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#258 1975 Netherlands Grand Prix

2021-12-25 00:00

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#1975, Fulvio Conti, Rebecca Asolari,

#258 1975 Netherlands Grand Prix

Everyone going to the seaside circuit in Holland resigned to the fact that the Dutch Grand Prix will be another Ferrari walk-over. Memories of the way

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Everyone going to the seaside circuit in Holland resigned to the fact that the Dutch Grand Prix will be another Ferrari walk-over. Memories of the way Lauda and Regazzoni had dominated the 1974 race still lingered uncomfortably in the minds of the Cosworth V8 users, even though the massacre was avenged later in the season. The 1975 Ferraris, with their ever more powerful flat-12 cylinder engines and the new chassis with the transverse-shaft gearbox ahead of the rear axle center-line, is a resounding success and being dominating the Grand Prix scene. Whether the Cosworth V8 engine is powering Tyrrell, Brabham, Shadow, Lotus, March, McLaren or Hesketh running gear, the answer has invariably been that Lauda and the Ferrari have the combination to beat, with Regazzoni often being a strong supporter of the Maranello cause. Even before practice begins at Zandvoort the tone is who will be the quickest of the Cosworth-powered cars, and the first practice did nothing to allay this feeling. The Ferraris are using long thin tail-pipes on their exhausts instead of the more usual megaphone ends and the engines are set for a wide power range to assist acceleration from the too slow, but important hairpin bends on the Dutch circuit. With a strong headwind blowing along the straight and Goodycars supplying everyone with standard tyres, there being no super-sticky ones for the chosen few, it isn’t anticipate that the all-time fastest lap of 1'18"31 set by Lauda in practice last year will be approach, even by the Austrian himself. The race lap-record stands for Peterson (Lotus) at 1'20"31 secs set up in 1973 and last year the fastest race lap was only 1'21"44 by the same driver and car. These sort of times give an average speed of around 116 m.p.h. and apart from the Panorama ess-bend, most of the back leg of the circuit is flat-out in fifth gear for the ace drivers; 1'20"0 is going to be a good lap time to aim for, while 1'21"0 or longer isn’t going to be very impressive or of much use for a good grid position.
 
The expect Ferrari domination materialize with Lauda and Regazzoni recording virtually equal times, the Swiss being fastest by a mere hundredth of a second, with 1'20"57. Among the opposition is a single ray of hope in James Hunt, with the Hesketh 308/2, who just cracks 1'21"0, by three-hundredths of a second, but everyone else is in the comparatively unimpressive category, while a few were down-right slow by ace-Grand Prix standards, but nevertheless very fast by normal standards. While all the leading teams were unchange as regards drivers and cars, there has been some re-shuffling among the lower orders. The Harry Stiller-sponsor Hesketh 308/1 activity has ceased, so Graham Hill snaps up Alan Jones for the number two spot in his Embassy-sponsor team, alongside Tony Brise. Said Hill: "I had to have young Jones, I used to race against his dad in the Tasman series". Ian Scheckter is having another go with one of Frank Williams’ cars, and Jacques Laffite is back in the team. The Hesketh hire-car 308/3, driven in Sweden by Torsten Palm is back as Hunt’s Spare, all white and pure once more, and Wilson Fittipaldi’s little Brazilian team are please to have got a new car complete, their third altogether, this one having neater tubular front wishbones. Gijs van Lennep is driving Morris Nunn’s Ensign in place of Wunderink, who is still on the sick list, and there is a brand-new Ensign in the paddock, but it isn’t due to be run just yet. The Vels Parnelli team are missing once again, Andretti having a more important race to contest in the U.S.A., and a newcomer on the scene is Hiroshi Fushida with the blue and white Maki from Japan, though it looks as though it has been built in England, with its Cosworth V8 engine, Hewland transmission and Melmag wheels. The first practice session is from 10:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. under cloudless skies, and after lunch the glorious weather and practice continues. From 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. the lappery continues and while Regazzoni isn’t so fast Lauda goes much faster, down to 1'20"34.
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However, two more drivers join Hunt in the elite class, these being Scheckter with Tyrrell 007/2 and Reutemann with Brabham BT44B/1. All three are greatly encourage by being faster than Regazzoni on the afternoon times, but they are still slower than his morning time, so the end of the first day saw the two Ferraris on the front row of the grid. The Maki didn't appear after lunch as the oil pressure disappeared from the Cosworth engine and the small team hasn’t spare engine. That the Zandvoort circuit isn’t a very difficult one for a skill driver of a Formula One car is shown by ten drivers recording times within the span of three-quarters of a second. To most people one whole second of time is difficult to visualize, let alone three-quarters, and in that space are Emerson Fittipaldi, Jarier, Brise, Brambilla, Laffite, Watson, Mass, Pryce, Pace and Depailler; a situation that bring forth some discussion on the validity of the existing method of timing practice laps. Saturday is another hot and hazy day, but the headwind on the main straight is stronger which prevents the fast ones going any faster, but allows a few more to get a bit closer and join the under 1'21"0 group. World champion Fittipaldi just scraps into this group, as did Tony Brise with the Hill car. Apart from the two Ferraris which were recording ace times at every session, no-one else got below the 1'21"0 barrier. Although the two Ferraris are dominating the scene it isn’t without a certain amount of untoward excitement. Lauda has the rear suspension come adrift on his car, and later had the nose section and front aerofoil mounting collapse, while Regazzoni has his engine go off song, requiring a complete change at the end of Friday, and on Saturday he has a misunderstanding when passing Scheckter, who is going relatively slowly, and the Ferrari clobbers the front of the Tyrrell, both cars being slightly damaged.

 

There are a certain amount of excited shouting in Italian and Afrikaans, but it soon died down. Conditions don’t alter for the final hour of practice and just to convince everyone, Lauda improves his time to 1'20"29, consolidating himself yet again on pole position. Fittipaldi appears to have the measure of things and once more break the 1'21"0 barrier, but there aren’t other ace times, though one or two drivers improve their lot, moving up from a lowly place on the grid to a not so lowly place. Competition among the mid-field runners is very intense, the second place of decimals on a lap time pushing a driver back another row on the grid. Lauda and Regazzoni have complete command of the front row of the grid, with Hunt and Scheckter behind them, their times almost being equal. Then comes Reutemann, his best time being made in the spare Brabham, alongside E. Fittipaldi, with Brise the only other driver in the ace category. From Jochen Mass in eighth place with the second of the works McLarens, to Peterson in sixteenth place in Lotus 72/R9, there is less than half a second difference, and in this tiny gap are Pace, Jarier, Brambilla, Pryce, Depailler, Watson and Laffite, so that even if the two Ferraris are out on their own, there is going to be a very close pair of Cosworth races, for only a quarter of a second separate the five Cosworth-powered cars in the ace class. Rather dejectedly at the back is Ickx, who looks as if he has to retire from Grand Prix driving, but has omitt to tell anyone. Sunday starts off another bright and sunny day, but it doesn’t last, for grey clouds come from the east, bringing rain and by mid-day everything is cover up and the whole paddock shelters from the heavy rain, only the poor unfortunate spectators being unable to do anything about the conditions.

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Dutch laws don’t allow noise-making on Sunday mornings so there isn’t untime test-session as is usual at other races, but with the weather looking settle at wet, the organizers agree to do a short test-session before the start of the Grand Prix so that everyone can try out their cars on wet-weather Goodyears and with suspension and aero-dynamic settings for slippery conditions. The race is due to start at 2:15 p.m., but after the test-session there is a reluctance to get on with the job as the rain has stop and it looks as though conditions might improve to dry. It is more than 30 minutes after the schedule starting time that cars begin to leave the pits on the warm-up lap round to the dummy-grid, by which time many teams have opted for dry conditions. However, while the cars are on their way to the start the rain comes down again, and there is a rush to change tyres and adjustments to full wet. Eventually the 24 cars are ready to go and the two Ferraris led them up to the starting grid, ready for what look like 75 laps of wet misery. The flag falls and the two Ferraris hung momentarily with spinning rear wheels, while Scheckter makes a superb start and moves up alongside them, his left hand wheels on the grass verge. Lauda finds grip and accelerates away, but Regazzoni is slow and Scheckter gets Tyrrell into second place as spray envelops the whole scene. In the confusion Depailler cloutes Brambilla’s March and as the field round the Tarzan 180-degree corner, the orange March comes to rest with a broken rear suspension and the Tyrrell has a deflating right front tyre. While Lauda led Scheckter, Regazzoni, Hunt, Mass, Pryce, Fittipaldi, Reutemann, Pace and Jarier on the opening lap, Brambilla reverses his damage March up the pit lane to retire, while Depailler limpes round to the pits for a new front wheel. With so much spray coming off the tyres no-one got too close to the car in front, and Lauda looks confident in the lead.

 

Fittipaldi drops back behind the two Brabhams and after Jarier in tenth place a gap has open up before Peterson comes along leading Brise, Donohue, Jones, Laffite, Watson, Ian Scheckter, Ickx, van Lennep and Evans. Behind the B.R.M. and dropping back, were Wilson Fittipaldi and Lombardi, while Depailler is last but making up ground. Barely has the race order sort itself out when the rain stops, and equally quickly the track dries out, especially on the racing-line, the passing cars assisting with the drying process. At the end of lap 7 Hunt has make his decision and peel off from his fourth place in the high-speed procession and heads at speed down the empty pit lane to the Hesketh pit where the mechanics are waiting for him. In less than half a minute he is on his way again with four new wheels, and dry slick tyres, joining the race in nineteenth position. Mass has stop at the end of lap 7 as well, and rejoin the race just behind the Hesketh, while at the end of lap 8 Reutemann stops for a tyre change. On the next lap Emerson Fittipaldi stops for dry tyres and with the track drying visibly it's obvious that the rest will be in soon. Lauda is still in the lead, driving off-line on the wet parts of the track to keep his knobbly tyres cool, and trying to build up as much a lead as possible before making his stop. At the end of ten laps Jarier, Watson and Wilson Fittipaldi stop for dry tyres and the race situation is Lauda, Scheckter and Regazzoni well out in front, then a gap to Pryce, another gap to Pace, a gap cause by Jarier peeling off, then Peterson, Brise, Donohue, another gap, then Jones, Evans, the elder Scheckter, van Lennep, and then a very long gap from which Watson had peeled off. On dry tyres now comes Emerson Fittipaldi who has rejoin the race just in front of Hunt, then Reutemann and Mass, the gap from which Wilson has peel off and then Depailler.

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Already Lombardi is lap by the leading Ferrari. Naturally this situation doesn't last long, for pit-stops for dry tyres are happening thick and fast and at the end of lap 11 Pace, Peterson, Donohue, Laffite and Evans all stop and the pit lane is a busy place. As Peterson set off he collects the Ferrari team coordinator, who is prancing about in the pit-lane, upending him and breaking one of his legs. The Lotus is undamage and Peterson got on with his racing. At the end of lap 12 Scheckter, Pryce and Brise stop and the situation is Lauda still leading, with Regazzoni now second, Jones third, but it’s all still relative, though what really matter is that of those on dry tyres the order is Hunt, Jarier, Fittipaldi, Reutemann, Mass, Peterson. Next time round it’s Lauda who is heading for the pits, leaving Regazzoni in the lead, and Jones is also in the pits. After Regazzoni is gone there is a long gap and then comes Hunt, Jarier, Fittipaldi, Pryce, Scheckter and the rest, the crucial point now being that Hunt has a clear road ahead of him. Lauda rejoins the race after Hunt has gone by and just ahead of Jarier, but during the next two laps while he is acclimatizing himself to the new conditions Lauda is passing by Jarier in the Shadow. As Regazzoni has gone into the pits for tyres one lap after Lauda, the situation is now all sort out with Hunt out in the lead with no traffic in front of him, Jarier second, Lauda third, Fittipaldi fourth, Scheckter fifth, Regazzoni back in the race in sixth place, follow by Pryce, Reutemann, Mass and Peterson. Apart from Pace, whose stop has taken too long because a wheel balk at going on the locating pegs, everyone is having good stops, Ferrari, Hesketh and McLaren being particularly fast and it’s good to see the progress make since the notorious situation in the Spanish GP two years ago.

 

The race is now on its seventeenth lap, with conditions now very dry and all things equal to everyone, apart from minor differences in wing angles and roll-bar settings, depending on how things are going to be adjust before the start. Profiting from his early stop, which have mean an unobstruct run in and out of the pit lane and a clear road ahead of him as soon as he has settle down to the dry conditions, Hunt now has a sizeable lead, but stop-watches soon show that Lauda is gaining on the Hesketh. As Jarier is between the Hesketh and the Ferrari it means that the Shadow is being urge along on two counts, one to gain on Hunt, the other to stay ahead of Lauda. The new race is now on in earnest and a most interesting situation it’s, for the Ferrari doesn’t appear to have any superiority over the Cosworth-powered cars, it being no faster down the straight and Lauda is driving as hard as he knows how. Hunt is driving for his very life, knowing that his pursuers are closing on him yard by yard, tenth of a second by tenth of a second, but he is determined to keep going as hard as he can and above all not to make any mistakes. The three contenders for the lead are now well ahead of the rest of the runners, with Scheckter in fourth place and Fittipaldi in fifth place, but in trouble with a gearbox that will not select fifth gear. He is follow by Regazzoni, Pryce and Reutemann, while Mass has drop back due to a throttle control that is playing up. In the excitement of pit stops and the new pattern no-one seems to notice that Ickx never got as far as dry tyres, his Cosworth engine blowing up out on the back of the circuit. With the new situation at the front now so interesting, the happenings among the tail-enders almost pass unnotice, though Evans is seen to retire the B.R.M. with the final-drive unit breaking up, spoiling his excellent record of steady finishes in the sad and lonely car from Bourne.

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At 30 laps Hunt has an eight-second lead from his pursuers, but Lauda has the Shadow in his sights and Jarier is beginning to look in his mirrors as much as he is looking forwards. Fraction by fraction Hunt’s lead is being whittled away, but he hasn't intention of giving up, and when it’s down to five seconds Lauda is ready to take second place from Jarier, but the Frenchman has other ideas. The only way to pass an equal car at Zandvoort is to out-brake it past the pits into the long 180-degree Tarzan bend, diving through on the inside and forcing your rival to run wide up the banked turn. As they start lap 39 Lauda did exactly this, except that Jarier isn’t accepting the maneuver and stuck to his line, so that Lauda has to do some desperate braking and scrabbling about to avoid being run into. Twice more Lauda tries it on and twice more Jarier is unimpres and the order is unchanged. This little fracas takes the pressure off Hunt for a brief moment, and for a couple of laps Lauda sat close behind Jarier wondering what to do about the situation. As they come down the straight to complete lap 43 the Ferrari is that much closer to the Shadow and while still on full song Lauda pulls out of the Shadow’s slipstream and side-by-side they go past the pits. This time Jarier hasn’t option but to run wide and Lauda is by, but it’s a tense moment, and Grand Prix racing at its best. Now Lauda can really got to work and catch the fleeing Hunt. Almost unnotice Emerson Fittipaldi has retire when his Cosworth engine blows up and Watson has succumbe to vibrations that are shaking the back of his Surtees to bits. For one lap Jarier follow Lauda, holding third place, and then make a spectacular disappearance from the race when a rear tyre literally explode in a shower of bits of rubber. This isn’t a fast right-hand bend and the Shadow driver is very lucky not to be hit by other cars as he spins out of control.

 

There is now only four and a half seconds separating Hunt and Lauda and still a long way to go. In a secure third place is Scheckter, follow by Regazzoni and after a gap Reutemann is fending off a spirit attack from Peterson; then comes Pryce, unhappy about the feel of his brakes and the handling of the car in general, and he is follow by Mass still struggling against the odds with his unpredictable throttle response. The only other car on the same lap as the leaders is the Brabham of Carlos Pace, unable to make up for his long pit-stop. Donohue is leading the also-runs but few people have eyes for anyone but the two cars at the front of the race. Slowly but surely Lauda whittle away the gap until the Hesketh pit-stop giving Hunt the time gap for the Ferrari is close enough to be seen by the leader, but still the English driver don’t give in and begin to look for any help that maybe enable him to retain the lead a little longer. They are now about to lap the faster runners and Hunt plans his every move with care and forethought. On lap 57 the Ferrari is right behind Hesketh and next time round it looks as though Lauda may make his bid to outrun Hunt, but at that moment they lap Torn Pryce and Hunt makes the most of the situation as Lauda is put off his stroke. Two laps later they lap Mass and once more Lauda is put off balance, and for ten laps he has to work away at retrieving lost ground. Now they are passing some of the slower cars and Hunt takes every opportunity to afford him, nipping past one before the chicane on the back of the circuit, in a desperate scrabble so that Lauda got hung up, waiting to pass another just before the flat-out sweep onto the long straight so that Lauda’s run-through onto the straight is hinder. So it goes on, with Hunt doing a superb job of fending off the Ferrari, using every trick in the book. At times Lauda has the nose of his car right under the tail of the Hesketh, but never at a point on the circuit where there is any hope of passing, and Hunt is making sure it stays that way. 

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With two laps to go they got past all the slow traffic, as well as lapping the faster cars and entirely unnotice Scheckter disappear from third place when his Cosworth engine blow up and equally unnotice Peterson retires from fourth place with no petrol getting to his injectors. All this left Regazzoni a distant third, Reutemann fourth, a lap down, follow by Pace. But no-one is very interest because it is now or never if Lauda is going to win his fourth Grand Prix in a row. Hunt has other ideas and has fight for his life so far he hasn’t intention of throwing it all away by a last-minute false move. Going into the last lap Lauda is close, but not close enough to try a passing maneuver and he hasn’t choice but to follow Hesketh for the final lap, having been following it at varied intervals since lap 43. A joyous James Hunt sweeps past the checker flag to bring the first major victory to the Hesketh team and his own first Grand Prix win, and what a magnificent win it’s. It’s Grand Prix racing at its very best and the best possible victory for an English driver, the first since Monza 1971.


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