The Brazilian Grand Prix opens the Formula 1 World Championship after the cancellation, for political reasons, of the Argentinian Grand Prix, which should have been held on January 11, 1976. The races on the calendar, with the return in extremis of the South African one, are sixteen, two more than in 1975. If Buenos Aires is unable to host its Grand Prix this year, the Canadian Grand Prix reappears, and two new competitions are added to the calendar: the United States West, scheduled on the Long Beach street circuit, which is surprising, to say the least, after all the controversy of the past season surrounding this type of track following the drama of Barcelona, and Japan. Sixteen races, with a commitment that goes from the end of January to the end of October, are many, perhaps too many for the men of the Circus, called to a not indifferent psychophysical stress. Lauda has complained, but his remarks have fallen on deaf ears, despite the prestige that comes from being World Champion and driving a Ferrari. In reality, the more races that take place, the more money that comes into circulation and even those who want a less turbulent pace find themselves against a majority that wants to give up nothing. And skipping an appointment is not possible: a world title is at stake, the most important title in Motorsport. This title, to which Lauda and Ferrari are committed to defend in the best possible way.
The Austrian driver gave Maranello a championship that had been eluding them since 1964 and he concretised the technical and financial efforts of the Modenese company, succeeding in exploiting with ability the exceptional qualities of the single-seater 312 T and bringing, as a very fine test driver, an important contribution to the development and the setting up of the car. Clay Regazzoni, for his part, won the Grand Prix most dear to Ferrari, that of Italy, so that the final balance, including title, successes, pole positions, record laps was an anthology. The structure remained unchanged in its fundamental lines: same drivers, same technical staff, identical base. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo left and Daniele Audetto arrived, but the former is still in the Ferrari orbit, and the latter has enough experience to operate comfortably in Formula 1. During the winter they worked hard at Fiorano to refine the 312 T, which will be deployed in Brazil, South Africa and the United States West, and to define the preparation of the T2, which will debut in May in Spain. There are, in short, guarantees for another year under the sign of Ferrari, as Enzo Ferrari himself admits during an interview. On the eve of the new championship, Enzo Ferrari answers twelve questions about the season that is about to begin, tracing a complete panorama of the problems that affect Ferrari and the world of racing. After the splendid 1975 season, what did Ferrari ask of its employees, technicians and drivers?
"To repeat, with equal harmony of purpose, diligence and enthusiasm, the commitment made last season".
What do you fear most on the eve of the new World Championship?
"Normally you fear everything that is unknown. Once we've seen the new competing cars in action, we'll be able to make a concrete estimate of anxieties, not excluding the inevitable annual surprise".
With what spirit are you looking forward to this racing season?
"With the unchanged hope that the expectations will be favourably concluded".
Will it be more difficult than the previous one? And if so, why?
"It will be more difficult than the previous season just for the inevitable surprises, that last year were represented at the beginning by the Shadow and then by the efficiency of our 312 T. This year, knowing the abilities and the technical availability of the English specialised companies that do their best in the supplies to the Formula 1 competitors, it is legitimate to foresee that the spirit of revenge that animates them will make the game much more difficult".
What will be the most dangerous cars and drivers for Ferrari?
"As far as the cars are concerned, as I have already mentioned, it is too early to make any prediction: it is necessary to wait for the first three or four Grand Prix to paint a sufficiently complete picture of the possibilities. As for the drivers, the most quoted are always those five or six who have been at the top of the last season".
What does it take to stand out in Formula 1?
"What is needed is an excellent professional driver who knows how to conceive a good car. The simplicity of the formula is only apparent, because it is well known how difficult the human choice is, and how complicated the realisation of the mechanical means is".
Are sixteen Grand Prix too many?
"Sixteen races could also represent an acceptable maximum, if some of them did not involve long journeys and costly and uncomfortable relocations".
What do you think of the current situation in Formula 1, of the relationships between manufacturers and organisers?
"I think, or rather, I see that these relationships are the result of positions of strength. The International Sports Commission has not been able to prevent these positions from developing negatively and now it is suffering them, in the current detrimental evolution, to the detriment of the sporting and technical aims that should instead remain the pre-eminent basis of our activity".
Can Ferrari list the races that don't work and offer his suggestions?
"For me, all races are valid, as long as they are organised on permanent circuits and racetracks, equipped with facilities and equipment suitable to ensure the protection of the public and to limit the risks of the drivers. Unfortunately, this fundamental requirement is sometimes not respected either by the organisers or by the authority that has to approve and endorse their initiatives".
This year, through a friendly team, an Italian driver will return on a Ferrari: if he proved to be really capable, would you engage him for 1977?
"Ferrari has assumed the burden of granting the Scuderia Everest free use of an efficient F1 312 T single-seater prepared according to the 1976 International Regulations. The operation tends to ascertain if, among the young drivers that Minardi will try, an element to be included in the future programs of Ferrari emerges".
Why, by the way, in these last years hasn't a Stewart or a Fittipaldi or a Lauda emerged in Italy?
"There are many reasons and I will not enumerate them. I limit myself to observing that the selective attempts made have not been conducted with planned adherence to the actual needs of the problem. And then, unfortunately, the only one who had clear ideas, our friend Eugenio Dragoni who was dedicated to this, suddenly passed away. In spite of this situation, let's not forget that a Brambilla, passed at thirty-six years old from the motorcycle to the car, and is among the most quoted drivers".
Will Ferrari do the encore in 1976? This is the question that all his fans ask themselves.
"When a tenor or a prima donna give an encore performance in a theatre, it may happen that the high notes are not as clear as in the first performance, regardless of their good will. It only remains for me to wish the Ferrari fans that the artists of the company will be able to repeat themselves".
If Ferrari has remained itself, changes have occurred in the other teams. Graham Hill and Tony Brise's Embassy Hill disappeared after a plane crash, and Hesketh withdrew due to a lack of funds. Its driver, James Hunt, was hired by McLaren to replace Emerson Fittipaldi, who had moved to Copersucar, and its materials, including cars, were sold to Frank Williams. It was born, in compensation, a new team, Ligier, which uses Matra engines. Mario Andretti has temporarily left Parnelli for Lotus, John Watson is finished at Penske. There are five Italians who will participate with a certain continuity in the 1976 season: Vittorio Brambilla, Lella Lombardi, Renzo Zorzi, Maurizio Flamini and Arturo Merzario. The novelty of the year is the widening of the choice of engines: the twelve-cylinder boxer of Ferrari, the V-cylinder of BRM and the eight-cylinder Cosworth are joined by two other twelve-cylinder engines, the boxer of Alfa Romeo, used on Brabham, and the V-cylinder of Matra, adopted by Ligier. This means that at least six single-seaters (two Ferrari, two Brabham, one Ligier and one BRM) will challenge the Cosworth and it should be a winning duel. The glorious Cosworth, after a long dominance, was beaten in 1975 by Ferrari and it is hard to see how it can regain the lost ground. The twelve-cylinder Ferrari, Alfa and Matra engines have powers greater than 500 horsepower, while the British engine stops at 475.
There is talk of more or less secret experiments by Cosworth to improve, if not the power, the performance of its engine: we will see. Towards the end of the championship should also appear a six-cylinder engine with turbocharger from Renault, intended for Tyrrell. The British have been working during the winter break to close the gap with Ferrari. Lotus presented the new 77, a refined version of the 72, Brabham restructured the BT to accommodate the Alfa Romeo engine, Tyrrell developed the Project 34, the six-wheel car and improved the usual 007. Modifications and innovations, already made or in progress, also for March, McLaren and Shadow. Still to evaluate the performance of the French Ligier and the Brazilian Copersucar. At São Paulo, on January 22, 1976, alone, under the rain that has been beating down on the Paulist plain for three days, Emerson Fittipaldi and his young teammate Ingo Hoffmann test the two Copersucars with which the Brazilians will face the big brands of Formula 1. They drive with caution, the track surface and visibility are anything but excellent. Hoffman, who hasn't driven a Formula 1 car for almost five months, gives just a couple of runs, then gets right back up to speed. They calibrate the brakes and calibrate the aileron tilts, then return to the pits after a few laps. Emerson complains that he couldn't get more practice on tyre changes.
"There's very little light, with this sky all overcast. If we still have similar weather on Sunday, it will be essential to guess the right tyres".
The Brazilian driver doesn't seem to be in a good mood.
"It is that this sudden drop in temperature shifts the conditions in which we did the tests. From 32-33 degrees we suddenly dropped to 17: the engines are affected, as well as the others, with the difference that the Europeans coming from the cold will be advantaged".
Even his brother, Wilson, who this year left the wheel to take over the organisational direction of the team, shakes his head. Neither of them responds to Ingo Hoffmann's joking words. But the times set by Emerson's Copersucar in the past few days have been more than good, and he knows well that he is one of the big favourites, together with the World Champion Niki Lauda, the other Ferrari driver, Clay Regazzoni, Ronnie Peterson, the Brazilian Carlos Pace, winner of the last edition. These, like all the other twenty-two competitors at the 1976 Brazilian Grand Prix, remain closed in the hotel, also a little darkened by the steady gray that envelops the city. Clay Regazzoni denies having incited his colleagues to urge the postponement of the race should it continue to rain.
"I'm not crazy, I'm perfectly aware that a Grand Prix can't be moved just like that, in a short time. Of course, at Interlagos with the water, muddy puddles form. In some sections, for example at the exit of the third corner, which has no protection whatsoever, if it rains one enters in closed sections, without the possibility of calculating the risk, and if one comes out it depends mostly on luck. We will see tomorrow, with the first round of tests, then Saturday with the second and, finally, on Sunday we will decide".
More optimistic, although like the others dissatisfied with the state of the track, the World Champion, Niki Lauda, prefers to talk about his Ferrari 312 T2.
"For our twelve-cylinder cars, the cool weather is good for us, last year it was almost fifty degrees on the track; if anything, it is the consumption that could give me pause for thought".
Rain or no rain, Lauda believes that in any case the times will be lower in this edition than in the previous one, as a consequence of the changes made to the Interlagos track. The exit from the pits has been prolonged by about fifty metres to avoid that the drivers who resume the race interfere with those already in the race, but this will mean losing a few tenths at the start. The system of fences protecting the curves appears to be generally reinforced, but the resulting ground displacements have produced slight depressions. Minor, but not insignificant when travelling at 200 mph.
"I think that the overall road grip is lower this year. All in all, the pole position will be around two minutes and thirty-one seconds".
Lauda concludes. Asked for a prediction, Daniele Audetto replies:
"We run to do well and if we do we win. In the meantime, we are happy to have set up the organisation. Our mechanics have achieved excellent times during the tyre change".
Lauda, who stands next to him, nods and smiles. The results of the first qualifying session prove Audetto and Lauda right. Friday, January 23, 1976, for the first time this week, it doesn't rain, and at 10:00 a.m. on the dot the drivers take to the track to begin practice with an overcast sky and fresh air. World Champion Niki Lauda is the best on the first day of qualifying at the Interlagos circuit, and behind him is teammate Clay Regazzoni. If the time rankings remain unchanged tomorrow evening after the fourth and final round of practice, the two Ferrari drivers will be on the front row of the starting line on Sunday.
"After four months of inactivity, on a hard track like this, we have shown that we are a credit to our name. For the moment that's enough for us. In the race we'll see".
Says Daniele Audetto, sports director of the Maranello team. Behind the Ferrari is Emerson Fittipaldi: on the circuit where he was born and grew up, surrounded by the anxieties of the financiers who have invested a billion and a half Italian liras in his name, by those of his family fully committed in the factory and in the pits, and by the countless supporters, the paulist racer pushes his prototype to the maximum, succeeding in repeating the times already achieved in recent days, despite the pain in one arm caused during a training session. Although always rough in appearance and with not the best assistance, the Copersucar has evidently made considerable progress compared to last season. James Hunt and Jochen Mass, both on McLaren, the Italian Brambilla at the wheel of the March-Beta, the Frenchman Lafitte with the only Ligier-Matra in the race, John Watson with the Penske, follow in order the trio of favourites. Of these, Watson is the one who best impresses the technicians, as he runs with regularity and confidence, without ever risking more than necessary. Disappointing, although tomorrow's race still offers them a chance to recover, is the test of the Brabham-Alfa Romeo of José Carlos Pace and Carlo Reutmann. The Brazilian complains about the carburetion at high speeds, the Argentine breaks a joint a few laps from the end. As soon as he learned that Ecclestone had sold his Brabham BT44s to Ram Racing Limited, Pace immediately rushed to one of the company's financiers who had leased the cars for a year to offer to run with the old car. Immediately after him Reutemann, afraid of losing a year behind Brabham-Alfa who wanted to have a competitive car right away, repeated the request.
According to Reutemann, Ecclestone, Murray and all the technical staff of Brabham work with little enthusiasm around the new car. Meanwhile it is to clarify all the curious manoeuvre that there is behind the sale of this BT44 (three cars, ten engines, one hundred rims and two hundred tyres, more trucks and roulotte) to the RAM, that in its turn has rented all the material to a society of four Italian furniture makers of the Brianza that will make run with their names (or with eventual names of sponsors that will come) two drivers: the Italian Flammini and the Swiss Kessler. The operation is so articulated: RAM guarantees to the company to give the cars, starting from the Corsa dei Campioni and for thirteen races, up to and including the Italian Grand Prix to the two mentioned drivers. At the signing of the contract seventy-five million have been paid, the remaining two hundred million have been paid in instalments from March 12 to September 12, 1976. The Brabhams will be updated and taken care of in the homonymous workshop, where the engines will be remade, next to the Brabham-Alfa. The Swedish Peterson has immediately started strong, as it is in his style, but he remains immediately victim of the impetuosity: on the Perradura curve, in light descent, he skids and goes out in head-tail beating against the guardrail. Only on Saturday it will be known with certainty if his Lotus will be able to be recovered and put back on track. Jean Pierre Jarier, who in 1975 was the fastest here at Interlagos, is forced to abandon his Shadow at the end of the first lap: oil has ruined his clutch. The interest of those present is concentrated on the tests of Lauda, Regazzoni and Fittipaldi.
Emerson frequently stops for suspension problems and several tyre changes, and the Ferrari drivers and technicians have to face and solve similar difficulties; the track, here and there bumpy and not perfectly dry, forces everyone to search for the best balance. Practice takes place on the Friday and Saturday prior to the race, conforming to the now customary pattern of two sessions on each day. This time the Formula One Association has thought up another rule which means that the third session (i.e., the first session on Saturday) should not count for grid positions so that everyone can carry out full tank tests and suchlike without having to worry about being caught napping by more organised rivals. As far as Ronnie Peterson is concerned, he quickly gets himself involved in problems the gravity of which far out-stripped minor grumbles about the revised practice schedule; he crashes his Lotus 77 very heavily after about five laps of the first session, sliding heavily through a catch fence when a screw-on nut disconnects itself from the temperature gauge bulb and allows hot water to spray onto a rear tyre. Although the car is repairable, the effort requires a sleepless night on the part of the Lotus mechanics and there are still plenty of problems waiting the next day. By the end of the first session, everything seems to be fitting into the predictable 1975 pattern. Lauda and Regazzoni head the practice list with laps of 2'32"68 and 2'33"17 respectively, their Ferraris looking as smooth, controlled and undramatic as ever round the 4.9 miles of bumps and rippled tarmac. Emerson Fittipaldi prompts all his other rivals to wake up with a start by taking the Copersucar round in 2'33"33, the grin on his face at the time reflecting the wisdom of a few days’ testing before official practice got under way.
Nevertheless, Hunt is proving to be a very able successor to the Brazilian, lapping his six-speed McLaren in 2'33"87 during the first session to be fourth overall although team-mate Mass goes even quicker by the end of the second session. Neither of the Shadow DN5s show much form on Friday, Jarier’s missing virtually all the first session after its differential packs up and Pryce complaining about his car’s handling. The following day the Shadows are to find their situation much improved only to fall foul of the non-timed third session and end up farther back on the grid than they would otherwise have been. The Fittipaldi and Penske teams also find themselves penalised by this strange anomaly and one wonders whether it will become a permanent feature of every Grand Prix on the calendar. Laffite makes a good impression with the Ligier JS5, lapping smoothly in 2'34"67, the French V12 conspicuously eclipsing the Brabham-Alfa’s rather lack-lustre performance. On Friday both Reutemann and Pace pop and bang their way round the circuit so badly that the team’s sole priority is to get the engines to function cleanly. In an effort to establish which fuel injection system is the most efficient, Reutemann’s car is fitted with a Lucas unit for the second day, replacing the much heavier Alfa Romeo system which added about 10 kilograms to the total weight of the car. But the Brabham team is also in trouble with gear selection problems on one car, failing rubber driveshaft joints on the other and spend much of Friday night fabricating two bridge pieces to fit across the tops of the gearboxes on both cars in an effort to prevent the flexing motion of which both drivers complained.
Down in the Lotus pit a night’s work is rewarded with the failure of a joint at the bottom of the steering column on Peterson’s 77, a failure which means that the Swede misses the unofficial session of practice. At the end of the first day of practice, Niki Lauda stops the official chronometers at 2'32"68, Clay Regazzoni at 2'33"17, Fittipaldi, in the fastest lap, marks 2'33"33. Then comes the interval and, with the sky opening up to let the first sunshine of these days filter through, from the twenty degrees in the morning the temperature rises to thirty in the afternoon. Cars and drivers notice this, as they are unable to improve their times in the second stint. Lauda is the only one to repeat the time that classifies him in the place of honour, confirming the solidity of his position. On Saturday 24 January, in the opening round, at 10:00 a.m., drivers and technicians try to fine tune their cars, some of them running with a full tank of fuel. The manufacturers' association, this year, decided not to recognize it as valid for the times, precisely because the missed Argentine Grand Prix had caused a delay in the preparation of many competitors. Freed from the heavy clouds that had enveloped it until Friday morning, Interlagos is once again the same circuit it has always been, a very hard track for cars and racers. The race against time starts with the fourth round, at 1:00 p.m. Defying the great heat, the Shadow of the Frenchman Jarier and the Welshman Tom Pryce start immediately, and Hunt and Mass, the two McLaren drivers follow them. Also the Italian Brambilla, who this year starts with a car that offers him some chance to do well, pushes hard, as well as Emerson Fittipaldi.
Lauda and Regazzoni have to accept the challenge of the chronometers and work hard to defend their positions, and they do so by focusing mainly on the precision of the pre-established schedule, without letting themselves be carried away by the frequent and sometimes overwhelming escapes of Jarier and Hunt. Those who don't, will pay the price of risk later on. The Frenchman Jacques Laffite touches the protection of the Sol curve, losing a wheel and for a moment fearing the worst. The Austrian Hans Stuck passes dangerously close to him, ignoring the warnings to reduce speed, and shortly afterwards runs out of fuel at the exit of the Ferradura curve. The same fate befell Watson, Andretti and Brambilla at different points, as they all miscalculated the fuel consumption, which turned out to be higher than expected, forcing them to return to their pits on their feet, while the Swede Ronnie Peterson, who on Friday had been the first to go off the track and damage his Lotus, drove cautiously, ranking among the last ones. Once all the drivers have returned to the pits, the great awaiting begins, full of hope for some, animated by controversy for others. A tense atmosphere makes it difficult to talk to the Lotus team: Andretti and above all Peterson, have so far given much less than anyone hoped for from them. At Brabham-Alfa Romeo, Carlos Pace and Carlos Reutemann make no secret of being dissatisfied with their new single-seaters. During the qualifying session, the fuel pump on Reutemann's car is even replaced with a unit from Lucas, which weighs less, but the result does not change.
"They have their reasons".
Says engineer Chiti, Autodelta's general manager.
"The BT-45 is a debut prototype, anyone who knows a little about it doesn't ignore that it takes time to get to competitive times. We've already put in the new air intakes, which will be legal from the next Spanish Grand Prix. And these supply less power to the engine, preventing it from making the most of its power. This is our problem, no other".
It also turns out that the dynamic intakes designed by Gordon Murray are inadequate to the needs of the engine, because the necessary amount of air does not arrive. Ultimately, at the end of qualifying James Hunt, on a McLaren-Ford Cosworth wins his first pole in his career, beating Lauda by only two hundredths. This despite the fact that enormous difficulties had limited the British driver in the previous days: initially, the preparations in the cockpit of the M23 were not done with due care, and to adapt the car originally intended for Fittipaldi, to Hunt's much larger stature, it becomes necessary to modify the front bulkhead of the car and mount the pedals beyond it, and not in front. James Hunt will say, years later:
"When we got to Brazil, everything was wrong. The seat wasn't right for me, the steering was too hard and I didn't like it, so the first day of practice was devoted to preparing the proper driving position, without taking care of setting up the car for the circuit".
Thus, the first day was used to settle Hunt inside the cockpit, while the following day the engine broke down during the first qualifying session. When the last practice session began, the mechanics were still working to replace the engine. The Briton, twenty minutes from the end, joins the track and, in spite of the lack of feedback regarding the set-up of the car, scores the pole position. In second row Jean-Pierre Jarier and the other Ferrari driver Regazzoni. Andretti is having a hard time in the other new Lotus, bucking and twitching an alarming path round the circuit, the driver feeling a little bit cautious about his car’s potential. When the chequered flag comes out to mark the end of that final session, Lotus fortunes look as low as they’ve ever looked with both cars right down at the back of the grid. It will be shortsighted in the extreme to write off Chapman’s new design as a failure at this early stage, but nonetheless it proves a very disheartening weekend for the British team. Meanwhile, Ferrari are not getting it all their own way at the front of the grid. Jarier proves that his car’s superiority in last year’s event is no fluke and laps his DNS in 2'32"38 during that unofficial session, easily faster than all the opposition. But in the session that matter, the final hour, James Hunt puts in a tremendous spurt to set fastest official time of the weekend with an excellent 2'32"5, even though the slightly re-profiled left-hander after the pits means that he is significantly slower than Jarier’s 1975 pole-winning best of 2'29"8. Lauda isn’t particularly ruffled by the McLaren driver’s performance, claiming second place on the grid just 0.2 sec. slower, confident that his car has more to offer on race day.
Jarier manages to pip Regazzoni for the inside of row two, but a disappointed Tom Pryce ends up way back on the outside of row six after his engine turns sour in the final session. Emerson Fittipaldi raises Brazil’s hopes with a competitive 2'33"33, best in the new Copersucar-Fittipaldi, praising his new car’s handling even though he strains a ligament in one of his arms during Saturday practice due to the heavy steering. Jochen Mass has virtually kept pace with team-mate Hunt right up until the final session only to have any chance of improvement vanish when the automatic fire extinguisher system accidentally goes off in his McLaren’s cockpit and Watson’s very competitive Penske is similarly handicapped after running out of petrol. A similar affliction halts the works Marches while Laffite is very fortunate to escape unhurt when a rear wheel collapses on the Ligier and spins the French car into the catch fencing very hard; fortunately the damage proves to be superficial and the Copersucar team offers them sonic help in strengthening their retaining rear rims so that the Matra V12 can take part in the first Grand Prix of 1976. Both Brabham drivers try tremendously hard with their Alfa-engined mounts, Pace and Reutemann looking very dramatic all round the circuit as they strive for a competitive time. In the event Pace qualifies on the fifth row just behind Depailler’s Tyrrell and ahead of the Ligier-Matra, but Jody Scheckter just cannot get his Tyrrell to handle to his liking and fails to break the 2'35"0 barrier. Back with the troubled Lotus duo are Frank Williams’ cars, and the fact that Ickx cannot lap the Hesketh-Williams as quickly as Zorzi’s FW/04 makes one wonder just why the Belgian has returned to single-seater racing. Right at the back comes Brazilian novice Ingo Hoffman in the old Copersucar-Fittipaldi FD/03, Ashley’s uncompetitive B.R.M. and Signorina Lombardi’s March 761.
Sunday January 25, 1976, at 12:00 a.m. the Brazilian Grand Prix starts. At the start the two Ferrari drivers get off well and take the first two places, with Clay Regazzoni leading the group, followed by Niki Lauda, distancing James Hunt who takes off from pole and who has to avoid burning the clutch. Emerson Fittipaldi loses several positions and at the end of the first lap he is eighth, preceded by Vittorio Brambilla, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Jochen Mass and John Watson. At the second passage John Watson enters the pit lane with the Penske on fire because of a breakage in the fuel system: the fire brigade and the other men of the emergency service rush to the pit lane and the driver comes out unharmed from the cockpit, but the car is unrecoverable. At the same time, Ian Ashley with the Stanley-B.R.M., at his first and only appearance in the 1976 World Championship, is forced to retire because of a broken oil pump. Mass, on the other hand, goes off the track and is forced into the pits. Fittipaldi loses several positions due to an engine problem, while on the fourth lap Jean-Pierre Jarier takes the fourth place, overtaking Brambilla, who has gearbox problems; two laps later the driver from Monza will also be overtaken by Tom Pryce. Another of the Brazilians, Carlos Pace, last year's triumphant driver, also travels far behind the leaders. The Brabham-Alfa Romeo, which is at its debut this year, cannot overcome the fuel problems. At the ninth lap Lauda takes the lead of the race thanks to technical problems on Regazzoni's car: the front right tyre sags due to a puncture, so much so that the Swiss driver will be forced to make a pit stop, which will make him fall to the last positions of the ranking.
Also Brambilla loses contact with the first ones: he has problems with the gearbox. Now Lauda is followed by James Hunt at forty seconds distance, as well as Jean-Pierre Jarier, Tom Pryce and Patrick Depailler, who during the ninth lap had passed Brambilla. The latter, during the fourteenth lap, will be forced to make a pit stop, compromising his race. The positions remain the same for fifteen laps, with the engines roaring to life and the temperature rising to 37° on the track. Regazzoni, having changed the tyre with an operation that the mechanics carry out in a blink of an eye, starts chasing his adversaries and gaining tenth after tenth. It is an exciting run-up, the Ticinese driver pushes as hard as he can to gain at least a few points on the final finish line. But the lost time is irrecoverable. The leading positions remain unchanged for several laps, until the thirty-second lap when Hunt retires because of the engine failure: initially, during the twenty-seventh lap one of the intake horns detaches, tearing the injection nozzle and transforming the Cosworth in a seven-cylinder engine, but then, as said during the thirty-second lap, the detached piece ends up behind the throttle valve, blocking it in open position. Hunt runs into the fence at the trackside, but the British driver does not give up and tries to get back on the race track. However, the radiators came off, and so the McLaren driver is forced to retire permanently. Already from the twenty-seventh lap he is replaced by Jarier, on which Lauda has an eight-second lead, which progressively decreases due to the frenzied attack of the Frenchman. At the twenty-eighth lap, when twelve laps are missing to the end, Lauda has a margin of four seconds on Jarier, while Regazzoni passes to the eleventh place. The Lauda-Jarier duel is now the dominant motif of the race, but it soon ends.
On lap 33, the Frenchman goes out on the Ferradura curve, smashing the Shadow. Luckily the driver remains unharmed, but is forced to retire, as well as Pace, Peterson, Andretti, Laffite, Hunt and Ashley. In the following laps, Regazzoni is unable to go beyond seventh place, while Reutemann, who follows him, is forced to abandon three laps from the end with an empty fuel tank. However, his Brabham-Alfa Romeo did not disappoint at all, considering that it was at its first absolute test. During the tests, the Argentine, who drives one of the two Brabhams on which the Milanese manufacturer's engine has been mounted, had repeatedly asserted that the Interlagos circuit would not have allowed the best performances: too many curves, too many gear changes and few possibilities to allow the engine to reach full performance. Reutemann, however, with a shrewd race and demonstrating his skills as a conductor, was able to earn a coveted eighth place. The Copersucar driven by Emerson Fittipaldi was below expectations. The race ends with the victory of Niki Lauda, ahead of Depailler, Pryce, Stuck, Scheckter and Jochen Mass, who is the author of a race in full comeback. The standing audience shouts the name of the winner, while on the podium the Governor of the State awards Lauda, Patrick Depailler and Tom Pryce, who finished second and third respectively. Niki Lauda and Ferrari had concluded the 1975 season by winning the United States Grand Prix, and now they opened the 1976 season with another success. Ferrari's sporting director Daniele Audetto, embracing the drivers, commented:
"We have dispelled the South American legend, for the first time a European wins at Interlagos and it is Ferrari who does it, with a twelve-cylinder car considered susceptible to the great heat. Well begun is half done, they say".
There was no opposition to the Lauda-Ferrari duo, it was the victory of the strongest: Niki Lauda and Ferrari won the Brazilian Grand Prix, the first round of the Formula 1 World Championship, with a shrewd and regular race that was at the same time the result of the reliability of the car and the class of the driver. The Austrian's race gave nothing to emotion. Niki overtook his teammate Clay Regazzoni on the eighth lap and took the lead all the way to the finish line. As had happened in practice, Lauda was not impressed by the repeated attacks of his rivals, and he resisted Hunt first and then Jarier. And, when the Frenchman of the Shadow, record man of the Interlagos circuit, six laps from the end ended up against the protective fence of the Interlagos track, slipping on an oil stain left by the broken engine of Hunt's McLaren, he left alone, already with the laurel around his neck. What would have happened if Jarier had not ended up off the track? Probably a fierce duel between Ferrari and Shadow, which could have been resolved with the victory of one or the other car on the finishing line, with a difference of a few centimetres. But everyone, technicians and spectators alike, had the clear impression that even when he was being pursued by the Shadow, Lauda had never lost control of the situation. Behind Lauda and his closest rivals, Pryce, Stuck and Scheckter lapped with extreme regularity. At no time, however, except when Jarier made his rant, did it seem that Ferrari's success could be compromised. The first round belongs to Ferrari. Ferrari was only lacking in luck: it is not a paradox, because if Clay Regazzoni had not punctured a tyre on the first lap, when he was in first position, the hypothesis of a one-two for the Maranello Company would not have been at all rash. The Swiss driver, who had ended up in last place because of a tyre puncture, had the luxury of making a dazzling comeback, finishing seventh, a position that did not earn him any points in the standings, but which testified to the state of grace of the Swiss driver and, above all, of the 312 T.
For the World Champion and for Ferrari, therefore, a splendid start, which offers different ideas. Immediately, the obvious consideration that also in Brazil the 312 T has confirmed to be superior to the previous version, the B3, that just in Interlagos, in 1975, had disappointed; the T debuted in March, in South Africa, therefore both in Buenos Aires and São Paulo Lauda and Regazzoni went on track with the 312 B3. The 312 T is so much superior to the old single-seater that it inflicts the umpteenth defeat to the English rivals, particularly competitive on the fast bends of Interlagos. The fortunes of the Italian drivers involved were different, but none of them demerit: Renato Zorzi conquered an excellent eighth place. Brambilla, unlucky, was among the major protagonists of the race, until mechanical problems forced him to retire. Finally Lella Lombardi, adversely affected by mishaps that forced her to stop for long minutes, had the merit of being one of the thirteen survivors of the race for which twenty-two runners had lined up at the start. Fittipaldi, a few days before, seemed to be able to easily beat Lauda and Regazzoni, but he arrived thirteenth, two laps from the Austrian driver: his car was not yet in place and it was logical. For Brabham-Alfa the result is also negative: Pace is classified tenth, Reutmann has retired. But what is alarming is the immediate rise of controversy within the team between Brabham and the men of the Milanese company. Shy, with his head down and his pace quick, almost as if he were not the champion he has just proved to be, always the fastest in the world, Niki Lauda, an hour after the conclusion of the Brazilian Grand Prix, was already at the São Paulo airport ready to return to Europe. The new victory has not taken him out of his quiet reserve. He escapes, almost bored, from the smiles of the stewardesses and the attention of the passengers who recognize him, while he sips a milkshake in the airport bar. Lotus general manager Colin Chapman and Brabham boss Bernie Ecclestone, who are sitting next to him, are very talkative, even though they are disappointed by the poor performance of their single-seaters.
"In fact, I don't have much to say, the car went perfectly and I also did what I had to do".
Explains the Austrian driver, who indicates how the relentless pursuit of Frenchman Jarier has never worried him.
"He was always behind me, and when I pushed a little bit he ended up going off the track. No one can say if he would have caught up with me otherwise, and what I could have done in that case. But let's leave the speculation alone, that can lead as far as nowhere".
Niki is happy to have broken the dominance of the South American drivers at Interlagos, but getting him to admit it is not easy.
"We proved to be the best organised team, even Regazzoni did well, and without the tyre incident he would have stayed in the leading group. Ferrari won because they went faster than all the others. Very simple. Clear?"
Clay Regazzoni is of the same mind.
"We have the best cars".
He comments in a high-pitched voice as he signs autographs, then adds:
"I also have the best jinx of all, because I was feeling just fine, I had managed to slip into the lead and it took that damn tyre to get me out of the way. The run-up, then, was desperate. In front, Hunt and Jarier were pulling as hard as they could and gaining back the lost seconds was a feat for aviators. In addition, making up positions when you are behind is further complicated by the difficulty of having to overtake so many cars whose drivers are certainly not there to help you. It's a pity, I was just a hair's breadth away from sixth place, which would have allowed me to collect a point, a consolation prize that can always come in handy at the right time".
While Emerson Fittipaldi states:
"Regazzoni had a great race and Lauda, without taking any credit away from him, owes him something. Having pulled as long as he could, hindering to a certain extent the pursuers, then allowed Lauda to run away alone, and going to take back a Ferrari is not easy for anyone".
About himself and his Copersucar, the Brazilian prefers not to talk. It went badly: defects in the electrical system and in the power supply did not allow him to arrive but thirteenth, behind his young teammate, Ingo Hoflmann, a modest but prudent rookie. Now the whole Copersucar group moves to Reding, in Great Britain, where Emerson will try to overhaul the Cosworth engine, the suspension and everything else that doesn't work.
"Ferrari is the car to beat, we will try to beat it as soon as we can".
Concludes Wilson Fittipaldi, to cut short the awkward questions. The disappointed Interlagos crowd booed his brother's return to the pits. Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti, the Lotus standard bearers, did not speak to each other and it was difficult to understand exactly how they clashed with each other. The Swede, impulsive as always, hit his teammate. Peterson, on his return from Brazil, contrary to what one might think will be serene. But he will release an interesting interview through which he will indicate his desire to leave Lotus to move to March, taking the place of Lella Lombardi:
"Yes, actually Colin Chapman and I are not getting along very well these days. I don't think I'm staying at Lotus".
But Peterson had already signed a contract for 1976...
"I signed the contract in August 1974 and it was valid for two years, so it is still in effect. I'm convinced the car is there. It needs to be worked around, that's the problem. We only tested before the Brazilian Grand Prix for a total of two hours. That's a bit short for a new car".
But if the car is good, then why not stay at Lotus? Perhaps relations with Chapman have deteriorated?
"I don't trust him anymore, and he doesn't trust me anymore. I know he goes around saying I'm the fastest driver there is, but we don't get along".
Are there financial problems at the root of this situation?
"Yes, indeed there are. I was supposed to have what I was owed a long time ago, but I've received 1/15th of the agreed upon amount so far and exactly the night I left London to go to Brazil at the airport. Also Chapman I know that he must still have the money from JPS that, given how things are going, would try not to honour what was agreed some time ago, because Lotus is no longer among the protagonists of the World Championship".
If Peterson leaves, would Andretti stay at Lotus?
"I think Chapman would want both of them. Andretti has been asked but he hasn't answered yet either in the affirmative or in the negative. But I'm leaving Lotus".
Where will you go?
"I have two offers to sift through, one is with March (in place of Lella Lombardi), the other I have been asked not to make public (but many think it is Tyrrell)".
Have you ever had any contact with Ferrari?
"Yes, before the end of the season. I talked a lot with both Montezemolo and Forghieri, but we never agreed on the money".
About a possible takeover of Ronnie Peterson at the March in place of Lella Lombardi, the latter, in turn returned to Italy, in Alessandria, declares:
"When I heard about this thing I got a little bit angry and first of all I looked for my sponsor, the one who at the beginning of the year guaranteed me a whole season at the wheel of the March. I talked to him about this and he was the first to be surprised by the news. Of course he confirmed his confidence in me, excluding any possibility that Peterson could take the car away from me, as many have written. I am now much calmer, even though I never had any doubts about this. I am sorry for Peterson, who is certainly in trouble, but I really don't know how he could move to March: first because he has a contract with Lotus that is difficult to modify, and then because even in the March team, even if Mosley loves him, there would be Vittorio who would not be very happy to have him at his side. Anyway I hope that these rumours will be over, and maybe there will be a denial. I know that I have to go to South Africa on January 21 for the Goodyear tests, and all of us in the March team will try with my car, which will become the team's mule from that moment on. So we will have a week to get everything in place. We will have cars with the latest modifications, the big rear radiators mixed with water and oil and I really hope to do better than at Interlagos. I had a great time in Kyalami last year and I hope to have a good race, as I hope with all my heart that Vittorio can win".
Also Carlos Reutemann is not at all happy with the choices made by Ecclestone and Brabham, who relied on the well-tested Alfa Romeo engine, world champion in the Sport sector, convinced that this engine could have guaranteed victories and satisfactions. In a long speech to Autosprint newspaper, Reutemann recounts:
"The disappointing test of the Brabham-Alfa at Interlagos didn't surprise me at all, I don't know why Ecclestone and Pace had more confidence in the car than I did. To me that disappointment seemed absolutely normal. Already in the first tests we had done at Paul Ricard we had worked with two types of injection. With one you could reduce the fuel consumption enough but you lost power while with the normal Lucas you consumed more but the engine worked better at low revs, which is the real problem. There, I realised that both Ecclestone as well as Gordon Murray and engineer Chiti were alarmed. When I arrived at Interlagos, the car was exactly the same and it was clear that it would have no chance for the race. Gordon Murray had designed a car for a fuel consumption of forty-five gallons, or just over twenty litres, which is logical for a Formula 1 car. To carry more fuel than that is absurd and an absurdity even to have any claims. The Alfa-Brabham has one major problem: its weight. The chassis looks pretty good. At least it steers and holds well, but it's impossible to do an ideal tuning because the weight is such that for example all the spirals we had brought to Interlagos were too thin. But the problem is the engine, that is slow without flexibility, and too heavy and it lacks responsiveness. For the Brabham-Alfa to have any competitive chance it would be necessary to remove sixty-five to seventy kilograms from it, that is to say to bring it to 585 kilos, a little above the limit of the category. But these kilos could not be gained anywhere other than the engine. To gain them there you would have to use titanium and aluminium parts like Ferrari did, instead of those castings that Alfa Romeo has. This takes years of development work and experiments and I don't know if I will have time to wait for them. This is only related to the years that I will continue to race, and I do not know how many they will be, but I am sure that they will not be many. So I wonder if it will be worth the effort".
"When I tested the car at Silverstone for the first time on October 8, I realised that I could not have a car to win. That same night I phoned Ecclestone and told him, but Ecclestone said it was better to wait. I then set out to see what possibilities there were to change teams and the only one was McLaren. I knew Emerson Fittipaldi's plans but he delayed his answer until the last day of his contract with McLaren, that is November 26th, so I could not wait that long to sign my contract with Brabham. There was also the danger that Emerson had remained at McLaren, then I would have been left on foot. Now there are no more possibilities because the only car left on the market is a vacant Lotus, but they are worse off than us. After the Interlagos race we had a meeting between all the team members. Both Pace and I told Ecclestone of our concerns and views. I asked Ecclestone for a Ford Cosworth for me and for Pace to stay with Alfa. I told him that even coming from a championship that he had won, a Ford-Cosworth was preferable to Alfa. Ecclestone's answer was negative. And his logical explanation. Ecclestone told us that at the present time there was no possibility to beat Ferrari and that with a Ford-Cosworth engine this was absolutely impossible. Ecclestone added that he knew that with the BT44s we would have arrived second without any problem at Interlagos, but he was not interested in arriving second and from this point of view he is right. Everyone is looking for ways to beat Ferrari. McLaren is trying a six-speed gearbox, Cosworth is working on an automatic transmission, Ligier has resorted to the Matra engine and Brabham is trying the Alfa Romeo way. It is clear that both Martini and Alfa Romeo want to beat Ferrari at any price, but this will take a long time to achieve. Formula 1 has already reached the top of its possibilities and the differences are minimal. This is the reason why it is so difficult to win for Ferrari. Like others, I also thought about the possibility of a parallel development of the Alfa-Brabham and the old BT44. That is, to continue to race with the BT44s and to have a BT45 to test, but this would have delayed the project. Only one thing I am sure of: if at Interlagos both Pace and I had had two BT44s available we would have done one lap with the BT45 then we would have abandoned it. For this reason I believe that Ecclestone put two Alfa-Brabham on purpose".
"It has been a long time, or rather I think never, that a race has been as hard as the one in Interlagos. I drove very well and I worked like crazy inside the car to get as much profit as possible. At the end of the race, many people who are in the Formula 1 business came to congratulate me because they understood my terrible effort. On the other hand, Pace got out of the car absolutely disillusioned, threw away his helmet and left. In the pit I also heard Ecclestone commenting to a person saying: This is a big disaster. So they are worried like nobody else. I have analysed this whole thing in depth, I have looked for possible solutions but I have come to the conclusion that there are none for everything I said before. I think to get a good performance a real miracle will have to happen. And that, in a business like Formula 1, is not possible. The only thing left for me to do is to wait six or seven months to see if it makes any progress. If it doesn't, they will leave the project aside. I say this because sponsor Martini can get tired of having no results. Neither I nor anyone else in Formula 1 has the slightest doubt that Ferrari will win again this year. Right now there is no way to beat them and the difference is truly an abyss. To run close to them you have to do as Jean-Pierre Jarier did at Interlagos, i.e. run with the knife between your teeth and this to end up in a catastrophe. The difference is that Ferrari does Formula 1 as a hobby, instead the other teams are companies that live on Formula 1. At Ferrari they move an incredible amount of money and everything is to their advantage. The supremacy of Ferrari is absolute and I wonder if they will create a monopoly in Formula 1 so big that they will lose even its interest given the lack of struggle. I say this because after what we saw in Interlagos there is nothing new under the sun, especially for Lotus 77 that are not going and I think they will be left aside. It can be that we will improve in the fast circuits but only to find ourselves in the middle of the standings. I know this Alfa Romeo engine from when I raced with the sport prototype and it was better because everything was slower and there was only one obligation, to last until the end. Brabham-Alfa needs time. And this time, I don't know if I can offer it. Jacky Ickx spent almost five years testing and developing the Ferrari. When he got tired, Lauda came along and took advantage of all this work. One thinks about this possibility and what awaits him in such a development and he certainly can't consider himself happy".
Jean-Pierre Jarier is intractable: the Frenchman briefly recounts that he skidded on an oil slick lost by James Hunt's McLaren, but he doesn't answer when someone asks him why he accelerated, while all the others slowed down at the warnings of danger immediately made by the personnel guarding the track. The Frenchman, who made the fastest lap, does not want to admit that he risked everything in that circumstance. Carlos Reutemann makes no secret of his dissatisfaction:
"I struggled so much for nothing, what I gained on the straights I lost in the corners. An engine so powerful and so little agile in recovery at Interlagos is not useful. I said it clearly to the Alfa Romeo people, now they will have to deal with the Brabham technicians, I don't want to get into it".
But then why, with the same car, did Pace do better than him?
"Every driver has his own style of driving and racing. If I hadn't run out of fuel, I would have finished ahead of him, but the engine drank like hell".