#279 1976 United States Grand Prix

2021-04-07 01:00

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#1976, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Maria Vitiello,

#279 1976 United States Grand Prix

On Monday 4 October 1976 the big buses of the teams engaged in the Formula 1 World Championship arrive in groups at the American circuit of Watkins Glen


On Monday 4 October 1976 the big buses of the teams engaged in the Formula 1 World Championship arrive in groups at the American circuit of Watkins Glen, which on Sunday 10 October 1976 will host the penultimate round of the long race that began in January at Interlagos. Once at Watkins Glen the Ferrari mechanics work without wasting a single second under the watchful eye of the technicians, the engineer Mauro Forghieri and the sporting director Daniele Audetto. Lauda and Ragazzoni are also there, ready to give their advice. In short, it's the atmosphere of decisive moments. The entire team has united around Lauda, in the hope of putting him in a position to win the challenge with James Hunt in five days' time. However, there is not much confidence in the air. The impression is that Ferrari is going through a moment of crisis. The fact of being far from Maranello, where usually at the end of each race the cars are brought back for a complete overhaul, is a big handicap. Hunt is sure that McLaren has now completely overcome the technological gap, that is, the inferiority in performance that it had at the beginning of the season, with Ferrari. Considering the results, the British driver seems to be right. Moreover, the Italian cars have always shown that they suffer from the transfer to North America, always finding new problems to solve. Engineer Forghieri is pressed by a stressful job and by the difficulties he is facing. We must add a situation within the Italian team that does not seem to be particularly calm; in fact, many people say that there are internal contrasts between the sporting director Audetto and Forghieri, which inevitably involves everyone, including the drivers. Precisely for this reason, the news bounce from Italy that Ferrari would not renew Audetto's contract at the end of the season, intending to replace him with engineer Nosetto, technical manager of the Sport Commission.


So there are many problems. Where does Clay Ragazzoni go? One of the reasons for the uncertainty that reigns at Ferrari in this moment is also determined by the situation of the drivers. We must not forget that Reutemann has already been hired and is in the waiting room. For Clay, there is a lot to talk about his probable passage to Brabham, alongside Carlos Pace. At Mosport, however, an episode happened that casts a shadow over the relationship between the Ticinese driver and the Anglo-Italian team (Alfa Romeo was also involved). As you will remember, Clay was hit by Pace on the penultimate lap. The marshals, having heard the two parties and explained the mechanics of the accident, completely absolved Ragazzoni of any responsibility. But Brabham presented a complaint against Regazzoni. The Swiss driver, however, should not have any problems with his engagement. In addition to Bhabham-Alfa, McLaren and March would also like him. But there is more: a Californian oilman would be willing to sign a blank check to Enzo Ferrari if the Modenese manufacturer would put one of his cars at the disposal of the Swiss driver. This financier in exchange would only want an American flag drawn on the car. On Wednesday, October 6, 1976, a free practice session will be held on the circuit starting at 9:00 am, in which all the teams will participate. This is a very important practice session because it will allow the technicians and drivers to get in touch with this difficult track, and to start setting up the cars. In this way, on Friday and Saturday, when the official tests, valid for the starting grid, will take place, it will be possible to aim at excellent performances without losing too much time. Niki Lauda, who has an eight-point lead over James Hunt in the world rankings, considers these tests decisive for a good performance in the US Grand Prix. Lauda, who arrived in Watkins Glen after a day dedicated to the visit of the Goodyear plants in Akron, Ohio, reiterates what he had already stated on Sunday, after the Canadian race:


"I am in good shape, now we have to take care of the car. This is not a very suitable circuit for Ferrari. For its characteristics it can be compared a bit to the Swedish one of Anderstorp. However, last year I won, so... Tomorrow I will try only with the T-Car: the experiences we will get will be transferred on my racing car".


Ferrari - as it is logical - will concentrate its efforts on Lauda and on the preparation of the Austrian's car. Regazzoni should limit himself to a few reconnaissance laps in the final stages. Hunt has also arrived at Watkins Glen, and there is also Patrick Depailler, who has quickly recovered from Sunday's bad adventure at Mosport. During the evening of Wednesday, October 6, 1976 Niki Lauda and James Hunt meet at Watkins Glen, and this time, at least on a formal level, it is cheerful and quiet, to the point that the two pose together for some ritual photographs and take a tour of the circuit on the 131 that the American Fiat has lent to the Austrian for this stay. However, when Lauda is asked if he had made peace with Hunt, the Austrian replies:


"Only political relationship, for me he remains a jerk".


Nor must the Englishman have changed his judgement on his rival and on Ferrari, which is one of the most solicitous teams to take to the track for the unofficial practice session divided into two parts, one from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. in the morning, and the second from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Ferrari mechanics work hard around Lauda's T-Car, and every element is seen and revised: there is a strong desire on everyone's part to provide Niki with a valid weapon for the duel, perhaps decisive, on Sunday against Hunt in the US Grand Prix. Engineer Mauro Forghieri, who with Bussi and Rocchi (who is in the hospital in Reggio Emilia, hospitalized for a heart attack) forms the technical triad of Ferrari, arrives from Maranello to provide the contribution of his experience, is a bit polemic for certain judgments on the behavior of the Ferraris in the Canadian Grand Prix.


"But are we really sure we are doing so badly? Let's say that in Mosport the cars were not perfectly tuned, but let's not forget that Lauda wasn't himself on Friday and that certain problems only surfaced on Saturday. We would have needed one more day of testing. After all, you can't always be at your best. Look at McLaren itself: in Austria or in Monza it didn't shine. It is true, however, that we were a little behind in the development of the tire. We will see what to do".


In the first part of the session Lauda completes about forty laps and is the fastest, in 1'44"63. Watson, in the P.enske, laps in 1'44"82, and Pace, in the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, in 1'44"85. Hunt, who arrives at the circuit around noon, completes only three laps, in the best of which he scores a time of 1'47"07. These are unofficial times, granted by the Heuer timekeepers. Lauda experiments a whole series of solutions for aerodynamics and suspensions: a long and methodical work, maybe boring, but essential for the preparation of the car.


"For now I can't draw any particular balance. Last year I got the pole position, in 1'42"0, today we run in times too much higher. For the moment everything is fine, however. We will have, perhaps, to modify the ratios".


The Surtees, the Ensign and the March do not participate in the tests. The second practice session, after about an hour, is interrupted for a long time because Jacques Laffite, with the Ligier-Matra, goes off the track. The Frenchman's car, perhaps due to the failure of some mechanical organ, flies off the road in one of the circuit's chicanes, demolishing three rows of protection nets. Laffite gets out of the car unharmed, but the car is irrecoverable and on Sunday Jacques will have to run with the forklift. Afterwards Depailler and Andretti improve Lauda's time, respectively 1'43"95 and 1'44"04, while Niki goes down to 1'44"27 and Hunt to 1'45"54. Thursday, October 7, 1976 at Watkins Glen the landscape is sweet and pleasant, with the soft colors of autumn, Seneca Lake, on whose slopes rows of vines run as far as the eye can see, woods and farms. A provincial country lyric that ignores the convulsive rhythms of New York, almost four hundred kilometers away. Watkins Glen is a small country town with some tourist pretensions. In this quiet America, however, one of the most important Grand Prix of the 1976 Formula 1 World Championship is held, that of the United States. The Circus arrived at Watkins Glen with its men and its cars, with its problems and intrigues, but above all with an account still open between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Among farms and wooded hills there is a modern and rational racetrack, and it is here that on Sunday the two contenders for the title will face each other in a perhaps decisive challenge. The track, which takes up the legacy of a road circuit born in 1948 and closed in 1952 after a serious accident, was opened in 1956 and since 1961 has regularly hosted the United States Grand Prix.


Six years ago it was improved with the help of a computer from Cornell University, which established the radii of the curves and the length of the straights. Other changes were introduced in 1974: after the death of Francois Cevert, a chicane was created in the section that follows the curve that closes the straight of the stands and the pits. It is a fast track, with elevated curves that complicate the tuning of the cars. It's a track that tends to level out the performances, without exalting the skills of a driver or highlighting the characteristics of a single-seater rather than another. After fourteen races the Austrian is leading the classification with 64 points, the Englishman is second with 56. The first could be World Champion for the second time in a row on Sunday, the second could overtake his rival and take the lead: in this case the Japanese Grand Prix, scheduled for October 24, 1976 on Mount Fuji, would become the race of truth. It is a situation that has been created for many reasons and that hardly at the half of the championship would have been conceivable when Lauda and Ferrari had a considerable advantage on every rival and their final victory was not doubted by anyone. Then, the regulatory problems that poisoned the atmosphere of the Circus and Niki's drama at the Nurburgring, allowed Hunt to reduce the gap. Lastly, the improvement of McLaren and a certain stagnation of Ferrari. The technical argument is in this moment the most interesting: in the very recent Canadian Grand Prix Lauda and Regazzoni were delayed by suspension problems, nor today it is legitimate to doubt the physical conditions of the reigning World Champion, who, after the uncertainties of the first day of practice in Mosport, has recovered very well and appears to be in excellent shape. On Wednesday, for example, it was possible to observe the Austrian driver concentrated and attentive in the unofficial training for Sunday's race; tests that ended with Hunt and Lauda at the top of the ranking, respectively in 1'42"64 and 1'43"08. At the end of the tests, Lauda admitted:


"I am quite happy, the private tests allowed me to balance the car and to find a good compromise for this circuit. I realized that the wing used in Canada was not suitable for Watkins Glen, and I put back the old type we had abandoned after Monza. The car should be faster. At the end I also pulled a bit to feel how my Ferrari reacted. The verdict is positive and I'm especially happy to have saved time".


Dealing with the subject with the engineer Mauro Forghieri, who has been working for sixteen years at Ferrari for the realisation of competition cars, and that the English consider one of the best designers of the sector, the first question that comes naturally is: what has happened to the Ferraris? Has their performance dropped?


"No. All the cars have alternated more or less good performances this year. Let's take a look at  McLaren too: modest in Austria, good in Holland, non-existent in Italy, brilliant in Canada. And so what? There is only one reality: first, there are circuits that are adapted to a greater or lesser extent to the basic characteristics of the cars; second, the technical preparation of the cars can sometimes be deficient, whether due to human error or for contingent reasons, for example, the engines that broke down in the French Grand Prix. Watkins Glen is a neutral type of circuit, which should not favour any car. There is the problem of making the car as little understeering as possible: yesterday's tests helped us. We can be quite satisfied and if Lauda didn't match Hunt's performance it's only because he set his training on preparation and didn't look for the time, like the Englishman. Of course, this is McLaren's track. They have a lot of friends here. Nor is it a place where overtaking is easy. Niki will have to be careful".


Forghieri concludes:


"We want Lauda to have a perfect car on Sunday, he must be able to defend himself, he must be able to stay ahead of Hunt. This is the important thing. I only tremble at the thought of the trifle that could ruin any effort. Yesterday in practice a spring broke in the safety device that cuts off the current to the electrical system, something to laugh at, but in the race Lauda would have retired".


Hunt also appears calm:


"Now I have a great chance to win the title. The McLaren is very good and here it should offer an excellent performance. In the unofficial tests I immediately tried to drive at a high pace: it is the only way to evaluate how the car is going and to be able to fine tune it. I've heard that the Ferrari people claim I snubbed the first part of practice. It's not true. The truth is simple. I suffer from an illness common to tennis players, i.e. an inflammation of the tendons of the left elbow, and I try to spare myself".


The challenge between Lauda and Hunt absorbs the general attention, but it would not be a surprise if at the end another driver would be the winner, especially if it will continue to rain. At Watkins Glen, where there are two fast elevated bends, the six-wheel Tyrrell of Depailler and Scheckter should behave very well, not to mention the March of Peterson and Brambilla or the Penske of Watson. Let's not forget Clay Regazzoni, in these days left aside by Ferrari. On Friday, October 8, 1976, like the French sovereigns of a bygone era, James Hunt received three Italian journalists in his bedroom, in the Glen Motor Inn that in Watkins Glen hosts almost all the drivers of the Formula 1 Circus. The blond English driver, always very informal in his attitudes, lies down on the bed after taking off his worn-out sandals, and with his head on the pillow he gives his somewhat ironic attention to the Italian press, which has been a bit nasty to him so far. A few months earlier he was left by his beautiful wife, who preferred Richard Burton, but Hunt did not worry for long and immediately found consolers equally pleasing. He had himself photographed for a men-only magazine with two nude models, smoked about ten cigarettes a day, drank beer and wine, and enjoyed Big Amon, a game reminiscent of checkers and very popular with the English. He claims to run for England but lives in Marbella, Spain, where taxes are less heavy, with a shepherd dog and a German girl. Anyway, in London he has his brother who takes care of his business. Hunt says he studied trumpet and piano, is not ashamed to pay taxes in Spain and has never voted in his country, England, of which he says he is a good citizen.


"I know many people consider me a hippy or a not-so-professional driver. But what is a hippy? If, as I think, it is simply people who live naturally, without artificial schemes, well I am one. I like to enjoy life. My father wanted me to be a doctor, but at a certain point I got bored. I was more interested in racing. I gave up my studies and I don't regret it".


Then he continues:


"And what does professional racing mean? I am like Lauda, I just do things differently, also because my team allows it. I started racing by buying old car parts from wreckers and I built myself one. I've always loved to make my own way. Well, I would say that means one thing. I'm a good mechanic, I know how cars are made. With McLaren I carry out all the tests necessary for the tuning of the cars and for their improvement, when I'm at the wheel of my single-seater, I don't think about anything else: in that moment James Hunt is one hundred percent concentrated in his work. But what should I do afterwards? Just think about that? No, for heaven's sake, I'm a normal person, which also satisfies my backers, who wouldn't know what to do with a robot".


Hunt smiles, crosses his legs, looks for a more comfortable position, then underlines, perhaps in the fear that someone could misunderstand him:


"Let me be clear that I don't mean to imply that someone like Niki is a robot or a computer, as they have dubbed him. He is a normal man, with his own problems and hopes. We talked about it together. Lauda just chose a team that has its own methods, a certain programming. It's good for him, not for me. To be honest, I would love to drive a Ferrari, but I would like it to be run by McLaren. I'm sure I'd win every Grand Prix. What an engine those cars have".


The journalists then ask what it takes for a man to be a good driver, to be able to aspire to the world title.


"Nothing in particular, it's a cocktail: reflexes, intelligence, willpower, above all willpower. It takes a lot of willpower to stand out. I managed to do it quickly, but I'm not the only one: look at Lauda or Stewart or Clark. If you have quality and you have the luck or the ability to be in a good team, it's impossible not to stand out".


Willpower: you have to use it also to drive away fear, to close your eyes in front of the accident. What did Hunt feel on Sunday, August 1, 1976, as he drove his McLaren past the smoking wreckage of Lauda's Ferrari?


"Fear...there's no time to be afraid. When I'm driving I'm so focused on the manoeuvres and the race that I don't think about the risks I'm taking. If I did it would be better for me to stop. Nor can you think about an accident like Niki's. I don't have the right to do that, at least as long as I'm paid to go out on the track. I do it later, at home, alone. Anyway, I don't want to be a racing driver for much longer, it's a profession where you wear out quickly. I'm a sportsman, I play tennis and golf. If I had been a footballer, I would have retired at thirty. That's not possible in a car".


Hunt sighs, then massages his left elbow.


"It hurts, I have a tennis ailment, inflammation of the tendon. In Canada, before the race, I had to take a cortisone injection, but then only Peterson tried to test my positions. And I answered him properly. On Wednesday I gave up the first part of free practice so as not to strain my arm too much. Between Niki and me we make a good couple".


In the English driver's speech, Lauda's name and Ferrari's name continuously come up. But what is your opinion on the controversial events of this World Championship?


"Niki is an excellent driver and I have no reason to be angry with him. Ferrari, instead, tried to beat us with the regulations. Let's not talk about the British Grand Prix, where Ferrari managed to push the International Automobile Federation and the CSI against McLaren, let's talk about Spain: yes, we were wrong, the irregularity was there, but it was not the result of a trick nor did it produce an improvement in performance. Ferrari has chosen the path of rules are rules, but then what should we say about that gearbox oil radiator placed in an illegal position? Should we ask the FIA to invalidate all the Grand Prix in which Lauda and Regazzoni have participated so far? I know very well that that radiator does not affect the competitiveness of the cars and I am glad that no action has been taken. I have the impression that Ferrari has been badly advised. In any case, I hope that in 1977 our relations will become friendly again, otherwise people will end up being fed up with us and with Formula 1".


Hunt is optimistic about the fate of the championship, believes that on Sunday he can achieve another success, and says that at Watkins Glen McLaren should perform well.


"I will do everything to win the title".


He proclaims, looking reporters in the eye, hard. Then, he laughs amused. Reporters ask if to become champion is willing to sign a contract with the devil, like a certain Dr. Faust.


"Send it to me, then we'll talk".


He exclaims sympathetically, jumping out of bed and leading the journalists to the door, showing himself much less disliked than those in Maranello would like to portray him. But perhaps, the sporting antipathy is also born because on Friday 8 October 1976 James Hunt is the fastest on the first day of practice for the United States Grand Prix, while Niki Lauda gets the fifth time: between the two there is a difference of six tenths of a second. Lauda twisted his face into a grimace and hoped on Saturday, in the last hour of practice, to improve his performance in order to gain a better place in the starting grid.


"I did pretty well, but not as well as I would have liked. All the fault of the bad weather. We started under water, then the track dried, but not entirely: the chicane area, for example, was very wet. It was difficult to fine-tune the car. In the last laps, when I could have pushed harder, I was slowed down by other competitors and my Ferrari started to behave in a strange way, understeering or oversteering depending on the direction of the curve".


Mauro Forghieri, sent by Maranello to Watkins Glen to help the team in these decisive hours, explains the mystery:


"Probably the right rear wheel was not in the picture. In any case, Friday was a lottery, as always happens when you race in wet or dry conditions. The track conditions were changing all the time and, in the same way, the ranking of the best drivers. I would have hoped that Niki would get the third or fourth place, but even so I'm satisfied. On Saturday, if the fog and the rain will allow us, we could do something more".


Due to the bad weather, only a small handful of drivers attempted to race: when Austrian Otto Stuppacher was the first to take to the track, in an attempt to snatch the qualification from him in Canada, the track was almost impracticable due to the water. Seeing this, sarcastically, Teddy Mayer comments that the drivers get a qualifying position that is in inverse proportion to their IQ. The rain stops falling on the circuit just before the start of Friday's afternoon session, and after fifteen minutes in which the track remains damp the drivers begin to opt for slick tires, and times drop rapidly. The best time was set by Hunt, in 1'43"622, ahead of Jody Scheckter and Ronnie Peterson. Mario Andretti (hoping for a win in his home Grand Prix), Patrick Depailler and John Watson are all bracketed between 1'43"0 and 1'44"0 in Lotus, Tyrrell and Penske respectively, while Jacques Laffite is next in the all-French Ligier-Matra. Unfortunately this patriotic little team faces a major set-back when Laffite crashes the chassis JS5/02 during this testing session and although the little Frenchman isn’t injured, the car is badly damaged to put it out of action for the rest of the week. Accordingly, Laffite is forced to use the team’s original car (JS5/01) for official practice and the race. Another surprise is seen in the form of Tyrrell driver Jody Scheckter having a sneak preview of the Walter Wolf financed team (for whom he’s signed to drive in 1977) by trying one of the Williams FW05s with the permission of Ken Tyrrell. Despite not fitting comfortably in the car, Scheckter lapses in a very respectable 1'45"0, which certainly put into perspective the efforts of the experienced Arturo Merzario. While nobody’s trying to pretend the FWO5 is the best Formula 1 car in the world, it’s amazing what a get-up-and-go driver can do in place of all the whining and moaning that the team’s previous drivers have regaled us with for most of the season.


The circuit opens for the first session and everybody edges out on to the circuit to feel their way cautiously around. One of two of the aces are taking things a little easily to start with, not wanting to risk their cars on a saturated track during the first hour and a half, as it is almost certain to clear up for the subsequent sessions. But Hans Stuck takes to the wet like the proverbial duck to water and roars his March 761 round in a cloud of spray to record 1'57"751, which looks as though it would stand as fastest in that session until Tom Pryce set a 1'56"807 best on his very last timed lap in the Shadow DN8. Other good times come from Niki Lauda (1'58"998) but the whole affair is rather unrepresentative and the pattern completely changes once the circuit begins to dry-out midway through the afternoon’s hour-long session. Once it is time to go out on dry weather slicks, James Hunt immediately gets down to business and very quickly establishes the fastest time with a confident best of 1'43"622 although Jody Scheckter, anxious for another Grand Prix victory before he leaves Elf Team Tyrrell, manages 1'43"870 in his P34 six-wheeler and Ronnie Peterson’s March stays trouble-free for long enough for him to record 1'43"941. These three are the only drivers to break the 1'44"0 barrier and establish themselves in the ace category as far as Watkins Glen is concerned, although the two March directors present are smiling like Cheshire cats because Vittorio Brambilla is fourth with 1'44"250 and Stuck is sixth with 1'44"265, these two are split only by Niki Lauda’s Ferrari which manages a best time of 1'44"257 to qualify in fifth place. Tom Pryce couldn’t maintain the advantage he has found in the very wet conditions, but his 1'45"102 is better than Carlos Pace in the faster of the two Brabham-Alfa Romeos, the Brazilian delighted with the BT45’s handling but disappointed with the Italian contribution to Ecclestone’s joint effort.


Mario Andretti is waiting hopefully for Saturday to be dry, for he spent the whole of the first day setting up 77/R1 to his own personal liking and although he could only manage 1'45"311 he was burning with confidence. Larry Perkins put in a very respectable show in the second Brabham-Alfa Romeo, lapping faster than Clay Regazzoni who tried both his regular Ferrari and the spare (028-2) during the afternoon but really seems to have lost a great deal of his determination since he has been advised that Ferrari won’t be needing his services again in 1977. Both Fittipaldi and Jarier (Shadow DN5) are going better than ever, Mass feels his McLaren is set up too softly and Alan Jones put in a decent time (1'46"402) to beat Ickx in the Ensign, Nilsson in the second Lotus and the other two Surtees of Lunger and Pescarolo quite convincingly. Herald Ertl makes an appearance in the second session and just manages to lap quicker than the enthusiastic Ribeiro, despite his injured hip, while Brown is subsequently quicker than Merzario, but the little Italian’s Williams suffers gearbox trouble and, along with Pescrolo, wouldn’t have qualified for a start if the organisers hadn’t waived the 11- per cent qualifying rule. Stuppacher’s slow Tyrrell predictably fail to qualify either on grid order or percentage time. During the tests Patrick Depailler and James Hunt duel for the conquest of the pole, with the French driver who follows the British driver until the compressed air container of the McLaren falls and hits the Tyrrell on the two left front tires and on the monocoque. In the impact both tires break, and after stopping to repair the damage and replace them, the steering of Depailler's car is no longer well calibrated, so much so that the Frenchman will classify only in seventh place. Later, when Hunt returned to the pits, next to a 150-pound container of compressed air, Rob Walker asked him:


"Is that what you threw at Depailler?"


And James will reply:


"No, we're saving that for Niki for Sunday".


If the Lauda-Hunt challenge will be the central theme of the U.S. Grand Prix, the fifteenth and penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship, the inclusion of some other driver in the battle is anything but to be dismissed. As expected, the six-wheel Tyrrell behaves effectively on this circuit with elevated bends: Scheckter turns in 1'43"870, obtaining the second performance of the first day of training. Clay Regazzoni, on the other hand, penalised by a clutch failure that forced him to use the forklift, laps in 1'45"534 against 1'43"622 of Hunt and 1'44"257 of Lauda, and he is only fourteenth.


"Keep in mind that last Wednesday I did not participate in the free practice like Hunt and Lauda. Moreover, on my Ferrari, the clutch lever broke and I had to get on the forklift. I didn't get on too well".


Who will win the world title? Clay replies:


"I would say Niki, and not because I too, even if only for a short time, am at Ferrari. Simply, I think that these eight points between him and Hunt will have their weight tomorrow and on October 24, 1976 in Japan. It seems to me that Lauda has now perfectly recovered, or almost, and that our cars can compete well here. Friday's times are only indicative, both Niki and I can gain a few tenths".


All true, but how much will Hunt be able to gain with his McLaren? The Englishman is proving to be very focused and charged, with a fierce desire to win the title.


"I'm happy, I think things are looking pretty good for me. I pulled hard and managed to get the best time, despite the track conditions not being good. From this point of view the tests were not very satisfactory: it was not possible to improve the cars properly. But I don't have a problem with that".


With only two days separating the end of the Mosport Park race with the opening of the Watkins Glen circuit for unofficial testing (on the Wednesday prior to the race), there isn’t much time for the hard-worked mechanics to give their cars more than a wash although the Hesketh team put together a fresh machine for Harald Ertl to drive and the Wolf-Williams lads ferries out a fresh monocoque from Reading to rebuild Amon’s crashed car from Mosport. Both drivers involved in the Canadian practice accident are present at Watkins Glen on crutches, Amon with a nasty knee injury which prevents him from driving and Ertl with a cracked hip bone, despite which he is determined to have a crack at practising, at least. Guy Edwards decides that he isn’t going to drive the Penthouse-Rizla Hesketh 308 and makes off to new York wheeling and dealing for 1977, renting the vacant seat to the young March Formula Two charger Alex Arkell: Ribeiro is having his first taste of Cosworth DFV power after a season grappling with 300 b.h.p. from a BMW 2-litre motor. Frank Williams spends one evening on the telephone at the Glen Motor Inn attempting to find a replacement for Amon, Michel Leclere declining (possibly he felt he knew enough about the car already having driven it in some early-season races!) and French Formula Two hopeful René Arnoux doing likewise. Frank then turns his attentions to California where he attempts to find Australian Vern Schuppan. At Watkins Glen Frank Williams replaces the injured Chris Amon with the Australian rookie driver Warwick Brown, coming from Formula 5000, and the chassis used by the New Zealander at Mosport with one coming from Great Britain. Brown, who is hired after several drivers refuse to participate in the Grand Prix for Wolf-Williams, is a driver who lives in Los Angeles, and shows up at the circuit in a transparent white shirt and a pair of skinny jeans. The team adjusts the seat so that the Australian driver, who a few months earlier had fractured his right leg while driving a Lola, can drive regularly. But with his right leg out of alignment, the foot with which he should accelerate presses against the brake, so the mechanics are forced to reverse the pedals. Warwick waits, sitting down, as he exclaims:


"God, but this is such a beauty. It's unbelievable, I've never ridden in a car as fantastic as this".


However, angering the mechanics, who will finish work only at 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning. In the meantime, Patrick Head rented a car and asked Brown if he wanted to drive it to a campground at Finger Lakes, rented from Frank Williams at the price of five dollars a night, after having managed to convince the managers to open it, having been closed since April of the same year. Originally, the team would have stayed at the Glen Motor Inn, a motel near the lake, where the owners - the Franzese family - would have provided three rooms for each team. Frank and Virginia Williams would also have been entitled to a room, as well as Arturo Merzario, Warwick Brown and Patrick Head, if it were not for the fact that Walter Wolf arrived with his entourage and told the British manager:


"You have to leave, there's only us here".


But the campsite found by Frank Williams is equipped only with small chalets, a common kitchen and nothing else; for this reason Patrick Head provides supplies to have breakfast the next morning, letting Brown drive the stretch of road that separates them from the circuit to the campsite.


"My God, driving a Formula 1 is the pinnacle of my racing career".


Warwick continues to exclaim, while Head points out to him that he is going too fast more for the hill, keeping in mind that it is raining hard and the wipers can't do their job properly.


"Warwick, it's very steep here, and there's a tight curve at the bottom".


Head exclaims, but the Australian driver replies:


"Ah, yeah, sure, no problem".


Suddenly the headlights illuminate a barrier at the bottom on the right, and Warwick exclaims: Jesus ,before hitting it with his rear end, and a moment later falling over a birch wood, after a thirty meter flight. Luckily the branches manage to break the fall, but the inside of the car is completely smeared with milk, cereal, and sugar, as the box the food was in opened in flight.


"Nice world to start my career as a Grand Prix driver".


Warwick exclaimed, while Head indicated that he would not help him carry the two suitcases that the Australian pilot had brought with him from Los Angeles. The two would show up shortly thereafter at Frank and Virginia Williams' campsite, after walking in the rain for about a mile, completely soiled with milk, sugar and cereal. The other driver injured at Mosport, Guy Edwards, is replaced by another rookie, Brazilian Alex-Dias Ribeiro, who finished fourth in the European Formula 2 Championship with a March-BMW. The United States Grand Prix, the fifteenth and penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship, perhaps the decisive challenge between Niki Lauda and James Hunt for the world title, risks turning into a lottery with an unpredictable result, or even not being run. The fault is the bad weather that has been unleashed on the area of Watkins Glen: rain showers, wind and fog, which at times makes visibility precarious. Meteorologists are predicting clearing up on Sunday, but one should not be too confident. On Friday they have spoken of decent weather for the weekend, but on Saturday it rains very hard, so much so that the program for this second day of practice is cancelled. The hour and a half of free practice is immediately cancelled, while the one valid for the starting grid is progressively delayed from 10:00 a.m. until 2:45 p.m., when the organisers, in order to comply with Formula 1 regulations that require three rounds of tests, declare the circuit open, but only Vittorio Brambilla and Ronnie Peterson go on track, more to understand the situation than anything else. In the meantime, all the other drivers have already returned to their hotels, or are resting in some motor-home. Brambilla completes a lap and returns to the garages reporting that the circuit is absolutely impracticable, while Peterson runs into a spin and ends up off the road, breaking the nose of his March.


"He must have met a shark".


The mechanics of the other teams comment ironically. So the times obtained on Friday are still valid, when for about three quarters of an hour the track has partially dried out: a bit little to have a really convincing starting line-up, but it is necessary to resign oneself. And so Hunt with the McLaren keeps the pole position, while Lauda with the Ferrari has to be content with the fifth place and Clay Regazzoni with the fourteenth, as to say that Niki will start in the third row and Clay in the seventh. For Ferrari the worst placement of the season, but on the other hand in this case it is nobody's fault. Hunt is the one who takes particular advantage of this situation, and it is obvious: if on Sunday it will rain and the track will be wet, starting from the pole position he will find in front of him a free and clear circuit and he will have to take less risks than Lauda, who is busy to disentangle himself in the group, among the water sprays raised by the wheels. Certainly also Hunt will have to face some problems, both if at the start he will be jumped by Scheckter with the six wheels Tyrrell, or by Peterson and Brambilla with the March, and, subsequently, in the overtaking of the lapped drivers.


"For Hunt the race will be easier, I will see less than him and I will risk to find someone sideways on the track, maybe Peterson or Brambilla. Spins are very easy, it is difficult to find the limit of the car. In an instant you can find yourself off the road, inside the safety nets, against a guardrail. If it goes well, you leave, otherwise you stay there. It can happen to me, but it can also happen to Hunt. It's a pity that today it was not possible to test on a dry track, we didn't draw any conclusions from yesterday's training, with that half dry and half wet asphalt. Why six tenths of a second difference between Hunt and me? He chose better trajectories or my car was not perfectly adjusted. I could have found my limit and then balanced the car. Patience. At this point, in spite of the higher risks, I end up preferring that it rains tomorrow: performance levels off and on water I am convinced that the Ferrari behaves better than the McLaren".


Says Lauda in the small motor-home where he takes refuge together with Regazzoni.


"Tomorrow I will pull to the maximum. Don't hesitate, wait. I attack immediately, I want to win, to close this challenge with Hunt, to finish this World Championship. Of course, Hunt will also do his best. Maybe he is even more conditioned than me by the need of a success. It's James who's chasing, he's the one who has an eight-point lead".


Engineer Mauro Forghieri also says:


"Let's hope that Lauda tomorrow can fight on equal terms with Hunt, that the start doesn't disadvantage him. If they are close to each other we will see a good duel. If instead Niki will remain behind, I hope that Hunt will stop. I will be unsporting, but sincere. I'm sorry that today it wasn't possible to check the car again: yesterday's training sessions were lying because of the continuous change of the track conditions. However on the wet Niki was faster than Hunt by one second and four tenths".


And what does Hunt say? The English driver is not very happy with the prospect of racing in the rain.


"Yes, I have pole position but water can play tricks on you. One mistake of mine or that of another driver and I can say goodbye to the title. But I prefer not to think about it as I don't think about my left elbow, which continues to hurt a bit, I don't have time for anything, only to win".


It's a bit of a shame that such an important Grand Prix is subject to the vagaries of the weather. The fault, if you will, also lies with the international calendar, which schedules a late fall race in North America. But the organisers of the United States Grand Prix assure that tomorrow the race will start in any way, departing from the typical practice of American competitions that, when it rains, are cancelled or suspended. However, if the track should flood (the firemen are working for a long time with motor pumps in order to clear some sections) or the fog should be too thick, the Grand Prix could be interrupted. If this happened in the first eighteen laps no points would be assigned for the championship, between the eighteenth and the thirty-sixth lap half points would be assigned, beyond the thirty-sixth lap the score would be full. At this point, Niki Lauda, with an eight point lead over James Hunt, could have been crowned for the second time World Champion Formula 1 driver. The Austrian driver, who has five wins like the McLaren driver, and who does not have to discard points as well as Hunt, would graduate as champion if: wins; he comes in second with Hunt not winning; finishes third with Hunt at most fifth; finishes fourth with Hunt at most sixth; he finishes fifth with Hunt out of the points zone.


In the Constructors World Championship, the Scuderia Ferrari has sixteen points of margin on the McLaren and eighteen on the Tyrrell. Tyrrell, however, can no longer win the world championship having won only one race in the season against the six won by Ferrari. The regulation foresees that only the best seven results of the last eight races count, but neither of the two teams is still obliged to discard points in the last two Grand Prix; moreover it must be remembered that only the first of the cars at the finish line scores points. Therefore, Ferrari can win the constructors' cup if one of its cars arrives in the first four positions, or if McLaren does not win, regardless of Ferrari's result. On Sunday 10 October 1976 at Watkins Glen the American meteorologists, for once, are not wrong: rain and fog are a bad memory and the United States Grand Prix, after the worries of the eve, can be held regularly. In the sky there are big clouds driven by a strong wind, but the sun is shining. It is terribly cold: the temperature barely reaches two degrees. The track has been perfectly cleaned and there are 90.000 spectators in the stands. Prices are high, 15 dollars to enter the circuit by car, but the spectacle of the Formula 1 Circus attracts people. As in Canada, there are many Ferrari fans, with national and Prancing Horse flags. The Grand Prix is preceded by half an hour of free practice, in which all teams check for the last time the single-seaters. Niki Lauda is the fastest in 1'45"0, James Hunt has the second fastest time, 1'45"03. Engineer Mauro Forghieri explains:


"With this cold temperature we studied a set-up that allows the tires to warm up earlier, giving a hair more oversteer".


Once again, however, the race program is not respected and the start is given with a delay of almost an hour, at 3:08 p.m., compared to the 2:15 p.m. initially scheduled. At the start the fastest is Scheckter, with the six-wheel Tyrrell, who takes the lead ahead of Hunt, Brambilla, Peterson and Lauda. Regazzoni is eleventh. Bad start for Stuck, penalised by a clutch problem that forced him to go down to the twenty-fourth position, and Jarier struggling with ignition problems. Scheckter and Hunt pull away from Brambilla, then the South African increases the pace and starts to take advantage of Lauda. During the fourth lap, the Austrian driver overtakes Peterson and moves into fourth position. Another pass and the Austrian overtakes Brambilla: he is third, six seconds behind Hunt. Also Regazzoni improves: he overtakes Andretti and passes to the tenth place. While Scheckter continues his ride, the eyes are on Hunt and Lauda: theirs is a race in the race, each one watches what the other does. During the seventh lap Depailier withdraws with the second Tyrrell, because of the breakup of the fuel pump. After ten laps Scheckter precedes Hunt of three seconds and Lauda of eight; Regazzoni is ninth. Merzario returns to the pits to change the nose of the Williams after a spin due to a collision with Ertl. During the eleventh lap Peterson successfully attacks his teammate Brambilla; the driver from Monza loses a position in favour of Jacques Laffite. One lap later the Swedish driver is forced to retire because of a damaged suspension during the overtaking on Brambilla, while Laffite, with the Ligier-Matra passes the Italian driver and takes the fourth place. Shortly afterwards the lapping starts, always a dangerous moment for those in the lead.


Pace overtakes Watson and is sixth, then also Regazzoni manages to overtake the British driver and get the seventh position. Hunt gets closer to Scheckter, and after twenty laps between the two there are less than two seconds, while Lauda is at nine seconds and keeps the distance for now; the rhythm of the South African and the British driver is India-volt, while the Ferrari driver loses something at every lap. In the meantime Regazzoni is passed by Mass, with the McLaren, and shortly afterwards Stuck is behind the Swiss driver. At the fourteenth lap a moment of terror involves Jackie Ickx: the Ensign of the Belgian driver goes out wide at turn 6, a left turn at the entrance of the area known as The Boot. The car immediately skids to the right and crashes into the guardrail. The nose ends up under the guardrail, the car splits open and the rear end catches fire. Luckily the on-board system and the fire-fighting service contain the flames, and the Belgian driver leaps out of the car alone, which is still in the middle of the straight, before falling limp on the grass bordering the circuit. In the violent impact Ickx suffers a fracture of the right ankle and a suspected fracture of the left leg. The race is not stopped or neutralised, but a service car and an ambulance enter the track and drive along the stretch of track next to the Formula 1 cars until they reach the site of the accident. After an initial visit to the Watkins Glen field hospital, the Belgian driver is transported to the nearby town of Elmira, where there is a specialised centre in orthopaedic care. Emerson Fittipaldi, who was following him, will say that it was the worst accident he had witnessed, and that he could hear the sound of the blow that the car had given to the barriers, even with his helmet on his head and with the engine running and noisy of his car.


"I thought it must have disappeared when I saw the crash, which almost blocked the track. I thought something in the car had broken, because all of a sudden it moved abruptly in one direction, then the other way, and went into the guardrail".


In the meantime Watson slows down and is passed by Regazzoni and Mass, before recovering power and taking ninth place. After twenty laps the classification sees in the lead the trio composed by Scheckter, Hunt and Lauda, who has a certain margin on Laffite, Brambilla, Pace, Regazzoni and Jochen Mass. One lap later Regazzoni is passed by the German of the McLaren. At the twenty-fourth lap Mario Andretti, eleventh, retires with a broken suspension. In the lead, while Lauda loses competitiveness, the fight between Hunt and Scheckter for the first position is on. At the same time, at the thirty-first lap, Pace left the scene, literally thrown off the track by Mass in a wheel-to-wheel contact. Both remain unharmed. Automatically Regazzoni goes up to seventh place. During the thirty-fourth lap Laffite loses a wheel and forces Brambilla to retire, after the Italian driver ends up on the wreckage of the Frenchman's car. Luckily the driver from Monza gets away only with a lot of fear. So Jochen Mass is fourth, ahead of Hans-Joachim Stuck who managed to pass Clay Regazzoni who had slowed down due to yellow flags. In the following laps Hunt produces an impressive forcing and obtains several times the fastest lap, while Scheckter's tires progressively lose grip. The gap is first reduced to 1.3 seconds at the end of the twenty-ninth lap, and to half a second on the thirtieth lap.


To overtake Scheckter, Hunt has to stay close to his opponent at the exit of the chicane, but the degradation of the tires and the oversteering car prevente him from doing so, until on lap 37 the McLaren driver jumps inside at the end of the back straight and takes the lead, gaining two seconds in the following two laps. But then, during the 41st lap, Hunt misses a gear at the chicane in an attempt to overtake Warwick Brown, who is slowed down by the fact that the gearbox has lost the third and fifth gear, as well as by the malfunction of the rear brakes; Hunt finds the Australian driver in the middle of the chicane, and is forced to slow down, shifting from third to first gear, while Scheckter jumps ahead again. The South African driver keeps the lead until the 46th lap, when he is passed again by Hunt at the end of the back straight. At six laps to go Hunt scores the fastest lap of the race, while Scheckter - who is one of James Hunt's best friends, to the point that Hunt is the promoter of the nickname Flechter, given to Jody inspired by the protagonist of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull - understands that it is better to be satisfied with a good second place, also because Lauda is by now thirty-seven seconds behind. The Austrian, on the other hand, has a good margin of eighteen seconds on Mass, who in turn is ahead of Stuck, Watson and Regazzoni. The Grand Prix is coming to an end, and the final bars do not reserve surprises. Hunt flies towards the victory, the sixth of the season, increasing his advantage on Scheckter and lapping Regazzoni, while in the Ferrari box there are anxious moments, because Mass is dangerously close to Lauda. 


The Ferrari and the McLaren are a few tens of meters away from each other, and while the checkered flag drops in front of Hunt, Lauda and Mass make a sprint arrival: the Austrian driver, however, manages to precede the German driver, who in turn precedes Mass, Stuck and Watson. At the end of the race, the crowd invades the track: for Lauda and Hunt the final duel is postponed to the last race of the championship, the Japanese Grand Prix, scheduled on October 24, 1976 on the Fuji circuit. James Hunt and the McLaren don't miss a beat: the blond British driver imposes himself with a beautiful race in the United States Grand Prix, fifteenth and penultimate race of the Formula 1 Championship, beating Jody Scheckter. Niki Lauda comes third at the finish line, keeping that position on Jochen Mass. The trophy to the winner is given by Jack Ford, son of US President Gerald Ford. This conclusion obviously postpones the solution to the challenge for the title between Hunt and Lauda to the last Grand Prix of the year, the one in Japan. An incredible duel, reminiscent of the one that took place in 1974 between Clay Ragazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi. Hunt, in a sunny US Grand Prix, took another five points from the Austrian. The British driver, by winning, gained nine points and reached 65 points; Lauda, third, gained four points and reached 68 points: the difference between the two drivers was thus reduced from seventeen points to just three. The result? Beyond every alchemy and hypothesis, the reality is only one: Lauda, in order to keep the world title, will have to stay ahead of Hunt in Japan, while the British driver, in turn, will absolutely have to win the Grand Prix. A final full of suspense, exasperated, that is the perfect ending to this interminable, controversial Formula 1 season. Hunt remained for a long time behind Scheckter, whose six-wheel Tyrrell proved to be very competitive on the Watkins Glen circuit; then, with an exemplary progression, he took the lead.


"I used the car for practice on Friday, and so in the thirty minutes before the start of the race I had to fine-tune the car more or less guessing. I changed the ailerons in the morning, the front one and the rear one, and I was able to balance the car roughly, but I didn't do anything with the fuel tanks. At the start the car looked pretty good, but after Ickx's accident it started to get worse. It was going from oversteer to understeer, and I knew I was going to have trouble with James as the race progressed".


There was a moment of uncertainty in Brown's lapping, and the South African took advantage of it to retake the lead. This success is a testament to Hunt's brilliant form, his determination to challenge for the world title. Hunt tonight can smile, toast, claim that he wins on the track.


"I gave Niki quite a gap didn't I?"


Lauda's rival made an excellent run, especially considering that the Austrian driver's courage becomes evident when, lifting his helmet, he shows the bloody under-helmet from the wounds that reopened on his face during the race. The Austrian driver and Ferrari are left with a hope called Japan: it is also true that the championship would have had an earlier conclusion if Lauda had not been the protagonist of the dramatic accident at the Nurburgring, a dramatic circumstance that blocked Ferrari's technical development, preventing it from opposing the McLaren attacks with its usual validity. After a brilliant start, due to the progressive deterioration of the grip of his car, Lauda could not join the challenge for the success between Hunt and Scheckter, and had to be content with the third place, progressively losing ground to the two leaders and even risking to be overtaken by Mass. It would have been really too bitter: it is a third place not to be despised, but on the other hand it is logical the disappointment that can assail the Maranello fans. For Regazzoni this was another negative race: the Swiss driver, after a lively initial phase, regressed - he too with grip problems and hindered by Stuck - and ended the US Grand Prix in seventh position. In Canada, at least, he had managed to finish sixth. In the Ferrari team, the bitterness is almost palpable, and the mediocre result of the car does not even compensate for the fact that Lauda is back at the height of his best days. The winner of the race, the Englishman Hunt, who seemed to be on his way to making his threat against Lauda a reality, played a witty game and claimed that what he would do from now until the decisive Japanese Grand Prix was his business. He is reminded that Lauda is still three points ahead of him, at which point Hunt comments:


"To eat those three points I'll only need three quarters of a mile in Japan".


After the race, the door of the caravan where the two drivers, Forghieri and the sporting director of the team, Audetto, stay closed for half an hour, and even the Austrian journalists remain outside, a sign of the heavy climate that reigns inside the caravan. Then Forghieri comes out and says with a technical and bored air:


"Up until lap 16, when Lauda was brilliantly making a comeback, the car went splendidly. Then the drop in weight due to fuel consumption completely changed the behaviour of the car, making it oversteer, and on some occasions even uncontrollable. The same thing happened to Clay's car. All that remains now is to work hard from now until the Japanese Grand Prix to do what we can. We are unable to determine to what extent the behaviour of the tires affected the result".


When the journalists finally expect to be able to talk to Lauda, the Austrian driver literally runs off to the helicopter that will take him from the racetrack to the hotel. The Austrian driver, who before the race had said:


"The World Championship is a very important thing, but the most important thing is to be alive".


He simply said after the race:


"I only hope to have in Japan a more efficient car, which will allow me to fight with a chance of success. A car that goes like in the first sixteen laps of today".


Clay Ragazzoni remains, because of his controversy against the jury to which he reproaches for not having seen and punished an alleged impropriety of Stuck who would have overtaken him when the yellow flags were shown. It seems to be Regazzoni's destiny to always end a race as a victim, or as a suspect, in the name of controversy.


"Everyone is always ready to reproach me for wrongdoings, as happened last year when Fittipaldi was furious with me because I wouldn't have let him pass, but when, like at Zandvoort or like here, the victim is me, no one moves a finger".


The journalists then exchange a few words with Ferrari's sporting director, Daniele Audetto, who appears clearly disappointed.


"I would have liked to give you good news".


Through the sporting director we learn of Lauda's bitter disappointment, who is clearly in a very bad mood, especially because of the contrast between the first laps of the race, when he was showing signs of being able to make a comeback over Hunt and Scheckter, and the second half, when he seemed to have changed car, losing power and ability to be on a par with the best. Lauda, adds Ferrari's sporting director, is disappointed with today's race but not with the World Championship, which he still considers perfectly within his grasp. Another one to add to the very long list of disappointments is Brambilla, who was stopped by an accident when he was fourth. While he was in fifth position, the Italian driver was closely followed by the French driver Laffite, who lost his wheels and sowed debris on the track. Brambilla arrived very fast where the debris of Laffite's car were, but he could do nothing to avoid the obstacles. The result was also for Brambilla the loss of a wheel and abandonment. The Italian driver also had harsh words for the race stewards, who would have had plenty of time and space to report the incident. The evening after the race is a melancholic moment: the winners of the eve are all defeated minus one. Fatigue compounds the disappointment, those who party are straining and making a little too much noise. This time there is an empty seat at the table, as there was the night before; that of Jackie lckx, who is in the hospital.


"I've had a lot of luck, no doubt about it. I was told what Fittipaldi reported that he was following me, and I think he saw everything well and remembers it. Now I'm here waiting for them to operate on me. Unfortunately, I can't do it right away because the two injured feet are still swollen. It will be necessary to wait for them to deflate, and in the meantime the doctors have completely cleaned the wounds. Next Monday the fracture in the big toe of my right foot will be reduced, with the application of a metal pin. It looks like I will lose mobility in my big toe, but it's not serious. What will be longer will be the skin graft that will have to be operated on, taking a piece of skin from the thigh. The burns on the right foot, and the heel, affect an area of about thirty square centimetres. The fracture in his left foot is minor, but they will cast him as well. I hope to be able to start walking again, on crutches, in November. And I hope to be able to start driving again, and therefore testing, in December".


Watkins Glen is particularly melancholic: everyone is in a collegiate retreat because the roads are clogged with runaway cars and the first caravans that are laying siege to the circuit, the restaurants treat even worse than usual customers who won't be back until next year anyway, and the small courts of the drivers' fans - the handful of wealthy Luganese for Regazzoni, the Brazilians loyal to Fittipaldi - melt away to dispose of their bitterness without making their loved ones notice it too much. What remains is a forced communion of minor characters wandering around restaurant taverns for drinks, and an interview with Vittorio Brambilla, who was fourth in the race until he stopped on the wreckage dumped by a car ahead of him. Vittorio is one of the last specimens of the greasy-handed driver, a mechanic and test driver, who grew up racing hard. Vittorio talks to the journalists at the restaurant Il fauno in Watkins Glen, cheered by the German driver Stuck who is having fun putting beer on his head, and by the high-pitched laughter of women and men looking for an adventure in extremis. An interview with Brambilla is absolutely not news and is therefore pleasant. Vittorio has a rough hand and a rough tongue: he can't hide a certain resentment towards the pilots who immediately reach the top. Vittorio has just announced the decision to leave his team, the March, because, he says, he took in three years a car that didn't even qualify and he brought it in the first rows, without being reciprocated for so much sacrifice. The news was in the air for a long time, but on Sunday the Italian driver made the announcement, so to speak, official. It is not yet known for whom Brambilla will race next season, but it is known that he is interested in various teams. For the Italian driver, a man of few words, it is an open and sincere outburst.


"In Monza, I have a garage and I can feed my children. I race for passion, for fun. Money is useful, but I'd rather give it up if I have to endure so much bitterness to stay in Formula 1. The March people would like me to stay with them. No, after Japan I will say goodbye to them. And many thanks".


The dream of Brambilla, who is almost thirty-nine years old and who won in '75 the Austrian Grand Prix with the March, would be to drive a Ferrari; therefore he will go knocking at Enzo Ferrari's door.


"In a couple of days I will be in Italy, and I will go to see the commendatore".


But he has no hope: neither Enzo Ferrari nor Gianni Agnelli have any intention of hiring Brambilla, since they are both looking for bigger and more advertising-oriented calibers, as well as less impetuous temperaments; Brambilla has a reputation as a car wrecker. But what will the Milanese driver say to the commander?


"That I'm here, that I'm available, that I'm ready because I'm almost thirty-nine years old and I don't have much time left to run, ahead of me".


But in the evening after the race also Brambilla's dreams go well to cheer up an environment where the bitterness of the defeated teams is heavy, while Hunt toasts with the mechanics, returning to explain to new interviewers the story of a life that seems beautiful to everyone because he wins. When he was twelve years old he took possession of his mother's car and immediately, as a just punishment, smashed it; then, as a teenager, he ended up in the lake with another car.


"They saved me the safety belts, because I didn't have them".


And he receives from his father the offer of twenty million to study to be a doctor.


"Dad, I only want ten, but to race cars".


First Canada, then the United States: for James Hunt and McLaren two Grand Prix and two victories, above all the confirmation of a happy moment that unites driver and car. For Niki Lauda and Ferrari, on the other hand, two disappointing races, with an eighth and a third place that seem to be poor relatives of the exciting results of the first part of the Formula 1 World Championship. The result of this North American trip is condensed in the world ranking: the Austrian, who on the eve of the Canadian Grand Prix had a seventeen point lead over the Englishman, today finds himself with a much less consistent margin of only three points. They could be enough for the decisive clash, scheduled for October 24 in Japan, on the unknown Fuji track, provided however that Lauda has a competitive car. At the end of the Watkins Glen race, drivers and technicians meet in the small motor-home rented for the Grand Prix, and a quick and stormy evaluation of the race is made. Then Lauda flies to Elmira-New York-Zurich, where his private plane awaits him on Monday. In the paddock people begin to say:


"Lauda has not yet fully found himself, his psychological means more than physical, and when he saw Jackie lckx's Ensign on fire he slowed down, while Regazzoni is about to leave Ferrari, he does not commit himself as he should".


On the part of others, still within the no longer so compact Maranello team, it is explained without much subterfuge that Lauda and Regazzoni are not to blame.


"The problem is technical. The car has set-up problems, and after about a third of the race it becomes very difficult to drive due to excessive oversteer: the drivers are forced to slow down the pace to avoid going off the road. At the base of this situation are a lesser compatibility between the suspensions and the new type of tires introduced by Goodyear starting from Nurburgring, as well as the impossibility to launch a valid updating program for Lauda's accident, with all that followed".


These are two interesting theses, to which, in any case, this consideration should be added: McLaren has reached a high level of efficiency, combining performance with remarkable reliability. Hunt in Canada and in the United States did not have the slightest problem, and he drove with an almost shameless confidence. Moreover, his engines are the best Cosworth in Formula 1, with shafts with reduced stroke, which equal the power of the Ferrari engine, and the six-speed gearbox adopted this year has given excellent results. The first thesis, logically supported by those who work more directly on the cars and do not want to admit to having been betrayed by their creatures, is not too persuasive. It is a purely psychological explanation, born from personal feelings, not from precise facts, and it can be easily countered. Lauda has always shown himself to be attentive, concentrated, lucid, while Regazzoni would have made false cards to put himself in the limelight, both with regard to Enzo Ferrari and his new bosses. It is said: but Lauda slowed down at the moment of the lckx accident, while Hunt and Scheckter continued as if nothing had happened. True, but Niki lost a second for only two laps, then he recovered. Perhaps, he simply observed the yellow flags with a little more scruple, perhaps he passed the track in less favourable conditions. Much more significant is the fact that the Austrian and Regazzoni - as already happened in Canada - went down almost at the same time towards lap 25, that is eleven laps after the Belgian left the track. The second explanation is more credible, simple and exhaustive: Goodyear, for cost reasons, limited more and more the types of tires, and at the same time, for safety reasons, opted for tires with a hard compound and rigid construction.


These tires proved to be more suitable for the British single-seaters and less so for the Ferraris. On British cars, which have most of their weight concentrated on the rear axle and use suspensions that allow the rear wheels to be more inclined, the tires heat up more quickly and allow perfect adherence to the ground. The more rational and intelligent distribution of weights towards the centre of the car, a characteristic of Ferrari, turned out to be an incredible handicap: the tires reach optimum temperature more slowly and tend to lose it either due to environmental conditions - the cold - or during the race with the progressive consumption of fuel. Fuel acts as ballast - positive - at the start of the race. The tires mounted on the McLaren reach a temperature of 220 degrees Fahrenheit, while those of the Ferrari only reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, because the 312 T2 has 36.5 percent of weight on the front, and the remaining 63.5 on the rear, while the McLaren is distributed differently, with 30 percent on the front and 70 percent on the rear; so, for the McLaren the transmissible weight for grip is equal to 1.40 of the total weight, while for the Ferrari it is equal to 1.27. Two details are interesting: in the pre-Grand Prix free practice, with a full tank, Lauda was the fastest and Regazzoni got the fourth time. The slowdown of the two drivers started with the lightening of the tanks and a drop in temperature on the Watkins Glen circuit: the sun was hidden by clouds for a few minutes and the track was taken over by a cold wind. At the end of the Watkins Glen race, curiously enough - by tradition - unusable parts of the car and/or objects such as overalls and work shirts are sold; but the prices of the objects made available by Ferrari drop in value, from 10 to 8 dollars per piece, while the pistons of Hunt's engine are sold at the exorbitant figure of 25 dollars per piece. This also shows how much Ferrari's valuations have dropped in a few days. 


"I rested my arm as much as possible, which is improving as the days go by. Now I can drive again, I don't know the track too well since I have never taken part in a real race here in Fuji but it is in any case a fast circuit, particularly suitable for powerful cars".


At this point, and with these premises, we would need a magic wand; but don't they say that Enzo Ferrari is the magician of Maranello?


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