#280 1976 Japanese Grand Prix

2021-04-06 01:00

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#Fourth Part, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Francesca Risi,

#280 1976 Japanese Grand Prix

Friday 15 October 1976 Niki Lauda arrives at Maranello to carry out a series of tests in view of the last round of the Formula 1 World Championship


"I answer immediately: whoever wants, come there, I will show the number of laps, what we tried, engine radiators, chassis, everything. I can't do a technical exposition now. But you can come at any time and I'll show you the number of liters of fuel consumed, the number of hours spent and everything that interests you, including the times".


It seems that Reutemann, just in the last few days, having had a modified T2 - even with his own measurements of the cockpit - has gone down well, with cold and hard tires, to values under 1'13"0 on the lap at Fiorano. Were these tests about evolutions for 1977 or were they tests that could...?


"You never work for one car, you work for an existing car in that the new car will always be the offspring of the one before it".


At the beginning of the season Ferrari was the car to beat, it was created specifically for certain tires, for certain things, a very balanced car, made perhaps with the prospect of being able to preserve certain tires, certain things and then these were not preserved. The T3 goes on the experience of this recent past, it will be a more cautious car, less exasperated in certain solutions, at least until you find someone who will always assure you the most suitable tire?


"I will tell you that the T3 will take into account what have been the assurances that the general vice president of Goodyear world gave me recently in Maranello, and that is the experiences that we will make on the new car, of tires, will have a follow up regardless of what will be their commercial policies with the other teams. In other words, I have tried to restore the original spirit that presided over this relationship of collaboration with Goodyear, so it is not possible to make a car like a tire every time, we will make a new car that will obviously be the condensate of all the positive and negative experiences of this year, but we will make it with the tires that we will build together with the car".


I would like to open a discussion beyond the horizons of Formula 1. In the last few days I've heard talk of Formula 2 engines, of cars for the Silhouette Championship. Since we're talking about the future, I'd be interested to hear from you what's on the agenda.


"So, Formula 2 engines: I'll satisfy you right away. We have been accused, not only by a friend but by more than one friend, that we have wasted our time in dedicating ourselves to a Formula 2 engine. Now these gentlemen who have accused us have forgotten that last year, when there was a curious trade union situation at Ferrari and it was a question of conversion, reconversion, diversification, I had to intervene and I took the liberty of suggesting to the person in charge of the factory, who is engineer Fusaro, a formula of this kind: conversion within our technical capabilities and our international credit. For that reason, I proposed a Formula 2 engine, given the requests that were there, and I took care of having the research office elaborate a Formula 2 engine, an engine that has already been built and tested, of which we are giving you today the photographs and the data. These are the technical characteristics of the 206/F2 engine: six cylinders at 65°, twenty-four valves, bore and stroke 86x57, displacement 1986.61, compression ratio 12:1, distribution with four overhead shafts driven by duplex chain, dry sump lubrication with four recovery pumps, titanium connecting rods, light alloy monobloc, with reported liners, Lucas indirect injection feeding, Champion 10 mm spark plugs, ignition and distributor, Marelli and Dinoplex coil, maximum power 300 horsepower at 10.500 RPM, maximum 11.000 RPM, weight 120 kilograms. Today we are wasting away, we give you everything. I add that for agreements with the president of CSAI, Eng. Rogano, we have decided - because, Eng. Fusaro will tell you, we do not have the possibility other than to build a pre-series given the current production commitments - that these engines are destined only to those teams that will employ Italian drivers. So, these Ferrari Formula 2 engines will go to the racing teams that only employ Italian drivers. This is the agreement we made with Csai, with engineer Rogano and obviously also with our bosses in Turin". 


And adds:


"We have also been accused of dedicating time to the Silhouettes. Ferrari did not, will not, and will not race in the Gr. 5 or Gr. 6 World Championships. Absolutely. Engineer Fusaro had our GTB car homologated and obviously, whoever wants to make a sport use of it, with a sport edition, will be able to do it. But we don't race and we don't make racing cars for customers. So Formula 2 engines and silhouette chapter closed. The factory has the possibility to manufacture this small number of engines limited to all Italian drivers. Unfortunately, for this first year we do not expect to be able to make any more engines. We will have an appropriate stock of spare parts. We will have rotational engines, we will see. This is a matter for engineer Fusaro, who has overall responsibility for the factory. I am no more than a rumor maker".


At what price will the Ferrari Formula 2 be offered for sale?


"I don't know. But I would say it's premature to talk about cost because it also depends on the number of engines that will be built. It's just that at this moment we are in contact with customers that we will talk about. However it will be a cost aligned with the cost of our competitors".


Which Italian drivers will have it?


"Compatibly with the availability of this small pre-series. Let's be clear. They will be eight to ten engines that engineer Fusaro can make, he can't make more. We have too many other commitments".


So the price...


"No, the price if we tell you is scary. Obviously it will be a political price, because if we had to evaluate what was spent in the previous season, in the construction of the prototype and in the pre-series, the heavens would fall. The price has to be discussed when we make groups of fifty at a time. Not before".


But they will ask us...


"I believe that the conditions that they will be able to make to the group of Italian drivers to which alone we will give them, with the intervention of the Csai and with that one of the FIAT advertising office, I believe will be such that they will be able to prefer, I think, the Ferrari engine. One can never say. Anyway...".


You have said that Regazzoni runs for his House. In '77, taking for granted Lauda's decision to continue, do you think that he, will race for his personal House in '77, rain or no rain, or for Ferrari?


"When I decided to deal Lauda, and I begged Montezemolo at the time to get involved, it was precisely because I saw him on one occasion of how he drove in the rain and he reminded me of the sensibility that he had as a driver, not as a test driver, Jacky Ickx. So I took him in that moment, now that he has lost all this for me is frankly strange, I can hardly believe it. However, if Lauda decides to race, if he wants to race, if he feels like racing, as I told you, in Maranello a handshake replaced the stamped paper and we will make him race".


And adds:


"If he has second thoughts, we will tell him not to race, because in the statement I made, I think I was very precise and I said: when I talk to him, I will tell you if Lauda has intimate motivations that are not compatible with voluntary risk. It seems to me that in this sentence there is my whole thought, anticipate a decision, put me on the cross, but I can't tell you. I wouldn't know how to do that".


However, since there is always the possibility, even if now remote, that Lauda has these second thoughts, have you already thought about this eventuality and the solutions to be taken?


"No. For the moment I have not thought, not only that, but I am very sorry to see the possibility of him giving up racing but at Ferrari. It would mean that here at Ferrari he has not found friends and admirers as we know we are and, let it be very clear, we have nothing to make up to Lauda. Let me be very clear. We have done everything we could to defend him and his skills and we are grateful for that. If he were to leave Ferrari at this time to race for another company, I would have to revise the opinions I have had about him".


Excuse me, you have not yet confirmed if Reutemann has signed the contract for 1977?


"No, he hasn't signed yet, but we are waiting for him because we certainly trust that he will sign it. That's intuitive. But we haven't signed it yet".


What is the impression Ferrari received from Reutemann's tests after Monza at Fiorano?


"We knew Reutemann for quite some time, because he disputed a World Championship with our sports cars. In the tests he did at Fiorano, he confirmed the good opinion we had of him. Now we are waiting for him to sign the contract. He is an attentive, willing and capable man. Obviously there is a small difficulty that we have overcome in making a cockpit that suits his physical proportions".


Reutemann in fact, is very satisfied. The only thing is that, as he said before, Niki Lauda remains the number one to whom you have devoted all the attention for this World Championship.


"There never have been and never will be number ones. The number one had become Lauda when he had gained so many points that it was absurd to engage in a family battle to complete a World Championship not undermine it. So, Lauda, the number one, is the one who wins. There is no number one because it is written in the contract that you are number one. I have always been an enemy to these preemptive designations. The number one is the one who wins".


Agreed, but at least as far as the choice of the driver to replace Regazzoni in the next World Championship is concerned, you have followed the line that Lauda himself advised. He himself said.


"But you see, at the moment it seems to me that if I were to endorse your supposition, we would have to arrive at an underestimation of a driver who last year, at the end of the season at Monza was in contention for the World Championship, so I don't think that's the case. We asked Lauda: with whom would you collaborate better, with Peterson, with Scheckter or with Reutemann. He said Reutemann and since we have always cared for harmony in the team, we chose Reutemann. But not because Reutemann goes slower than someone else, not at all".


Couldn't the similar technical weakness of the rain for the two drivers, in the team collaboration for Ferrari, hinder both drivers or at least cover the personality of one over the other?


"You define a technical weakness for the two drivers, that is, that the Argentinean and the Austrian do not go well in the rain. At this point I remember an edict of the Duke of Modena, which was posted where the Military Academy is now. For the Dragoons, tomorrow we'll go for a walk, if it doesn't rain. What do you want me to say? We'll only run when it's sunny".


If Fittipaldi were free right now, tomorrow or the day after, that is, before the 1977 season begins, would you hire him or not?


"I would hire him if Ferrari was free to hire him".


It reminds me a lot of Monsieur La Palisse's answer....


"I don't know this Monsieur La Palisse...".


Neither do I but, given the habit, and that is to say I have heard other answers like this, given by some distinguished personage of Ferrari, then it seems to me that you are the one to give the disposition to answer like this...


"If Ferrari were free and Fittipaldi were free, they would certainly meet because it is a mutual desire, I think. But this does not depend on me nor on him, it depends on who can define his position and on Ferrari's availability".


And if the pressures of the Brazilian press were enough, would a contact of Ferrari, his personal probably, with the President of Copersucar to free Fittipaldi, at least for one year, do it? Because Fittipaldi has thrown away a year now, he prepares the new car but he is afraid to ruin for a second season even more his image, and then they could make him available...


"This is very interesting and I hope that if conditions arise that mutually allow us a meeting, why should we refuse them? But did you see Fittipaldi? My friend Minini said that I met him, that I saw him. He told lies. I saw him at a meeting of Autosprint a few years ago and I was the one who gave him the golden helmet of the first World Championship he won, and I told him that he was a nice and humble young man. Is that true Sabbatini?"




"Then I never saw him again. Then another thing is true: that Audetto, who had read in an interview the day after the Nurburgring accident that Fittipaldi, responding to a journalist, said that his dream remained to go to Ferrari, met Mr. Fittipaldi and told him: If you want to come to Ferrari, we don't know how long Lauda will have it, and we would be happy to have you. And he said, I have commitments with Copersucar, now I don't think I can release myself, but if I could release myself I would be happy to come to Ferrari. Everything that happened with Fittipaldi can be summarized in this precise relationship. There has never been any subsequent agreement, there has never been any conversation. If on his part there is a desire to come, obviously from Ferrari there can be a desire to have him. But I also know him from what I have been told about his family commitments, which are what may have discouraged Fittipaldi from interrupting or not renewing an agreement with Copersucar".


If the situation changed right now?


"If the situation it's raining, maybe tomorrow the sun will come".


But has there been a meeting with Montezemolo?


"No, with Audetto not with Montezemolo. With Montezemolo he had a phone call, when Montezemolo with his fractured shoulder was in Cortina d'Ampezzo. There was a phone call and if you want to know the reason for the phone call, I will tell you: he was discussing a FIAT concession in Brazil. There was no mention of racing".


Ten days ago, Brambilla was at your place, at least he had declared that he was coming to you, did you meet him? What did you talk about?


"But then I didn't, I didn't talk, I listened".


Pilots aside, do you think you will change anything in the team and in the technical sports staff dedicated to Formula 1?


"In the technical staff more than change, we will have to replace those who are in the hospital. This is the first thing to do. So it's not a very difficult task and we are trying to do it. So I don't know if we can do it. How long will it take? But of course we're going to get some young people, we're going to see if we can raise some. I mean we're going to get busy. So the technical staff and the troika remains what it is and there is no question. It is impossible to think of replacing a 25-year old Rocchi in these conditions. We all hope that in a couple of months Rocchi will be back in the office, even if he will not be able to dedicate himself immediately to his work as before, he will be able to comfort the ideas of these young people. So there is nothing to say about the technical staff. If there are other questions to ask, I would be happy to do so".


On the sporting direction?


"The Sporting Management? I'll tell you right now. The sporting director of Ferrari will no longer be there. The sports director position is cancelled. There will be no more. Audetto, he was never with Ferrari. Audetto is a FIAT official who moved to Ferrari at a time when a hand was needed. It was needed. Audetto is a perfect diligent official, and I have said that more than once. Now I think that if you want to know how Ferrari management will be structured this year, since that is what you want to know. In fact I'll tell you, I'm not doing economics today anyway. This year, as there is a troika at home, there will also be a troika at the races. And there will be Tomaini who has total technical responsibility, an excellent element that you know, diligent and passionate and ready at all hours. There will be the excellent Ghedini who will take care of the relationships with the riders and will be the logistic secretary in charge of the transfers and the relationships with the riders. There will be a representative of the company, who will have the task of taking an interest with the Automobile Clubs, with the organizers, with the Formula 1 Association, with the Club of the 100.000 dollars if it has money to spend, with the International Sport Commission and with the Csai. Do you want to know who this is? Yes. What are you giving me? Then I won't tell you. How? Yes, but you know. But you say you know. Who is he? Then I'll tell you: engineer Nosetto. So you, too, in the press must have the kindness to address yourselves only to engineer Nosetto during the race trials. During the week it is useless to look for Nosetto, Forghieri, Rocchi and all the others. During the week there is our Gozzi who is unemployed and has nothing to do, so he remains there at your disposal. It will be an assembly Ferrari".


What does Tomaini's technical responsibility consist of?


"In deciding whatever he deems useful for the affirmation of our car on the racing field and the preparation of the car, because there are other people in charge in Maranello. His responsibility begins and ends with whatever he has to prearrange before the start, and with whatever he has to decide at the competition site".


Does this mean that engineer Forghieri will no longer come to the pits?


"Let's get the minutes out. Meeting of July 23, 1976: Ghedini points out that he no longer wishes to go to the races for personal reasons, sorry that he can no longer assist Lauda. Audetto points out that the presence of Montezemolo and Forghieri at the races embarrasses him and therefore he formally asks to be left alone. I accept the request, except for contingent technical necessities. So Forghieri went to the races when Audetto or the necessities requested him at other times. Since I was then accused of not giving authority to Audetto, it can be seen that Audetto had the authority".


But the fact that engineer Forghieri came for example to Watkins Glen, after Ferrari's defeat at Mosport, implies that in the face of danger, so the threat of ruin there was a need for a new man, a strong man and he was called, I think, Forghieri.


"But excuse me, it is written in these minutes that when there is a technical contingency, he is the man. I don't have another one to send. If Forghieri's stomach hurts, I have to stop too, because I have young people but they are not yet up to Forghieri's standards, because there are also those who were at Ferrari and who have also left. Because evidently they have found acceptance in the sponsorship of a sponsor known also to Regazzoni".


When you said about the collaboration and the relationship with CSAI for next year, apart from the issue of Formula 2 engines, did you mean also this aspect for Nosetto or other possible aspects?


"No, no business for Nosetto. Nosetto be clear, he is a guy I have known for twenty years because he was a student in Turin, he used to write me letters as a kid that he was a Ferrari fan. Then one fine day he went to university, graduated and came to do his thesis with us. He graduated with honors and was looking for a job at that time, as there was no possibility of employment at Ferrari. I proposed him to engineer Bacciagaluppi and he ended up at CSAI. He stayed at CSAI, but some conditions were created so that he was not an ACI official, he could not have a career and he asked if I could employ him. I said: limited to all these relationships, given his competence, knowledge of regulations, ability to interpret technical provisions, homologations of cars, I thought that this young man who has been following me for twenty years was right to come to Ferrari".


Will engineer Nosetto's position be that of accompanying manager?


"He is no accompanying executive; the accompanying executive is Mr. Sante Ghedini who hands you the microphone".


And at Brands Hatch what happens next?


"What happened at Brands Hatch? What are you telling me, everyone knows the fuss about Regazzoni, let's look at the newspapers. Regazzoni showed once again for whom he races and in what way he collaborates to the success of the factory and of Lauda. In these conditions I told him that if he wants to give up, he can do it right away. So the divorce with Regazzoni had practically happened on July 23, it did not happen at the end of the season".


In Japan, after the race, Regazzoni and Audetto had a bit of an exchange of ideas.


"That's why there' s no need for a sports director. Because when there's no sports director, they don't pick on anybody".


But there it was about whether or not to stop a car to change tires.


"Changing tires. A racer watches when we signal him the times, the position. He's the one who has to make the decision. Hunt didn't need them to signal him, he decided it when he believed. In fact they got mad at his pit. I don't care about that, the rider has to be the master because it's his life that's at stake".


So will we have a coach at Ferrari like at Lazio who said: long ball and pedal?


"But sorry, what do I have to take people to make speeches? You forget what happened in Long Beach. Who was in Long Beach of you? What happened, you who have a good memory? Is it the one your friend Ceccarelli had already appointed as Ferrari's sporting director?"


How do you judge Regazzoni's behavior in the last three races?


"In the last three races he raced the way he does. He has always raced like that. So I anticipate what I said at the time. Regazzoni has shown once again for whom he races and in what way he collaborates to Lauda's success and to the interest of the Company he represents. I said this then. Regazzoni is a very good friend and we want this friendship to continue over time because there is no person more nice, lovable and correct in human relations than Regazzoni. But if you ask me a judgement on how Regazzoni races, Regazzoni races for his House, he races for him, and it is right that he does so because I also used to race for myself, because when I was brought to Alfa Romeo by the great Antonio Ascari on the Friday before the Targa Fiorio in 1923 I felt alive: why? Because I had gone stronger than Ascari, stronger than Sivocci and Campari. So what does this mean? That Regazzoni runs for him. He doesn't race for the House or for Lauda. All the stories about balancing acts and race tactics, but they are all lies that do not exist. When one is in the car he goes as much as he can and everything else counts for nothing".


As in soccer, at the end of every championship, we always look for the causes that led to the defeat. I understand that at this point in time Audetto's work during the course of the season has not been completely positive.


"No, I never said that. I specified what Audetto asked of me what I acknowledged to him, and I have specified before and also written it down that Audetto is a good diligent official. Race directors I don't want any more. I don't want any more Scuderia Ferrari directors. The times of Mino Amorotti are over and have left their mark".


I ask you one more thing. When Audetto told you that he was nervous about the presence of Montezemolo and Forghieri in the pits, did you think at that moment whether the possible absence of Montezemolo and Forghieri, who last year were the most remarkable members of the Ferrari team for the victory of the World Championship, would not have led Audetto to take decisions, or to behave in a way that would have damaged Ferrari itself?


"Excuse me a moment, we don't give trust in installments. At the beginning of the year we put our trust in Audetto, who was graciously and temporarily handed over to us by Turin and who proposed him to us was Montezemolo. The fact that Montezemolo did not go to the races did not need to be said to me, because Audetto said it to Montezemolo as well. He said, "You're doing me a favor if you don't come to the races anymore. So what does that have to do with me?"


Maybe all things considered to you the Montezemolo direction was not too much to your liking, even if you still talk to him often on the phone, even if every now and then Luca returns to Maranello. You probably prefer another way of experiencing things, a way that keeps as much in the shadows as possible the drivers that Montezemolo always defended, a way that makes his beloved cars appear. I think I told him that once before. His tragedy is that cars need someone to drive them. Don't hold it against me.


"I reply, all present, that this is nastiness and I am surprised that a person of integrity and intelligence has nurtured a twenty-year friendship with a selfish dullard, as you describe me. Selfish but not obtuse, selfish because you too - he refers to Pilogallo - do nothing for nothing. Every gesture of your life is repaid with the satisfaction of your personal selfish instinct. You do nothing for others, as I have done: even at this moment I do nothing for you, I speak for what I can hear and say, so don't thank me. The good thing is that I didn't want to speak for a long time and then afterwards you forced me to speak. A year from now if I'm in the world I'll answer you. Do you want me to answer to make Rizzoli sell more newspapers? No. I don't answer anymore. You don't answer letters anymore. You have to deal with the facts. Besides, in Italy today, with the cruelty of the modern world, either you're first or you're nobody. Ferrari has won the World Championship, Lauda with what he had is second by one point: he is nobody. We are all on trial, everyone has to shoot at us. And I answer that I'm here and I'll stay here as long as I'm in the world".


But if there hadn't been Montezemolo and Forghieri....


"I don't know, I can't know. All I know is that at a certain moment Audetto called me to complain, I said yes and it is the first time I decided to complain. If you are now telling me that the presence of Forghieri and Montezemolo annoyed Audetto, it is probable. If he expressed the desire, the prayer not to have them at the races anymore, it must be so. Of course, I authorized them not to go there anymore. Then I authorized the complaint, not just the others. Because I had a grudge for Spain".


Listen engineer, a small curiosity. How did those you call the masters of Turin welcome your decision to revise the organization chart in the pits?


"No, maybe you are not informed; how long have you been interested in motor racing and our environment? I don't have masters in Turin".


You used this expression half an hour ago.


"Then you must excuse me for the impropriety of language. For someone who went to the eighth grade, you want to justify me, I think, don't you? In Turin they did not invite me to review anything. It is because in the field of racing I have full management latitude, which I have delegated to my collaborators. So I have moral responsibilities for which I am always responsible. But I am not accountable. It's just that I made it clear earlier that when you have to decide whether to retire from racing or continue, you can't damage an image. The company has 1200 collaborators: if those who have the financial and productive responsibility of the company are not in agreement... Racing is not a personal hobby of mine, I give the contribution of my modest experience but nothing else".


I would like to know Ferrari's program in the next month. Talking to Lauda, he said that he was planning to come to Maranello at the weekend and start working with Ferrari and working as he had never done in his life. I would like to know from you what exactly Ferrari plans to do in November, its program at Fiorano.


"Ferrrari has a program at Fiorano, Ferrari has a program at Mugello, Ferrari has a program at Imola, at Vallelunga, Ferrari has a program at Nardò, Ferrari has a program at Castellet. The program was not done now after Japan, it was done a month and a half ago. And now I hope to see you again soon. On another occasion. It has been fifty-six years that you have been writing about me and my misdeeds. I have enjoyed writing about you. So I hope to be able to invite you in a few days to present my book and give it to you personally. In the meantime, please excuse, let's say, my answers not so much for the content but for the tone. I could have been more polite, but it is a formal education that I have not received and I cannot spend it. So I am grateful to you for coming and I assure you that Dr. Gozzi will keep you informed. It is not that we will refuse interviews, we will refuse news, on the contrary we want to make sure that they reach everyone in time. But we do not want opinions and disparities to appear, one said, the other said. No. You will be informed. You can always find me on Sunday morning. Many people have my home number, and they wake me up, I do not refuse to talk to anyone. Goodbye and thank you".


As expected, the conference of Enzo Ferrari in the aftermath of the Japanese Grand Prix would have opened not a few stragglers. After reacting to Ferrari's words, declaring that:


"Engineer Ferrari has said a big hypocrisy by stating that Regazzoni has always raced for Casa Regazzoni".


Friday, October 29, 1976 Clay Regazzoni sees himself delivered a registered letter from Ferrari, in which it can be seen, in the straw yellow paper, signed with the pen from the manufacturer's purple ink, that:


"Regazzoni is a very good friend and we want this friendship to continue over time because there is no person more nice, lovable and correct than Regazzoni in human relations".


To this recommendation, the Swiss driver will answer on November 6, 1976:


"Dear engineer Ferrari, in response to your letter of last October 29, I allow myself to make you notice that as very often happens, you have been once again misinformed. Since you have allowed yourself to judge and criticize my last races, comfortably in your office in Maranello, I am entitled to ask for clarification on some moments of these races".


Citing Holland and the intercostal pain, the tires used at Monza and the facts of Watkins Glen:


"Why was it that in Japan I was not given the opportunity on Saturday to improve or at least maintain the position I had acquired on Friday, citing the fact that it was more important to favor a good position for Niki? Or maybe it was just to justify that the new suspension was better than the old one? All this, dear engineer, I hope was done to give me a way to collaborate in the success of the team and of Lauda, as you say. I have always accepted what Ferrari gave me, even if sometimes grumbling, because I liked racing for Ferrari. And even now my feelings and my respect have not changed, because Ferrari has given me more than I have given it. But if I have not been able to give more, the greatest fault has not been mine".


Regazzoni had already been warned by Forghieri, before the end of the championship, that Reutemann had signed a contract with Ferrari, and that if Lauda had remained he would have had no choice but to look for another team. It is no coincidence that on his return from Fuji, Regazzoni met Ecclestone in a hotel near Heath Row airport, and asked him:


"So, do you want me?"


But Ecclestone replies:


"How much do we make?"


the Swiss driver retorts, saying:


"What we talked about in Monza".


Then Bernie takes off his glasses, pulls his mouth to one side and raises his counteroffer, which, however, does not even reach half of what was received in Monza.


"Let's not even talk about it".


It is the last sentence of Regazzoni, who closes the interview and starts to think about the offer arrived from the Ensign team. But this is not the only problem to solve for Ferrari, since on Sunday October 31, 1976, Niki Lauda visits Maranello, taking everyone by surprise. The Austrian had announced his arrival on Monday or Tuesday, but he anticipated it. We have news from Ferrari itself, which issues a statement:


"Following today's meeting with Lauda, Ferrari announces that the driver will immediately start the tests for the 1977 season, in order to have the necessary time to undergo plastic surgery on his right eye. The Company has taken note of Lauda's firm determination to resume his activity in the form and with the intensity of past seasons".


Lauda arrived in Maranello in the morning, and after a brief meeting with Enzo Ferrari he had a long meeting with the members of the Scuderia's technical and sporting staff. At first, Ferrari proposes to Lauda a role as sporting director, not believing that the Austrian can return to run at the same levels as before the accident of 1 August. But Niki doesn't agree, he believes that Ferrari wants to take him away from the competition by keeping him in a covering role. So he runs to his car, takes the contract signed a few months earlier, returns to Ferrari's office and exclaims:


"And what do we do with this? Do we forget it? Do I have to tear it up?"


Ferrari, dumbfounded, replies:


"What does it mean?"


Lauda counters:


"I will race for McLaren".


Ferrari remains puzzled: why would Lauda want to race for McLaren?


"They made me an offer, and I just have to say yes".


Actually the British team had not made any offer to Niki, but the latter used this excuse to urge Ferrari to a different choice. The Austrian driver is dismissed, and then Ferrari consults with his advisors. After that, Lauda is called back to the office: the Austrian driver can stay at Ferrari, but as second driver. The Austrian, who left for Salzburg in the afternoon, will return on Tuesday or Wednesday to start the scheduled tests. The testing calendar of Ferrari and its drivers is very busy. Lauda, together with Reutemann, will be on track at Fiorano, Vallelunga, Mugello and Le Castellet. Therefore Ferrari and Niki Lauda don't divorce and on the contrary they immediately start working to prepare the 1977 World Championship, to regain the world title that James Hunt and McLaren won in extremis. Wednesday 3 November 1976 Niki Lauda flies to London to be visited by one of the most important English surgeons, and to decide the date of a plastic surgery in the area of the right eye, one of the most damaged in the Nurburgring accident. The Austrian driver leaves in the early afternoon the Fiorano track, where already on Tuesday and during the morning he had tested the 312 T2. After lunch, Niki reaches by car the Bologna airport, where his personal plane is waiting for him. Approached before departure, Lauda is stingy with words.


"I don't want to talk, after the Japanese Grand Prix there was a lot of noise about me".


Then, however, he loosened up and agreed to exchange a few sentences, finally appearing rather cheerful, almost as if to disprove the rumors of a certain tension reigning in the Ferrari clan.


"The atmosphere between us is the same as it has always been, as it was before the Japanese Grand Prix. In short, it's good. Now I'm going to England to see when I can be operated on: the sooner the better".


Lauda's return to Fiorano depends precisely on the decisions of the English doctor. If the operation cannot be performed immediately, Lauda will return to test in the next few days and will continue until the date fixed for the operation. Now at Fiorano there is only Carlos Reutemann left, who continues the tests. Even if the track, due to the bad weather conditions, provides endless annoyances.


"It rained a bit this morning and we did what little we could. Now the track is half wet and we're doing some testing with a half-wet, half-dry asphalt. We're doing minor, routine work, if we can figure something out good, otherwise we'll try again. Tomorrow we will suspend testing. It's a national holiday, and we respect that too. We will probably resume work in Fiorano on Friday".


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