The lack of success in Sweden, the double painful failure of the engines of Lauda and Clay Ragazzoni's cars in France, the decision of the CSI to give back the victory in Spain to the disqualified James Hunt, and finally the incredible success of Hunt himself in England represent a series of blows to Ferrari. Granted that Lauda's situation at the top is still very strong, that Niki is ultra-favorite in the title race, and that the single-seater 312 T2 remains the car to beat for every team, it must be said that the myth of the Maranello team's unbeatability has been somewhat shaken. Moreover, in the Maranello team - apart from the successes achieved so far - one can notice a wear and tear that was not present in 1975. Certain mechanisms appear a little rusty, certain human relationships are no longer as happy as they once were. For example, Lauda arrives at Maranello for testing, stops for a few hours and leaves again for Salzburg; the long training sessions of 1974 or 1975 are already a memory, and the lack of a man like Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, capable of mediating between the press, the technical director and the drivers, can be felt. Nevertheless, between the British and German Grand Prix, Niki Lauda, Enzo Ferrari and Piero Lardi meet for lunch in the room behind the Cavallino restaurant in Maranello, to discuss the contract to be signed for the 1977 season. Niki speaks an acceptable Italian, but during these negotiations Piero Lardi always plays the part of Italian-English interpreter. Ferrari wants Lauda to stay in 1977 as well, and asks him if he has any special request.
"A team with two drivers and not three, so as not to exceed the availability of technicians and fitters".
And as a second driver Lauda would still like Regazzoni.
"This will be difficult, because I will fire him".
Ferrari answers, before continuing to talk until we get to the economic question. Lauda indicates the desired figure in shillings. The Modenese constructor does not say a word, he gets up, goes to the phone, calls the accountant of the team and asks him: how many are they in Italian lire? He waits for the answer, puts down the receiver, returns, sits down in front of Lauda, very calm, then starts shouting.
"An impudence, a filth, how dare you, are you crazy? It's useless to keep talking about it, let everyone go their own way".
When the constructor catches his breath again, Piero quickly translates the last expletive. In these negotiations an interpreter is a very useful tool, because the anathemas become a little more abstract. Lauda then begs Lardi to translate for him that if everyone has to go their own way, they might as well take the plane and go home. But Piero convinces Niki to stay and continue talking, until the Austrian invites Ferrari to make a counteroffer.
"No, I can't make any counteroffer because I want my drivers to be happy, and my counteroffer would not make you happy".
Niki then retorts, talking to Piero Lardi:
"Alright, then I can go back home because he doesn't accept my proposal and doesn't want to make any counteroffer, there is no possibility of understanding".
When he is cornered Ferrari makes his counteroffer, a good quarter less than what the Austrian driver asked for, expressed in Italian liras. But now it is Niki who is furious and tells Piero to tell Ferrari that his team manager has already offered him a couple of million more.
"Do you perhaps want to make fun of me?"
Ferrari then shouts:
"But is that story with Audetto true?"
And Lauda replies:
"Sure, call him".
Ferrari calls Audetto and asks him if the amount mentioned is accurate:
"Yes, I proposed this amount to him".
Audetto says, whereupon Ferrari, at this point, turns to Niki:
"If one of my crazy employees has offered so much, then I must agree".
And he dismisses Audetto, telling him that they will talk about it later. He then yells in Lauda's direction:
"But this is my last offer".
At this point Lauda, enraged, turns to Piero Lardi and says:
"Piero, translate this: tell him that without me, Ferrari would never have become World Champion".
But Piero Lardi retorts:
"I can't translate this, I won't do it".
Lauda insists, he must say it calmly, but quickly. Piero then takes courage and translates while blushing. Ferrari starts barking again, going on for another hour, until he asks again what the Austrian driver wants. Lauda raises another four percent, the last offer.
Ferrari concludes, and from this moment on he becomes a seductive and courteous person, a charming old man, the most cordial interlocutor imaginable. The Formula 1 World Championship resumes on Sunday, August 1, 1976 with one of the classic races of the season, the German Grand Prix, on the fast and dangerous Nürburgring circuit. The theme of the German Grand Prix is soon identified: will Ferrari, protagonist of a formidable beginning of the championship, be able to find its way back to success? On the technical side there should be no problems. The 312 T2 remains the top car, the one to beat, and this is true in particular at the Nürburgring, a track that has always exalted - even in difficult moments - the qualities of the cars of the Cavallino and their constructive setting.
Thursday, July 29, 1976 Niki Lauda arrives at the Nurburgring, where he is met by a rather atypical character, a fan who knocks on the window of the Austrian driver's car to give him a photo of Jochen Rindt's grave. You either love the Nürburgring or you hate it, whether you are a driver or a spectator makes little difference. The Eifel mountains are there for you to enjoy if you want to. You can wonder at the majestic nature of the scenery or the unbelievable task of building the 14.18-mile circuit amid such splendour; you can walk along sections of the track that offer a view in either direction that is more than a complete lap of most circuits. You can hear the cars’ exhausts echoing through the fir forests long before you see them and the sound still travels back long after they are gone. The Nürburgring is something very special and always has been. You do not go there to spectate in the same frame of mind as you go to a concrete Stadium, there is space and splendour and almost unlimited viewing possibilities. To hear a Ferrari come up the long, gradual climb from Adenau, to burst into view on the approaches to the Karussell, brake heavily, accelerate round the 180-degree right-hander and storm up the hill to the Karussell itself and then disappear up the hill to Hohe Acht, and over the top, is to appreciate why people visit the Nürburgring in their thousands. That one section of the circuit, if looped round to join the ends together, and transported to England would have everyone raving over a circuit that would be better than Oulton Park, Brands Hatch and Donington Park put together. To see a Grand Prix car burst out of a wooded section as much as two miles away, and watch it come towards you across open country and then disappear over the brow of a hill and hear it on full song downhill until it is gone from earshot is to savour the Nürburgring to the fullest. If it is a driver who is proud of the title Grand Prix driver you will see the art of high-speed driving in action as nowhere else, as he accepts the driving challenge of the Nürburgring. The adrenalin flows for driver and spectator alike at the Nürburgring. For this reason you spend little time in the pits or the paddock, you get in your car and drive round to various vantage points during practice because it is all worth seeing. It does not take long to see which drivers revel in the challenge of the Nürburgring, from National pride like Stuck, Mass and Stommelen, or from acceptance of a real driving challenge like Hunt, Peterson, Pace, Laffite or Regazzoni.
The weather in the Eifel mountains can be glorious or gloomy, and the Friday practice sessions of 1 1/2 hours in the morning and an hour in the afternoon were blessed with the Nürburgring being at its best. In spite of professing to be against the Nürburgring and actually leading the group of drivers who are trying to get it banned for Formula 1, Niki Lauda rises above personal feelings and does a typical workmanlike job and makes the fastest lap in the morning, at 7'08"2, a long way off the expected 7-minute barrier. A strong headwind along the final straight makes gearing tricky and it does not need much in the way of losing a little time here and a little there for it to add up to 10 seconds. Last year Lauda recorded the fastest practice lap in 6'58"6, the only driver to break 7 minutes, while Carlos Pace recorded exactly 7 minutes. If Lauda has the same attitude to the Nürburgring as Stuck or Mass, it will be interesting to see how fast he can go. Even so, his average speed is around 140 km/h. During the afternoon session the two Tyrrell six-wheeler drivers get into the swing of things and can be seen to be trying, as is Andretti, but the Italian-American is having to use the spare car as the new one has started to crack around the upper left-hand front engine mounting. This car uses a monocoque fabricated by an outside firm, and the Lotus mechanics are wishing they have made it themselves. Hunt is really trying and looks spectacular, whereas Lauda is nearly as fast with no outward signs of trying hard, except that he is using all the road and the Ferrari engine is working hard, but it is all incredibly neat and tidy. The Brabham Alfas are looking quite good but even so they are six seconds off the pace of the leaders, and it is Hunt who is fastest with 7'06"5 to Lauda’s 7'07"4. Once again those two drivers are in a class of their own, and whether it is on the Nürburgring or at a Mickey Mouse Stadium there does not really seem to be anyone who can challenge them. In the morning session Peterson has had engine trouble before he can set off on a full lap and Pescarolo does not leave the paddock, his Surtees in trouble with fuel pumps, while Jariers Shadow has a blockage in its fuel system, forcing him to use the spare car.
Brambilla flies off the road and damages the front end of his orange March, so he takes Merzario’s old car for the afternoon session, with his own cockpit surround on it, so it is looking a bit odd. The order at the end of the day is Hunt (McLaren), Lauda (Ferrari), Depailler (Tyrrell), Stuck (March), Regazzoni (Ferrari), and Laffite (Ligier). Before the day actually ends the Law arrives in the paddock, representing Loris Kessel who is feeling he is cheated by John MacDonald’s RAM Racing Team, and the police puts a restraining order on the whole RAM set-up and that is the last anyone sees of them. This means that next morning Stommelen is without a car, which is a waste of good Nürburgring talent, so Mr. Ecclestone offers him the spare Brabham-Alfa Romeo especially as the organisers are very keen to have Stommelen in the race. According to Lauda, this gap could be cancelled on Saturday:
"I think I can significantly improve my performance. Today I had some troubles: the car tended to oversteer suddenly. The rear end grip was poor and there were vibrations".
The problem turns out to depend on the tyres. Regazzoni also had some problems: besides the same problems as Lauda, first the Swiss driver was the victim of a heart-stopping spin at 180 km/h after ending up on some dirt at the exit of a curve (and, fortunately, the adventure ended with the destruction of the Ferrari's front wing), and then a progressive drop in the engine prevented him from emerging in the final part of the tests. But Clay remains optimistic.
"You'll see. We, especially on this circuit, have a better chance than the others. I bet on a one-two Ferrari for Sunday. However, for me Lauda is now World Champion for the second time".
The controversy that followed the British Grand Prix, the absence of most of the team, from the sporting director Mauro Forghieri to Luca Montezemolo, and above all Enzo Ferrari's call to order to his men, had an effect, at least at first sight. Lauda and Regazzoni, for example, were never very good teammates.
"There is no problem between us, we are professionals, not kids. At Brands Hatch I had no intention of overtaking Niki in that damn corner. He braked a little bit before me, and I simply ended up next to him".
Among the others, Vittorio Brambilla went off the track in one of the jumps of the Nurburgring ("I touched a kerb, my fault"), damaging a suspension. Merzario returned to the wheel of the Williams, which left the Belgian lckx free. Pesenti Rossi made his debut in Formula 1 with an old Tyrrell four-wheel obtaining the twenty-sixth time. In the course of the evening, after the tests, the 1975 Brabham BT44 Ford rented to Lella Lombardi and Rolf Stommelen by the English manager McDonald, head of the RAM team, are seized. The initiative starts from the Swiss driver Loris Kessel, who accuses McDonald of fraud, and is advised by two lawyers from Koblenz. The accusations are: of not having him compete despite the fact that he had paid in advance the entire sum agreed to do all the European races, about 200.000 Swiss francs; not having returned the money paid by Tissot, another 200.000 Swiss francs as agreed: McDonald allegedly asked to have the first part of the sum sent to him in England for tax purposes, with a promise to return it immediately. Kessel, for this money has committed the workshop that he has in Lugano in partnership with his brother, after the promises to bring the money for him and for Flammini made by an alleged partner of Ecclestone have vanished. McDonald not only did not respect the contract with Kessel, but he even made Evans and Stommelen run - making them pay for it - in addition to having rented a car to Lombardi for the two European races with the sponsor Lavazza. At this point, Kessler consults Ecclestone showing him all the documents in his possession, and the British manager tells him to go to justice. Mosley intervenes, and after reading the documents in the Swiss's hands, he advises him to take legal action immediately in Germany. If it had gone to England, RAM, by changing its name, would have been able to escape payment of the amount due and seizure.
Kessler, accompanied by a friend, goes to see the lawyers Moc and Casoers and explains the situation to them. In three hours they present a petition to the judge of Koblenz, who orders the seizure of all the material, including trucks, spare parts (and two engines that belong to Ecclestone) in addition to the two cars of course. McDonald's motorhome escapes seizure because it has the name Thursday and in small RAM on the door. The RAM mechanics somehow try to escape justice by refusing to put the cars on the truck, and leaving them without wheels in the pits. Then, however, at the threat of the judge's deputy to call in a tow truck, they set about assembling the cars, hoping that a lawyer from Hanover who has been called in will arrive in the meantime. Under the threat of uniformed police with guns and truncheons, the matter was resolved at 3:00 a.m., in the middle of the night, with the RAM trucks being taken to a local police impound lot. On Saturday McDonald assures Lombardi and Stommelen that the cars are on their way, but Stommelen does not believe it and turns to Ecclestone who gives him the third Brabham-Alfa, while Lombardi waits. And in the meantime the lawyer arrives to defend RAM's interests: in a meeting with Kessel's lawyers several possibilities are suggested, such as an immediate cash payment, a check guaranteed by an entity, with the rest after the race, or the balance of the amount on Monday after the race, when English banks are open. Kessel and his attorneys say no: either the money Kessel has given to race, or the cars remain impounded. In the following hours Kessel returns home with his two lawyers, while McDonald goes around the pits almost asking for understanding. But he does not receive it from anyone.
Larry Perkins is also entered in the Grand Prix with the Boro, but he does not take part in the tests as well as Mike Wilds, entered on a Shadow of the PR Reilly Team. Another important note is the hiring by Copersucar of Maurice Phillippe, the Lotus 72 designer who, being free, has accepted to help Fittipaldi to try to improve the car, while Baldwin and Divila work on the new car. Lotus has also lost Nilsson's chief mechanic, accused by the driver to be the fault of all his troubles. Repentant, Nilsson would have wanted to mend the rift, but the chief mechanic decided not to return to Lotus, and his farewell was celebrated by his fellow mechanics during the race weekend. Saturday 31 July 1976 the bad weather spoils the second and conclusive day of tests for the German Grand Prix. In the hour and a half of practice without official times, and in the hour valid for the qualifications, falls at times a boring drizzle that keeps the track wet and slippery in the points where it crosses the thick of the pine woods of the Nürburgring. A day to be cancelled, confess the drivers, who certainly cannot improve their performance and have to stop for a long time in the pits. Therefore, the times of Friday remain valid, with Hunt and Lauda on the first row, Depailler and Stuck on the second, Regazzoni and Laffite on the third, and then, little by little, all the others. At the Nürburgring the positions in the starting grid count relatively, at least at the top. From this point of view, therefore, the bad weather did not cause great damage. The real trouble is that many teams, especially Ferrari, cannot have a check on the work done to improve the cars: on Friday, both Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni had grip problems on the rear end of their 312 T2s and the Austrian had noticed rather strong vibrations. Maranello's technicians made some set-up corrections and fitted the cars with narrower rims, in order to allow the tyres to reach and maintain the optimum operating temperature. Daniele Audetto, Ferrari's sporting director, comments:
"Unfortunately, we have not been able to fully verify the effectiveness of these works. The cars, according to the drivers, behaved better, but we lacked the comfort of a time. We noted in Lauda this morning a decidedly good 7'18"0, if you consider that Niki drove about four kilometres on the wet. It could have been 7'03"0 or 7'04"0. In short, we can look forward to tomorrow, rain permitting".
It has never rained this year, either in practice or in the race, and the prospect of probably having to run under water up and down the ups and downs of the Nürburgring on Sunday worries all the drivers a bit.
"This is a very dangerous circuit in itself. With the rain the risks increase, everything becomes more complicated. The Grand Prix could become a lottery. If, instead, the track will be dry, I think it is possible to aim for success with serenity. I will at least try to do it, because the advantage I have over Hunt in the world ranking is not as consistent as it used to be. I'd rather win than get a placing".
Admits Niki Lauda, while friend-rival James Hunt says:
"Today I rested, and I'm happy. My McLaren is going well, tomorrow I can give another disappointment to Niki. The rain? It's an unknown that applies to everyone".
And Depailler confesses that:
"The technicians say that the six-wheel Tyrrell should behave better than the traditional cars in the wet. That may be, but I wouldn't want to have that experience at the Nürburgring. I have never driven the car under water and I would not like to find out that, instead, it goes wrong".
In the chronicle of the day it is worth noting another Brambilla's exit from the track, this time at the end of the pit straight, with the consequent destruction of the front part of the March, as well as Merzario's exit from the track at 250 km/h due to the collapse of a Williams' hub-holder, Stommelen's passage to Brabham-Alfa Romeo, and Pesenti Rossi's qualification, who drove the old Tyrrell sold to him by the English team, with great judgement. The forecasts for the German Grand Prix are similar to those of the other races: a three-way challenge between McLaren, Ferrari and Tyrrell, provided that the rain does not bring other protagonists to the top. On Sunday morning there is a 20-minute test-session around the short pits-loop for anyone who wants a last-minute try-out, though neither the McLaren team nor the Tyrrell team take advantage of it. The rain is gone but the skies still look unsettled and when the cars begin to leave the paddock to drive up through the famous tunnel on to the starting area, it seems as though all is going to be well, even though a local meteorological office is suggesting there is rain in the offing. Out of the 28 drivers who practise, only 26 are allowed to start, and of the two non-qualifiers Pescarolo is the most unfortunate as he gets his Surtees going properly when the rain appears on Saturday. Lella Lombardi has not qualified, but it does not matter as there is no longer a car for her, and no doubt she is demanding her money back from John MacDonald. On a time basis Stommelen has not qualified with the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, due to the damp conditions on Saturday, but officialdom agrees to accept that a Brabham is a Brabham, irrespective of engine, so his Friday time is accepted and his place on the grid with BT45/1 is that achieved by BT44B/1.
At 1:20 p.m., the drivers admitted to the start make a reconnaissance lap, and the last to arrive at the finish line tell the race director that it is raining at the Karussell. Shortly afterwards, confirmation arrives by telephone from this point on the course. It is therefore decided to wait. All the drivers choose wet tyres, and at 1:50 p.m. they make the change; the only exception is Jochen Mass of McLaren who, advised by a friend, chooses dry tyres, imagining that the weather could improve quickly. Shortly after, a meeting takes place between the drivers and the race director, in which it is decided to start the race. The 14-lap race is due to start at 1:30 p.m. but a 15-minute delay is announced as there are numerous Renault 5 saloons to sweep up after they had a race, though it takes longer than this. The sky is dull and ominous as the Grand Prix cars set off on a warm-up lap, but there is a hit of a flap when it is realised that the circuit is not given the all clear. Ertl, Scheckter, Depailler, Stuck and Pesenti-Rossi are held at the end of the pit-lane when this is discovered, but all is well and they join the warm-up lap. At 1:40 p.m. everyone is lined up ready to go when it is announced that rain starts to fall on the far side of the circuit. There is indecision for a few minutes and then people begin to change their slick tyres for knobbly wet weather ones, as the skies are darkening. A gentle sprinkling of rain in the start area convinces everyone that the rain is going to develop, everyone except Jochen Mass and his compatriot Mike Kranefuss of Ford. While Herbert Linge roars off in the official Porsche to do a lap and report on conditions, all the cars except the McLaren of Mass are put onto wet-weather tyres and the Stewards declare the official designation of a Wet Race, which means that rain or shine the race will start and pit-stops for tyre changes if the weather changes are up to the individual team-managers.
While most people are worrying about the rule book, Mass and Kranefuss are studying the wind and the clouds and their knowledge of the Eifel Mountains convinces them that the rain is not going to develop any further. The small amount that fell in the start area has already gone and Linge comes back with reports of a damp track but no rain. It is now five minutes past 2:00 p.m. and Mass is taking a gamble that the track will dry, but no-one else is prepared to join him. The two minute warning signal is given and 25 of the 26 engines are started. The odd man out is poor Hans Joachim Stuck; the clutch withdrawal race seizes solid on his March and from his excellent position on the second row of the grid he has to abandon all hope of starting with the rest of the cars. For once Lauda does not make his usual copybook start and it is Hunt and Regazzoni who lead down to the first corner, with the Ferrari leading up behind the pits. Over the Flugplatz: Rcgazzoni is still leading, but then he has the father and mother of a spin on the very fast section down to Aremburg. He does not hit anything and nobody hits him and he gathers it all up and arrives at the lowest point of the circuit in fourth place, behind Hunt, Peterson, and Pace. On this opening lap everyone discovers the circuit to be not as wet as they expected and Mass is in fifth place as they all started the long straight back to the start area. Hunt (McLaren) is still leading from Peterson (March) and he intends to stop for dry tyres, so he eases off and lets Peterson go by, hoping the Swede may not realise what is happening. Sure enough, Peterson roars by to finish the opening lap in the lead, while behind him there is an enormous sorting out as some drivers stop to change tyres and others decide to give it another lap. Hunt, Scheckter, Depailler, Reutemann, Amon, Jarier, Fittipaldi, Laffite, Watson, Pace, Lauda, Merzario, Pesenti-Rossi and Stuck all stop to change tyres; the latter joins the race after everyone is gone by driving off in gear on the starter motor, and then changing gear without the clutch. Peterson, Mass, Regazzoni, Andretti, Nilsson, Pryce, Brambilla, Jones, Stommelen, Ertl, Lunger and Edwards all go by still on their original tyres, but only Mass is sitting pretty. In the Ligier pit there is additional drama.
Laffite comes in pointing to the nose of his car for he is tangled with another car in the opening lap and damages the nose cowling. While the wheels are changed a new nose-cone is fitted, but when the starter is pressed smoke pours from behind the instrument panel. Investigation shows that a contact is broken by the impact that broke the nose-cowling and there is a dead-short. Wires are cut and taped up and after a long time Laffite gets back into the race. Meanwhile Mass takes the lead from Peterson, a move that is accompanied by a roar from the crowd that nearly shook the Eifel mountains. The tough little German starts the third lap well in the lead, his gamble having paid off as the rain has gone for good and the skies are bright. Behind him Peterson dives into the pits for a tyre change, and leaves again at well over 110 km/h down the pit-lane. Nilsson goes by in second place, still on wet tyres, followed by Hunt, on dry tyres, with Pace and Scheckter following. Andretti, Regazzoni, Jones, Pryce, Brambilla, Stommelen and Depailler are all in the pits and the whole scene is looking most interesting. The McLaren team is pondering the situation that is about to arise, for Nilsson is obviously due to stop, which means that Mass will be first and Hunt second. If they slow Mass to let Hunt take the lead and notch up points for the World Championship 250,000 Germans are likely to get violent. If they do not, they are not being fair to their team-leader. Suddenly the whole scene changes dramatically and tragically. Shortly after, while Mass is leading the race, the race director shows the red flag and stops the German Grand Prix: this is because shortly before, at 2:31 p.m., in the climb that follows a bridge over the road to the small town of Adenau, Lauda has lost control of the Ferrari, the car has skidded and ended up at over 200 km/h against the protective nets that enclose the track. Harald Ertl, the German journalist who races in Formula 1 with an old Hesketh, and who was behind Niki before the accident, will tell:
"My first feeling when I saw the Ferrari go sideways on the track and turn to the right side was to think of a loss of control of the driver. However, then, thinking about it with a cold mind, I thought that, if in a curve that turns to the left and has to be faced at over 200 km/h in fourth or fifth gear, depending on the gear ratios, it was the driver who made a mistake, the car would point towards the outside of the curve. Someone asked me if it is true that I also saw, as reported in the press release issued by the organisers, a rear wheel come off. In all honesty, despite these doubts I can't declare it. I only know that the surface was dry, at least at that point, and that the Ferrari, after hitting the barriers, bounced back onto the track already on fire, even losing one of the fuel tanks in the middle of the track".
"I tried to brake and pass through the gap I saw opening on the right after Edwards had closed the other gap on the left. However, as a result of the blow that Lunger, who was in front of me, gave to the Ferrari, moving it from the centre back to the right, not only did I fail to pass, but I in turn ended up against Niki's car. The flames were already high. I looked for a fire extinguisher. It seemed to me that Edwards had one in his hand, but a small one. The one that I personally used, directing the jet on the flames, while Guy and Merzario were working in the cockpit, I had to snatch it from the hand of a commissioner. Niki in those moments was still in the car and seemed to be unconscious. I heard that help arrived after a long time. I don't think so. Even if I am referring to the official ones. To those of us who were there, it is clear that time seemed to flow with lightning speed. However I believe that after forty or fifty seconds from the accident Niki was out of the cockpit on fire. The marshals, who were not more than one hundred metres away from the scene of the accident, can be blamed for not having been prompt in entering the flames and for not having used the fire extinguishers immediately. After the arrival of the ambulance I went to see the place where the Ferrari had skidded. On the ground there were traces of magnesium and aluminium pieces".
While a commissioner present at the site of the accident puts a fire extinguisher into action, Ertl, Edwards, Lunger, Reutemann and Arturo Merzario, who have stopped with his Williams a few metres before, jump to the rescue. Ertl snatches the fire extinguisher from the uncertain steward's hand and sprays the Ferrari's cockpit, while Merzario and Lunger unfasten the seat belts that tie Lauda to the seat, laying him on the grass. This will be the story of Brett Lunger:
"When I restarted from the pits after changing tyres, I saw right after a few miles that I had Lauda's car in my mirrors. Since I was lined up with Edwards, Niki had to wait a few more kilometres to pass me. When he did, he didn't seem to have any problems. On the contrary, I saw him very loose and clean. When I found him in the middle of the track at Bergwerk with his car on fire, after I had seen him disappear in front of me at the entrance of the curve with a sudden shift to the right, I didn't realise it was him. Also because I was looking for a place to pass and I had the left closed by Edwards and the right covered by Ertl. After the bump against the Ferrari I jumped to the ground. The Austrian's single-seater was lying on its side in flames. I don't know who I snatched a fire extinguisher from, but he didn't know how to use it, so I threw it to my side where someone, maybe Ertl, picked it up. I for my part walked up the side of the car and tried to pull Niki out by grabbing him by the straps on his overalls. The heat was awesome. Thanks to my gloves I didn't burn my hands but I had to let go because my left shoe was on fire. I turned away scared and I saw Merzario throw himself into the flames".
Guy Edwards also confirms the dramatic details of the incident:
"I saw the Ferrari disappear on the right side of the track, as if the driver had suddenly lost control of it. I braked and threw myself into the whole curve. In the middle, while I was stopping, I saw Lunger who could do nothing but hit the already burnt Ferrari. I got out and rushed towards the wreck. The damage was considerable even though maybe not even thirty seconds had passed yet. Niki was trying to move. I don't really remember who it was that was trying to remove his caste. Then I saw Merzario unbuckle his seatbelt and I realised that I had to do as the Italian did, and I grabbed Lauda under the armpits. When we laid him away from the car on the asphalt, his face was all bloody".
Arturo Merzario, still shaken, will recount:
"Lauda's car was burning in the middle of the track and nobody seemed to want to do anything. The marshals seemed to be petrified. Time was passing. I decided to go into the fire. Niki's seatbelt was very tight and couldn't be unbuckled".
"When they did, I grabbed him under the armpits. Edwards, on the other side helped me. The heat was considerable, but the jet that Ertl had directed with the fire extinguisher against the cockpit was beginning to take effect. When Niki was lying on the asphalt, his face was a mask of blood. Niki recognized me and in Italian he mumbled: Arturo, how's my face? I told him: you're fine, don't worry".
The Italian driver, and with him Reutemann, blamed the rescue services for intervening too slowly.
"If it wasn't for us, Niki would have burnt out".
The marshal stationed on the outside of the curve, at the entrance to it, as soon as he sees the accident he gives the alarm by phone. About a minute later, one of the special rescue Porsches arrives, but its arrival is useless. Its extinguisher will finish extinguishing the wreckage when by then Lauda is already out of the car. The arriving ambulance has to slalom between the cars that in the meantime have stopped before the accident. Chris Amon arrives on the scene of the accident when seven or eight cars have already stopped, so he instinctively thinks of getting out of his Ensign to signal the hitch to the arriving drivers. Shortly afterwards he admits that he was frightened by the time it took the ambulance to arrive and by the thought that, if the other drivers had not stopped to help him, there would have been nothing more for Niki to do. All this because the track services were not adequate to the extent of the accident. On the reasons that caused the accident there are no valid explanations at the moment. A press release from the organisers of the Grand Prix mentions the detachment of the left rear wheel, but it is only a thesis that was spread through the speakers present along the pit straight. Upon the car's return to the pits, Ermanno Cuoghi, Lauda's chief mechanic, checks the car and discovers that originally all the wheels had remained solid before the impact. In the meantime, Enzo Ferrari, who is feverish in bed (37.2), follows the events from Maranello listening to the radio: the Modena manufacturer decides to cancel the tests that were to take place on 2 August in Zandvoort, and at first he even thinks of issuing a statement in which he would have declared Lauda's retirement from racing. Only a brief consultation with an Italian journalist will prevent this from happening, as the latter advises Enzo Ferrari not to proceed without first having Lauda's opinion.
A little later, lawyer Agnelli calls the Modena manufacturer to make sure that the accident has not been caused by a technical accident. Dramatic moments follow: at 2:41 p.m., ten minutes later, the ambulance arrives and Niki is transported inside. At 2:49 p.m. the ambulance brings the Austrian driver to the helicopter that is ready to take off. In the meantime, a young 24-year-old Italian, Vincenzo Milano, takes a sequence of twenty photos that capture the moments of the rescue, while James Hunt, who has arrived on the scene, asks for a coca-cola, and when he gets it he opens it splashing the foam and improvising a show, almost as if he wanted to play down or draw attention elsewhere, while Lauda is served the first aid. The moments after the accident are frantic for Daniele Audetto, who first rushes to Huschke von Hanstein, the German representative to the International Sports Commission, to find a helicopter to take Lauda to the hospital in Adenau. Shortly thereafter, Audetto is accompanied to a large military aircraft ready for takeoff, where he finds Niki conscious. The driver asks Ferrari's sport director to retrieve his personal briefcase at Bilstein's motorhome and to call Marlene to reassure her. Audetto cannot accompany Niki, so he returns to the circuit and calls Enzo Ferrari, who instructs him to hire Emerson Fittipaldi to race the next Austrian Grand Prix, before going to the military hospital in Koblenz. In the meantime, at 3:32 p.m. a new start will be given, for a length equal to the one initially established, of fourteen laps, and a few minutes later, at 3:45 p.m., the first information about Niki's state of health will arrive, which at first do not seem alarming.
"What can I say? I had a 30-second lead on the second when they stopped us. For me it was a great opportunity. Of course now that I know why they stopped us my anger is less. But it hasn't disappeared completely because now I will only win next year. In fact, with Hunt in the world championship, McLaren will not give me a car to win for sure. And the one I have, apart from today, was maybe a little too soft on the jumps, but still very slow. If I can, I'll leave this team in 1977".
Declares Jochen Mass, who had started with dry tyres and had, as if by a bitter joke of fate, meanwhile, the sky became clearer and the day became beautiful. The drivers are not allowed to use the mule to line up on the starting grid and Henri Pescarolo, the only one not qualified with a car available, is not given the chance to replace one of the retired drivers. In addition to Lauda, Lunger, Ertl, Stuck who burnt the clutch of his March, Laffite who broke the gearbox of his Ligier-Matra, and Chris Amon do not appear. The New Zealander's Ensign is in excellent condition, but Chris prefers to be a spectator.
"I don't have sponsors forcing me to race at all costs, I'm my own boss, and I'd rather not go back to this stupid and too dangerous circuit".
Amon keeps thinking about the German Grand Prix of a few years earlier, when he started last: if he had had a similar accident, no car would have arrived before five minutes. And he still broods to himself about the negative record of mechanical failures suffered by Ensign this season.
"Maurice, I'm sorry, but I'm going home".
He says moments before the start to Mo Nunn.
"It's bloody ridiculous for the ambulance to take five minutes to arrive, it's not passable".
And he returns to the pits, abandoning the race and probably Formula 1 racing just as he seemed on the verge of resurfacing. While Lauda is taken to Adenau Hospital with facial burns, the crashed cars are gathered up and everyone else returns to the pits, where it is announced that the race will be re-run. Laffite stops the Ligier at the scene of the accident and finds it will not restart as the wire for the electric pump for the fuel injection is cut off during the pit-stop and the engine will not start on the mechanical pump alone. Consequently he is towed back to the pits by an official car, at very high speed, but without the engine running the gearbox oil is not circulating and internal damage is being done. As the mechanics push the car along the pit lane there is an ominous clunk from the transmission as something broke. The organisers are prepared to let Laffite use the spare Ligier for the restart, but one of their friendly rivals protests so the French mechanics set to and tore the gearbox apart. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. it is announced that the race will restart in 10 minutes, with everyone on their original grid positions, with gaps being left for Lauda’s Ferrari, Lunger’s Surtees and Ertl’s Hesketh. Tanks are refilled, new tyres fitted and Lotus does some continuous development to Andretti’s car, adding an extra pop-rivet to the front end of the left-hand radiator cover. Without any hysterics Chris Amon quietly announces that he will not be taking the restart with the Ensign. He loses the taste for driving on the Nürburgring after Lauda’s accident. There should be 23 cars at the restart, but only 20 do the warm-up lap round the pits-loop, for in addition to the Ensign not leaving the pits the Ligier is still working on and as Stuck’s clutch withdrawal mechanism cannot be freed, his March is wheeled to the restart, and put to one side of the grid ready to start off in gear on the starter motor after everyone is gone. Hunt is alone on the front row of the grid and shoots off into the lead with the 19 survivors following him. Peterson only gets as far as the Flugplatz, where he does it all wrong over the brow of the hill and has an almighty accident.
The March is reduced to scrap and the Swede steps out completely unhurt. Reutemann comes to rest with the toothed belt that drives the fuel injection unit broken, and further round the opening lap there is a lot more excitement. Regazzoni does it all wrong again, getting all sideways without hitting anything, but Depailler strikes a back wheel of the Ferrari as it finishes swooping about. While the Swiss motores on, in fourth place, the Frenchman bounces off into the scenery fuming. Not far away Andretti and Mass get into a wheel-bumping situation as they jostle each other side-by-side and eventually Mass spins while Andretti gets all crossed up and Scheckter goes by them, having watched the whole episode, only to narrowly miss Regazzoni. When the turmoil of the second opening lap subsides Hunt (McLaren) is well in the lead from Pace (Brabham), Scheckter (Tyrrell), Regazzoni (Ferrari), Nilsson (Lotus), Brambilla (March), Andretti (Lotus), Jones (Surtees), Mass (McLaren), Pryce (Shadow) and the rest. Stuck does not get going and the Ligier team gives up their race against time. On the next lap Scheckter moves ahead of Pace, Brambilla has another really good accident wrecking Merzario’s March, and Mass passes Andretti, but as a race the German Grand Prix fizzles out. For the drivers it does not fizzle out, for when you are driving hard round the Nürburgring the last thing you want to be doing is racing wheel-to-wheel and hub-to-hub with another competitor. The Nürburgring calls for total concentration by the driver if he is not going to get caught out and Hunt is doing a fine job of working out in front, setting a fastest lap but not a new record lap. Although Hunt has some seven seconds lead over Scheckter at the end of the third lap, with a lap in 7'19"8, the South African responds with a time of 7'19"1, showing that Derek Gardner’s six-wheeler is as much at home on the Nürburgring as it has been at Monte-Carlo and elsewhere. Regazzoni catches and passes Pace, taking third place, but the talented Brazilian hangs on to the Ferrari and the sight of an Alfa Romeo-powered Brabharn matching the speed of a Ferrari causes a lot of embarrassment in parts of the pit lane. Merzario disappears from the scene with the Williams with reported brake failure on lap 4, and surprisingly that is the last retirement, the remaining fifteen runners keeping going to the end, albeit, some of them relatively slowly and uninspired, relative to Hunt and Scheckter that is.
For lap after lap Regazzoni has Pace and Mass pressing him hard, the performance of the Brabham-Alfa being one of the best we have yet seen. Jochen Mass must still feel a bit cheated after the unfortunate stopping of the first race and not a little furious at the result of his bumping match with Andretti in this race. It has not taken him long to deal with Nilsson, but Pace and Regazzoni are a different proposition. These three run in close company until lap 9 when the Alfa Romeo engine begins to sputter out of sharp corners and the McLaren goes by and is now sandwiched between the two flat-12 engined cars. On lap 12 (ironical!) Regazzoni makes another nonsense and gets all crossed up in the Karussell and damages the nose of the Ferrari and he has to finish the lap slowly and ignominiously while Mass goes on in third place with Pace fourth. The Swiss gets back to the pits and has a new nose-cone fitted, rejoining the race in ninth place. Hunt and Scheckter continue to swap fastest laps, the Tyrrell driver getting the final say on the penultimate lap in 7'10"8, but they are some 30 seconds apart and even if Scheckter has not been baulked by the incidents on the opening lap it is doubtful if he can get close enough to worry the McLaren driver. In the midfield, Andretti passes his Swedish teammate on lap 6, and from then on Nilson keeps nicely in sight of the number one car, doing a very satisfactory job of driving which pleases the Lotus management. They are not so pleased when Andretti comes into the pits at the end of lap 10 with the battery broken loose from its mountings. Tape and clips are used to secure it and he is away, but now at the end of the field, with only Pesenti-Rossi and Edwards behind him. Not giving up, Andretti hammers on and catches and passes Fittipaldi before the end of the 14 laps. One of the nicest drives among the lesser lights is that of Rolf Stommelen, with minimal practice with the Brabham-Alfa Romeo and in his first Grand Prix for a long time. He does a best lap of 7'18"8, only six-and-a-half seconds slower than the best lap by Pace in the sister car, and his sixth place at the finish is well deserved and more than justified Ecclestone’s loan of the car. About the others there is not too much to say, the two Shadows runs nonstop from start to finish, but never in the picture, Alan Jones has a spin on the second lap which puts him well down the field, from where he never recovers, Fittipaldi is a depressing tail-ender and Pesenti-Rossi does all that is expected of him, as does Guy Edwards.
It is interesting that both Shadow drivers take two seconds off their best practice times, during the race. Alan Jones goes a mere three-tenths of a second faster in the race, Pesenti-Rossi improves by six seconds and Edwards is four and a half seconds slower. Fittipaldi is confident that improvements made by Maurice Phinine during practice will show a reduction of at least 15 seconds during the race; the Copersucar-Fittipaldi is actually 2.9 seconds slower. A list of the best lap times by all the finishers is appended making interesting study in conjunction with the starting grid, which gives the best practice time, albeit after only two dry practice sessions. Hunt wins, for the fourth time in his career, before Scheckter and Mass, with Pace fourth, Nilsson fifth and Stommelen sixth. The Englishman makes a further leap forward in the World Championship, of which the German Grand Prix is the tenth episode. Hunt now has forty-four points, against the fifty-eight of Lauda: the advantage of the Austrian, therefore, goes down to only fourteen points and it is not known for how much time he will have to leave free field to the rival; for the Ferrari this season 1976 is revealing dramatically two-faced. The world of Formula 1 is deeply struck by Niki Lauda's drama, which reminds what happened six years before to another Austrian ace of the wheel, Jochen Rindt. In particular, James Hunt, winner of this unfortunate German Grand Prix and number one rival of the Ferrari driver, expresses words of regret.
"It is clear that I am happy to have won this race as well, but I would have preferred to do it fighting against Lauda and his Ferrari. What happened to him pains me deeply. I only hope that he recovers soon and can get back on track. Only in this way I would like to obtain the world title".
Similar expressions of pain and regret came from drivers and technicians of all the teams. The mechanics of the Maranello team, after having recovered the blackened wreckage of Lauda's car, looked at it with astonishment. The Austrian driver had completed one and a half laps, or about thirty-two kilometres, and the Ferrari's tanks were full of gasoline, at least one hundred and sixty litres. Drivers have in their helmets a tube connected to an oxygen cylinder in order to avoid breathing intoxicating vapours, allowing the driver to survive a fire for about two minutes, but the device, in Lauda's case, did not work because it came off following the impact of the car against the rock. Moreover, in the Ferrari, as in the other Formula 1 single-seaters, there is also a fire extinguishing system, but during the course of the evening the Ferrari technicians could not immediately ascertain whether the Austrian driver had put it into operation or not. The point of the accident, which occurred on a very fast stretch of the Nürburgring, and the remains of the Ferrari are carefully examined by the Maranello mechanics. On the asphalt there are the black marks of the four wheels, but not scratches caused by metal, as it would have happened in case of a mechanical failure, such as suspensions or a wheel hub holder. Therefore it seems that Niki lost control of the car: the car hinted to spin, crawled sideways on the track and then slammed with the left side against the nets and the embankment. The exhaust pipes are filled with soil. In the dynamics the left side was smashed and the wheels were ripped off. The clarification is motivated by the fact that the press office of the German Grand Prix, on the basis of who knows what testimonies, issues a statement in which it claims to be the detachment of a wheel the cause of the dramatic accident, but Edwards, who followed Lauda closely, for example, denies it with decision. The circuit, wanted by the Germans in the 1920s to improve the country's car production, had been the subject of discussion, to the point that Lauda himself had worked with his colleagues to convince them to boycott it in favour of the safer Hockenheim racetrack.
"It's too fast, too long, with excessively tight spaces and at the edge of the track".
"I'm sorry, I'm very sorry. Niki, despite what some people claim, is my friend, so my pain is double. He has been unfortunate. I hope he can return quickly among us. His accident reminds me a little bit of the one I had in South Africa with B.R.M. At that time Hailwood pulled me out of the car".
Clay Regazzoni now affirms.
"Now I have to try to help Niki by winning a few races. It's the only way to stop Hunt, to keep, if possible, Lauda at the top of the world championship. Of course, I hope things don't go the way they did today. My Ferrari was difficult to drive, I spun three times, which never happened to me in the same race. At the first start I took the lead because, while I started very well, all the others were strangely stationary. Then at Flugplatz, in the wet, I spun and Depailler touched me at this point, messing up my car. In any case, I managed to get back to the third position when two laps from the end, out of Karussell, I spun again and ended up against the guardrail where I damaged the whole nose. Evidently for us at Ferrari, August 1 was a black day and everything had to go wrong. The car with the 18" rims ran worse than on Friday when I had 19" rims".
To round off the day, back at the hotel Regazzoni injures his forehead after crashing into a window frame while simulating a header from a soccer player. On the circuit and on the rescue services, the opinions among the drivers are divided. In any case, they have threatened to stop racing on the Nürburgring circuit if no further improvements are made to the track. In the meantime, Niki is first taken to the military hospital of Koblenz, in Adenau, at 2:55 p.m., and from there transported to the hospital for initial treatment at 3:10 p.m. The conditions initially do not seem critical, so much so that Niki makes a statement to the German radio and television at 3:25 p.m.
"I am Ferrari's number one driver, Niki Lauda. I think I lost a wheel and went into the guardrail. Someone then hit me and from that moment I don't remember the dynamics of the accident. I only remember the flames and two drivers, including Merzario, who helped me to get out of the burning car".
At 4:10 p.m. the doctor in Adenau decides to transport Lauda to the Trauma Clinic in Ludwigshafen, which is better equipped to treat burns. At 5:30 p.m. he is informed that Lauda has a fracture on his left cheekbone, first degree burns on his hands and third degree burns on his face. At 7:15 p.m. the chief physician in Ludwigshafen decides to have Lauda transported to the Städtische Krankenanstalten hospital in Mannheim. At 7:20 p.m. Lauda begins to have difficulty breathing and at 8:10 p.m. he is joined by Marlene, Ferrari sporting director Daniele Audetto, and friends, while a crowd of journalists awaits news. Starting at 8:20 p.m. there is a continuous regression of Lauda's health conditions, to the point that at 8:20 p.m. the head of the clinic imposes silence on the entire medical team invoking professional secrecy and the serious state of the patient. Meanwhile, the Austrian driver is asked if he wants last rites performed. Lauda agrees and shortly afterwards, in a moment when he loses consciousness, the priest approaches sentencing the last rites, but without uttering a word. Only at 00:00 a.m. do we begin to see some hope, as the doctors make Lauda alternate an hour under the oxygen tent with half an hour of free breathing. In the meantime, James Hunt, who understands that he will not be able to visit his friend and rival, decides to send a telegram to the hospital, urging the Austrian driver - with perhaps unorthodox methods, but with effect - to fight to regain his health. The following morning Professors Horst Lutz and Klaus Peter make some statements about Niki Lauda's condition. The head of the resuscitation institute of the Mannheim hospital draws a rather heavy clinical picture, letting it be understood that not even the doctors know, at the present time, whether the World Champion will be able to win his battle or not:
"Lauda suffered first, second and third degree burns to his face, hemithorax and hands. Basically, only two percent of the surface of the face remained intact. There is a fractured cheekbone and some rib injuries. Adenau was given a tracheotomy. All of this, however, is not a concern. It is a serious problem, however, that Lauda breathed in burning toxic gases. They have caused intoxication in the blood, which poses a latent danger of demise from kidney failure. The patient must get through an initial three-day period, and then another critical time in about two weeks. Lauda has never been in a coma. His physique as a sportsman allows him to stand up validly to this ordeal. Another person, probably, in his place would have died".
Professor Peter does not want to quantify Lauda's chances of salvation.
"We'll release the first reserve after three days, then we'll see".
But Lauda's brother Florian, a 25-year-old fifth-year medical student, is more explicit.
"Niki has a fifty percent chance in favour and a fifty percent chance against. However, if he gets through these terrible three days the hopes will increase, and after that the recovery could happen even in two months".
At this point all that remains is to hope, while there are some doubts about Lauda's full recovery, not so much as a man, but as a driver. If this drama has a happy ending, will the World Champion be able to get back behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car? It is not known. What we do know is that the Austrian driver is fighting his battle with vigour, assisted with the utmost competence in the Städtische Krankenanstalten of Mannheim, a hospital linked to the university clinic of the famous Heidelberg: it is an avant-garde medical centre, known all over the world. Niki is in a reanimation room, supervised by a group of specialists directed by Professor Klaus Peter. His parents, his wife Marlene and his young brother Florian are watching over him. Lauda is lucid and, as Professor Peter says, has never lost consciousness or gone into a coma. Rather, it is the doctors who give him sedatives to make him sleep as much as possible. In the meantime, in the course of the evening, a meeting is called by the International Sports Commission to discuss the verdict of the appeals tribunal of the International Automobile Federation with which James Hunt and McLaren have been reinstated in the success of the Spanish Grand Prix, despite the obvious irregularity committed. The International Sporting Commission takes position against the readmission in the ranking of the Spanish Grand Prix of James Hunt and Jacques Laffite, decided by the FIA Tribunal (on July 22, in the meantime, the French Automobile Federation had readmitted John Watson in the ranking of the French Grand Prix, in third place). The CSI takes a position on the fact with an official statement that, even in nuanced terms, sounds a criticism of the FIA. In the document, premised on the fact that sporting power (represented by the CSI) and judicial power (FIA tribunal) are quite distinct, an urgent invitation is addressed to the same federation to change the current procedure - from oral to written - with the faculty on the part of the tribunal, on its own initiative or at the request of the interested parties, to carry out further investigations on the facts under examination.
"Only the rigour and mandatory nature of this procedure can ensure the guarantee of adversarial debate for all parties involved and the serenity essential for the application of good justice".
Rumour has it that the president of the CIS, Belgian Pierre Ugeux, in addition to having the solidarity of the members of the bureau of the commission, has threatened to resign. During the morning of Monday, August 3, 1976, during a brief period of awakening, Niki Lauda is approached by his wife. Marlene, who is a strong and courageous woman (only the night before she had a violent crying crisis in the hotel), tells the journalists - with a brief smile to light up her tired and drawn face - that Niki wanted to be informed about the outcome of the German Grand Prix.
"He's a fantastic man, he can't talk because he has a probe in his throat, but he made me understand, moving the fingers of one hand, that he wanted to know who had come first, second and third. I answered him: Hunt, Scheckter and Mass. He waved his hand, making a sign of annoyance".