#276 1976 Dutch Grand Prix

2021-04-10 01:00

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#1976, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Marianna Molinaro,

#276 1976 Dutch Grand Prix

On August 19, 1976, in Paris, the secretariat of the International Sports Commission, an organ of the International Automobile Federation, announced that it had


On August 19th 1976, in Paris, the secretariat of the International Sports Commission, an organ of the International Automobile Federation, announced that it had officially received, through the Automobile Club of Italy, Ferrari's appeal against the decision of the court of the Royal Automobile Club to consider James Hunt winner of the British Grand Prix. The Brands Hatch race took place on July 18th 1976 and was contested for alleged favoritism used by the organizers towards Hunt after a break. The FIA appeals tribunal will meet to examine the Italian Csai's appeal in the coming days. Meanwhile, Ferrari has not yet announced when it intends to return to competition ten days before the Dutch Grand Prix, the twelfth round of the Formula 1 World Championship. But in the Maranello racing department, the technical staff continues to work on updating and studying, independently of a possible and hoped-for return to racing. It is believed, in specialized circles, that if the situation at the top of the international motorsport will be clarified, and if the attitudes so far shown towards Ferrari will be changed and important decisions will be taken, the reappearance of the Ferrari cars is possible, at least in the Italian Grand Prix of 12th September 1976 that marked, last year, the triumph of Clay Regazzoni on Ferrari 312 T and the triumph of Niki Lauda World Champion.


"If they don't reconfirm me, I have no problem finding another team, but I think I will be Lauda's second driver in 1977 as well. I talk this evening with Ferrari, I don't know if they start again or not, I am ready anyway. A week ago I set up the car and a mule".


This is the testimony of Clay Regazzoni, who on August 23rd 1976, at 13:30, from Lugano confesses:


"I race because I still have fun, otherwise I wouldn't do it. For my liquidation a Fiat-Ferrari dealership? But we're crazy, when I stop I certainly won't sell cars".


But all the rumors about Reutemann, Peterson and Fittipaldi?


"I don't know anything. Then, it's not so easy to be, I won't say drive, but to be at Ferrari, to get along with the environment. I get along fine. Think about someone like Scheckter, who is always complaining to everyone, what would happen to him at Ferrari? Peterson? Yes, he is strong, but he still has to prove it. Reutemann? He is no longer very young, he lacks pugnacity, he gets demoralized easily. Fittipaldi? I take my hat off to him, but I think he is hopelessly tied to Coopersucar and its sugar...".


So does Clay stay?


"When I tested the cars the other week, I wanted to talk to Ferrari but I couldn't. When I changed teams in 1973 I had Lotus and others to choose from, then I opted for B.R.M. because Marlboro wanted it that way. At Ferrari you need a second driver, Niki and I get along well; yes, certainly for me this year has been an unlucky year, things did not work well, at Maranello they know it. In 1974 they made me lose the title. If they were okay with that, I am okay with that. I spoke the other day on the phone with Lauda, he told me he's fine, he only has external burns, his lungs are fine, he's debilitated certainly, but let's not forget that after my accident at Kyalami, three weeks later I was another time in the car".


There are rumors that Watson may take Clay's place. How does the Swiss driver see the recent Zeltweg winner?


"Zeltweg I saw on television. Everyone said it was a good race, but if Ferrari had been there they would have all been behind. It was a race without me and Niki as the stars. Watson is a driver that I have always liked; I don't think he will come to Ferrari, he is fine where he is".


But aren't you resentful that Ferrari dropped out?


"No, if they decided that way I'm fine with it. Of course, you could defend Niki's title by putting three cars on the track. Theoretically, if they had found a good partner, I could still have won, but that's the way it went".


Who would you see in your place at Ferrari?


"Well, I don't know what to say. Apart from the fact that I think I will team up with Lauda again next year. It's not easy today to drive a Formula 1 car. It's not because Ferrari wins, whoever gets on it can win. Today you drive to the limit of the car, not to the limit of the driver. When I race I know that I could go faster, but the car doesn't allow me to. Look at Brambilla: he's generous, but he's always out, because he drives at his own limit and not at the car's. Twenty years ago Nuvolari was making the most of the car. Twenty years ago Nuvolari amazed the world with his human feats; at that time Brambilla could be a Nuvolari, today also Nuvolari would look like Brambilla. Improvisation is over in Formula 1".


And of gasoline beyond regulation, what does Clay think?


"Bullshit, I don't believe it".


The conversation is interrupted by a phone call from Audetto from Maranello, who tells him to get ready to leave for Zandvoort. In fact, in the meantime, on August 22nd 1976 good news about Lauda arrive, who is in continuous telephone contact with James Hunt. The Austrian is about to leave Salzburg for Ibiza, where he will continue his recovery process.


"Salt water is good for the skin and sea air is good for the lungs".


Niki also reveals that he drove a car to get from home to the airport, but:


"It was tiring. I'm down. My reflexes are normal, but my eyes, my body has to get back in shape. I won't be able to compete for a month".


From the burns clinic in Ludwigshafen, Lauda's attending physician, Dr. Rudolf Zellner, declares that the transplant has been successful and the patient now looks satisfactory. On August 5th 1976 Ferrari had decided to suspend its activity in the Formula 1 World Championship. But after this good news, and after having had a frank explanation and a rapprochement, evidently on the basis of a certain type of commitment assured by Carpi de Resmini and Rogano, on August 23rd Enzo Ferrari decided to return to the track. The interval, therefore, was short and it is a fortune for the championship itself and its protagonists, given what had happened in Austria. This very welcome return happens with only Clay Regazzoni, being Niki Lauda in convalescence and not wishing Ferrari to engage other drivers, at least for now. There is an agreement within the Formula 1 Manufacturers Association that prohibits members from dealing with their respective racers before September 1st 1976; therefore, for the Italian Grand Prix, scheduled for September 12th 1976, something could change. The decision was taken after a meeting held in Maranello and attended also by the president of the Automobile Club of Italy, Carpi de Resmini. Therefore Regazzoni will be on track on Sunday in the Dutch Grand Prix. Here is the press release from Ferrari:


"The Board of Directors of Ferrari met today at the Fiorano track, with the presence of lawyer Carpi de Resmini, president of the Automobile Club of Italy, and engineer Rogano, president of the Italian Automobile Sports Commission. During the meeting, the causes and effects of Ferrari's decision to suspend its sporting activities were evaluated, noting that this decision, also due to the unanimous consensus obtained, has contributed to promoting a moralizing process at the highest level of international motor sport. It was agreed that ACI, Csai and Ferrari, within the scope of their respective competencies, will work to ensure that this process leads to the desired reform of the CSI, with the institutionalised inclusion, among other things, of representatives of the manufacturers. Immediately, the commitment of ACI and Csai is to obtain from the CSI, since the session scheduled for early September, a firm resolution that calls all to strict compliance with the rules of the sporting code and that commits the disqualification for any and all non-compliance. In fact, there is no doubt that this is the only valid admonishing premise for the correct development of the technical and competitive activity, which is on the verge of being prevaricated by speculative, advertising and spectacular interests that distort a gymnasium of loyal human daring and intellectual capacity. With regard to the ongoing disputes, also in light of the elements and documents brought to our attention today, Mr. Carpi de Resmini confirmed his commitment to have the FIA re-examine as soon as possible the ruling regarding the Spanish Grand Prix; Mr. Rogano guaranteed all assistance to Ferrari at the FIA's International Appeals Tribunal on the occasion of the examination of the appeal against the result of the British Grand Prix, an appeal that will have to be discussed before the Italian Grand Prix. Furthermore, Rogano ensured the assistance to Ferrari in all the Grand Prix through the presence of a qualified Csai official. That being said, the Board of Directors of Ferrari:


  • Noting that in the meeting with the representatives of ACI and Csai, the lines of a common policy aimed at removing the underlying causes of the decision suspending racing activity were defined;
  • Taking note of the collaborative assurances received from the top Italian sports managers in order to reach a positive solution to the ongoing disputes;
  • Adhering to the desire of all sporting friends, of which the president of ACI and the president of Csai have once again made themselves interpreters;


He decided to resume the activity starting from the Grand Prix of Holland with the driver Clay Regazzoni, waiting for the champion Niki Lauda to return soon as he has already decided and yesterday communicated".


Solid arguments have been added to the usual words and chatter: in Ferrari's communiqué, the board of directors is mentioned several times. In fact, decisions like this one involve not only the racing management but Ferrari, with its group ties. But above all, the last lines of the communiqué should be read carefully: Lauda has decided to return to racing, not abandon it. It means that Niki feels sure of himself and that the Nürburgring accident has not altered his balance and his desire to race. This is also great news. On Sunday in Holland Regazzoni will have a more difficult task than usual: in addition to racing for himself and his team, he will have to go on the track trying to defend Lauda from James Hunt and the McLaren. In Austria Hunt had to be content with a fourth place, in Holland, where he won last year just ahead of Lauda and Regazzoni, he will probably try an en plein. If he does not take advantage of this favorable period for him, he risks finding Lauda in front in October, also because the FIA rulings on the Spanish and British Grand Prix could be negative for him. Niki Lauda himself - it was written on the invitation cards - will hold a press conference at the Frankfurt airport hotel and, of course, many journalists and photoreporters will rush to talk to the Austrian driver on Tuesday, August 24, 1976. But they will have to be satisfied with a telephone interview, as the meeting had been scheduled before the Nürburgring accident to advertise a company linked to Niki by financial reasons, but after what recently happened it is clear that the Austrian cannot be present. Therefore, a Salzburg-Frankfurt connection was set up, showing that even a convalescing Lauda, barricaded at home, had to bow to the reasons of the sponsors. Lauda repeats things already said in the previous days and adds a few details about his condition, not renouncing to some witty remarks:


"Now, I have a thigh on my face".


Referring to the fact that in the Ludwigshafen clinic the doctors have transplanted flaps of skin from the upper part of a thigh to be transplanted on the face. The Ferrari ace, who reiterates that he remembers nothing of the accident and that he is intent on returning to racing in early October with the Canadian Grand Prix, is asked what his wife thinks of his decision to resume racing as soon as possible.


"Marlene believes that the decision is up to me. I can do what I want".


He then talks about his state of health, admitting that he can see with both eyes, and giving a portrait of his face:


"I have skin put back on my forehead and around my eyes; when new skin is put on the face it is completely white. Then, when the blood flows into it, it turns bright red. I am about halfway through my recovery: part of my face has a normal color, part is blood red".


The driver concludes by saying that he will not drive anymore at Nürburgring, at least until a special commission, including a representation of the drivers, decides to make substantial changes for the safety of the track: on the other hand, Niki had never hidden his aversion for the German circuit. Meanwhile, this incredible, dramatic and controversial 1976 World Championship will resume on Sunday, August 29, 1976 at the Zandvoort circuit, a few kilometers from Amsterdam, with the Dutch Grand Prix. This is the twelfth round of the season, which is now drawing to a close: apart from Holland, there are only four races left to determine the new champion of the wheel, namely Italy (September 12th), Canada (October 3rd), the United States East (October 10th) and Japan (October 24th). At the top of the world ranking Niki Lauda remains in first place, now on the road to recovery and return to competition, scheduled for the Canadian Grand Prix. The Austrian has 58 points compared to James Hunt's 47, Jody Scheckter's 34 and Patrick Depailler's 26. His advantage over Hunt, therefore, is eleven points: a slim margin, which the Englishman should make up between Holland and Italy. However, this gap could, in reality, become more consistent in the short term, because on Hunt's head there is an appeal by Ferrari to the FIA appeals tribunal for the facts of the British Grand Prix and the possibility of a reconsideration by the FIA itself regarding the verdict on the Spanish Grand Prix. We are in the field of hypothesis, even if reliable, so for now it is convenient to remain anchored to that margin of eleven points that divides Lauda from his rival. Hunt has already wasted an opportunity in the much talked about Austrian Grand Prix, failing to win but settling for a modest fourth place, and now he has no more time to lose.


This time, however, on the track there will be also the Ferrari with Clay Regazzoni, called to prove his value especially in these days of rumors on the driver market. The Zandvoort track, among other things, has always been appreciated by the Maranello cars and by Regazzoni. In the last four years Ferrari won twice (1971 with lckx and 1974 with Lauda), and Regazzoni got the second place in 1974 and the third in 1975 behind Lauda, beaten by Hunt - then with Hesketh - who was able to take advantage of the bad weather and to exploit a daring change of tires. The circuit is designed among the sand dunes on the outskirts of Zandvoort, the beach of Amsterdam. It is a mixed-fast track with a straight that allows to reach 290 km/h and a sinuous part, behind the pits, rather slow. It is a global track, in the sense that it encompasses different characteristics and therefore obliges a single-seater to express all its qualities. Engine, grip and aerodynamics are indispensable factors for success. Now, it is well known that Maranello's 312 T2 is a complete car, and that in such racing theaters it can offer the most effective performance. It is hoped that in Holland the sporting authorities will apply the pre- and post-race controls with seriousness, and that in particular a check will be made on the fuel used by the various competitors. It is better for everyone, for those who find themselves at the center of rumors and insinuations, like McLaren in Austria, and for those who participate in racing with a sporting spirit. And it is better also for the Formula 1 Circus, in the last months shaken by too many disheartening polemics. 


On Friday, August 27, 1976 Ferrari returns to the Formula 1 World Championship, but in this first day of practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday at the Zandvoort circuit, Clay Regazzoni fails to emerge. On the contrary, the Swiss driver's performance was modest and in the second practice session, after the morning rain had soaked the track, resulted in a time - fifteenth - that dampened enthusiasm and hopes. However, there is still Saturday to make up for it and to get a better position in the starting grid. Regazzoni laps in 1'23"59, while Hunt, with the McLaren, is the fastest with a time of 1'21"57. They are at the level of the English Watson, with the Penske, recent winner of the Austrian Grand Prix, and Vittorio Brambilla, with the March. The Irishman and the Italian are the authors of excellent performances, respectively in 1'21"75 and 1'21"89. Then, Laffite in 1'22"06 and Reutemann in 1'22"16, a more than good time, and that could have been improved if the engine had not failed and if the mule had not mounted a new type of rear suspension not very appreciated by the Argentine driver. Why this modest test of the Regazzoni-Ferrari duo, usually brilliant protagonist at Zandvoort, both in training and in the race? The explanations offered are double. Now, even if the rib may have bothered Regazzoni (who, in the interval between the first and second practice session, gets an injection of novocaine), the two seconds that separate him from Hunt certainly depend more on the problems of the car. Ferrari uses for the first time at Zandvoort a type of tire that the other teams have already tested in Austria, fifteen days earlier. The coupling with the suspensions does not work properly and the power of the engine is not able to discharge to the ground. Result: in the corners and in the straights the Ferrari is much less fast than expected.


"We will make up for it tomorrow, the important thing is to be here".


Regazzoni mumbles, while smoothing his moustache and stroking his hair. Many people want to interview him and the operators of two or three TV stations try to pose him.


"On Monday I was at home, in Lugano, Daniele Audetto called me to inform me that we were coming to Zandvoort. It was good news. The why and how we're coming back to racing has already been explained, and it's not for me to comment. All I know is that this decision by Ferrari makes me very happy".


However, Regazzoni risked not being able to be present in Zandvoort, and for a really trivial accident, when on Tuesday, playing tennis, he stumbled and fell on his side. In a pocket of his shirt he had a ball or two that pressed against his chest.


"I felt a terrible twinge; I got checked out and the doctors said I had a cracked rib. That was crazy".


Then, talking about the race, the Swiss driver admits:


"It is clear that in Zandvoort I have a greater responsibility. There is only my car, I have to subtract points from James Hunt and McLaren to favor Niki Lauda and Ferrari, I will try to make an attack race, to win, provided that tomorrow the situation improves. Today my rib gave me some discomfort and the car had some traction problems: I have two seconds from Hunt, they are far too many. The Ferrari engineer had a very nice gesture towards me. He phoned me in Lugano and told me not to create problems for myself, to race as usual, not to overdo it. On Sunday I would really like to have a race here like the ones in the past years. It was at Zandvoort that I made my debut in Formula 1 in 1970, coming fourth. In 1974 I was second and in 1975 third. If tomorrow we can fine tune the car, then I will have fun. I have always liked the circuit and our cars have often behaved well".


However, this is only discovered in the interval between the first hour of practice and the second. Enzo Ferrari is informed by Audetto, but the Modena manufacturer was already aware of the accident. 


Obviously, he is very angry and tells Audetto to take Regazzoni to the hospital for an X-ray. At the end of the tests Regazzoni will go to Overveen, to the Marine Hospital, where Dr. Gitz will subject him to X-rays to check his exact condition. The X-rays will confirm a strong hematoma in the left region and a crack in a rib. Dr. Gitz will therefore give an injection, followed by a painkiller and a novocaine injection to be given before the race, the duration of which should be two hours, so that the pilot will not feel anything during the Grand Prix. The Swiss driver doesn't hide that in his end of season program he has put two victories, one in Zandvoort and the other in Monza on September 12, 1976 in the Italian Grand Prix. They would serve to straighten out the balance of the year, which is not one of the luckiest, and to increase his chances of remaining with the Maranello team.


"Only in the United States, at Long Beach, I was able to run a race without problems, and I won. In the races in Europe everything happened, sometimes because of my fault, sometimes because some trouble happened to my Ferrari. If things had gone right, I would have twenty more points, I could be at least behind Niki and Hunt".


Clay is convinced that Lauda still has a great chance to keep the world title.


"However, these possibilities are linked to two factors: a double defeat of Hunt in Holland and Italy, a return of Niki for Canada, or at least, for the United States and Japan. I think Niki can get on the track and go as strong as before. In South Africa, in 1973, I had a serious accident with the B.R.M. and I was burned. I resumed after a few months, in England, and I ranked third".


Regazzoni preferred not to comment on the rumors about his replacement in the Ferrari team.


"I read the newspapers too. Of course, I have never courted anyone. If Ferrari wants me, I will stay, and with joy, otherwise patience, I will find another arrangement. But I would like to underline one thing: there is a special relationship between me and Ferrari. I have driven the Maranello cars even when they were not competitive as in the last two years, I have worked hard to improve them together with the whole team, I have never been discouraged, I have fought. Not all drivers today know how to do the same: there are those who only want money or the winning car, like Scheckter, or those who are easily discouraged as soon as things go wrong, like Reutemann, who now wants to leave Brabham, I have always raced with Ferrari for love".


At the regulation hour of 10:00 a.m. the track is opened and cars begin to roar off round the sand-dunes, no one having any qualms about the circuit or its condition as no changes have been made since last year, which made a refreshing change. As the first cars complete their second lap the heavens open with alarming abruptness and the rain pours down. Everyone stops and huddles in the pits for shelter, apart from the brave spectators who have no option but to get wet. Regazzoni is the first one to fit wet-weather tires and go out again, but almost as quickly as the rain has come the sun comes out and within minutes everything is dry and back to normal. Now everyone is really stirred into action in case the rain comes back, and there is an almighty thrash for the remainder of the morning session. It is imperative to get in some quick laps as soon as possible and thus stake a claim on the starting grid, for if the weather is going to play about it might be the grid-deciding session right now. It is no great surprise that it is John Watson and the Penske PC4 that is setting the pace, for both driver and team are reacting splendidly to the taste of success. Whereas some drivers and teams can have a win and show no reaction or desire to do it again, others become really fired-up and get on a winning streak. It is impossible to analyze why, it is just that some do and some don’t, in the same way that some drivers and teams are natural winners, while others look out of place if they win. Watson is in a class of his own with a best time of 1'21"94, which is a long way off the lap record of 1’20"31, set up by Peterson in a Lotus 72 in 1973 and even further from the fastest practice lap of 1'18"31 set up by Lauda (Ferrari) in 1974.


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