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#281 1977 Argentine Grand Prix

2022-07-26 01:00

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#1977, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Nicola Carriero,

#281 1977 Argentine Grand Prix

Niki Lauda gives up in Japan and James Hunt wins the world championship title. It seems like yesterday, but a new season is already about to start. Fo

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Niki Lauda gives up in Japan and James Hunt wins the world championship title. It seems like yesterday, but a new season is already about to start. Formula 1, with its modern and fascinating circus, at least on the surface, never lets its protagonists rest. The 1976 season ended in late October, the 1977 season will start on Sunday, 9th January, in Argentina. It will be even longer, with a schedule composed of 17 Grands Prix. The fears of the last few months faded away. The contrasts between organisers and constructors, under the benevolent eye of CSI, which has been finally present, are over, since they found an agreement. It could not end in a different way, because it would have been stupid to kill this extraordinary product called Formula 1 for a few dollars more or less. We need to give in: sports, technical and human factors are by now in the background, and there are thousands of episodes that prove it; what really counts is the financial element, tied in an indissoluble way with marketing. The circus moves billions. It is an organization where many people participate: constructors, organizers, drivers, technicians. The sponsors finance men and teams in change of a label, then television, newspapers, the spectators, who often only see the show. Formula 1, actually, right because of the economic interests by which it is moved, has become a merciless world, where the feelings step aside in favour of cold calculations. Should we be surprised, given the society in which we live? Luckily, there are exceptions sometimes: the brave act made by Merzario and colleagues at the Nürburgring, or Lauda giving up in Japan. Lauda himself, whether he wants it or not, this year has to face a particularly hard challenge. Not much because he has to reconquer the lost title, but because he is called to show to his enemies and friends that he is always himself. Niki is convinced that he is, he is confident about driving his Ferrari serenely, but the challenge will not be so easy. Someone should fear for him, but luckily the man is reasonable and rational. He is not one of those drivers that breaks the limits of his car or his own. James Hunt's task is easier but still very hard.

 

Last year, the blonde Englishman proved his worth but there is still one doubt: would he have still won if Lauda had not crashed at the Nürburgring? It is a doubt that has its weight. In the challenges between the Austrian and the Englishman, between Ferrari and McLaren, there are many other rivals who may interfere. By now there are a lot of competitive cars, which at least are able to win on a determined circuit. Enzo Ferrari would like his 312 T2 to be one tenth faster, that margin that would be enough to beat his rivals. Among the teams that start from Britain to fight for the new Formula 1 World Championship, the most fearsome opponent for Ferrari is still McLaren, which have to defend the title that they won with James Hunt in a dramatic season. What is McLaren preparing then for 1977? Out of the thirteen official teams joining the Argentine Grand Prix, McLaren will be the only one, except maybe Coporsucar-Fittipaldi, to present the same cars and drivers of 1976. A winning horse is better than an unknown one, says an old English saying. The winning horse is the M23, which already won sixteen races) and unknown one is the M26, which still has not debuted. Both are made by the 38-year-old Gordon Coppuck, who comes from aerospace engineering. Hunt was not completely happy about the M26, which has been ready for a while, in the recent tests at Paul Ricard, especially in terms of handling in the slow corners. With a nose that is similar to the Ferrari one, with oil radiators placed on the sides, the M26 was tested with carbon fibre brakes. But, the M23, which many buyers asked for, among which Brett Lunge and Guy Edwards, are not on sale anymore. Even for the drivers, Mayer stood on the positions of last year, after some flinching related to Jochen Mass. So, what does Teddy Mayer think, former ski instructor, then lawyer and then driver in replacement of McLaren, after the tragic loss of the New Zealander driver-constructor, about the next season? Do you claim that he can get that extra tenth that Enzo Ferrari holds sufficient to dominate the field?

 

"Out of the sixteen races of last year, we and Ferrari won twelve. Tyrrell, Penske, March and Lotus only won one. The next season will be even more competitive, so much more interesting. There will be a lot of new cars".

 

What do you fear the most?

 

"Ferrari above all, then Tyrrell. Brabham-Alfa Romeo are becoming threatening. And then there is new Lotus. The outsider, since it never misses, may be Wolf or Ligier. Anyway, I don't completely agree with Ferrari when he says that it only takes one tenth to dominate. I believe that, in the course of a long championship, the most important thing is the consistency of high-level performances".

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Practicality, simplicity, interdependency and great efficiency in the preparation are McLaren's main points, the most rational and pragmatical of British teams. McLaren were able to balance well sports and business.

 

"The M23 model is starting its fifth season and the Cosworth engine its eleventh, but we are still advanced. But the current Ferrari T2 has its origins, like us, in 1973, and it is probably for this reason that our cars are equally competitive".

 

The reliability of modern Formula 1 cars may now be related to their age. The more they are old, the more valid they are. The more valid they are, the more reliable they are. McLaren keep their M26 aside, so do Ferrari with the T3. Two cars for the future or rather two psychological weapons?

 

"At the Argentine Grand Prix, McLaren will launch something new anyway. It is a device that Hunt will use in order to communicate with the pit crew during the race".

 

As is known, Hunt ended the last race of the season as he was convinced that he had lost the title due to insufficient communications from McLaren's team. Now a company from London, specialized in electronics, developed for Formula 1 races a device originally created by NASA technicians for the communications with the astronauts. Something similar has been already adopted in rallying, but the first experiments in Formula 1, even made by Ferrari, did not give the expected results due to the deafening noise and vibrations of the cars. These inconveniences would be now solved. If this device confirms the expectations, the small transmitter-receiver will be installed in the helmet of the World Champion. Only two drivers so far have won the world championship for at least two consecutive years: Ascari in 1952-1953, and Fangio, with as many as four consecutive times in 1954-1957). Hunt realizes that this achievement is much harder today, due to the higher competitiveness and to the bigger number of the world championship races. The English bookmakers only rate his double 6-1. But Hunt states:

 

"Don't worry, at least I'll try".

 

The Italian journalist Nestore Morosini took a flight from Italy to Buenos Aires, on Tuesday, 4th January, 1977, under the full regime of the military junta, led by General Jorge Rafael Videla, accompanied by engineer Mauro Forghieri, on a Boeing 707. After passing the customs without problems, the Italian journalist goes to the rent-a-car.

 

"If you will, you can have a driver, the fee is the same, with or without a driver".

 

Obviously, Morosini chooses the first solution: the driver is a funny man, named Alberto.

 

"Señor, if some military patrol stops us, show your passport and don't make reckless moves. Even if they search you".

 

Precisely, a military patrol stops the two half a kilometre before the airport. 

 

"Manos arriba". 

 

The Italian journalist immediately shows his passport, but he is searched: he will be searched seventeen times in five days. Even Carlo Chiti, who reached the rent-a-car counter, is approached to a friend who hugs him vigorously and alerts him:

 

"Highly recommend your people that they walk normally, so don't run, because after few seconds they can shoot a sequence of gunshots. My two children, last week, were on a tram that was stopped by the police and they stepped down running: one moment later, they were dead".

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In a hotel room, the journalists' accreditation for the Grand Prix takes place, which is planned for Sunday, 9th January,1977. A burly man stands at the door: 

 

"Good morning, señor Morosini".

 

The Italian journalist, instinctively, asks how he knew his name. Alberto will tell you in the afternoon: 

 

"That is a military police official. They know everything about you, your name, surname, job, and in certain cases, even your political ideas". 

 

In the same way, on Tuesday, 4th January, 1977, many drivers and cars reach Buenos Aires, protected by thick privacy. Some arrivals registered during the day, from more or less far places, are those from the Irishman John Watson, the West German Jochen mass, the Italian Vittorio Brambilla, the South African Jody Scheckter, the Swede Ronnie Peterson and the Frenchman Patrick Depailler. Clay Regazzoni, former Lauda's teammate in Ferrari, has been in Argentina already since Sunday evening. Still on Sunday, late in the night, an Alitalia aircraft landed on the Buenos Aires airport, with three Ferrari 312 T2 on board: two are those running in the Grand Prix, handed one to Lauda and one to his new teammate, the Argentinian Carlos Reutemann, for whom the local fans wait with particular excitement, and the third one is a reserve car in case of incidents in the practices. The weather, in this glimpse of summer season - note that seasons are inverted in the Southern hemisphere - is not very good; Buenos Aires was hit by heavy rains, and still on Sunday, 2nd January, 1977, really torrential rain even darkened the sky. Anyway, the authorities of the Argentinian Automobile Club, which organized the Grand Prix this year, assure that special means which are able to dry the track would be used in the practices and in the day of race. The Automobile Club, meanwhile, put 44.000 tickets to sale for the race, with really high prices for Argentina. But, according to the representatives of the organizing Automobile Club, the high prices are necessary for recovering at least part of the enormous investments made for preparing the race; in order to convince the fans to hit the racetrack, a silence on televisions has been imposed for the race in a 150-kilometre radius around Buenos Aires. Despite this, until today, only 14.000 tickets have been sold. While in Buenos Aires, the Formula 1 drivers start their practices for the first Grand Prix, Arturo Merzario is in Castellamonte, stuck on a bed in the civil hospital. The 34-year-old driver from Como, who on Thursday, 30th December, 1976, fractured his pelvis after a simple fall in Cervinia. After the first treatments, Merzario was transferred to the Canavesano medical center, where he can be treated by Dr Rino Lamarco, head of surgery. What are your physical and moral conditions after the accident? 

 

"I would say that they are good, even because, thanks to the treatments that I had by Dr Lamarca's team, I feel a lot better and so I hope that I can go back home, to Milan, in the next few days, and I can see the Grand Prix, at least on TV".

 

How do you see 1977?

 

"I think that there will be big new things, since many cars have been renewed and everything is possible. On paper, my favourites are Hunt, Peterson and Matra-Ligier. As of Ferrari, I think that Lauda will be in a difficult situation, first because he has to overcome the shock of last year's incident, then because, in my opinion, the team will do everything in order to support Reutemann more, also because he is the home driver".

 

Your opinion on Brambilla and Zorzi?

 

"I'm sure that Brambilla will have good performances as well as Surtees, which I had to drive too, it's competitive. As of Zorzi, I wish him to have patience and not to cut corners".

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And when will Merzario be able to go back on track? 

 

"I hope that I will go back in early March, and join the South Africa Grand Prix, third stage of the World Championship".

 

Among the ten British teams, precisely nine plus the British-Italian Brabham-Alfa Romeo, that will start the new Formula 1 World Championship in Buenos Aires, together with Ferrari, Ligier-Matra and Copersucar-Fittipaldi, the teams that stand out for their spectacular new features and for their offer of technical proposals in these years are Tyrrell, March and Lotus. These three teams are the group of innovators, which worked hard in the last few months and have great ambitions for the new season. March is completely renewed in terms of drivers and car. Tyrrell was divided into two teams, one focused on the competitions, which shows up with a new driver and updated cars, while the other will be devoted only to research and experimentations. In conclusion, Lotus, which confirmed the drivers of the last season, line up the much-expected JPS-Mark III, also known as Lotus 78, a renewed single-seater which hopes to regain the dominance of a past time. Ken Tyrrell, nicknamed Chopper, since he comes from the wood industry, states:

 

"The values of the teams are levelling more and more. Enzo Ferrari is right when he says that a tenth of second faster would be enough to dominate the field in the next season. Since in Formula 1 almost every team, including ours, is powered by Cosworth's 8 cylinder, we did our biggest efforts in the technical evolution of the chassis. Last season, we introduced the six wheelers. Many people laughed sceptically. The first results were encouraging instead, a win in the Swedish Grand Prix, many good placements, the third place in the constructors' final championship: everything with still an experimental car".

 

In 1976, Tyrrell's costs were about £750.000. For the next season, the team will receive not only financial support from Elf, as in the past, but also from First National City Travellers Checks, Penske's sponsor and at the same time of Peterson's March, the Swede who replaced Scheckter behind the wheel of the Tyrrell. 

 

"The arrival of the second sponsor gave us the financial means to create a research and experimentation team, with the task of developing our six-wheeler. For this team, directed by Derek Gardner, we hired Karl Kempf, 27, brilliant American expert of applied mathematics, who has been working for two years in Goodyear as technical consultant. I know that even Ferrari was very interested into Kempf. Now he is working on a mathematical model of the current Tyrrell for the Grands Prix, and he provides for the setup and installing of electronic devices. We decided to buy a computer too. It will be the first time in Formula 1 that these techniques of the space era will be introduced. The research team will have, together with their single-seaters, their technicians, mechanics and auxiliary services. They will only have the drivers in common with the world championship team. It is a very expensive technological project, in order to reach that tenth of second of extra speed which Ferrari speaks of".

 

A few changes were applied to last season's six-wheeler, which made it faster. At Paul Ricard's tests, Patrick Depailler went four seconds faster than the fastest lap obtained by Mass on his McLaren M23 in 1'46"6. Hunt, testing his all-new M26, set the time of 1'47"2 and Lafite on Ligier 1'48"9. Thanks to the new, more aerodynamic form, Elf-Tyrrell set electronically on the straight the apex speed of 284.31 km/h, compared to 270.31 km/h set by Hunt and 260.65 km/h set by Laffite. 

 

"The last series of tests before the Argentine Grand Prix was extremely encouraging, but it must not be forgotten that the results of the race do not always reflect those obtained in the tests. With strong drivers such as Depailler or Peterson, and with more evolved cars compared to last year, we can look forward with optimism to the new World Championship".

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Even the resourceful March now have their six-wheeler. Compared to Tyrrell, which, as is known, mounts four small front wheels in tandem and is moved by the big two rear wheels, the March 2-4-0 is the first Formula 1 single-seater with six wheels with the same diameter, with four-wheel drive, in the rear. But, as much as Tyrrell, the new car designed by Robin Herd will not run as long as a long series of positive tests is made. In Argentina, then, March will compete with their new model 771, un updated version of the 1976 model. Dr Max Mosley, attorney, head of March, comments:

 

"In terms of pure speed, our 761, last season, was one of the fastest cars. We won the Italian Grand Prix with Peterson, but in other races on dry asphalt, after a very promising start, we faced issues on the front tyres due to the suspensions. These issues have been removed with the model 771, which has some changes. There are also new drivers. They are two great talents".

 

The Brazilian Alex Ribeiro, fifth in the European Formula 2 championship on the official March, joined so far only one Formula 1 race, at Watkins Glen on the Hesketh 308D. He will have Jan Scheckter, South African Formula 5000 champion and Jody's elder brother, as teammate. In late March, even the March 771 of the Italian team Auroracing will take action, with the Roman Maurizio Flammini on the wheel. In conclusion, Lotus. Despite the Mark III has been ready since Monza, Colin Chapman delayed its launch until the Christmas week, so that his rivals will not copy the new features introduced before the start of the World Championship. The new car, which is the fifth model introduced by Chapman on 1968, is the result of an intense process of design, development and testing. Its secret is in the ducts that push along the sides, in order to make it flow to the ground, enhancing the stability of the car and its performance in corners. Tanks were also placed in the side ducts. Two rows of brushes placed on the sides underneath the car contribute to enhance the aerodynamics. Lotus's finding may cause a new rule controversy. It must be decided if the skates will be considered only as ducts for funnelling air through radiators by CSI, or aerodynamic devices instead, therefore subjected to measure limits. In the field of the British teams, traditional rivals of Ferrari, there are some new pairs, such as Wolf Racing with the South African Jody Scheckter, and a return, BRM with the Australian Larry Perkins. The two teams have great expectations from their entirely new cars, especially Wolf, which took over Frank Williams's team, which, in their turn, bought cars and materials from Hesketh. The head of Wolf’s project is an Austrian who went to Canada sixteen years ago with as few as 7 dollars in his pocket. Since then, Walter Wolf amassed a colossal fortune in the field of tools for extracting oil from the seabed. He is currently building the first submarine in the world for the maintenance of underwater oil pipelines. Wolf always had a passion for fast cars, but he watched a Formula 1 race for the first time only in 1975, in occasion of the so-called Race of Champions in Silverstone. It was enough to fall in love with the Grands Prix; he met Frank Williams, whose team was in a serious financial crisis, and became soon his associate. The results were negative, anyway. Wolf, who in each of his industrial initiative had an enormous success, got tired, so he decided, recklessly according to someone, to build a completely new single-seater, using, without minding the expenses, what it was possible for him to obtain. Wolf hired Harvey Postlethwa, the designer of the Hesketh with which James Hunt obtained his maiden win in 1975, as designer and constructor. Peter Warr was called as sports director, leaving Lotus. At the same time, Wolf, making use of their common Austrian origins, tried to sign Niki Lauda before the infamous Nurburging race, and the World Champion barely joined this new team. Wolf states that he preferred Scheckter because he is hungrier for success.

 

"An absolutely certain thing is that I won't abandon the races unless I win the World Championship first". 

 

The new Wolf Ford WR1, with which he hopes to win the world championship in Canada ("A country that was very generous with me"), is a conventional four-wheeler, with the usual Cosworth 8-cylinder which in three or four months will be ready in its ultra-light magnesium version. The Canadian emblem is shown on the sides, the red maple leaf on a white circle. The only sponsor of Wolf team is his owner: 

 

"Our team is made of 30 people, they're the best in the world. I'm convinced that I have a fantastic car".

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For season 1977, Wolf established a budget of 1.000.000 dollars. The initial tests in Brands Hatch, Paul Ricard and Fiorano, conceded by Ferrari, confirmed Wolf's promises. Peter Warr states in this regard:

 

"In Fiorano, we almost equalled Lauda's times with an absolutely new car. In three days, we were able to finish a work of three months".

 

Jody Scheckter, third in the 1976 season, has never been comfortable on Tyrrell's six-wheelers, as he himself confessed, and now has great expectations from Wolf.

 

Another romantic protagonist of Formula 1 is Louis Stanley, B.R.M.’s patron, the only true British constructor in Formula 1 (as Ferrari is in Italy and Ligier in France). Since 1959, B.R.M. won 17 Grands Prix, including the Italian Grand Prix in 1962 and 1971. All the most famous drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio, Pedro Rodriguez, Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jos Stiffert, John Surtees, Clay Regazzoni, Niki Lauda and many others, have been behind the wheel of a B.R.M.. Just like Wolf, Formula 1 became an obsession for Stanley. With his rich profits (about £4.000.000 made in twelve months by the exportation of mobile hospital centres to third world countries), Stanley was able to make his new single-seater, the only one made in England with a 12-cylinder engine: the P207. Much profiled in the front, it is powered by an engine that produced 497 HP in the benchmark. The 5-gear transmission is made by B.R.M.. Perkins, European Fomula 3 champion in 1975, was called for driving the P207, who joined Formula 1 last year first with Ensign and then with Brabham-Alfa Romeo. Stanley's opinion on the driver is the following: 

 

"I think that Perkins is in the same league of Pedro, Jo and Niki, who all drove a B.R.M.". 

 

On Thursday, 6th January, 1977, Patrick Depailler, with his Tyrrell, is the fastest in Buenos Aires in a free practice session (not valid for the starting grid), in preparation for the Argentine Grand Prix. A hot and sultry day causes many issues to the single-seaters, except to Depailler's. The six-wheeler is very competitive, and this shows that the technical progress made and the different measures taken in Winter in order to enhance its performance had positive results. Nothing particular for Ferrari. Drivers and technicians are mostly focused on the study of the best setups. The tests, anyway, do not offer definitive indications, as not every team uses the same tyres, while on Friday every team can use tailored wheels for their needs. Lauda sets the seventh fastest time and Reutemann the tenth. The Argentinian, towards the end of the practice, is involved in a spin that mildly damages his 312 T2, while Zorzi is stuck due to overheating issues on his Shadow. During the practice, Vittorio Brambilla is forced to stay in the box for long time because, right after the start, the extinguisher mounted inside the Surtees is actioned, filling the car with foam. The mechanics will work for an hour in order to solve this issue.

 

"We hope that we ran out of bad luck".

 

Clay Regazzoni looks happy with his new car. About Ensign, the Swiss says:

 

"It's a very easy car to drive, lighter than the Ferrari, and even if the engine is not the best, let me set a good time".

 

The Argentinian press gives much importance to this Grand Prix, devoting most of the space to Ferrari and Reutemann and wishing that the Argentinian driver can follow the steps of Fangio, who in 1956 conquered the world championship title with the Scuderia Ferrari. An enormous security service is organized for the race: army and police control every point of the circuit, both inside and outside. In fact, the atmosphere around the Argentine Grand Prix is very tense, and among the protagonists of the race, due to the presence of the army and the difficult financial and political situation that the country is facing, which registered last year all-time high inflation rates. The military authorities fear an attack or, however, a demonstration of Monteneros guerrilla warriors and of the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, who were involved in many gunfire clashes with the police in various parts of Argentina. Nobody says it, but even the chance that a driver may be kidnapped is considered. That is why the hotel that hosts the different teams from Europe is watched by a contingent of troops.

 

"The Argentinians are using their Grand Prix as security test in view of the football world cup".

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The theory is likely: next year, the football world cup will be held here, to which no one would give up for prestige reasons, despite the crisis that the country is facing. If the race unfolds normally, Argentina will continue their preparations with more ease. These problems involve only indirectly, at least now, the people of the circus, who are in the middle of the usual tasks: car setup, tyres choice, facing the opponents. Meanwhile, anyway, the Buenos Aires racetrack seems to be turned into a fortress or a military camp. Police and army, outside and inside the structure, which arises in the suburbs of the enormous Argentinian capital city, control everyone and everything with rudeness. Vittorio Brambilla and John Surtees are held and searched from head to toes. In the pits, together with the usual picturesque company of the Formula 1 circus, groups of soldiers with automatic firearms are moving around. Moving back to the tests on track, it has to be admitted that Niki Lauda already forgot the bad fay of the Japanese Grand Prix and the fact that he stepped down from the Formula 1 world championship title in favour of James Hunt. On Friday, 7th January, 1977, on the edge of the swimming pool at the Sheraton Hotel in Buenos Aires, the Austrian champion treats the aftermath of the tremendous burns suffered in the Nürburgring incident, which, despite many surgery operations, are still visible on his face and body. While the other drivers joke with each other, Lauda is relaxed, laying in the sun, before going to the circuits for the practice. The journalists take advantage of this to interview him. A new, very intense championship is about to start: how does Lauda feel? 

 

"I'm feeling very good, and I'm ready like every start of season. I did some exercise and jogging, let alone a period of oxygenation in the mountains, and I have the best condition".

 

In winter, Ferrari worked a lot in order to enhance their car. Which are the most important parts that were changed? 

 

"They've been working a lot around front and rear suspensions. Then we acknowledged the aero tests in order to study a new body and new wings". 

 

From today, you will have the same type of tyres that allowed Reutemann to set the track record at Fiorano. Do you think that these tyres let you improve the time set on Thursday? 

 

"For Thursday tests, Goodyear gave us hard tyres, the same type used in Japan, which weren't ideal for Ferrari. Now, with softer tyres and with a cleaner track, I think that I can do better".

 

There were some changes inside Ferrari's team, engineer Rosetto and Reutemann replaced Audetto and Regazzoni. How do you get along with them? 

 

"Very well, since I already knew Nosetto, who I think is a very elusive person, while Reutemann is a valid driver who can help me with the car setup". 

 

What do you expect from the new championship, and who will be Ferrari's main rivals? 

 

"It's too soon to call, it'll take five or six races to give a shape to the championship standings". 

 

What are your chances to win the world title? 

 

"I don't know, but this is my goal anyway".

 

What do you expect from these two South American races? 

 

"As of results, we'll see. The most important thing will be to understand the eventual issues of the car in order to improve it in the next Grands Prix, and above all to have a perfect car for the European races, which will decide the World Championship winner".

 

Some papers wrote that your seat may be taken soon by Scheckter. What do you think about it? 

 

"Those who wrote this are wrong, because I have a contract with Ferrari and I want to run with Ferrari, since it's a very competitive car". 

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Then, Lauda gets up. The sun burns and it is by now the time to go to the racetrack. Soon, the roar of the engines will officially start the new championship, and the times will have another value. Although Argentina is mere, thousands of miles away from the recognised European home of Formula One Grand Prix circuit racing, it has organised qualifying rounds in the World Championship intermittently ever since 1953, although there was a gap of 12 years between Bruce McLaren’s victory in a Cooper-Climax in 1960 and Jackie Stewart’s win with a Tyrrell-Cosworth five years ago. Similarly it has a reputation for producing noteworthy drivers, particularly five times World Champion Juan-Manuel Fangio, twice British Grand Prix winner Froilan Gonzales and - more recently - current hero Carlos Reutemann who has won several Grands Prix for Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team and is now Lauda’s team-mate in the Ferrari Formula One line-up. The Argentine Grand Prix has always taken place in the Autodromo Municipal de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, but this spaciously laid out autodromo (built by President Peron in the late 1940s) has a great number of circuit combinations and it is only since 1974 that the 5.968-kilometre Circuit number 15 has been used for the race. From 1953 to 1960 the 3.912-kilometre Circuit number 2 was employed and in 1972 and 73 the 3.345-kilometre Circuit number 9 was utilised for the Argentine Grand Prix. So you can see that a whole complex of tracks run in all directions round the infield area, so much so that one feels a trifle inhibited even strolling across part of the complex that isn’t in use just in case some rabbit has got confused and wandered up the wrong turning - and that has happened before now. Last year’s Argentine Grand Prix never took place owing to a mixture of legal wrangling between the organisers and constructors, galloping inflation of the Argentine peso and the fact that President Isabel Peron’s regime was crumbling precariously with the result that the military authorities did not want the added complication of a major sporting gathering as they were worried that some demented soul would start throwing bombs about the place. This year the last-mentioned aspect of the race hasn’t changed even though the Automovil Club Argentina has concluded the agreement with the Formula One Constructors for this year’s race to take place.
 
Throughout the winter there has been plenty of protracted squabbling between the Constructors, the CSI and an organisation called World Championship Racing which was supposed to be representing the bargaining interests of several organisers including the Argentinians. The details have been hashed and dished so frequently in so many places that we do not propose to go into them again except to observe that there was so much confusion that it was difficult to see who was doing what, and with which, and so to speak. Fortunately somebody fired up some racing engines on the Thursday prior to the Argentine Grand Prix and when you’ve got two Ferrari flat-12s, two Alfa Romeo flat-12s, a Matra V12 and sixteen Cosworth V8s all screaming and burbling away it does tend to drown the bickering. Official practice for the race takes place on the Friday and Saturday following Thursday’s unofficial, untimed warm-up session. In terms of local popularity there is no doubt that Reutemann tops the polls but there are those who seem to think that his installation in a Ferrari 312T2 will result in some magical transformation and he will completely dominate both practice and the race. Unfortunately things start badly for the Argentinian driver for he spins his new Ferrari 312T2-029 through several layers of catch fencing at the fast fourth gear right-left esses immediately following the pits during the untimed session on Thursday. The Ferrari only suffers minor bodywork damage and is repaired in time for the serious business on Friday, but it quickly becomes obvious that either Ferrari has gone backwards or simply become rather complacent over the winter and that their rivals have caught up with them. The very first timed session sees Patrick Depailler comfortably quickest in the aerodynamically revamped Tyrrell P34, the popular little Frenchman recording a best lap of 1'49"63 which is comfortably faster than the official lap record established two years ago: James Hunt (Hesketh 308) in 1'50"91. All the off-season testing seems to be paying off for the Tyrrell team, but World Champion James Hunt was only 0.4 sec. behind him in his trusty six-speed McLaren M23 and the British driver puts in a spurt during the second session to lap in 1'48"68, a time which stands as fastest for the remaining day and a half of practice and assured Hunt of pole position for the race. Both the works McLarens have been totally rebuilt for Hunt and his team-mate Jochen Mass, identical in specification to the last time they were used in October’s Japanese Grand Prix. 
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Spurred on by his team-mate, and maintaining the revitalised form he demonstrated in the last three races of 1976, Mass isn’t far behind the World Champion and finishes Friday fourth fastest on 1'49"731. Whilst it is no surprise to see Depailler up with the McLarens, there is a surprise in store from Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team who now has John Watson driving for them alongside Carlos Pace. Watson is thrown out of work when Roger Penske has a tiff with his banking sponsors and stalks out of Formula One, but Ecclestone quickly snaps him up and he fully justifies his new employer’s confidence by lapping in 1'49"22 on the first day. That means he is third fastest overall and the Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT45 is running as smoothly and sweetly as could be hoped for all day. Watson is highly impressed with the engine’s wide power band and low speed torque and as it is the first time he drives it one must assume that the modifications to this flat-12 engine have made a worthwhile improvement. Even though the cockpit doesn’t quite fit him, Watson plugs on gamely throughout Saturday and, in only four laps of the final session, records a splendid 1'49"6 best to join Hunt’s McLaren on the front row of the grid. With Watson setting the pace in the Brabham camp, Pace is getting more and more frustrated with a multitude of mechanical problems. Although the Brazilian manages the fourth fastest time (1'50"60) his BT45/5 promptly splits a water hose which means that he has to switch to the team spare (BT45/1) for the second session. Unfortunately Pace slides off the road during that second session, damaging the older car beyond immediate repair which obliges him to stop practising for the day. A fresh engine is installed on Friday night, but still the car has trouble with its cooling system and the final straw comes when Pace rolls to a halt in BT45/5 on the first lap of Saturday’s final hour-long session with the car boiling again. He strides angrily back to the pits where Ecclestone calls Watson to hand over BT45/3 to his team-mate and in four laps Pace records his best time of 1'49"97 in sheer bad temper which is good enough for sixth place on the grid. With all this going on Reutemann must be wondering what on earth he left the Brabham team for because neither Ferrari is exactly shining brightly.

 

Both drivers are complaining that their 312T2s don't have sufficient traction and are consequently using so much rear wing angle that they are not particularly quick in a straight line. Lauda wrestles gamely with his car to such an extent that he half-spins on Friday (unusual for the calculating Austrian) but he can still only manage 1'49"97 on the first day, considerably quicker than Reutemann (1'50"85). Lauda admits that he is very confused and implies that there have been very little real development carried out on the cars while he was away during the winter having another corrective skin graft operation carried out on his face. Elsewhere along the pit front there are several other teams with varying problems. Ronnie Peterson’s efforts with his Tyrrell P34 are hampered by the fact that he is suffering from a bad attack of influenza and his car sheared two front stub axles in quick succession which means that he doesn’t get much opportunity to practice. His best turns out to be 1'52"25 by the end of the first day which he subsequently improves to 1'51"34 on the second day although he is never happy with his car’s handling. In the Lotus camp there are a multitude of problems with Nilsson’s car consuming an engine during untimed testing and Andretti’s beset with misfiring throughout Friday’s two sessions. After a lot of chitchat and tension, the Formula 1 World Championship officially starts under a burning sun and armed soldiers everywhere. It started by reconnecting with the previous one, since James Junt and his #1 McLaren beat everyone else by obtaining the fastest lap with an impressive time of 1'48"68. In the last few months, all teams had, sometimes even together, testing sessions in order to try their new cars and verify the validity of certain changes. The team already obtained significant data of the potential of this or that car from these tests, but what was missing is the direct comparison, which could take place only on the eve of this Grand Prix. James Hunt is once again the fastest on track, and this was the most logical prediction, since nothing changed in the team of the World Champion. Despite working hard during winter around the new McLaren model M26, Hunt and his sports director Teddy May preferred to update with small changes the car from last year, in order to be immediately competitive on the highest level, postponing the use of the new car when the season is halfway. Hunt, happy and with his usual boldness, states after the tests:

 

"I didn't have many problems, I only needed to push the pedal harder to set the fastest time. I will win on Sunday". 

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Hunt's teammate Jochen Mass's performance has been equally good, who obtained the fourth time, and this confirms the competitiveness of British cars. The Tyrrell six-wheeler had enormous progress, which in the free practices and in the first session of official practice set better times with Depailler. The car, completely new in terms of aero with a new body, appeared very fast and stable. It will certainly be one of the strongest cars of the season. Ronnie Peterson was not able to equal the performance of his teammate. because at the beginning of the second session of practice, while he went past the pits, one of the front wheels of his car completely fell off. The Swede did not have many difficulties while controlling his single-seater, who still got five wheels left, but he missed the turn. Certainly, together with Tyrrell, the car that surprised the most, and Martini-Brabham with Alfa Romeo engine, which after its debut in Brazil in 1976 proved to be one of the best single-seaters. This is the sign that the updates made both on the chassis and on the engine were effective. The surprise in this team came from Watson, who, even if he was driving for the first time a twelve-cylinder car, beat his teammate Pace. Watson is a very determined driver and very reliable in race. Ferrari, instead, is no longer among the best, the cars are not good and cannot keep up with the other cars. In the Ferrari box there are many doubts on clutches, tyres and engines, and what worsens this situation is that the technicians cannot find the reasons for this poor competitiveness. The only positive aspect is that Niki Lauda showed the grit and commitment of his best days and appears fully recovered. The two months of rest and the whiplash from the bad day in Japan awakened in him the determination and the will power to become first and it is indeed thanks to this that Ferrari is still not far from the first places. Reutemann, despite the long training and testing sessions held in the last few months in Fiorano, has more difficulties than Lauda in suggesting the changes to apply to the 312T, since he does not fully know the car, and this prevents him from doing a fast setup.

 

Even the new Lotus appeared competitive, which, despite the flaws of youth, obtained with Andretti the sixth time overall. The Italian-American driver was the protagonist of a spectacular crash that luckily ended without consequences. In the days before the Grand Prix, many doubts were advanced on Lauda's chances, and it was supposed that his place as Ferrari leading driver would be taken by Reutemann. The facts, anyway, are starting to show that the Austrian is still the fastest in the team. The gap between Lauda and Hunt, though, is disappointing, since it is a relevant difference, which evidently cannot be the driver's fault. So what? Usual tyre issues, usual setup problems or has the 312 T2 by now irretrievably lost ground against McLaren and other rivals? Enzo Ferrari should not be so happy seeing that in the time classification even a Brabham is in front of Lauda. The day of the Anglo-Italian team has been partially ruined by an incident in which Carlos Pace was involved. The Brazilian driver, who set the seventh fastest time (1'50"60), went off the track in a fast S of the Buenos Aires racetrack, severely damaging his car. It is likely that, on Saturday, Carlos has to be forced to drive the T-Car, the reserve car. Another incident occurred few minutes before the end of the practices, shocked the Formula 1 circus, causing a bit of alarm. A fire extinguisher of the firefighting system of Mario Andretti's Lotus exploded while the Italo-American was running of the finish line straight. Andretti, in a cloud of smoke, stopped car, which was immediately surrounded by firefighters and police officers. The driver was taken to the field hospital of the circuit, because the chemical liquid caused him some mild burns on his legs and on his face. Andretti will say at the end of the practice:

 

"Don't worry, it's nothing serious. I'll try to win anyway".

 

If Ferrari did not stand out, even the balance of the two Italian drivers joining the Argentine Grand Prix is pretty low, and so is that of Clay Regazzoni, former Ferrari driver who now races for Ensign. Vittorio Brambilla on Surtees only obtained the twelfth time (1'51"50), Regazzoni the sixteenth (1'53"35) and Zorzi, on Shadow, is last (1'55"45). Vittorio Brambilla, however, is happy with his Surtees TS 19. The driver from Monza run around for a long time in order to remove the oversteer that he encountered in the practices and then in order to find the best setup. Then, he set a good time, 1'50"17, which allowed him to gain seventh place, but the race officials did not record it. Surtees's protests were useless. Regazzoni complained about the low grip of his Ensign in the fast corners on the Buenos Aires track, while Zorzi had to use the T-Car, having troubles with the gearbox and the clutch. A total of twenty drivers hit the track. The Aussie Larry Perkins did not manage to join the practices, whose BRM stayed in England because it was not ready. However, those who stayed behind will try in the second day of practices to improve their times, in order to gain a better place on the starting grid. In the evening, the Italian journalist Nestore Morosini is waiting for his colleague Franco Lini in a restaurant, when a patrol, two soldiers and a lieutenant barge in, asking for everyone's documents. Morosini shows his passport. 

 

"Huh, Formula 1 journalist? When will you leave Buenos Aires?"

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I answered:

 

"As soon as possible".

 

On Saturday morning, Vittorio Brambilla and John Surtees ask Nestore Morosini for a lift, since the car of the former British driver has two punctured tyres. Along the way, a patrol stops them. As usual, manos arriba, the three are positioned as the soldiers ask and are searched. But, as soon as the soldier touches John Surtees with his hand, the latter pushes him between his shoulder and neck. Moments of terror follow, in which Vittorio Brambilla whispers in dialect: 

 

"Mi me caghi adoss" ("I'm shitting myself").

 

And Morosini answers: 

 

"Same...".

 

The lieutenant who commands the patrol, though, understands the situation, speaks with the soldier, calms him down and says to the tree: 

 

"Make him a gift".

 

Then, John Surtees puts his hand in his pocket and gives the Argentinian soldier 100 dollars. At the end of the second session the rugged American driver, Mario Andretti, gets everything straight and working, reeling off a confident 1'50"13 lap to take sixth position in the practice lists for that day. But no sooner has he crossed the timing line than a sudden explosion tears the front of his new Lotus to shreds as the steel fire extinguisher bottle mounted just behind the car’s oil cooler disintegrates like a hand grenade. Hot oil spurts all over Andretti’s helmet (and into his face when he lifted the vizor) as he fumbles down through the gears to stop the car, the clutch and brake pedals falling limply about in the footwell as their fluid cylinders have been ripped out by the blast. The American successfully brings the car to a standstill but the whole front bulkhead has been destroyed and closer examination reveals that the monocoque will have to return to England to be rebuilt. Accordingly Andretti takes over Nilsson’s car for Saturday’s two sessions, but fails to equal his Friday best, while the Swede resigns himself to the role of spectator. Lauda puts in a supreme effort in Saturday’s final session to lift himself up onto the second row of the grid with a best of 1'49"73 but Reutemann continues to be inhibited by his Ferrari’s difficult handling and can only record 1'50"02, which means that he starts from seventh place on the grid, proving that Ferraris don’t provide instant miracles. There must be a touch of irony in this whole situation for Brabham boss Bernie Ecclestone because the Argentinian has left his team because he was disappointed with the Alfa-engined BT45’s performance and now he is behind both of them on the grid. So often in racing it pays to stick with one project because it may eventually pay off whereas changing ships in mid-stream seldom reaps any dividends. In the Shadow team Tom Pryce works steadily and unspectacularly with the sole DN5, hanging onto the bunch just behind the leaders with a best of 1'50"65 while the second of Don Nichols’ cars is entrusted to the young Italian Renzo Zorzi as the result of a sponsorship arrangement with wealthy Italian Franco Ambrosio. Zorzi drives Pryce’s old Shadow DN5/5B in the first three timed sessions but everything goes wrong with it and he turns to the former Jarier DN5/4B for the final session in which he records his best time of 1'54"19, well off the pace. Other new faces in new places include Clay Regazzoni, the moustachioed Swiss seemingly enjoying his first helping of Cosworth DFV power in the apparently incongruous, down-to-earth surroundings of Morris Nunn’s Team Ensign.

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Nunn is an uncomplicated and straightforward individual who goes racing because he loves it and one senses that Regazzoni’s hard driving style is just what Nunn wants in his team. Despite changing rear suspensions a couple of times Regazzoni winds up recording a best of 1'50"97 which puts him fractionally behind Walter Wolf’s new challenger driven by Jody Scheckter. The South African driver has plenty of problems during practice with the new Wolf which demonstrates a reluctance to pick up its fuel on right-hand corners, resulting in an intermittent misfire at high revs. The engine is changed on Friday night but the Wolf still declines to rev much over 10.000 r.p.m. on Saturday but Scheckter nevertheless records a 1'50"76 best which places him ahead of Regazzoni on the grid. Hoping for an upsurge in his team’s fortunes after recruiting Vittorio Brambilla to drive his number one TS19, John Surtees is very impressed with the Italian’s press-on approach to racing but handling problems means that Brambilla fails to improve on 1'51"03, fractionally quicker than the tardy Peterson. The second Surtees entry is for Austrian Hans Binder who sets his best time in the spare TS19/01 during the second session after engine trouble with his allotted TS19/02. Disappointingly slow, Jacques Laffite misses out virtually all Saturday’s practice when the Ligier-Matra JS7 begins to blow out ominous clouds of smoke and the disappointed French mechanics push it back to its garage in the paddock for an engine change. Sticking patriotically to the Copersucar-financed family team operated by elder brother Wilson, Emerson FittipaIdi laps in 1'51"53 with the extensively revised FD4/3 machine despite being troubled with electrical problems, a gearbox oil leak and sticking rear brakes. The former World Champion feels that there is still plenty of work to do on the car yet while his team-mate Ingo Hoffman is simply glad to be there for his second crack at Formula One although he looks a trifle lost in the maelstrom of Grand Prix practice. Finally, there are the works March 761Bs which are driven by sponsored drivers Alex Ribeiro and South African Ian Scheckter, elder brother of the Wolf driver. Ribeiro has graduated from the Formula 2 world and has had a preliminary taste of Cosworth power when he drove the ex-Guy Edwards Hesketh 308 in last year’s United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Ian Scheckter has experience of Formula One in South Africa and drove a couple of races for Frank Williams back in 1975.

 

But neither March newcomer looks at home with their lot at Buenos Aires, inexperience on the circuit and an expensive penchant for bouncing their DFV’s off the rev-limiter contributing to their lowly grid positions. One entry that fails to materialise is the B.R.M. P207 which has been entered for Larry Perkins to drive and indeed Perkins is in Buenos Aires waiting for his car’s arrival. Unfortunately when the B.R.M. arrives at Gatwick to be loaded into its waiting Boeing 707 it is found that the crate into which it is packed won’t fit into the aircraft’s cargo hold; despite the fact that British Caledonian has supplied the dimensions to Bourne beforehand. The second day of practices is conditioned by the heat (36 °C in the shade) and the different teams did not make particular progress. Ferrari has still issues concerning tyres, but the technicians and the drivers are convinced that they are on the right way to improve the performance of the car. Lauda completed 19 laps and Reutemann 16. The fastest lap is set by Jochen Mass on McLaren, 1'51"31, on the average speed of 193.024 km/h. Lauda's fastest time is 1'51"65 while Reutemann's is 1’51"66. Meanwhile, while the Grand Prix is getting closer, the military surveillance is always more rigid. The park where the circuit is located is completely surrounded by horse police, who block any access and controls all the perimeter. In order to enter the circuit, people have to pass through checkpoints, where everyone has to step out of their car and show their documents. Some are searched. The militaries inspect meticulously every car and bag, including those of drivers and journalists. Taxis cannot enter. This is in order to avoid that some serious incident might occur: there are rumours that, on Sunday, some bombs or other explosive devices might blow up. This seems extremely unlikely, anyway, since every area of the circuit is under control. In the pits, in the press room, along the track, thousands of agents armed with a machine gun are deployed. Also, positive news come from Argentina about the future of the Formula 1 World Championship. The CSI president, Pierre Ugeux, reaches an agreement with the representative of constructors, Bernie Ecclestone, so that the contracts of the next Grands Prix are signed before 15th February, 1977, with the single organizers, based on the Paris agreements and under the aegis of CSI. Even on Sunday, 9th January, 1977, it is a very hot day.

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The sun is scorching and there are 35 °C in the shade. The temperature on track is terrible: almost 50 °C. 90.000 spectators are wearing T-shirts, are half naked or in swimsuits. A row of parasols blooms along the circuit. Thousands of soldiers and police agents surround the structure in fear of attacks or extremists' actions. The check-ins for the stands are very strict. Even the pits are watched by soldiers in warfare. In the free practice few hours before the race, drivers and technicians make their last test on the cars. Lauda and Reutemann, given the high temperature, choose hard tyres. Soft tyres perform better but have a shorter life in the race, which will start at 4:00 p.m.. On Sunday the scorching Argentine heat seems even greater with temperatures soaring to well over the 110 degrees, so it is easy to understand why the race is scheduled to start at four o’clock in the afternoon (before the Constructors intervened to change things, the ACA had planned the start for half-past five!). Led by Watson and Hunt the 20-car grid cruises steadily round their parade lap, returning to halt briefly on the grid before being signalled off by the legendary Fangio, 20 years after the old master has triumphed in front of his home crowd at the wheel of a Maserati 250F. The whole grid moves forward together but it is Watson who makes the best getaway once they begin to string out along the straight and the Ulsterman slips his Brabham BT45 into the lead as they stream through the first fourth-gear kink. Further back Depailler’s Tyrrell has made a very slow getaway and Laffite finds himself taking to the grass in order to avoid a couple of cars in front of him, the French car picking up generous amounts of debris in its radiator ducting. At the end of the first lap the order is Watson comfortably from Hunt, Lauda, Andretti, Mass, Reutemann, Pryce, J. Scheckter, Pace, Depailler, Peterson (who inadvertently flicked off his ignition and went down the pit lane before he realised his error!), Brambilla, Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, I. Scheckter, Binder, Zorzi, Hoffman and the Ligier-Matra which is already misfiring badly. For the first few laps Watson maintains his lead at about 2.5 sec. with Hunt playing a waiting game and sitting comfortably a couple of lengths in front of Lauda. Andretti is keeping up constant pressure on the Ferrari while Pace is driving with great spirit and determination in the second Brabham-Alfa Romeo.

 

Almost unnoticed Zorzi’s Shadow retires with a mixture of gearbox and engine trouble while Laffite finally called into the pits for the first time on lap eight to sort out an annoying bout of sparking plug trouble. He briefly returns to the race before stopping again two laps later and by the time Laffite resumes racing for the second time the French car is a solid last. Watson is already feeling hot and flustered because no cockpit ventilation has been provided in either Brabham BT45 and the Ulsterman isn’t very comfortable in his make-shift seat which hasn’t been specially tailored for him. He begins to slow a fraction and Hunt slices past into the lead on lap 11, moving away from his pursuers with disarming confidence and never looking as though he is having to try very hard. He later admits that he was amazed at the speed with which he pulled away from the rest of the field, frankly feeling that he had plenty in hand. Andretti moves in to challenge Watson while Lauda drops away first behind Mass and then behind Pace, his Ferrari’s engine sputtering and coughing, obviously very sick indeed. On lap 20 Lauda decides that things have got bad enough for the whole car to be vibrating badly so the Austrian pulls into the pits to see if there is anything that can be done. A quick examination reveals the fuel metering unit to be at fault and, as no repair can be completed quickly, Lauda climbs out of the car and retires. Further back down the field both the Tyrrell six-wheelers are having an absolutely diabolical time, Peterson calling it a day with his erratic-handling machine after a wild spin on one of the circuit’s fastest corners after 28 laps while Depailler doesn’t last much longer, finally stopping after spinning off and finding that his P34’s engine will not fire up again. As Hunt continues to pull away from the rest of the field Andretti slowly closes in on Watson until the Lotus is sitting right on the tail of the Brabham and at the end of lap 18 as they brake for the hairpin before the pits, Watson just slips past Alex Ribeiro’s March which is being lapped, but the Brazilian immediately cuts back into line as the Brabham goes past, running his car’s right rear wheel over the left front spoiler on the Lotus nose section. Andretti is absolutely furious about this, but there is nothing he can do because the bent spoiler affects the car’s stability on fast corners and he is forced to slacken his pace slightly.

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As a result Andretti soon begins to fall back and is quickly passed by Mass and then Pace although he quickly makes up one of these places on lap 29 when Mass spins his overheating M23 at the hairpin. With the temperature gauge virtually off the dial Mass abandons his car on the infield and walks sadly back to the pits. On lap 24 Pryce’s Shadow comes slowly into the pits its gearbox stuck in neutral, so his mechanics begin dismantling the unit in an effort to find the trouble, while Reutemann spins his Ferrari on the infield loop section and immediately swings into the pit lane where his mechanics change a badly blistered front tyre and despatch him back into the fray in eleventh place. Pryce loses 17 laps having a fresh selector fitted, but the Welshman re-enters the race nevertheless and is still circulating when the winner eventually receives the chequered flag. Mass’ retirement means that the two Brabham BT45s are now running in second and third places because Andretti has dropped to fourth ahead of Jody Scheckter in the steadily driven Wolf. But there doesn’t seem any chance of anybody doing much about Hunt, the McLaren driver heading into his 32nd lap looking as confident as ever. At the end of the long start/finish straight the World Champion swings through the fourth gear Esses but while his McLaren successfully negotiates the right-hand part of the corner it unexpectedly slides straight on rather than negotiating the left-hand exit onto the straight. Hunt’s M23 mows down several layers of catch fencing before coming to rest and its driver leaps hurriedly out, unable to explain the cause of the incident. Subsequent examination of the rear suspension reveals that a bolt broke and permitted the right rear suspension to collapse, throwing the McLaren out of control and sending it off the circuit. This unexpected drama leaves the two Brabham-Alfa Romeos leading the race in 1-2 formation, a satisfying sight for any racing team but particularly gratifying for Ecclestone’s lads who have worked so hard in the face of so much adverse criticism to make these flat-12-cylinder cars competitive. But it is at this point that the realisation dawns that Scheckter and the new Wolf are in with a very strong chance.

 

Up to now their progress has been steady and consistent but as the pit boards reveal Scheckter to be closing on the cars in front of him, so Scheckter drives harder. Although Pace grabs the lead on lap 35 it is because Watson is slowing, his car handling strangely and the gears becoming difficult to select. Three laps later Scheckter moves past Andretti and soon afterwards inherits second place when Watson pulls to a halt on lap 42 with the gearbox literally falling off the back of the Alfa Romeo engine after the securing bolts break. At the rate Scheckter is closing on the obviously ailing Pace it is clearly just a mathematical equation as to when the new Wolf will take the lead. Utterly exhausted in the searing heat and feeling sick in the stomach, Pace is no match for the now hard-driving Scheckter and Walter Wolf’s blue and gold machine rushes past the Brazilian with only six laps of the race left. At this point Pace slows alarmingly and drops over 40 secs. on the winning Wolf between laps 48 and 53, just hanging on long enough to scrape home ahead of Reutemann’s Ferrari which is being cheered to the echo of thousands of delighted Argentinians. Reutemann really drives well after his pit stop even though it must be admitted that his climb back from 13th place was aided by a number of retirements and that, on past form at least, a healthy Ferrari should be more than a match for the Fittipaldi car even if E. F. is driving it. But that is all lost on the crowd as Reutemann speeds past the yellow Brazilian car with two laps to go and almost adds another Brazilian to his bag by closing dramatically on Pace during that frantic final lap. Behind Fittipaidi in fifth place comes Mario Andretti although his Lotus chews up a rear wheel bearing and he is stationary at the hairpin before the pits with only 51 laps completed when Scheckter takes the chequered flag. Regazzoni finishes sixth, taking it easy over the last few laps after a pit stop to examine a badly worn rear wheel bearing which is allowing one of the rear wheels to flap about rather alarmingly while Brambilla’s Surtees TS19, which has been stuttering round with fuel-feed trouble, moves slowly across the line to complete 48 laps after waiting just before the flag for the winner to arrive. Neither of the unimpressive Marches finish, Ribeiro stopping with a broken gear lever and Ian Scheckter retiring when a battery lead breaks off. Said Enzo Ferrari recently:

 

"The Formula 1 World Championship will be full of surprises".

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Eventually, surprises come soon in the first Grand Prix of the season in Argentina, on the fast circuit of Buenos Aires, under a scorching sun. Jody Scheckter wins on his brand-new Wolf (the prizegiving ceremony is held on the track, in a square delimited by 100 soldiers, 25 per side, each with an Argentinian dogo on a leash); Carlos Pace is under the spotlight with his Martini-Brabham powered by the Alfa Romeo 12-cylindre, Reutemann holds high the honour of Ferrari conquering a final third place that no one ever expected. James Hunt and Niki Lauda, the two great rivals of last season, did not finish. Jody Scheckter took advantage of the problems and of the incidents that stopped or slowed down those who in the first part of the Argentine Grand Prix were in the first places, but his and Wolf's enterprise are remarkable. The South African is a very strong driver, it is not by chance that Enzo Ferrari likes him a lot, and the brake with which he overtook Pace at the end of the main straight of the circuit proves it. Wolf, which was partially set up in Ferrari's private structure in Fiorano, is not very fast, but despite this, and this victory confirms that, is a very valid single-seater. It is rare that a car at its debut can win. It may be supposed that, in the next few races, it will still be a dangerous and annoying opponent for everyone. Besides the final result, in the end of a spectacular Grand Prix full of surprises, as rarely occurs, there are some considerations that can be made. As it often happens in races, predictions and judgments of the day before are disproved by facts in this Argentine Grand Prix, which started the Formula 1 World Championship. James Hunt and Niki Lauda had to retire, Jody Scheckter won with the debuting Wolf, which took advantage of others' troubles, obtaining an absolutely surprising result. Ferrari console themselves with Carlos Reutemann's third place, author of an exciting chase after a pit stop for the change of a tyre. Anyway, a team that can be happier than Maranello's can be Martini-Brabham-Alfa Romeo, not only for the second place obtained by Carlos Pace but most importantly for the wonderful race done by Pace himself and his teammate John Watson.

 

It is too early for judgments and comments, because it is just the start of a very long season, made of 16 Grands Prix. In the past, it occurred that drivers and car that were protagonists of positive surprises in the South American races, it has to be reminded that, in 1975, Jarier and Shadow were not able to continue their enterprises in the series of European races. This considered, the Argentine Grand Prix equally offers the chance to propose some considerations. These come from the race itself and from what could be noticed in the three days of practice before the race. Above all, Ferrari is no longer on the top of Formula 1. The 312T, which debuted in South Africa in 1975, two years ago, had a clear margin on the other cars. This margin became progressively narrower in 1976, until it disappeared at the end of the season. Now it is behind. Why? It is useless to go with the typical Italian hunt, accusing this or that. There have been Lauda's incident and the issues from the new type of tyres introduced in the last season by Goodyear, which made the technicians engage in the research of fallback solutions slowing down the development of the new 312 T3. It is now the time to face the truth and quicken as soon as possible the debut of the T3. A similar move allowed Lauda in 1975 to win the title. All in all, Lauda is still Lauda. The Austrian driver forcefully disproved with facts all the criticisms of the last few months and, hopefully, definitely, the doubts raised in that rainy day in Japan in October. Niki appeared in full body and mental shape, focused in the practice and in the race, filled with desire to run and win. In the first part of the Grand Prix, he fought like a champion, resisting the rampant Hunt and Watson. Then, the engine broke down, and Lauda had to go to the pits. Reutemann kept running, and the performance of the Argentinian was the second positive aspect of the wobbling Ferrari balance. An extraordinary drive. The issue, in conclusion, is not the drivers, but the cars. A normal fact in Formula 1, an exasperating sector, where progress is hard and it is easy to go behind. Only those who do not constantly follow the stories of the circus can be astonished or scandalized.

 

If Ferrari fell down, Martini-Brabham with the Alfa Romeo 12-cylinder equally grew. The 1976 World Championship was disappointing, but it was clear that it was a year of running-in. The results are starting to come out now. The important thing is not to waste the acquired experience and, apparently, Bernie Ecclestone and Carlo Chiti's men did not do it. The car was refined, lightened, had its aero improved, its engine powered up but, most of all, made more elastic and functional. And here is Watson in the first row of the starting grid, and the good race of the Irish and Pace. The Anglo-Italian team is on the right way to emerge. It is certain that the one that is always on top, beyond the race result, is the World Champion duo. Hunt and McLaren conquered the pole position and dominated the Grand Prix, ended with an off-track caused by the failure of some organ of the steering wheel or of the front suspensions. A negative day, which must not give false hopes to the rivals anyway. Finally, Tyrrell's six-wheelers did not stand out. Lotus had a very worse performance than expected, March, Shadow and Ligier have never been present in the fight for the top; Brambilla (Surtees) and Regazzoni (Ensign) had to struggle in order to obtain their placements. Fittipaldi (Copersucar) returned under the spotlight, who managed to obtain an encouraging fourth place. A negative day, instead, for Vittorio Brambilla and Renzo Zorzi. The two Italians, not due to their own fault, could not play an important role in the South American race. Zorzi had many issues with his Shadow: of course, it is irritating to spend a lot of money to have a single-seater and then see that your team is much more focused on the needs of your teammate. But, at the end of the day, there is only one truth: Zorzi's money (or more precisely, his sponsor Ambrosio's) are needed most of all in order to allow Pryce to race and, if possible, to win. In conclusion, it has been an exceptional start for the Formula 1 championship. Beyond these final considerations, if the championship goes on like this, everyone could be a wingman today and a champion tomorrow. Therefore, on Tuesday, 11th January, 1977, Ferrari's technical staff gathers immediately in order to evaluate what happened during the Argentine Grand Prix. In this regard, Maranello's team posts a statement.

 

"Coming back to Maranello from Buenos Aires, today Niki Lauda joined the weekly Ferrari meeting. It appeared that, in the Argentine Grand Prix, his car had progressive irregularities in the power supply, which forced the driver to retire on lap 20. The failure of the injection system distributor diaphragm has been acknowledged. Reutemann's car, which was forced to an off-track in the overtake of Ribeiro's car and subsequently went outside the chicane, had its radiators obstructed by dirt with a consequent rise of the water temperature up to 135 °C. The car was also forced to a stop in the pits for the replacement of the front left tyre".


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