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#293 1977 Netherlands Grand Prix

2022-07-14 00:00

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#1977,

#293 1977 Netherlands Grand Prix

The Motor Racing scene in Holland is simple and straight-forward compared with some countries, there is but one circuit, the Grand Prix always takes p

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The Motor Racing scene in Holland is simple and straight-forward compared with some countries, there is but one circuit, the Grand Prix always takes place there and it doesn’t change too much, so everyone turns up at the seaside resort of Zandvoort in a fairly happy frame of mind. Taking a lead from the British GP the Dutch organizers seeds out the rabbits from the entry and give them a private test session on the Tuesday before the event, to sort out four to go forward into the official Grand Prix practice. There are nine entries list for rabbits day and they include Brett Unger and Merzario, which seems odd as they normally qualify well up among the big boys and Merzario is particularly incense and refuses to take part on Tuesday. Brandishing the rule book of the FIA and with legal advice he got the special session makes null and void after it has happen, so that the four who have qualify on Tuesday is wasting their time. These are Lunger (McLaren M23/14), Binder (Penske PC4/01), Henton (Boro 001 nee Ensign MN04) and Pilette (BRM P207/02). Three drivers are due to be left out, these being Ashley (Hesketh 308E/3), Villota (McLaren M23/6) and local lad Michael Bleekemolen (March 761/8) but with the canceling of the result Ashley and the Dutchman appear on Friday while Villota goes off to another event. The Swiss driver Loris Kessel should have taken part with an old Williams car, but spent his time chasing John MacDonald of the RAM Racing team for some legal and financial matters leave over from last season, and eventually successfully got MacDonald apprehend by the Dutch police. On Friday the serious business begins and it doesn’t take long for Team Lotus to show that the Zandvoort circuit really suits the Lotus 78 and Mario Andretti.

 

All the variables are finely tune and in beautiful synchronization and in a demonstration of smooth, flowing driving Andretti is in a class of his own. During the morning practice session he set a new standard with 1'18"85, the only driver to get into the 1'18"0 bracket, and the only one to even look like getting there. Hunt is driving hard, as always, but is nearly a second slower, with 1'19"7 and Reutemann has his Ferrari going well at 1'19"74, everyone else is over 1'20"0. In the afternoon it’s Andretti all the way again, slightly slower at 1'19"07, but still in a class of his own and there is a bit of a flutter about the place when Gunnar Nilsson ends up second fastest, at 1'19"98, no-one else getting below 1'20"0, though Hunt is next fastest with 1'20"13. At the end of the day the order is Andretti, Hunt, Reutemann and Nilsson with all the rest of the usual front-runners like Lauda, Laffite, Scheckter, Watson and Peterson wondering what they can do about the two Lotus cars. Others who are running strongly are Jones (Shadow DN8/4A), Regazzoni (Ensign MN06), Tambay (Ensign MN08), Stuck (Brabham BT45/3B) and Depailler (Tyrrell P34/7). There aren’t too many problems with the cars. Lauda changes to a spare car, starting out with 031 and after a few laps switching to 030 and, staying with it for the following day. For the first time the McLaren team are able to be without an M23 car, or any obsolete spares, having completed a third M26, which Mass is driving, with the rebuilt original car as the team spare, Hunt driving his usual M26/2. Watson is happy with his usual car, Brabham BT45/5B but tries spare car, 1B briefly and though there are photographs available of the interesting new Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46, with its triangular-section monocoque and surface water and oil radiators, there isn’t sign of the new car, it being at the Alfa Romeo test-track in Italy.
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March has built a new car for Ian Scheckter, called a 771, but not radically different from an up-rate 761 and brother Scheckter was fairly happy with the Wolf WR2, not using the spare car WR1. Laffite is driving the latest Ligier, JS7/03, in long-wheelbase form with the cast alloy spacer between engine and gearbox, and with wide-track front suspension members, while the spare car JS7/02 was in standard short and narrow form, but the new car is going so well that the spare isn’t uses. The Shadow team has uprated DN8/5A to the same specification as the Austrian winning car, with front-mounted oil radiator and slim fairings around the side water-radiators. The disagreement with their Italian sponsor has be settle so Patrese was back in the car, but he can’t match the pace of Also Jones. The Renault is back on the scene, after solving their turbo-charger installation problems, mounting it all a bit higher, using a very exhaust tail pipe, and a redesign inlet manifold. Jabouille’s progress is stop when a stone goes into the air intake and plays havoc with the turbine blades, and later it swallows part of its inlet manifold, which do the valves of the V6 engine no good, so the army of mechanics were kept pretty busy. The Dutch drivers Hayje and Bleekemolen are driving the two March 761 cars finance by F&S Properties and the cars are modified by Howden Ganley and his Tiga firm. The front track is widen, the wheelbase lengthen, the oil coolers are mount at the front, with new nose cowlings, and the rear anti-roll bar mountings are improve. They still only go as fast as the drivers can drive them. The Dutch HB Alarm System team of the Hoogenboom brothers produce their Ensign from last year, which they rename Boro, now painted black and make a deal with Brian Henton to drive it in place of his March 761.
 
The weather stays fine during the Friday practice, but rain storms are around and the skies are decidedly unsettled. On Saturday morning during the untime test-session many drivers try their spare cars, if briefly, just in case they are need, and then everyone is set for the last hour of practice, to decide their fate or their finances, as far as the starting grid is concerne. Of the 34 drivers out on the track, only the fastest 26 are going to be allow to start, so there is some pretty desperate scrabbling among the tail-enders. Once more Andretti demoralize everyone, with a lap in 1'18"65, and what is worse is that he can run laps at around 1'19"0 while cooling off, or waiting for the traffic to thin out; most of his rivals are struggling to get into the 1'19"0 bracket, given a clear run. Team mate Nilsson is in all sorts of trouble, the Cosworth development engine in 78/2 is playing up with a defective fuel pump, so he goes out in the spare car, 78/4 and has got down to a healthy 1'19"57 when a link in the rear roll-bar mechanism broke, so he switches back into his first car. Regazzoni is on Ensign MN07, with the Intention of keeping it for the race, and Lauda is in Ferrari 312T2/030 also with the intention of racing it, and Scheckter is still in Wolf WR2. The entry is dividing itself up into interesting groups, according to lap times, with Andretti (Lotus 78/3) alone in the 1'18"0 group. Then come the valiant ones in the 1'19"0 group, and these are Laffite (Ligier JS7/03), Hunt (McLaren M26/2), Lauda (Ferrari 030), Nilsson (Lotus 78/4), Reutemann (Ferrari 029), Peterson (Tyrrell P34/6), Watson (Brabham BT45/5B) and Regazzoni (Ensign MN07). The surprise of that lot is Laffite at the head in the Ligier, the Dutch circuit suiting the French car and the driver making the most of it, as always.
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The gray mid-portion of the field is in the 1'20"0. The group and the surprise here is to find Jabouille and the Renault at the head of it. Those who disapprove of anything so radical as the turbo-charged V6 on its Michelin tyres, are suggesting that it is only so high up the list because the turbo-charge is screw up to a short-life maximum and Michelin has produce some special short-life sticky tyres. Even if all this is true, which it isn’t, it will all be quite legal, even though it contravene the unwritten rules of the Ecclestone Club. A best lap of 1'20"13 by Jabouille on Renault's second race appearance, and the Frenchman’s third Formula One appearance is progress for this interesting new entry upon the scene. An inverted-surprise is to find Jody Scheckter down in this gray area with the Wolf. Inevitably there are some incidents, with some thirty cars lapping the circuit, and while Jarier is having a spin on his own in the second of the ATS team’s Penske cars, Brambilla has an accident in avoiding him and bent the steering of his Surtees. He got back to the pits and continue practice in the spare car. Right at the end of practice and almost unnotice, Watson goes spinning in his Brabham when a rear radius rod pulls out of its mounting, but no damage is done. When all the lap times are sort out there aren’t too many surprises, though a lot of people are so busy eyeing Hunt and Lauda that they have overlook Laffite in second place with the Ligier, albeit more than half-a-second down on the flying Andretti. There are eight non-qualifiers, among these being Merzario, who is plague with an engine misfire on his March, as well as some drive-shaft trouble. Schuppan fails to qualify the second works Surtees car and the B.R.M.-by-Stanley will be the slowest but for the brief appearance of the Dutchman Bleekemolen.
 
Dutch bye-laws prevent the making of too much noise before midday on a Sunday, so the Formula One teams have to contain themselves until 1:15 p.rn. before they can have a final test session in readiness for the 3:00 p.m. start of the 75-lap race. In the brief run round more than enough trouble appear, the Ligier develops an incurable oil leak in its Matra engine, so the normal length spare car has to be hastily got ready for Laffite; the engine in Nilsson’s Lotus will not run properly so he transfer to the spare car, 78/4; the newer of the two works Ensigns develops an incurable misfire so Regazzoni reverte to MN06 and Keegan took Ashley’s Hesketh in place of his own, as the engine will not run cleanly in 308E/4. Brambilla is back in his proper car, after another rebuild, and the latest car that Schuppan fails to qualify is carrying the Italian’s number and spare bodywork and is prepare in readiness as a spare. At 2:30 p.m. the 26 cars left the paddock and drive round to a dummy-grid in front of the pits, each driver’s position being indicate by a large board carrying a painting of his helmet in the appropriate colors. There is a strong head-wind blowing along the straight and many of the teams have whip their gearboxes apart and lower their fifth gear ratio (or sixth in some cases) after the test session. It’s warm and dry, but not fantastic weather for being at the seaside. In formation, led by Andretti, the 26 cars go round for another lap, and this time stops on the starting-grid. The red light glows briefly and then the green comes on. Andretti almost jumps the start, but got away with wheels spinning, with the Ligier alongside him on the left. What the Lotus driver doesn't bargain for is having a McLaren on his right, especially as there isn’t really enough room between the Lotus and the guard-rails.
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Hunt has made a superb start and wheel-to-wheel with Andretti he sits it out down to the first corner, with the two cars virtually rubbing tyres together. It seems that Hunt will have to give way, especially against a tough little customer like Andretti, but the McLaren driver isn’t World Champion for nothing. Into the long hairpin they go, wheels still rubbing, and being very tight on the inside Hunt holds on and takes the lead, and we all stand up and cheer our heads off. As the Lotus goes a bit offline Laffite dived past into second place and a furious Andretti finds himself in third place when he should be away in the lead; all due to an audacious bit of driving by the English World Champion. Behind all this John Watson is elbow out wide by a Ferrari, and the Brabham ran over the kerb and crack the Alfa Romeo oil sump, so that the Ulsterman is soon follow by a cloud of smoke as the oil leak onto the exhaust system. As if that isn’t enough, on the bends behind the paddock Mass tangled with Jones and the McLaren flew through the air, lost its nose cone and crash into the catch fencing and out of the race. Down the long straight to finish the opening lap comes Hunt, driving the M26 McLaren as hard as it will go, knowing that he has a tenuous lead but determine to make the most of it. He is follow by Laffite, Andretti, Lauda, Reutemann, Watson, Peterson, Regazzoni, Tambay and Depailler. On lap 2 Andretti passed Laffite and after Hunt, but the Englishman wasn’t waiting for anyone. After such a short distance the first five cars have already broken away from the pack, while Watson heads into the pit lane to retire and Nilsson has come up behind Peterson. Lap 3 and Andretti is gaining on Hunt and on lap 4 they go towards the Tarzan hairpin at the end of the long straight almost side-by-side, and the Lotus driver tries to run round the outside of the McLaren as they start their fifth lap. Hunt is quite unmove and the Lotus has to drop behind for another lap. Ending lap 5 the Lotus is even closer and is alongside all round the hairpin and still there as they come out, with the right front wheel between the McLaren’s left wheels.
 
It’s close in, almost too close for comfort, but neither driver is going to give in, they are racing for the lead, not messing about at an old ladies tea party. Then it happens, the McLaren rear wheel touches the Lotus front one and Hunt is airborne while Andretti is spinning. The McLaren crashes down onto the edge of the track, landing astride a kerb, smashing the water pump under the Cosworth engine and breaking a rear radius arm front mounting. As Hunt slither to a stop in a cloud of steam, Andretti gathers up the Lotus and roars away after the Ligier and the two Ferraris that have gone by during the fracas. A furious Hunt walks back to the pits to tell Colin Chapman what he thinks of his little USAC driver, but Chapman is unmove and thinks Hunt should have move over and let Andretti through, as the Lotus is lapping much faster. Naturally, everyone supports their particular favorite, but it really is a simple case of two born racers having a go at each other. It’s nice to know that a bit of spirit and passion has return to Grand Prix racing, after some of the old women’s knitting circles we use to have to sit through. As the air cleare and we see that Laffite is firmly in the lead from the two Ferraris, with Andretti in fourth place, it’s notices that Jarier has retire his Penske at the pits with ignition trouble and Peterson is still leading the second part of the race, ahead of Nilsson, Regazzoni, Tambay, Depailler and Jones. Then comes a very uncharacteristic Jody Scheckter in the Wolf, follow by the Renault leading Fittipaldi. The rest follow after a gap, in the order Stuck, Patrese, Brambilla, Keegan, Henton, Ian Scheckter, Binder, Lunger and Ribeiro. Although the 12-cylinder cars are in the first three places, Andretti is gaining on them rapidly, closing up on Reutemann’s tail by lap 10 and easily whipping by into third place. Next lap he is right up behind Lauda’s Ferrari and setting his sights on out-braking him into the Tarzan hairpin or running round the outside of him,bat Lauda isn’t giving the Lotus driver any help and he is still in second place at the end of lap 13, with Laffite out in the lead.
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As they come down the straight to end lap 14 the Lotus has drop back behind Reutemann’s Ferrari, and just as we are wondering why there is spoof of smoke and the Cosworth engine blow up, the Lotus coasting past the pits to retire and let the three 12-cylinder cars go on their way. Down at the back of the field Keegan has spin off the track and out of the race, and Patrese has stop at the pits to change front tyres. While Andretti is doing his best against the Ferraris, Nilsson has pass Peterson, so is now in fourth place and getting well wound and gaining on Reutemann. Without having to worry about the Lotus getting larger in his mirrors, Lauda can now concentrate on winning the race for it’s just a matter of time before he catches Laffite. Without any fuss and taking his time, Lauda moves into the lead as they start lap 22 and then it’s all over. He just drives away in complete command of the situation. Peterson stops at the pits with his engine running badly, a new ignition unit is put in and he rejoins the race but finishes that lap on foot as the engine dies altogether due to a broken ignition pick-up on the flywheel. As Lauda is going into the lead Depailler stops at the pits with a flat second-front tyre on the right, but is soon back in the race and on lap 18 Regazzoni’s Ensign comes to a stop when the end pulls off the accelerator cable, down by the pedal. Interest now turns to Nilsson, who has his head down and his shoulders hunch, and is closing fast on Reutemann. Getting up behind the Ferrari is one thing, but getting past is another matter, and the chances aren’t enhance as they begin to lap the slower cars. After the first four, which are still Lauda, Laffite, Reutemann and Nilsson, there is a very long gap before Tambay arrives leading the rest. With so many retirements and so much trouble before half-distance is even in sight, Scheckter is now sixth in the Wolf, Jones seventh in the leading Shadow, closely followed by the Renault in eighth place, with Fittipaldi hanging on in ninth place.
 
Then comes Brambilla and Henton and further back Stuck is only just leading Lunger, Binder and Depailler. Even the tail end don’t remain stable for long as Depailler stops at the end of the straight when his engine broke, and at the same time there is a puff of smoke from Jones’ Shadow as his engine also broke, just as Jabouille is looking for a way to get the yellow and black Renault past the white car. Clear of back-markers for a time Nilsson renewed his attack on Reutemann’s Ferrari, but with a bit too much vigor and run into the back of it out on the far side of the circuit. The Lotus goes off into the sand and the Ferrari limps back to the pits with the rear aerofoil hanging off. A new one is fit and the peev Argentinian rejoins the race a lap behind his leading team-mate and down in 13th position. All this left Tambay in a remarkable third place, with everyone space out behind him. The Renault has a big spin and then comes into the pits and a broken link is find in the rear suspension, so the car is withdrawn after running well for 39 laps. Lauda is still driving round in the lead, completely confident and the Ferrari not being strain at all. The Ligier-Matra is firmly in second place, Laffite driving well in a car that he has hardly driven in practice and together they are steadily lapping the rest of the competitors, only Tambay, J. Scheckter, Fittipaldi and Brambilla being on the same lap as the two 12-cylinder cars. Brian Henton is going well in the Dutch-owned Ensign and leading all the rest of the runners, including Stuck in the works Brabham-Alfa Romeo and both works March cars. It’s now only a matter of reeling off the laps for Lauda and Laffite, and lapping the Cosworth-powered cars that are left in the race. Brambilla is still working away and catches and passes Fittipaldi, before they are lap by Lauda and then with every possibility of catching Scheckter’s Wolf before the end of the 75 laps the stocky Italian presses on hard. When Lauda and Laffite come up behind him he dutifully moves over and lets them through, for with the traffic Lauda has to ease off in a cautionary manner which has allow Laffite to get close in behind the Ferrari.
 
The Austrian driver isn’t worries by this, but isn’t making life too easy for the Frenchman, swooping about a bit here and there to disturb the air-flow over the front of the Ligier. When they go by the Surtees, Brambilla tucks in behind to get a tow closer It Scheckter, but as they take the fast right hand curve onto the long straight, the Surtees is in very turbulent air from the two 12-cylinder car and is literally blown off the road, hitting the guard-rail in a cloud of dust and stopping with the front wipe off. As always, Brambilla steps unhurt from the wreckage. Scheckter is lap without bother and now only Tambay’s Ensing is on the same lap as the Ferrari and Ligier but they are already in his mirrors. Henton’s run with the Boro-Ensign ends when the engine peter out and then he coastes to a stop near the finishing line with four laps to go and a certain sixth place gone, though he doesn’t know he is being disqualify for having receive outside assistance to restart after a spin earlier on. Starting lap 74 the th behind the pits. It’s out of fuel, even though the third-placed Ensign coughs and then dies up the hill from the Hunzerug Hairpin behind the pits. It’s out of fuel, even though the owners Taylor and Yip have supervise their own fueling and done their own calculations. Poor Patrick Tambay is distraught as he walks away from the car, having driven into a splendid third place and putting a lot of work drivers to shame. As Lauda leads Laffite across the line by nearly two seconds, Scheckter and the Wolf find themselves in third place, but a lap down, and a delight Emerson Fittipaldi comes home fourth after a completely trouble-free run for a change. Tambay is classified fifth and Reutemann scraps into sixth place after catching some of the slower cars and inheriting places by retirements. Remarkable in such a race of attrition that the two works March cars both finish with no greater incident than a spin by Ribeiro. By keeping out of trouble and applying to the job Lauda has got himself another Grand Prix victory, and when all the shouting has die down and the dust has settle it is the winning of the race that counts in the long run.
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Rebecca Asolari

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