At a couple of minutes to twelve o’clock (untypically punctual by South American standards!), the 22-car field moves slowly up from the dummy grid to await the starting light. At mid-day precisely, the starting light blinks green and the Brazilian Grand Prix is on with Pace jumping the start from the third grid and rocketing up the inside of Hunt as they go into the first corner. Reutemann chops across from the outside and just leads the Brabham-Alfa out onto the long downhill straight, but Pace has the bit between his teeth and doesn’t have any intention of being shown the way round Interlagos by an Argentinian. At the bottom of the hill, on the entrance to the slightly banked double left-hander which is to cause to many people so much trouble later in the race, Pace pulls out and slices into the lead to the accompaniment of ecstatic cheers from the crowd, leading the Ferrari up into the infield loop and out onto the start/finish straight to complete the first lap. Third is Hunt ahead of Mass, Andretti and Regazzoni, while there is already a gap opening back to Depailler, Laffite, Jody Scheckter, Peterson, Brambilla, Pryce, Fittipaldi, Watson, Lauda, Ian Scheckter, Nilsson (heading for the pits to change a rear tyre damaged after a slight nudge), Binder, Ribiero, Hoffman and Zorzi. Totally unnoticed by most of the spectators, the B.R.M. crawls into the pits to retire with all its water blown out after just a single lap. Although Pace is very much in command during the opening stages, Hunt is in fine form and slipps into second place on the third lap, but he isn’t able to do much about the Italian-engined car in the lead. Hunt later will remark that he was amazed by the speed at which Pace got away from him along the straights, but he isn’t giving up worrying the Brazilian as hard as he knows. Just behind Reutemann, Mass is striving might and main to fend off Andretti while the cheeky Regazzoni simply hangs onto the back of this little elite group and watches the action, quite able to keep up with them in the car that Mo built.
Brambilla is already in the pits having a water radiator repaired after humping over yet another kerb, lan Scheckter has stopped with gearbox trouble on the second lap (the oil filter mounting broke, severed an oil line and starved the box of its lubricant) and Nilsson is back in the fray driving as hard as he can from the rear end of the field. A small grass fire suddenly starts on the edge of the circuit on the outside of the corner before the pits, causing the leaders to moderate their speed for a couple of laps, but that is soon extinguished. By the end of the sixth lap the first half dozen are still in close contact, but lap seven spells disaster for Pace as he rounds the double left-hander at the bottom of the hill after the pits. The circuit surface at this point has only recently been relaid and, as the race wears on, adhesion was minimal if drivers allow their cars to deviate too much from the prescribed line. Pace allows the red Brabham to run a fraction too wide as he leads the field into this comer and suddenly Hunt is presented with the sight of the red Brabham sliding down the circuit almost broadside right in front of him. Hunt pulls the McLaren into the corner as tightly as he can, slipping past Pace on the inside, but his right rear wheel runs over the Brabham’s left front water radiator, smashing the cowling and cascading water all over the place. Pace then regains control, but the whole nose section flies off a few hundred yards later and, bitterly disappointed, the Brazilian is obliged to stop at the pits at the end of that lap. Thus the order at the end of lap seven is Hunt from Reutemann, Mass and Andretti with the German driver trying as hard as he can to keep the determined American behind him. On lap 11 Jody Scheckter pulls to a standstill with a seizing engine in his blue Wolf, then two laps later Mass loses control in front of Andretti at that comer, finds himself unable to retrieve the situation on the slippery surface and slides headlong into the catch fencing.
The fencing promptly falls down across the track, collected Regazzoni’s Ensign - which has also run slightly wide - and spins the Swiss’ car round in its own length before wrapping it up in chicken wire so that it is completely trapped. Hardly has Regazzoni stopped when Depailler arrives on the scene, spinning wildly, but the Frenchman keeps his Tyrrell away from the fence and is able to restart after losing several places. Peterson, by contrast, simply doesn’t seem to see the pile-up and, to the amazement of the following Tom Pryce, simply ploughs straight off into the catch fencing. Brambilla is already there (having spun off a lap before Mass) while Watson and Lauda just avoid sliding off to join them. It was just like black ice, remarks an amazed Lauda after the race is over. This wholesale decimation rather splits up the field, Hunt now a few seconds ahead of Reutemann with Andretti right behind. Pryce’s Shadow has moved into fourth place ahead of Laffite with 15 laps completed, but the French car lasts there only six laps before making a pit stop to change cracked sparking plugs (a repeat of the problem that dogged Laffite in Argentina) and that means that Lauda and Watson inherit the two remaining positions in the top half-dozen. At the front of the field Hunt is clearly in problems as his McLaren has been adjusted to develop slightly too much understeer as the race wears on. Gradually Reutemann closes in on the McLaren as it wears its front tyres down and, despite trying extremely hard to fend him off, Hunt is forced to concede the lead on lap 23. Immediately Hunt takes the decision to stop for two fresh front tyres, rocketing back into the race in fifth place and quickly re-passing Lauda and Watson. Two laps ago, Andretti’s strong challenge evaporated when a small electrical short circuit in the wires behind the Lotus’ instrument panel caused him to stop out on the circuit, leaving Reutemann with a tremendous lead over Pryce with Hunt catching up fast in third place.
Even Pryce isn’t without his problems, for his Shadow’s oil temperature is soaring, so the Welshman eases his pace slightly, hoping that the engine will last. Unfortunately, just over six laps from the end of the 40-lap race the engine goes ragged and Pryce has to stop, so Hunt is back in second place behind Reutemann’s reliable Ferrari. Depailler is further delayed after his spin with a deflated rear tyre and damaged water radiator (both of which had to be replaced) and the Frenchman caps Ken Tyrrell’s day by crashing very heavily into the remains of Mass’ McLaren, writing off both cars and braising his knees quite painfully. Watson, who never features in the high places at all, finds his Brabham BT45 understeering far too violently, and joins the happy throng in the catch fencing on lap 30. When he arrives and climbs out of his car he finds that Laffite has slammed the Ligier-Matra into Brambilla’s Surtees and three laps later comes the crowning stupidity when Pace (many laps behind the leaders) slides off into this Formula One graveyard as well. In all this excitement hardly anybody notices Hans Binder sliding off further round the circuit after a front brake of his Surtees TS19 locks on. As the seven drivers in amongst the catch fencing dust themselves down, the closing lap order of the Brazilian Grand Prix must leave rather than a trifle embarrassed. Reutemann, driving as smoothly as clockwork, reels off the final miles to a comfortable and convincing victory over Hunt by over 10 sec. while Lauda, who carefully avoided the pitfalls and snares other people found so attractive, ends up a solid and lonely third. Despite making a pit stop to change a deflated tyre, Fittipaldi brings the Copersucar home fourth (one lap down on Reutemann), while Nilsson survives to fifth (despite a second stop to take on fuel) and Zorzi is sixth simply by dint of plodding on. Hoffman is seventh and last, another who kept his car going—and on the track. A race which started with tremendous promise has ended as the survival of the three fittest with several “walking wounded” smiling along behind. Reutemann hasn’t been the fastest man on the track, but he’s gone fastest for the longest with as little trouble as possible, which is surely what Grand Prix racing should be all about.