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#264 1975 United States Grand Prix

2021-12-19 00:00

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#1975, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Flavia Delfini,

#264 1975 United States Grand Prix

With the 1975 World Championship now over, the British Formula 1 teams prepare for the next season in an attempt to regain the world title, which they

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With the 1975 World Championship now over, the British Formula 1 teams prepare for the next season in an attempt to regain the world title, which they had to surrender this year to Ferrari. After Lotus, Tyrrell presented a six-wheel single-seater on Monday 22 September 1975, which caused a great deal of surprise due to the originality of the design due to Derek Gardner. The single-seater, which was completed shortly before its presentation in the workshops of Ockham, in the county of Surrey, bears the initials Project 34. Testing will begin on the Silverstone track immediately after the US Grand Prix and will then continue in France at the Paul Ricard circuit. Depailler will be entrusted with the first tests. Ken Tyrrell declares:

 

"If testing confirms that the car can be driven at Formula 1 speeds and has the qualities to become competitive, Project 34 will become our 008 model for 1976".

 

The new Tyrrell has almost the same length as the previous 007 model and, despite the two extra wheels, its weight is only 10-15 kg more. In Tyrrell's opinion, the six-wheel device on three axles with four tandem front mini-wheels improves aerodynamic qualities by 12% through a reduction in front wheelbase, resulting in an increase in straight-line speed while maintaining, or even improving, cornering speed. Designer Gardner states:

 

"I believe that with the new device the car will have the same benefit as it could get from a Cosworth eight-cylinder with about fifty more horsepower".

 

For the front tyres, Goodyear had to create a new type with an outer diameter of 16 inches and a tread of 7. The four independently suspended wheels are connected by a single stabiliser bar. Project 34 cost around 50.000.000 italian liras. Depailler and Scheckter would test the new car after the US Grand Prix: if all went well, it would adopt the 008 badge and be brought to the track against Ferrari in 1976. The South African driver, with a bit of humour, says:

 

"It is already difficult to drive a single-seater with four wheels, imagine one with six wheels".

 

Each wheel, in a way, cost almost 10.000.000 italian liras: 8.300.000 itlaian liras to be exact. Tyrrell is convinced he has found the anti-Ferrari weapon. One fact is certain: for Lauda and the Maranello team the task will be difficult. In the past few days Lotus also presented a new model - the 77 - which initially had to make its debut in the US Grand Prix. The Penske team, for its home race, decided to reuse a chassis made in-house, abandoning that of the March. The returning Penske relies on the Northern Irish driver John Watson, left free by Surtees, who decides not to take part in the race. The same decision is taken by BRM and Maki. Brian Henton returns at the wheel of the Lotus, replacing Jim Crawford, as does Wilson Fittipaldi in the team of the same name. Hill entered only Tony Brise; same choice for Ensign with Roelof Wunderink. Shadow abandoned the DN7 model, powered by Matra, and went back to using the DN5, powered by the traditional Ford Cosworth DFV. Frenchman Michel Leclère, runner-up behind Jacques Laffite in the Formula 2 European Championship, made his Formula 1 debut in the third Tyrrell, while Williams replaced Renzo Zorzi with compatriot Lella Lombardi. Last year’s United States Grand Prix proved to be a very significant race as it started with Clay Regazzoni, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jody Scheckter all retaining a mathematical chance of winning the World Championship title. In the event, Emerson Fittipaldi became World Champion for the second time by the consistent, rather than spectacular, expedient of finishing fourth, but the organisers at least had the promotional benefit of the Championship struggle continuing all the way to their final race. This year the situation is different. Both Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships are settled at Monza in September, so the only real interest surrounding the United States Grand Prix is to see whether Niki Lauda has the ability to win at Watkins Glen when he doesn’t really have to.

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Aggravating the rather lonely and isolated position of this race is the major disagreement between the Formula One Constructors’ Association and the organisers of the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park. Complicated and very acrimonious negotiations throughout the summer have eventually resulted in an ugly impasse at the time of the German Grand Prix, an impasse which cannot be resolved even by the Mosport organisers flying to Osterreichring at the time of the Austrian Grand Prix in an attempt to unravel the difficulties. Thus the Watkins Glen organisers are left on their own to finance the transport of Formula One cars from Europe, and the final straw comes when the Mosport Park promoters decide to form a company in New York State and obtain a court order against paying out 130.000 dollars of the United States Grand Prix prize fund to the Formula One Constructors. Faced with the prospect of a substantially reduced purse (at least in the short term), there are certain drivers who express a marked reluctance towards racing, but fortunately everyone sticks together and yet another potentially ugly scene is successfully swept under the carpet. There are one or two new combinations to be seen in the Watkins Glen paddock, but despite the absence of B.R.M. and Team Surtees, all the familiar faces are present. The fast and demanding, although rather boring, Watkins Glen circuit has been improved from a safety point of view by the inclusion of yet another ill-considered and badly designed chicane at the approach to the uphill ess-bend where Francois Cevert was killed in practice for the 1973 race. The tight, 3rd-gear chicane with unduly high kerbs and bevelled ridges has been designed after consultation with the GPDA and is to be responsible for a vast number of incidents during the weekend, in which at least three cars are unnecessarily badly damaged. It isn’t surprising when the GPDA President goes to the organiser Mal Currie and asks him for alterations to be made to the chicane; and it isn’t surprising that the organisers, while they do take out the rather destructive ridges, are not prepared to carry out any more alterations. Practice takes place over the now-standardised two sessions on both Friday and Saturday, and Niki Lauda makes it clear that he intends on rounding off his Championship season in the best possible fashion by setting the fastest practice lap in all four sessions.

 

By contrast Clay Regazzoni never seems at home at Watkins Glen, suffering a variety of tyre problems, and the usual band of doubting Thomases are in full cry with their suggestions that Lauda’s chassis 023 is superior to Regazzoni’s 024. They go a little quiet in the third session when the new World Champion takes out the muletta, 022, and laps quicker than anyone in the second and third sessions. Regazzoni takes over the same machine in the final session and proves unable to lap within a second of his team-mate’s best. Meanwhile Lauda switches back into 023 for the final session and improves to 1'42"0 which leaves most of his opposition fairly breathless and few people doubting his current form. Since his determined performance in the Italian Grand Prix, deposed title holder Emerson Fittipaldi seems to have woken up considerably, pitching in against the Ferraris with great verve. At Watkins Glen, where he drives McLaren M23/8, he consistently harries Lauda throughout the two days’ practice. His best time is in the third session, which is 0.36 sec. slower than the Austrian’s Ferrari, sliding the McLaren round from lock to lock with a determination his fans know he is capable of but which he has failed to demonstrate all too often in 1975. To the great encouragement of the Shadow team and Matra personnel present, Jean-Pierre Jarier is fighting hard with the Shadow-Matra V12 during the first session, a revised fuel system and some titanium exhausts from the sports car having endowed it with appreciably improved performance at the top end of its rev. band. Alas, Jarier’s great enthusiasm has to be channelled into the Cosworth-powered DNS after it is calculated that the engine would consume fuel at the rate of 4 m.p.g. under racing conditions, and the French-engined car is sadly pushed away for the remainder of the weekend. Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler both keep up competitively in their French blue Tyrrell-Cosworths during the first session, but there are scowls in the Brabham team as the chicane claim its first victim and Carlos Pace took BT44B/4 on a spectacular excursion across the kerbing. That is bad enough, but the man who has jostled the Brazilian off the track is none other than his Martini Brabham team-mate Carlos Reutemann! Fortunately the drive back to the pits soothes Pace’s temper somewhat and a hectic confrontation between the two teammates is avoided. James Hunt has both his regular 308/2 on hand along with the new 308C-type, the English driver trying them both on the first day but delaying a decision as to which one he would use in the race until Saturday.

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He laps in 1'45"95, with the older car on Friday afternoon and then spends all his time on Saturday with the C-type, working hard in the first session to pare his times down to 1'43"82, but unable to break into the 1'42"0 barrier which separates the heroes from the rest. Running the second works Hesketh 308/3 with private sponsorship, American Brett Lunger is in the team again for his third Grand Prix outing but he gets a bit breathless trying to keep up with his much more experienced team-mate. Team Lotus goes through another dismal time during practice, both drivers crashing the underside of their cars over the chicane, and it is hard to realise that only two years earlier Peterson has completely dominated the whole United States Grand Prix weekend. The sole surviving brace of works Lotus 72s, 72/R9 for Peterson and 72/R5 for Brian Henton, are on hand as usual but there is no reasonable hope of them getting close to the front of the grid even if Peterson drives his heart out, so it is wrong to expect very much from his young number two. Another team looking wistfully back into the past must be the Vel’s Parnelli Jones organisation which has been running a car all year for Mario Andretti. They come in with a big bang in the two North American Grand Prix races of 1974, Andretti qualifying his Maurice Phillippe-designed, torsion-bar Parnelli third fastest at Watkins Glen. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this team has not flourished in Europe, but they are back at Watkins Glen this year (doubtless a lot wiser) with a revised chassis (VPJ4/002) for Andretti to drive. Following Lotus’ mid-season lead, they abandon torsion bars in favour of coil-springs at the rear as well as revising the suspension geometry. Andretti is driving as enthusiastically as ever, perhaps more so as it turned out, for he laps in a very competitive 1'42"82, which looks good enough for a starting position on the second row of the grid until Reutemann slips in a spectacular 1'42"68 flyer shortly before the end of the final session. Both Shadow-Cosworths are pleasing their American sponsors throughout practice, Jarier’s enthusiasm for the Shadow-Matra being carried over into his other car and resulting in a fine 1'42"75, which is good enough for fourth fastest place on the grid.
 
But without doubt the most spectacular performance of the weekend comes from the determined Italian Vittorio Brambilla and the mere fact that he qualifies his March 751 sixth fastest overall concealed a multitude of problems and drama. Obviously encouraged by establishing the second fastest time behind Lauda’s Ferrari, Brambilla steps slightly over his personal limit as his orange March goes into the braking area for the chicane. The March slides straight on across the kerb before being launched into the air over the rest of the chicane, bouncing down nose-first onto the circuit and then spinning violently round into the catch fencing. Brambilla climbs out shaken but unhurt and the session temporarily comes to a halt while the damaged March is extricated from the fencing and returned to the paddock. Even a cursory inspection of the car is sufficient to confirm that it wouldn’t be practising again on Friday, if at all, but the March mechanics are not going to be defeated by this problem and a firm of aircraft engineers is located at the nearby Elmira airport where they can strip it down to its bare monocoque tub in an effort to prepare it for the race. They work for almost 36 hours without a break and are still screwing it together on race morning - but their fine display of single-mindedness is rewarded when Brambilla takes it out onto the grid and starts the race. While the mechanics toiled over his smashed car on Saturday, Brambilla tries out team-mate Hans Stuck’s 751/2 and laps that in 1'44"60 on Saturday morning, the German driver making no complaint whatsoever about standing down for that session. In the Tyrrell camp both Scheckter and Depailler consistently improve during the second day, but Elf March Formula Two driver Michel Leclerc is having a hard job adapting to 460 b.h.p. of a Cosworth DFV after being used to about 280 b.h.p., and the spare Tyrrell is a long way down the field at the end of practice. Making a welcome reappearance after Mark Donohue’s tragic accident at Osterreichring, the Penske team has secured the services of John Watson for the United States Grand Prix and the Ulsterman is having his first race in their brand new PC3 model. 
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Outwardly bearing a strong resemblance to the March 751 which was wrecked in Donohue’s fatal accident, the new Penske has been completely built by the American team at their British base and incorporates the whole rear end of their less than successful PC1 model. A persistent misfire during the final session prevents Watson from improving on his 1'43"31 best which earns him a place on the outside of the fifth row alongside Regazzoni’s tardy Ferrari. In any case Roger Penske seems extremely Satisfied with Watson’s performance and will almost certainly retain his services for 1976. Hunt just doesn’t seem to be able to get to terms with his new car and the revised circuit, feeling very disappointed at qualifying so far back, while Pace just cannot piece a quick lap together and fails to break the 1'44"0 barrier, let alone the 1'43"0 barrier. Both Frank Williams’ cars, driven by Laffite and Lella Lombardi, are right at the back after a disappointing practice, the Frenchman driving a new machine dubbed FW/04-2. Lombardi handles the car that Laffite has used all year (now FW/04-1) and both have been rebuilt with side radiators and a full width front wing mounted ahead of a flattened Hesketh-style nose section. Roleof Wunderink takes over Mo Nunn’s newest Ensign for another try for Chris Amon who had injured his foot in a road accident in California shortly after last weekend’s Long Beach Formula 5000 race. In the grand green of Watkins Glen, lit by the red tones of a marvellous and already northern autumn, the last act of the Formula One World Championship, which Ferrari and Niki Lauda have already won, takes place. One waits for the race - witnessing the practice sessions that once again saw Lauda as the protagonist - with joyful anticipation, in total contrast to last year, when Luca Montezemolo and his Austrian-Maranello knights arrived here with their hearts in their throats and a great number of disappointed hopes. The tension is gone and the race is perhaps even more beautiful, almost more enjoyable, like a large carpet curled for months by fear and dreams and now finally stretched out and visible in all its details. But to speak of a relaxed race, of a calmed atmosphere, may give the wrong idea; this is not just a catwalk that America offers to Ferrari and its drivers: the Italian cars are here to win because they want to and can, no longer because they have to.
 
America looks at them with a judging eye because - as the New York Times has written - for the Americans, you can't really win if you don't win here. So Maranello is fighting to prove to the benevolent US arrogance that its cars, its technology, its organisation are really the best in the world. And there is much more at stake than a flare-up of nationalistic pride, or the $60.000 for the winner: Maranello's beasts draw ominous shadows of industries in crisis, of redundancies, of too languid markets. America could be the last resort for Ferrari's sales (a new commercial model will be launched in the next few days in the United States) and behind Ferrari is Fiat, which could find a good advertising wedge to expand its presence in these markets, where competition is fierce. With this background data in mind, we are about to enjoy the race, along with the 70.000 campers who have bivouacked here for an entire summer so as not to miss a beat of the racing season, the 80.000 who have come especially for the Grand Prix (hotel rooms no less than 90 kilometres from the circuit), and the two Milanese who have paid their own way here by offering to do menial, free work in the Ferrari team. Lauda is the centre of attention and repeats to dozens of interviewers, in an English as sharp as his front teeth, the joy of victory, the intention to renew it. Unaffected by the somewhat languid, morning-after atmosphere surrounding the race. Lauda raced in practice with his precise nastiness, beating Fittipaldi every time in the fight for first place at the start. Regazzoni, who appeared a little drained after the victory at Monza, struggled more, as more than Lauda he had to feel the bite of the competition to react. He broke the oil sump in practice, jumping over a safety chicane that has nothing to do with anything but the trouble it causes (Brambilla destroyed his March there). But on Sunday there will also be the Ticinese driver in the race, with his pre-Alpine Tatar grit. The organisers of the cancelled Canadian Grand Prix show up in the pits, threatening to take legal action for damages. With the World Champion, the one who has received the most attention here is Lella Lombardi. Little do her practice times matter: for the American public Lella has become a living monument to feminism, and the first woman ever to race in Formula One on this circuit. It must be - this one at Watkins Glen - a hotspot for feminism: 127 years ago, in 1848, the first feminist congress in American history was held on the shores of the local lake. Between those suffragettes and Lella Lombardi, the long road of Woman's Liberation can be measured.
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There are several minor problems during the untimed warm up session on race morning with the engine of Pace’s race car turning a little sour and Brise opting to use the older of his two Hill GH1s as he feels the engine in it felt stronger than the one in the race car. At the last minute before the start Watson’s new Penske has another bout of misfiring which means that the team has to bundle their driver into the waiting car in the pit lane, Watson having not practised in the spare at all during the weekend. Finally neither of the Williams cars manage to get into the race although they have both qualified. Lombardi succumbs to a serious misfire on the warming up lap while poor Laffite is rushed off to hospital shortly before the start after inadvertently putting vizor cleaning fluid in his eye rather than the intended eye drops. Fortunately the burns on the front of one eye prove more painful than serious and the Frenchman is fit enough to drive his Martini Formula Two car at Vallelunga next weekend. Whilst all this drama is being enacted behind him, Niki Lauda is confidently lined up on pole position and shoots straight into the lead as the starter’s flag drops. The Ferrari easily arrives at the first corner in front of Fittipaldi and, as far as the rest of the field is concerned, that’s the last they saw of the two leaders. Refusing to be ruffled by Fittipaldi’s presence right on his tail, Lauda drives coolly and calmly round at the head of the field in a manner that thoroughly befits the World Champion’s status. The McLaren driver is hanging on for dear life in the wake of the Italian car and, equally, has no intention of letting Lauda get away without a fight. By lap five, the leading two cars have left the rest well behind them. Amongst the hares there is plenty of unruly jostling and bumping during those early stages. On the third lap Depailler and Pace tangle on a left-hand corner at the back end of the circuit, the Tyrrell and Brabham spinning into the catch fencing with quite substantial damage to both cars. Further depressing the Tyrrell team, Leclere’s car begins throwing out a haze of oil smoke from the time it leaves the grid and quickly stops on the circuit when the oil pressure begins to sag after four laps. As if that isn’t enough, Henton spins his Lotus 72 at the right-hander after the pits, collecting Brise’s Hill in the process, putting the twice World Champion’s protege out of the race with one wheel torn off his car.
 
Pryce’s Shadow quickly makes for the pits for a misfire to be rectified and the fourth-place Brambilla soon finds himself with an uncomfortable and inconvenient problem as his March’s seat mounting brakes and he begins sliding around in the car. In the third place, Jean-Pierre Jarier’s brief spell of good fortune runs out on lap 19 when a wheel bearing starts to break up and he is forced to retire his Shadow, but this is nothing compared with the aggravation caused by Regazzoni a lap later as the two leaders lapped the Swiss. Almost predictably, Ferrari’s number two lets his team-mate through with no difficulty but then resumes his racing line and steadfastly refuses to budge for Fittipaldi. From this moment on, the incredible happens. The Ferrari duo plays a formidable team game. Lauda pulls away, while Regazzoni controls Fittipaldi, who is unable to overtake him. With each lap Lauda's gap increases (a second, a second and a half). Fittipaldi, as he passes the pits and the Race Direction control tower, shakes his fist threateningly. On lap 23, Regazzoni is disqualified for covering Fittipaldi incorrectly. The race director displays the black flag and the blackboard with the #11, the number of the Swiss driver's Ferrari, to indicate that the Ferrari driver must stop immediately. A sense of disbelief spreads through the racetrack: such things happen very rarely in the world of Formula 1. Luca Montezemolo runs along the 200 metres of the pits until he reaches the race director's turret and gestures to him that he is mad. The man may be mad, but he is stubborn and does not listen to Montezemolo. When Regazzoni overtakes, again followed by Fittipaldi, who is unable to overtake him, he black flags him again and orders him to leave the race. On lap 28, Clay resigns and enters the pit, where, in the meantime, Montezemolo and the race director have given rise to a brilliant boxing match, marred only by the difference in weight between the two (the race director is about twice Montezemolo's height and weight). Clay arrives, who approaches the two with his car, and makes a very clear gesture to the race director, who approaches, again uselessly yanked by Montezemolo, and orders Regazzoni to abandon the race. Clay. in response, runs across the pit lane, forcing mechanics and journalists to jump onto the pavement.
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Montezemolo still tries to make the race director recede from his purpose, but he is adamant and goes so far as to eject Montezemolo as well. The team manager re-enters anyway. Two laps later, Regazzoni is finally forced to abandon. Just to demonstrate the senselessness of the disqualification and Fittipaldi's protests, Lauda maintains and increases his lead. And now the Brazilian has no more excuses, as there is no one between him and the Austrian. On lap 40 Lauda has a lead of around 14 seconds. Fittipaldi tries the impossible to catch Lauda. On lap 48 - still travelling at an average slightly below 190 km/h - Fittipaldi manages to make up a few tenths of a second to Niki, but the Ferrari and its driver are too strong and Lauda calmly regains control of the race. The public openly applauds Montezemolo for his defence of Regazzoni and his courageous fistfight with the giant race director.

 

"Poor guy, he's crazy".

 

Says the Ferrari manager about his opponent, and adds ironically:

 

"If they don't do that, when do they ever have a chance to win?"

 

Regazzoni is also very bitter about his retirement, even though he had no more prospect of victory.

 

"If Fittipaldi was going faster than me, why didn't he overtake me? Instead of making gestures of annoyance in front of the jury? This is a car race, not a chess match. And the strongest always wins".

 

He won - Regazzoni is right - still the strongest. Niki Lauda, with Ferrari, quietly dispelling the curse of this circuit, which until now has always been unfavourable to Ferrari, the absurd refereeing decisions and the competition of Emerson Fittipaldi, the outgoing World Champion, who nevertheless remains a great driver. Reutemann’s Brabham has retired in the early stages with engine failure, making it a sad day for the team which dominated last year’s United States Grand Prix and Andretti is doomed from the start, his Parnelli blowing out smoke from the time it leaves the starting grid. Brambilla cannot cope with March's erratic handling for 59 laps, the Italian dropping behind Mass’ McLaren, Hunt’s Hesketh, Peterson’s Lotus and Scheckter in the sole surviving Tyrrell. This quartet maintains a tremendous struggle for the balance of the race with Peterson just sneaking past Hunt at the end of lap 49. Unfortunately the Swede has flat-spotted one of his front tyres during his energetic out-braking attempts and Hunt finds a gap on the very last lap to take back his fourth place. Into seventh place comes Brambilla’s hardworked March, the battered 751 moving past Stuck after the German has a rear tyre deflate in spectacular style as he goes into the right-hander after the pits. Stuck just misses Brise’s abandoned Hill, still lying stranded on the apex of the corner, and is lapped by the leader before he can complete his final lap. Watson finishes ninth after a determined performance in an unfamiliar car, Wilson Fittipaldi is tenth and Pryce leads Henton across the line to complete the list of competitors still running at the end although they are both several laps down after two pit stops apiece. 

 

Niki Lauda and Ferrari won in America too, defeating the Watkins Glen curse (which had always prevented the Italian car from asserting itself), the adversaries, and an authentic melodrama staged by the jury in an attempt to make life hard for the Maranello team. In the duel between Lauda and Fittipaldi, which lasted from the beginning to the end of the race, Regazzoni entered at a certain point, forced to stop in the pits and then returned late. The race director judged Regazzoni's behaviour unfair, as the driver from Ticino had allegedly obstructed Fittipaldi, allowing Lauda to pull away, and disqualified him. But Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director, Luca Montezemolo, had Regazzoni withdrawn. The substance, however, did not change. Niki Lauda, confirmed as not only the World Champion, but the most torte racer of the moment, with the best car and the best organisation behind him, led the race from the first to the last lap, with an overwhelming supremacy to say the least. Lauda covered the 59 gins of the course, equal to about 320 kilometres. at an average speed of 189 km/h. Second was Fittipaldi, third Mass, fourth Hunt, fifth Peterson, sixth Schecker. Brambilla's performance was discreet, finishing seventh. Ferrali thus won in America, the country that claims that no one is a true winner if they do not assert themselves here. In front of the 150,000 spectators at Watkins Glen, including thousands of Italians, who staged the usual delirious and moving scene of enthusiasm at the end, Ferrari proved once and for all to be the strongest. It is a comforting victory, for the manner in which it was achieved, for what it may represent for the future of the Italian car industry in the American markets.

 

"Here is Fittipaldi. I decided to set up a theatre company and cast him as an actor. A scene like today I have never seen him do".

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Exclaimed Clay Regazzoni at the end of the race. Emerson Fittipaldi's response was not long in coming:

 

"I am very disappointed. You didn't let me pass, why? Ferrari doesn't need these tricks to win".

 

Regazzoni:

 

"If instead of raising your fist in protest you kept both hands on the wheel you could have passed me, if you really went more torte. You win races with your head, not with your fists".

 

Fittipaldi:

 

"I don't need two hands to follow you. One is enough".

 

And Lauda, in a low voice, says:

 

"He made gestures with his fist behind Regazzoni. If someone punches me, I won't let him pass even if I have a buggy".

 

Renazzoni resumes his speech:

 

"And then listen, Emerson. Last year in Canada your partner Mass kept me behind with zig zags and every impropriety until I lost the race, and with it the world championship that went to you. So what, that's sportsmanship? I'm doing my race, if you can't pass, too bad for you".

 

Fittipaldi. shaking his head:

 

"No, I am very very disappointed".

 

 

Luca Montezemolo spoke:

 

"But would you have won if it wasn't for Regazzoni?"

 

The Ferrari team manager is a spectator, a little angry, of the discussion, after his abrupt boxing match with Mr Martin, the race director who stopped Regazzoni. Fittipaldi smiles:

 

"I don't know about winning, but I was competitive".

 

Montezemolo then pulls out the ace: the time table, which shows how Fittipaldi lost ground on Lauda even after Regazzoni's retirement. The Heuer computer band with the times shows that at the time of the Swiss driver's retirement (lap 28) the gap was 10.5 seconds to Lauda. Five laps later it was already 13 seconds and grew to 15 seconds. A counter-offensive by Emerson brought it back to 12 seconds and it stayed that way until the penultimate lap, when Lauda slowed to win by a comfortable 4.9-second margin. So, Lauda was running faster than his rival and Fittipaldi's accusation to Regazzoni of slowing him down every lap by one and a half seconds is unfair, given that from the day of practice Regazzoni was always slower than Lauda by at least one and a half seconds. Regazzoni is right: he has run his race. But keep saying Fittipaldi:

 

"No wonder Lauda pulled away, I have less horsepower than Ferrari and I have to keep in Lauda's wake".

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Regazzoni blurts out:

 

"Get over there, you and your horses".

 

But Lauda concludes, baring his front teeth in an ironic smile:

 

"Come on, now give yourselves a kiss".

 

The discussion ends, without kissing, but also without rancour, leaving everyone in their starting positions. In the back they are all convinced - as Carlos Reutemann, silent spectator of the dispute, said - that if Fittipaldi had had enough engine he would have overtaken Regazzoni, and the Brazilian now uses the episode as an alibi for his defeat. They all go to bed, Montezemolo with the sadness of the brawl he sustained to defend his drivers and their right to win according to the - perhaps savage - law of the strongest, Lauda with the crown of the world champion, Regazzoni and Fittipaldi with their fists and their horses, the whole Ferrari team dreaming of many beautiful cars sold in America in the wake of Lauda and the Maranello factory flourishing with orders and new recruits. Racing does not solve economic crises, it is true, but winning them serves at least to hope. Losing them serves no purpose. With the United States Grand Prix, the Formula One championship came to an end. The long season, spread over fourteen races (it should have been fifteen, but the Canadian one was cancelled), had started badly for Ferrari in Argentina, but then it turned out magnificently for the Maranello team, up to Niki Lauda's world title at Monza in the race won by Clay Regazzoni and now to Lauda's victory, spiced with controversy, on American soil. After reviewing the 1975 season in the aftermath of the Italian Grand Prix, on Saturday 25 October Enzo Ferrari sets out the plans for the next one, presenting the 312 T2, the second version of the single-seater that won the World Championship, at the Fiorano track. Present at the meeting are Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni who, as was already known, will also race in 1976 with the Maranello cars and who, from Monday 27 October 1975, will begin testing the new car. The central point of the conference is the appearance of the first example of the 312 T2, completed in the morning. Lauda takes it on track for two exhibition laps, the first of a long series that should allow this latest product of Ferrari technology to inherit the role of Formula 1 protagonist, held in the season just ended by the 312 T.

 

"Compared to the previous version, the T2 differs in the rear suspension, which is not independent wheel suspension but De Dion bridge suspension; in the wheelbase, which is four centimetres longer - and in the track width - which is eleven centimetres narrower, so the car is more streamlined; in the aerodynamic set-up, also based on the rules of the new Formula 1 regulations that will come into force with the Spanish Grand Prix; in the technology adopted, which envisages a wider use of light alloys and which has allowed us to reduce weight. Our aim was to increase speed in a straight line by reducing the front section of the car while maintaining the car's grip in corners".

 

The rigid bridge suspension should make it easier for the drivers to drive, make the T2's behaviour more homogeneous under all circumstances and allow for more studies in the delicate area of tyres. It should be noted that it is always possible, in just two hours, to replace this suspension with the usual type or, in half an hour, to vary the measures of the wheelbase and track, so as to make the single-seater tailored to the characteristics of the individual circuit. On the 312 T2, which will only run when it has proved to be more competitive than the T (South Africa is mentioned), Lauda says:

 

"Over the last few days I have been testing a partly modified 1975 version in imitation of the new car, and I noticed how it was faster not only in the straights, but also in the corners. This makes me optimistic, even if, to give a judgement, it is better to wait at least for the outcome of the first tests".

 

Regazzoni adds:

 

"It should be better, I think we will maintain the 1975 advantage over our rivals".

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The plans for the coming season are outlined by Ferrari, who undergoes the usual dialogue with his journalist friends-enemies.

 

"Luca Montezemolo, who has taken up a new position at Fiat, will no longer be able to offer us the full cooperation of the past two years. He will, however, remain as the link between us and Fiat. The sporting management will be overseen by Bussi (Experience Office), Forghieri (Studies and Testing), Rocchi (Technical) and Lardi (Outfitting). Lancia has reluctantly handed over Daniele Audetto to us, who will take over as sports director from 1 January. Our activity will be limited to Formula 1, whose championship, divided into 15-16 races, is very demanding. Human and financial possibilities cannot be split up. We will give a 312 T to the Scuderia del Passatore in an attempt to find a young Italian driver to drive it in some competition. It is not excluded that Ferrari will appear in some other sector. We are doing studies and market research: selling engine-gearbox units for Formula 2, or preparing a granturismo or a silhouette? We have to think about the employment of our employees and the image of Ferrari. For now, it is wise to wait, especially as far as the prototype championship is concerned, for the field of participants to emerge. Ferrari could enter either the boxer berlinetta or the new 308 GTB. After recalling the difficulties of the moment, and in particular of Ferrari as a prestigious sports car manufacturer, and testifying to his faith in the car, Ferrari greeted with friendly words the return of Alfa Romeo to Formula 1".

 

The following day, in Balocco, it's turn presents the new Brabham with Alfa's 12-cylinder boxer engine.

 

"Envy is not part of our way of life".

 

The bad joke, however, escapes anyway:

 

"The fact that the Alfa came back with an engine identical to ours will at best make us say that the imitators were better than those who started first".

 

After Ferrari's, on Sunday 26 October 1975, on the private track of Balocco, halfway between Milan and Turin, the presentation of another Formula 1 single-seater took place: the Brabham with an Alfa Romeo 12-cylinder boxer engine. It feels like going to some car show or the launch of a new model: hostesses are missing, for now, but the atmosphere is the same. This, too, is a sign that Formula 1 has undergone a profound transformation process in recent years. Sport, technical and human motives have taken a back seat; it is the time of business, of managers, of advertising. And the discourse, by now, is valid for everyone, from Ferrari itself, which has to operate within the logic of the Fiat Group, to which it belongs, to Alfa Romeo, whose return to the single-seater sector - only, for now, as an engine supplier to the Brabham team - was dictated at bottom by purely commercial and image considerations. Dr Gaetano Cortesi, president of the Milanese company, has no difficulty in admitting this.

 

"Formula 1 has become an industrial phenomenon. Winning a Grand Prix, becoming a World Champion has an exceptional emotional impact on the public. We race to sell our cars, to maintain our sporting image, to make ourselves better known and appreciated. There is also a technical side to it, but that is further back in time. Alfa Romeo sells almost 60% of its production abroad. We have to conquer new positions. Ours is a family of 200.000 people. We live off the car and with those special cars called Formula 1 single-seaters we think we can place more products. The ideal would be to be able to win in every country, with a local driver: In England with an Englishman, in France with a Frenchman, and so on. That would be publicity. We would now like to change the colour of the Brabhams: from white to red, to Italian red. We should be able to do this, at least for certain races that take place in countries whose markets are of extreme integrity to us. As for Ferrari's success in Formula 1 and the Fiat Group's success in rallying, I welcome that. There is no point in fighting among ourselves. We have to beat foreign competition. I find it unfortunate, for example, that in Italy foreign brands manage to occupy 30 per cent of the market".

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But there is a small controversy with Ferrari. On the Balocco track, together with the new car and the 33 T112, there is a 1940 single-seater, the Alfa T 512 with boxer engine. Engineer Carlo Chiti, head of Autodelta, exclaims:

 

"What does Ferrari mean when he says he was the first to use the engine with horizontal, opposed cylinders? What about this one? What about those in aeroplanes? It's like claiming to have invented a tie".

 

The Brabham-Alfa agreement, with Martini as sponsor, provided that in 1976 the English team would only use the 12-cylinder boxer and no longer the Ford-Cosworth. For this purpose a new single-seater, called BT 45, was built. Its chassis was designed to accommodate the engine produced by Autodelta, bigger than the previous 8-cylinder made in England. The first tests took place the following week on the French track of Le Castellet. Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace, who drive the car at Balocco in a series of exhibition girls, express a certain optimism.

 

"Brabham and Alfa want to win, and so do I. Of course, the set-up will not be easy. We will have to be patient. For the moment, I still see Lauda and Ferrari as favourites for next season".

 

Alfa Romeo (which in 1976 would not participate in the Sport Championship and would leave Merzario free) would supply Brabham with twelve engines. Engineer Chiti states:

 

"We have already solved some problems with lubrication, fuel supply and aerodynamics. It is now a question of bringing this engine, which has 500 hp, towards an efficiency more suitable for Formula 1 use. Our 12-cylinder was born for prototype World Championship racing, it is designed to hold up for 1500 kilometres, while Grand Prix races are run in 300 kilometres. I don't know how soon we will be able to make the Brabham-Alfa competitive: I think it will take three to six months, but if we are lucky, it will take less. The car would make its debut in Argentina, in the first round of the World Championship".

 

Saturday 22 November 1975 Emerson Fittipaldi, Formula One World Champion in 1974, confirms that he will leave McLaren for the next season to race with the Brazilian Copersucar.

 

"The contract binding me to Copersucar was signed on Friday 21 November, before I left for Europe for a series of engagements".

 

It is almost certain that the Brazilian's debut in the Copersucar will take place on Sunday 11 January 1976, at the Argentine Grand Prix, the first round of the World Championship. Second driver of the team will be another Brazilian, the young Ingo Holfmann, who has so far competed in Formula 3 races; manager of the team will be Emerson's brother, Wilson Fittipaldi. For a team that emerges, there is one that disappears. On Sunday, 9 November, in fact, the Hesketh team announced its decision to retire permanently from racing, due to financial difficulties arising from the failure to find a sponsor. The US Grand Prix at Watidns Glen was therefore the last one held by the Hesketh Racing team, at least as an official team, under the personal direction of Lord Hesketh. By the end of 1975, the costs of staying afloat at the top level of Formula One without a sponsor had simply become unsustainable for Lord Hesketh, who was forced to announce his retirement. Funding his Grand Prix programme must have cost him something like £1.000.000. The fact remains, however, that within three years it has become a fearsome team, moving from a superficial approach to a professional commitment to World Championship success. But, throughout the second phase of its activity, it was hampered by increasing financial difficulties. It would probably have been possible to find a sponsor, but not at the last minute. The team had known for a year and a half that they would probably not make it to the end of 1975, but Alexander Hesketh never really wanted a sponsor for many reasons: Lord Hesketh wanted the situation to remain as it was at the beginning and, because he hoped he could make it on his own, he did not prioritise the search for another sponsor. When it became obvious that there was no other choice, the team had to deal with a person who was convinced that there were other priorities, and by the time they managed to convince him, it was too late. The team could have found a sponsor. Bubbles would have been able to, if he'd had the chance in June or July, but they kept assuring him that every effort was being made in London, showing him credible evidence, and he was in Towcester, working sixteen hours a day to run the team, and because he was trying to economise, he wasn't going all the way down to London to check things out.

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Alexander kept saying that he had been looking for a sponsor for a year. The 308C, the car built in 1975, was sold to Frank Williams. Throughout the autumn, the racing world was convinced that Fittipaldi would renew his contract with McLaren, while James Hunt did not feel so poised, because although Team Hesketh was sinking fast for lack of a sponsor, he had several alternatives. The most important proposals came from Brabham and Lotus. But the negotiations with Lotus even struggled to get off the ground. Hunt could not reason with Colin Chapman, according to whom drivers should not be paid. The meeting with Chapman represents, on the whole, a loss of three hours of James Hunt's life, who is not even offered lunch, because he ate nothing. And so, at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, in London, Hunt found himself in the position of having to look for somewhere to eat. When this happens, Hunt knows that Fittipaldi has not yet signed the contracts with McLaren and Marlboro, but he does not know why, nor do the British team and the US company, but they sense that something is wrong, and so they get in touch with the British driver. Both parties decide that if the Hesketh company went down, Hunt would be willing to make a deal with McLaren and Marlboro. Hunt officially received the news of Fittipaldi's decision three days before it was publicly announced, finding out even before the British team because, as a colleague, Emerson informed him before informing McLaren and Marlboro. Domingos Piedade, his manager, called James Hunt from Geneva during the afternoon of Thursday 20 November 1975, because Emerson was in Brazil, and the news was made public during the morning of Saturday 22 November 1975. Piedade tells Hunt that Fittipaldi would not sign, that he wanted to leave McLaren, without informing him what his intentions were. McLaren team manager Teddy Mayer is taken by surprise when Fittipaldi informs him of his decision, even though he knew that the Brazilian was already having problems at the end of the 1975 season, partly due to pressure from his family and Brazil to enter into a partnership with his brother Wilson, to set up their own team and drive their own car. Mayer heard the news at 7:00 p.m., and five minutes later called James Hunt on the phone.

 

"As soon as I had finished saying goodbye to Emerson, I immediately called James to ask him if he wanted to drive for us. Within thirty-six hours, we concluded a deal".

 

That same evening, Hunt made contact with John Hogan, Marlboro's racing manager, to obtain sponsorship, and the following evening they shook hands over a contract. The agreement, which was signed on the evening of Sunday, 23 November 1975, would have satisfactorily resolved Hunt's immediate financial problems. Once the contract was signed, the British driver wondered how he would be received in a team he barely knew, apart from pit-stop greetings, and what the reaction of his new sponsors would be to his casual style. Jeans and a T-shirt are his normal outfit, and the idea of wearing the official Marlboro blazer, with a tie and flannel trousers, frightens him. While signing the contract, Hunt makes it clear that the American company could also remove the clause that would oblige him to use their uniform because he would not wear it. James sincerely thinks that, from an advertising point of view, it would have been better if they had allowed him to be himself naturally, rather than dressing him up as a Philip Morris cigarette character. The request was positively received. About a week later, on the evening of Saturday 29 November 1975, a terrible disaster struck the motor sport. Two-time Formula One World Champion Graham Hill, young British hopeful Tony Brise, and four Embassy-Hill team engineers, Ray Brimble, Andy Smallman, Terry Richards and Tony Halcock, lose their lives in the fire of their small touring plane. The aircraft, coming from Marseille, where Hill, Brise and the other team members had been carrying out a series of tests ahead of the next Formula One World Championship, crashes during landing in London. Flames immediately engulf the wreckage, preventing any rescue. The accident takes place at around 00:00 a.m. Graham Hill, who is at the controls of his private plane, a twin-engine Piper Aztec type, is descending on the small airport at Elstree, on the northern outskirts of London. 

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The plane, flying at low altitude and in a fog bank, hits a row of trees at the edge of a golf course before crashing to the ground and catching fire. The violence of the impact is tremendous: one of the plane's engines is ejected some thirty metres. Despite the discovery of identity documents belonging to the former Formula One champion, it will take six hours for Graham Hill's charred body to be formally identified. One hypothesis put forward is that Hill, who was an experienced airline pilot, mistook fires lit at the golf course for signs at Elstree Airport. The tragic death of Hill and Brise, who was considered to be his heir, shook English public opinion profoundly. The old and the young, the master and the pupil died together on their way home from a weekend's work. Graham Hill and Tony Brise had tested on the French circuit of Le Castellet, between Toulon and Marseille, the Formula 1 single-seaters destined to take to the track in the Argentine Grand Prix. Hill had managed his team, the Embassy-HIII, Brise had driven the 1975 and 1976 versions of the car. Then, the former champion turned sports executive and the hope of British motor racing climbed, together with some of the team's mechanics, into the small aircraft of Hill, a competent and passionate aviator. A long flight from Marseille to London, the tragedy. It is a drama that is also particularly striking because of the way it happened. Those who race in the Formula 1 Grand Prix - you know - fear fire above all. Flames, as so many racetrack tragedies in recent years have painfully demonstrated, leave no escape.

 

Graham Hill, in his very long career, and Brise, in his early days as a Formula 1 driver, had never had to experience the insidiousness hidden in racing. They were blindsided, consumed in the fire of a plane, far from their petrol-belted single-seaters. Hill was a great figure in the sport of driving, of which he had ended up becoming a kind of ambassador. Born in London on 15 February 1929, he had started racing in 1955, the year of his marriage to Bette Shubrocke, a rower he had met at a rowing club. Hill had left racing in July, celebrating his farewell to racing with a lap of honour at Sllverstone before the British Grand Prix. An incredible career: twenty-one years of racing, from the heroic period of the Formula One World Championship to that of sponsors, of managers, of the sport becoming a business. A career filled with success. Two World Championship titles (1962 and 1968), fifteen Grand Prix wins, including five - a record - in Monaco, a victory in the Indy 500 and one in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. No driver before him had managed to become Formula One champion and succeed at Indianapolis and Le Mans. He was an example of courage and determination. Hill had started out as a simple mechanic, without a pound in his pocket. Little by little, aided by natural talent and an iron will, he had climbed the rungs of motorsport. Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1, first with Lotus, then with B.R.M. Like all aces, he was a very good test driver, almost maniacal in tuning his single-seater. A driver calculated to the thousandth, he never put his life and that of his colleagues at risk. He too, however, had a few accidents, the most serious in the 1969 US Grand Prix: his Lotus went off the track, Hill suffered a fracture in both legs.

 

"As long as I have fun, I don't give up".

 

Said the English champion. And he started driving again. Hill, however, felt it was inevitable to say goodbye to racing. He organised a small team, found backers and looked among the young drivers for a possible heir. The Embassy-Hill team was born, Graham hired Rolf Stommelen and Tony Brise. And at almost 47 years of age, after 150 Grands Prix, he decided to leave the wheel, to turn himself into a scrupulous and experienced manager. As a man, Hill was full of charm, vitality and wit. His marriage had been a happy one: three children and a wife who followed him around the world as a timekeeper. A friend of the Princes of Monaco, connected to all of British motor racing, Hill with his team had managed to stay in the business.

 

"I wouldn't know how to do anything else".

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Brise was his own discovery. A talented young man, born into a family of racing enthusiasts. His father and an uncle raced in the days of Stirling Moss. Tony, born on 28 March 1952, had started racing in 1971 in Formula Ford single-seaters. Two seasons in Formula 3 and in 1974 the move to the more demanding Formula Atlantic, in which he had won half the races, and finally his Formula 1 debut in 1975. Embassy-Hill. is now a team that no longer exists. Ray Brimble, who also died in the disaster, was a talented young designer, Smallman the team secretary and Richards and Halcock the mechanics. A tragedy that reminds the English of the Manchester United football team and the Italians of that of Torino. About a week later, on Monday 8 December 1975, Niki lauda did not turn up in Bologna to collect the golden helmet offered to him as World Champion by the specialist magazine Autosprint. Lauda justified his absence by saying:

 

"I'm not coming because I don't agree with what a journalist from your weekly magazine wrote about me during the racing season".

 

Lauda's absence, however, did not spoil the party, which was attended by a large number of other drivers. Among others, Emerson Flttipaldi and the Italian driver Renzo Zorzi, who just in these days reached an agreement with Williams to compete in the Formula One World Championship. But above all, on Friday, 26 December 1976, the Automobile Club of Argentina announced that the Formula 1 Grand Prix, valid as the first round of the World Championship, could not take place on Sunday, 11 January 1976. The ACA officials point out that one of the reasons for the decision is the increased cost of the event and that they will now ask the FIA for a new date for the race. The Argentine Automobile Club emphasises that the decision to postpone the race is in no way related to possible safety reasons. The clarification refers to the current delicate political situation in Argentina. The Argentine Grand Prix is the second of the 1976 season to be skipped, as it seems very difficult for the CSI to find a different date in the busy calendar to make up for this race in extremis. A few days ago a similar announcement was made by the organisers of the South African test. The reasons for this renunciation are rather perplexing. In the past few months, the Argentinians had been in doubt because they had no financial backing, but that backing had been offered by the government, so much so that the Automobile Club officials had then been able to confirm the holding of the race.

 

And it was a funding of around 500.000.000 lire. Now the question of money is back on the table. In reality, it seems likely that the real reason for the refusal, albeit provisional, is to be found in the political situation in the country, despite the official clarifications. The situation is well known, and not exactly the most suitable for receiving so many famous names and deploying them in a racetrack with tens of thousands of spectators. An act of terrorism, a demonstrative gesture would unfortunately have considerable resonance. The number of Grand Prix thus drops from the originally planned seventeen to fifteen: Brazil, Long Beach, Spain, Monaco, Sweden, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Canada, the United States and Japan. The inclusion of the Long Beach race and the return of the Canadian race (which was cancelled in 1975 due to economic disagreements between the organisers and the Formula One manufacturers' association) also make this number higher than in 1975, which was fourteen. It is always regrettable that a race is not held, however, in this case, the removal from the calendar seems appropriate. A season consisting of seventeen events stretching from early January to the end of October seems too long and stressful for drivers, mechanics and technicians. Niki Lauda had recently highlighted this problem, claiming that it was madness. And he was not wrong.


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