoline went into the cylinders and then into the exhaust pipes, catching fire".
Regazzoni philosophically comments:
"I always have to experience something; at least this time it happened on the second day when I had already set a good time".
On the other hand, in the second part of the practice, a violent storm broke out, flooding some parts of the track, so no one could take advantage of the temporary stoppage of the Swiss, who leisurely completed a few laps with the reserve car, just to test the rain tires. The forecasts are therefore all in favor of Ferrari.
It should also be noted that Regazzoni completed numerous laps with a full tank of gasoline (about 180 liters), setting a time of 7'10"0, which is an excellent performance. The only problem is some impact due to the increased weight, especially with the exhaust pipes on the left side and, in particular, at the famous Karusell curve. Lauda, who was nevertheless the fastest in 7'01"1, limited himself to testing the tires. Among the opponents, Fittipaldi is the happiest. The Brazilian had the suspension settings modified and the normal wing restored. The results were positive.
"Tomorrow, I think I can compete with Lauda and Regazzoni. If, instead, it rains like this afternoon, it will be a walk for Ferrari".
On Sunday, August 4, 1974, at the start of the German Grand Prix, Niki Lauda made a poor start, being surprised by both Clay Regazzoni and Jody Scheckter. Carlos Reutemann follows, ahead of Jochen Mass, Ronnie Peterson, and Patrick Depailler. Emerson Fittipaldi loses gears at the start and raises his arm to signal his problems to other drivers but is hit by his teammate, Denny Hulme. Already at Nordkehre, the turn that leads to the Nordschleife, Lauda tries to overtake Scheckter. However, his attempt is too hasty: the Ferrari collides with the Tyrrell, lifts off, goes off the track, and crashes into the barriers, forcing Lauda to retire. A small fire breaks out on the car but is quickly extinguished by the marshals. The Austrian driver manages to exit the car on his own. At the end of the first lap, Fittipaldi is forced to stop at the pits to change a tire. McLaren later decides to send Hulme back on the track using the reserve car, leading to a black flag for the New Zealander. On the third lap, Regazzoni has a ten-second lead over Scheckter, twelve over Reutemann, while the other drivers are considerably behind, with Mass at 20 seconds, followed by Depailler, Ickx, and Hailwood. In the same lap, Emerson Fittipaldi is forced to retire for good. During the sixth lap, a storm hits the Pflanzgarten area: Regazzoni continues at the same pace, while Scheckter and Reutemann slow down for safety. This allows the Swiss driver to extend his lead to over 30 seconds. Mass loses two positions to the Lotus cars of Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx. In an attempt to overtake Peterson, Depailler hits the barriers at the Adenau bridge and is forced to retire. In the next lap, Ickx, Mass, and Hailwood pass Peterson. At the end of the tenth lap, Regazzoni leads by 50 seconds over Jody Scheckter, with Reutemann one minute behind, followed by Ickx, Mass, Hailwood, and Peterson. During the thirteenth lap, an engine problem forces Mass to retire. In the descent of Pflanzgarten, on the same lap, Mike Hailwood's McLaren veers to the right, hits the guardrail, and is heavily damaged.
Hailwood remains trapped in the car for several minutes with serious leg fractures, effectively ending his racing career. In the last lap, Ronnie Peterson overtakes teammate Jacky Ickx, while Clay Regazzoni secures his second career victory after the 1970 Italian Grand Prix. The podium is completed by Jody Scheckter and Carlos Reutemann. Tom Pryce finishes sixth, earning his first points. After four years, Clay Regazzoni finds success again with Ferrari, dominating the German Grand Prix and regaining the lead in the Formula 1 World Championship. The Ferrari's superiority is evident, and the race at the Nürburgring, the eleventh round of the championship, becomes somewhat monotonous over its fourteen laps, briefly enlivened by the fear of rain. The German race brought fear and excitement at the start, eliminating two potential contenders, Emerson Fittipaldi and Niki Lauda, as well as a valuable teammate, Denny Hulme. Fittipaldi collided with Lauda right at the start, while Lauda went off the track after only two kilometers due to a collision with Scheckter. Fittipaldi signaled his issues by raising his arm at the start when the car failed to engage a gear. His McLaren was avoided by some drivers, but not by Hulme, who collided with the right rear wheel of Fittipaldi's car, breaking a suspension. Hulme continued with Fittipaldi's reserve car, leading to a black flag two laps later, a decision considered absurd. The collision between Lauda and Scheckter was truly frightening. Lauda had a poor start but, on the back straight behind the long line of boxes, took advantage of the acceleration of his Ferrari to pull alongside Scheckter's Tyrrell, delaying the maximum braking for the next turn. In this way, Lauda managed to pass Scheckter, but a moment later, the right rear wheel of his 312-B3 was hit by Scheckter's left front wheel. The Ferrari lifted off, flew high while a large flame erupted underneath, landed on the track, and scraped against a barrier of poles and boards outside the turn.
Lauda exited the car on his own while firefighters arrived, but no intervention was necessary as the flames had already extinguished. Niki can thank the sturdiness of his car, which did not suffer excessively severe damage. With Fittipaldi and Lauda out, Regazzoni only had to control Scheckter, followed by Reutemann, and the Lotus duo of Ickx and Peterson. Lap after lap, the Swiss driver increased his lead: from 3 seconds on the first lap to 16 on the fifth, to 32 on the sixth. Clay gained about fifteen seconds on Scheckter and Reutemann in the last lap, utilizing his experience and the excellent performance of the Ferrari in a brief rain shower. From the Ferrari pit, Luca Montezemolo and the technicians in Maranello only advised Regazzoni to moderate his pace, as no one could catch him. And so it was, while Reutemann lost ground due to a wing loosening, and Peterson overtook Ickx, who had lost the third and fourth gears. In the penultimate lap, Mike Hailwood went off the track in his McLaren in a jump downhill toward Adenau. The Englishman remained trapped for fifteen minutes in the car before being taken to the hospital with a fractured leg in two places (knee and foot). Then the triumph for Regazzoni and Ferrari, a logical victory that confirms how, under normal conditions, Maranello's cars have become the best in Formula 1. It's a general judgment based on their consistent performance and high competitiveness on every circuit. Ferrari is the car to beat, but who will beat it? Clay Regazzoni is happy. He had won his first (and last) Grand Prix in 1970 at Monza.
"We hope not to have to wait another four years. Certainly, in Italy, I had a more enjoyable experience. It had been a challenging race there, whereas here, everything was easy. I didn't encounter any problems, except for a slight drop in the engine's RPM because the fuel mixture was too lean. And then, when a few raindrops fell, there were two or three slides, but nothing major".
Regazzoni makes even a fabulous ride like this at the Nürburgring seem simple. He is a driver who has not always been fortunate in recent years as he deserved, despite his determination and generosity.
"I genuinely regret what happened to Lauda. I was in front and didn't see the accident. In the next lap, I noticed the Ferrari was stopped, then Niki showed up from the pit, and I could continue the race with more calmness. I must thank my mechanics and the Ferrari technicians: they changed the engine for me last night and did a perfect job".
Lauda looks dark-faced. The Austrian only opens up to a smile when Regazzoni crosses the finish line. Niki (and the incident shows how relaxed the atmosphere is at Ferrari this year) is the first to congratulate his teammate.
"Well done, Clay".
He shouts, embracing him. Niki has little to say about the incident with Scheckter.
"I overtook him, got in front of him while braking. Jody touched me, and I found myself in the air. Oh well, these things happen in races. The World Championship is still open".
After the race, Scheckter rushes to Lauda.
"I'm really sorry about what happened".
Lauda replies with a smile:
"I'm sorry too".
The South African expresses words of praise for Regazzoni.
"In the rain, I thought I was going fast, then from the pit, they signaled the gap that Regazzoni had opened up. He probably didn't even notice it was raining".
Legitimate satisfaction among the Ferrari team. Luca Montezemolo says:
"We are happy, for Ferrari and for Regazzoni. The results of the practice sessions and today's victory by Clay show that we have the strongest cars and team. Enzo Ferrari was right in wanting two equal drivers: we are reaping the benefits. Now Regazzoni leads the World Championship, and Lauda retains his chances. Not bad, it seems to me".
Emerson Fittipaldi was not lucky this time.
"At the start, I couldn't engage a gear and stayed in neutral. Hulme bumped into me, and finally, I started by engaging the third gear. I went 50 meters and realized a tire was deflating. Goodbye, I thought. I returned to the pit after a slow lap, but there was nothing to be done. As for the title? Same as always, everything still to be decided".
Regazzoni indirectly responds to Fittipaldi:
"In Austria, Ferraris have always done well, and the Zeltweg circuit is one of my favorites. I've regained the taste for winning".
An indirect promise that Ferrari fans hope will be kept. Once again, the Formula 1 World Championship standings have undergone a shake-up this year with Clay Regazzoni and Ferrari's victory. The Swiss driver is back at the top of the standings, a position he had already held in Brazil, South Africa, and Spain before being dethroned in Belgium by Emerson Fittipaldi. Other leaders have been Hulme (who won the opening race in Argentina) and Lauda. Regazzoni joins the other five winners of 1974: Lauda (Spain and the Netherlands), Peterson (Monaco and France), Fittipaldi (Brazil and Belgium), Scheckter (Sweden and Britain), Hulme (South Africa). Eleven races, six winners: this is also a sign of the balance that governs the World Championship, making the title race uncertain and thrilling. However, while no driver has mathematically emerged as a clear leader, it is indisputable that Ferrari has dominated the Formula 1 scene with its drivers Lauda and Regazzoni, its surprisingly efficient and competitive organization, and its 312-B3 cars. The British teams, who did not expect such a radical change from one season to the next, are the most surprised. Now, the English speak of a rebirth and the red steamroller. No other team has achieved the results of Ferrari in both practice and races. It is true that obtaining the fastest time in practice does not earn points for the standings, but it still demonstrates the strength of a car, the drivers, and those working alongside them. Lauda has secured pole position seven times, Regazzoni once; on three occasions, the Austrian and the Swiss have lined up together in the front row. In races, Lauda and Regazzoni have lost valuable points for trivial reasons or real misfortune: today, they could be leading the World Championship without rivals. Instead, the reigning pair is still in full battle with Scheckter and Fittipaldi, the former not very convinced of his chances, the latter determined to regain the title he already won in 1972 with Lotus. Four very strong rivals, with the experience of Regazzoni and Fittipaldi (35 years old the Swiss, 27 the Brazilian) on one side and the youthful commitment of Lauda and Scheckter (25 years Niki and 24 Jody) on the other. The determining factor could, indeed should, be Ferrari.
And the 312-B 3 is only in the hands of Regazzoni and Lauda, who end up being each other's most formidable rivals. The decision to provide the Swiss and the Austrian with the same weapons (i.e., the same level of car preparation, the same commitment from technicians and mechanics, equally powerful engines) could have been risky, but Enzo Ferrari, who made the decision, proved to be far-sighted. What happened on Sunday in Germany demonstrates this indisputably. Lauda went off the track, and Regazzoni was ready to step in for his teammate, so far considered the team's flagship, and win. In essence, Ferrari plays with two pawns; if one doesn't work, here comes the other, with the hope of achieving (as already happened in Spain or the Netherlands) a beautiful one-two. This is certainly not the case for McLaren or Tyrrell, which can only rely on Fittipaldi or Scheckter. For this reason, Ferrari is considered a favorite by everyone in the world of Formula 1, including Stewart himself, who personally bets on Lauda. The success in the German Grand Prix, however, shows that Regazzoni has the abilities and possibilities to become Stewart's heir. The Nürburgring is the most difficult and challenging circuit of the year; whoever comes out as the winner is certainly a great driver, with a top-notch car. This success could have a significant psychological value for the Swiss. Clay had gone through a crisis with the rise of Lauda, but he didn't make a drama out of Niki's superiority, which had manifested itself with two victories and the best times in many starting lineups. Now, Lauda finds himself having to chase, while Regazzoni is in the lead, although more engaged than ever. In a war that tends to be increasingly nerve-wracking, perhaps the maturity and experience of old Clay could prevail over the 100% professional young Lauda. But, in any case, the important thing is to see the world championship title return to Ferrari. And Lauda and Regazzoni must not forget this.