The Formula 1 World Championship is pressing on. The countdown is getting tighter: with the Austrian Grand Prix scheduled for Sunday, August 4, 1974, on the fast Zeltweg circuit, set against an Alpine postcard-like backdrop, only four races remain to conclude this long, never-ending challenge that began in Buenos Aires in January. So, after Austria, there's an appointment in Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, followed by Canada and the United States. And yet, there is no clear favorite, no driver who has secured an unassailable or nearly unassailable position in the pursuit of the title left vacant by Stewart. It's an atypical situation: in previous years at Zeltweg or at most in Monza, the fate of the World Championship had already been sealed. This year, however, there are four contenders for the crown, almost a record. Leading the standings is Clay Regazzoni, returning with his dominant victory in Germany: 44 points; then the young South African Jody Scheckter (41), Emerson Fittipaldi (37), and Niki Lauda (36), who in the last two races has failed to earn a single point. The Swede Ronnie Peterson, with 22 points, seems too far behind to threaten the leading quartet, and moreover, his Lotus shows too inconsistent performance, for one reason or another. We are in the final stages, but none of the title contenders can afford to play defensively. Everyone, more or less, must attack, must earn some points. It is also a psychological war, in which those who can gauge their strength and exploit their experience will have an important advantage over others. Another advantage, of course, is offered by the car and the organization behind it. This is why Regazzoni and Lauda are considered favorites: they have a Ferrari, and the 312-B3 has proven to be the best weapon this season. In Zeltweg, where thousands of fans have come from Italy in this hot summer and holiday season, all eyes are on Lauda, the local driver. Today, however, things haven't gone too well for the Austrian and the Ferrari. There's a scorching heat, with 33 °C in the shade, and it's known that at such ambient temperatures, the 12-cylinder boxer engine doesn't perform at its best. There are quite a lot of changes to the Grand Prix scene in the lower echelons, caused by accident, changes of heart, re-organisations, general muddle and openings for newcomers. With Mike Hailwood still in hospital following his Nurburgring accident the Yardley McLaren team rebuilds the works original spare car, number M23/4, paints it in Yardley colours and employs David Hobbs to drive it.
The Hesketh team blossomes out into a two-car affair, with Ian Scheckter, elder brother of the Tyrrell driver, in 308/1 supporting Hunt with 308/3. John Surtees farmes out his car TS16/05 to the Austrian driver Dieter Quester and Graham Hill takes Rolf Stommelen into his Lola team as a temporary replacement for Guy Edwards, whose damaged wrist gets worse instead of better. The Italian-owned Brabham BT42/6 of the Finotto/Bretscher team is hired to the young Austrian Helmut Koinigg while Morris Nunn’s original Ensign MN01 rebuilt and rebodied has Mike Wilds driving it in place of Vern Schuppan, Nunn has split up with Schuppan’s sponsor from Hong Kong, Teddy Yip. Jochen Mass finally splits with Team Surtees and is nowhere to be seen and his place is taken by Jean Pierre Jabouille supporting Derek Bell, while the team’s transporter is covered in sticky tape obliterating all signs of Bang & Olufsen who are sponsoring Team Surtees and who have now come to legal blows. The sad B.R.M. team has reduced themselves to two cars and one driver, Beltoise having P201/02 and P201/03 to play with while Pescarolo and Migault are forced to sit in the sun and wait for the management to sort themselves out. Among the serious Formula 1 teams all is happiness and bright, with Team Lotus back to a full complement of four cars, both Peterson and Ickx having a Lotus 72 and a Lotus 76 at their disposal, Peterson with 72/R8 rebuilt since its Nurburgring crash with parts from R9 which looks as though it is not going to get completed, and his original JPS/9 brought up to date with the 72 rear suspension. Ickx has his usual 72/R5 and JPS/10 which Peterson has raced at the Nurburgring. The Elf Team Tyrrell are in good form, Scheckter and Depailler having their usual 007 cars and the latest 007/3 with all the latest mods is on hand as a spare. McLaren’s mainstream team of Fittipaldi and Hulme had M23/8 and M23/6 with M23/5 as a spare, all three having the latest form of parallel link rear suspension and 23/8 and 23/5 had plastic skirts hanging down from the monocoque to try and discourage air from getting under the car. The three works Brabham cars are BT44/1 and BT44/2 for the drivers Reutemann and Pace, with BT44/3 as a spare for both of them, while the works-blessed BT44/4 of Hexagon is driven by John Watson. The Ferrari team arrives in confident spirit with three cars, 014 for Regazzoni, 015 for Lauda and 011 the T Car, while in addition they have four spare engines in special carrying frames.
Just to confuse things they have rear aerofoils with the vee at the front, others with the vee at the back and yet more with no vee at all. Stuck and Brambilla have their usual works March cars, while Jarier and Pryce have the works Shadows they have been driving all season, with DN3/4A as a communal spare. The Williams cars are driven by Merzario and Laffite, the Trojan by Schenken, the Token by Ashley and Kinnunen has his Finnish sponsored Surtees TS16/01. In superb weather conditions practice takes place on Friday and Saturday in three-hour sessions, with a half-hour break midway to collect any broken down cars. The results are pretty simple for the Brabham team are on top form, their drivers and cars more suited to the circuit than anyone else, and Reutemann is fastest in both parts of Friday practice, while Pace is fastest in the first part of Saturday practice. Team Lotus does not seem to know whether they are coming or going and when a 72 is right a 76 is wrong and vice-versa, neither of the drivers getting very impressive results. The elder Scheckter is cruising round feeling his way along in the Hesketh when the engine blows up in a big way, which ends his first day’s practice before it has really begun and the Ferrari team are not setting the pace like they usually do. Lauda’s engine brakes very violently and the car is towed in during the interval and he then goes out in the spare car in the second session. By the end of the day nobody is going as fast as they expected, a lot of people are frustrated by fuel vaporisation due to the intense heat and very few drivers are content with their car’s handling, the biggest complaint being a tendency to understeer off the road on the fast downhill corners, which is a fairly natural thing for a car to want to do. Reutemann is undisputed fastest, with Scheckter next, followed by Hunt and Fittipaldi and then the two Ferraris. If anything it is even hotter on Saturday, as practice starts at midday once more, and among the also-rans there is a lot of scuffling and panic for only twenty-five of the thirty-one drivers are allowed to start. In the first practice session, Niki Lauda came to a halt along the circuit with a non-functioning engine, and the reason is still unknown. Lauda participated in the second session with the reserve car, not set up like the race car.
"I am sure that with my car, I could have done better. However, on this circuit, Ferrari does not have the advantage it had at Brands Hatch or the Nürburgring. Here, an excellent engine performance is required, and with this heat, it was not possible to achieve it. Let's hope it gets cooler tomorrow".
Regazzoni is both annoyed and pleased. The Swiss driver is convinced that he clocked a time of 1'36"10, as recorded by Heuer's electronic timing and acknowledged by specialists from all teams. However, the organizers only credited him with the less impressive 1'36"31.
"I always have something like this happen, but I know I achieved that time, so I assess my real chances for the race".
Tonight, the engines of the 312-B3 will be replaced, and the gear ratios will be adjusted. Luca Montezemolo says:
"This is a circuit that's all about Ferrari. There are the Swiss fans for Clay, the Austrians for Niki, and the Italians for us. We wouldn't want to disappoint Ferrari fans right here".
Saturday Lauda is back in his proper Ferrari with a new engine installed, and Ian Scheckter is ready to try again. Pryce is in the spare Shadow, Jarier used it the day before, and Beltoise is still playing with the two B.R.M.s. Fittipaldi’s McLaren is wearing its plastic skirt away as it rubbed on the ground under braking, and Laffite loses a lot of time while a drive shaft is replaced on his Williams car. Pryce goes off the road in the spare Shadow and crinkles it beyond further use, and Wilds is in trouble with the Ensign as its Cosworth engine would not run on eight cylinders. Due to the heat part of the road surface in the braking area of the final bend on the circuit is deteriorating and Regazzoni goes out of line and off into the fences damaging the front of his Ferrari slightly, and Wilds loses the Ensign and damages it quite badly. Hunt’s gearbox broke a bearing which let the gears chew themselves up and Bell and Jabouille are in engine trouble with the works Surtees cars.
The McLaren team are dripping oil from every corner as first Hulme’s engine blows up in a big way, then Fittipaldi’s speeds out all its oil and Hulme then has the spare car wreck its engine. It is amidst all this trouble that Lauda is credited with the fastest lap of the meeting, gaining him pole position on the grid with Reutemann alongside him. Laffite earns an A-for-effort with his position alongside Watson on row six and Ickx got a B-for-black with his position on row eleven alongside Graham Hill. There are no real surprises among the non-qualifiers. The only unusual thing on the starters list is that Ickx decides to drive the Lotus 76 in place of the Lotus 72, feeling that the modified 1974 car gives him feel, though it is not very fast. Niki Lauda and Ferrari once again - it's the eighth time - secure pole position. The Austrian, ten minutes before the conclusion of this second day of practice for the Austrian Grand Prix, gave his best, earning applause and cheers from a beach-like audience: the sun and scorching heat have turned the Zeltweg circuit into a kind of immense beach without the sea. Lauda clocked a time of 1'35"40, at an average speed of 223.05 km/h, proudly avenging those who had surpassed him on Friday, namely Reutemann, Hunt, and Fittipaldi. However, this time, Niki had to push himself to the limit to achieve the feat, showing that at Zeltweg, Ferrari does not have the clear margin of superiority over rival cars demonstrated on many occasions. Blame it on the heat, which weakens the engines, and the characteristics of the track, similar with its fast corners to those of Nivelles (Belgium) and Anderstorp (Sweden), where Ferrari has not shone much. Niki Lauda explains:
"At Zeltweg, there is an equalization of strengths. Due to the heat, we have lost some horsepower, and here the engine power is decisive. It is a circuit where only the fourth and fifth gears are used, and there are no violent accelerations, but you need to be always in thrust. Tomorrow, I will go on the attack. I need to win to hope for the world title. I really hope I can say goodbye to everyone. It's been two races where I haven't achieved anything".
Lauda will have Reutemann alongside him, with the Brabham. The Argentine today broke the fuel pump, was long stopped in the box, and couldn't improve the time of 1'35"56 set on Friday. Behind them will be Emerson Fittipaldi with McLaren, and Pace, with the second Brabham. The Brazilian, who had an engine failure in the final stages of practice (spreading a lot of oil on the track and causing difficulties for other drivers), clocked a time of 1'35"76.
"McLaren performs well here. But there is always a Ferrari that goes too fast, although not as in other circuits".
Pace lowered his time to 1'35"91, and it was immediately said at Zeltweg that Brabham likes the heat. After Scheckter (Tyrrell) and Peterson (Lotus), we finally find, in the fourth row, Regazzoni. The leader of the Formula 1 World Championship did not have a fortunate day and had to settle for the 1'36"31 from Friday. His Ferrari misbehaved for a long time: a bit of carburetion, a bit of the electrical system, the fact remains that the engine refused to do its duty. When, after repeatedly adjusting, the engine decided to work, Regazzoni simply went off the track in the corner leading to the straight of the stands and the pits.
"A Surtees, I don't know who drove it, hindered my path. It was going slowly and didn't let me pass. In the end, I braked with ten meters of delay to overtake it and extended the trajectory. I ended up in the gravel, and the car spun. I found myself against the safety nets".
In the impact, a rear suspension was broken, and the Swiss had to return to the box, then getting on the reserve car, whose engine, however, was rather weak. Ferrari technicians will now have to decide whether to let Clay race with the reserve car - naturally changing the engine - or with his own (more likely).
"Well, patience, tomorrow is what matters. Certainly, starting in the fourth row doesn't offer me many chances of victory. We'll see what happens at the start; you always start to win. If there is no Ferrari success, I hope my friend Reutemann can do it: he doesn't count in the world standings".
All in all, Ferrari has concluded these two days of practice quite well. Luca Montezemolo explains:
"Lauda will evidently have to launch an attack, and Regazzoni will play a waiting game. Ideally, both should get points. Certainly, yesterday the fact that we didn't have Niki or Clay in the front row was strange for many people. Today, we've returned to normality. I don't know if the public understands how much effort such normality costs Ferrari".
An Austrian Grand Prix, therefore, with Ferrari in the spotlight, but with greater uncertainties about the result and with many drivers grouped within a few hundredths of a second. If cheering could make a car win, Lauda and Regazzoni would have no rivals. Zeltweg seems like Monza, and you can hear "Forza Ferrari" being shouted everywhere. On Sunday, August 18, 1974, at the start of the Austrian Grand Prix, Reutemann, Lauda, and Regazzoni make excellent starts, while Peterson remains delayed due to the presence of a mechanic still next to the Lotus. The leading group consists of the Argentine, the Austrian, the Swiss, Scheckter (Tyrrell), Pace (Brabham), Hunt (Hesketh), Fittipaldi (McLaren), Peterson, and Watson. On the second lap, Regazzoni passed Pace for the second position, while Ronnie Peterson took the ninth position from Arturo Merzario. The race unfolds up and down the fast corners of Zeltweg, among meadows and pine forests, covered by a sea of spectators in swimwear. On lap 8, Pace loses another position, this time to Scheckter, but in the same lap, the South African is forced to retire due to an engine problem. In the following laps, Hunt, who is in fifth place, loses two positions to Fittipaldi and Peterson. Fittipaldi, on lap 12, also overtakes the compatriot Pace for the fourth position. On lap 13, Regazzoni passes his teammate Lauda, who is struggling with an imperfect engine. In the same lap, Pace loses another place, this time to Ronnie Peterson, while James Hunt is forced to return to the pits for a tire change. During lap 15, Lauda, increasingly in trouble with the engine, has to lower the race pace, getting overtaken by several drivers. Ferrari fans stationed in the grandstand in front of the Maranello box make expansive gestures: Niki gradually slows down, being surpassed by Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, Peterson, and Pace. The Austrian returns on lap 16.
"It's the engine, down to eleven cylinders".
He tells Ferrari technicians who crowd around him. The mechanics replace the ignition, hoping for a non-serious problem. Niki restarts but returns to the pits immediately. Luca Montezemolo explains:
"No use; a valve must have broken".
However, Ferrari can rely on a superb Regazzoni: the Swiss is in second place and, therefore, in an excellent position to strengthen his position with six points in the standings, followed by Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson. The standings remain the same, at least for the top positions, until lap 32, when Pace manages to pass Peterson. During lap 38, Fittipaldi's race ends due to an engine failure. A big smoke marks the end of the Brazilian's McLaren engine, and he walks back to his wife Maria Elena, cursing the retirement. It's lap 38, and the fate of the race and the title fight that belonged to Stewart seem almost decided. Just two laps later, Carlos Pace also overtakes Regazzoni, taking second place. The race is now led by two Brabhams. In lap 42, Pace has to retire due to a fuel leak; shortly after, Regazzoni has to give up his position to Ronnie Peterson, who climbs to second place behind Reutemann.
Due to several retirements, the standings are completely overturned, with Patrick Depailler, Jacky Ickx, Denny Hulme, and James Hunt behind the Swiss driver. The twists don't end: during lap 43, Depailler spins, and Ickx, following him, cannot avoid a collision, both cars ending up in the sand at Texaco corner. Depailler can't rejoin the race, while Ickx, back on track, has to return to the pits. Two laps later, Clay Regazzoni is forced into the pits. For Ferrari mechanics, the moment becomes terrible, reminiscent of Lauda's final stages in the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. However, Regazzoni doesn't do as Lauda did and stops at the pit on lap 44. Dramatic moments follow while Pace, Peterson, Depailler, and Ickx retire from the race. Regazzoni says that the cause of his troubles is the loosening of the rear wheel. The Ferrari is lifted, and the mechanics rush to change the tire. Engineer Giacomo Caliri observes that a front tire has lost a piece of the tread; a quick sign language dialogue takes place between him and the Swiss.
"We change it - no - it's okay as it is - you can go".
And Clay understands that the tire replacement has been completed, lifts his foot off the clutch, releases the brake, and restarts. A simple misunderstanding, as the wheel had not yet been completely screwed on. Thus, it unscrews and falls to the ground again. More precious seconds go by, a total stop of about a minute. The Swiss rushes onto the track; the almost simultaneous retirement of Peterson puts him immediately in sixth position, and Clay manages to overtake Brambilla on the last lap. Watson, Hunt, Hulme, the trio of beneficiaries, are now unreachable. Unfortunately, Regazzoni had performed a magnificent race, and with a second-place finish, he would have faced the upcoming races with more tranquility. Meanwhile, Ronnie Peterson, in second place, is forced to retire during lap 46 after a transmission failure at Texaco. Denny Hulme moves up to second place, but he is over 40 seconds behind Carlos Reutemann. Hunt is third, a minute away, followed by Vittorio Brambilla, John Watson, and Clay Regazzoni. In the final laps, Brambilla is overtaken by Watson and, as mentioned, by Regazzoni. Carlos Reutemann wins the Austrian Grand Prix, followed by Denny Hulme and James Hunt. The Austrian Grand Prix has rejected Lauda, Scheckter, and Fittipaldi and has given Regazzoni a small prize that tastes like irony. The fight for the World Championship victory remains wide open, although the Swiss has taken a small step ahead of his rivals, and the number of races left in this uncertain and electrifying 1974 season has been reduced-Italy, Canada, and the United States; then the game will be over. At Zeltweg, Carlos Reutemann has returned to victory. The Argentine had triumphed in March in the South African Grand Prix, then remained dry. Evidently, his Brabham likes the heat, and today Reutemann led the race from start to finish without ever appearing to be in difficulty.
"However, I never had a moment to catch my breath; it was a tough race".
An honest judgment that many drivers can share. The ruthless heat (34 °C in the shade, 65 °C at the asphalt level) has weakened both men and cars, causing the failure of numerous engines and tire problems. The selection involved both leading actors and supporting roles, providing a series of emotions, from the subsequent retirements of the leaders of the standings to Regazzoni's breathless stop in the pit when only ten laps remained in the race. The ranking placed Hulme's McLaren, Hunt's Hesketh, Watson's Brabham, and the Swiss Ferrari behind Reutemann. As Vittorio Brambilla's March follows, he has thus won his first point in the championship. The Austrian Grand Prix has brought moments of joy and anger to the Ferrari team and has ended up leaving a bitter taste for everyone. First, Lauda's retirement, then Regazzoni's pit stop when the second position was firmly in the hands of the Swiss, and the most dangerous rivals for the world title were left stranded-two dagger blows. However, there is consolation with Clay's placement and the realization that the 312-B3 proved to be strong even on this Zeltweg circuit, which had raised many concerns beforehand. Luca Montezemolo says:
"Regazzoni has been really unlucky. Tonight he could be leading the World Championship in a position of strength, and instead, he's still there, battling with everyone. The situation for the championship has not changed; the battle continues".
Regazzoni, with Reutemann, was the protagonist of the race. After a kiss to his daughter Alessia, the Swiss states:
"It's a shame because I had the opportunity to distance myself from the others. The car behaved excellently every time one of the big names retired; I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn't care if Reutemann won. Besides, it would have been too dangerous to try to overtake Carlos: when I got close to him and was behind him, the water and oil temperatures rose beyond safety limits. At one point, my Ferrari started to sway in the rear. I immediately thought of a suspension problem, but it was a tire. I remembered England and returned to the pit. In the hurry, I didn't understand Caliri well, and I restarted too soon. But I'm still happy with how things went. It was one of my most challenging and suffering races. But see how racing is: in Germany, I took a stroll and won; here, I struggled like crazy and finished fifth".
For Niki Lauda, this is the third Grand Prix without a useful result.
"I'm sorry, very sorry, to have retired. I wanted to win here because of racing in Austria and for the world title. But I was lucky enough this time: Fittipaldi and Scheckter retired. Regazzoni only took two points. If Clay had won or finished second, it's clear he would be Ferrari's number one in the championship race. So, when I heard the engine giving up, I slowed down to let Regazzoni pass at the end of a straight and then tried to hinder the others, but it wasn't possible".
Scheckter is not disappointed. The South African driver says:
"I don't think I can win this title. I will establish myself in the next championship".
Fittipaldi, on the other hand, is very disappointed:
"Another setback, and just today when my McLaren was going very well. The engine suddenly failed without warning. Observing how the race ended, it seems to me that I could have easily finished in second place. What a rage".
Finally, Goodyear technicians explain the reason for Regazzoni's tire deflation.
"It's not the tire's fault, which is not damaged, but a crack in the wheel rim seal ring".
It may be, but directly or indirectly, these blessed tires have taken away a lot of points from Lauda and Regazzoni.