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#261 1975 German Grand Prix

2021-12-22 00:00

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#1975, Fulvio Conti, Maria Ginevra Ferretti,

#261 1975 German Grand Prix

Once a year the Formula 1 Grand Prix circus has to face up to the challenge of the 22.835 kilometres of the Nurburgring and they usually manage to com

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Once a year the Formula 1 Grand Prix circus has to face up to the challenge of the 22.835 kilometres of the Nurburgring and they usually manage to come away reasonably unscathed and occasionally with a feeling of a job well done. Even after the Nurburgring’s wild and craggy nature is somewhat tamed by the monumental facelift and tidying up process that is carried out in 1970/71, the new-look Nurburgring produces an even bigger challenge by being so much faster than before, with the lap speed average around 120 m.p.h. This year, however, the majority of teams comes away, bowed, bloody, and humiliated, wondering if the Nurburgring isn’t more than they could cope with. Apart from a brief rain shower on the first day of practice the Eifel mountains are enjoying a heat wave and the Nurburgring is at its best, drawing a record crowd estimated at 400.000. Even if the estimate is wildly optimistic and is 100% out, that still leaves 200.000 people, and certainly the traffic flow towards the Nurburgring is very heavy before practice even started. Apart from Team Surtees everyone seems to have recovered from the Silverstone shambles, and B.R.M. are still awaiting delivery of sufficient power to make their car competitive; as someone remarks, they’ll wait for ever, unless they fit a Cosworth engine. John Watson is on loan to Team Lotus for this race, if only to prove that the 1975 Lotus trouble has been in the cockpit, and the bearded Irishman proves just that, making Peterson remove his Swedish finger a bit, but not enough to catch the newcomer. There are a lot of drivers who feel they could or should win the Grosser Preis von Deutschland, in particular Jochen Mass, who lives in nearby Cologne. It is not for want of trying that he does not succeed, for he is flinging his McLaren round the 14-mile lap with impressive confidence, but his enthusiasm got the better of his skill and he flies off the road during the Saturday morning practice.
 
His compatriot Hans-Joachim Stuck is equally keen to win his own Grand Prix, but not so obsessed and merely gets on with the job. Scheckter really feels he could win this one, especially as he holds the lap record from last year in 7'11"1, and does a lot of practice in full-race trim as regards fuel load and tyre and suspension settings. Although the Tyrrell is a terrible handful on parts of the circuit, compared to a car that is set-up for practice laps, Scheckter is confident in the outcome. The Ferrari duo of Regazzoni and Lauda feel this race has to be theirs, Lauda’s fastest practice time last year of 7'00"8 being the target of everyone to aim at, while his unofficial test-lap in under 7'00"0. Is still waiting to be confirmed. Regazzoni may not be very high in some people’s estimation as a driver, but he enjoys the Nurburgring and takes some beating on the mountain circuit. Practice has barely begun before Lauda sets the standard with a lap in 7'00"6 and it is clear that anyone who could not improve on Scheckter’s lap record is not going to feature in the start photographs. The practice system at the Nurburgring is that you can circulate round the short circuit comprising the Sudkurve and the Nordkurve, joined by the starting straight and the longer straight behind the pits, and when you feel ready for a full 22.835 kilometre lap you can peel off at the North Curve and set off over the bridge and down the swerves to Hatzenbach, but once over the bridge you are committed, there is no turning back. As the pits-loop is longer than the Mallory Park circuit or the Brands Hatch Club circuit it is easy to see why a lot of drivers are happy to keep circulating round the loop, needing to screw up all their courage to set off on a full lap.
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When you do set off it is with the full knowledge that you might never be seen again until practice is over, for if your car breaks down at an inaccessible point on the circuit you are stuck there, unless you can show resourcefulness like Patrick Depailler does in the first practice session. His Tyrrell breaks a front suspension, letting that corner sag down, so he borrows some tools from a spectator and slackens off completely the shock-absorber on the diagonally opposing corner at the rear and screws up the other two corners until the suspension is virtually solid. This causes the car to sit lop-sided with the damaged corner up in the air and virtually off the ground, and that way he is able to drive slowly back to the pits. Apart from accidents to Mass, Brise, Ashley and Trimmer, whose cars have to be returned by the breakdown service, there is not too much trouble in practice and with a seven minute lap as the clear objective there is more than enough to get on with. In the last practice period Lauda and Regazzoni look to have the front row of the grid once more, like last year, with Lauda at 7'00"6 and Regazzoni at 7'01"6, but Depailler ousts the swarthy Swiss with a stirring lap in 7'01"4 and then Scheckter does 7'01"3. With barely time left for another full lap Lauda goes out and put a stop to the challenging nonsense, as he does at Monaco and Paul Ricard, with a lap in 6'58"6. This really rocks everyone on their heels and represents a lap speed of 196.383 k.p.h. (approx. 122 m.p.h.) and it overshadows a final effort by Carlos Pace who gets round in 7'00"0 dead, relegating the two Tyrrells to the second row of the grid, while Regazzoni is back to the third row. Unless something untoward happens it looks as though Lauda is going to run away with the German Grand Prix like he has with the French Grand Prix.
 
Sunday sees the Nurburgring in superb form, with not a cloud in the sky and every vantage point packed with spectators from all over Europe. Everyone sets off bravely on a complete lap to warm up, apart from Ertl with his newly acquired Hesketh 308/1 and Pace, whose Brabham is suffering from fuel pressure trouble. Everyone gets back to the starting grid safely and Pace and Ertl join them. There are 24 cars on the grid for the 1:30 p.m. start as Ashley’s practice accident precludes him from taking part, and Tony Trimmer just fails to go fast enough in the Japanese Maki to qualify. While some drivers are uncertain about the start, Lauda makes no mistake and shoots off into the lead with Pace and Depailler hard behind him. Scheckter makes a complete nonsense, nearly burning out his clutch and almost everyone passes him, while Peterson is left behind with a slipping clutch, struggling along after the tail-enders. Before the leaders have gone from the sight of the pits Depailler has moved his Tyrrell into second place and is hard behind Lauda’s Ferrari as they start the first of the fourteen laps. Jochen Mass does not get far, as a front tyre bursts at the bottom of the steep descent at Fuchsrohe and the McLaren M23 destroys itself as it bounces about on the guardrails, the driver stepping out shaken but unhurt. Near the back of the field Donohue suffers a flat tyre on the Penske March 751 but manages to limp back to the pits. He has barely started his second lap when another tyre literally explodes, showering the track with bits of rubber and the March skates to rest at Aremberg. As the field starts its second lap the order is Lauda (Ferrari), Depailler (Tyrrell), Pace (Brabham), Reutemann (Brabham), Regazzoni (Ferrari), Stuck (March), Fittipaldi (McLaren), Hunt (Hesketh), Jarier (Shadow), Brambilla (March), Andretti (Parnelli), Watson (Lotus), Pryce (Shadow), Brice (Hill), Scheckter (Tyrrell), Jones Laffite (Williams), Ertl (Hesketh), Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi), van Lennep (Ensign), Lombardi (March) and Peterson who stops at the pits to see if his clutch slip could be cured.
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The Swede sets off again, but it is useless and he returns to the pits by the North Turn slip-road and retires. During the second lap Emerson Fittipaldi suffers a flat tyre and limps round to the pits after everyone has gone off on their third lap, except that is Mass, Peterson and Donohue who have all retired. Fittipaldi rejoins the race but is put off by a bad vibration that seems as if it is going to shake the car to pieces, so after three more laps he gives up. On the third lap Watson has the front suspension of his Lotus collapse and is fortunate to slide to a stop undamaged, not far from Donohue’s March, and Scheckter, who is just behind, has an anxious moment deciding on which side to pass the stricken Lotus. Brambilla runs into tyre trouble on this lap and retires, but near the front of the race, Regazzoni has stormed past Reutemann into fourth place, and Hunt has moved ahead of Stuck, and shortly afterwards the March engine breaks. Andretti has to make a pit stop to replace a damaged wheel, caused when someone nudges him off course, and after five laps Regazzoni has moved up into third place, but not within sight of his team-mate who is still leading from Depailler. The Brabham of Carlos Pace has collected a puncture, and though he gets back to the pits for a new tyre, it drops him to ninth place and one lap later the rear suspension collapses and strands him out on the circuit. Depailler is really into the swing of the Nurburgring and is much too close to Lauda for the comfort of the Ferrari pit, for it is one thing to be a length behind on a slow hairpin but another thing altogether to still be that close on a 160 m.p.h. downhill sweep, as he is through Schwedenbreuz.
 
At half- distance these two are out on their own, Regazzoni is safely in third place, followed by Reutemann and Hunt, though the Hesketh’s engine is misfiring badly at high revs. Then comes Scheckter, who has fought hard up to sixth place, followed by Jarier and Pryce; Laffite is a lonely ninth and at intervals come Brise, Jones, Ertl, van Lennep, Lombardi and Andretti. During the eighth lap Scheckter has a high-speed spectacular accident when something let go at the back and Jarier runs over some of the wreckage and punctures a rear tyre. He limps the stricken Shadow along to try and get back to the pits but the flat tyre disintegrates and wounds itself round a driveshaft and brings the whole lot to a grinding halt. The whole thing seems to be getting too much for the circus and on lap nine Regazzoni’s Ferrari engine loses all its oil pressure as he is starting the descent from the start and finish plateau. At this point he is actually in second place, for Depailler’s Tyrrell has broken a top rocker-arm on the front suspension and the Frenchman has limped into the pits. Hardly has Regazzoni expired than Brise goes off the road in a big way, wrecking the Hill but escaping uninjured, the crash being blamed on a rear suspension failure. Just when Lauda appears to have the race all sewn-up it is his turn to collect a flat tyre and this lets a surprised but happy Reutemann through into first place, followed by Pryce and Laffite, while Lauda limp along to the pits for a new tyre. In reality Hunt should be in second place but the Hesketh is in trouble with what seemd like clutch-slip or wheelspin and though Hunt starts lap 11 he realizes he was not going to finish it and turns off at the North Curve slip-road and returns to the pits. All the driving pins in a rear hub has sheared, only the limited-slip differential allowing the car to drive along through one wheel.
 
There are still three more laps to go and it begins to look as if no-one would finish. Team Tyrrell has obviously thought this and has replaced the broken rocker-arm on Depailler’s car and puts him back in the race, albeit a lap behind the existing leader. However, Reutemann has no intention of losing this race, and he picks a wary path over the stones that are causing some of the tyre troubles, stones swept onto the track by drivers sliding a rear wheel off the edge of the tarmac as they power out of corners. In second place Tom Pryce is in real trouble for the fuel filler cap behind the cockpit is leaking and apart from sitting in petrol he is suffering from the fumes getting up into his helmet. In a dazed and uncomfortable state he keeps going but is forced to slow his pace and Laffite passes him on lap 12 and Lauda passes him on the last lap, but the courageous Welshman keeps going to the finish. He undoes his safety harness Reutemann makes no mistake and comes home a delighted winner a long way ahead of Laffite who has driven Frank Williams’ car in his usual determined fashion and has profited from others drivers’ misfortunes, much to the joy of Frank himself. Another struggling team usually at the back who enjoys equal fortune is Morris Nunn’s Ensign team, van Lennep netting a well-deserved sixth place with a non-stop run in the latest Ensign in only its second race. Almost unnoticed is Alan Jones in fifth place with the Hill car, having driven a good, tidy race without trouble and moving up the leaderboard as others fall by the wayside. On the penultimate lap Andretti coasts to a stop, out of fuel due to a leakage that has been seeping into the cockpit. Seventh and eighth are Lella Lombardi and Harald Ertl, the Hesketh driver having to ease up in the closing stages when he runs out of rear brakes. Last, but by no means least, is the dynamic little Patrick Depailler, a lap behind the leader but driving as hard as ever, because he is not one to give up in the face of adversity. 
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