#283 1977 South African Grand Prix

2022-07-24 01:00

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#1977, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Michela Petrillo, Mariachiara Sica,

#283 1977 South African Grand Prix

At dinner table,in the small tavern that Gian Andrea Carabelli, lover of good cuisine, had it prepared inside the factory that produces the seat belts


At dinner table,in the small tavern that Gian Andrea Carabelli, lover of good cuisine, had it prepared inside the factory that produces the seat belts Klippan (also provided to Ferrari), between courses set up with rare expertise of Vasco, cook-wholesaler, poet and director, ensues an informal and pleasant conversation between the president and the Swiss driver, who indulges in an interview:


"One starts racing because of passion. Then you get into the big world of Formula 1, into the business, into the earnings".


Does the passion remain?


"I still race for passion and maybe this even gained me the sympathy of the public.I don’t race against Ferrari and even against everyone else, like someone could think".


In Italy the great Formula 1’s drivers are rare.We have Brambilla and Merzario, but they rarely play the role of the first actors. Why?


"Mentality. In Italy it is difficult to emerge, in all fields.The Italian drivers should always win,racing with Ferrari.The press criticise too much - it’s the case of Merzario, destroyed by a trade magazine - and who emerges is immediately macroscopically responsible. Who can one be psychologically ready to face important commitments? There would be men, it can be seen in Formula 3. Then, when responsibility takes over, they fall. The car has now overcome the human and, in Formula 1, they experience, that in Italy no one gives you time to get, counts". 


Were you sorry to leave Ferrari?


"Yes a lot. I liked the environment, I like the Italians;with Ferrari I had the best time.However I feel good with the Ensign. It’s a serious team and they work for me.It’s clear that for the Italians I was not a Swiss, but one from home. My victories at Monza were maybe the most beautiful satisfaction".


Do you believe that a team with two drivers favours one of the two?


"In the English teams there is always the number one, the one who has the right to get the T-Car. In Ferrari, by the way, one technician is not able to follow both cars with the same efficiency. The problem is not the race but the support when you have to do the times, to be in the first at the start. Being in first row at the start is fundamental. However the 3 Ferrari’s cars were perfectly the same. In Brazil Reutemann has been most supported, but they admitted it".


In your opinion is Lauda still the same after the accident?


"Yes I do, with no doubts.He was wrong to return so early. I think he has never had something that serious. The doctors took advantage of his fame, knowing that they could have saved him in every moment. Niki has little character and he allowed the game. It would have been better if he had been treated and if he had returned this year. There are some who say that the advent of Marlene replacing Mariella, his ex-girlfriend, has upset him. However Mariella was a girl to marry, even if a little annoying".


In Monza, last year, you said that Reutemann has little character. Do you still believe that?


"I do not just think that, it’s the truth.Carlos, with whom I am very close friends, lets himself down by team problems and by the criticism and I don’t believe he has changed since then. Lauda is the perfect driver for the new cars:little impetuous, so as a consequence he has a clean driving. That’s how the times in the tests and in the race are made. To me, at times, it looks like I’m stuck but I know that, if I press the accelerator pedal in the turn, the car crosses over and I loose time instead of gaining it".


They say you are a big mouth.How can you answer?


"I have never really chatted. If I did so... But I don’t like controversy and I prefer avoiding. We all know what is the problem with Ferrari. One technician, Forghieri, is insufficient. He is excellent, with no doubt,when there is no public and he doesn’t start to perform. Young technicians, good ones, were put to join him - like Dallara - but it looks like the coexistence is impossible".


Alchile waiting for the Circus to move to Kyalami, on Thursday February 17 of 1977 the second day of tests for Ferrari at Vallelunga takes place between the enthusiasm of almost 2.000 fans, who invade the stands and the track of the racetrack, undermining the few people in the organisation. Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann are present, forced to sign hundreds of autographs. The Austrian driver,after having covered almost 30 laps in the morning with the engine used in the Brazilian Grand Prix (this one breaks and is replaced with a new one), hesitates before facing the afternoon test fearing the excessive enthusiasm of the spectators in the box and around the track.It will get almost half of an hour, with appeals made through a providential megaphone, to get the fans armed with cameras and recorders to reach the grandstand. Lauda does 20 laps making frequent pit stops, to consult with the mechanics guided by Tomaini (the engineer Mauro Forghieri is in Fiorano, to closely monitor the development of the new T3), and when he pushes, he got the excellent time of 1’07’’7.In these days of testing in Vallelunga, that will end on Friday February 18 of 1977, a certain type of springs to apply to shorter suspensions than the ones used in Brazil and 12-inch tyres. The same springs are fitted on normal suspensions and used with 13-inch tyres.Apart from the suspensions, the wings and the development of the general aerodynamics are tested.Laura admits to be rather satisfied of the car that, according to him, should answer well at the next South Africa Grand Prix, planned for Saturday March 5 of 1977, at Kyalami. The Austrian driver desires to take care of every detail of the preparation for this third test of the Championship and regarding that he decides to take off on Sunday February 19 of 1977, during the night, to reach Johannesburg.Reutemann,instead, will continue the test at Fiorano. The Argentinian could not hit the track because of the persist of Lauda’s test, interrupted by an engine failure. His turn will be on Friday. Reutemann tricks the time following his teammate’s drive, registering the times, signing autographs but especially talking about football of which he is a huge fan.


"I have recently watched the match Italy-England in tv. Bettega’s goal impressed me. Fantastic".


Considering that Lauda’s Ferrari races on track without any problem, the football topic for some minutes takes a warm upper hand in Reutemann’s comments who by the way commits even in the judgements of a skilled technician.


"In Italy they play with straight ball contact, they shoot at goal from medium distance, different from what happens in Argentina where the game is too elaborate".


Which are your predictions for the next championships that will take place exactly in your native country?


"I think that for Argentina it will be very difficult to appear well, because a lot of players had to move to Spain".


Reutemann constantly follows the league of his country and the Spanish one:


"But now I really enjoy the Italian one. Juventus and Torino make a perfect couple. Between the Italian players I especially admire Bettega, Zoff, Rivera, Facchetti and Graziani.Regarding the last one I announce that on Sunday he will have me among his fans.Indeed I decided  to go to the Municipal to see how Torino plays, much talked about,while busy against Bologna".


Going back to Ferrari and the South Africa Grand Prix:


"The car offers strong guarantees.However the track is always the one that gives the moment of truth. The altitude of 1800 meters in which the race will take place, makes the engine powers lose something".


Can it create any problem also for the drivers?


"I don’t think so. The track is fast,but I know it pretty well. I know how to take it".


The World Championship Formula 1 scene moves across the southern hemisphere from Brazil to South Africa, for the 78-lap race on the Kyalami circuit, but it travels via Europe, where the ravages of the Brazilian race are repaired. The South African race runs to a special format of its own, to which few people seem to object, for when you are 5-6.000 miles from base in the heat of late summer in late February and early March, it would be churlish to complain. The race is held on a Saturday, with practice on the preceding Wednesday and Thursday and with Friday a day of rest. A prize-giving garden party is arranged for Sunday lunch-time and everyone can catch the late afternoon plane to London with ease. Altogether the South African GP offers a nice leisurely holiday trip and the circuit itself offers a good race, for it is fast and interesting, with downhill sweeps, fast and slow bends and a power-on climbing hairpin. The long row of pits are in the form of lock-up garages, where everything can be contained and worked on, so that it is not surprising that most teams go out to South Africa early to do some testing. What they test, and what the results are, is not altogether clear, but it seems that first you must practise, to be ready for testing, then you test in readiness for practice, then you practise unofficially in readiness for the official practice, and finally on race morning you do a final test session in readiness for the race. After covering anything up to 300 laps in the weeks before race week, a mere 78 laps for the Grand Prix seems almost pointless, except that 70.000 or 80.000 people have paid to watch and the 78 laps need to be covered non-stop if you are out to win, and all laps have to be fast ones, not just one or two. This year things go a bit wrong, for on Wednesday morning the skies are grey and overcast and a typical English drizzle is falling. The first timed session is to be at 10 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. and nobody really knows what to do, for they have done no testing or practice in the rain, it has all been in glorious summer sunshine.


As can be seen from the accompanying table of practice times not many people go out on the damp track, and those who do are some 20 seconds off the normal sunny pace for the Kyalami circuit. During the lunch break local people suggest that this nasty damp weather has come to stay for a few days, so in the afternoon there is a lot more activity on the track in case it is true, and the starting grid is decided on relatively slow times on a wet track. Even so, neither of the six-wheeled Tyrrells go out, and Lauda and Fittipaldi only use their spare cars. Tom Pryce is impressively faster than anyone else, driving the new Shadow DN8 and it is interesting to reflect that the average time is around 1'33"0 on the wet track is probably a lot faster than many critics of today’s highly-paid super-stars can do themselves on a dry track. Pryce’s average speed was just over 100 m.p.h. for the 2.55-mile lap and personally I would not like to average that speed over that distance in a straight line in pouring rain, let alone round the Kyalami circuit. The sun and the warm that characterized the numerous sessions of free practice held in the preparation of the South Africa Grand Prix are gone, and during the morning the drivers received the ungrateful surprise of waking up with the rain. A completely grey sky replaced the blue of the previous days.Immediately, the thought flies to Niki Lauda. For the Ferrari’s driver this was indeed the first time he found himself on track with the wet from that famous day of Fuji, in Japan, where he didn't feel like racing on the flooded track and he gave up in favour of James Hunt. The Austrian champion, not at all bothered by the change of the weather that test his nerves,his emotions and his balance, he waited some minutes observing the evolutions of Stuck, Peterson and Brambilla who, in contrast, find in the water an element on their side.Niki then got into the 312 T2, and he started followed by the gaze of the beautiful wife Marlene.He immediately got back to the box to adjust the set-up and he patiently waited, playing even with the umbrella that he carried, while the mechanics quickly work. Meanwhile the rain increased in intensity and in some parts the track was covered by puddles.


"It’s plenty of water,especially after turn one and at S-turn:the track is crossed by streams of water that make the holding precarious".


The rain stopped for a moment and then resumes, albeit with less intensity, in the second round of official tests.It looked like the weather had fun watering down the Formula 1 track, being in South Africa looking for the sun and instead being forced to take from the suitcases some heavy clothes and the windbreakers taken only because of superstition. Also Reutemann, Hunt, Andretti and Watson, who with other drivers did not take part in the tests hoping for a weather change, have succumbed to the inclemency of time and took the track. The cars started the carousel raising clouds of water. Hunt immediately tried the first time, but obtains only a spin.Also Lauda spun, without any consequences. At the end of the hour of tests the Austrian driver gets out of the car and, while he was talking with Maranello’s technicians, in his eyes, still scarred by the fire of Nurburgring, it is possible to read the satisfaction for the brilliant performance obtained.


"The rain, that decreased in intensity in the last hour, allowed me to test for longer, and allowed me to correct the set-up that has now improved. Obviously, with a five-millimetre film of water on the track, the tyres work well, they have a great holding and in this case going in the wet can be even pleasant".


So everything calm in Ferrari. Lauda, with the excellent performance, proved to be still the champion of before and with no doubts one of the major world title candidates. Thursday morning is still dull and cool, but at least it was dry, and as the 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. practice session is decreed by Goodyear to be for full-tank testing and tyre scrubbing in readiness for the race, the lap times recorded are not counting for starting grid positions. It appears that this untimed session is soon to be dropped from Formula One practice, as very few teams use it for the purposes intended, but carry on in their endless quest for finding the ultimate combination of variables to achieve an ultimate lap time, ready for the final fling in the afternoon. It looks as though the rain is going to hold off in the afternoon, so the final hour of practice is going to be crucial for grid positions, and with 23 drivers out to record a decent time it is obviously going to be a very crowded 60 minutes. With Wednesday’s times now meaningless, the organisers record the Thursday morning times and publish a list, showing Hunt to be fastest with the new old-type McLaren. From the way most of the drivers are going you would think that the times are counting for grid positions, but in reality they really are practising hard for the final hour, and not messing about. It is informative to watch the cars come down the fast, sweeping, right-hand curve from Crowthorne Corner, change direction at the bottom of the dip into the climbing left-hander and level out onto the short straight that followed, all at 150 m.p.h. or more without easing the foot off the throttle. There are those cars and drivers, like the McLaren and Hunt, or the Ferrari and Lauda, that look smooth and effortless, and those like the six-wheeled Tyrrells of Peterson and Depailler that are equally fast but awfully twitchy and keep the drivers very busy. Scheckter in the Wolf is just lifting the left front wheel as he breasts the rise, and the two works March cars of Stuck and Ribiero look a bit hairy. Of course, some drivers do not come out of the Crowthorne bend as fast as they might have done, so their speed down the hill is not in the top class, and in consequence they can take the swooping, climbing ess on full throttle with ease.


A select handful of drivers stand out head and shoulders above the rest and when the list of lap times is published it is this group that was under 1'16"5 for the whole lap. In the pits the team designers or adjusters are fiddling about with front and rear aerofoil settings and rear anti-roll bar settings, to try and arrive at a situation where the ace driver can take that challenging downhill swoop and uphill left-hander absolutely flat out with a feeling of complete confidence in the balance of the car, especially when changing direction from right to left, and at the same time maintain the highest possible speed along the undulating long top straight. It is all too easy to adjust things to give a great deal of downforce and hence a high cornering power, but to lose out on drag at maximum speed. A maximum of 170 m.p.h. is aimed for on the fastest part of the top straight, but that is no use if the car handles like a jelly through the fast corners. Conversely, a good handling car on the swerves is not much use if it can only pull 160 m.p.h. on the top straight. All this applies only to the select handful of cars and drivers at the top of the list and these are covered by a bare half-a-second on overall lap-times. Round the slow and medium fast corners there is not much to choose between the fastest and the slowest, providing the car is averagely good and the engine has competitive power. With the possibility of 23 cars out at the same time on a mere 2.5 miles of track, the fast driver counts himself lucky if he can reel off a succession of good laps without getting baulked, and there are one or two travelling chicanes that are upsetting the rhythm of the super-stars. If that doesn’t happen then a car in mechanical trouble, such as the old B.R.M. when its engine dies, or the Surtees of Brambilla when it spins harmlessly onto the roughage, or the Shadow of Zorzi when it looks as though it is going to peter out, can cause yellow caution flags to be waved and upset the rhythm of the hard-chargers. All this is going on during the untimed hour and a half on Thursday morning. In the brief hour after lunch, which is the make-or-break for the starting grid line-up, the tension is almost at bursting point. The same group of cars and drivers is heading for the front of the grid, with one or two being left behind through no fault of their own. Both Andretti and Watson have their engines go sick on them in this final crucial hour, the Cosworth DFV in the fortner's Lotus holding together, though smoking badly, just long enough for the USAC star to claim sixth fastest overall. The Ulsterman’s Alfa Romeo engine in his Brabham is not so considerate and he is well back on the grid in the final count.

For some highly technical reason involving condensation, the tyres on Lauda’s Ferrari are 6 p.s.i. higher than they should be and he attributes his position in the second row to this. Hunt’s McLaren is having no problems and he seems to be gauging the speed of his rivals with uncanny judgement, continually matching anything that anyone else did. To the embarrassment of the Ferrari team, the other Italian flat-12-cylinder engine is really singing away splendidly and Carlos Pace is defying everyone, even Hunt, for fastest time of the day. In the morning he tries the BT45B, with the new rear suspension and finds it much nicer and easier to control through the critical change from understeer to oversteer (see Motor Sport for March 1977 for the description of the critical point M and angle o in racing car handling). He uses it in the final hour and ends up with fastest time and pole position according to the first reckoning, but then the McLaren team’s management go into action with a protest and the time-keepers discovered a super-fast lap for Hunt which they didn’t notice and the Brabham-Alfa is demoted a place. However, it is still on the front row of the grid alongside the McLaren and ahead of both Ferraris, which make the regular after-practice telephone call to the Commendatore a somewhat fraught affair for the Maranello team personnel. That hard-trier Depailler is alongside Lauda in the second row, and the local hero Jody Scheckter is in the third row with the new and promising Wolf car. Right at the back is Lunger with his private March, because the engine breaks before he really gets going, then Perkins with the old B.R.M. simply because it will not go any faster, and the Dutch driver Hayje who lacks high speed experience. When the excitement of this furious hour dies down everyone realises how lucky they have been, for the rain is falling again and it starts with a few spins almost as the chequered flag appeared to signal the end of official practice. With Friday devoid of any Formula One activity the teams can set to on their final race preparation without the prospect of having to work all night where anything major is required to be done, like installing a new engine. The sun didn’t manage to pierce the thick layer of clouds that covered the sky of Kyalami, where the second and crucial day of official tests of the SouthAfrica Grand Prix took place. In return the weather was more merciful: after the chequered flag that officially closed the trainings, a heavy rain poured down on the track. James Hunt wins out again over everyone and for the third consecutive time, in these 3 first Grand Prix of the season, takes pole position. The English driver being euphoric  and asserting:


"I didn’t have too many problems, only in some turns the car lost a bit of the grip.Sunday will be a great race. Care must be taken at turn one, where all of us will arrive together and thrown, because even a small accident could distort the course of the race".


Cheerful faces also in Brabham, because of the excellent time of Carlos Pace.At first the pole position was attributed to him,thanks to a time of 1'15"94. But the timekeepers assigned to Hunt a time of 1'15"96 that by the way was not registered by the various timing centres of the team.Bernie Ecclestone’s complaints were useless, but these things are not news on this track.However Carlos Pace is satisfied:


"I am happy with the time obtained, even if I was sure of the pole.The important is that I’m in first row at the start,then we’ll see".


Also the engineer Carlo Chiti is visibly satisfied:


"This result is another confirmation of the goodness of the car and of the engine;and it also mentally and psychologically recharges the driver who was demoralized by the bad performance in Brazil.We hope that also this time, like in Brazil, the major cue of our twelve-cylinder can give to Pace a small advantage at the start that will be useful to get the result".


In Ferrari there is perplexity.The drivers of the Italian team, contrary to expectations, couldn’t shine because of different problems that,despite all the efforts,Maranello’s technicians didn’t manage to eliminate.


"For all the day I accused poor grip,that didn’t allow me to fully use the power of the engine.The causes can be attributed to the tyres or the suspensions,or to the changed conditions of the track that is now dirty and gives less grip.Indeed,in the last days, I didn’t accuse this problem and also today, while always running on the same tyres, I obtained a time that in the last hour of tests I wasn’t able to match,despite using 3 sets of tyres and striving to the utmost".

Face fallen,confirming that something went wrong,Carlos Reutemann. The Argentinian accused for all day a considerable oversteer and it was not possible for him to obtain a place in the first rows of the starting grid.while dejected he admitted:


"We tried many solutions, but we weren’t able to eliminate the oversteer. I also tried running with the reserve car in order to obtain a better time:useless".


Also Mario Andretti is disappointed,despite the sixth best time:


"The engine failed me when there were 35 minutes left during tests. It is a real pity because the car was doing well and I could have obtained the best time. I’m sure that the things will go better on Saturday".


Vittorio Brambilla is instead satisfied,despite a significant drop in engine that didn’t allow him to replicate the great test of Thursday.”


"I’m happy, because also in these tests the car responded to my espectations.Working gradually,we improve and this car give full trust especially talking about reliability".


Renzo Zorzi is full of problems:


"It looks like the engines they put on my car are unwilling to collaborate on a regular basis.Also today I had to spend a long time in the box and unfortunately the inconveniences that beset the engine were not found. This evening they will change everything so let’s hope for the best".


On Friday 4 March 1977 the circus rests, as is customary on the eve of the South African Grand Prix. While the mechanics take advantage of the break to overhaul the cars, the drivers try to find the right concentration in the quiet of the Kyalami Ranch, the hotel that hosts them. On Saturday 5 March 1977, on the Kyalami circuit, near Johannesburg, the drivers get ready to take the track according to the order determined by the times obtained in training: in the first row Hunt (McLaren) and Pace (Brabham-Alfa Romeo), then Lauda (Ferrari) and Depailler (Tyrrell 6-wheeler), and, gradually, all the others. Moments of tension and suspense repeated at every race. By contrast, the eve's hours pass serenely. Hunt plays tennis with a beautiful South African model, performing his usual show of languid glances, beaming smiles and affectionate poses to the delight of the local photo reporters. The other protagonists of the Formula 1 circus stretch out in the quiet of the Kyalami Ranch, the hotel on which the sun reappears, even if the sky is covered by threatening clouds. The atmosphere is serene, around the large swimming pool the Formula 1 actors relax their nerves by discussing, playing or snoozing while brightening their tans. In this oasis of peace there is also Niki Lauda.

"In Argentina and in Brazil the 312 T2 were not perfectly efficient,even if you obtained positive results.Then you worked hard, and the car improved".


At what point are them now?


"The car is now easier to drive and also faster.This means that the changes made were guessed".


Which chances has he to win in South Africa?


"It’s difficult to say.It’s enough to look at the first 3 rows of the starting grid of tomorrow,where in a few tenths are enclosed a McLaren with a Ford eight-cylinder engine, a Brabham with a Alfa Romeo twelve-cylinder engine, a Ferrari, a Tyrrell with 6 tyres and a Wolf at his third race to understand how difficult it is to talk about success before the start. These are all cars with deeply different characteristics, that shows the high degree of competitiveness reached by the teams and the considerable balance of the values. Today Formula 1 reached the technical ceiling".

To what extent the speed skills of the car are important on this track?


"It’s a tricky track.It is possible to overtake only at the end of the straight, and so it is crucial to have a fast car; however it’s always a big risk because at the speed of 300 km/h if the opponent hinders you it’s easy to get into a bad accident".


For Ferrari the tests went bad because the road holding became inexplicably precarious. The thesis supported by the managers of the team is reliable,according to which the cause is attributed to drops of water entered in the tyre, together with the compressed air in the inflation phase, that subsequently evaporated because of the high temperature, adding pressure.


"It may be, although I am not very convinced. However, it must be a trifle, because until the end of the first practice everything had gone well; then suddenly problems arose".

At Ferrari you went through a period of crisis. Do you consider it completely over?

"In everyone's life there is always a period of crisis. We, over the last few months, have worked a lot both at Fiorano and Vallelunga, and all these tests have allowed us to do a good job".

Is the rain complex over?


"I didn't get it badly. In Japan I gave up because the track was unrideable and I didn't feel like putting my life at risk. The wait had been nerve-wracking and at one point the organisers had forced us to race because after two hours it would be dark. This is not humane, especially when you think that their aim was to save money and show". 


Lauda gets up, his wife calls him because they want him on the phone. He returns a few minutes later, meets Wolf and challenges him to ping pong. Further on, the Brabham drivers, Pace and Watson, jokingly play tennis against Peterson and Fittipaldi. Meanwhile, at the circuit, the Ferrari technicians are examining the tyres to solve the case of the day. Those from Goodyear assure that Ferrari's tyres were of the same compound and physical-chemical characteristics as those supplied to the other teams. We will see tomorrow. At Kyalami a thrilling duel between Hunt and Lauda is taken for granted, while Pace gathers less approval. The Englishman, apart from his third consecutive pole position in this championship, is much loved by the South Africans, but there is no doubt that he is going through a happy moment, as confirmed by the good races held in Argentina and Brazil. Lauda has impressed fans and technicians alike. The Austrian, who was accompanied by his wife Marlene in Kyalami, appeared in dazzling form. In good spirits, concentrated, full of desire to win, Niki was competitive even on the wet track, demonstrating that he has no complex about rain as had been insinuated after the Fuji retirement. Nor was he shaken by the problems suffered by his Ferrari.


"Practice is one thing, and racing a very different matter. Today many people can make a name for themselves, you only have to see the times on the starting grid to realise that. All I know is that we have worked hard over these months and that my 312 T2 has made excellent progress. Let's say that I consider myself among those who have a chance of winning". 


Less optimistic, perhaps out of superstition, the other Maranello driver, Carlos Reutemann, leader of the championship with 13 points against the 9 of Jody Scheckter, South African idol. 


"What do you want, I have to start on the fourth row and this is a circuit where overtaking is not easy. Anyway, in Buenos Aires I got third place after a long comeback, who knows, maybe here I won't finish even better". 


There was another episode of animosity between the Ferrari and Goodyear clans. The Italian team's technicians claimed that the American company had delivered tyres that were not quite right. The Goodyear specialists, who supply tyres to all Formula 1 teams, disdainfully reject this thesis. The third star of the Kyalami show is Pace, but the Brazilian, especially in Brazil, was the protagonist of an absurd race, dominated by nerves and grit more than brains. And his Alfa Romeo-powered Brabham is a modified version of the traditional model, so there are many fears about its reliability. It is a pity that Carlos' team-mate, John Watson, is badly placed on the starting grid. 


Saturday is dry but overcast and cool and it looks as though the rain is going to keep away. After a warm-up session in the early morning, the crowd is entertained by various activities, ranging from sky-diving parachutists, through vintage cars to a spectacular display by the only Spitfire aircraft in South Africa. The drivers are paraded around the circuit in open MG sports cars, a mixture from MG TC to MG-A, driven by proud club-members, and then the serious business of the South African GP began. From the pit lane the cars go round the circuit to the starting grid, and line up in rows of two, with Hunt’s McLaren in pole position. Carlos Pace is in the BT45B Brabham-Alfa Romeo, Scheckter is in the No.1 Wolf car, and everyone is ready for the 78-lap race. In orderly fashion Hunt leads the whole field round on a warm-up lap, they draw up to the start line and as the starting signal turns green the sound of 10.000 horsepower being unleashed can be heard far across the open countryside of the Transvaal. Hunt makes a superb start and rockets into the lead, Pace is hesitant and Lauda, Scheckter and Depailler have passed him when the field reaches the first corner. Brambilla hangs on the start line as his clutch fails to bite instantaneously, and Pryce is slow away, being behind the B.R.M. on the opening lap. Hunt leads from Lauda, Scheckter, Depailler, Pace, Mass, Andretti, Peterson, Fittipaldi and Reutemann on the opening lap and clearly the reigning World Champion is not going to wait for anyone. Brambilla and Pryce are already slicing through the tail-enders, and within four laps a small gap has appeared in the crocodile between Depailler and Pace. The poor old B.R.M. is already left behind and by six laps Hunt and Lauda have opened up a small gap from Scheckter and Depailler, who are in turn leaving Pace, Mass and Andretti. On this lap Peterson’s six-wheeled Tyrrell expires with no fuel pressure, and on the run down to Crowthorne Corner at the start of lap 7 Lauda overtakes Hunt and goes into the lead with hardly any effort. The Ferrari team has got their aerodynamic adjustments just right and the 312T2 is much faster than the M23 Mclaren on top speed, and is equally stable round the corners, so there is little that Hunt can do about it. Almost insolently, Lauda drives away from Hunt and the others and looks impressively steady and unflurried. Behind Hunt is Scheckter driving a bit on the ragged edge to keep ahead of Depailler, while Pace is confidently keeping Mass, Andretti and Reutemann at bay, and Watson is desperately trying to get by the second Ferrari. The mid-field is being led by the yellow Fittipaldi car and Brambilla and Pryce have caught up with this group.


Right at the back, excluding the B.R.M. which seems to be in a different race, are Hayje, Zorzi and Lunger, having a splendid, if inconsequential, scrap for the penultimate position. At 15 laps Lauda laps the B.R.M. and then catches up with the tail-enders and this seems to upset the rhythm and pace of the race, Hunt not nipping by as quickly as expected so that Scheckter seizes the opportunity and elbows his way past into second place and Hunt now has Depailler’s Tyrrell large in his mirrors. Reutemann slips past Andretti, and then Watson did likewise and Brambilla now has this group in sight, having overtaken Fittipaldi. Behind the Brazilian was Stuck, then Pryce, Laffitte and Nilsson, with Regazzoni behind them all and not looking his usual competitive self. Zorzi’s Shadow is sounding flat and has been lapped by the leaders; as he goes by the pits to start his twenty-second lap the engine dies when a fuel pipe comes adrift and he draws off the track on the left and jumps out as the leaking petrol catches fire. At that moment the track looks clear so two marshals run across from the pits with fire extinguishers. In fact the track is not clear, for Stuck, Pryce, Laffite and Nilsson are well on their way along the top straight, but momentarily out of sight in the dip before the pits. The first marshal gets across the track safely but the second one is narrowly missed by Stuck and is then dead in line with Pryce’s Shadow. There is no possibility of the Welshman swerving and he hits the marshal, killing him instantly, while the extinguisher he is carrying catches Pryce on the head at 160 m.p.h. impact that must surely have killed him instantly. Still on full throttle the Shadow careers over the brow and down the hill to Crowthorne Corner, weaving off to the right and out of control. Laffite in the Ligier draws alongside as they go down the hill, puzzled that the Shadow is going off onto the hard shoulder on the right, not knowing what happened. As the Ligier brakes and turns into the right-hand bend the wayward Shadow comes off the hard shoulder and cannons into the French car, sending it off into the catch fences, and then crashes head-on into the safety wall. Poor Tom Pryce is beyond help, and Laffite is very lucky to escape with minor bruises. This bizarre and unhappy accident slows the pace of the race, and Scheckter, Hunt and Depailler close up on Lauda. As the leader passes the scene of the accident part of the wrecked Shadow catches under the left side of the Ferrari and punctures the water system. The leak is small but steady, and all that Lauda knows is that the engine temperature is rising and that there is a scraping vibration on right-hand bends as the Ferrari rolls.


For ten laps he plays it cool, with Scheckter uncomfortably close, and then he simply drives away from the opposition again, keeping a wary eye on the water temperature and the sagging oil pressure as the engine gets hotter and hotter. By half distance the race as such is really over, for Lauda and the Ferrari are uncatchable and as only he knows about the rising temperature and sagging oil pressure, the result outwardly seems a foregone conclusion. The wily Austrian shows no signs of concern and his followers give up all hope of beating him; equally, few of them really know what caused the accident and the wreckage of the Shadow and the Ligier, which they can see all too clearly. Lauda is lapping the slower cars with ease, but his pursuers keep getting held up, and there is a distinct lack of inspired traffic driving among the other fast drivers. Andretti gets back in front of Watson’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo, and Nilsson in the second Lotus has to stop at the pits due to a punctured tyre, caused by some of the debris from the accident. Regazzoni looks as if he would like to pass Stuck’s March, but can find no way by and as it would only elevate him from thirteenth place to twelfth place, it does not seem worth any heroics. Andretti badly wants to get past Reutemann’s Ferrari, as the Argentinian is not going fast enough, and after dodging about behind the Ferrari the Lotus eventually rams it up the back as they come out of the Leeukop hairpin, which confuses Reutemann and, as well as Andretti going past, Watson and Brambilla go by as well. It does not do the Lotus driver any good, as the blow cracks a front upright and bends a steering arm, which puts it out of the race. Lauda is now so far in front that he can really nurse the Ferrari along, and the high running temperature is making the engine use oil dramatically, the low oil level running even hotter and the oil pressure sinking so low that the warning light is now glowing ominously. Behind him Scheckter, Hunt and Depailler are still more or less nose-to-tail and they take all day to lap Ribiero and Binder, which helps the sick Ferrari enormously, for Lauda has nipped them with ease. In fourth place Pace is being troubled more and more by terminal understeer, due to the front tyres wearing down, and Mass gets past him for a short time, only to have the determined Brazilian retrieve his lost position. Watson is not far behind them with the second Brabham-Alfa, then comes Brambilla followed by a very unhappy Reutemann who is going to have to explain his position behind two Alfa Romeos and an Italian driver whom Enzo Ferrari does not consider worth while talking to.


Regazzoni has finally got past Stuck, whose March is now pouring out smoke from an oil leak, and its race is run, for after some laps the smoke stops and then the engine stops. No smoke, no oil, no oil, no engine, it is as simple as that. With 15 laps still to run the race seems to have been going on for a lifetime, yet in reality it is less than 1.30 hours. Lauda is lapping as unruffled as ever, but nobody realises just how he is nursing the car along with all his fingers crossed. Scheckter is holding down a very firm second place, but Hunt has the ever forceful Depailler worrying at his tail. Pace loses his fifth place when he has to stop at the pits for a change of front tyre, and Mass, Watson and the others all move up a place. Going down the hill to Crowthorne Corner at the start of lap 66, Depailler sees his opportunity, for Hunt has finally lapped Lunger’s March, so using the combined slip-stream of the two cars the Tyrrell driver wafts his way up alongside the McLaren. Hunt has no intention of giving way to the tenacious Frenchman, who is going to have to use the hard shoulder or else drop in behind. Depailler does what everyone expected, he uses the hard shoulder and elbowed his way past in a hectic tyre-rubbing contest with the McLaren, coming out of the corner mildly out of control, but ahead nonetheless. That is it as far as the excitement is concerned and as Lauda heads towards the chequered flag he switches off the engine and coasts the last few hundred yards, rather than risk an engine seizure at the last moment. To the astonished spectators it looks as though he has run out of petrol, but he soon explains that he has run out of water and burnt up most of his oil. There is only a third of the water content left in the system and of the original 10 litres of oil a mere 1.5 litres can be drained off afterwards, yet throughout the Ferrari engine hasn’t missed a beat or sounded the least bit off song. Scheckter brings the Wolf car home into a very worthy second place, ahead of the ever enthusiastic Depailler’s Tyrrell and a somewhat subdued Hunt’s McLaren, the rest of the 15 finishers coming along behind, with the old B.R.M. bringing up the rear on about 10 cylinders. As word goes round among the drivers about the unfortunate accident and the death of Tom Pryce and the fire-marshal, the end-of-race victory celebrations subside under an air of sadness. As everyone begins to go home the skies darken and the rain returns, and a young colleague sums it all up when he remarks: "The weather reflects the mood of the meeting".

The South African Grand Prix has just ended and in the Ferrari clan everyone is elated. The drama over the death of Tom Pryce is understood, but in the Italian team one cannot help but rejoice at the happy conclusion of another drama: that of Niki Lauda. The Austrian driver responded with a stupendous victory, built up and suffered lap after lap, to the controversy and to those who judged him finished after the tragic accident at Nurburgrlng and his renunciation in Japan. When Lauda's red car emerged from the last corner, the Ferrari clan exploded in a dance of joy, everyone hugged each other and the mechanics ran to the pit lane where the beautiful Marlene, who had followed her husband's last laps tensely, had holed up in a corner, bursting into tears. Helplessly in the embrace the mechanics said to her: 


"Did you see? Niki is always the strongest".


Marlene continued in her outburst, saying: 


"It's over, it's over". 


For her too, the bad times were over. Lauda arrived, followed by a crowd of fans. His wife embraces him and kisses him. The two look each other in the eyes without saying a word: their glances already say it all. Niki is taken to the podium and as they hand him the laurel wreath the Austrian driver asks for news of Tom Pryce. He is told that he is dead. On Niki's face descends a veil of sadness. He mechanically waters the cheering crowd with champagne, leaves the big silver cup and tries to get out. He meets Scheckter, to whom he tells the sad news. While he is changing, helped by the trusty Ghedini, Niki Lauda talks about the race:


"I am very happy about this success, even though Pryce's death fills me with sadness. He was a good guy, a serious professional. Today's victory was a painful one, because as I passed the accident site a piece of the wreckage got stuck in my bodywork and water radiator, also damaging my front spoiler. Because of this, the radiator no longer received any air and I finished the race without water. Fortunately, the engine was cooled by the oil, in fact the pressure of the lubricant was not rising, so in the last 25 minutes of the race I feared I would have had to stop at any moment".


Can you now think about the World Championship? 


"It's too early. The championship is headed by Scheckter, and I am still second. However this success is very important for me and for the whole team, and it will be the stimulus to face future engagements with greater determination and also with more confidence". 


Disgruntled, instead, Carlos Reutemann, who said: 


"Too much understeer. The car was unsteerable and it is a pity because the engine was very good and I could have finished in a better position".


Enthusiastic Sante Ghedlni, who commented on the race saying:


"With today's race Niki has shown that he is back to being the champion he was before. The victory rewards the efforts and sacrifices made by the entire team to bring our cars back to the highest levels of competitiveness". 

In the Shadow team, the faces of the mechanics are aghast. It is hard to believe that their driver perished in such an incredible accident. Renzo Zorzi, the team-mate of the unfortunate British driver, says sadly:


"I stopped because I saw the flames. I had to struggle to get off because the tube connecting the helmet to the oxygen tank wouldn't come off. I didn't realise that Tom had hit a marshal so I was scared when I saw him on the ground because I feared I had run him over. It's a day to forget as soon as possible". 


Shocked, Jacques Laffite, who collided with Pryce. This is his version: 


"I cannot explain how the steward could have crossed the track without looking properly and without seeing that we were coming. His fire extinguisher hit Pryce full in the face and took his helmet off, I overtook Pryce's car which was skidding along on the right and then, at the end of the straight, I set the corner but poor Tom's uncontrolled car came up and the collision was inevitable".


It's a big party for the Ferrari mechanics. After dismantling the cars and quickly putting all their work tools back in their crates, they go to Leo's, a well-known Italian restaurant in Johannesburg, where, to the sound of bottles of lambrusco, they toast Niki Lauda's success. Mannello's mechanics had been sensing this victory for the past few days, even though no one was talking about it, perhaps out of superstition, because they saw the Austrian driver as determined, confident and calm, as in the days when he was the absolute favourite in every race. When Lauda overtook Hunt and took the lead in the South African Grand Prix, the faces of all the members of the Italian team lit up. Then, the great wait until the end of the race, nervously cheated in front of the pit box with a watchful eye on the red car that was churning out lap after lap with fantastic regularity. Moments of fear and a state of alarm for everyone when Lauda lost 1.7 seconds in a single lap. Niki, passing by the site of Pryce's accident, had hit the wreckage left on the track and an iron pipe had embedded itself in the bodywork of his 312 T2. Lauda had slowed down because, as the car rolled, he could feel something crawling underneath the car, but he did not understand the cause. So, when he passed the pits he pointed to the front of the car. In the few moments that the car was speeding in front of them, the mechanics were sharply looking for the cause of Niki's gestures. Then, by lowering themselves to the ground and peering through the cracks in the guardrail, they were able to locate the foreign body that was lodged in the left side of the car, the one they could not see. From that moment on, the tension rose to the maximum and the fear settled in all the mechanics that that piece of iron could detach and get dangerously stuck in the left rear tyre, putting an end to Niki's victorious ride. Then came the long-awaited chequered flag, to everyone's delight. Lauda's success not only made the mechanics happy, but also the most representative figures in Formula 1 and his own rivals. Jacques Laffitte, French driver of the Ligier-Matra, was the first to speak about the Austrian driver:


"He was formidable. He ran a very smart race. A truly deserved success".


Renzo Zorzi, the Italian Shadow driver, added:


"I could not follow the race well because of the misfortune that befell my team. However, I am happy for Lauda because he proved to everyone that he is the champion he was a year ago"


Clay Regazzoni, now an Ensign driver and Lauda's former team-mate, admits: 


"It was to be expected at any moment. I was sure that Niki, with a car in order, would return to victory. His physical and mental problems had long since been solved".

Patrlk Depailler, French Tyrrell driver, assures: 


"I am happy for Niki, because in this way he has put an end to everything that was unfairly said about him". 


Gunnar Nllsson, Swedish Lotus driver, says: 


"I can't say anything other than great". 


Jody Scheckter, South African Wolf driver and current World Championship leader, adds: 


"Niki's victory did not surprise me. For me he has lost none of his remarkable skills. On the contrary, I am surprised that some journalists, especially Italians, have written certain things about him".


And Carlo Chiti, general manager of Alfa Romeo's racing department and designer of the 12-cylinder engines adopted by Brabham, concludes: 


"He is a driver who has prepared this race very well. I have always judged him to be a very good driver. He just needed some time to heal from the wounds, not only physical, of the Nurburgring. This success proves that what was written by some against him was wrong. Of course, no comparison can be made with Reutemann, because here the Argentinean was not prepared, not having been able to test for as long as Lauda. Hunt also has to stop being a bully, otherwise it will be hard for him to return to victory”.


Niki Lauda, with his Ferrari #11, returned to victory in a South African Grand Prix saddened by the death of the English driver Tom Pryce and that of one of the marshals at the Kyalami circuit. Pryce ran over the man with his Shadow, who had crossed the track to bring help to the other Shadow in the race, that of Renzo Zorzi, which had caught fire. The Shadow then went off the road involving Jacques Laffite's Ligier. The Frenchman remained unhurt. Lauda's success, which finally dispelled the doubts that had arisen last year after the Nurburgrlng accident and his retirement in Japan, was crystal clear. A linear Grand Prix, of great interest, on which Pryce's accident spread a veil of sadness. It happened on lap 23 and had as protagonists - directly and indirectly - the two Shadow drivers, Pryce and Zorzi. The Italian pulled his single-seater over to the left side of the track on the pit and grandstands straight. While the car was already stationary and Zorzi was about to leave the cockpit calmly, when suddenly a blaze broke out. Zorzi escaped, struggling to free his helmet from the hose connecting it to the oxygen tank, then turned back to put the on-board fire-fighting system into action. On the other side of the track, leaving a service station, two marshals rushed in with as many fire extinguishers. Unfortunately, Pryce's Shadow and Laffite's Ligier came up very fast (270-280 km/h). One of the two men - Jansen Van Vuuren - was hit head-on by Pryce's car and killed instantly. The fire extinguisher he was holding flew into the air and crashed into the face of the British driver, who lost his helmet. With Pryce lying prone in the cockpit, possibly already dead, certainly unconscious, the Shadow continued on its way, veering to the right and flattening the signposts preceding the closing curve of the straight. After about 300 metres, the car touched the guardrail and bounced into the middle of the carriageway, just in time to hit Laffite's Ligier in an incredible carambole. The two single-seaters went off the track and the Frenchman abandoned his car alone. The rescuers lost no time in breaking through the tangle of protective nets pulled up by the Shadow. For Pryce, whose face was disfigured and who was not breathing, there was nothing more to be done. Laffite suffered a knee injury. It was an accident that was, to say the least, peculiar in its dynamics. In this case, circuit and racing safety is of relative value: an act of generosity done wrong was too cruelly punished. 


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