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#263 1975 Italian Grand Prix

2021-12-20 00:00

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#1975, Fulvio Conti, Rebecca Asolari,

#263 1975 Italian Grand Prix

It is almost a foregone conclusion that Lauda would be setting the pace with the works Ferrari, but nobody envisages him having a dominating lead of m

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It is almost a foregone conclusion that Lauda would be setting the pace with the works Ferrari, but nobody envisages him having a dominating lead of more than 1.5 seconds over the nearest Cosworth V8 car by the time the first practice session has finished. It seems as if everyone has given up and are merely going through the motions of being competitors to the two Ferraris, but in fact there is a lot of hard trying going on and some pretty desperate breakages among some of the teams. The McLaren team are in such a shambles after an hour of practice that it seems unbelievable and they are smiling, knowing they have reached rock- bottom and things can only improve. Fittipaldi has not been going long before his Cosworth engine blows up and he has to abandon the car on the far side of the circuit. Barely has he got going in the spare McLaren than Jochen Mass comes into the pits with his Cosworth V8 blown up and as his car is wheeled away to have a new engine installed, Fittipaldi bounces himself off the far chicane and bends the right front corner and crinkles the monocoque of the spare car. From a thriving team they are reduced to spectators in less than an hour. Depailler is going well in his Tyrrell and the two South American Brabham drivers are beginning to get to grips with the situation, even though they both suffer spins in their attempts to challenge the speed of the Ferraris. For the general run of the entry it is the old, old story of too much of this, or too much of that or not enough of the other, but the facts are that everything is looking pretty normal with the usual car/driver combinations being in the front half of the field and the rest in the back half. In the short afternoon session the McLaren team gets half way back to normal with the spare car repaired sufficiently for Fittipaldi to continue practice while his own car has an engine change, and before the session ends Mass is out again.

 

Lauda improves on his morning time of 1'32"94 to 1'32"82 and he is alone in this bracket, Regazzoni being next fastest with 1'33"11. The only driver to get in the second-class Ferrari bracket is Reutemann who scratches a lap in 1'33"99, which can hardly be called getting into the thirty-threes which is everyone’s aim. Some drivers are not even in the thirty-fours, so that Lauda has as much as 2 seconds lead on some quite good runners. Needless to say a large crowd has taken time off on this Friday afternoon and there is continual applause and cheering for the Ferrari pair and quite a lot for Brambilla as well, even though he is not in the running. While Friday has been comfortably warm, Saturday is grey and dull and there is a more determined atmosphere around the pits. McLarens are back to square one, virtually starting all over again and Fittipaldi is trying hard and looking confident. Hunt is trying the spare Hesketh, though not despairing of the new C-type, the Brabham team looks good and Peterson is going quite well in the Lotus, but his new team-mate is out of his depth, as are a number of other drivers. Brise is really having a go at the Monza Autodrome and looking a bit on the ragged edge, but he is getting results and Graham Hill does a big shuffle round of his cars to let Brise try Stommelen’s car, while Stommelen drives the spare car, which is one of the old Lolas. Engines are still breaking under the strain of the efforts to achieve a lap at more than 220 k.p.h. average (around 137 m.p.h.) and Regazzoni loses the oil pressure in his Ferrari engine after getting down to 1'32"79, continuing practice in the spare car and Depailler breaks the engine in his Tyrrell, taking over the spare Tyrrell, but it is not sounding too healthy. In general brakes are coping with the heavy and frequent applications, or rather Ferodo disc pads are coping, but one or two teams are keeping a watchful eye on disc temperatures, for with the two chicanes there is not much time for things to cool off after each heavy application.

 

Tyres seem to be completely trouble-free at this race, though care is being taken to ensure that rear ones are matched pairs and remain that way after some fast laps. The fourth and final practice session starts with only Lauda and Regazzoni in the 1'32"0 bracket, and Brambilla, Reutemann, Fittipaldi, Mass and Scheckter in the thirty-threes with one or two more not far off, but Fittipaldi, who is third fastest is still three-quarters of a second behind Lauda, and at 140 m.p.h. that is a long way. In the closing stages of practice Brise and Hunt join the elite in the thirtythrees and Regazzoni makes his best time of all in the spare Ferrari. It all seems as if Sunday would be a mere formality for the Ferrari team, except for two important points, one being the fact that they throw the 1974 race away when in a similar position of apparent domination, and the other that they have not won a major race since the French Grand Prix, failing in the British GP, the German GP and the Austrian GP. It is these two facts that are keeping the rest of the competitors going. During Saturday evening the rain starts and the fiercest of storms begins, with thunder and lightning of impressive proportions. It continues through the night and is still in full swing on Sunday morning. A half-hour of untimed practice is due at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning and some drivers go out to find the track flooded in places and so much water about that under heavy braking the nose cowlings are acting like water shovels and disappearing from view. There seem no signs of the storms abating and while everyone is prepared to have a wet race, if the bad parts of the track do not drain properly it would be impossible to drive through the water. As the start is scheduled for 3.30 p.m. there is not much hope of postponing it for an hour or more, as it would be nearly dark by the time it is over. 

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A deadline of 2:00 p.m. is chosen for making a final decision as to whether the race would take place or be abandoned, and still the rain is pouring down and the fire-brigade are hard at work trying to pump the flood waters away. By 1:00 p.m. there is a distinct improvement in the weather and the rain stops and during a supporting race for Formula Renault the sun actually appears. By the 2:00 p.m. deadline things look very hopeful and by 3:00 p.m. everyone is ready and the track is virtually dry. Fittipaldi and Lauda drive round to survey the situation and all is well, with two warm-up laps being allowed for reconnaissance purposes. Miraculously all is relatively sunny and bright in time for everyone to be on the grid on a dry track, with no problems over tyres and a dry race being almost guaranteed. Everyone deserves credit for the start being a mere 15 minutes late, when a few hours before abandonment seems the only way out. The twenty-six starters line up on the dummy-grid in pairs, ready for a 52-lap chase and as the two Ferraris lead the field up to the starting line there is a confident and almost arrogant air about the two cars from Maranello, the sound of their flat-12 cylinder engines drowning the array of Cosworth, BRM and Matra power spread out behind them. With his rear wheels spinning wildly, Lauda has to watch Regazzoni make a perfect start and the field roars away heading for the Curva Grande without going through the silly chicane. In mid-field and behind there is a lot of excitement, for on the warm-up laps Brambilla has lost the use of first gear, so starts the race in second gear and the clutch has given out. As he creeps away cars are dodging all around the orange March and in the middle of it all the B.R.M. dies completely with an electrical failure. As Evans coasts helplessly along Stommelen collides with Crawford as he dodges the B.R.M. and miraculously no-one hits Brambilla.

 

The start has taken place on the left side of the wide pits straight and at the end of the opening lap, with Regazzoni leading Lauda, the field streams up the right-hand side of the track, heading for the chicane in single file. Scheckter is in third place but overshoots his braking and then everything happens at once and there are cars bouncing in all directions. When the dust has subsided Andretti is seen climbing out of a damaged Parnelli and Peterson is also out, while Mass, Brise, Stommelen and Crawford all stop at the pits at the end of lap 2, the Lotus with its left rear tyre a mangled ball of rubber. Amon is also in the pits, having stopped on the opening lap, with a flat-sounding engine in the Ensign. It only needs two laps to sort things out, with the two Ferraris drawing away, Reutemann in third place, followed by Fittipaldi and Hunt. Then come Depailler, Pace, Laffite and Pryce and a while later come Stuck, Scheckter, Ertl, Merzario, Jarier, Lunger, Zorzi and Lombardi. Brambilla has just managed to creep round for one lap and then disappears. As a result of the pushing and shoving at the chicane, Mass, Brise and Stommelen are forced to retire with various suspension parts bent and the field is already looking a bit thin, though Crawford eventually rejoins the race. Before ten laps are completed Laffite has retired with a broken gearbox and Pace has retired with a broken throttle linkage and the order at the front is unchanged except that Depailler has caught Hunt and takes fifth place from the new Hesketh on lap 10. There is nothing to stop the Ferraris and Lauda has to be content with second place as Regazzoni is clearly out to win. Depailler now has his sights on Fittipaldi who is in fourth place, but the falling World Champion wakes up to the fact and overtakes Reutemann into third place.

 

On lap 15 Depailler’s efforts are completely nullified when he overshoots the silly chicane and goes up the escape road, rejoining the race a long way back in seventh place, behind Pryce and ahead of an unhappy Jarier for the Matra engine is popping and banging with fuel feed trouble. As half-distance approached, Regazzoni begins to open the gap between him and Lauda and it creeps up from 3 seconds to 6 seconds, to 10 seconds and it is clear that Lauda is, in fact, dropping back, for Fittipaldi now has the future World Champion in his sight. All the time Regazzoni is setting up new fastest laps, showing no signs of easing up and behind him it looks like stalemate between Lauda and Fittipaldi, with the McLaren driver unable to see any way of getting past the Ferrari and never getting really close enough to worry Lauda. Almost by surprise Fittipaldi overtakes the Ferrari as they brake for the chicane at the start of lap 46, and it is all over. Lauda has no need to fight back for all he wants is a championship point to make him World Champion and he has given up all idea of actually winning the race. Not so Regazzoni, he just drives on and on, his average speed rising all the time. At 5 laps it has been 210.096 k.p.h. and it roses steadily to 218.034 k.p.h. by the end of the 52 laps, with a new lap record on lap 47 into the bargain. In mid-field there has been a slight reshuffle when Hunt overshoots the chicane and loses fifth place to Tom Pryce, but it is only temporary, for he gets it back in ten laps. The first six completed the full distance, but the rest are a long way back, lapped by the relentless Regazzoni who is acclaimed vociferously for a long time after the race is over, by the surprisingly large crowd in view of the uncertain start to the day. It is a fitting end to a season that has been dominated by the presence of the 1975 Ferrari 312 with its transverse gearbox layout, and with the Canadian Grand Prix cancelled there only remains the United States GP and it hardly seems worth the bother of running it. To most Italians 1975 finishes at Monza.

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