Saturday, August 2, 1975, Niki Lauda and the Ferrari, taking down in the rehearsals, had demonstrated to constitute the strongest binomial on the Nurburing track. An historical prestation, the most beautiful confirm of the car’s value and the driver on the most difficult track of the World Championship. For Lauda it was the sixth pole position on eleven races. Only Carlos Pace had approached the austrian. For nine laps the Germany Gran Prix respected the indications of the rehearsals, with Lauda in the lead, then a puncture, forcing the austrian to perform at a low pace seven km and to stop at the pit for the tire change , allowed Reutemann and the French Lattile (15th in the starting grid) to settle in the first and the second place. Neither the argentinian nor the french, with their Brabham and Williams, could ever have overtaken Lauda in normal conditions. Unfortunately, how often happens in the Grand Prix, an episode outside the skill of who is at the steering wheel , of the car’s qualities and organizational officiating of the team , upset the outcome of the race. In this case even in the motoring competitions, so linked to exact human and mechanic responsibilities, you can talk about bad luck. And the topic, for the Nurburing race, must be extended to many other pilots, from Emerson Fittipaldi to Jochen Mass, from Jean-Pierre Jarier to Pace, all damaged, in major and minor measures, from punctures. Never, at least this year, a Formula 1 Grand Prix has been faked in a relevant way and for the same reason.The Goodyear specialists reject every responsibility and the drivers accept their theses.The tires got puntuctered simply because the track was dirty, not because they were deteriorated or unsuitable for the circuit due to a technical error.
"We provided the usual tires, if the asphalt was covered in stones, glass pieces, dirt, it’s not our fault, but the organizers".
Reasoning on the surface unimpeachable, but with an underlying flaw. What kind of tires are these, puncturing like nothing, losing grip as soon as the conditions for which they were mounted change? The memory of what happened at Silverstone is fresh: a collective off-track due to a sudden downpour, single-seaters gone mad with smooth tires sliding on water. What contribution, beyond all the fine advertising and commercial talk, can tires so exaggerated and far removed from those we use every day make to normal production? Unfortunately, Formula 1 has become a publicity bandwagon, a show that is sold as a closed package around the world, and not a source of technical development aligned with the needs of ordinary cars, of which it should be the highest expression. And the efforts, the commitment of the few - foremost among them Ferrari, the only real car manufacturer left in the industry, with a tradition and experience rooted in less frenetic times - are thwarted by the interests of the many. It would be interesting to have a formula that developed everyday problems (safety, pollution, aerodynamics, reliability) in a sporting key instead of coming up with delicate prototypes. There are pseudo-constructors who could not cope with races lasting longer than two to two and a half hours on pain of excessive material wear and tear (which would result in uneconomic maintenance costs, among other things). Why does it do this? One might ask. The reasons are many: these races are a fundamental component of the life of the Maranello team, Enzo Ferrari believes that it is still possible to draw technical tips from them, at least for those who actually make cars, the Image of the brand and the group to which it is linked find an additional source of dissemination. And 1975 is finally rewarding Ferrari and its men.
Lauda is now one step away from the world title: the bitterness over the success that got out of hand in the German Grand Prix should not alter the judgment on the situation of the Austrian and his rivals in the standings. Yes, with the nine points from the Nurburgring, Niki would be 90 percent champion, while with the four gained on Sunday he still has to wait for Austria or Italy before he is 100 percent sure, but it is just a matter of suffering a little more. Reutemann and Fittipaldi have already said that the championship is over, that in racing you never know, but that it is extremely unlikely to overtake Lauda, that it is useless to get your hopes up. The people at Ferrari are making their own predictions. Luca Montezemolo talks about maximum effort, Lauda smiles and says he wants to wait until the end of the tournament. But the two South American drivers are right. By now, one simply has to wait for the scoring mechanism to also mathematically assign what the latti have already determined. And, as a guarantee, there is Lauda's class and the superiority of the 312 T. Besides, in this championship Lauda has also asserted himself on the two circuits that Maranello's engineers considered less suited to the characteristics of the 312 T, which was born for mixed-type tracks: Anderstorp (Sweden) and Le Castellet (France). If one were to listen to proverbs, Zeltweg should be the track number three. In addition, the Formula One Manufacturers' Association decided not to participate in the Canadian Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, September 21, 1975, at the De Mosport circuit. The rumors that had been circulating were confirmed in an official statement issued during the morning of Sunday, August 3, 1975, before the start of the German Grand Prix.
"Despite numerous requests from the Formula One Manufacturers' Association to have a meeting with the organizers of the Canadian and U.S. Grands Prix, requests made over the past three months, it was not until July 23, that is, just six weeks before the departure of the teams for North America, that a meeting was possible. At the meeting and during subsequent discussions, the Canadian organizers refused to make the normal financial commitment essential for racing outside Europe. At this point the members of the Association are sorry to report that they will not participate in the 1975 Canadian Grand Prix. Instead, we are pleased to confirm that an agreement has been reached with the organizers of the U.S. Grand Prix, which will be held regularly on October 5, 1975 at Watkins Glen".
Bernie Ecclestone, manager of Brabham and president of the Association, says:
"This is an economic and logistical problem. In order to go to Canada we face huge expenses for the transportation of men and cars. Our demands have not been met and our decision not to race is irrevocable".
The package (fees, prizes, miscellaneous items) that a European organizer pays to Formula 1 teams is around 100.000 pounds. The others have to add £12.000 to £20.000 to cover the cost of renting two air chariots and the price of tickets for drivers and mechanics. Of course, the Canadian Grand Prix could still take place. In the international regulations, cars that are not properly of this formula can also participate in a Formula 1 race valid for the title. The big players would still be missing. Also during the German weekend it became known that John Watson, who already raced with Lotus in Germany, has been hired by Colin Chapman for 1976. The British manager be negotiating with those at Shadow the transfer of Ronnie Peterson to the American team. Proposed by Shadow, there is an air of crisis between the American team and Matra, which has prepared a 12-cylinder engine. The French company would like to sign a contract with Shadow, while the Americans intend to at least wait for the outcome of a race. Finally, the journalists of the lRPA, a specialized association, honored Ferrari and Niki Lauda for the 1974 season as the team and driver most sympathetic and courteous to the press. The award consists of an orange plaque. The lemon, on the other hand, was awarded to Dean Delamont, obnoxious race director of the British Grand Prix. The entry list for the Austrian Grand Prix is very full, almost to the point of overflowing as regards drivers, but after the debacles of the British Grand Prix and the German Grand Prix there is a distinct shortage of racing cars. The McLaren team are reduced to M23/9 for Fittipaldi and M23/6 for Mass, with no spare car, and Lotus has 72/R9 for Peterson and 72/R8 for Henton, also with no spare car. In the Tyrrell team Scheckter’s wreckage from the Nurburgring has been rebuilt around a new monocoque tub, making it 007/6-3, while Depailler is still happily in 007/4 in its original and virgin state. Unlike McLaren and Lotus, the Tyrrell twins do have a spare car, number 007/5. Also still enjoying a spare car luxury, and needing it, is the Brabham team. Reutemann has BT44B/1 as usual, and Pace has B4, but they both have recourse to using the spare car, B3, during the meeting. The four March cars at this race are as used in Germany, with the same driver/car combination; Brambilla 751/3, Stuck 751/2. Lombardi 751/1 and Donohue 751/5. The Scuderia Ferrari does another shufle on their set of cars, with Lauda in 022, Regazzoni in 024 and the reserve car is 023.
The B.R.M. team are back with their usual pair of cars and it is hoped more power and more reliability, with Evans aiming to use P201/05 as the race-car. The Shadow team has more cars than they know what to do with, Pryce as usual being in DN5/2A with 3A as the spare car, while Jarier has the brand new Matra-powered car DN7/1A. His usual car, DN5/4A is standing by ready for use but the Frenchman is not interested in it, putting all his efforts into the new car. After his brief flirtation with Team Lotus, John Watson is back with the Surtees team, in TS16/05-4, and Frank Williams has hired out a car to the Swiss amateur driver Joseph Vonlanthen, this car being a rebuilt version of FW/03, which Ashley crashes at the Nurburgring. The Williams team has found another monocoque tub in the stores and uses it as the basis of the rebuild. creating FW/03-2. Laffite as usual has FW/04. In the Hill team there is a shortage of cars as GH1/1 is a write-off after Brise has crashed at the Nurburgring, so he takes over the latest car GH1/4. Rolf Stommelen is making his return to the team and takes over GH1/3, so that Alan Jones’ temporary contract terminates as is agreed from the start. The Hesketh team hires out their spare car 308/3 to the American driver Brett Lunger and Hunt retaines 308/2, while there is no sign of the new C-type Hesketh. The Parnelli team has their usual pair of cars for Andretti and Wilson Fittipaldi has his latest Copersucar sponsored car. Morris Nunn has two entries, with Chris Amon returning to Formula One in MN/04 and Wunderink having another try in MN/02. To complete the list there is Harald Ertl, the Austrian journalist living in Germany, with the gold coloured Hesketh 308/1 and Tony Trimmer having another go with the rather sad Japanese Maki. For some people practice never do go right, in particular the Brabham and Parnelli teams seem to be in continual trouble with one thing or another, while Team Lotus have their troubles in large doses. Before the end of the first practice session Reutemann has come walking back to the pits, abandoning BT44B/1 with a broken Hewland transmission and Andretti abandons Parnelli VPJ4/003 with a blown-up Cosworth engine. Reutemann sets off in the spare Brabham but only goes half a lap before the oil filter centre sheers off and the Cosworth engine loses all its oil, and Brambilla’s practice is cut short when his Cosworth V8 engine loses all its oil pressure, the March mechanics getting stuck in immediately to install a new engine ready for the afternoon practice. Lotus trouble arrives violently when Peterson is about to drive through on the inside of a slower car on a right-hand bend when the rabbit moves across in front of the Lotus.
Locking up everything Peterson avoids a collision but smashes the Lotus along the barriers and at first sight 72/R9 looks to be a write-off. However, the Lotus mechanics set to work and by next morning the car is running again, Peterson in the meantime taking 72/R8 from Henton for the afternoon practice. Lauda, as usual, is getting on with the job, out to win his home Grand Prix, and sets fastest practice lap in the morning session and goes even faster in the afternoon session as the temperature drops after a very hot mid-day. Fittipaldi, Regazzoni, Pace and Depailler are not far behind the flying Austrian, but no-one else is really in the running. Unfortunately the Austrian timekeepers seem to lose interest and they only issue afternoon times for those drivers who improve on their morning times, or at least that is all the information that came from the fancy computer that publishes results. In the afternoon session there still seems to be more trouble than success with some people and after keeping up with the Matra V12-powered Shadow the B.R.M. breaks its engine and puts out an enormous smoke screen. The spare B.R.M. is brought out of the paddock but Bob Evans never comes back, being stuck on the far side of the circuit with the blown-up B.R.M. Andretti in the spare Parnelli car, still with inboard front brakes, has his second Cosworth V8 engine blow up and Regazzoni’s Ferrari breaks its engine so the Swiss has a go in the spare car. The heat and high-speed of the Osterreichring are playing havoc. Pryce has to use the spare Shadow as his own car has a fuel leak, but Jarier is still happy with the Shadow-Matra V12. Near the end of practice the front suspension breaks on Wilson Fittipaldi’s car and he crashes heavily into the catch fencing, injuring a hand rather badly. Peterson finds the long-wheelbase, coil-sprung Lotus 72/R8 somewhat different from his own car but does not show any improvement in lap times. Hunt joins the fancied runners with a very good afternoon time that puts him second overall, and the general pace is really hotting up. Scheckter seems to be left behind, as does a number of other fancied runners. On Saturday morning the weather has changed completely and it is cool and damp and not conducive to high-speed laps.
The mechanics have done an enormous amount of work in the paddock and most teams are back to square one. Henton is back in the long-wheelbase Lotus R8, while Peterson is back in the rebuilt R9. Andretti is back in 003 with the outboard front brakes and a new engine, while another engine is put in the B.R.M., and Ferrari has replaced the engine in Regazzoni’s car, and Reutemann is back in his own car while Pace has a go in the spare Brabham. The dampness on the track adds more than two seconds to the lap times, so only those with specific things to try bother to go out until conditions improve, though they never get as good as Friday and it is Stuck who makes fastest lap on Saturday morning. Towards the end of the session things begin to speed up a bit but then all manner of troubles occur. Andretti blows up his third engine of the meeting, the team now down to one remaining engine in the spare car, and Pace reverts to his own Brabham BT44B/4 only to complain of a funny feeling. This manifests itself a few laps later in the left-rear stub axle breaking and sending the car spinning into the barriers on the flat-out right-hand bend at the top of the hill after the pits. Not long after that has been cleared up the Maki came to rest with no drive to the rear wheels and then Henton crashes his Lotus which ends all his hopes of a race, for the team has run out of spare suspension parts, having used them all up on Peterson’s car. The change in the weather has come to stay and before the last practice session begins the rain has come. There is a complete reluctance for anyone to venture out for quite a time but then someone mentions that it might rain on the following day, which is race day, so most of the drivers have wet weather tyres fitted to their cars and set about finding out what the Osterreichring is like in the rain, and of the times given Regazzoni is fastest. What has started off as a cracking good two days of practice degenerates into a rather miserable and damp affair, but the crowds are happy as Lauda is on pole position for the start and the British are happy for Hunt alongside him. The whole atmosphere of the Osterreichring has grown rapidly into an enormous camping, beer and sausage festival and the crowds are enormous in spite of the damp conditions.
Thousands arrived from Italy to greet Niki Lauda and the Formula 1 World Champion Ferrari. The hills, meadows, and forests surrounding the Zeltweg circuit have turned into an immense tent city that speaks Italian. The parking lots are filled with cars and motorcycles with license plates from all our cities. There is great enthusiasm on this eve of the Austrian Grand Prix despite inclement weather. The enthusiasm is motivated. Lauda and his red steed of plastic and steel have conquered, yet another pole-position-the seventh of the season-proving, even at Zeltweg, that they are superior to every rival. The Austrian gave himself and Ferrari an excellent Ferragosto, lapping in 1'34"85. at an average of 224.35 km/h. James Hunt, in the Hesketh, came close to Lauda, thanks to a time of 1'34"97. But the Englishman is certainly not worrying the Maranello team, which has its eyes on Emerson Fittipaldi and Carlos Reutemann, that is, the only two drivers who can, at least in theory, undermine the Austrian's record. The Brazilian, with the McLaren, obtained the third fastest time (1'35"21). while the Argentine, with the Brabham, failed to emerge due to engine problems: 1'36"43, This is the eleventh performance of the two days of practice, for Reutemann of the sixth row in the starting grid. On Sunday Reutemann, like Fittipaldi, needs to win or, at worst, get ahead of Lauda in order to retain - if only on a mathematical level - some hope in the championship. As is well known, the Austrian has 51 points against the Argentine's 34 and the Brazilian's 33. This means that Niki will win the title if he asserts himself at Zeltweg, or if he finishes better than his two rivals. Otherwise, Ferrari fans will have to suffer for a while longer, perhaps until Monza and the Italian Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 7.
"I have a 17-point lead sa Reutemann and 18 on Fittipaldi. A good margin. The tactic I will adopt on Sunday is very simple: I will adjust my race to that of Carlos and Emerson. If I beat them, I'm all set. The Zeltweg race could give me the world title, but don't think I'm going down the track in any particular mood. For me it will be a race like any other, it may become different only at the end, precisely with the mathematical conquest of the championship. However, it seems to me that already now we can say that Ferrari's season and mine is sfata good. We have worked very well together and I hope we will continue in 1976".
This last sentence by Lauda is an indirect response to the rumors registered in recent days in Austria. The tobacco company, which, together with an oil company, finances McLaren, has reportedly proposed to the Austrian to leave Ferrari for the British team by offering him a princely engagement. At the same time there are whispers that Fittipaldi would have had no intention of signing another two- or three-year contract with McLaren, as desired by the team's two sponsors. But Lauda, like Clay Regazzoni (who set the fifth best time of 1'35"41 in practice), will remain at Maranello.
"It's normal for many people to be interested in a driver who puts himself on the map. However, my heart beats for Ferrari, to which I am grateful for the trust placed in me two years ago and for the goal it now allows me to achieve".
Reutemann and Fittipaldi are also convinced that the Austrian is one step away from this goal that Ferrari has been chasing since 1965 (the last title was won in 1964 by John Surtees). Reiterates the Argentine:
"The championship is long over. Niki has already won, as was only fair, because he is a good driver, because he has a fantastic car and because Ferrari put in a great effort, I did not do well yesterday and today the music was the same, with the engine of my Brabham making fifty percent. Tomorrow to win I would need a lot of luck".
"I hope for my McLaren, which should offer a high performance here. Of course. Lauda is almost on horseback. I will try to establish myself, I will make an attack race: I have no other chance now".
Luca Montezemolo, Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director, also takes stock of the situation.
"In these two days we have had no problems. On Friday Lauda and Ragazzoni refined the move to tune the cars, then Niki made his exploit, while Clay got the fourth time. Today, with the rain, nothing much was done. I regret that Stuck stole a place from Regazzoni. It could not be remedied because it started to rain. We trust in the combativeness of the Swiss for tomorrow. Here again the 312 T was the best, I am convinced that at the line of the Austrian Grand Prix, if no mishap-trap happens, as in Germany, we will have won the World Championship".
If the now relative Lauda-Reutemann-Fittipaldi challenge still conveys all attention, the chronicle of the Austrian Grand Prix practice records some interesting episodes and news. First, unfortunately, it is necessary to report four accidents, two that occurred yesterday and two today, involving Wilson Fittipaldi (Emerson's brother). Ronnie Peterson, Carlos Pace and Brian Henton. Wilson Fittipaldi went off the track in the fast corner that precedes the grandstands and pit straight. His brother, Emerson Fittipaldi, explains:
"An element of the front suspension broke and Wilson could no longer control the car".
Emerson was the first to stop to help his brother, who suffered a fractured left hand and some abrasions. He returned to London on Saturday. Peterson flew into the safety nets on the uphill section of the circuit: uninjured, but his Lotus was badly damaged. Pace lost his left rear wheel, which splashed into the crowd, and came to a stop after a series of spins. The Brazilian was furious.
"I stopped in the pit because I felt a vibration. I asked the mechanics to check the rear end. It's okay, go ahead, they shouted at me, I got back on the track, did 500 meters, and while I was on 170 km/h, the wheel came off. Crazy stuff".
To avoid the huge tire, two marshals and a young spectator rolled down a slope. The young man claimed he had been hit in the back, but the emergency room only detected a bruised leg. Finally. Henton. in the second Lotus, skidded on oil lost from Andretti's Parnelli (which broke three engines in two days) and hit a guardrail. No damage to the British driver, smashed the single-seater so that Henton will not be able to race tomorrow. News: debut of the Matra-powered Shadow driven by Jean-Pierre Jarier; return of the Surtees and B.R.M. after two interval races; return of Stommelen, the German protagonist of the Barcelona drama, and Amon, the ex-Ferrari driver; debut of American Brett Lunger, with the Hesketh. A Grand Prix, then, full of reasons, a race that, rain permitting, will last just 90 minutes. For Lauda, for Ferrari and for thousands of Italian and Austrian fans it will perhaps be the longest of the year. On Sunday, August 17, 1975, there are about 200,000 spectators in the grandstands, in the meadows around the circuit, an impressive sight. The Austrians shout Niki, the Italians Forza Ferrari. There are thousands, arrived by all means, all the way from Sicily. Throughout the night they slept in cars, in barns, in tents. The faces are tired, but the enthusiasm is vigorous. During the warm-up, American Mark Donohue, in the Penske-March, goes off the track at 280 km/h, running over two men from the racetrack service staff. The driver sustains a concussion, while the two run-over men suffer serious injuries, and are admitted to Knittelfeld Hospital in very serious condition. The accident takes place at 9:35 a.m., about twenty minutes before the start of practice. Rehearsals are referred to as free because each driver is free to participate or not. No official times are recorded and they do not count toward the starting grid. Basically, they are checks on the cars a few hours before the start. Donohue, who is 38 years old, has been racing in Formula 1 since 1971. He has competed in 14 Grand Prix, but this was the first time he tried his hand at the Zeltweg race. During the sixth pass, after passing on the grandstands straight, Donohue entered the uphill section of the circuit, and as he tackled the very fast Hella corner his right front tire burst. The American's Penske-March, sponsored by a major U.S. bank, ends up on the outside of the track, against the fence nets, crawls over the barriers for some 70 meters, runs over a signal post, and, flying over the guardrail, rolls down the escarpment, stopping under a billboard, a few meters from the public. A security guard is run over. A wheel flies far away; it will be found in a tree. The cockpit structure fortunately holds out, saving the driver. Rehearsals are immediately suspended. Donohue, a checkpoint signalman on the runway, and the guard are immediately rescued. The two attendants are flown by helicopter to Knittelfeld. The pilot-who is assisted by his wife Eden-is examined in the mobile resuscitation center installed at the circuit. At about 10:30 a.m. he is taken on a stretcher to a meadow where he waits for a second helicopter, which lifts off for Graz. States a doctor present at the circuit:
"In Graz there is a university clinic with a well-equipped neurosurgery center. Dcnohue is in a state of shock and does not remember anything about the accident. The signalman, whose name is Manfred Schaller, has severe injuries to his abdomen and the head guard".
The driver undergoes surgery on the right parietal for removal of a blood clot. Emerson Fittipaldi, who stops immediately after the crash and goes down the embankment, is told by a steward that Donohue is dead. The Brazilian, who fights for safety on circuits, tells reporters:
"Zeltweg is a fairly safe track, especially in relation to the speeds it allows. We should widen the protection zones, clear of obstacles. Of course, I understand that it is not an easy thing".
One fact is certain: if Donohue's run-off had happened at a city track, we would have seen another accident similar to the one seen in Barcelona. Among other things, the Penske-March was running on a full tank of gas: so it is a miracle (or a credit to those who build these single-seaters) that the car did not turn into a bomb. Some progress has been made but certainly racing remains very dangerous, and the lives of drivers (and those around them) depend on a thousand factors, primarily luck. In the same Hella corner Peterson and Pace had gone out without injury to anyone. The more serious of the two Austrian casualties, Richard Huttner is transported from Knittelfeld to Graz. His condition is desperate. Donohue's accident and the interruption of practice revolutionize the morning schedule. Specifically, drivers are allowed to take to the track from 1:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. to complete practice. On the starting grid, Donohue's place is taken by reserve driver Von Lathen, a Swiss rookie in the Williams. The accident. of Mark Donohue in practice, with ambulances passing over the track and then helicopters flying over, throws some mayhem and fear into the crowd. Racing is dangerous; the spectacle can be colored by blood and suffering. But then the feelings fade and people go back to thinking only about the Grand Prix, the cars, the drivers. For the engineers, however, Donohue's accident raises concerns. How did that tire blow out? A puncture or a manufacturing defect? The incriminated tire is part of a batch, a new one, made by Goodyear especially for Zeltweg after private tests completed, among other things, with Ferrari. The identification number is 47. It is a very competitive front tire in terms of durability and performance. Goodyear technicians decide to recall all tires of this type out of caution. Those who are hurt are the people at Ferrari. Luca Montezemolo explains:
"Lauda and Regazzoni had gotten their qualifying times on these tires. They were very good and had given us no problems. On the other hand, we understand Goodyear's decision. We will use type 26 tires which, unfortunately, offer less reliance as resistance, especially in high, temperatures".
Ferrari mechanics work hard around Lauda's and Regazzoni's 312 T cars in the twenty minutes of free practice before the race. The tension is great. Lauda and Regazzoni break in the Type 26 tires. Niki is a little tense; he has been shaken by Donohue's accident. The checks, however, are positive. Regazzoni says the gearbox control is a little hard. For Carlos Reutemann, however, some problems: a tank is leaking gasoline. In thirty-five minutes the mechanics make the repair. In the morning, after the first part of practice, the Argentine had been forced to replace the engine with a power unit already used in Germany. In the sky, meanwhile, due to a sudden change in weather conditions, dark clouds are gathering. There is a threat of rain. Says Montezemolo:
"It's unbelievable, these things blow out the most balanced nervous system. And I'm talking about the riders: we are late, they tried a quarter of an hour from the start, they changed their tires".
The riders line up on the grid, then, at 3:40 p.m. they return to the pits. On the upper part of the circuit the first drops fall. It flashes, it thunders. The dry tires are changed (and all concerns about the type of tires to be fitted fall into the wet ones. At 3:50 p.m. a violent downpour breaks out. For the sun-baked spectators, it comes as a nasty surprise. Umbrellas and raincoats magically appear. The start is further delayed. After a quarter of an hour, with the asphalt completely wet, the drivers venture back onto the circuit.
"It's a big risk for us. Racing in the rain on this high-speed track is no joke".
Admits Clay Regazzoni, while wearing a helmet. The organizers prefer to wait to avoid the risk of having to stop the race later in case of rain and avoid chaos like that seen at Silverstone. It's 4:17 p.m.: we finally get going. While the organisation is having trouble so are some of the teams, Brabham and Parnelli in particular. After his practice crash Pace has elected to race the spare car, but during testing an oil seal fails in the engine, so he has to revert back to his regular car. Reutemann is also in trouble as a fuel bag is leaking and has to be changed in a panic, and the Shadow team has to change a fuel bag on the Matra-engined car. The Parnelli is overheating its oil so the larger radiators off the spare car are fitted to 003 and just before it looks as though the race might start the B.R.M. has engine trouble and Evans switches to the spare car. There has been a lot of changing of front tyres after Donohue’s crash and with the approaching rain the pits are knee-deep in tyres, so it is not surprising that the Brabham team gets in a muddle and send their cars to the start on unmatched pairs of rear tyres, as regards overall diameter, but this is not discovered until the race is over. With Donohue out of action and Henson without a car the grid is reshufled to let in Vonlanthen and Wunderink, and finally, after so much hanging about that the crowd begins to get belligerent, 26 cars face the starter. In appalling conditions the race starts with Lauda taking the lead followed by Hunt, while Depailler shoots through from the fourth row into third place before they have passed the end of the pits. The spare B.R.M. goes out almost immediately with engine trouble and Andretti goes off the track, so lap 3 sees only 24 cars go by in great spumes of spray. Pace’s engine sounds awful, as does Vonlanthen’s, but it is remarkable that the rest run so well in view of the amount of water about. At 5 laps Depailler is suffering from front wheels that appear to be out of balance and Brambilla passes him into third place, but Lauda and Hunt are quite a long way out in front of him. Behind Depailler come Stuck, Peterson, Fittipaldi, Mass, Pryce and Brise, the last three really getting to grips with the conditions once they have got through the incredible spray of the opening laps. By 10 laps the heavy rain has stopped and it almost looks as though it might dry up, which would mean a mad rush into the pits for dry-weather slick tyres. Lauda looks to be firmly in the lead and it just seems a formality for him to reel off the 54 laps and win yet another Grand Prix for Ferrari. Hunt is holding a good second place, but Brambilla is getting closer; Peterson is showing some of his old fire and is up to fourth place, followed by Depailler, Fittipaldi, Pryce, Brise and Regazzoni, the rest being too far behind to be of much consequence. Scheckter has dropped from seventh place on lap 4 when he gets a puncture and has to drive slowly to the pits for a new tyre, but is now going strongly and gaining ground on the slower runners.
Stuck spans off the circuit on lap 12 and on lap 14 Brise has a balance weight come off a wheel and has to make a hurried stop to change the out-of-balance wheel. Now the rain returns with a vengeance and Lauda is not at all happy with the handling of his Ferrari on the streaming track and at the end of lap 14 he has Hunt and Brambilla tight up behind him. As he relaxes his effort on lap 15 they both shoot by him in a pretty unruly and forceful manoeuvre and in torrential rain Hunt leads the Austrian Prix for the Hesketh team, but Brambilla is pressing him hard, the swarthy Italian feeling really confident with the handling of the works March on the streaming track. He presses hard for three laps and looks the lead on lap 19, pulling away so fast that seems the Hesketh must be in trouble; but it isn’t and Hunt holds on to second place ahead of a very dejected Lauda. In the pits Pace retires with all sorts of things not to his liking and DepaiIler stops for a new pair of front wheels and then Peterson stops to change his yellow visor for a clear one, losing a good fourth place in the process. As the rain continued Lauda is passed by Mass and then by Pryce and looks in danger of being passed by his team-mate Regazzoni, who has Peterson charging after him in a most spirited fashion. At 26 laps the rain is heavier than ever, with thunder and lightning all around and a deputation from the team managers is lobbying the organisers to stop the race. While Brambilla is away on his 29th lap the chequered flag is waved as Stommelen passes and the race is over. When Brambilla finishes lap 29 he sees the chequered flag, waves to his pit crew and promptly goes sideways up the streaming track and thumps the barriers, bouncing back into the middle of the road. and carrying on with the front of the March all smashed up. Everyone skate over the finishing line, somewhat relieved, and on that last lap Mass has spun off the circuit but gets back on again, losing third place to Pryce, and Peterson passes Lauda to take fifth place. Eighteen cars finish this very unsatisfactory race and as the shouting and yelling go on in the pits between those who want to restart the race and those who has had enough, the rain eases right off and it begins to dry up; it is too late, the race has been stopped with the chequered flag, it has gone more than half-distance and is over. It is another unsatisfactory Grand Prix in this troubled year of 1975 and one wonders if it is not all due to too many people and too many unions trying to run Grand Prix racing. Nobody denies Brambilla his victory for he has out-driven everyone on the streaming wet circuit, the March 751 being admirably set up for the conditions, unlike a lot of the opposition. It is not only Brambilla’s first Grand Prix victory but also the first for March Engineering, previous March victories being scored by the Tyrrell team. It is over five years since March Engineering burst upon the racing scene and a lot of people predict they would sweep the board. Five years to the first Grand Prix win, and only half a Grand Prix at that, is a long time, but the road is a hard one.
"Why didn't you get out of the way?"
He shouts at him, insulting him. They scramble to do the math. No, unfortunately, Lauda is not World Champion. He is half a point short. Ken Tyrrell, the Tyrrell manager, arrives and says to Niki:
"Look, maybe we'll start again".
Montezemolo, Ecclestone (Brabham), Mosley (March) run to the race direction and every idea about it is cancelled, thankfully. The organizers apply for the suspension the cause of force majeure, provided for in the regulations and already adopted in Spain after the tragic Stommelen accident. Since the drivers covered 30 percent to 60 percent of the Grand Prix, the score for the World Championship is valid, but it is halved. Lauda still has to wait until the Italian Grand Prix at Monza to graduate, champion. In Zeltweg, 200.000 people were waiting for the success of Niki Lauda and Ferrari, the official consecration of a Formula 1 World Championship always conducted at the top; but instead Vittorio Brambilla shone, who gave himself, the March and the 1.000 Italian fans the joy of a splendid achievement. Lauda has yet to wait; Brambilla, at last, has reached the goal for which he has fought with generous, moving tenacity for years. Mind you, the wait for Lauda and Ferrari is relative, because only half a point separates the Austrian from mathematically winning the title. On the eve of the Austrian Grand Prix Lauda had a 17-point lead over Carlos Reutemann and 18 points over Emerson Fittipaldi. He now has a 17.5-point lead over the Argentine and 18.5 points over the Brazilian. There are two races left to the conclusion of the championship, and in theory Reutemann, with two wins, could get 18 points and overtake the Maranello team driver, assuming the latter, at the same time, retires. Fittipaldi, on the other hand, is now out of the running and can already be thinking about the 1976 rematch. It is conceivable that an imaginative director, a Hltchcock-like thrill wizard, decided to extend the championship film by three weeks in order to offer Lauda and Ferrari the ultimate success in the setting of the Monza Autodrome. No one doubts that this success will not come; it is simply a matter of formalizing by bureaucratic act that superiority of man and machine which has emerged in twelve races. Although at Zeltweg Ferrari fans suffered a disappointment and had to postpone a celebration that in the opening bars of the Austrian Grand Prix seemed certain, not all evil comes to harm. The name of Ferrari and that of Monza and the Italian Grand Prix are intimately linked; it is only fitting that the Maranello team should receive the fruits of its efforts and tenacity at home. Lauda is a champion, but let us not forget that he also has the men at Maranello to thank. Without the 312 T he would have remained a talented young driver, while with the 312 T he is becoming number one. And, in turn, this latest creation of the Maranello factory has improved and is the strongest single-seater in Formula 1 also because of the Austrian's diligent work. Lauda came close at Zeltweg to mathematically winning the title. The Grand Prix was stopped after 29 laps because of the dangerous nature of the track, which was semi-flooded by a violent downpour. Niki was in the lead until lap 14, third until lap 22, fourth on lap 23, fifth on lap 27; on the penultimate pass he was overtaken by Ronnie Peterson and ended the race in sixth position. And because the race was stopped early, instead of a point, he got only that half a point leading to postponing all the celebrations until Monza.
"If he had dared a little more...".
Angrily muttered the Ferrari fans with their eyes shining at the spectacle offered by Brambilla and the orange March number 9. Lauda, however, did not race to win, as he would have done in other circumstances, but to do better than Reutemann and Fittipaldi. With his two rivals for the title seriously lagging behind, with his Ferrari having become almost unrideable in the Zeltweg water after being carefully adjusted (suspension, aerodynamic loads) for the dry, the Austrian preferred not to risk it. Lauda, in short, raced with his brain once again, choosing the less exciting but - in theory - more profitable solution. And what about, for that matter, Reutemann or Fittipaldi, who also at Zeltweg had the last real chance to counter the Austrian? Fittipaldi finished ninth, Reutemann 14th after a colorless race.
"The car was not on the road".
"What could we have done? It was not our fault. It wasn't worth killing ourselves".
For Lauda, Reutemann, Fittipaldi racing is a trade, a profession. If the risk is worth it, fine, you take it (see Fittipaldi himself at Silverstone, when he lapped in the wet with dry slick tires), otherwise it is foolish. Drivers with the ruler in their overalls and the computer in their helmets. There is no need to be surprised or to invoke the old days. The situation should be accepted as it is, with its positives and negatives. Nor is there any cause for alarm for those who, on the other hand, have kept their foot firmly on the accelerator, such as Brambilla or Hunt or Peterson. The Italian, the Englishman and the Swede behaved in a manner opposite to that of the Lauda-Reutemann-Fittipaldi trio. throwing themselves generously among the puddles of the Zeltweg circuit, risking terrifying swerves at every moment, throwing themselves into hallucinating overtakes among clouds of pulverized water. A race with heart, with the will to win, at all costs. For them, the risk was worth it. And Brambilla, who had a long score to settle with fate, so far too mean to him, won. Who does not remember him leading the Belgian Grand Prix, in Zolder, or leading the Swedish one, in Anderstorp. after taking pole position? In Sweden, after retiring (first a tire had dechapped, then a driveshaft had broken), he said:
"It's tough, it's tough. Racing is milk like this, today it's my turn, tomorrow it's someone else's. But here it always goes wrong for me".
And then, with a touch of resigned philosophy:
"Well, I'm going to try again. I'm already happy to be in Formula 1, to race with all these people".
And he had tears in his eyes. Rarely has a driver's victory been greeted with such enthusiasm and sympathy. Vittorio was greeted not only by the shouts of joy from the Italians (for whom nothing would be nicer than to be able to see him behind the wheel of a Ferrari), by hugs from his wife, his brother Tino, and the mechanics of the March-Beta team. but also by compliments, smiles, and handshakes from colleagues, technicians, and managers of the other teams. Luca Montezemolo, gnawing at that half a point less, with a frowning Lauda at his side, regains his good humor with Brambilla.
"Vittorio, you are so cool".
Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director shouts to him. Brambilla was truly formidable, supported by a made-in-England car that has proven time and again this year to be a good car. But the Zeltweg victory, if it confirms the driver's talents, especially rewards the man, his modesty (in the most beautiful and noble meaning of the word), his tenacity. From 1957 to 1968 races in motorcycles, from 1968 to 1973 in Formula 3 and Formula 2, then his debut in Formula 1 in the South African Grand Prix. A continuous climb, supported by the affection of his family (wife and three children), brother Tino, and friends. Many sacrifices.
"Last year I almost lost out of my own pocket. Good thing Tino keeps the garage in Monza going. I also have to think about supporting my parents. Now it's starting to get better".
Brambilla's aspiration would be to race with Ferrari. Already Tino came close a few years earlier, then the talk was closed. However, Vittorio has already signed the 1976 contract with March.
"With them I get along well, we understand each other. Of course, Ferrari is Ferrari. But let's leave it at that. Rather, I'm just glad that this year the Commendatore is winning the title. He deserves it".
"As a Formula 1 driver I'm just two years old, I'm a rookie".
A rookie who wins and plans to do an encore immediately, in Monza. Brambilla first in the Italian Grand Prix, Lauda and Ferrari World Champions. A beautiful dream that could be a reality. Brambilla was so overwrought and happy with his victory that, as he passed the finish line, he ran off the track, hitting a guardrail hard.
"I was so happy that I wasn't even scared".
Before Brambilla, the Austrian competition had been won by Lorenzo Bandini, in a Ferrari, in 1964. Brambilla, overwhelmed by an avalanche of Italian fans, embraced by his wife Daria and brother Tino, said:
"I got a good start, the car behaved fairly well even in the wet. I got into the right rhythm and on the sixth lap I found myself in third. Hunt had a moment's hesitation in passing his teammate, the American Lunger. and I took advantage. Then I passed Lauda on the braking. I'm sure I would have won even if the Grand Prix had ended on lap 54 and not early".
On the unbelievable run off the road he was the protagonist of under the astonished eyes of the public, Vittorio says:
"I raised my fist to the sky and took my foot off the accelerator, but the throttle stuck. The March went sideways and I couldn't control it, but no matter, everything ended well".
For Brambilla, it ended well for a short time, as the race director seemed inclined to discuss the possibility of the Grand Prix resuming after a few minutes' rest. The rain had slowed in intensity and Ken Tyrrell went to the management to urge a new start for the race. Firm opposition from all the other teams and Denny Hulme, president of the GPDA prevented an absurdity from taking place. As Brambilla returned to his pit after listening to the notes of the national anthem, amidst the affectionate congratulations of the other drivers (Vittorio is truly well-liked by all), at Ferrari Lauda, Regazzoni (seventh) and Montezemolo take stock of the situation. The Austrian explains:
"My Ferrari was prepared for the dry asphalt and not for the wet. In the first few laps, however, I had no problems, so much so that I easily led the delta race. Then, when the rain increased in intensity, the car began to lose grip. I preferred to let Hunt and Brambilla pass, who were wild and trying hard to overtake me. From the box I had learned that Reutemann was far behind and that my lead over Fittipaldi was around 20 seconds. There was no point in taking any risks. Of course, I would have liked to finish in third. At one point, however, I spun and was afraid to go off the track. There was spring water on the asphalt, it was very easy to run into the aquaplaning phenomenon. I could no longer feel the Ferrari's limiles. Patience, we will wait for Monza".
Lauda, in keeping with his style, preferred not to take risks. Declares Luca Montezemolo:
"We still have to suffer a little bit, but it seems to me that there is no longer any doubt now. Niki and Ferrari richly deserve the title".
Niki Lauda's teammate Clay Regazzoni had gearbox problems.
"I don't know why, but in the first few laps I couldn't use fourth gear. Only after about 20 passes did everything return to normal, I did my duty, however, I took one place away from Fittipaldi".
"I asked the race direction and the CSI people to stop the race. It was too dangerous to continue with the track semi-flooded, with the risk of accidents. They listened to us late. As for discussing a possible resumption of the race, well, it speaks for itself. Everything happened today: the Donohue accident. the delay in starting, the rain. Lauda behaved intelligently. Regazzoni did what he could. Too bad we can't party tonight. Half a point missing, I hope Monza, in front of our fans, wants to award it to us. I had told Niki these days to think only of Reutemann and Fittipaldi. He did it, that's fine".
Montezemolo harshly attacks the CIS for the slow intervention of the race administration. In reality, Formula 1 today needs professionals at every level, not elegant gentlemen in double-breasted suits. Finally, Reutemann and Fittipaldi. The Argentine says:
"They fitted me with the wrong diameter rear tires. My Brabham was unrideable. I congratulate Niki as of now. Let's not joke: half a point is nothing. On the other hand, he won the title in other races".
"Nothing to do today. My McLaren was on point for the dry and on the water it was not controllable. No use taking risks. Bravo Lauda, bravo Ferrari".
In the Austrian Grand Prix, in fact, the drivers of the last levers, the trained professionals or those who had something to risk, preferred to put their foot up, leaving the field open to the brave, the daring. Now it's off to Monza. The Italian fans at Zeltweg consoled themselves with Brambilla's success, but on Sunday, September 7, they want the official consecration of Lauda and Ferrari. For Niki to get it, all he needs is for Reutemann not to win, or to place in the top six. Who can doubt that? Brambilla's victory and the events of the Austrian Grand Prix cannot make one forget the drama of Mark Donohue. The condition of the American driver, hospitalized in Graz, is very serious.
"His life is still in serious danger".
Confesses Professor Fritz Heppner, director of the neurosurgery department at the University of Graz. The operation Donohue underwent was able to stop the brain hemorrhage and remove a blood clot, but doctors still reserve their prognosis. The American runner is in critical condition after undergoing surgery for a blood clot in his brain. Professor Fritz Heppner believes Donohue will remain in life-threatening condition for four to five days. Sadly, on Wednesday, August 20, 1975, Mark Donohue passed away during the night in the Graz hospital, where he had been admitted Sunday morning after a frightening off-track crash that occurred during practice for the Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix. The American driver, who was 38, was being cared for by his wife Eden, his father Mark and his team manager, Roger Penske. One of the two stewards who had been run over by Donohue's March had also died the previous day. The American driver had not regained consciousness after surgery. The Penske driver was born March 18, 1937, in Stonybrook, New Jersey. With a degree in engineering, Donohue was considered a very skilled technician-tester and a good driver. His career had taken place mainly between the United States and Canada. He made his racing debut in 1960. He specialized in Indy-type single-seater and stock-car racing. In 1972 he touched the pinnacle by winning the Indy 500. Donohue's Formula 1 debut came in 1971: he took part in the Canadian Grand Prix in a McLaren finishing third. Since then he took to the track in 12 races, never managing to dominate. This year his best finish was two fifth places in Sweden and Great Britain. He had started the season with a single-seater made in the U.S. by Penske, then, at Silverstone, he showed up with a March purchased to evaluate the different performance between the Penske and a British-schooled car, the same one he drove off the track at Zeltweg on Sunday morning. Donohue two years ago decided to retire from racing. He lasted only a few months, then allowed himself to be tempted by his old friend Penske, who wanted to try his hand at Formula 1 after competing for years in American and Can-Am Cup races with a specially prepared Porsche. The American is the first Formula 1 driver to die this Grand Prix season. So far the only serious accident happened in April in Spain. Rolf Stommelen, in the Embassy Hill, flew into the crowd in Barcelona causing four fatalities. The German, however, was saved and it was in Austria on Sunday that he resumed racing.