Back from the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Niki Lauda once again has the spotlights and the cameras all to himself, for a program dedicated to him by Austrian television that airs on Monday, September 13, 1976. Smiling and very controlled as always, Lauda still has bandages on his head, while his face is clearly and deeply marked by the Nurburgring accident. During the course of the program, an interviewer tells him that he has heard some automotive experts express concern and criticism for the decision of the Scuderia Ferrari managers to enter a third car in Monza, the one entrusted to the Argentinean Carlos Reutemann, thus forcing Lauda himself to hasten his exit from his sickbed, before a proper recovery.
"It's all nonsense. I am not so crazy as to take the start without being ready, or even half ready, in such a difficult race. I love life enough to never do anything like that".
Lauda admits that he had to make an enormous effort of self-control over his own soul, forcing himself to return to racing after the terrible experience at the Nurburgring. During the first day of practice at Monza, the Austrian driver had said he felt like an airplane pilot coming back from a ground crash who, having returned to flight, finds himself plummeting back into an air pocket.
"You have to go on anyway: that's how one feels".
But before the actual race began, all of that had already been overcome, and the reigning World Champion was back to his old self.
"I knew I was okay, so I systematically got my confidence back in the car. Gradually I increased the speed, until I regained maximum control of the vehicle".
The interview with the World Champion focuses more on Lauda's human aspects than on the strictly sporting ones, to the point that he is asked if his cliché of a hard and insensitive man is not actually a means of self-defense against hostility or displeasure that might come from the people he meets. The Austrian driver answers yes, and takes the cue from this question to bring an example that allowed him to stigmatize what happened at the press conference a week earlier near Salzburg, when he announced that he was ready to go back in, in the race.
"A reporter jumped up to ask me a question about my unnatural face. It's a question you don't ask if you have any respect. I, at least, couldn't even think of asking it. I've even been asked if it was true that my wife might even file for divorce because of my appearance. In a situation like this, one either goes home and hangs oneself immediately, or gives the reporter an answer as stupid as his question. One must also defend oneself and accentuate the characters of hardness, just to have a personal protection".
The following day, Tuesday, September 14, 1976, Clay Regazzoni and Carlos Reutemann begin a series of selective tire tests at the Fiorano track, which will continue over the next two days. Ferrari's program for the Canadian Grand Prix will be decided at a meeting of the Board of Directors in Maranello on Thursday, September 23, 1976.
Wednesday 15 September 1976 Roberto Nosetto goes with his wife to Maranello: he is waiting for the meeting with Enzo Ferrari, who confirms to the engineer the intention to engage him for the 1977 season, and invites him to look for an apartment in Maranello, that his wife likes.
As for the analysis on the fuel taken at the end of the race at Monza, carried out on the cars of the first four classified teams, and precisely on the March of Ronnie Peterson, on the Ferrari of Clay Regazzoni, on the Ligier of Jacques Laffite and on the Tyrrell of Jody Scheckter, engineer Nosetto, technical commissioner of Csai, to whom the technicians of the oil industry have provided during the morning of Tuesday the results of the analysis, communicates that the gasoline used by the cars in question fully corresponds to what is established by the regulation, both for the composition and for the number of octane. None of them exceeds the maximum allowed limit of 101 octane.
From London, meanwhile, we learn that a newly formed team with great ambitions will make its debut in the next Formula 1 season, with a car that will be specially created by one of the best British designers. The new single-seater will be driven by the South African Jody Scheckter, who will leave Tyrrell at the end of the season to move to the team that still bears the name of Frank Williams Racing, but from next year will be known as Walter Wolf Racing.
Thirty-six year old Walter Wolf, who was born in Austria but later became a Canadian, has made a huge fortune with equipment for extracting oil from the seabed. He appeared on the automotive scene last December, when he signed a three-year contract with Frank Williams and became its sponsor.
Despite the infusion of money, the Williams team, which had taken over the cars from Hesketh, did not provide Wolf with the desired results. The Canadian billionaire, whose ambitions in the automotive field know no limits, during 1976 tried to convince Lauda to leave Ferrari at the end of the season, to become constructor and driver of a new single-seater financed by Wolf himself. As they say, the Austrian driver was at first attracted by the new venture, but preferred to renew his contract with Ferrari before the race held on the Nurburgring circuit.
Not at all discouraged, Wolf has tried to other drivers, including Jody Schekter, who for some time has been in dispute with Tyrrell especially because of the financial treatment. The South African has now revealed, but without naming names, that he has received three other offers, one of which is higher than that of Wolf Racing. According to some indiscretions, the highest salary would have been offered by Brabham-Alfa, while the other two teams would be McLaren, for which Schekter had debuted in Formula 1, and March.
Wolf Racing will race in the next Formula 1 World Championship with only one car, which will be built by Harvey Postlethwaite, who is also responsible for the Hesketh 308 with which Hunt won the Dutch Grand Prix last year; the sporting director of the new team will be Peter Warr, who after fifteen years leaves Lotus.
However, it is curious to know that the new director of Walter Wolf's team, Peter Warr, who will assume this role after the Japanese Grand Prix, would have almost ended his career in a foggy morning in Hetel. He was about to leave with his family for a short vacation in Ibiza after the Italian Grand Prix and Colin Chapman kindly lent him the old Navaja company plane with pilot to take him down there.
It was a foggy morning, but normally this was not a problem for the pilot who had already left Hethel in all weather conditions. Only this time he had set his altimeter incorrectly. With his eyes fixed on the instruments during takeoff, he believed he was at a much higher altitude than he actually was and flew directly into the trees at the end of the runway:
"We thought the end had come, but somehow the plane stayed in the air despite having a big hole in the fuselage and pieces ripped off the wings and we managed to make an emergency landing on a nearby RAF airfield".
Warr then called Chapman to tell him the bad news, and the British manufacturer immediately offered the second plane to take their vacation. Scheckter's move is the third completed since September 1 as far as the driver-market is concerned. Bernie Ecclestone's interest in a young Brazilian driver, Alex Ribeiro, who had made a name for himself in Formula 2, was recorded after the 19-year-old Italian-American driver Eddie Cheever, backed by his manager Ron Dennis, decided to refuse the offer of the Brabham patron. It seems that Ribeiro drove the Brabham-Alfa for two days at Silverstone in a series of private tests. And since Carlos Pace is also Brazilian, Brabham-Alfa in '77 could have an all-Carioca team.
All this, although Alfa Romeo would like to have an Italian driver in the team, also to calm the tension of certain internal currents that criticize the agreement and the relative costs with Brabham, and to satisfy the request coming from the Italian press. Therefore, on September 22, 1976 Carlo Chiti writes to Ecclestone:
"Dear Bernie, I confirm that I am really sorry that it is not possible to find a solution that is to the liking of Alfa Romeo and Autodelta with regard to the driver who will have to replace Reutemann. I confirm you that Alfa Romeo and Autodelta want at least one Italian driver to be tested in a race in 1976, in order to see his skills. You can judge whether to go for Merzario, Flammini or others".
But the next day Ecclestone sends a telex to Chiti, indicating that:
"My approach to Formula 1 is totally different from his and Autodelta's. I have no personal preference regarding the nationality of a driver and I would only be happy to use an Italian driver who is up to the task, or one with little experience but great talent. But if there were Italian drivers who met these parameters, I am sure Ferrari would have already put them under contract".
Curiously, Ecclestone will talk to Gilles Villeneuve in Mosport, but he will not give him the car left free by Carlos Reutemann, which will be used by Larry Perkins. In the meantime there are persistent rumors that Brabham-Alfa has reached an overall agreement with Clay Regazzoni. When asked about this, the team manager of the Anglo-Italian team, Mike Blash, neither confirms nor denies the rumors. Chiti himself asked Alfa Romeo for the green light to hire him since September 17, 1976, after evaluating the costs of various drivers, including Scheckter, who, however, had requested $300,000. Regazzoni in Ferrari earns $150,000, the same amount earned by Carlos Pace.
But a few days later for the Swiss driver there is an interesting prospect: the passage to McLaren, alongside James Hunt. Jochen Mass, current teammate of the English driver, would not be confirmed for next year. Moreover, it appears that Regazzoni is supported by the tobacco multinational company that finances McLaren.
However, on Monday September 20, 1976, the news of Clay Regazzoni's alleged move to McLaren for the next season is not confirmed in London. The director of the team, the American Teddy Mayer, spends the day in a conference behind closed doors with the other Formula 1 constructors.
It is one of the periodic meetings that the teams hold in the vicinity of London airport to discuss the problems of the moment. Away from prying ears, they talk about the upcoming trips to Canada, America and Japan. Here it is decided that free practice will only be possible at Watkins Glen on the Wednesday before the race, while in Canada and Japan such possibilities will probably not be granted because the circuits are not yet ready.
They also talk about the reform of the FIA sporting code, but once again they find many difficulties in getting everyone to agree. Therefore a working group of technicians is formed, which includes Forghieri from Ferrari, Gordon Coppuck from McLaren, Robin Herd from March and Gordon Murray from Brabham. The first meeting is scheduled for Monday, September 27, 1976, even before the trip to Canada. This is an important step towards a clarification of the rules that have caused so much controversy in this season.
Ferrari was represented at the constructors' meeting by its sporting director Daniele Audetto, who declared that he had only learned the day before, late in the day, during a phone call from his wife, what had been broadcast on Italian television: Regazzoni's transfer and his return to Turin to manage the Fiat team in the World Rally Championship next season.
The two pieces of news surprised and amazed Ferrari's sporting director, who had heard about them for the first time. About Regazzoni, Audetto points out that Ferrari intends to announce the team for next year only after the Japanese Grand Prix, but he adds that - at the request of the Swiss driver - he has been granted full power to start negotiations with other teams. For his part, Regazzoni expressed a strong desire to be reappointed at Ferrari. However, no final decision has been taken yet. Audetto is completely unaware of his possible return to Turin.
"Apart from the fact that I find myself very well at Ferrari, changing place so frequently takes away from a man the possibility to enter in an environment especially so complex as the Formula 1 one, where it is necessary to understand and assimilate many things in order to take advantage of these first experiences: I am convinced that I can give much more in the next season. My greater contribution to Ferrari will therefore also benefit the Fiat Group. I should have been the first to know about such decisions. Since I know absolutely nothing about it, I have to conclude that these rumors are completely unfounded. I hope to be able to continue my relationship with engineer Ferrari because I am thrilled to work with him, and because from him I can learn many things not only about racing but also about life".
In the meantime, on Sunday September 19, 1976, in Austria, on the occasion of the 200 miles of Salzburg Lauda meets Arturo Merzario, who was disappointed for the indifferent attitude that the Austrian driver had shown towards the Italian driver:
"When we met again at Monza, he said absolutely nothing to me, neither hello, nor thank you, and he didn't even tell me off. Nothing".
Lauda introduced himself to him by making the gesture of taking the Rolex off his wrist and giving it to him as a gift.
"I took it and threw it away. I was angry at how he had treated me by ignoring me, after what I had done for him. The Alfa mechanics picked it up and came to me to lecture me on how I had behaved toward him".
On September 24, 1976, Ferrari's sporting director will be in Paris for the meeting of the FIA's international appeals tribunal in which the appeal lodged by the Maranello team for the events of the British Grand Prix will be examined.
"The elements we have in our hands are more than valid to justify a verdict in our favor. We think so, and precisely because we are aware of our rights we have brought forward a complaint that is the first as such in the history of Ferrari. We have many chances of success in this appeal, but we also know with which mentality the judges decide these cases, because unfortunately they do not live in contact with the sportsman".
In the meantime, on Wednesday September 22, 1976, the intervention of the CSI president, Pierre Ugeaux, who acquitted McLaren and Texaco of fraudulent intentions in the matter of the fuel used in the tests for the Italian Grand Prix, was greeted with great relief and satisfaction in London, especially at McLaren. In this regard Teddy Mayer states:
"We welcome the statement of the president of the CIS exonerating McLaren and Texaco. We will now consider whether it is appropriate to withdraw our protest against the stewards of the Italian Grand Prix. The CIS statement clearly recognizes the confusion that exists in the regulations, and the need for a drastic revision to avoid further controversy in the future".
"Although we believe that James Hunt's chances in the current World Championship have been unfairly prejudiced by the decision of the stewards at Monza, we feel that pursuing our protest action would not be in the best interests of the sport. We are convinced that the World Championship should be decided on the circuits and not in the appeal courts".
This statement by McLaren is probably an attempt at appeasement with Ferrari, perhaps in the hope that the Italian appeal to the international appeals tribunal for the facts of Brands Hatch will not be followed. Asking Mayer if he intends to reconsider his protest action before or after Ferrari's appeal in Paris is heard, we get this answer.
"Not before of course, I do not intend to continue in these quarrels because I only wish to compete in the race. However, if in Paris I should be taken by the throat, when there is no reason, I will obviously fight back because I do not intend to sacrifice our last chances in this championship".
Mayer adds that he does not understand on what elements Ferrari's appeal is based:
"After all, it was its cars that caused what happened at Brands Hatch. The race was then regular. However, let's put aside the polemics and let's try to give life to a truly sporting end of the season".
So, finally, the McLaren owner denies that his team has hired Clay Regazzoni for next season.
"These are just rumors. Our team will not be decided until towards the end of the season".
In a promotional campaign organized by Labatt's and put in place to attract the large audience of fans to Mosport for the Grand Prix, James Hunt spends the entire week before the race in Canada, between Toronto and the track, very busy with press conferences, radio and television interviews, and of course private practice on the track, even though on Wednesday, September 22, 1976, Hunt and Watson's practice sessions (with the Penske, chassis 002) are a real waste of time because of the rain.
Arrived on the track rather late, the two cars complete five laps, before at 11:30 am it starts to rain heavily on the Mosport circuit for three hours. The mechanics spend the time chatting, until at 14:30 Hunt and Watson run a few laps in an attempt to dry the asphalt.
Watson manages to run a few laps only after being towed by a rope for an entire lap, in an attempt to start the engine that just didn't seem to want to start. After three laps, Watson returned to the pits and indicated that the engine would not reach normal revs. The ignition transistor box is replaced and the car starts again. Once the tire, temperature, and carburetion tests are over, Hunt talks about Ferarri's ongoing appeal:
"From the appeals that have been going on with the FIA appeals tribunal I never expect any positive result in my favor so that if something good comes unexpectedly it will be all earned. Worse for me and better for Lauda if they take away the nine points of England. It's clear, however, that Ferrari absolutely wants to win the world championship and certainly this period they will not have failed to conduct an intense political campaign: not being able to beat me on the track, they will try to do it on paper".
But McLaren did the same after the Spanish Grand Prix....
"They could not do otherwise, it is right that they gave us reason because in Spain the car was irregular, however it was such a small thing that it did not have any influence on the global performance of the car: certainly you cannot hang a person for the theft of an apple".
The appeal hearing at the FIA tribunal for the notorious British Grand Prix affair will be held on Friday, September 24, 1976 at 10:00 am at the FIA headquarters in Paris, Place de la Concorde. The tribunal will be composed of six international judges. In its action against James Hunt and McLaren, Ferrari cites numerous witnesses, including Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni. Lauda because he was the first to complete the opening lap of the race and therefore to see the red flag given by the race director after the collision a few hundred meters from the start between Regazzoni, Hunt and Laffltte; Regazzoni because, last on the track, he overtook Hunt when the latter, in difficulty, was preparing to leave the track after not even a quarter of the first lap.
Other witnesses are Ettore Balletto, an Italian living in England, former driver Charles Chricton Stuart, Italian journalist Gianni Rogliatti and colleague Zigliotto, who witnessed Hunt leaving the track and abandoning his McLaren behind the pit. Daniele Audetto, Ferrari's sporting director, is confident about the outcome of the appeal:
"We have confidence in the application of the rules, but the problem is that of the Interpretation of these rules and the acceptance of the various testimonies that have accumulated on this case".
For his part, attorney Kalb states:
"I think the first ruling is fragile in many respects and therefore attackable. We aim to prove this fact first, and then to finally clarify the truth about what happened in England."
At issue is the decision of the race director, Delamont, who had decided to restart the race only to those drivers who, at the time of the flag's display, were still on the track and who could resume the race with the original car. This decision was challenged in the first instance by Ferrari on the same day of the race and then with an appeal to the English court, discussed and rejected on August 4, 1976.
Meanwhile in Maranello, on Thursday September 23, 1976, the program of Ferrari for the last three Grand Prix of the season was defined, deciding also to let Regazzoni free after these three races with a relative communiqué:
"Ferrari has decided the program for the Canada-U.S.-Japan trip, enrolling only two cars for Lauda and Regazzoni. Ferrari has examined a request from Clay Regazzoni for a prompt definition of his future program. In order not to jeopardize the driver's immediate possibilities, in consideration of the three-year positive cordial relationship, Ferrari informed him to consider him free once the intercontinental trip was over, before the contract expired on December 31, 1976. Every other decision regarding the 1977 technical-sport program will be taken after the Japanese Grand Prix".
Some deductions can be drawn from the brief Maranello communiqué:
- Ferrari rightly considered it too burdensome to ship three cars and their spare parts to Canada, USA and Japan. This is a technical and economic effort that can be sustained for an Italian Grand Prix, which takes place 200 kilometers from Maranello, but certainly not for races so far away;
- Carlos Reutemann was sacrificed, hired as a reinforcement to help Lauda when it was not believed that the Austrian could return to the track so quickly. Now Niki helps himself, a car is his right: the title is near;
- Reutemann will remain in Fiorano to test and develop the new version of the 312 T2 in view of 1977. It is in this period that the foundations are laid for the successes in the next championship, and the work of the Argentinean will be precious. Regazzoni, however, exits defeated from the challenge with Reutemann: the Swiss driver has received a very polite dismissal.
The following day, Friday, September 24, 1976, in Paris, Ferrari wins its battle for the British Grand Prix. After an interminable session, which ended late in the day, the International Automobile Federation's Court of Appeal agreed with Ferrari, accepting its arguments, and removed James Hunt and McLaren from the race classification. On the other hand, the petition regarding the Spanish Grand Prix was rejected.
The FIA ruling determines a leap upwards for Niki Lauda in the Formula 1 World Championship ranking. The Austrian, who had come second at Brands Hatch, finds himself first, so he gets nine points and not only six; and at the same time, Hunt loses the nine points he received as winner of the British Grand Prix. Therefore Lauda goes to 64 points, Hunt goes down to 47, with a difference of seventeen points against the previous five. Daniele Audetto, Ferrari's sporting director, states:
"I am happy for Lauda, Ferrari and all the men of Maranello, finally rewarded for their honest and passionate work. On the one hand, it is a pity that Ferrari had to resort to the judgement of the sports tribunal to obtain what it would have deserved on the field, if the British Grand Prix had been held in compliance with the regulations. We warmly thank the A. C. of Italy for the work done in this action of ours".
The long day began shortly before 10:00 a.m., when all the interested parties gathered at the headquarters of the Automobil Club of France in the building at 8 Place de la Concorde. After a first fleeting meeting with the judges, the witnesses arrange themselves in the lobby, where they wait and discuss the various issues of the day: there is also the new Regazzoni, who received a telex from Maranello the previous evening in which he was told to consider himself free to deal with whoever he wanted. Therefore he shows up at the appointment visibly saddened.
"I asked for clarification on my position, as the contract expired at the end of the season, and they told me to contact others. I must say that if on the one hand I am happy, because I also had some bitterness during my stay at Ferrari, on the other hand I am sad to leave a nice environment, especially with regard to the technicians and mechanics with whom I have always found myself well. Maybe Reutemann is more useful than me for Fiat, which looks a lot at South America, or maybe Ferrari is not what it used to be, it has become too complicated, with a Board of Directors that I don't even know. Now I have to see what I'm up to between Brabham and McLaren".
After the preliminary meeting of the judges, and after listening to the arguments of the Csai representatives, Nosetto and Saliti, it is the turn of the representatives of the English Automobil Club, namely Delamont, race director at Brands Hatch, and the stewards, accompanied by their lawyer. Then it was the turn of the Ferrari drivers, Lauda and Regazzoni, and finally at 16:10, Zigliotto and Rogliatti. The large salon in bell'epoque style, illuminated by three crystal chandeliers, is occupied by a single large rectangular table at which the judges, lawyers and representatives of the parties in question are seated.
Rogliatti's deposition concerns the possibility that Hunt may or may not have seen the flags that signaled the initial collision and imposed the stop of the race, and therefore decided to leave the race thinking that it would be suspended.
On this point, Rogliatti is of the opinion that Hunt had decided to retire because the front end of his McLaren was seriously damaged and because, otherwise, he would have had to continue along the circuit until he reached the pits, as Regazzoni had done. The regulations impose the use of the track, and only the track as long as you are in the race. After the deposition the long wait continues, which Zigliotto and Rogliatti deceive by talking to Lauda about his accident, his feelings and his plans.
"I had a phenomenon of amnesia, which erased my memory of the first ten kilometers of the race and therefore also of the accident. The doctors explained it by the fact that my helmet was ripped forward when the car went under the nets and bounced. In doing so, it hit me on the neck at a point that causes the momentary lack of blood, in an area of the brain that has control of memory".
While Zigliotto and Rogliatti are with Lauda, a brief squabble breaks out between the Austrian driver and Mayer, because Lauda, talking about the case in question, repeats his now-famous phrase:
"Regulations must be respected".
But Mayer shouts back:
"Last year you Ferrari drivers were always irregular".
Without explaining what the irregularity consisted of. Then, he goes away saying that the appeal session has been well orchestrated.
Niki Lauda now has a seventeen point lead over James Hunt, and his chances of regaining the Formula 1 World Drivers' title with Ferrari increase dramatically. There are only three races left to the end of the championship (Canada, United States and Japan) and the Austrian will only need a series of placings to avoid being reached by his McLaren rival.
Upon his arrival during the night in Salzburg, Lauda declared to be very satisfied with the decision taken by the International Automobile Federation's Court of Appeal, which awarded him the victory in the British Grand Prix held at Brands Hatch. Interviewed at his home after returning from Paris, Lauda tells the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung:
"I am very satisfied. Not only because I was the beneficiary of the FIA's decision, but also because it was a fair decision in favor of the sport. What McLaren did this year was really too much".
Lauda promises that he will attack in the Canadian Grand Prix, scheduled for October 3, 1976, while in the last two rounds of the World Championship, in the USA and Japan, on October 10, 1976 and October 24, 1976, respectively, he will take care to control the situation.
"My goal remains the second consecutive world title. What I will do next I cannot yet say. I only know that I will continue to race as long as it pleases me".
While elsewhere the thinking is understandably opposite. Hunt, who is in Toronto, arrives late at the Squash Club to play a tennis match and practice. But there he finds a note from a Canadian journalist, urging him to call back to talk about the hearing, bracing himself for bad news. The British driver does not call back the journalist, understanding well what he meant, and throws himself into the field, where however his performance is conditioned by the thought of the outcome of the hearing in Paris. At the end of the match, Hunt is joined by journalists, who explain to him what happened in the Place de la Concorde.
"It was a disaster."
This is James Hunt's first comment on the ruling issued in Paris by the FIA.
"Those gentlemen have completely erased the World Championship, they have taken away all value, all meaning. Ferrari is a big and powerful enough company to get involved in the politics that suit them best and with this they have eliminated me from the race for the world title: I am sure, however, that the championship itself has lost all the interest it had aroused before. The FIA has really upset the plans of the organizers of the Mosport race and with this new fact they will certainly have twenty thousand or thirty thousand spectators less than expected".
Hunt makes these statements to British television, speaking on the phone from Toronto, Canada:
"By now nothing surprises me anymore in the world of motor racing, because the managers think more about politics than sport".
And finally he adds some harsh comments on Lauda's statements, after the TV report recorded in Austria came to light during the evening:
"I don't know how Lauda and Regazzoni could have testified against me, they don't even know if I had taken part in the race or not. I don't think Niki will be too pleased with the world he has been credited with. After all, however, I don't even think it makes any effect on him because for him the important thing is to win: it doesn't matter how. Lauda would do well to consider the sport instead of his person, but he is not a sportsman".
This concept is then taken up by Teddy Mayer, the McLaren manager:
"My first reaction was to think that the regulations have been torn up. However, it should be simplified, because otherwise the chaos will never end. The decision taken by the FIA will not force me to retire. I will continue, even if Ferrari has now won back the title, to try to always improve and beat him next year. Of course, now we could also consider the possibility of repeating our appeal for the Italian Grand Prix, in which Hunt was relegated to the last starting position for the number of octane above the limits".
Then he continues:
"In my opinion what happened in Spain was a mistake. In good faith, it should be obvious, without any ulterior motive, and the disqualification was a very severe punishment. Too much, in our opinion, and our appeal was upheld. I understand Ferrari's reaction, as they were convinced they could win the race, but I do not understand the arrogance they showed afterwards in claiming that they had never broken the rules. It's okay to say certain things, but to say them and really believe them...that's another matter. We are all in the same boat, nobody respects the rules one hundred percent, not even those of their own country, because it is almost impossible. That's why Ferrari's moralism seems childish to me."
"The saddest part of all was the appeal against the British Grand Prix, because James had won unequivocally; there was no doubt about it, his car was perfectly legal. They wanted to exploit the rules to avoid fighting him, and I find that very sad, really. Okay, the rules are there and should be followed, but we race for the public and should be driving our cars on the track, not keeping them off on some obscure technicality. The sad thing about the Brands Hatch incident is that it was caused by the Ferraris, one of the drivers hit the other, and then they tried to take advantage of their own mistakes. To restart the race, obviously with a car that could win it, and then to hear Ferrari say that we shouldn't have even been in it because of their mistake, is really terrible. It means cheating the public".
Right in Toronto, the Formula 1 World Championship is on its last legs. The Canadian Grand Prix, on Sunday October 3, 1976 at Mosport, and those of the United States on October 10, 1976 at Watkins Glen, and of Japan on October 24, 1976 at Fuji, will decide the fate of this long, exciting and controversial season in which two men - Niki Lauda and James Hunt - and two teams, Ferrari and McLaren, have emerged above all. Lauda, after thirteen races, has 64 points, Hunt 47: seventeen points between the Austrian and the Englishman, a considerable gap, which does not leave much hope for the blond James.
"By now, Niki has won the title".
The mathematical consecration of this title - the second consecutive one for Lauda and Ferrari - could take place on Sunday at Mosport, the circuit seventy kilometers from Toronto, the great Canadian city that opens onto Lake Ontario, in the case of a success for the Austrian or a placing (up to fifth place is fine) with Hunt's retirement at the same time; otherwise, more likely, seven days later at Watkins Glen, in the State of New York.
It is unlikely that it will be necessary to wait for the Japanese Grand Prix, and it is at least curious that it will be the two North American races or the Japanese one, this year for the first time included in the championship, to establish who will be the champion.
The Circus arrived in Canada with a trail of fury, anger and controversy that have little in common with sport. From May onwards, that is, from the Spanish Grand Prix and the entry into force of the new safety measures, there has been an endless series of accusations and counter-accusations, absurd verdicts and compromises.
And in between, Lauda's terrible adventure at the Nurburgring, Ferrari's withdrawal, Ferrari's return and, incredibly, the Austrian. We can therefore say that the Lauda case was, in its dramatic nature, one of the few beautiful and generous moments of this world championship drowned in events that altered its technical and competitive significance.
First with the splendid rescue of Niki by Merzario and his colleagues, then with the Austrian's fierce desire to live and heal, and finally with the early return of the Ferrari ace to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, which ended with a fourth place that brought him more sympathy and admiration than a victory. At Monza, Lauda managed to increase his lead over Hunt to five points, which then rose to seventeen following the ruling by which the FIA appeals court stripped the Englishman of his victory in the British Grand Prix and promoted the Austrian from second to first place. A victory by default that tasted like a mockery to Hunt, and from which came statements that further poisoned the atmosphere. With his usual coldness, Lauda let it be known that he did not intend to continue on this path.
"James, you can talk if you want to, but I'm all about racing".
Niki Lauda and James Hunt meet for the first time on Thursday 30 September 1976; it is a very faithful meeting in the hall of the hotel that hosts the Ferrari and McLaren teams, with a Hunt in a very bad mood and a very formal Lauda.
"Hi James, are you coming at 5:00 p.m. to the drivers' safety meeting at Mosport?"
"I don't care, I came to race, not to talk".
"But you're on the control committee".
"Enough, aren't you already happy with a seventeen point lead? I race, even if there were no guardrails".
Hunt tries to show himself to Lauda angry, to get a psychological advantage, but in reality he really skips the meeting with the organizers because he indicates to Peter Macintosh, secretary of the Formula 1 constructors' association, that he doesn't want to have anything to do with the safety committee, until they have guaranteed him that someone would have tried to fix the rules and regulations.
The meeting, which was attended by Lauda, Fittipaldi, Scheckter and Pace, replacing Hunt, together with the organizers of the Grand Prix, lasted about two hours. At the end the drivers decide to run anyway, despite the bad conditions of the Canadian track. Niki Lauda, at the end of the meeting, declares:
"It's like the Nurburgring. I would not want to run, but if the majority decides for yes, I have to adapt".
In fact, arriving in Mosport the drivers have an unpleasant surprise: the circuit has not been modernized, it is always the same as two years before and, if anything, it is a little worse. The asphalt in many points is full of cracks and gibbosity, the guardrails are badly fixed. And let's not talk about the general safety conditions of the track, with trees, low walls and slopes behind the track and escape routes - the few existing ones - badly designed.
The drivers obviously protest, and some even threaten not to race, but the organizers object, saying that they have carried out the list of works requested by the CSI delegate sent three months earlier to inspect the circuit. A few changes were missing, but they assured that everything would be completed by Friday, for the first day of practice. And so? It is doubtful that the Canadian Grand Prix can be harshly contested, both because if the CSI delegate made a mistake by not asking the organizers to make a greater number of improvements, the fault does not lie with them, and because too many drivers - for different reasons - intend to run.
The Mosport circuit is entirely in bad conditions, being characterized by potholes, depressions, and more generally a disastrous surface, which makes one shudder thinking that on it delicate single-seaters capable of touching 290 km/h will have to run.
In addition, the guardrails are too close to the roadway, there are trees, slopes, walls, and the escape routes are few and poorly designed. But you run anyway. Why? For two main reasons: first, because the owners of the circuit are formally in order, since they have waited for the works requested three months before by a CSI inspector.
Second, because there are too many interests at stake.
Therefore, on Friday October 1, 1976, the Canadian Grand Prix will begin, and the Lauda-Ferrari and Hunt-McLaren duel will take place again, this time on equal terms. A challenge that also brings to the fore certain technical and agonistic reasons that were swept away in the storm of the championship. A storm that never seems to pass, since on Thursday 30 September 1976, in Paris, a new case breaks out in the tormented world of Formula 1 just when all the drivers are on the eve of the third last Grand Prix of the season: the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain asks the International Sports Commission to declare the Italian Grand Prix null and void.
The RAC's request is based on the fact that, during the course of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, at a certain point the black flag with a white cross was shown which, according to the regulations, means the arrest of all competitors in the race. Only Fittipaldi and Jones stopped, while all the others ignored the signal put out because of the danger of rain.
After the end of the race the winner, the Swede Ronnie Peterson, said that the situation was not dangerous enough to require the interruption of the race; for his part the Frenchman Laffite admitted that he had not understood the signal (used very rarely) and that he had only slowed down momentarily and then resumed his normal pace.
However the secretary of the CSI Vvon Leon confirms that the RAC has presented the complaint, and that this will be discussed at the next meeting of the CSI to be held in Paris on October 12, 1976. However, he does not issue any inference as to whether the CIS itself will agree to discuss it or not. The CSI, meanwhile, pronounces itself contrary to the jury of the Italian Grand Prix in relation to the penalization of Hunt and Watson, because of the gasoline they used in practice (whose octane number was found to be higher than allowed), for which the two drivers were made to start last.
The CSI now claims that the method used at Monza to ascertain the octane number did not comply with its own regulations, so the evidence of Hunt and Watson's fraud is dropped, but the news of the complaint against the Italian Grand Prix does not surprise Ferrari's sporting director, Daniele Audetto:
"We knew that the British had such an intention. It seems to me that they are exaggerating and that this is just an attempt to retaliate after the FIA ruling regarding the British Grand Prix. The English, under the pressure of McLaren, would like to take away from Lauda at least the three points that Niki earned in Monza with the fourth place. I don't think they can do it. And for many reasons, including the fact that the complaint should have been filed immediately, within an hour of the end of the race. Then Ferrari could remember that Mr. Hunt at Zandvoort, in Holland, overtook Peterson while the yellow flags were displayed forcing the drivers to keep their positions".
Ferrari's sporting director concludes by saying:
"McLaren does not know how to lose. They are quiet and think about winning races on the track, cleanly. If we had to go to court, it was to remedy an obvious injustice and to re-establish a certain fairness in this World Championship. They really did all sorts of things".
Niki Lauda, learning the news of the complaint, burst out laughing:
"Do you want to see that I will have to go back to Paris to discuss? I am not worried, for now I just want to think about the Canadian Grand Prix, and if possible to win it. I can say, however, that at Monza two mistakes were made: first, the black flag was shown, as it was not necessary because the track was not dangerous; second, the red stop flag was not shown after we had not stopped".
The news of the step taken by the Royal Automobile Club at the International Automobile Federation in Paris, against the Italian Grand Prix, bounced back to London, where it caused great surprise. The entire English press was unaware of the RAC's initiative. The explanation was provided the next morning by the RAC's director of motorsport division, Dean Delamont, dean of the International Sports Commission and race director of the controversial British Grand Prix, run at Brands Hatch.
"This is not a complaint we have formally submitted to the ISC, but a request that for the next ISC congress, on October 14, 1976, the recent Italian Grand Prix, the results of which, in our opinion, must be annulled for two reasons, be placed on the agenda. The first one concerns the stop order of the race, observed only by three competitors and respected only by Fittipaldi; consequently all the other participants must be excluded from the arrival order. The second is due to the fact that Hunt and Watson were unjustly damaged before the race, for having been erroneously relegated to the back of the starting grid. We do not necessarily want to blame the organizers for this, since the error was committed by the FIA, which gave erroneous directives to the Italian stewards. The CSI will now have to examine and decide on the measures to be taken regarding the Monza race".
Delamont points out that the CSI has the necessary authority to annul the results of a world race, since the championship is held under its jurisdiction, but after examining the legal aspects of the case, which in his opinion is unprecedented, he adds that Ferrari, or any other team competing at Monza that has reason to object to any decision by the CSI in this regard, may then appeal to the International Court of Appeal.
The CSI has ridiculed the RAC for the events at Brands Hatch - one hears in London sporting circles - and in return the CSI will be embarrassed for not properly enforcing the regulations at Monza and for giving incorrect instructions.
At least in Toronto, on October 1, 1976, the polemics about the Mosport circuit were quickly resolved: safety or not, the drivers intended to race. During the evening of Thursday, the special commission of the drivers in charge of examining the problem met (Lauda, Fittipaldi, Scheckter and Pace, who replaced Hunt) and, after some discussion, the agreement was found.
However, on Friday morning the tests start half an hour late, because along the track teams of workers are intent on giving the last touches. And immediately James Hunt, with the McLaren, goes in search of the best time. The Englishman is furious about the disqualification he received from the International Automobile Federation at Monza and looks for a statement:
"The Italians have done everything to screw me over."
The first hour and a half of practice ends with Hunt ahead of everyone with a time of 1'13"381, followed by Andretti with his Lotus and Watson with the Penske, while Lauda and Regazzoni are relegated to twelfth and thirteenth place.
"The car is not right, the traction is poor and the road holding is precarious. We hope to put it right quickly".
Declares Lauda, who in the second part of the tests goes on track after having the inclination of the wing modified. For Regazzoni, modifications are made to the suspensions, and a front tire with a harder compound and an old type of wing is fitted. The tests are characterized by two interruptions, the first one to recover the Williams of Merzario, blocked in a dangerous point of the circuit for a problem to the electrical system, and the second one for a collision between Chris Amon and Harald Ertl.
At the end of the training the Ferrari mechanics begin to smile: after numerous adjustments, Regazzoni makes an excellent performance, turning in 1'13"521 and taking the fifth absolute time of the day.
"Here it is very difficult to overtake and I found the right lap only in extremis. Now the car is going quite well".
While Lauda does not go beyond the ninth time:
"I'm still not satisfied. There is work to do".
But the big surprise comes from Vittorio Brambilla, who with his March manages to do even better than Hunt: 1'13"333. The Englishman remains with the 1'13"381 of the first session, so all the Italians who came to Mosport are smiling.
"I hope to remain the first, because on this circuit it is important to start in a good position. Overtaking is a problem like in Monte Carlo, and maybe worse. In practice it's impossible if those in front of you don't make a mistake, or if they don't move out of the way to make it easier for you. And you must always drive with extreme care: the roadway is dirty with dirt, if you put your wheels out of the way you risk turning around and hitting the guardrails".
Vittorio doesn't hide the fact that, despite everything, he likes the circuit:
"As a design, the circuit is very nice. Interesting, but it is certainly lacking in safety. But, I am sincere, I just drive. I don't make controversies. Mosport should be changed, but not only Mosport. I have heard many colleagues criticize the road surface. But I haven't had any problems with it. It doesn't jerk and the wheels go well".
Brambilla, who this year has not yet succeeded in repeating the success obtained in 1975 in Austria, is emotionally charged, also because he would not like to remain at the March and is looking for a new arrangement, perhaps Brabham-AIfa Romeo.
"At least there they also speak Italian. Here they favor only those who know English. I really want to win on Sunday, for me and why not, also for Ferrari. Beating Hunt would be a pleasure for them too".
There's no doubt about that, because Hunt and McLaren are not well liked by Ferrari's men, and of course the feeling is mutual: Hunt, when he sees Lauda or Daniele Audetto, seems to launch flashes of fire.
But the team in Maranello has also other things to think about, since it has been struggling with problems in the tuning of the cars. And if Regazzoni at the end of training is all in all happy, Lauda declares himself dissatisfied again.
"We still have to work a lot".
Niki says to the staff at Maranello, who find themselves, despite themselves, at the center of a new episode in the war of regulations that is now raging in Formula 1, after the British teams, in the forefront McLaren, spread the word that the positioning of the oil radiator on the Ferraris was irregular, leaving the mechanics stunned.
"But how, isn't it since the beginning of the year that the radiator has been placed in the aileron support? In all the previous Grands Prix, no one had found anything to complain about".
In order to parry the blow, Audetto asks for a technical check from the Canadian Grand Prix stewards who, with the regulations in hand, ascertain that the radiator is not correctly positioned. What is absurd is that the engineer Forghieri had asked the same CSI delegate for indications to be able to mount the radiator in the position that is now contested by the same person. As if that were not enough, the French delegate Crombac began to spread the word that the Ferrari times would be cancelled, but the intervention of the Csai delegate, the lawyer Causo, averted this possibility. So, during the night, the engineer Tomaini and the mechanics remedy the problem.
In the meantime, during the afternoon, Clay Regazzoni, thirty-seven years old, wife who is always in Lugano, two beautiful children, Swiss by birth but Neapolitan by origin (ancient), smiles light-heartedly, adjusts his mustache, and gives a very Latin look to a beautiful girl looking for autographs.
In Canada, two years before he aimed at the world title with Ferrari, now he is about to end his relationship with Maranello. Three Grands Prix, this one in Mosport, then those in the United States and Japan, and goodbye. Chapter closed, after seventy races, four victories, a long series of placings and seven years together with the Maranello team: never in the history of Ferrari has a driver taken to the track in so many races, and for so many years, with the Maranello cars. Goodbye to Ferrari, but not to competitions, because Regazzoni wanted to race and have fun.
"I'm a young man, age doesn't count. What counts is what you feel, what you want to do".
The Neapolitan Swiss, whom Ferrari fans love as if he were the much-sought-after all-Italian driver, is looking for an accommodation, and is a bit embarrassed. McLaren or Brabham-Alfa Romeo?
"Guys, advise me a little bit. Let's analyze the situation together. McLaren is strong, it has a competitive car, it's a smart team; Brabham went badly this year, but it's preparing a new car and Alfa have developed a super version of their already valid twelve-cylinder engine. Both are fine for money. Money interests me, but relatively. You know what? Well, I like Brabham-Alfa better. They speak English, but also Italian, if I choose Bernie Ecclestone's team I will feel less the change".
Soon after, Clay left the Holliday Inn in Oshawa to look for Ecclestone, returning an hour later, visibly pleased.
"It's almost done. There's a sponsor problem, he's all Martini, I should have Marlboro as well, but I don't think it's a difficult problem to solve. Within a week I hope to combine".
The smile fades when talking about Ferrari, about these seven years spent with the Maranello team:
"It was great to be able to work with all the technical staff: you saw the drawings, you discussed, there were no secrets. The car was also yours. The English don't behave like that with their drivers. It was bad, instead, to be often at the center of unprovoked polemics, of discussions, and not to have a real direct relationship with the commander. With him I talked about more or less, not about problems. He never complimented me on a good result or accused me of an unhappy performance...".
"I have a bit of nostalgia, of sorrow, like when you break up with a woman without arguing, serenely. With Ferrari I have experienced great joys and moments of bitterness. Any examples? Well, the two successes at Monza: unforgettable. Anger instead for that title bitterly lost in 1974. It escaped me in America, but before that in Argentina or Monaco or Italy. Someone did not believe in me".
Finally he talks about Ferrari's choice to hire Reutemann:
"What I don't understand is having chosen Reutemann to replace me. If they had chosen a young man, it would have been logical. But Carlos is only three years younger than me, and he's not a speed freak: if the car isn't going well, it can be easily disassembled. And now they have to rebuild the team, there will be many problems to solve. One is trivial, but important: Lauda and Reutemann have very different sizes. Their cars will have to be very different. Niki and I, on the other hand, could have swapped our single-seaters or got on the mule cars without the slightest adaptation".
"I don't know if Ferrari realized the work that Lauda and I have done over the years. In 1974 we fixed a car that was coming from a bad season, in 1975 Niki won the title. And remember, please, that the test runs were not all his doing. I did more kilometers at Fiorano than he did. Well, I really don't understand why it was decided that it was time to interrupt the Regazzoni-Ferrari duo".
Regazzoni torments himself a little, then anticipates a question.
"Don't think that I spend my time tormenting myself or that I meditate who knows what kind of revenge. I love Ferrari and its people too much. I simply hope to have a competitive car next year, so much so that I can be ahead of Lauda or Reutemann a few times. As for Sunday's race or those of the United States and Japan, I will race for me, above all for Maranello".
As to say: if it will be necessary, I will give a hand to Lauda, I will try to take points away from Hunt and McLaren. It is an intelligent and nice attitude. Regazzoni takes his leave as a gentleman.
Meanwhile, at Mosport, Niki Lauda sips a glass of milk. Dressed in blue velvet jeans, checkered shirt, gray wool sweater, cap on his head to hide the bite of the flames of that now distant Sunday in August, in a moment of pause a young boy arrives, introduces himself, shakes his hand, and congratulates him:
"Bravo, you are strong".
"Nice, isn't it?"
Says the Austrian driver, then reflects for a moment and adds:
"Right now I am less strong than he thinks. I'm still not back to the Lauda I used to be. I need a few more races, I have to improve. The Nurburgring accident has left me with a consequence: I keep my foot too light, I don't give as much gas as I should. But I'm not worried, it was expected."
Then he continues:
"I wanted to anticipate my return to the race to limit the aftermath of that bad adventure. The longer you are away from the wheel after an accident, the more difficult it is to recover. It happens to everyone, even to normal drivers. I had no problems, I was happy to take this first step. However, with my Ferrari I have to get back to the old feeling. I'm still not satisfied: I brake a little earlier than I should, I accelerate a little less. Normal. It's a matter of time, of getting used to it again and it will be like before. Of course, you need willpower".
Niki makes a confession:
"I didn't get a brilliant time. My fault, I went too slowly. I hadn't driven since Monza and this lack of training made itself felt. Moreover, I was determined to set the car in a certain way and I didn't try other ways. But what could I do? Try Fiorano? Private testing doesn't offer the stimulus of a Grand Prix".
As he chats, James Hunt passes by, dressed in ratty pants, T-shirt and sandals, looking like a hippy. Lauda glances at him, takes a sip of milk, then blurts out:
"He's crazy, all crazy, and should be sent to a clinic. I've been racing for many years in Formula 1, I've always respected the other drivers: we're in the same boat, it's hard to get on the track. After the Spain affair I criticized Teddy Mayer and McLaren because they had given Hunt an irregular car, not James. He, instead, after the Grand Prix of Great Britain and the sentence of the International Automobile Federation has insulted me, has sustained that I am not sporting. Absurd".
"And I didn't like some of his interviews. After my accident Hunt declared that he would have preferred not to win the title, since I was in the hospital. Then, after he almost reached me in the standings, he started to say that he would have liked to see me on the track. Thank you very much. First he scores points while I cannot defend myself, then he wants me when we are close. What does he think, he is so smart? He's a jerk, that's all".
Then he talks about Teddy Mayer, saying:
"More of a jerk than Hunt and Mayer, though. This year he tried all the tricks possible and imaginable to beat Ferrari. But he hasn't been able to do them well, he's always been found out. And I would be the unsporting one? Ferrari has always competed with legal cars. Don't talk to me about the matter of the gearbox oil radiator: first, there is no bad faith; second, the arrangement of the radiator on the wing support could not offer me the slightest advantage".
Lauda interrupts his outburst, as Vittorio Brambilla greets him and inquires about his condition.
"Don't worry, tomorrow I'll take care of Hunt".
Promises Brambilla, while Lauda continues:
"The March at Mosport is doing well, as other cars are very competitive on other circuits. We no longer have the advantage of last year: in 1975 we were the fastest everywhere, while in this championship we have been caught up. It's time to think about '77, about the new version of the 312 T2, which is being prepared in Maranello. In the next season, from the first Grand Prix, I want to start in pole position. I will work a lot in November, then in Japan, even if I still don't know how to conciliate the tuning of the car with the operation I have to do to the face. I can't close the eyelid of my right eye completely, it gets irritated and it tears. I haven't even found a doctor: I would like a good one, but not one looking for publicity on my shoulders".
The speech on the prospects '77 provokes a question: what do you think about the arrival of Carlos Reutemann and the departure of Clay Regazzoni?
"Nothing. The commander decides, everything is fine with me, I am only a driver. Carlos arrives? I hope to do a good job with him. Clay leaves? A normal fact, it happens in every team".
However, Saturday 2 October 1976 James Hunt conquers the pole, the seventh in season, while Ronnie Peterson beats for few thousandths the teammate Brambilla, conquering so the first row. Lauda is only sixth, and in the course of the tests he is even forced to return to the pits, on the indication of a commissioner who points out to him that a rear wheel turns crooked. Amon and Ertl, after the accident on Friday, although qualified, cannot continue because they are injured. This allows Guy Edwards and Arturo Merzario to move up one position on the grid. Otto Stuppacher, the only non-qualified driver, is not picked up because his time in practice is too slow, more than 110% of Hunt's time.
Larry Perkins, up to this moment at the wheel of the Boro, passes to Brabham to take the place of Rolf Stommelen, since the Boro will no longer make any appearance in the 1976 World Championship.
The New Zealander Chris Amon, after being fired from Ensign after the German Grand Prix for refusing to start the second race after Niki Lauda's accident, is hired by Wolf-Williams. For him it is the fourteenth different manufacturer for which he runs in the world championship. Amon thus holds the record of the driver who has been hired by the highest number of different manufacturers for a world championship race. Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi, on the other hand, is no longer seen, just as RAM continues to be missing.
The backwardness of the structure of the Mosport circuit creates peculiar circumstances, such as thefts, since during the weekend, two of their mini front wheels are stolen from the Tyrrell team, which could have caused big problems if they had damaged the wheels during the race, and also the wheel centers of Ferrari and Tyrrell, which are used to balance the wheels on the Goodyear balancing machine are stolen, causing serious problems for both teams.
In Canada, finally, we learn that the new B.R.M., if it will be made, will be designed by Len Terry, after that Ron Tauranac refused the job that had been proposed to him, while Colin Chapman lets it be known that his new Lotus 78 will debut at the Argentine Grand Prix, because he doesn't want to give the opportunity to the other teams to study his idea, which is based on an internal aerodynamic concept that foresees an increase of the ground effect by means of two big air intakes that are not purified by the engine power supply, but to this work to increase stability.
During the day of Saturday the engineer Rocchi, who is one of the key elements of the technical troika composed by Forghieri and Bussi, is struck by a serious heart attack. Moreover, also the designer Salvarani, also 52 years old, and who is the creator of the solution of the special gears of the transversal gearbox, is victim of a serious relapse of an anginal attack.
In the meantime Forghieri, who flies to the USA to help Tomaini and the sporting director Audetto, exposed in Canada by the difficult moment of Hunt and McLaren's psychological attack.
Three races before the end of the season, Lauda could already be crowned World Champion, since the championship regulation foresees that only the best seven results of the first eight Grand Prix count, and the best seven of the last eight. However, none of the three drivers still fighting for the title (Lauda, Hunt and Scheckter) are in the position of having to discard points from the last three Grands Prix. Niki Lauda has already won on five occasions, James Hunt four, while Jody Scheckter only once. Therefore, Lauda wins the world championship if:
- He finishes second with Hunt not winning;
- Finishes third with Hunt not finishing in the top four;
- He finishes fourth with Hunt not arrived in the first five;
- He finishes fifth with Hunt out of the points zone and Scheckter not winning.
Also Scuderia Ferrari could already win the constructors' cup: also in this case the regulations foresee that only the best seven results of the last eight races count, but none of the three manufacturers still in contention - Ferrari, Tyrrell and McLaren - must discard points in the last three Grands Prix. Therefore, Ferrari could win the cup if:
- One of its cars finishes on the podium;
- Its first car finishes fourth, fifth or sixth with Tyrrell and McLaren not winning;
- Or the Tyrrell does not arrive in the first two places and the McLaren is not winning, independently from the result in race of the house of Maranello.
Sunday, October 3, 1976 the Canadian Grand Prix takes place on a warm sunny day, like an Indian summer, as they say in the area. Orgy of colors, trees with red or yellow leaves, meadows still green, which since dawn are filled with cars arrived from all over Canada and the nearby States. Few tents, many large motor-houses with bed, shower and every comfort. The public, however, is not large. The organizers of Mosport talk about 45,000 thousand people at most, but the budget is saved the same, because the tickets are very expensive (25 dollars to see the cars in the pits) and the service staff is poor, provided mainly by clubs of motor sports amateurs.
Before the race, Hunt is very nervous and also has a problem with his left arm, where water has formed at the elbow. The night before the race, the English driver undergoes several acupuncture treatments from a local doctor. Niki, who obviously learns of his friend-enemy's disadvantage, admits:
"I think it's going to be a tough race, and therefore you have to be in very good health. I have a slight problem with a stiff neck, I sprained a vertebra in the crash at the Nurburgring. I hope it won't cause me any problems. My plan will be to sit still and watch Hunt, Peterson and Brambilla, who put each other out, hoping that I will always be there at the end of the race".
Lauda also hasn't slept well over the past few nights, and he's not in top physical shape; in addition, skin grafts, especially around his eye, create enormous pain for him. The race starts three quarters of an hour late due to the need to make the track safe, after the damages caused by an accident during a Formula Ford race, which took place shortly before.
Finally we start and Peterson, with his March is very quick to overtake Hunt at the start: the Swedish driver takes the lead of the race and at the end of the first lap precedes Hunt, Depailler (Tyrrell), Andretti (Lotus), Brambilla (March), Scheckter (Tyrrell) and Lauda.
In the first laps a small group of four drivers forms, Peterson, Hunt, Depailler and Andretti, who fight side by side. Slightly detached Scheckter. Brambilla and Lauda, but they come back. It is a snake of impressive cars. No one is able to break away for now.
But at the ninth lap the first blow: Hunt overtakes Peterson and Lauda passes Brambilla. The Englishman reiterates his desire to win. His McLaren quickly increases its advantage.
In the meantime, at the eleventh lap Merzario crashes and goes off the road with his Williams: the Italian driver remains bruised at the left knee. While Merzario inserts the fifth gear, in the middle of the straight the car turns and ends its race against a guardrail.
"Unfortunately this car has no grip on the road. I knew it was so and I started slowly, but it was not enough".
Hunt pulls away inexorably, while Peterson is attacked and overtaken also by Depailler, bringing him to four seconds of disadvantage from the McLaren driver. The Englishman is also advantaged by the overtaking of a lapped driver, the Australian Perkins (Brabham). Lauda's rival for the title continues his march with great progression, bringing to seven seconds the margin over Depailler, who in turn overtakes Peterson, Andretti, Scheckter and Lauda.
Peterson progressively gives up, in difficulty for the road holding and for a problem with the braking system, and is overtaken also by Andretti and Scheckter. His March must have some problems. Lauda passes Peterson on the eighteenth lap, and at the same time Regazzoni moves up to tenth place, overtaking Pace (Brabham-Alfa). Brambilla, like Peterson, is in trouble because of gearbox problems, and loses positions.
At lap 20 Hunt is still in the lead, followed by Depailler with his six-wheel car, then Andretti, Scheckter, Lauda who is fifth, Peterson, Mass with the other McLaren, then Brambilla and Regazzoni.
Mass and Brambilla overtake Peterson at the twenty-first lap and Regazzoni does the same at the twenty-third. Lauda is fifth at twenty seconds from Hunt: in this moment he would still have the possibility to become World Champion with the two points of the placement, but on condition that Hunt retires. The Englishman, however, continues his very safe march.
The queue of cars is now lengthened: Depailler tries to attack Hunt and takes less than a second. The game of lapping still favors James, who suddenly gains two seconds. On lap 29 Regazzoni overtakes Brambilla and rises to seventh place. A great comeback, if you think that Clay started from the sixth row. Then Stuck stops at the pits on the thirty-sixth lap, due to poor road holding, and Fittipaldi on the forty-first lap, due to fatigue.
The situation seems to be stabilized even if Depailler, with stubbornness, tries to get back in Hunt's wake. Hunt at the half of the race, that is after forty laps, is still in the lead with a second on the French and 5"9 on Andretti. The race proceeds without changes, until Mass, Regazzoni and Pace progressively get closer to Lauda.
Pace shakes his fists at Regazzoni, a blatant gesture to show everyone that the Swiss does not want to be overtaken, while during the forty-third lap Laffite retires because of the engine failure.
There are the overtakes of lapped drivers to complicate the life of the leaders, while the small group of Mass, Regazzoni and Pace reaches Lauda, who sees his fifth place threatened. And on the fifty-ninth lap Mass overtakes the Austrian driver to the disappointment of the Ferrari fans. At the next lap Lauda is passed also by Regazzoni and Pace and he goes down in eighth position. What happens? It will be known at the end that it was not fatigue that stopped the Austrian driver, but a mechanical failure.
The Grand Prix starts towards the end, with Hunt and Depailler in the lead alone, then Andretti, Scheckter, and the small group composed by Mass, Regazzoni and Pace. In the last laps Depailler's car had a fuel system failure, which prevented the French driver from continuing his attacks on Hunt's first position. In fact in the meantime the fuel has entered the cockpit and its gases start to stun Depailler.
At the penultimate lap here is a small twist: Regazzoni skids on the curve that leads to the pit straight and goes sideways on the track. Pace, who travels glued, cannot avoid him. The collision, fortunately, turns out to be less serious than expected. The two drivers can restart and finish the race.
James Hunt takes his revenge against Ferrari and Niki Lauda in the Canadian Grand Prix, the thirteenth and third last round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The blond English driver, with his McLaren, triumphs on the hard circuit of Mosport beating Depailler with the six-wheel Tyrrell, Andretti with the Lotus and Scheckter with the other Tyrrell. To complete the affirmation of the McLaren, the fifth place of Jochen Mass, teammate of Hunt. Unfortunately, for Ferrari, things did not go well.
Clay Regazzoni came sixth and Lauda only eighth. The Austrian driver was slowed down at the end of the race by a failure of the right rear suspension that made the car oversteer. At the pits Lauda was so worried that when, twelve laps before the end of the Canadian Grand Prix, the Ferrari with the number 1 dropped its pace and was overtaken by the McLaren driven by Jochen Mass, by the Ferrari driven by Clay Regazzoni and by the Brabham-Alfa Romeo driven by Carlos Pace, a wave of panic ran through the Maranello box.
Everyone thought that the driver had collapsed due to fatigue and Daniele Audetto, the team's sporting director, as a precaution requested the presence of a doctor in the box. He arrived with some nurses and first aid equipment. The group was secretly placed in one of the stands: Marlene Lauda, very pale, did not even notice.
The episode had an almost paradoxical twist as the race came to a close. Patrick Depailler, intoxicated by gasoline sprayed on his face and overalls by the broken pressure gauge, stopped after the finish line and fainted. The doctor wanted to jump to the Frenchman's aid, but was held back by Audetto.
"I have to go to Depailler...".
"No, wait for Lauda".
"But that one has already lost consciousness".
Fortunately, Lauda resolved the situation by driving his car into the pits and making it clear that he was doing very well and the Ferrari a little less so. The Frenchman Depailler performed a feat that can be defined as heroic: with nineteen laps to go, the fuel gauge of his car broke and a stream of fuel splashed onto the Frenchman's face. The gasoline flowed under his helmet and wet his overalls. Result: Patrick suffered burns on his back and the blinding, thankfully only temporary, of one eye.
"I drove the last six laps in a trance. I could hardly see and I was just following the curves of the track by intuition. But I wanted to finish second, absolutely".
Immediately after the arrival, Depailler collapses on the steering wheel and loses consciousness: the French driver is therefore taken to the field hospital of the circuit, and after the first treatments he returns to his caravan. Here a doctor gives him some more oxygen. After recovering, Depailler asks for a cigarette, a Gauloises, but his wife, who had followed Patrick's story with trepidation, answers him, with a quick wit:
"No, otherwise we all blow up".
On the Mosport circuit there are not many people; only around James Hunt, who waters everyone with jets of champagne, there is a big crowd. Needless to say, smiles are wasted in the McLaren box: Teddy Mayer is so happy that he doesn't even hide all his nervous tics, and it is not difficult to get Hunt to talk.
"I have shown that the World Championship is won on the track, and not with FIA verdicts. At the beginning of the year Ferrari was undoubtedly the strongest, but we found a way to beat them. Then all the complaints and mutual accusations came up. I saw that those in Maranello were travelling with the yellow booklet of regulations at their fingertips. For me, today was a great revenge: now I'm beginning to think I can even win this title. It was a race without problems. I just had to struggle a bit to get past Peterson in the early stages, then everything went smoothly. I controlled Depailler as I wanted to".
At Ferrari there are no dramas, but certainly the atmosphere is not cheerful. The reasons that caused Lauda and Regazzoni difficulties are explained in detail. The two components that stop the arm of the right rear suspension, which is used to control the kinematic motion of the wheel, were sheared in both cars. It is an inconvenience that happened for the first time and that was probably caused by the uneven surface of the circuit.
"I heard in the pits they were worried about me. They thought my slowdown was due to some physical reason. Not at all: it was all the fault of the suspension of the car that became very difficult to drive. It's clear that by going slowly I would have been able to control it. What can I say, life is not always easy. If I hadn't had this problem, I would have at least finished fifth. Only two points, but that was something. It consoles me to see that my physical condition is good".
The journalists ask how the duel with Hunt will continue. Lauda answers:
"For James and for me now the US Grand Prix becomes a very important appointment. Hunt has done his good race. Well done. We will see each other again at Watkins Glen. On Wednesday we will have a private practice session on that circuit. It will be decisive for us, who will have to fine-tune the cars if we want to run a valid race. And I would really hope to win this title, after all I've been through".
Clay Regazzoni listens, then it's his turn to speak.
"I had the Lauda mishap too. I am very sorry because the car was going well, and I had passed Pace and was catching up to Mass. Unfortunately at a certain point I had to slow down because I couldn't control the car anymore, at least at a certain limit. The accident with Pace? Simple. The rear of the car skidded at the entrance of the curve that leads to the pit straight: I immediately lifted my foot off the accelerator and entered the curve slowly. Pace was so close to my tail that he did not realize that I was slowing down quickly. So he bumped into me. Luckily I had already managed to straighten the car, otherwise he would have made me spin in the middle of the track. Nothing serious happened and we continued until the end. I also grabbed a sixth place that brings me one point. But it would have been better if Niki had taken it".
Regazzoni, who tried at all costs to contain the offensive of Carlos Pace, had a bad adventure: entering the curve that leads to the pit straight, the Swiss driver felt his Ferrari skidding and slowed down immediately. The car reversed, closing any space for overtaking Pace, who was practically glued to Clay's wheels. Result: a collision that fortunately did not cause any damage, and that allowed the two to continue the race and to place sixth and seventh ahead of Lauda.
A controversial tail follows: Bernie Ecclestone presents a complaint, even accusing Regazzoni of having made an attempt on Pace's life, while the Brazilian comments:
"If it had been a young novice driver, they would probably have withdrawn his license".
Therefore, the Swiss and Brazilian drivers are called by the stewards of the Grand Prix. The two drivers clarify to the Grand Prix stewards the dynamics of the collision and the affair ends in nothing: it was rightly ruled that Regazzoni had had no intention of damaging his colleague and that, therefore, he was innocent.
Lauda is, at least in appearance, serene. He comments almost with detachment on the events of this Canadian Grand Prix that ended for him in a bitter defeat and for James Hunt in a brilliant victory. The Austrian has a remarkable ability to control himself, but from one of his suggestive lines it is clear that he feels a great anger and a desperate desire for revenge.
"On Sunday at Watkins Glen I intend to stay ahead of him."
For Lauda the race at Mosport was a disappointment: the commitment of the tests was wasted, the comeback from seventh place to fifth was useless. A hard blow for a man who two months earlier had been fighting between life and death in a Mannheim hospital and who, with the help of an athlete's physique and an admirable willpower, had managed to anticipate his return to the world of competition.
"I had some fears for my physique, for the lack of training. And, instead, I had no problems: I kept my foot down on the accelerator, I had a very normal race. It's a pity that my Ferrari wasn't in good shape either".
At Monza Lauda would have been content to arrive at the end of the Italian Grand Prix and he had obtained the fourth place, here he would have wanted to progress, to fight with Hunt and he did not conquer even one point. At Mosport, however. Lauda also picked up a positive indication, at least according to what he says:
"At the beginning the car was too understeery in the slow corners. However, Peterson was in the lead and I was driving without any particular difficulty. Then Hunt took the lead. Patience. I pass Brambilla and Peterson and I am fifth. Not bad. Suddenly, the car becomes oversteer. Control is very difficult, I have to slow down. For me the race is over. But I insist: I'm fine, the race is good training. That's something, isn't it?"
So if the Mosport drama is more Ferrari's than Lauda's, at least in the basic motivations, one wonders how it could have happened. This is the second time this year that Ferrari has had a bad day, but in July, in France, the failure of the engines of Lauda and Regazzoni's cars was caused by faulty material from a supplier. Here is the road surface of the circuit, with cracks and bumps, but at the origin there cannot be but a certain lack of preparation.
And here is a serious implication of Lauda's long absence: the Austrian could not test on the Fiorano track for about three months and the tuning of the cars was entrusted only to Regazzoni, who certainly did not have Niki's ear and ability. Moreover, the development of the cars was compromised: as it is known, a Formula 1 single-seater is refined from race to race, progressing in details that are perhaps minimal but relevant for the improvement of performance.
McLaren has now reached and, on certain circuits, perhaps surpassed Ferrari: a further reason for concern is the fact that the cars cannot return to Maranello for an accurate overhaul, but remain in North America. Work is more difficult and precarious. We touch wood, remembering the shock absorbers problem that broke out two years ago in the USA, a problem that cost Regazzoni the title, and we console ourselves by thinking back to 1975, to Lauda's success at Watkins Glen. Audetto proclaims:
"Let's unite around Niki. We will turn this negative experience into a springboard for the next two Grand Prix".
Lauda gives his approval, then concludes harshly:
"For Watkins Glen the cars have to be perfect. On Wednesday we will have a free practice day: it will have a definitive importance. It is there that we will build our victory or defeat in the championship".
In conclusion, it can be said that James Hunt is once again a danger for Niki Lauda and Ferrari: the Canadian Grand Prix, the thirteenth and third-last round of the Formula 1 Championship, was resolved with a brilliant victory for the blond English driver and a defeat for the Austrian, whose advantage in the world ranking has diminished considerably.
Now Lauda has 64 points while Hunt has risen to 56, therefore the gap has fallen from seventeen to eight points, a margin of a certain consistency, given that only two races are missing to the conclusion of the championship, but that does not allow distractions or mistakes.
On the eve of the race, the Austrian himself had some doubts about his endurance, about his limits and, on the contrary, the eighty laps in Mosport, a hard circuit, showed that the Ferrari driver is in good shape, for sure more than the 312 T2 he drove yesterday.
While Daniele Audetto, Ferrari's sporting director, had called a doctor with a respirator and an oxygen cylinder, fearing that the decline depended on his physical condition, Lauda finished the Grand Prix without any problems, although he was not serene, as he immediately indicated to the Ferrari mechanics that the cars had to be perfectly tuned for the United States.
"For me, to be able to win the title will count more than anything the day of free practice that we will have on Wednesday at Watkins Glen. That's where we will win or lose the championship".
While Hunt celebrates with the McLaren mechanics the success against the hated Ferrari, drinking beer and smoking one cigarette after another, before going with them to dinner, Lauda flies to Akron, in Ohio, for a visit to the tire factory that supplies the whole Formula 1 Circus, before moving to Watkins Glen.
You can lose a battle, but you mustn't lose the war: Ferrari has already done it once in North America; two would really be too many.