As Niki Lauda and Luca Montezemolo rightfully underlined, there’s no more doubt that the Ferrari 312 T is the best Formula 1 car of the moment: it might not win all the races, but the three consecutive successes in Monaco, Belgium and Sweden leave no room for doubts or mean criticisms. An enviable situation, to which they certainly did not come by chance. First of all, Ferrari’s technical tradition has been the same for the last 30 years, and the horizontally opposed 12-cylinder engine has been perfected since 1965, when Lorenzo Bandini baptized the 1500cc version at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. With two successive increases, first to two and then to three litres of displacement, the current engine was obtained, which is not only the most powerful in activity, but also one of the lightest and most compact. The transversal change of the 312 T allowed some technicians (or wannabe technicians) to perform erudite declarations. Problem: was it more or less convenient than a conventional change? One thing is sure: the power it absorbs is equal to that of another type, because the meshing gears are the same (two cylindrical pairs and one bevelled), and indeed the shorter shafts and the hardy box make this essential organ of the racing car extremely sturdy. By the way, the performance of the engine-gearbox unit is very good, if today Ferraris are no longer tormented by excessive fuel consumption. The 312 T runs about 1.8-1.9 km with a litre of commercial fuel, but it can stand a few litres of reserve, without damaging too much the power-to-weight ratio at the start. The suspension tuning work was long and difficult as well, but it gave its results: with a geometry characterized by very long arms (especially for the front suspensions) the instantaneous centre of rotation of the wheels was brought very low, and consequently also the roll centres. This has a very important result: it reduces tire wear (no more than two millimetres of tread for a 300 km race).
Ferrari can adopt this solution thanks to the thin, compact engine, so even with the low roll centre, the 312 T taxis little when cornering. It's no surprise that Lauda and Regazzoni are enthusiastic: they gain advantage while cornering thanks to perfect road holding, and they gain on the straights thanks to the engine. There is also a braking advantage. The Ferraris have the best possible brakes because the Fiorano track is considered a brake killer, and if they hold their own on this circuit you can be sure they will resist everywhere. The data collected at Fiorano can be processed instantaneously thanks to a computer terminal installed on site. At Zolder, where everyone was almost without brakes, the 312 T had worn out only 5mm of pad thickness, which left a comfortable margin of safety of at least 3mm. We could also talk about the accurate profiling of the bodywork or the extremely refined mechanical solutions, but we would always end up saying something that has been known for some time and that is that Ferrari is the best racing car. Thursday 12 June 1975 Niki Lauda leaves Maranello - where he carried out a series of tests with the 312 T - and goes to Turin to visit Fiat. He has 200 autographed photos with him, but in ten minutes he is left empty-handed. The welcome in the factories is very warm and the Ferrari champion has to stop several times to talk about Sunday's feat in Sweden, seen by everyone on television. In the afternoon the Austrian, after having breakfast with Gianni and Umberto Agnelli, is the protagonist (together with Luca Montezemolo) of a gracious meeting with journalists and so, he leaves to come back to Maranello. On Friday 13 June 1975 he’s awaited by other tests, with the company of Clay Regazzoni, in sight of the Dutch Grand Prix. Naturally, questions flock, and Lauda proves himself to be an intelligent, sincere gentleman once again: a racing diplomat, as journalist Gino Rancati depicts him. He is also a nice and witty person, who hides a veil of shyness behind an apparent coldness. However, Niki is also endowed with an iron will, and he proves it by telling the true story of his sporting beginnings.
"My parents didn’t want me to be a racing driver. My father is a shareholder of paper mills in Austria and wanted me to have an industrial business. In the end, I had to take out a £35.000 loan at a 6% rate from a bank in order to honour a contract signed with March in 1972".
Niki does not own any night club (he had a discotheque, but in 1973), his hobby is aviation (he bought himself a Cessna), he doesn’t drink alcohol and doesn’t smoke, but he loves tortellini and Italy, even though he does not understand certain passions of the fans towards Ferrari and its drivers and, above all, certain criticisms (in bad faith). Lauda, after explaining that the 312 T is the best Formula 1 car in the world, at least at the moment, adds:
"I just hope that, in the case of defeat or a negative performance, everyone doesn’t jump on us. In racing the balance can easily be broken, for better and for worse. Now, I count on scoring points race after race, and then on winning. The fight for the title is restricted to Fittipaldi, Reutemann, Pace and me. But we have an extra weapon: harmony, unity, and perfect organization".
Luca Montezemolo, who accompanies Lauda in his tour around Torino, underlines the happy moment of motorsport, of Ferrari and the mutual utility of the Fiat-Ferrari relationships:
"Nobody would have expected so much".
Everyone, though, is expecting a World Championship by now. Speaking of that, at this point of the championship, how likely is Niki Lauda to win the World title?
"It’s hard to tell. In the eight remaining races everything could change. Let’s say we are on the right path".
What help do you expect from Clay Regazzoni?
"It depends on the course of the races. It’s clear that if Clay can steal a few points from my opponents, he will certainly do it. And I’ll do the same when it will be possible to favor him".
Which opponents do you fear the most?
"There are many very good drivers. However, I think the most quoted for the final victory are Pace, Reutemann and Emerson Fittipaldi".
Do you think that Fittipaldi's magical moment is over or that it is about to end anyway?
"It's not like the Brazilian's moment is over. He is always a very good driver, very brave. The only thing is that he doesn't have a competitive car at the moment. And a good driver with a bad car... can't do much. However, we have to wait for the new version, when we will see the updated McLaren, with new suspension".
Is the Ferrari 312 T now perfect or, in your opinion, can it still be improved?
"The car runs great like this. Right now it has no flaws. It is clear, however, that we will continue to work on it to always keep it competitive. Every race, every circuit requires a particular and accurate set-up".
How did he get to the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1, so quickly?
"Well, I didn't come as fast as they say. Five years earlier I was racing a Mini-Cooper, then in Formula 3, then in Formula 2. I went to March for a year, then to B.R.M. and finally to Ferrari. I think I followed the right procedure".
You are said to be a sort of computer, an electronic brain at the wheel. Is it true that you calculate everything in every race, even in the smallest details?
"I believe that’s a little exaggerated, I always try to work the best way possible, being an honest professional. It’s clear that during a race, in every lap, I try to correct possible mistakes until I find the ideal line, the best way to drive a car. There’s a big difference between this and being a computer".
What do you think is the formula for success?
Do you follow special diets or particular physical training to keep fit?
"No secrets. I sometimes run a little. I don’t drink or smoke. I obviously like girls though".
What do you do when you’re not racing?
"At the moment I don’t have much free time. Races, tests, contracts, PR, travels. One day at Marlboro, another at Agip, then running back to Ferrari. Even when everything is at a standstill, in the middle of winter, you have to follow the preparation in Maranello, test the cars. However, when I have a few hours available I enjoy flying. I have a small device that I have been piloting for a few years now".
Do you believe a driver should get married?
"Of course. Tranquility is essential for a driver. And I believe that nothing brings serenity and tranquility more than family, especially if you marry an intelligent woman that understands our problems. It can be of great help to confide, to confess joys and fears. It helps to release nervous tension".
If you hadn't been a driver, what would you have liked to be?
"I think I have fulfilled a great dream of mine getting to Formula 1. However, when I was a child, I hoped to get one day the possibility to drive a train".
Are you superstitious? If a black cat crosses your path, do you continue quietly?
"I don't believe in these things. If a cat crosses my path, whatever color it is, I try not to run over it".
Which pilot did you keep as an example when you were at the beginning of your career?
"No one in particular. I've always tried to be myself".
If you didn't earn a single penny by running, but had to lose some money, would you have the same enthusiasm for the automobile?
"When I started, I spent a lot of money. Now I'm not saying I'd be willing to do the same thing, but I'd like to at least make a living".
The Emilian countryside, blonde with almost ripe wheat, is sweet and sleepy in these first days of heat that anticipate summer. In the fields are those who cut the hay. At Fiorano, on the edge of the track that Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni use to test their Ferraris before each race, farmers load the grass onto a tractor trailer.
"I give it to a friend; he invites me to dinner in return. We'll see each other in a few days, we'll be a good group, we'll talk about many things, maybe even cars".
Tells Enzo Ferrari, this 77-year-old young man, with white hair but with a vigorous enthusiasm for the future. Ferrari loves his track very much. No Formula 1 team - and not even large industrial complexes - owns one like this. Three thousand meters of asphalt, curves, a straight road, photoelectric cells to measure the speed of the cars section by section, a closed circuit television system that monitors the entire route, a complex of electronic equipment housed in a science fiction power plant. Some workers build a steering pad, a circular ring where, for particular tests, it will be possible to turn in circles up to 170 km/h. A unique system which constitutes one of the fundamental components of the successes that Ferrari is achieving in the World Championship. Monday 16 June and Tuesday 17 June 1975 Lauda and Regazzoni test the three single-seaters - two for the race and one as a reserve - destined to race at Zandvoort in the Dutch Grand Prix. Drivers and technicians experiment - in addition - new solutions to make this already formidable 312 T ever more competitive. No one intends to rest on the results achieved and the work, with a commitment and harmony that truly make the Ferrari 1975 similar to a large family, continues under the driving force of the white-haired young man. While its pilots and team are flying to the Netherlands, the waiting begins for Ferrari. It has been like this for many years, but now the wait is more serene. Between one meeting and another with collaborators, between examining reports, mail, newspapers (he is an attentive and critical reader, also because the press is one of his interests and he knows how to hold a pen in his hand), the emblematic constructor - as one of the thousand awards given to him says - is waiting for news from Zandvoort. Luca Montezemolo, his assistant, will call him at the end of the tests, providing an initial picture of the situation. And for him it will be like being on the circuit. On Sunday, in a sitting room created in one of the three restored farmhouses which form the heart of the Fiorano track, he will watch the Grand Prix on television. Sante Ghedini, director of the track, fanatic of electronics, even had a recording device installed to allow the Commendatore to review the salient stages of the race.
"The broadcast of the Swedish Grand Prix allowed me to evaluate Lauda's intelligence. Did you see how he surpassed Reutemann? He is a thinker who reminds me of Varzi, but while Varzi as a man was very different from Varzi as a pilot, Lauda always remains himself. He has planned his life a certain way and he sticks to those orderly rules that he sets for himself. We can trust him".
And in the 312 T?
"I would say it is bringing us the results we were hoping for. We set it up above all by taking one fact into account: in the World Championship there are much more mixed circuits than fast ones. That's why the 312 T performs better on some tracks than on others. Now, we are working to obtain an identical performance in each track. One step closer. I'm just sorry that it wasn't possible to make the car debut at the beginning of the year in Argentina. We would have had two more races, Brazil and South Africa, for our aspirations".
Ferrari doesn't talk about it, but it is known that the Maranello technicians are working on a new type of rear suspension (new for the red single-seater, because in reality it is the classic De Dion bridge) and on other details. A 1976 version of the 312 T is being studied, not for the sake of modifying or innovating at any cost, but simply out of a desire for improvements that the exasperated, continuous progress each team aims for in Formula 1 make indispensable.
"The Zandvoort circuit is one of the mixed circuits that are more congenial to our cars. Aside from the concerns about the unknowns present in every race, another positive result is possible. I would be happy not only for Ferrari and its collaborators, but also for those who follow us with affection. I have received postcards, tickets, telegrams, touching letters. A group of emigrants, after Belgium, wrote to me: Thank you. Tonight we went to the usual bar, and we were able to brag about being Italian. Then, we all partied and got wasted. Well, we work for them too".
Ferrari says these things with wonderful naturalness. And he has been working for them for many years. His cars on the track or on the street represent a concentration of technique, resourcefulness, and industriousness. The Formula 1 World Championship is at the halfway point. Out of fifteen races, seven have been held. The Dutch Grand Prix is the eighth round of the season: if Niki Lauda and Ferrari score a fourth consecutive win, Ferrari fans will be able to begin to have more than a certain hope on the outcome of the motorsport's most spectacular tournament. Currently the situation is this: the Austrian leads the world rankings with 32 points. Niki is followed by Reutemann (22), Emerson Fittipaldi (21), Pace (16) and Scheckter (15). The Ferrari driver himself considers the quartet to be the only ones capable of causing him trouble in the chase for the championship. There's also Clay Ragazzoni, sixth at 12, but the Swiss doesn't worry Lauda, either because he's his teammate, or because Maranello was clear: there's only one number one, and it's Niki Lauda. Last year Lauda and Regazzoni achieved an exciting one-two on the Zandvoort circuit with the 312 B3. It was an exceptional success because the two Ferrari drivers gave shocking gaps (at least for Formula 1) to their rivals. On the long straight of the grandstands you could see Lauda go by first then, while Niki slipped into the bend that leads into the mixed section, Clay arrived. When the Swiss, in turn, left the straight, the others appeared in the distance. Zandvoort should therefore allow Ferrari to highlight all the qualities of its single seater. The 312 T, as it has now proved, is clearly superior to the old B3: it is faster entering and exiting corners and has better weight distribution. In theory, Lauda and Regazzoni can only assert themselves. The Italian team, however, does not indulge in easy predictions or enthusiasm. Lauda, in particular, says:
"Yes, my Ferrari should perform very well at Zandvoort. The circuit has some mixed sections where I can take advantage of the handling of the 312 T and the progressive acceleration of the boxer engine, but in Formula 1 you must never take anything for granted. We saw it in Sweden where we thought we were inferior to the others, and then we won".
The usual question mark is represented by the tyres. How will they behave in this insidious circuit? Zandvoort's problem is its geographical location. The track rises in an area of dunes a hundred meters from the sea: the wind blows continuously and carries sand on the asphalt. The tests will also allow us to clarify this aspect of the Dutch Grand Prix. Ferrari prepared with meticulous commitment for this race too, and the private tests at Zandvoort and those on the Fiorano track gave positive indications. Of course, the fight is getting tougher because the rivals know they can't give the Maranello team more space. They will each make their best effort on their own: either now, or never. And among the many rivals there could also be Vittorio Brambilla and his March. The Italian driver and the British car are very competitive.
"I would be happy to stay behind Niki and Clay".
Brambilla says, but is it true? 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:
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. 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. Also in this circumstance, Luca Montezemolo was able to call Maranello to give Enzo Ferrari good news. On the Zandvoort circuit, on the first day of practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, eighth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni, with the 312 Ts, did very well, laying solid foundations for repeating last year’s one-two. And Emerson Fittipaldi, forced to struggle behind the wheel of his recalcitrant McLaren, is right to say that there is a Formula Ferrari and then a Formula Ford, referring to the fact that all the cars of the British school, except the B.R.M., mount Ford-Cosworth engines. Lauda, who arrived at Zandvoort as leader of the World Championship and on the wave of three consecutive successes, reiterated his and Ferrari's happy moment by setting the best time: 1'20"34, at an average of 189.548 km/h. Regazzoni acted as a valid wingman for him, lapping in 1"20"57. The best in Formula Ford, quoting Fittipaldi's words, was James Hunt, with the Hesketh, in 1'20"70, followed by Scheckter (Tyrrell) in 1'20"74 and by Reutemann (Brabham) in 1' 20"87. Fittipaldi is in sixth position (1'21"04) and he’s already happy with that. These laps are slower than those of 1974 (for example, Lauda had achieved pole position in 1'18"31), but we shouldn't be surprised too much. The explanation exists, and it lies in the changes made in the tire sector and in the changing conditions of the track (temperature, wind, sand are important factors.) Perhaps Lauda would still like something more from his single seater, but he certainly isn't complaining.
"We didn't even have any tire problems: in Sweden we went crazy, here the situation is very calm. The 312 T is superior to the old B3 with which I won last year at Zandvoort, and if I wasn't able to demonstrate it today, it is mainly due to the circuit, which was very dirty. We should get some points for the championship on Sunday".
Regazzoni is also satisfied.
"In Grands Prix you should always start from the front or second row. There are fewer overtakes to make, fewer problems to deal with. Tomorrow things could change, and someone could be faster than me, but I don't think so. I'm going strong in Zandvoort".
In the Netherlands, Ferrari tested a new type of spoiler. Montezemolo explains:
"We used it at Fiorano in a series of tests, but our track lacks a straight line for very high speeds, so we decided to take it to Zandvoort. It was created to maintain the same load on the rear wheels in the corners as the previous model, but to steal less speed on the straights".
The test was successful: Lauda reached 278 km/h and Regazzoni 276 km/h (like Flttipaldi and Scheckter). Speaking of spoilers, the ban on using them in Formula 1 next season has left the manufacturers a bit perplexed. Montezemolo, expressing everyone's opinion, declares:
"The abolition of the wing is not a winning move in favor of safety. The cars will go faster on the straights, and this seems dangerous to me. Also, it's amazing that the CIS only talks about cars. And the circuits? I find it incredible that it hasn't been openly declared that racing in Barcelona is madness not to be repeated".
However, the secretary of the CSI, Claude Le Guezec, clarified that the initiative will be better organized in September, with a study meeting that will bring together all the bodies that make up Formula 1
"Together we will create a new technical regulation".
Le Guezec also dispelled a misunderstanding regarding the cancellation of some endurance races such as the 1000km of Monza.
"No cancellations, these races simply no longer form part of the world championship for manufacturers but in that for sports cars. In short, they will continue, but with other protagonists".
In the Netherlands there is also talk about the next Italian Grand Prix. Will it be regularly held in Monza? The drivers have proposed a series of innovations, such as escape routes at the Curva Grande and at Lesmo, which are impossible to implement due to the natural constraints on the park. However, in many quarters efforts are being made to reach some compromise that will allow the race to be disputed on the racetrack. It is very probable that this will be the last time that the Grand Prix will be held in Monza; track candidate for succession is Imola. Returning to the main topic, which concerns the protagonists present at Zandvoort, during the practice Niki Lauda had to stay in the garage for about twenty minutes, the time to replace the rear attachment cross member of the suspensions and gearbox, which deformed following the unthreading of a tie rod bolt, while in the final stages of training the engine of Regazzoni's 312T got a bit tarnished. However, according to normal procedures, the engines of the two cars will have changed during the night. As for the rivals of the Maranello team's drivers, it should be noted the use of a new rear suspension on Fittipaldi's McLaren ("We change the tires like the others"), with quite positive results, the brakes failing on Reutemann's Brabham (which performed a spectacular spin) and a water pipe on Pace's, and the lack of a valid set-up on Vittorio Brambilla's March ("The car is too light, it tends to slip, it will be necessary to work on suspensions"). Apparently, in the Netherlands there are many who have problems, so one wonders who could have the chance to steal the fourth consecutive success from the overwhelmingly powerful Ferraris, and in particular from Lauda? 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 Emerson 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. If in Sweden Ferrari proposed to play in defense, in Holland they could run in attack. On this second day of practice nobody was able to get close to Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni, who will start from the front row on Sunday. Beyond the result of the race, today we begin to enjoy the brilliant exploits of the two drivers and the formidable 312 T. It's a feat that speaks for itself and confirms the state of grace of the Maranello team and its men. Moreover, Lauda manages to improve on Friday's performance with great ease, setting a time of 1'20"29 (at an average of 189.48 km/h) against the previous time of 1'20"34. It's a breeze, agreed, but it's another indication of the health of the Lauda-Ferrari duo, who also lapped with a full tank of fuel in 1'21"8, an excellent time. On Sunday, the Austrian driver shouldn't struggle too much to detach his rivals at the wheel of the single seaters made in England.
"At Zandvoort there is the same difference between Ferrari and the other cars as last year. I just pray the tires don't play tricks on me. We don't have any problem, but today I got two fake tires. If it happened tomorrow, I would have to go back to the box and say goodbye to the victory, sincerely, I plan to take the lead immediately and impose my pace, as I prefer, and then, goodbye to everyone. In any case, I hope to score some points for the championship".
Apart from the tyres, to demonstrate how little things always make a Formula 1 Grand Prix uncertain and full of suspense, it is enough to tell an apparently banal episode in which Lauda was the protagonist. The Austrian was running at 280 km/h on the grandstand straight and was in the process of overtaking, but he then braked sharply and pulled the car over to the edge of the track, with a cloud of sparks flying from the front end. The plastic nose that supports the front wing had broken and the flat light alloy blade had ended up on the asphalt. A trifle, but decisive in the race. The practice of the Swiss Clay Regazzoni was also enlivened by a collision with Jody Scheckter who. luckily, it didn't even cause a scratch to the two drivers or minor damage to the cars. The accident occurred at the top of a short stretch after the characteristic hairpin bend behind the pits. Clay says:
"Jody was going very slowly, while I was in full acceleration. Instead of staying on the left of the runway, i.e. outside the normal trajectory, it traveled to the right. To discard it, I ended up on the left, in an area of dirty asphalt, precisely because usually we don't pass through it. My Ferrari skidded and I hit the Tyrrell. Maybe my fault, but why didn't he, who in our meetings complain about those who don't give him the road, behave like a professional?"
The South African replies to Regazzoni's outburst.
"I don't know why he complains. All right, I was on the right, but even with two wheels in the grass. He had all the space to pass. He could have been more careful".
It almost seems like listening to a fight between two motorists after a collision. On the Ferrari the rim of the right rear wheel, the oil tank and a suspension support were broken, while on the Tyrrell the front left wheel and two elements of the front end. Better to talk to Regazzoni about the Dutch Grand Prix.
"I'm starting to win, and I hope Niki finishes second. That way I would lift myself up a bit in the standings and not hurt him. Lauda must beware of Fittipaldi or Reutemann, not me. By now, I'm out of the championship fight. Niki just needs a few placements to win the title, and I'd be delighted".
Luca Montezemolo, as always, takes stock of the situation.
"We have two cars on the front row, we were quickest on Friday and we were quickest on Saturday too. It seems to me that in terms of performance, the team has done its duty. The important thing now is that everything goes as it should in the race. For Lauda this is the fourth pole position of the season and it is the second time that Niki and Regazzoni line up together in front of everyone. Tomorrow the drivers are free to race, naturally without harming Ferrari's interests. We're changing the engines of the 312 Ts tonight. It's a measure of prudence. Regazzoni was not very satisfied with the performance of his twelve-cylinder and, moreover, at the moment of the collision with Schetckter, he had run into a dangerous over-revving. Lauda, on the other hand, felt a vibration which remained constant and did not affect the efficiency of the engine, so much so that he was able to do better than on Friday. But why leave tomorrow with this sword of Damocles on my head?"
In theory, the most dangerous opponents for the Maranello team should be Hunt (Hesketh), Scheckter, Reutemann (Brabham) and the usual Emerson Fittipaldi with McLaren. The Brazilian slightly improved his time (from 1'21"04 to 1'20"91), but observing the performance of Lauda and Regazzoni, he appears perplexed.
"Tomorrow Lauda can win, so goodbye to the title. It's 90% his. My car is more reliable than in Belgium or Sweden, but not enough to allow me to withstand the competition from the Ferraris. Only the tire lottery can help me, I think I've made the right choices".
In the shadows is Vittorio Brambilla, who starts in sixth row. At Zandwoort his March is not very stable and the Italian driver can't step on the accelerator. Dutch Grand Prix, therefore, in a Ferrari key. Two red arrows at the start, two at the finish line? It's raining on Saturday night and the forecast is for a run under the water. But this shouldn't be a problem for Ferrari. The climb to the sand dunes bordering the Zandvoort circuit begins at dawn. People arrive in droves and join those who have spent the night in tents or caravans. Windbreakers, sweaters, and picnic baskets. The sky is overcast, and the wind is freezing. The sea foams. Around noon the rain comes. It would hardly seem that the swimming season is already open at Zandvoort - Amsterdam's beach. The circuit is 4220 meters long: a straight, a stretch of curves behind the pits and a series of very fast curves. It's a track that engages every element of a car: engine, chassis, transmission, suspension. There are fifteen gear changes and at least two heavy braking, going from 70 km/h to almost 280 km/h. Bad weather prompted the stewards to allow an extraordinary twenty-minute practice session to allow drivers and technicians to verify the behavior of the cars with rain tyres. Everyone adjusts the set-up of the cars. He laps in a 1'36"0 against 1'20"0 on Saturday. The race starts over half an hour late. 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.
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. Already Lella 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. Luca Montezemolo turns to speak to the mechanics inside the pits and doesn't notice that Peterson, with the Lotus, is arriving quickly. A moment, and the young man is thrown into the air. They immediately take him to a Red Cross post: broken left ankle, bruises to an elbow and neck. Montezemolo, however, doesn't want to stay away from the team.
They settle him in a chair. 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 Grand Prix 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. 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. 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.
"I didn't see the signal and, in any case, at that moment it was more prudent to continue with wet tyres. There was a long section of the circuit where the tarmac was still slippery. I would have risked too much. Now, I was racing to win, but above all to score points for the championship. What if I had an accident?"
This is Lauda's reasoning but having waited so long to change the tires was a mistake that also involved Regazzoni.
"I knew you had to go back to the garage, but Niki had to do it first. He kept going, and what could I do?"
On the other hand, all of Lauda's behavior today was dictated by prudential considerations.
"I was able to catch Hunt quite easily after passing Jarier, who hindered me in every way. The Hesketh, however, was slightly faster in the straight than my Ferrari. I think I could have passed Hunt just by taking some risks. It wasn't worth it. My car behaved wonderfully; it only suffered a little oversteer due to the set-up changes we made at the last moment for fear of the rain".
Understandably, Carlos Reutemann warns Lauda and Ferrari:
"Anyway, Niki shouldn’t convince himself that he has already won the title. It's too early. He is in an excellent position and his car allows him excellent performances everywhere, but my success and a halt from him would be enough to put everything back into question".
And even Emerson Fittipaldi doesn't give up, but his situation is unenviable, with that McLaren having some new problem every time. Lauda and Ferrari, therefore, are always competitive. And, hopefully, a situation like this will not happen in all Grands Prix. And that Lauda, all in all, was not wrong in having acted with caution is demonstrated by the World Championship standings. Niki has 38 points against Reutemann's 25, and Fittipaldi's 21, who is breaking every negative record, since, after the second place in Monte-Carlo and the related 6 points, he has never finished a race or, in any case, has not entered in the top 6 squad. Lauda increased his advantage over Reutemann by three points: from 10 to 13. Says Luca Montezemolo, who despite the pain in his leg manages to smile and give interviews:
"It seems to me that Ferrari performed well at Zandvoort. Of course, in Sweden we didn't hope to win, and we won, here we were thinking about it, and instead we finished second and third. However, this placement is equally exciting: we are always at the top. Lauda was right not to risk it. Yes, agreed, if he had entered the pits earlier maybe he would have won. But they are academic discourses. Niki did a magnificent race, thinking about the world title before the Dutch Grand Prix".
"I saw it when I got out of the car at the end of the race".
Maybe it was hit by a stone thrown by another car. When you get used to the best, the slightest step backwards is, at least for the time being, a disappointment. And we struggle to find the reasons, which, if you really want to look for them, all emerge around the missed reports. But why? That’s simple. Luca Montezemolo will tell:
"I had broken my shoulder, elbow and leg and I couldn't stand on the wall to signal him. At the end of the race Lauda came to me very angry. You asshole, you left me alone, I was abandoned for half of the race. I was in such pain that I didn't even have the strength to send him to hell".
And even Clay Regazzoni, immediately after getting out of the car (therefore, as they say, still hot), takes it out on Lauda and the Ferrari garage management.
"Why did Niki wait so long? And why didn't they signal him before returning?"
So here are the reasons for the misunderstandings born in and from the pits. Luca Montezemolo, Enzo Ferrari's young assistant, hit on the Zandvoort track, arrives in Turin on a private jet on Monday morning and goes immediately to the Traumatology Center, to see Professor Pizzetti who reduces the fracture in his left ankle sustained in the frightening flight after Peterson's investment by Lotus. Montezemolo also fractured his right elbow in the accident. Both limbs are in plaster. He will have it for a month, but as soon as he comes out of the clinic Montezemolo declares that he does not intend to momentarily abandon the Ferraris in the fight for the world title. And, in this regard, the sporting director leaves immediately on the afternoon of Monday 23 June 1975 to go to Maranello, to prepare for the next Grand Prix and to meet, on Tuesday morning, the Formula 1 constructors who in the meantime go to the province of Modena to say hello to Enzo Ferrari and visit the factory. The accident that could have had very bad consequences took place in the pits. Busy talking to the mechanics, he didn't notice that the Swede Peterson was approaching at a considerable pace and hit him, throwing him into the air. After the first treatments Montezemolo returned to the garage and followed the end of the race sitting on a chair. In conclusion, it was another good Sunday for Enzo Ferrari. The next appointment is in France. The world title, with this calculating Lauda and with this always great Ferrari, is getting closer from stage to stage.