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#259 1975 French Grand Prix

2021-12-24 00:00

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#1975, Fulvio Conti, Maria Ginevra Ferretti, Translated by Flavia Delfini,

#259 1975 French Grand Prix

The outcome of the French Grand Prix is made abundantly clear just before practice ends on Saturday afternoon when Niki Lauda shows his hand with the

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Having rejected the Clermont-Ferrand circuit for safety reasons, the Formula 1 World Championship lands for the French Grand Prix at the modern Paul Ricard circuit: at Le Castellet, between Toulon and Marseille. A model track, inaugurated in 1970, with perfect equipment. A track, however, with an all too rational design: it ends up being undemanding for drivers and cars, and therefore levelling the scales. A bit like Anderstorp in Sweden. Ferrari, and in particular Niki Luda, arrives there, however, in a better situation than in Sweden. Lauda is firmly at the top of the World Championship standings with 38 points, compared to Carlos Reutemann's 25, Emerson Fittipaldi's 21, Carlos Pace's 18 and James Hunt and Clay Regazzoni's 16. In addition, the number of races remaining to the conclusion of the tournament is down to seven, and each race passed means a step towards the title for the Austrian. It is precisely for this reason that Lauda has now adopted a prudent, money-saving tactic, in the sense that he tries in these Grands Prix to gain as many points as possible. Supports Niki Lauda:

 

"If I can win, fine, otherwise I'll be content with a placing. One thing is for sure: I don't run on a do or die basis, as others who don't hope to win the title can do".

 

An example of this tactic was provided by Lauda at Zandvoort, in the Dutch Grand Prix. The Austrian preferred to delay changing from wet to dry tyres and gave up his attempt to overtake Hunt in the final, who was leading the race in the Hesketh-Ford. He did not win, it is true, but he obtained six sure points against an uncertain success and the risk of a possible retirement for having been too daring. Luca Montezemolo has no doubts.

 

"Lauda is behaving in the most logical way for himself and for Ferrari. It seems to me that neither he nor the car need to prove their qualities any more. Even at Le Castellet it is more important to score points than to win".

 

Montezemolo, Enzo Ferrari's assistant and head of Scuderia Ferrari, does not want to miss the French Grand Prix despite having his left foot in plaster up to the knee and his right arm up to the shoulder. These are the consequences of the dramatic investment suffered in the Zandvoort pit by Ronnie Peterson and the Lotus in the confused moments of the tyre change.

 

"Patience, I make do with a crutch. If anything, I'm worried about Lauda, who caught a bad cold with a bit of a fever in Austria. Niki, in this period especially, needs to be in very good physical condition".

 

It must be said that Montezemolo does not give up his commitments. On the contrary, he tackles them competently and with that dose of enthusiasm and passion that makes it possible to overcome the toughest moments.

 

"I can't sit still in the pits, but this time I will be very good, also because I just can't move".

 

Of all the managers of Formula 1 teams, Montezemolo is certainly the youngest and most active, but, after Zandvoort, one hopes that he will acquire some of the phlegm of Ken Tyrrell or Teddy Mayer.

 

"Only the tests will be able to offer us useful indications on Sunday's race, but I think it is worth anticipating two points: first, at Paul Ricard we will have summer temperatures, and, as we know, our engines do not like the heat too much: second, the track is not ideal for our cars because it is flat, with fast corners, not very selective. We will play defensively, thinking, of course, of what happened at Anderstorp, where we ended up in first and third place".

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In the days leading up to the French Grand Prix, Maranello's men test the cars for the French Grand Prix at the private Fiorano circuit. Only Clay Regazzoni takes to the track due to Lauda's indisposition. No particular changes are announced on the 312 T, although a new type of front suspension will probably be tested at Le Castellet on the reserve car, allowing the wheelbase to be slightly lengthened. This solution is considered very valid on fast circuits, such as the French one; however, it is intended for the 1976 car. Ferrari, in short, was ahead of its time in its intense programmed work, and now laid the foundations to continue its successes. On the other hand, now that there are no longer any doubts about the power (500 hp) of the Ferrari engine, the designer of the Cosworth engine, adopted by all Formula 1 single-seaters (except the B.R.M.), is running for cover. Keith Duckworth has gone back to his drawing board and is working on a new packaging for his eight-cylinder V-engine in order to raise the maximum rpm from 10.400 to over 11.000 rpm, and to increase power from 470 to 507 hp. As far as we know, the British manufacturer did not want to change the stroke-to-boreshaft ratio of its eight-cylinder engine, mainly so as not to have to rebuild it from scratch. Instead, it redesigned the connecting rods to make them stronger and to reduce the inertia forces acting on the pistons, which are (with their segments) the most stressed parts of the engine. The pistons have also been modified, an operation facilitated by the fact that for the past two years these parts have been made at Cosworth. The problem that now arises is another: assuming the new engine is ready soon, who will be given the first examples?The possibility of having the new engines would give the favourite team a chance to chase Ferrari and get back into the game for the championship: all possibilities are valid, because Brabham has the best placed car after Ferrari, McLaren has the reigning World Champion, Lotus is expected to debut a new car in England and Hesketh is very strong. In the new version the Cosworth will deliver exactly 99 more horsepower than the one that debuted in 1967. With this in mind we come to France, where on Sunday, July 6, 1975, the ninth race of the Formula 1 World Championship will be held at the Paul Ricard circuit. The flat and rather uninteresting Paul Ricard circuit can be tackled from two opposing angles, or by a compromise.

 

The layout is roughly rectangular with a long flat straight down one side, some mickey-mouse twists and turns at each end and a flat-out ess-bend in the middle of the other leg. You can either opt for maximum speed at the expense of cornering power, or sacrifice speed and concentrate on cornering, the choice being made by aerodynamic adjustments, the aerofoil settings for maximum down-thrust through the corners losing you maximum speed on the straight by reason of the increased drag. Some team engineers are in favour of concentrating on flat-out speed, but their drivers are more interested in cornering, while others are trying to achieve a balance between the two. Depending on the angles of the aerofoils the maximum speed on the long straight can vary between something like 175 m.p.h. and 190 m.p.h. and you can be on full song for as much as 30 seconds, Drivers generally being proud of their ability to go round corners show little interest in speeding down the straight, though some are prepared to accept a compromise. There are some new cars, new faces and new ideas about the paddock when it all begins, the Tyrrell team turning out in a very strong force for the home Grand Prix of their major sponsor, the ELF petrol and oil company. Jody Scheckter has a brand new car, number six in the 007 series, some 50 lb. lighter by attention to the manufacture of detail parts and it has a wide base for the two alloy plates supporting the rear aerofoil, and in this space is built the oil system catch-tank for all the breathers. Depailler has his usual Tyrrell 007/4, while Scheckter’s usual car 007/2 is the team spare. In addition to the regular team there is Jean- Pierre Jabouille who enters with 007/5, to boost up the French connection with the Tyrrell team. The Lotus team has done a number of modifications to their cars, Peterson’s spare car 72/R8 having helper coil springs added to the front suspension, to assist the torsion bars, these springs being wrapped round the telescopic shock-absorbers; it has also been altered drastically by having the wheelbase lengthened some five inches by out-rigging the engine away from the back bulkhead of the cockpit, on a tubular structure. In this space is mounted a new oil tank to replace the one over the gearbox, and in consequence the mounting for the rear aerofoil is new. The other Lotus, 72/R5, driven by Ickx, is also modified in this fashion, but without the coil springs.

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The Ferrari team produces yet another of their 1975 cars, number 024 which is the fifth of the transverse gearbox models, and Regazzoni is using this while Lauda has 022. Both cars are still using the long thin tail-pipes on the exhaust system. In the Embassy-sponsored pits the Graham Hill mechanics are finishing off a new car for Brise, number GH1/4, while he is using the original Hill car, and in the Ensign pit the Dutch driver van Lennep is fitting himself into Morris Nunn’s brand new car, with inboard coil spring front suspension and inboard front brakes. The wandering French driver Francois Migault is in the Williams team for this race, Merzario having split with the team for good.

 

"Hopefully tomorrow I will be a little better, otherwise I don't know how I will manage on Sunday".

 

Niki Lauda is worried. He feels tired, sluggish. The flu has affected him.

 

"I took a lot of antibiotics, and now I'm suffering from it. Today I was doing one-two fast laps, then I had to go back to the box to catch my breath. Bad business".

 

Lauda, in his Ferrari, only set the fifth fastest time on this first day of practice for the French Grand Prix (1'48"84), on a par with Hunt driving the Hesketh. The fastest was Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier in the Shadow, who lapped in 1'48"44. He averaged 192.952 km/h, followed by Scheckter (Tyrrell), who in turn lapped in 1'48"55, Emerson Fittipaldi (McLaren) in 1'48"75 and Regazzoni (Ferrari) in 1'48"77. This is a fairly logical scale of values on the Paul Ricard circuit, where the Ferrari 312 T, designed to emerge above all on mixed-type tracks, cannot impose itself, at least in terms of performance, as on other tracks. Engineer Mauro Forghierl explains:

 

"Our car is balanced to respond quickly to changes in direction: weight distribution, wheelbase, suspension have all been designed for an agile and nervous car. Here, on the other hand, there are constant-radius curves, there are very few changes of trajectory. Absurdly, it's like being on a single straight".

 

However, the two Ferraris performed even better than expected, given that there is a difference of just 0.3-0.4 seconds between Jarier and Regazzoni and Lauda, and that the Frenchman fine-tuned his Shadow this winter at Paul Ricard. And he did it really well, because in the long straight that is a salient feature of the circuit, Jarier is less fast than Scheckter or Lauda himself (287 km/h versus 306 km/h and 294 km/h), while he gains in the fast corners. One has the feeling, however, that if Lauda were in perfect physical shape, he could have brought himself up to the level of Jarier or Scheckter. In this regard, there is also an important detail to consider, as it relates to tyres. Regazzoni achieved his excellent performance in the finale by adopting a set of new tyres while the Austrian continued to run on the same tyres, knowingly refraining from improving (it is estimated that there is a difference of at least 0.2 seconds). Niki says:

 

"Having to return to the pit box often prevented me from working on the car as I would have liked. The set-up was not perfect and it was pointless wasting a set of tyres. There are very few available, better to save them for Saturday. For the race I am worried, a drop in physique in the middle of the race could compromise the result. For now I'm not trying to win, but I want to take some points".

 

Lauda, of course, is pampered by the entire Maranello team, including poor Luca Montezemolo, who is already having problems moving around tirelessly with a cast on his arm and leg. Lauda adds:

 

"I caught a cold on Saturday at Zeltweg in Austria. I went to bed on Sunday with a fever of 39 degrees and got up on Thursday to fly from Vienna to Toulon. It's the first time in four years that I've been sick. The doctor prescribed that I rest, but how do I do that?"

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Once rehearsals were over, Niki Lauda went straight back to his hotel. Mariella, his girlfriend, and a doctor watch over him. Mariella travels with her handbag full of vitamin C tablets and prepares litres of tea and honey. Lauda comments:

 

"I thought I would only have to fight against Fittipaldi or Scheckter. Instead, I discovered that the flu is worse than Emerson and Jody. I am used to doing 30-40 laps without the slightest sign of fatigue. I barely lose a kilo in the race. Today, after two laps I was in a sweat".

 

The Austrian also tested the reserve car on which a new type of front suspension had been fitted. It was a quick test (lasting only six laps, or about 30 kilometres), carried out at the beginning of the second part of training while the mechanics were finishing replacing the gears on the 312 T that would be used in the race. Says Montezemolo:

 

"We will have a chance to test this version more calmly. We are satisfied with how practice went today. The circuit is not congenial to our cars, but Clay and Niki are among the front runners. We hope Lauda will recover well for Sunday. We, for the French Grand Prix, have this double objective: to bring the Austrian to the finish line and to take away with Regazzoni some points from the most dangerous rivals, like Fittipaldi and Reutemann".

 

Carlos Reutemann did not seem to be very competitive with his Brabham:

 

"Blame the suspension".

 

While Fittipaldi took a big step forward compared to the last performances. His McLaren was competitive again: the British technicians got the suspension right for the Goodyear tyres and the car regained balance and road holding. The Brazilian is smiling again.

 

"My McLaren has improved. The suspension is no longer a problem and I can finally go out on the track with confidence. The championship is not yet over and Lauda is not yet champion. However, before beating Niki and Ferrari, I am content to arrive and get a few points".

 

A far too modest goal for Fittipaldi. Lauda, by now, had to play defence, it was Emerson who had to run on the attack. In the meantime, on Saturday 5 July 1975, at Le Castellet, some representatives of the CSI and of the Formula 1 constructors' association, including Mauro Forghieri for Ferrari, will hold a consultative meeting on safety problems. Other such meetings will be held in Germany and Austria. In Milan, at the Italian Grand Prix, a new regulation for 1976 will be launched. The manufacturers are against the abolition of the wings. The CSI delegates maintain that the speed of the cars in corners must be reduced and that any effective solution will be welcomed. They add that the circuit owners are tired of spending money to modify the tracks and are pressing for the cars to be changed, threatening to stop organising Grands Prix. With the weather very hot and the engines having to work hard down the long straight there are quite a few mechanical disasters and both of Frank Williams’ drivers break their engines. Laffite on Friday and Migault on Saturday and a shortage of engines means that the latter is unable to start in the race. Both the Parnelli team and the B.R.M. team reverse their original plans before race day, Andretti preferring the training car 001 in place of 003, even though they are supposed to be identical and Bob Evans opting for the training B.R.M. for the actual race, after P201/05 gives trouble on Saturday morning. Peterson tries both his Lotus cars and settles for the original short wheelbase car 72/R9, but with the coil spring units on the front, off the spare car, while Ickx has no choice. In the Brabham pits the spare car is fitted with glass-fibre mudguards to the front wheels, though their validity is in question. There is no lack of activity during the two days of practice and some drivers cover more than the race distance on each day, but whether it does them much good is debatable, especially when Lauda pulls out his two very fast laps just when it is all over. 

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As so often happens in the South of France there is a strong wind blowing off the mountains and sometimes it would be following the cars down the straight and other times it would turn across the straight, all of which is calculated to upset driver’s mechanical judgement of what gear ratios are best, or how steeply the aerofoils should be adjusted. Niki Lauda regained his physical form and with a simply stunning Ferrari terrorized all his rivals at Paul Picard, gaining the most beautiful pole position of the season. On a circuit theoretically not very favourable to the characteristics of the 312 T, and where the values of men and machines tend to level off, the Austrian obtained, on the second day of practice for the French Grand Prix, an exceptional time: 1'47"82, at an average of 194.020 km/h. Two years ago Jackie Stewart, in a Tyrrell, was the fastest in 1'48"37 and this time Jody Scheckter, in another Tyrrell, was the best of the drivers with single-seaters powered by the Cosworth engine in 1'48"22, which means a 0.4 second gap between the South African and Niki. It must immediately be said that Lauda's time did not represent an isolated exploit. It came at the end of practice at the end of a splendid sequence: 1'48"0, 1'47"9, 1'47"8. Three consecutive laps, which the Ferrari men greeted with understandable enthusiasm, amidst the waving of the many Maranello team flags that the fans brought with them from Italy. And the test run by Lauda with the petrol tanks full, a situation in which the Austrian will find himself on Sunday in the early stages of the race, also yielded excellent results: Niki lapped in 1'50"0 without any tyre or grip problems. A miracle? No, rather the positive convergence of technical and human reasons. Mauro Forghieri explains:

 

"Today Lauda was able to try out some new sets of tyres, and thanks to his improved physical condition he was able to fine-tune his 312 T. In addition, based on the indications that emerged on the first day of training, we had prepared a series of modifications that turned out to be the right ones. Let's not get too excited, though. The race will be something else, with the engines subjected to an exasperated effort".

 

Lauda is smiling, cheerful, with the bright silver on him. A night of absolute rest, his Mariella's honey tea and vitamin C pills have transformed him. On Friday he was sluggish, getting tired after two or three laps, now he is back on form.

 

"Yes, I'm much better, let's say I'm ninety per cent fit. I have been able to work intensively and refine the preparation of my single-seater. Of course, in order to beat Scheckter I had to work to the limit. I don't think it will be possible to match this performance in the race. It will be quite a tough race. I have the impression that there will be a kind of train with five or six wagons, I count on being the locomotive, but my first real goal is not to win but to get to the finish line and win points for the championship. I feel calm: my Ferrari is an exceptional car, and it has shown in these Grands Prix that it is also very reliable. In addition, I will be able to drive as usual, without worrying about my health. That is something I consider basic".

 

Not so well went Clay Regazzoni. The Swiss driver improved on Friday by just 0.02 seconds, lapping in 1'48"68 (against 1'48"70 clocked on Friday), while greater progress was made by Scheckter, Hunt (Hesketh), Pace (Brabham), Pryce (Shadow), Mass (McLaren) and Brambilla (March). Regazzoni, therefore, will only start on the fifth row, alongside Emerson Fittipaldi, who was unable to make progress due to suspension and tyre problems, and ahead of Carlos Reutemann (Brabham). Clay put in a spirited effort, but in the convulsive minutes of fast carousel that closed practice, he couldn't find the right lap, and right at the very last lap, past the finish line, he stopped on the track with a broken engine. Luca Montezemolo admitted at the end of practice that Lauda's time made him forget the discomfort of a leg and arm in plaster:

 

"It is clear that Regazzoni will have the task tomorrow of snatching points from Fittipaldi and Reutemann, who are the drivers closest to Niki in the World Championship standings. Lauda's pole position, obtained on a circuit not suited to our car, confirms the very high value of the Lauda-Ferrari duo. We would already have been happy to see Niki in the very first rows. It is worth pointing out that the Austrian achieved this wonderful performance at the end of practice, with an engine fatigued by two days of training. I don't know what happened to Clay's engine, maybe a spring broke. For tomorrow we will fit the two cars with new engines. And let's hope for the best. Certainly, the 312 T turns out to be a car with exceptional characteristics: we knew it was very strong on mixed-type tracks, but today it proved to be very good, at the very least, on fast ones too".

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It is an impression also shared by the British teams, who today, first with Hunt and then with Scheckter hoped to take pole position at Le Castellet, a feat that always confers a certain prestige (by the way, it is the fifth for Lauda and Ferrari after those of Spain, Monaco, Belgium and Holland). Scheckter and Pace - who broke his engine twice - say:

 

"Ferrari is very, too strong. It goes well everywhere. It is difficult to overtake Niki".

 

Emerson Fittipaldi shakes his head, no longer as cheerful as on Friday.

 

"The others improve, I stay still. Just now when I need to gain points".

 

Carlos Reutemann, who was stopped at the end of practice due to lack of petrol, says:

 

"Lauda is more favoured than ever for tomorrow and for the title".

 

Only James Hunt thinks otherwise.

 

"I'll win here, at best I'll come second".

 

As on so many other circuits, therefore, we will most likely see a Grand Prix with Lauda and Ferrari in the leading role. However, the Austrian is right to be cautious in his predictions. As many as eleven drivers are grouped in less than a second. On the other hand, the British teams are trying hard to deal with the heavy competition from Ferrari. Hewland, which supplies the gearboxes to the cars powered by Cosworth engines, has produced a new type. This gearbox, identified by the initials Fj 400, weighs less and allows quicker gear engagement. And Brabham experimented in great secrecy on the front wheels of the Pace reserve car with two small mudguards with an aerodynamic function. An interesting solution but against the Formula One technical regulations (at least in spirit if not in form), which define these cars as open-wheel single-seaters. Meanwhile, Alpine Renault is preparing to enter Formula 1. A 1500 cc engine equipped with a turbo-compressor is being prepared. It should be entrusted to two French teams for Jabouille, Larrousse and Laffite. In conclusion, the CSI and the constructors issued a communiqué on the meeting held at Paul Ricard: nothing important, except for the decision to set up a joint working committee to study safety and car-related problems. A next meeting is scheduled for the German Grand Prix, Saturday 2 August 1975. On Sunday morning, during the 30 minutes of untimed practice, conditions are different yet again and the wise ones keep their adjustments to the known circumstances of Friday and Saturday, while others are frantically fiddling with things and in most cases getting in a muddle. The Grand Prix is due to start at 2:30 p.m. and the very hot weather makes the wait seem interminable; but eventually the national races are over, lunch has been taken and the Formula One cars set off on their warm-up lap, though with the high ambient temperature there is not much need for warming things up. With Migault unable to start, twenty- five cars line up on the grid, with Lauda and Scheckter on the front row, the Ferrari driver having chosen the left-hand side of the road. In the third row Pryce is already in trouble, his clutch dragging badly and he is holding the car back on the brakes.

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Lauda and Scheckter are side-by-side down to the fast ess-bend, but then the Ferrari goes through without lifting and it is all over. Even as they return up the back straight the Ferrari is pulling away impressively, and after twenty-four cars have gone by the travelling marshal’s Porsche 911 appears and a little while later Tom Pryce’s Shadow as he has made a complete nonsense of the start with his feet on the wrong pedals when the flag falls. At the end of the opening lap Lauda has nearly two seconds lead over Scheckter, which does not sound much, but at racing speeds means that he is almost out of sight of the rest of the field. Scheckter can neither hold the Ferrari round the corners nor down the straight and apart from being mentally depressed by this realisation, he does not feel confident about the handling of the Tyrrell and like so many drivers today he is not one to overcome adversity, preferring to set his pace to a safe appraisal of the conditions. This means that he is holding up Hunt, Mass, Pace, Regazzoni, and Brambilla and allowing Lauda an even easier time to increase his lead. By lap three the Ferrari is four seconds ahead and Regazzoni is moving up past the queue behind Scheckter, but not for long as the Ferrari engine blows up at the end of lap 6 when the swarthy Swiss has taken third place from Hunt. Already Pryce has disappeared when the drive to his rear wheels fails, the dragging clutch being a forewarning of worse to come. Scheckter is still holding on to second place, but not for long and Hunt goes by on lap 8 and Mass then begins to look for a way by the Tyrrell. Pace lost his fifth place when he has to stop at the pits to have a misfire cured, and Brambilla has retired with a broken rear spring unit. Although the outcome of the race has been decided on the opening lap, providing the Ferrari does not give trouble, it is ten laps before the rest of the runner’s really sort themselves out. Hunt pulls well clear of Scheckter, but makes no impression on the leading Ferrari. Lauda looking extremely confident and able to set his speed to match any circumstances behind him. Scheckter in third place has the two McLarens of Mass and Fittipaldi close behind him and then comes Jarier, who has made a very bad start from the second row. Next is Brise closely followed by Andretti, Reutemann, Peterson and Depailler. It takes four laps for the McLaren pair to find a way past the Tyrrell, and then Scheckter is being pressured by Jarier, Brise and Andretti.

 

Depailler gets past Peterson and begins to work hard to make up for a rather indifferent opening lap, driving with visible effort and enthusiasm that his team-mate lacks. lckx departs quietly from the scene when a driveshaft universal-joint breaks and by 20 laps the scene is a bit processional and Lauda is about to lap Lella Lombardi, who is tailing along at the back of the field. Apart front Jarier finding a way past Scheckter, and Depailler overtaking Reutemann nothing much happens between laps 20 and 30, though Andretti overtakes Brise on lap 28, at about the same time that Pace retires with a broken driveshaft joint. Out in front Lauda is running the race as he pleases, the overall pace being more than three seconds slower than in practice, but he merely keeps about six seconds between himself and the pursuing Hesketh. In third place, Jochen Mass is driving splendidly, keeping in front of his team- leader and gaining steadily on Hunt. In fifth place is Jarier, somewhat disgruntled as he has hoped to win his own Grand Prix, and on lap 30 Scheckter finds himself down in eighth place, behind Andretti and Brise, and it is clear that Depailler would soon relegate the South African to ninth place. The only interest now lays in the fact that Mass is pulling away from Fittipaldi and is close behind Hunt, and the McLaren and the Hesketh drivers are urging each other along so that they are closing up on the leading Ferrari. There is no actual danger for Lauda, even though the Ferrari is developing more understeer on some corners than is desirable, as the full load lessens and the tyres wear down. Mass can see no hope of getting by Hunt, but that does not deter him from pressing hard. There is no professional attitude of settling for third place for the young German, he just drives harder and harder, hoping Hunt would make a mistake or the Hesketh give trouble, but neither eventuality takes place. At the back of the field Laffite is really enjoying himself in the Williams as he is right up behind Peterson, who has been driving about as enthusiastically as Ickx. As Laffite gets by, the Swede wakes up and his pride gets the better of his professional attitude and he re-passes, but Laffite would not give up and he gives Peterson a bad time right through to the end of the race. Reutemann has been running in front of them, rather disconsolately, but decides he has worn out his rear tyres and stops to have them changed. The Mass/Hunt pursuit race enlivens things no end, even though the outcome is never in doubt, and though they close the gap to the Ferrari to less than three seconds, Lauda is never worried, knowing full well the situation and with plenty in hand.

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Niki Lauda and Ferrari won the most beautiful victory of the season, and took a perhaps decisive step in the fight for the 1975 world title. The Austrian and the 312 T confirmed on the Paul Ricard circuit that they are the strongest man-machine combination in Formula 1, beating Hunt (Hesketh) and Mass (McLaren) in the French Grand Prix. Emerson Fittipaldi took fourth place while Reutemann (Brabham) finished 14th. For Lauda, therefore, a doubly precious success: 9 points as spoils against Fittipaldi's 3, while Reutemann remained at zero. As a result, Niki moved up to 47 in the World Championship standings, of which this race was the ninth, and now has a 22-point lead over Reutemann and 23 over Fittipaldi. A robust margin, so much so that the Brazilian said at the end of the race:
 

"Niki is now unreachable".

 

And the Argentine adds:

 

"The challenge is over, Lauda has won".

 

The only one who disagrees with these two authoritative judgments is Niki Lauda himself.

 

"No, let's be realistic. There are still six races to go before the end of the season. Let's wait. I will only start to feel calm at Monza, but first I need to win at least some placings in the next races in Great Britain, Germany and Austria. It is quite likely that this will happen. I think I am favoured at all the circuits, because my Ferrari is a formidable car. Today, for example, I was able to take the lead very easily and get away from Scheckter and the others. After half a race the front tyres started to degrade and the 312 T became a bit understeery. I limited myself, witnessing the comeback of Hunt and Mass, but I was calm. It was one thing to catch me, another to overtake me".

 

Lauda is right, but the men of the Maranello team and the Ferrari fans experienced moments of extreme tension, punctuated by the passing of the laps and the progressive approach of Hunt and Mass to the Austrian.

 

"It was the most tiring and difficult win of the year. Fortunately, I was in good shape and had no physical problems. But I always had to work hard because here I didn't have those margins of clear advantage that the 312 T gives me on the other circuits".

 

So, perhaps it was only in the lack of this more pronounced margin that the much feared negative characteristics of the Paul Ricard circuit towards Ferrari were condensed. Clay Regazzoni was also giving a demonstration of Ferrari's superiority. In just a few laps the Swiss had managed to move up from sixth to second place. A one-two seemed possible when the engine failed, leaving the Swiss driver stranded.

 

"I started to feel a vibration and then the oil pressure dropped. Patience. It was going too well. The car was fabulous".

 

Adding to the drivers' comments was Luca Montezemolo:

 

"I have never suffered so much. Standing still with this leg in plaster. At Paul Ricard they thought we were beaten, but it seems to me that Ferrari gave a wonderful demonstration. I feel sorry for Regazzoni, who had made a great comeback. Lauda was great. Let's not forget that only on Friday he felt like a wreck and couldn't stand up. He raced as always with intelligence: sure, it was a heart-stopping finish. This is another great success of Italian industry, and of Ferrari in particular. After so many years its cars are still the best in the world. Today we are closer to our goal, the world title. However, and we must realise this first, and then all the fans who follow our races with affection, we have only reached a good safety margin, we cannot, we must not believe that we are already champions. Hard work lies ahead of us. To delude ourselves that we have succeeded would now be the biggest mistake".

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These are words of unimpeachable seriousness, they give an idea of the climate that reigns in the Ferrari team, where work is done with enthusiasm, commitment and grit in the Italian way and with method and serenity of a British stamp. And the facts, the results are the best mirror: this is Lauda's fourth victory of the season in the 1975 World Championship, and the fifth considering the non-titled race at Silverstone. Since the beginning of the year, the Austrian has always finished his races, apart from the stop in Spain caused by Andretti, and has taken five pole positions. All this means that in terms of performance, reliability and adaptability Niki and his 312 T are truly at the top. Mauro Forghieri comments:

 

"Lauda was able to control this difficult race very intelligently. We have to thank him, just as we have to underline the performance of the 312 T. We won well, thus proving that we are stronger than the others. This time, however, the other cars were able to come close to ours. That's why this achievement makes us happier. The technical elements that determined the success are essentially two: the careful preparation and the work done with the tyre technicians".

 

Ferrari, therefore, more than ever on top and, albeit with some caution, very close with Lauda to that world title that has been missing for eleven years. One cannot avoid being ultra-optimistic and not repeat what was said in Sweden: if on circuits where it is the underdog the 312 T triumphs, what will it do at Silverstone or the Nurburgring? Today's race was less selective than expected, with just seven out of twenty-five drivers retired. The Hesketh and McLarens performed very well, while the Shadow and Tyrrell disappointed. There is only Ferrari, which never disappoints this year.

 

"Tyres or no tyres, I couldn't overtake Lauda. His car was too strong. He has an exceptional engine".

 

James Hunt had predicted he would finish either first or second. He guessed right and, all in all, was happy. Dark faces, on the other hand, sport Emerson Fittipaldi and Carlos Reutemann. The Brazilian driver changes into the McLaren truck. He inquires:

 

"How many points does Niki have now?"

 

They answer him:

 

"Twenty-two on Reutemann and twenty-three on you".

 

He shakes his head.

 

"Too much. I had started well and had made a good comeback. I thought I could catch Hunt, maybe finish second. Instead, after half the race my car became oversteered and lost stability. I had to slow down".

 

What would you advise Lauda to do now?

 

"It seems simple to me. Niki doesn't need to win any more, he only needs to race for a place. It's easier and safer. I must also say that Lauda is doing very well. He is good and has a very good car, with a formidable engine".

 

Carlos Reutemann is resigned.

 

"I needed to pick up some points and, instead, this was the worst Grand Prix for Brabham. Today, I simply wasn't able to go any faster than I did. Tyres, suspension, I don't know. We'll have to start thinking about the 1976 season".

 

The opinion of Jackie Stewart, who followed the race from the Tyrrell pit, is this:

 

"I think these successes by Ferrari after so many years of domination by British teams are a splendid thing. They are for motor sport, which becomes more interesting, for Ferrari, which deserves to win a world title again, and for Italy, which also needs sporting success at this time. It was a very beautiful race. Niki is an excellent driver, who always races with his head. I'm sure he will win the championship. It's also a psychological question: he and Ferrari know by now that they are at the top and everything is, then, easier".


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