With Jody Scheckter’s retirement and the second place of Niki Lauda in the Italian Grand Prix won by Mario Andretti, the Formula 1 World Championship has been closed in Monza. Lauda is the virtual winner and in the next events of USA, Canada and Japan will just have to offer a mathematical imprimatur to this title. For a chapter that closes, another opens: Tuesday, September 13, 1977 in Modena, in the headquarter of the old Scuderia Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari will exhibit the new programs for the 1978 and will express his thoughts about the divorce with Lauda. With a simple and linear run, almost boring for those who were on the edge of the track, Andretti conquered in Monza his fourth success of the year. The Italian-American, 37 years old, wife, three children, has overtaken with his Lotus the McLaren of James Hunt after two laps and the Wolf of Scheckter after ten, going safely to the finish line. For Mario, who doesn’t forget being born in Italy, an affirmation of particular value, worthy of that obtained in 1967 at Indianapolis. But there's a goal that Andretti hasn’t reached yet, the World title of Formula 1.
"It’s the dream of my life as a driver".
A dream that Mario could have concretized this year thanks to the competitivity of the Lotus, car number one of the championship in terms of performance, in particular in the medium-fast circuits, but has vanished for three reasons: first of all Andretti has lost lots of opportunities to win for too much of a hurry, like in the case of Belgium and the Netherlands, where he has been starring of crashes with John Watson (Brabham-Alfa) and Hunt; the Lotus has made some banal mistakes, like in Sweden, where the Italian-American driver has run out of fuel to some laps to the end of the race while he was leading; the technical crisis of Cosworth hasn’t saved the British team; Mario, in the crucial mid-season phase, has been repetitively stopped by the failure of the engine. To Andretti and the Lotus, basically, has been lacking from one side the tactical intelligence of Lauda and on the other the reliability of Ferrari. Niki Lauda, in addition to having won three times, has built this second title with patience, cunning and, at times, luck (or, if you prefer, the exploitation prompt and notice of the gullibility of others). Unexpected successes and precious positions have been followed by an incredible continuity. Suffice it to recall that out of thirteen races held (in Spain the Austrian didn’t get on track due to pain in his rib), Lauda crossed the finish line eleven times, always taking points. Even Sunday in Monza the almost World Champion has disputed a race without particular elances, but precise and opportunistic and, another time, he has reason. The engine of Scheckter’s Wolf has collapsed, Hunt has retired for brakes issues after having lost every chances in a banal spin, Reutemann - tenace e grintoso like rarely you’ve seen him - hasn’t been capable of miss, like Lauda, the oil left on track by the McLaren of the unlucky rookie Bruno Giacomelli and has finished off track.
Lauda also confided to Andretti (the two embraced after lining their cars in the parc fermé of Monza at the end of the Grand Prix) of not being able to push more because the engine wasn’t very bright and that he was amazed by the enthusiasm of Reutemann. Perhaps, if the Argentinian hadn't gone off track, we could have seen a family fight a bit absurd, seeing the circumstances. And we say family because the Austrian is a Maranello driver until October 30, 1977. However, Niki Lauda now has 27 points of advantage on Scheckter. Since the winner of every race takes 9 points, the South African could reach Lauda (and then beat him for the highest number of confirmations, 5 vs 3, like established by the rules in case of equality) only by winning in the USA, in Canada and in Japan. But it is not enough: the Austrian, simultaneously, couldn’t even collect a single point, that is a sixth place. The speech, then, is purely theoretical. Lauda and Ferrari now have the World Championship. They’ve done it with more luck and more merit than in 1975, a season where everything was easier. This time the driver and the team have faced difficult and suffering times, complicated by a technical crisis - solved thanks to the generous commitment of every man - and by a morality issue in the divorce between the Austrian and the Scuderia Ferrari. A separazione that puzzles and bitterly shocks too valid and beautiful having proved in these four years the union between the young Viennese ace and the Scuderia Ferrari. Lauda’s future is still uncertain, while the Ferrari one will be announced soon.
The meeting of Enzo Ferrari, like always, it’s awaited with interest and sympathy for this vigorous young man born in 1898 who follows with inalterable passion and acumen stories about his Scuderia and of the competition in general. It’s presumibile that Ferrari will answer to Lauda’s motivations about the divorce, in particular to that alleged lack of affection highlighted in various shapes by the Austrian driver; that confirmed the re-engagement of Reutemann and the hiring of Eddie Cheever, the young American driver based in Rome lightning himself in Formula 2; that announces for next year the debut in a car with new features, worth of the Maranello’s tradition; that shows some projects, like the one of the supercharged engine; that reiterate the Ferrari’s support to friends teams for a customize Formula 2 programme for Cheever, who would been promoted to the highest formula only in 1979, at least under continues way. And Andretti? Yes, perhaps Ferrari could even announce that the Italian-American is destined to substitute Lauda. Mario’s candidacy has gained momentum, even because Walter Wolf, the Canadian billionaire of Austrian origin, seems now determined not to give up Scheckter, who is stalling. On the market, however, there’s Ronnie Peterson, the Swedish disappointed by the Tyrrell of 6 wheels. Whoever is Lauda’s substitute, one fact is sure. His commitment will be doubly demanding: first, because he will replace Niki Lauda, second, because he will have the honor of driving a Ferrari. The Italian-American left Monza on Monday evening after celebrating the victory of the Italian Grand Prix and had stopped to sleep at the Agip Motel in Modena.
“I go to Ferrari because I have been officially invited. My relations with the Commendatore and the whole team have always been great. I will hear what he has to propose to me for 1978. For now, I haven't signed any contract, neither with Lotus nor with others. I add that my commitments in the USA have been limited to a few races and that my goal remains the Formula 1 World Championship. Unfortunately, this year I’ve missed it. It’s logical that I’ll try again”.
During the morning of Tuesday, September 13, 1977 takes to the track, in Fiorano, the young American Cheever, Roman by adoption, aboard a Ferrari 312 T2. Cheever took part in Imola the September 25, 1977 to a Grand Prix not valid for the World Championship. The nineteen year old driver did only a few laps, before the car crashed due to a breakdown. Finally, in the afternoon Reutemann arrives also. The Argentinian carries out a series of scheduled tests in collaboration with Goodyear. While Cheever’s tests in Fiorano, in Monza exploded the green berets’ scandal, the private police service used in many racetracks in Europe, in particular in Monza, where it was involved in serious accidents. The green berets are a group of 40 ex para framed in the Brigade de Sureté canine armed with green batons and flanked by forty wolf dogs, under the orders of a certain Mr. Grondati, stationed in Toulon. A paramilitar body, they were blue jeans as uniforms, and green berets complete with insignia. They have been hired by the Milan Automobile Club since last year to protect the racing teams. The incident that focused attention on this private police and made a case of it, is the complaint of an Austrian citizen, the 26-year-old Philips engineer Hubert Deutz, from Andelsbuch, hospitalized in Monza hospital with injuries to the head, legs and a laceration in the left eyebrow arch which required plastic surgery. He was found to be curable in eight days. The engineer said he was attacked by the green berets and was bitten on the night between Saturday and Sunday by their dogs.
"Saturday afternoon I regularly entered the Monza racetrack with a ticket. Around midnight I was walking with a Swiss friend of mine from St. Gallen near a gate. I was confronted by a patrol of these men who wanted to see the ticket. I had them in the car. They tried to get me away from the gates while my friend went to get them. I took some batons and I reacted. Then they released the dogs, one of which bit me in the leg. I fell and these men flew at me hitting me with fists, kicks and batons".
The Automobile Club of Milan, for its part, has released a version of the chief of the mercenaries, quite surprising: the Deutz was drunk and would have tried to enter the racetrack without a ticket. He denied that his men used the truncheon and pointed out that the perfectly trained dogs just dropped him to the ground without damage. The manners of the vigilantes, however, are today under accusation: they used their hasty manners even against journalists who tried to reach Niki Lauda after the Italian Grand Prix. Even a track commissioner would have threatened to have recourse to the green berets’ dogs to drive away the engineer Nosetto who was in the Ferrari pits:
"If he doesn’t go I’ll have the dogs come".
But Nosetto replied:
"No one has ever had the courage to send the dogs against Ferrari. These should be the guardians of our interests".
The best way to follow an automobile Grand Prix is certainly to sit down with a drink in front of the television. If the shot is valid, if the information is accurate (this unfortunately is not always the case of Italian television) the spectator, the fan, can enjoy the show in detail, realize what is happening on track. The accidents, the overtakes, the decisive episodes do not escape a careful eye and in the end you can have an exact idea of the progress of the race. This is the impressione one gets after years of activity not only related to motorsport. But, there’s always a but, whoever is satisfied with the comfortable seat at home will never know what is really a Grand Prix, what it means go to Monza on the day where the racing cars of Formula 1 run. Print media, which is subject to competition from television, is a tough job. You have to endure the long queues to enter the circuit, the difficulties in getting around the track, from early morning to evening. In general, when you have the opportunity to form a team, the tasks are divided: one in the pits to see what happens in the stops of the cars, which are the orders of the stables, one ready for interviews, another in the stands for follow the carousel of the protagonists and then again, if there are still people available, it takes people in the crucial points of the track, in the most dangerous curves. In the end we all meet and the race is reconstructed to reveal to the interested, the background of a show that is not always possible to understand. If a reporter, therefore, does not have direct commitments on the progress of the race, he can go around the circuit and realize what lies behind this huge circus which on Sunday in Monza had at least 200.000 spectators. First of all, it must be said that there are many people who see nothing.
The race, the cars that travel very fast on the track are not interesting. They are distant, unapproachable. Someone does not even try to get close to the circuit. Young and old, women and children, the fans wander with their eyes fixed on the meadows, the woods, especially along the networks that divide the privileged who are in contact with the pilots from mere mortals. Police, carabinieri, special paramilitary corps with ferocious wolf dogs are on guard so that no one enters the circuit. Obviously they can't. The boys jump over the nets and arrive in the pits, friends, relatives have special cards, cards that travel from one hand to the other passing through the nets, so that with a single coupon (when there are no fake ones) they can let dozens of people in. After all, there is not even too much resistance. The circus wants its entourage: beautiful girls with extravagant attires, people of all kinds, curious, characters. Behind the stands, autograph seekers gather, who then, more often than not, have to limit themselves to seeing their favorites from afar, shouting their name in vain. The sponsors, that is, the companies that pay drivers and technicians, who support the various manufacturers, compete to stand out. T-shirts of all colors with incredible advertising writings, hostesses who distribute stickers, invitations to lunch and dinner for everyone. To have the most famous characters in their boxes, you can eat for free almost everywhere. At Marlboro you can meet Agostini with his blonde girlfriend who talks to Hunt, at Ligier-Gitanes they give cigarettes, at Parmalat there is Lauda at the table with Marlene, Fittipaldi who talks to Clay Regazzoni, at Alfa Romeo they cook wonderful grilled steaks, while the engineer Chiti and Bernie Ecclestone prepare the future of Brabham.
At Magneti Marelli there are color TVs to follow the races, at Ferodo you can drink refinedly, at Fiat you can climb the tower that dominates a large part of the Monza park. There is only the difficulty of choice. Some organize shows with bands and majorettes, others give precious gifts. A babel of languages, a hullabaloo of displacements, of people moving at a perpetual rhythm from one box to another. Outside, in the woods, people drink wine from the bottle, have breakfast in the morning at seven with a beer, camp with tents for the night. They say that at least 100,000 people spent the hours between Saturday evening and Sunday morning in Monza, wandering around the stands where flags, T-shirts and hats are sold, sleeping under a tree, lying in a meadow. Then when the time for the race arrives, most of them massing into the most spectacular points of the circuit with tremendous dangers, climbing on every building that can guarantee a better view or, at least, not to remain in the crowd. So then tragedies happen, like the one of the collapsed billboard with deaths and injuries. But the fans seem careless in front of any danger. After the accident, the loudspeakers repeatedly asked people to get out of precarious places: no one moved. The ritual of the Grand Prix must be carried out to the end, even with its dramas. If one were to think about these facts with a minimum of conscience, one would have to ask oneself the reason for all this, the reason for this collective madness, why people go to car races where they don’t see and won’t see anything.
Maybe they’re the stars, the Niki Laudas, the Mario Andrettis, the James Hunts who attract the crowd, perhaps the Ferrari, with its charm, with its myth of an unreachable car that attracts 200.000 people for a day different from the others. In this whole world with its sometimes bleak background, perhaps the only factor that has reason to exist, assuming that human progress has any real value, comes from the fact that Formula 1 is the field of action of the most advanced automotive experimentation, of the avant-garde technique. In the middle of the incredible confusion, technicians, engineers, scientists try their latest innovations, their inventions that will then be applied in everyday life, not just for cars. A bit like it happens in aerospace research where the launch of a rocket towards unknown shores is not an end in itself. But let's go back to the main issue: who will replace Lauda? The protagonists of the story are Enzo Ferrari, Mario Andretti and Jody Scheckter. Now we just have to wait. It is probably a matter of hours, given that Enzo Ferrari will speak with reporters. Someone says that the Commendatore will not discover all his papers but will limit himself to clarifying some aspects of what has happened so far and above all he will explain the divorce with Lauda. But a meeting with Enzo Ferrari can always be a surprise. The most important question will be about Lauda's replacement. Who will be the driver who will join Carlos Reutemann next season? The names made in these days are many, but the shortlist of candidates, all in all, is getting smaller and smaller. The first on the list is Mario Andretti, winner in Monza. The Italian-American driver is in Maranello and has tested the 312 T2. Simple curiosity or an interesting visit? The second hypothesis is more to be believed. Andretti is certainly interested in going to Ferrari for several reasons: for a financial question, for the prestige it would have, for the technical guarantees that the Maranello team can undoubtedly offer. Assuming that Andretti can actually please Ferrari. So what prevents the conductor of Trieste origin from signing the contract immediately?
There are certainly the pressures of Colin Chapman who wants to confirm him at Lotus, there’s the recall of a car that has proved to be more than competitive and then there are the American problems of Mario, who doesn’t want to give up American racing as he probably should do, if he accepted the engagement. Therefore he’ll be who will set the conditions. If the deal doesn’t go through, there are several solutions left. There is Jody Scheckter who has always been one of Enzo Ferrari's most admired drivers but in this case different combinations should be verified for the South African driver to join the Italian team. If Lauda, for example, agreed with Wolf, instead of Brabham, the Canadian billionaire would no longer have any objections to Scheckter's departure, but he is not willing to let go if Niki doesn’t arrive. Ronnie Peterson is also on the market, but the Swede, all in all, has done so far very little to deserve the call of Ferrari. Young people remain: there is a lot of talk about Gilles Villeneuve, the young Canadian who has been highlighted in some races. But it is a leap in the dark. The word, therefore, to Enzo Ferrari. It is up to him to clear up any doubts. If the main theme of the meeting held on Tuesday, September 13, 1977 in Modena by Enzo Ferrari is the divorce between the Maranello team and Niki Lauda, other topics emerge in the two and a half hours of discussion and traditional blowback between the manufacturer and the journalists. From the Ferrari plans for 1978 (just mentioned, however) to the name of the Austrian driver's replacement (who remained mysterious), from the judgements on the International Sports Commission to tire problems, and others. Ferrari will continue its Formula 1 activity with a car - the 312 T3 - which is expected to be very competitive. In fact, Enzo Ferrari says:
"This is an inedit car, currently under investigation. Obviously there is no new single-seater that does not retain something of the previous versions".
On the other hand, there is no program in the silhouettes or sport sector.
"There’s no time, the costs are too high and there's a lack of specialized personnel".
Confirmed the interest for Formula 2, considered like a training ground for young drivers.
"Let’s follow soccer's example, we create a nursery".
A friendly team will be supplied the Dino Ferrari engines for British-made chassis, as indeed has already partially happened this year. Again there is that this team will have to make use of two young people appreciated in Maranello and that is Elio De Angelis and Eddie Cheever. A 1978 of experience for an eventual jump to Formula 1 in the following year. The team of Maranello will continue to explore the road of the supercharged engine. Now are ongoing tests with the old six-cylinders of 1500 horsepower, which will be followed by a new engine with turbocharger. Ferrari declares also that the divorce with Lauda has been for him a surprise blow, almost a betrayal. The fact now complicates the situation.
"I’m still not in the condition to tell you how we will be made up the team in 1978. However, even if I didn’t make him sign the contract yet, Carlos Reutemann will be renewed. There are some ongoing negotiations, but nothing concrete. I would sell smoke if I mentioned names".
Essentially, a double path opens up for Ferrari: to hire, if possible, an established champion like Mario Andretti or Ronnie Peterson, or to find a young Lauda, so a driver like Niki was in 1973 when he was hired by Scuderia Ferrari. A boy who promised well, but nothing more. In this regard, it seems that the number one candidate could be the Canadian Villeneuve, on which, by the way, the McLaren would have an option for next year. It’s clear that Ferrari would love Andretti, but the commitments of the Italian American are too much, in particular in the United States. The deal is difficult. On the other hand, Jody Scheckter’s candidacy has fallen permanently. Ferrari has read a long text of Peter Warr, Wolf’s manager, and of Walter Wolf, where the two have informed the Italian constructor to have a solid contract with Scheckter for 1978 and an option for the following season.
"We don’t want drivers who already have commitments. We will be glad to engage Scheckter the day he will be free".
Ferrari reveals that Wolf, before the Italian Grand Prix, has asked for a pairing with Parmalat, offering an option on Lauda. Is it the truth or it’s the history of Wolf to hook the rich Emilian company? Parmalat, really active on the market, has asked Ferrari for a car for Fittipaldi, but the answer has been negative. Very harsh was Enzo Ferrari’s judgment on the International Sports Commission (CSI), defined as:
"Powerless and unable to enforce the sporting regulations. What happened in Monza, with all the drivers admitted to testing, had the flavor of capitulation".
The lack of authority by the CSI and the massive entry of the sponsor in Formula 1 are at the basis, according to Ferrari, of the moral degeneration of the world of Grand Prizes.
"The CSI has been allowed to remove from the cars the national color and to substitute the name of the constructor, the sponsor one. A shame".
Regarding the tyres, Enzo Ferrari declares:
"The tyres affect Ferrari, because we’re obliged to mount coperture adapted to other cars. To make us win the championship, Goodyear needs simply to respect the contract and fornire the adacted tyres. Now there’s Michelin, with whom we had collaborated in the past. A comeback of Pirelli in Formula 1 is talked about. Everything is possible, but we can’t make short-term plans at the moment".
But Michelin, for example, would be willing to reach an agreement with Ferrari?
"It’s obvious that Ferrari will remain with Goodyear also in 1978, for better or worse".
It’s interesting to note the climb of Pirelli that, after having dominated in the Rally, passed to experiments in sports cars with Alfa Romeo and is now about to take the big leap. Changing the subject, there’s often talk about an Alfa Romeo-Ferrari duel, sometimes small controversies arise between the men of the two teams. But Enzo Ferrari is sharp in his judgment:
"With Alfa I won’t ever enter into polemics, I’m born in Alfa, never could I say a word against my mother. I’m not like some drivers or technicians that leave their Home and then don’t recognise their virtues".
All here, in the basic lines. We can add that Bernie Ecclestone, the owner of Brabham-Alfa Romeo and the head of the Formula 1 Constructors' Association, was spoken of:
"A man of formidable activism, who does what others don’t".
Of the unfairnesses that some drivers do in the races:
"The stewards don’t have the strength to take action".
Of the Formula 1 regulations:
"Change it? Maybe, but it’s a topic that I haven’t taken into consideration".
And of the Imola race on September 25, 1977:
"For us, Cheever will go".
Returning for a second to the topic about Niki Lauda, during the conference Enzo Ferrari declares:
"I had faith in him, so he made me look like a fool".
This was one of the many phrases with which Enzo Ferrari talks about Niki Lauda. The Modenese manufacturer was expected to announce the name of the driver destined to replace the Austrian driving the Ferrari 312 T3, but the elderly manager preferred to clarify the story of the divorce from his side. Even if Ferrari's words weren't particularly harsh, Lauda came out of the whole speech as a fairly ambiguous figure, attached to money, unable to justify his action. But what mattered most to Enzo Ferrari was perhaps to downsize the figure of the driver and re-evaluate that of the car.
"Forget computers, even Lauda had his limits. He was stubborn, precise, meticulous, but when it came to making suggestions, proposing a change, he didn’t know what to say, he was just unhappy, shaking his head".
This is true indeed. It happened several times to observe Niki during the official and free practices: Forghieri had to take the words out of his mouth and he was not always able to get an explanation of what exactly he wanted from the car. The manufacturer then makes a rather important reference to the market that operates around the drivers and its protagonists, saying that they have the grace of the salami mediators. Ferrari in fact never wanted that on its cars to appear sponsors’ writings that weren’t directly linked to car production and official Scuderia Ferrari suppliers. Only the drivers have on their overalls the sponsor of brands that have nothing to do with motoring. Someone claims that, in every case, Lauda’s escape from Ferrari took place civilly, with some possibilities from the Austrian to return to Maranello if one day he feels it appropriate. But Enzo Ferrari excludes this possibility.
"Life taught me to not believe in the fable of the prodigal son".
Back home, after having won last Sunday the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Wednesday September 14 1977 Mario Andretti puts aside the reserve maintained in recent days about his contracts with Ferrari and clarifies the negotiations with Scuderia Ferrari. The Italian American says he has time until Tuesday, September 20 1977 to decide whether or not to race for Ferrari in 1978. Andretti specifies that until a week ago he was almost convinced that he could not accept the offer. Ferrari normally engages its drivers exclusively while Mario does not disdain to participate, from time to time, in races such as the Indy 500. Talks with Ferrari managers would have dispelled such fears.
"They told me that they would allow me to participate in any competition that does not create conflicts with the Formula 1 World Championship; also, if I don’t want to, I won’t have to live in Italy. In short, they accepted all my requests".
Meanwhile, on Thursday, September 11, 1977, the long story between Niki Lauda, Ferrari, Bernie Ecclestone, Brabham, Alfa Romeo, Martini and Parmalat officially ended. At the Parmalat on Court, a tennis tournament organized by the company of Parma at the Holiday Inn, on the ancient Aurelia, in Rome, where from Tuesday, September 13, 1977 there are Verini, Munari, Regazzoni, Hunt, Brambilla, Patrese, Laffite, Fittipaldi and Leoni, as well as personalities from the Italian show business, during a conference held at 5:00 p.m., Niki Lauda - called to referee at the tournament finale - announces that next year is going to drive for the team of Bernie Ecclestone, the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, that will be sponsored by Parmalat, which takes the place of Martini. What was expected in the previous days has promptly come true and the announcement has been given in Rome during a press conference held at the Holiday Inn where, in these days, a singular tennis tournament between actors and drivers promoted by the same Emilian company was held. A press release has been issued announcing the establishment of the Parmalat Racing team which in 1978 and 79 will participate in the Formula 1 World Championship with the Anglo-Italian cars. For 1978 the drivers are going to be, indeed, Lauda and Watson. In this sense, Dr. Domenico Barili, commercial director of the dairy company declares:
"After the successes obtained in other sports, we plan to propose ourselves again in motoring alongside two brands, Brabham and Alfa, already established and with drivers of the caliber of Lauda and Watson who certainly do not need any introduction. Financing the team costs us about one billion lire. We do not yet know what colors the cars will be painted with, whether with our corporate colors, white, light blue and blue, or whether we will keep the red which is the national color for racing cars. We will also continue with the personal sponsorship policy for drivers and particularly in favor of young Italians".
At this point the most awaited character enters the room: Niki Lauda. The Austrian driver arrived in Rome two hours earlier, just in time to freshen up, discuss the details of the press conference with Calisto Tanzi and wear the t-shirt with the new sponsor’s logo. After the assault of photographers and cameramen, Lauda replies to a journalist of RAI, the Italian television, who immediately calls him a servant of advertising.
"I’m happy to be a servant of Parmalat advertising. I’m happy with this new agreement, which has allowed me to enter an excellent team, with a revolutionary car, a good engine and a sponsor that suits me".
Then, turning to Domenico Barili, Lauda whispers:
"Great asshole that journalist, he is a servant of advertising too. Who pays for his television and his newspaper? Where does he live, on the moon?"
Some days ago Ferrari said that you are a betrayer. What do you think?
"Ferrari has done a lot for our sport, he can tell me what he wants and I don’t take offense. He can also call me stupid, but for me it’s the same. I’ll continue to respect him. Forghieri, of whom it was said that I wanted to kick him out, he’s a genius who has done a lot for the team of Maranello. Of course he has a difficult character and getting along with him is not the easiest thing. This wasn’t the real problem".
So what was it?
"He was the managerial lead of the team. With Montezemolo things went in the best way; then came Audetto, a person of the job, prepared, and it was fine. This year, with Nosetto, there’s been a lot of confusion. For example, what happened in Monza during the recent Italian Grand Prix can give you an idea of what kind of person he was: before the race, which for me was the most important of the season, I asked Nosetto if Reutemann was on my side or if I had to consider him an opponent. Nosetto confirmed that Reutemann would help me. In the race, however, I only managed to pass him when he had problems with the car. After the Grand Prix, in an interview on Austrian television, Nosetto said that Ferrari does not have first guides, but that the drivers can do their own race. If he told me before, I would have adapted to considering Reutemann like any other opponent. We are professionals and respect professionalism. For this I want to thank all the mechanics, and in particular my chief mechanic Cuoghi, because in recent years they have always given their best professionally. But at Ferrari there are also the Nosettos, who are amateurs. This is the real reason why I left Ferrari, hoping not to have the same problem at Brabham".
What do you think of the Brabham BT46?
"I can't say because I haven't tried it yet. Certainly there will be work to be done because it is a new machine, with interesting solutions. I will test it after the expiry of the contract with Ferrari".
When did you reach the agreement with Bernie Ecclestone?
"I had talked to Ecclestone many times, but I gave him the final handshake after the Dutch Grand Prix. I delayed the announcement because Parmalat also had its problems to solve".
While the Parmalat party continues throughout the evening, the first rumors about the turnover between Niki Lauda, Brabham, Alfa Romeo and Parmalat are already beginning to circulate. According to reliable sources, the Emilian company has tied up with the English team for two years, pledging to pay 3.000.000 dollars. Lauda would receive 350.000 dollars from Parmalat and 270.000 indirectly from Alfa Romeo, which would operate a discount to Brabham on engine overhauls, a discount (4000 dollars per engine) that would end up to the Austrian. Lauda again: it seems that he must have 80,000 dollars from Goodyear and 100.000 from Marlboro (cigarettes) and Romerquelle (mineral water). Overall, Niki would have a whopping 800.000 dollars for a year. This operation arouses perplexity especially as regards Parmalat, which has to export a huge amount of money, and Alfa Romeo itself. While on the field the protagonist of the scene Vittorio Gassman and the seducer of the tracks James Hunt play with Guido Oddo and Maurizio Verini, winning the challenge and two beautiful sculptures by Francesco Messina, Niki Lauda answers for the first time to the questions and the microphones of a press conference after the solo by Commendatore Enzo Ferrari. All in a tour of cameras, cameras, paparazzi unleashed in search of the forbidden shot. From Sydne Rome to the second-rate actress easily available at the first call of James Hunt, the sexiest of the Formula 1 drivers. But he, the supersex of the driving, cares little about Niki, his accusations against Nosetto, in the fight field under the orders of Gassman who guides him with great skill from the bottom, giving advice with a thundering and imperious voice.
Hunt, at a bad start with the rubber shoes, who would always be barefoot, confirms himself as the strongest, well set in the shots, even if he refuses to wear the regular shorts, preferring a tiny bathing brief for greater excitement of the female audience present. The actress, in search of notoriety to steal some attention and some shots of film, is forced to price two handsome hunks to be thrown dressed in the pool. So she then has the opportunity to walk for a long time in the hotel lobby with a tiny thong and a T-shirt with the inevitable Parmalat advertising image while waiting for the dresser to dry her transparent dress. The sorrows for Enzo Ferrari are not limited to the abandonment of Niki Lauda. On Tuesday, September 20, 1977, during a press conference, the Automobile Club Bologna announced the suspension of the Formula 1 race scheduled for Sunday, September 25 1977 in Imola as the Formula 1 Dino Ferrari European Cup. Unfortunately, after the confirmation of Friday 16 September 1977, when the doubt about the participation of Brabham-Alfa Romeo had been happily resolved, on Monday, September 19, 1977 the communications of the defections of the drivers group of the English teams not part of the Formula 1, in addition to that of Jean-Pierre Jarier, who had to race with a Ligier-Matra. All this after ch. Enzo Ferrari had agreed to bring to Imola a second Ferrari with Carlos Reutemann. The final blow to the race was, at the end of the Monza Grand Prix, the announcement that the CSI declared itself opposed to the European trophy of which the Imola race was to be the prefiguration, postponing the discussion of the project, which it did not find the support - already assured - of the international representatives of Italian nationality at the Roman meetings of the CSI.
The organizing committee of the Dino Ferrari Cup could perhaps have attempted the running of the race by completing the starting grid with Formula 2 cars. But precisely in the spirit and meaning of the scheduled event, as well as with respect for the public and the official Ferrari teams themselves and Brabham-Alfa Romeo, the decision was made to suspend the race. ACI Bologna thanks the drivers and teams who have maintained their membership, and the sponsors Marlboro, Agip and Renault who would have completed the event with an Italian championship test. ACI Bologna is committed to bring Formula 1 to Imola now that the Dino Ferrari racetrack is in full efficiency in all aspects. For this purpose, the project for an alternative Formula 1 trophy will be maintained with the immediate calling of a group of interested European organizers. A request for a new date will be immediately forwarded in the already very busy international calendar of 1978: probably in March or April. At the same time, Automobile Club Bologna asks the president of CSAI that also in Italy could apply from next year the rotation of the Italian Grand Prix, saying that it can't remain the unique heritage of a single racetrack. As if it wasn’t enough, on Wednesday, September 21, 1977 the news arrives that Mario Andretti would not go to Ferrari to replace Niki Lauda. This was announced by the British manufacturer Colin Chapman, owner of the Lotus team. With a brief press release, the British team made it known among other things that it has already renewed the contract for 1978 to the Italian-American driver who will continue to compete for John Player's Lotus. This news should eliminate one of the men who were considered among the most likely engagements by the Maranello team.
Meanwhile, in Fiorano, Niki Lauda tests for the last time on Ferrari's private track. It is not excluded that Enzo Ferrari, after having received the communication regarding Andretti, will make a decision today for the driver to choose for next year. The rumors that Carlos Reutemann would be the first guide flanked by the young Eddie Cheever are becoming more and more insistent. How is the driver market going after Andretti and Scheckter's no to Ferrari? In London, Gunnar Nilsson's departure from Lotus is taken for granted for two reasons; because he aspires to be promoted to number one in another team, which should be Shadow, and because Chapman is now with little money, having had to use many more to secure Andretti again. The most likely contender for Lotus' second seat is Rupert Keegan, again for two reasons. Sponsor John Player is pressuring Chapman to include an English driver in the team, as McLaren has been doing for some time with Marlboro as its main sponsor. The second reason is, in this case, due to the high price that Lotus imposes on the aspirants to the second drive. There is talk of 160.000 pounds. The candidate who offers both requirements is precisely the twenty-two-year-old Londoner Keegan, whose father has earned billions with trucking and would be willing to lend the sum requested by Lotus. Contrary to what was previously believed, John Watson's situation is not yet defined. The Northern Irishman may have had second thoughts after Lauda's arrival at Brabham. Ecclestone has confirmed that he has an option on Watson for another year, but the contract has not yet been signed. To those who asked him for more details, Ecclestone replies:
"It is not yet certain that Watson will stay with us next season, but it is likely. If I go away I'll keep Stuck".
Ecclestone also likes Riccardo Patrese. There are those in London who proposed the possibility of Watson at Ferrari. Speaking of Ferrari, the Australian Alan Jones, winner in Zeltweg and third in Monza, would have been visiting Maranello in recent days. This would seem to confirm that his place at Shadow as the first guide will become free. News is expected from Ensign if it will be able to sign an advertising contract with Marlboro. In this case, the team will still be led by Regazzoni, alongside whom Bruno Giacomelli should make his debut, as long as the latter manages to free himself from the option he has with March. The Bicester company has already sold to the German ATS the workshops it has in Rendimi for the preparation of the Formula 1 engine. On the strength of this agreement, March hopes to be able to take over Jochen Mass in turn which, while having close ties with ATS, he cannot race with the latter, which is supported by the German Ford, in order not to jeopardize the important contract he has with Porsche. And the other drivers? Tambay will go to McLaren, supporting Hunt. Villeneuve has an option with McLaren but will easily get the green light for a year if he wants to. Ferrari and Tyrrell have shown some interest in the Canadian driver, but he is still looking for accommodation.
Depailler, after numerous denials, signed for Tyrrell for another year obtaining the title of number one. The choice for the second guide will probably fall on the promising Frenchman Didier Pironi. Ronnie Peterson was therefore released. With the help of his Italian patron, he is looking for a place in some teams, including Ferrari. Shares of the Swede, however, are on the downside. Finally, Emerson Fittipaldi revealed that he had received proposals from Ferrari and Lotus, but reaffirmed that he will remain in his brother's team to make the Brazilian car more competitive, with Copersucar or, if necessary, with another sponsor. The Brazilian said that Carlos Reutemann, with the departure of Lauda, will be the first Ferrari driver and Jones the second. Jones is a well-priced racer but with a name to build. With the move to Ferrari, the same story of Lauda could be repeated, taken when he was not yet famous but with good technical qualities. A whole week passes before the Scuderia Ferrari decides to announce on Tuesday, September 27, 1977 that Gilles Villeneuve will be the new driver replacing Niki Lauda.
"Ferrari today concluded the negotiations with Gilles Villeneuve that began on 29 August 1977 with the visit to Maranello of the driver whom the Marlboro interest had released from any active commitments with another manufacturer. The rider will begin his collaboration by participating in the next Canadian and Japanese Grand Prix".
After a whirlwind of famous names - from Mario Andretti to Jody Scheckter, from Emerson Fittipaldi to Alan Jones, from John Watson to Ronnie Peterson - here comes a young Canadian with high hopes, Gilles Villeneuve. It is not a surprise, because the name of Villeneuve has been around for some time and the interest of the Maranello team for this driver who made his debut in Formula 1 in July in England was well known. According to the traditional style of Ferrari, the name of the person elected was kept secret until the end, perhaps to avoid any second thoughts as in the case of Andretti or to not induce Villeneuve to raise the claims for the engagement. So much so that during the afternoon of Tuesday, September 27, 1977 the Canadian, expected by the hour in Maranello and late for air strikes, was indicated, to those who inquired, as the driver. And in recent days it has come to the point of requesting a kind of blackout in order not to disturb the negotiations. A little ridiculous, isn't it? After the announcement made by Colin Chapman to Enzo Ferrari, all that remains is to fall back on the hiring of Gilles Villeneuve. The Canadian, after two days of air travel, arrives in Italy.
Collected at the Malpensa Airport, in Milan, Villeneuve - together with his manager Gaston Parent - is brought to Maranello by Enrico Mortara; this latter, friend of Enzo Ferrari, is the only one who can speak English. Villeneuve sits down in the back seat of the car, and in the long ride he’s resting, waiting to reach Trento Trieste street, in Modena, where the historic headquarters of Scuderia Ferrari are located and where Ferrari himself awaits him, in company by Piero Lardi and the deputy general manager, Ermanno Della Casa. Enzo Ferrari awaits the two, but will talk mostly with his manager, offering him a copy of the verbal agreement signed a few weeks earlier. Ferrari speaks to Gilles' manager in Italian, and the dialogue is translated by an interpreter. The two confirm that Mayer has released Gilles Villeneuve from the contract and the option. The proposal that Ferrari makes to Villeneuve is equal to a fee of 50.000 dollars. The negotiation sees as guarantor Aleandro Buzzi, the deputy director of European operations of Marlboro. The negotiation is interrupted for a moment when Parent asks as a condition for the signature that Villeneuve is free to carry out personal activities. Ferrari replies, and asks Parent:
"Are you a lawyer?"
Parent replies no. The same question is also addressed to Villeneuve, and when he receives once again a negative answer, Ferrari calms down and accepts this condition. However, noting how easily this request was accepted, Parent raised and asked for 75.000 dollars instead of 50.000, alleging that the additional 15.000 dollars would have been used for his client's travel expenses and accommodation for his wife and children. that Villeneuve would like to take with him to Europe and the world during the championship. Ferrari gets impatient.
"We don't want to deal with children. If an accident happens we already have enough to think for the wife, even without the children".
Parent, who is certainly not a manager with previous experience, does not understand and asks Ferrari for explanations, who replies:
"Every time a driver leaves for a race, we delete him from our book. When it comes back, it’s a gift".
Parent initially thinks Ferrari is joking, and reiterates that Gilles Villeneuve will not race for Ferrari if he does not have his family next to him. Taking advantage of the favorable moments, Gilles tries to dissuade his manager, but Parent does not give up. Ferrari, therefore, gets up from his chair and leaves the office with Della Casa. Left alone, Gilles explicitly tells his manager:
"Come on, let's get it over with. We conclude".
But instead of concluding the deal as requested by his client, when Ferrari returns to the office Parent raises, and now also asks that half of the space available on the car be made available to Gilles Villeneuve. At this point, however, Ferrari replies that a connection of this type has never been given to anyone, but Parent raises and lowers the claim to twenty-five percent. A request that is accepted. After signing Gilles Villeneuve and Gaston Parent are accompanied to the hotel by Mortara, and after having a quick dinner he calls Johanna, his parents, his brother Jacques and a series of friends. The next day it will always be Mortara who will pick up Gilles Villeneuve and let him enter Ferrari, in Maranello, through a secondary door. In the meantime, Enzo Ferrari calls his friend Antonio Giacobazzi, a local wine producer, to whom he asks for help in sponsoring - and therefore partially paying - the contract just signed. Ferrari tells Giacobazzi that Gilles - being Canadian - can guarantee him a return of image in North America, where he could have sold his wines by increasing production and income. To tell the truth, sales in North America will not increase by much, as Ferrari had predicted, but the Giacobazzi name is inextricably linked to that of Gilles Villeneuve.
Ferrari now finds itself with Carlos Reutemann, a staple, an experienced, serious driver, a valid test driver, and Gilles Villeneuve, 25, married, two children, French-speaking Canadian (born in Quebec), Formula Atlantic racer. Villeneuve - who will test on Wednesday 28 September 1977 in Fiorano - is an unknown factor. Observers from Maranello draw up enthusiastic reports, Chris Amon - who, despite everything, remained friendly with Enzo Ferrari - expressed a very favorable opinion, but will the young man be able to repeat Niki Lauda's exploits? And since it was necessary, indeed mandatory, to look for a promise, why did Ferrari give up in advance to launch one of the young Italians who emerged this year in Formula 2? Many do not believe that, in terms of experience, Villeneuve is better than Cheever (whose stay in Maranello is now doubtful) or Giacomelli or Patrese. All in all, Ferrari ended the driver market somewhat disappointing (and hopefully, of course, that Villeneuve will immediately deny everyone, perhaps in Canada or Japan, if it is made to debut early). Lauda's fault, who surprised Ferrari's good faith. However, this Lauda: a champion in everything, even in fooling the astute builder of Modena and his court. Enzo Ferrari, displeased, perhaps annoyed, argues vigorously, demonstrating that age doesn’t dampen (fortunately) ardor and anger, responds to the accusations by declaring that the press blackout was not ridiculous.
"We had a negotiation underway. It was essential to remain silent in recent days to allow Marlboro executives to work with McLaren and to free us from Villeneuve".
Furthermore, in the opinion of Enzo Ferrari, the Canadian driver is a real promise.
"Let's repeat the Lauda experiment with him. We talked to him on August 29, 1977, the same day as the divorce with the Austrian. Since Villeneuve wasn’t completely free, we also contacted other drivers, such as Andretti, to protect ourselves. But we were counting on him".
And answering why not a young Italian, or Eddie Cheever, were not selected, Ferrari replies:
"Because there is no young man of ours who has the experience of Villeneuve driving 500 horsepower cars. He raced in the Can-Am Cup and in Formula Atlantic. As for Cheever, he's just nineteen, and there's a moral responsibility I don't want to shirk. He will train with De Angelis in Formula 2".
In conclusion, is Lauda a champion in everything?
"Yes, absolutely in everything. But we must have the courage to write it: even in misconduct. After so many promises, he left us, putting us in a difficult situation".
Ferrari said it and journalists wrote it. But didn't Niki say that Ferrari accepts everything? Wednesday, September 28, 1977 bunches of fans at the gates of Ferrari's private track in Fiorano: Gilles Villeneuve, the driver who will replace Niki Lauda, has arrived. When the car that brings the young Canadian to the Scuderia Ferrari jewel-plant appears, the first applause begins, the first sign of friendship and trust by the Italian fans. Villeneuve smiles, is excited. Enzo Ferrari is waiting for him, light raincoat, gray suit, perky air. The Canadian signed on the evening of Wednesday 28 September, at 10:00 p.m. in Modena, the contract that binds him to the Maranello team for 1978. A contract for twelve months, which can be renewed in case of mutual satisfaction. The encounter between Ferrari and the driver is cordial. They look like a hen and a chick. Villeneuve is a bit awkward, he looks like a jockey and the impression is reinforced by his appearance: he is 1.56 meters tall and weighs about 55 kilos. Yet, at the age of twenty-five, he has been married for some time to a girl from Montreal and has two children: six-year-old Jacques and four-year-old Melante. After eliminating the pecette containing the sponsors that Gilles brings to the Can-Am races and having made (together with Schedoni) the seat, at 1:50 p.m. Gilles Villeneuve gets into a yellow Fiat 131 driven by Mortara, and exits the gates of the Ferrari to enter - two minutes later - those of the Fiorano track. At 1:55 p.m. Enzo Ferrari also arrives in Fiorano, accompanied by Dino Tagliazucchi in a Fiat 131.
At 1:58 p.m. the van carrying the 312 T2 also arrives, followed by the white Lancia Gamma of Piero Lardi. While the mechanics prepare the car, Gilles takes a lap of the circuit in the yellow Fiat 131 of Mortara. Shortly afterwards Mauro Forghieri also arrives, aboard a yellow Fiat 128. Shortly before 2:30 pm, Gilles Villeneuve enters the car for the first time, assisted by Antonio Tomaini. The first laps are covered at a contained pace, so much so that the first time is 1'30”0. After the first seven laps, Gilles returns to the pits and waits inside the cockpit for the arrival of Forghieri, who talks with him while Ferrari listens not far away. Around 2:45 am the Canadian returns to the track and begins to increase his pace, setting a time of 1'18”0, completing five laps. After that, the sound of the brakes puts an end, for a brief moment, to the roar of the engine, which is kept running by Gilles through the use of the clutch, after having run into a spin. The Canadian restarts and completes four more laps. In the meantime, Ferrari moves from the pits to the nearby monitor room of the circuit, where, through a series of CCTV cameras placed along the Fiorano track, it follows the black and white screens of its new driver in action.
"We must not make hasty judgments, we will see how he’ll behave in the coming days. He needs to be able to work a lot, as he has to make his debut at the Canadian Grand Prix".
At around 3:30 p.m. Gilles Villeneuve, who is busy increasing the pace, is the author of another mistake. But the times, in the meantime, drop to 1'16"0. Gilles completes a series of laps, alternated with numerous pit stops, and in the meantime his times continue to drop, up to a time of 1'14"38. The Scuderia Ferrari technicians write the time set by Gilles on the board used for journalists. Meanwhile, the journalists begin to invade the area planned for them at the edge of the gate exit of the Pista di Fiorano, where they welcome Gilles who is not at all intimidated by their presence. Journalists who are also suspended from the refreshments offered by Ferrari, which also features a rare white Lambrusco supplied by Giacobazzi. At 5:40 p.m. Gilles Villeneuve returns to the track, but after only four laps he is the victim of another spin. When it is now almost 6:00 pm and the sun is setting, Villeneuve finishes eight more laps, before the sign is displayed from the pits inviting him to return.
"Here is our second driver. He seems to me a clean boy, a nice sparrow. We will give him our advice, but he will have to learn to fly. For now I can’t yet comment on him. It takes at least 1000 kilometers on this track to get the timing out. But I can say why I hired him. Essentially for three reasons: the Silverstone race, when it debuted in Formula 1, the excellent references provided to us by the manufacturer Walter Wolf and the impressions reported by one of our Canadian informants".
Ferrari says sitting in front of the television monitors that frame the Fiorano track and resume the 312 T2 on which Villeneuve has climbed. Ferrari is therefore asked if Villeneuve made an impression similar to the one he had reported in the first meeting with Lauda in 1973.
"Who remembers that moment anymore...We are quite used to working with young people. Of course, this is one who seems not to be afraid. Now he will try the car for a long time, he will work with us. First, he will race at Mosport in the Canadian Grand Prix on October 9th. We'll give him one of the forklifts of Lauda or Reutemann and for now he will have to make do with that. In the meantime, we continue to prepare the new car (which should make its test debut at Le Castellet in December). We tried Michelin tires and we were very satisfied. The French company works well and seriously. Reutemann with those tires lowered Fiorano's record by one second. It can’t yet be said whether Michelin will equip us next year. It depends on Michelin if it wants to enter the racing world".
Meanwhile Gilles Villeneuve finishes his first training. He has completed several laps of the track and his best time is 1'14"38.
"I am very happy. I didn’t really hope to be chosen by Ferrari with all the good drivers on the market. Let's say I was lucky and I wish the same to my colleagues, especially the young Italians like Patrese and Giacomelli whom I respect a lot. Do you want to know what my first impression of Ferrari is? More than excellent. A fabulous organization, which I had never found anywhere. The car? An engine from which you can ask a lot, with a wider use, even at low rpm, of the Cosworth. The steering seems a bit light for my habits, but the gearbox is truly exceptional, never experienced anything like it. I don't think I will have any particular problems driving it, as I think there will be no difficulties for the European tracks that I do not know. Maranello will be my new home, even if I will go to reside in Monte-Carlo. I have two children who speak French and they will go to a school in their mother tongue. I’ve chosen the closest place. But I will be here as often as necessary".
Towards evening the tests end and Enzo Ferrari returns to Modena satisfied, as if from this young 25-year-old a new lifeblood had been transmitted in him, who is almost eighty years old.
"Nearby, five or six kilometers away, there is a village called Villanova. They make excellent Lambrusco. Let's hope it's a good sign".
Mauro Forghieri is a little less enthusiastic, who, looking back on the first test conducted by Gilles Villeneuve on the Fiorano track, will remember:
"Gilles put too much energy into everything and made many mistakes. First of all it spun because it went beyond the limits of the car. And then he braked so vigorously that he almost braked the car when he entered the corners".
The tests for Gilles Villeneuve continues during the morning of Thursday, September 29, 1977. Before leaving, Gilles does an intense training, about sixty laps in the morning and thirty in the early afternoon, setting a time of 1'13"5, not far from the record set by Reutemann, of 1'09"341, needed to know the car in view of the race scheduled in Toronto on October 9, 1977. In fact, Villeneuve will make his debut with Ferrari at the Canadian Grand Prix. He will be given a forklift and will race together with Reutemann and Lauda. Although in conditions of inferiority, Villeneuve will have his first direct confrontation with Niki, before the Austrian moves to Brabham. Very interesting comparison, precisely because they will compete with almost identical cars. The Mosport circuit where the test will take place is, among other things, the one that Villeneuve knows best of all. Eighteen Italians, six British, four Americans, three from France, Argentina and Belgium, one from Spain, New Zealand, Switzerland, Mexico, Germany and Austria. From 1950 to today, Ferrari drivers have come from twelve countries for the Formula 1 and Sport World Championships. To these, the most famous names ranging from Ascari to Villoresi, from Parkes to Amon, from Ickx to Andretti, up to Niki Lauda, a Canadian he’s added, the first driver of the North American country to try the adventure in a competition that plays mainly in Europe.
His name is Gilles Villeneuve, he was born on January 18, 1952 in Chambly, Quebec. His debut in the Formula 1 circus took place mid-season at Silverstone. Thanks to pressure from Marlboro, McLaren entrusted him with an old M23, already discarded by James Hunt and Jochen Mass. With this car Gilles set the tenth time in qualifying and in the race he was fourth until the progressive deterioration of the engine of his car relegated him to eleventh position. This result was enough, confirmed by the good references provided by the Canadian manufacturer Walter Wolf and by the statements of the New Zealander Chris Amon, a former Ferrari driver (judged by the same Ferrari engineer as the best test driver ever) who defined him as an excellent driver, in all respects, such as temperament and driving skills, to bring Gilles to Maranello. After all the jumble of rumors that they wanted to replace Lauda from Andretti to Scheckter from Fittipaldi to Peterson, the choice of Enzo Ferrari fell on a young man, on a driver still in training about whom practically nothing is known. Ferrari obviously hopes to repeat the blow it made with Lauda, hiring with great intuition, to take him to the world title. Gilles Villeneuve is a kid who looks good. Bold, open-minded, ready for an interview, Gilles takes up less space in the cockpit and gains an average of twenty kilos over his rivals, which can also be important, given the extreme sophistication of the cars where the technicians work for months to remove a few kilos.
"Getting to Ferraris is the dream of every driver, even if some have had to give up due to commitments made previously or for offers that are too attractive in terms of money. Let's say that I was lucky, that a series of combinations favored me in the race in place of Lauda. This is already a win. I stayed just a couple of days in Maranello, but I realized what Ferrari’s efficiency is. Racing with this team means having great possibilities, getting the most out of the car. Therefore I realized that I have had a favorable fate. As far as I'm concerned, I'll give it my all: I think I'm a big fan of engines, everything in the automotive field interests me. I am willing to test the machine ad nauseam, to give advice and to accept those of the technicians. As a driver I consider myself young and therefore malleable. If all the agreements are respected, on my side and on the other I think we can go far".
The Canadian proves to have a strong personality, to not fear confrontation with the past. He continues:
"I know very well that I receive a heavy inheritance from Lauda, in every sense. The Austrian will leave with a world title, with the memory of many victories. It will be difficult to fill this void, to try to repeat certain enterprises. At the same time, Lauda leaves an extremely complicated relationship to maintain: the one with the Ferrari engineer himself, the one with the fans, the one with the journalists and in particular with the Italian press. I understand that, arriving at Ferrari, all the problems will be magnified, that having good relations and that trying to continue an open conversation with everyone will be just as important as driving well. Of course, a lot will depend on what I can do when I am alone in the cockpit of the car. If I had to prove myself up to the situation, everything will become easier".
While Gilles Villeneuve, having concluded the first tests, leaves for Quebec, before joining the team at Watkins Glen, on the circuit of Estoril, the venue for the last round of the Formula 2 European Championship, on Sunday, October 2, 1977 the challenge will end in the sprint between the French Arnoux and the American resident in Rome, Eddie Cheever. The French with their Martini-Renault are competitive in qualifying but the Italians are right behind, despite having had some problems with the cars. However, the shadow of Enzo Ferrari's decision to hire Villeneuve seems to weigh on all these young drivers, as Eddie Cheever himself admits:
"I would have nothing to say if a driver of the caliber of Andretti arrived at Ferrari who has much more experience than myself. I heard they didn't give me the 312-T because I'm too young. I seem to have obtained appreciable results despite my young age. I feel prepared for Formula 1 and now I am undecided whether to reconnect with other teams who had requested me or whether to stay at Ferrari".
In the meanwhile, on Friday, September 30, 1977, the official practices will begin for the United States Grand Prix, fifteenth round of the Formula 1 World Championship which takes place at the fast circuit of Watkins Glen, in the State of New York. The news that the young Canadian Gilles Villeneuve has made an agreement with Ferrari and that he will race with a single-seater already in the Canadian and Japanese Grand Prix reaches the Circus, which has been in the United States for a few days. In this regard, Niki Lauda appears calm and detached.
"Now, my goal is only to reach the mathematical certainty of the world title; in 1976 I made an agreement with Ferrari which provided for the presence of only two cars in the race: I believe that in this way any technical problem can be solved without confusion. On the other hand, I am convinced that the existence of three machines creates problems in a team that wants to achieve good performance. However, everything that has been decided does not concern me".
Have you already seen the Brabham-Alfa Romeo?
"Yes, only once".
How did it look?
"It’s undoubtedly a single-seater that can be well exploited. I believe it has a considerable potential for technical innovations: the results should be good".
How does Lauda see the race on Sunday?
"Haven't tried this year at Watkins Glen yet. In 1976 I had some problems with the tires, however I will try to do my best as I have always done in recent years, and as I will do until the end of the season".
The engineer Roberto Nosetto, accused of amateurism by Lauda a few days earlier, had confirmation of Villeneuve's engagement when he was already in America:
"I had phoned Maranello on Monday, but nothing had been decided yet. However, they told me that the Canadian driver would probably join our team".
Last year Ferrari had some problems here in Watkins Glen. What countermeasures has the Maranello team taken?
"Sunday's race is expected to be difficult for us. The circuit is very fast and excellent road holding will be crucial in order to achieve good results. We brought two types of wings; one for the mixed and one more suitable for the fast sections, we will test them both during the practice and then decide which ones to ride on Sunday. I think Lotus is a favorite on this track".
What are your plans for this American trip?
"We will test in Mosport on 5th October 1977. We were able to rent the circuit together with Renault for that date. We hope that the championship will be resolved before the Canadian Grand Prix because we have not yet obtained the authorization to carry out the test in Japan due to the agreements between Ecclestone and the Japanese organizers".
The Brabham boss seems determined to prevent the Italian cars from trying in advance on the Mount Fuji track. Ecclestone's hostile attitude could create further difficulties for Ferrari in registering the third car at the Grand Prix of Canada and Japan. The Formula 1 Circus moves to North America for the fifteenth and sixteenth rounds of the 1977 World Championship. The Grand Prizes are those of the United States, which are held at the Watkins Glen circuit on Sunday, October 2 1977, and the Grand Prix of Canada, which takes place on the Ontario circuit of Mosport Park on Sunday, October 9, 1977. The two organizers shared the costs of transporting the Formula 1 cars across the Atlantic and, for the first time, in 1977 the series of two races will kick off with the US event. Once the first race is over, a fleet of giant long-distance articulated lorries is loaded with all the Grand Prix cars and transported to the next event. The local interest in Watkins Glen is centered on the winner of the Italian Grand Prix, the Italian-American driver Mario Andretti, and his Lotus 78, not only because he is a regular winner this season, but also because of the prospect that a driver compatriot has a chance to win at Watkins Glen for the first time. For Andretti, the race is just as important because not only does he want to win, but he wants to score an unofficial one-two and add another US victory after winning the Unites States West Grand Prix in the Californian city of Long Beach. However, outside of Andretti and the other regular competitors, some changes have been made to cars and the list of entrants at Watkins Glen.
For starters, Mario Andretti's teammate Gunnar Nilsson will use the Lotus 78/4, the chassis served as a reserve car in most of the previous races, while the Brabham team will make the BT45/6B available to John Watson. after the Ulsterman had severely damaged the monocoque of the BT45/5B during the first laps at Monza. A new Shadow DN8/6A is brought to Watkins Glen to replace Patrese's car (also damaged at Monza), but the young Italian driver is busy driving his Formula 2 Chevron-BMW in a European Championship race on the circuit of Estoril, in Portugal, so the team hires Jean-Pierre Jarier for the weekend. Jarier, a former full-time member of the Shadow team until the end of last season, is available as the ATS Penske team did not travel to North America and, being a person known to the Northampton-based organization, looks like the right man to carry out this momentary work. Many are surprised that the car won’t be driven by Jackie Oliver, especially considering his competent performances as a substitute in the Race of Champions and the Swedish Grand Prix, but the Englishman is not present in the United States due to commitments of work that doesn’t allow him to leave London. In the Surtees team, after Leoni's failure to qualify in Monza, the second TS19 returns to be driven by the Austrian Hans Binder, who had driven the car at the beginning of the season. Binder uses TS19/01, revamped and brought to the next specification using parts borrowed from the TS19/07. His team-mate, Vittorio Brambilla, had rebuilt his March-Beta Tools TS 19/06 after the excursion to Monza.
A totally new face in Formula 1 is that of the American driver of Formula 5000 and USAC Danny Ongais, who will have at his disposal a new Penske PC4 (03), built with identical specifications to those of the cars used by John Watson at the end of 1976. Registered and run by Ted Field's Interscope Racing (which had operated a Parnelli-DFX turbo driven by Ongais in USAC events), the team receives some guidance from former Penske Formula 1 team manager Heinz Hofer, and comes equipped with a pair of Cosworth DFV ex-Parnelli with whom to face the two North American events. In addition to Ongais, the only independent cars in North America will be Jabouille's Renault RS01, Frank Williams' private March 761, driven by Patrick Nève, and the pair of McLaren M23s, well prepared by B&S Fabrications, made available to Brett Lunger. The tests begin on the morning of Friday, September 30, 1977 with a good but crisp and windy climate. From the very first minutes James Hunt is the fastest with his McLaren M26/2. The British driver is in great shape and ends the first hour and a half practice session with a time of 1'47"408, ahead of Hans Stuck's Brabham BT45B/3 by more than half a second. Aware that the Brabham-Alfa flat-12s could prove to be a threat on this fast circuit, Hunt lowers his time and takes it to a superb 1'40"863 during the afternoon session. The British driver, not happy with the excellent performance, thinks he can be even faster as he makes the right wheel of the M26 go over the curb at the exit of turn 10 on the left, just before the pits.
Instead of lifting his right foot, Hunt attempts to push the McLaren over the edge, but the car turns around and simply rolls off the track on the left side of the track. The impact with the guardrail is not very violent and the damage is limited to the right rear suspension and a slightly dented corner of the monocoque. But having gone off the track when training was about to end, Hunt returned to the pits on foot. The day is characterized for almost all the teams by tire problems, which end up altering the performance of the cars and drivers. Goodyear brings four types of front and two rear tires to Watkins Glen. This variety creates confusion within the various teams, who have to mount different tires on the cars. Niki Lauda, for example, in the straight section in front of the pits, blames a lack of 500 rpm compared to Carlos Reutemann, who uses tires of smaller diameter during the first session. At this point it’s necessary to find the right balance by changing the gear ratios, a factor that causes delays in achieving good performance. Few pilots manage to carry out these first tests in optimal conditions. Among them Hunt, who, from the very beginning, finds the car perfectly adapted. McLaren mechanics repair the car in time for Saturday's practice, but the pouring rain will mean Hunt doesn't have to work any further and Friday's efforts will secure pole position.
During the US tests, the Brabham-Alfa Romeo became competitive again. Both Stuck and Watson prove to be extremely fast, but it is the German driver who gets caught up in the desire to approach the limit imposed by James Hunt and records a time of 1'45"538, even if he is forced to try with the BT45/1B of escort of the team after the appearance of some cracks in the gearbox casing of his car. Despite being worried about his BT45/5B's worrying tendency to understeer madly in right and not left corners during the first session, Watson gets carried away by the enthusiasm conveyed by his teammate and records a respectable time of 1'41"193 during the second session, the one held on Friday afternoon, which guarantees him third place on the grid for the race. Mario Andretti, great favorite of the US Grand Prix, only gets the fourth fastest time. The Italian-American, when he tries an exploit, finds many other competitors on the track that slow him down. Meanwhile, the feelings that come from Team Lotus are not very happy at Watkins Glen. Having turned down a contract with Ferrari to stay with Colin Chapman's team, Andretti is not at all impressed by the rumors that his teammate for next season may be Ronnie Peterson and not Gunnar Nilsson. In fact, it would be closer to the truth to say that Andretti is furious. As for him, Mario Andretti admits that:
"There’s only room for one prima donna on this team, and I think the whole thing is ridiculous".
As Chapman tries to calm the mood within his team, it becomes clear that, no matter who joins Andretti in 1978, it won’t certainly be Nilsson. Keeping his irritation under control, Andretti still manages to make a very competitive practice lap in 1'41”481, obtaining fourth place on the starting grid. Shortly after, Ronnie Peterson decides to try to prove that there’s nothing wrong with his driving style, and driving his six-wheeled Tyrrell with enormous determination he records a time of 1'41"908, ahead of his teammate. Depailler team who scores a time of 1'42”238. Between the two Tyrrells there are the Ferrari 312 T2s of Carlos Reutemann (1'41"952) and Niki Lauda (1'42"089). Scuderia Ferrari is in trouble after the first day of testing at Watkins Glen. Engineer Roberto Nosetto, Ferrari's sporting director, declares that on Saturday they will try to limit the gap immediately by modifying the set-up and the suspensions.
"It will be very important to have a very good set of tires".
At the moment Carlos Reutemann, sixth in the standings, is almost a second behind James Hunt, while Niki Lauda is slightly behind in seventh position; during the practice his engine also broke. It is clear that Lauda is no longer welcome within the Italian team after his decision to leave his post at the end of the season and, as is often the case with outgoing Ferrari members, his life is not made easy. Not that there is anything particularly wrong, only that the relationship of sympathy between the driver and the team has vanished. However, it’s commonly believed that Maranello's management went a little too far when they suspended Lauda's chief mechanic, Ermanno Cuoghi, from working on his car again starting Sunday morning, simply because he also decided to leave the team at the end of the year and to follow Lauda to Brabham. The Cuoghi case is occupying the paddock to the point of overshadowing the fact that Niki Lauda is very close to winning his second World Championship. The Austrian is at the top of the standings with 69 points against Jody Scheckter's 42, while there are three races to go until the end of the World Championship: the Grand Prix of the United States, Canada and Japan. The Austrian driver has a 27 point lead over Jody Scheckter. The South African must therefore win the last three races to have a chance to win the title.
Lauda will only need to finish in the top six of the United States Grand Prix to be mathematically champion, regardless of whether Scheckter wins or not. And if the South African does not succeed, Lauda would be World Champion even in the case of a DNF. It’s clear that in Watkins Glen, perhaps for the last time, the interests of Lauda and Ferrari will match perfectly, beyond the controversy following the divorce. Jody Scheckter works hard behind the wheel of the Wolf WR1, but without success. The South African can’t understand exactly where things are going wrong, because he thinks the car performs very well; he simply fails to improve the time of 1'42"315, obtained during the second session on Friday. Jacques Laffite is also a bit disappointed, because in the first session on Friday he enters the track and rides his Ligier JS7/02 in 1'44"640. But during the afternoon the water pump fails, forcing the Frenchman to switch to the spare JS7/03, with which he can’t improve. Both Ligier-Matra are prepared according to the specifications of the long wheelbase. All is well for Vittorio Brambilla, who is confident that for the first time during the year, he finds his Surtees completely fine. The Italian driver qualified his Surtees in eleventh place with a lap of 1'42"786, at the end of an extraordinarily quiet day of testing.
"Tomorrow I should easily improve".
Nilsson's car, on the other hand, during the first session is afflicted by a brake problem and only at the end it’s discovered that one of the rear brake pipes is swelling; subsequently, the hose comes off while the Swedish driver is on the track, spraying brake fluid along the track. The tube is subsequently replaced, but despite the difficulties Nilsson manages to set a time of 1'42"815 during the second session, which places him at the bottom of the grid. Jones is the fastest among the drivers aboard the Shadows, with a time of 1'43"019 set during the first session, which places him in the standings ahead of Jabouille, who in turn, with his Renault V6 RS01 turbo, overcomes the first day of testing without running into mechanical problems. Mass only manages to set a time of 1'43"242 with the second official McLaren M26, due to a problem caused by a water leak and a throttle that doesn’t open completely. Finally, Jarier records a time of 1'43"516 while Lunger, after a promising performance with his private M23, sets a time of 1'43"698. Emerson Fittipaldi feels again that progress is being made with the Copersucar FD05/1, but is still far from being able to set a competitive time: his time is 1'43’’938, while Regazzoni is the only representative of the Ensign team who will take part in the race, despite a troubled Friday with his MN07.
The Swiss driver only participates in the first session because, while they are disassembling the gearbox to replace the gears for the second session, his mechanics find a pinion bearing close to breaking point. The repair prevents Clay Regazzoni from participating in the second session and, with the rain falling on Saturday, the Swiss driver has no chance of improving his time and position on the starting grid. As for Tambay, the whole weekend is an unprecedented disaster: a water leak causes the engine to overheat during the first session. The repair requires the replacement of the engine which is done as the second session takes place. As if that weren't enough, during the non-timed session on Saturday the fall of the oil tank drain plug disperses the liquid out of the container. Then it starts to rain, so the unfortunate Frenchman is ranked twenty-seventh in a line-up that provides for the departure of only twenty-six cars. As for the Heskeths, Rupert Keegan starts using the 308E/3 for the first time with a new double-deck rear wing and six-speed gearbox, but characterizes his first day of testing with a slight spin that brings the car to collide with the guardrail. After testing the spare 308E/1 in Saturday's unscheduled practice, Keegan decides to race with the older chassis. Ian Ashley, who still carries the Godfrey Belton flag on his 308 E/2, qualifies for the first time thanks to a time of 1'45"100.
The two Heskeths flank Ian Scheckter's March 771/2, which the South African driver damages during Saturday's unscheduled morning session, leaving to the Bicester mechanics a lot of work to do to prepare the car before the race. The last two rows of the grid are made up of the official March 761B from Ribeiro, Nève, Binder and the Penske of the newcomer Ongais, who on Friday is forced to face problems with the power supply system and plugs. After the unscheduled session on Saturday morning, the last hour is lost due to the deluge, but it is worth remembering that Jones bravely sets the fastest lap in 2'07"127, with an average speed of over 150 Km/h. Really impressive in absolutely difficult conditions. Stuck places in second place with a time of 2'07"750, while the rest of the group, led by Peterson's Tyrrell, is at least five seconds slower. Those who expected a response from Ferrari and Lotus to James Hunt's exploit with McLaren on the first day of testing for the United States Grand Prix were disappointed. The rain, transforming the Watkins Glen circuit into a semi-flooded track, ruined hopes and ambitions. On the slimy asphalt nobody could improve, and therefore the starting grid is the one defined after the first two and a half hours of training: Hunt and Hans Stuck in the front row (for the German it’s the first time), Carlos Reutemann in third and Niki Lauda in fourth. This is not to be exalted, but on the other hand Jody Scheckter, the only one who in theory could steal the title from the Austrian, is behind him. Lauda regrets that he had to close the practices in advance.
"The engine of my Ferrari gave out just as the car was up to speed and I could attempt a lunge. A real shame, because I could have set a better time and started in a more advanced position".
What will be the behavior of the Austrian driver in the Grand Prix?
"Simple, I'll settle on Scheckter. For me the most important thing here is to get to the finish line before him".
It had rained all night and this morning the organizers were forced to postpone the start of the practices for half an hour. It was necessary to clean the runway from the soil brought by the water and eliminate some flaws. During the first session, which wasn’t timed, there were some accidents with no consequences for the drivers. Shortly after the start the engine of the Ensign driven by the young Frenchman Tarnbay collapsed; the spilled oil smeared a long stretch of asphalt, making it necessary for the marshals to intervene on the track. The unforeseen caused a further twenty minute outage. Soon after Ian Scheckter went off the road and ruined the front of his March. The rain stopped falling shortly before the start of the tests and the technicians mounted the dry tires on the cars but, after a few laps, thick droplets made the track slimy again. Numerous spins, especially at the exit of the difficult downhill curve at the end of the straight in front of the pits. Andretti, at this juncture, was the fastest with his Lotus. In the one hour of timed practice it was still raining. The fastest,by the way, was Alan Jones, with the Shadow, in 2'07"31, who preceded Stuck (2'07"75). Twenty-six drivers are admitted to the race. Only one excluded (unless the same is started): Tambay. The Frenchman, who had broken an engine on Friday, has another engine failure today. Bad luck record. In the afternoon, after having meditated on it, Lauda communicated to the manager of Ferrari, engineer Roberto Nosetto, that if it rains again tomorrow as today he won’t race. The Austrian has stated that he will risk a maximum of sixty percent. If the risk could be higher, it won’t take to the track, repeating, in an almost analogous way, the no of Japan from last year. Nonetheless, it now seems logical that the games are over. In the Circus everyone lives already projected in 1978, a year of new challenges and ardent revenge, although, in reality, there is still a small question to settle: the World Championship.
All right, it’s a purely formal question, however it must be resolved, and this is the goal of Niki Lauda and Ferrari today at the circuit of Watkins Glen. Lauda is on the hunt for a point. The Austrian is at the top of the standings with 69 points against Jody Scheckter's 42 while there are three races to go to the conclusion of the World Championship: the Grand Prix of the United States, Canada and Japan. Lauda is 27 points ahead of Wolf's South African. In theory, he could still win the title: he should always estabilshed himself and Niki at the same time, he should never win even a point. A risky hypothesis, but in the meantime it is better to close each account. Lauda will only need to finish in the top six of the United States Grand Prix on Sunday to be World Champion for mathematics as well, regardless of whether Scheckter wins or not. And if the South African does not succeed, Lauda would be champion even in the event of retirement. It’s clear that in Watkins Glen, maybe for the last time, the interests of Lauda and Ferrari will match perfectly, beyond the controversy following the divorce. The Canadian and Japanese races, once the title has been won, will be an annoying appendage for the driver and the team. The first is called to hard work with the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, the second has to think about the new driver, Gilles Villeneuve, and the setting up of the 1978 program. One of the dominant themes of the next season will be the challenge between Lauda and Ferrari. On the one hand a man who will try to demonstrate how talent and experience can make any car a winning one (in this case the Brabham-Alfa Romeo), on the other a team that will proudly clarify how his successes are independent of the driver. A good fight. For Sunday, however, the pairing on the track (rain permitting) is still Lauda-Ferrari. Then, each goes his own way. And win if you can. In the meantime, regarding the dismissal of Ermanno Cuoghi, chief mechanic of Lauda's team, and some statements made by Eddie Cheever after the hiring of Villeneuve by Scuderia Ferrari, some clarifications are provided by the press office of the Maranello team. Cuoghi case:
"The mechanic Cuoghi, on September 21, confirmed to dr. Pacher, chief staff of Ferrari, who would not leave the Thing. To Cavaliere Tomaini, on Saturday at Watkins Glen, he communicated that new and tempting offers from Lauda induced him to withdraw from the agreement he had taken. Faced with this decision, the Ferrari technical manager invited him to cease his collaboration with immediate effect as he could not admit the continuation of such a fiduciary relationship with a person already committed to the competition".
On the young American from Rome, Eddie Cheever:
"The lawyer Bombara, in Cheever's interest, signed an agreement with Ferrari on September 1, which the company respects and hopes that the other party will do the same. As for Cheever's statements, they do not flatter us and do not affect us".
On Sunday, October 2, 1977 the bad weather did not give the participants of the United States Grand Prix respite and the sky clouded threateningly for most of the morning. Initially a light rain falls, then a real downpour just before the race. The track is wet and the sky is uncertain at the start. When the cars go out for a warm-up lap, the line-up is well divided between drivers who are fitted with slick tires and those who are fitted with full wet tires. In the short time it took to complete the warm-up lap, the rain increased considerably, so only the Brabham team decided to take a chance and Watson's car started the race on slick tires. The Brabham driver seems so sure of himself that Andretti thinks of following him for a while, then immediately changing his mind. At the start Stuck immediately takes the lead with his Brabham-Alfa, while the rest of the group is engulfed by a wall of water spray. Stuck, writhing in the puddles with large strokes, completes the opening lap of the race leading a championship Grand Prix for the first time in his career. Hunt is second ahead of Andretti, followed by Reutemann, Peterson, Lauda (who goes too wide in the Toe curve and is overtaken by Peterson), Jody Scheckter, Laffite (who narrowly avoids a spin on the Toe), Nilsson, Jones, Brambilla, Depailler, Mass, Regazzoni, Jarier, Watson (who quickly returns with the slicks), Ashley, Keegan, Jabouille, Ongais, Lunger, Ian Scheckter, Binder, Fittipaldi, Ribeiro and Neve. At the end of the second lap Stuck slightly lengthens his lead, taking it to 1.5 seconds over Hunt, while Watson falls back to last place in front of Neve, Scheckter overtakes Lauda and Peterson to move up to fifth place and both Jones and Regazzoni catch up. Jones overtakes Nilsson and then Laffite.
Watson struggles to keep his Brabham on track and is 25th. Stuck's clutch mechanism fails during the third lap, but the young German driver continues in great style, while Hunt keeps an eye on the Brabham which precedes him by only two seconds of advantage. Reutemann is fourth, threatened by Scheckter, while Jones is very fast in the early stages of the race and manages to steal the sixth place from Lauda. The Australian driver, aboard his Shadow, is very competitive and at the end of the third lap he is seventh, behind Ronnie Peterson. Meanwhile Scheckter overtakes Reutemann, while Lauda makes a small gap and Brambilla, who follows him, goes off the track damaging the front wing. In an attempt to pass the Tyrrell, Jones loses control of the Shadow and spins at Turn 6 and finally collides with the guardrail, seriously damaging the DN8/4 monocoque, but manages to get out of the car without problems. Jones later expresses the view that Peterson was more guilty than he was for the accident, an opinion expressed by many other drivers over the course of the race. During the fourth lap Mass drops in eighth position after passing Regazzoni and Laffite, while Brambilla stops in the pits. The Italian driver starts again a few moments later, still without a wing, and that's how he will end the race. On the sixth lap Lauda and Mass overtake Peterson. Ongais, fifteenth up to now, goes off the track and is forced to retire. At the end of the seventh lap, Stuck's gap on Hunt rises to 3 seconds, while Regazzoni and Peterson are fighting for the eighth place: Regazzoni passes Peterson outside the Toe corner, with a very dangerous overtaking.
Mass stops a second time with the McLaren M26 which has a problem with the fuel pump during the eighth lap and Ian Scheckter spins violently against the barriers present at the chicane in the tenth, exiting his March 771 unscathed. Jody Scheckter quickly overtook Reutemann and took fourth place, but Lauda and Regazzoni were also close to the Ferrari of the Argentinian when the race reached the tenth lap. In the meantime, Lauda climbs to fifth place, subtracting it from Reutemann. While Ian Scheckter leaves the track without being able to restart. Stuck's superb performance only lasts until the middle of the fifteenth lap. The Brabham BT45B seems to have lost the clutch while Stuck tackles one of the corners of the Glen, at the height of the Punta, and in a moment he goes off the road and finds himself between the fences. The young German gets out of the car with extreme disappointment and James Hunt takes the lead, driving his McLaren excellently in the horrible weather conditions that today presents, never again being caught up to the checkered flag. For the next thirty laps or so, the half-dozen leading positions are not subject to major changes. Hunt moves away from Andretti, accumulating an advantage of about 12 seconds on the leader of Team Lotus, Scheckter's Wolf is third and Lauda fourth. It takes Regazzoni up to the twenty-third lap to overtake Reutemann's Ferrari and take fifth place, even if the second 312 T2 has an ignition problem. Behind this group, however, there’s a lot of movement, especially around Peterson's Tyrrell. On lap eighteenth, Nilsson challenges his compatriot for seventh place, alongside Tyrrell on the long back straight.
Then, to Nilsson's amazement, Peterson moves towards his Lotus, pushing his compatriot out of the circuit and forcing him to spin around the circuit. As a result, Nilsson is forced to retire due to damage to a suspension. Laffite also tries to pass Peterson, and even the Frenchman later admits that he was pushed by the Swedish driver on the grass a couple of times while trying to join the six-wheeled Tyrrell. Eventually Laffite passed Peterson and took him during the twenty-first lap. Towards lap 25 the track begins to dry out and as a result the riders drive over wet areas of the asphalt to cool and preserve their grooved tires. Of all, Lauda does it systematically. The other driver who shows great willpower in this race, even if the odds are against him in his case, is Watson. Realizing the futility of his situation with slick tires, the Northern Irish driver stops at the end of the eighth lap to switch to rain tires. Thus begins to recover ground, moving to nineteenth place on the fifteenth lap, then to sixteenth place during the twentieth lap, to fifteenth place during the twenty-fifth lap, to thirteenth place during the twenty-seventh lap, until reaching the tenth place at the end. on lap 38, when he was forced to stop again to fit new slicks. Undaunted, after having lost just one position, Watson restarts and recovers the tenth place before stopping to fit a third set of tires at the end of the forty-second lap. The stop plunges him to fourteenth place, but in the end he climbs up to twelfth place, despite the effects of a rapidly drying circuit in the final stages of the race, at the end of an afternoon of hard work that brings him very little in terms of results.
The only other retirement recorded is that of Jean-Pierre Jabouille's Renault, which, after having driven in a reliably way in eleventh position, stops along the circuit during the thirtieth lap due to the breakdown of the gearbox alternator which discharges the car battery quickly. Peterson makes two stops to fit new tires, while his Tyrrell is equipped with another set of wet tires as Ken Tyrrell doesn't think Ronnie Peterson is ready to fit slick tires at the end of lap 34. Too bad, because Peterson returns to the pits five laps later, this time to mount slicks, and the combined effect of the two stops makes him fall to sixteenth position, remaining there until the end of the race. Towards the middle of the race Hunt is in the lead 15 seconds ahead of Andretti, with Scheckter relegated to about 30 seconds behind in third position, while Lauda settles for fourth place, enough to guarantee him the title of World Champion for the second time in his career, keeping Regazzoni and Reutemann at a safe distance. In the closing stages, with the track drying out, Hunt slows down to preserve his wet tires. But, from lap 45, the British driver begins to worry about the surge in the water temperature gauge and what he thinks is a deflating rear tire, slowing him down more than expected. On the other hand, Andretti throws his last strength into the battle and recovers about a second per lap on Hunt starting from the fifty-second lap. However, he has to be careful as his grooved tires are consumed after a race in changing conditions.
This combination of circumstances ends up bringing Andretti a few seconds away from Hunt's McLaren during the final laps, with the American public cheering on his compatriot. On the last lap James Hunt is surprised to see Mario Andretti's Lotus 78 in the rearview mirror. The British then increased his pace to get his ninth victory in Formula 1, the second of the year, crossing the line 2 seconds ahead of Andretti, happily winning the United States Grand Prix for the second consecutive time. Third place goes to Jody Scheckter, while Niki Lauda sets the seal on his second World Champion title with a cautious fourth place. Team-mate, Carlos Reutemann, finished in sixth place, behind Clay Regazzoni, the second Ferrari lapped by the winner before the finish, while Laffite finished seventh and Keegan's Hesketh closed very promisingly in eighth. Jarier finished in ninth position, while Lunger got the better of a long battle with Binder for tenth place just before the finish. Next, the order of arrival sees Watson, Fittipaldi, Depailler, Ribeiro, Peterson (setting the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1'51"854), Ashley (after a pit stop delays another good driving) and Neve, with Brambilla, brings his Surtees to the finish line in nineteenth and last place, five laps behind the winner. At the start of the race, the Italian driver made a pit stop to mount a new section of the nose, after having lost the original during a spin. But the radiators were now so deformed that Brambilla could not continue even without a new nose, since the mounting brackets were so deformed that there was no way to start again. Without restraint, the gruff Italian jumped out of the cockpit, straightened the radiator brackets with his bare hands and got back on board his car, leaving the mechanics amazed at the quick restart.
The championship is now truly over: Niki Lauda is World Champion, Ferrari got another big claim. But it’s a title that excites less, it’s a title that was born in a poisoned atmosphere: the divorce between the Austrian driver and Scuderia Ferrari was a bitter event and the subsequent controversies made it even more unpleasant. The Formula 1 World Championship ended in the most logical way: in a season in which no driver and no car demonstrated overwhelming supremacy, regularity and reliability ended up prevailing. The Austrian raced as a champion, more as an accountant than as a Grand Prix computer while the Italian cars, so criticized on some occasions, confirmed a holding supremacy that ended up defeating their rivals. This counts too and is the result of continuous technical evolution, the will of the team's men to win and the goodness of an overall organization. Lotus, Brabham, Wolf, McLaren had exciting moments, but in the end Andretti, Watson, Scheckter and Hunt had to lower their hats in front of the Lauda-Ferrari duo. The World Championship for Niki Lauda and Ferrari had started badly on January 9, 1977 on the Buenos Aires circuit. The Austrian had engine problems, never repeated during the season, he had been forced to retire and the Maranello team could only enjoy the third place of rookie Carlos Reutemann, who arrived from Brabham. The Austrian was reassured only because his great rival James Hunt, in the first sensational off the road of the year, had not taken any points.
But the victory of Jody Scheckter and the brand new Wolf already gave an indication of what the Formula 1 World Championship would be like, a sarabande of ups and downs, of confirmations and disappointments, of surprises, to which only Lauda would be stolen later to win his second title, no longer with the peremptory nature of 1975 but thanks to some success and a regularity that all the other drivers have not been able to demonstrate. First Reutemann and then Scheckter. The South American part of the championship ended in the most logical way. After his placement in Argentina, Reutemann seemed to be able to gain altitude with a great performance in Brazil. Carlos was winning a race full of twists and turns and suspense, while Lauda was forced to a long and difficult comeback from the starting fifteenth place. The Argentine beat Hunt and took nine very precious points, placing himself at the top of the standings and Niki had to be content with not staying too far behind with a good third place. A dangerous rivalry could also ignite in Ferrari but the Austrian returned to win in the tragic South African Grand Prix where Tom Pryce lost his life, hit in full by a heavy fire extinguisher transported to the circuit by an unwary commissar, himself a victim of the precipitous crossing of the runway. Lauda obtained his first, painful, victory in front of the now usual Scheckter, who became leader of the classification, in which Niki and Reutemann preceded, paired. But the South African doesn't seem to be the only rival in form for the Ferrari duo. Mario Andretti appears in Long Beach and brings the versatile and competitive Lotus back to the fore. An exciting three-way challenge ends with the Italian-American in first place, followed by Lauda and Scheckter.
Only four races were held but the situation appears to be outlined: Niki and Jody are at the top of the standings, with Andretti and Hunt already forced to pursue and Reutemann stationary between the two groups. This brings us to the first European race, in Jarama, where there’s not Lauda, blocked by a rib pain, reminiscent of the Nurburgring accident. For Andretti it’s perhaps the most beautiful race: a long solitary run-up that relegates Reutemann to second place. For Mario it’s the second consecutive success and the Italian-American comes to Monte-Carlo with the role of great favorite. However, he has to deal with Scheckter, who is back in the limelight. The Wolf driver is uncatchable. Inexplicably, perhaps because he no longer achieves the best times in practice, there is talk of a Ferrari crisis. But the fogging of Italian cars is a fictitious one. While the others break their engines and take turns leading the races, Lauda and Reutemann a little for luck, a little for skill and a lot for the reliability of the 312 T2s always reach the bottom of the races and take decisive points. Nilsson wins in Belgium but Lauda is magnificent second, with exceptional timing. In Sweden, when a different car is finally established, Laffite's Ligier-Matra, things are not going well for the Italian team. Niki retires due to trouble at the front but the balance is saved once again by Reutemann with a third place. The problems for Ferrari continue in Dijon, with the worst result of the season: Lauda fifth and Carlos sixth. But the Austrian can afford a few stops. He is now at the top of the standings and no one will be able to undermine him from the leading position. Niki is at 33, Andretti and Scheckter are one point behind.
The Silverstone appointment is awaited: the English race can be decisive. Hunt thinks to make everyone agree but Andretti, Scheckter and Watson retire and for Lauda, second, it is the beginning of the escape towards the title. One last victory is missing, which arrives punctually in Hockenheim. For Lauda it is a triumph. He is, as an exponent of the drivers commission, who rejected the Nurburgring and forced the German organizers to fall back on the Hockenheim car. The public is hostile to him, the opponents know that the moment is important. All the title contenders are very close to the start. They have to ask a lot from the engines and little by little they begin to abandon themselves: first Watson, then Hunt and Andretti are forced to return to the pits on foot. Lauda makes a single overtaking-masterpiece: he slips on Scheckter and goes on to win. Now it seems done. Still second in Zeltweg and first in Zandvoort, the Austrian now has the title within reach. The last races, including Monza where Andretti triumphs, are a formality for him. Now we should, at least for a moment, forget what has happened in recent months, remember how good there has been between Lauda and Ferrari in recent years. But it’s difficult to do, especially considering the last episode that happened in Watkins Glen, with Lauda taking away from the Maranello team a precious element such as the chief mechanic Ermanno Cuoghi and the Scuderia Ferrari which ejects Cuoghi himself from the team on the day of victory. And how sad the triumph dinner was celebrated in two different places. How much more exciting was that title won by Lauda and Ferrari in 1975. An unforgettable Sunday in Monza, the track invaded by fans, an authentic joy. The spell seems to have broken on another Sunday, the dramatic one at the Nurburgring.
The accident caused a chain reaction: the early return of Lauda, the disappointments of the last races, the great refusal of Niki to race in Japan, the impression - on the part of the Austrian - that Ferrari, beyond the declarations officers, would have preferred to dissolve relations. And here is Lauda set up this 1977 season as a proud revenge: one, for granted, against opponents and bad luck and one, secret, against those who had not trusted him in the depths of their hearts. And when the rematch seemed possible, if not probable, away with the more or less obscure maneuvers to change teams. It is a title, therefore, to be greeted with melancholy, even if, of course, what it implies should not be forgotten. First: Lauda has confirmed that he is himself, that is, a class pilot with unique intelligence and coolness. Second: Ferrari, despite all the difficulties of the year, reaffirmed that they are at the top of Formula 1, that they always have competitive cars, that they have a top-level team. Third: the Italian industry, and in particular the group of which the Maranello team is a part, has shown that it can fight vigorously even in the sports sector. The United States Grand Prix seals four years of collaboration between Lauda and Ferrari. And it seems strange that Lauda won the title on James Hunt's day and that he did it in the rain, just like last year he lost the challenge with the British on a rainy Sunday at Fuji, Japan. Now is the time to think about the future, which for Lauda and Ferrari is as interesting and demanding as it is difficult. We would just like, in homage to this second title won, that the 1977 final was worthy of a World Champion and a team like that of Maranello. A bit of style, at least.
Translated by Alessia Koua N'zi