#291 1977 German Grand Prix

2022-07-16 01:00

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#291 1977 German Grand Prix

The 1977 German Grand Prix, otherwise officially known as the XXXIX Großer Preis von Deutschland, is the eleventh round of the 1977 FIA Formula One Wo


The 1977 German Grand Prix, otherwise officially known as the XXXIX Großer Preis von Deutschland, is the eleventh round of the 1977 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Hockenheimring on the 31 July, 1977. The race is the first to be staged at the German Grand Prix's new permanent home in Baden-Württemberg, and only the second time that the German race has been staged away from the Nürburgring. Qualifying will see Jody Scheckter claim pole position for Wolf, edging out John Watson in his Brabham-Alfa Romeo. Niki Lauda, Championship leader, is next ahead of defending Champion James Hunt, with the best placed German racer, Hans-Joachim Stuck, next up in fifth. It will be grid order for the leaders at the start of the race, with Scheckter and Watson formation flying into the first corner, with Lauda, Hunt and Stuck following them through. It is a less orderly start at the back of the field, as Clay Regazzoni and Alan Jones slither into one another at the back. They are both out having never reached the start/finish line, let alone the first corner. The top five will pull steadily clear during the early stages, stalked by Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti once they deal with Jacques Laffite. The lead quintet will soon become a quartet, however, when Watson's engine expires on lap seven, allows Lauda to move onto the back of the leading Wolf. After several failed attempts, Lauda will finally manage to drag his Ferrari past Scheckter for the lead on lap thirteen, breaking away as the South African has to immediately fend off an opportunistic move from Hunt. The pair continues to squabble, allowing Lauda to pull clear, while Stuck has begun to fall away towards Reutemann and Andretti. Ultimately, Hunt's charge will end on lap 33, promoting Stuck onto the podium, while Reutemann's day is made easier when Andretti disappeared with an engine failure. 


The American's disappearance signals the end of the Lotus challenge for the afternoon, with Gunnar Nilsson already out with an identical failure. There will be one last shuffle to the order in closing stages as Ronnie Peterson drops out with an engine failure, as Lauda majestically swaps home to claim victory. Scheckter is a lonely second ahead of Stuck, while Reutemann has cruised home to a quiet fourth. The numerous engine failures ahead have promoted Vittorio Brambilla into fifth, in spite of the fact that the Surtees has run for most of the race without a nose, while Patrick Tambay claims his first points finish in sixth. To hold the German Grand Prix anywhere other than the Nürburgring seems a completely alien concept in the realm of Formula 1 during its first three decades, with only one attempt made to host the event elsewhere. Ultimately, and reluctantly, time is up for the Nordschleife heading into the 1976, with Niki Lauda's fiery accident that year sealing the circuit's fate. For 1977 the much less daunting Hockenheimring takes over as permanent host of the German Grand Prix, amid some rumblings form the old guard about the future of the series. In truth, the Hockenheimring is not a particularly popular circuit, its only real contribution to racing history being the location of Jim Clark's death in 1968. Regardless, F1 will head to the revamped Baden-Württemberg based circuit at the end of July, on a circuit which is a mix of long straights, chicanes, and couple of long-sweeping corners. The most intriguing section of the circuit is the Stadium section towards the end of the lap, with the banked Sachskurve one of the better known corners on the circuit. Into the entry list and it is a rather poor turn out given the explosion in entries submitted for the British Grand Prix, with no need to hold a pre-qualifying session, something of a relief to the press.


The most notable absentee is the new Renault of Jean-Pierre Jabouille, with the French firm deciding just before the meeting, to test their car instead. Given the long flat out lengths of the Hockenheimring this is probably a good call given their turbocharged engine has not made it to half distance at Silverstone. Elsewhere, McLaren arrives with just the two entries, impressive rookie Gilles Villeneuve returning to the role of a reserve that he has occupied since the start of the season. That leaves defending Champion James Hunt and German born Jochen Mass as their only entries, using their now matching pair of M26s. Mass' battle hardened M23 is the team's sole spare. Lotus arrives looking to regain the initiative after a relatively poor showing at Silverstone, with Mario Andretti and Gunnar Nilsson using their usual cars. Brabham-Alfa Romeo, meanwhile, hopes that they have cured their fuel issues from the previous two races, which have arguably cost John Watson two successive victories. His teammate will be Hans-Joachim Stuck as usual, with no changes to their allocation of equipment. Over at Ferrari things are looking far calmer after their recent updates, with both Niki Laudaand Carlos Reutemann happier with their cars. Tyrrell, in contrast, will hope that the low-drag bodywork on their P34Bs will help down the long straights, although Patrick Depaillerand Ronnie Peterson remained doubtful. Wolf are back with their two newest cars for Jody Scheckter, while Ligier-Matra continues to field Jacques Laffite on his own. Ensign continues to field their works-and-a-half effort of Clay Regazzoni and Patrick Tambay, amid rumours that Theodore Racing will design their own chassis in 1978. Shadow, meanwhile, have their complement of DN8s ready for action, with Alan Jones and Riccardo Patrese looking increasingly effective despite a lack of development. 


Likewise, Surtees has made little ground with their design evolution, although both Vern Schuppan and Vittorio Brambilla are optimistic upon arrival. There is a change made at Hesketh, who brings in Héctor Rebaque to the full works squad to partner Rupert Keegan, for Harald Ertl has run out of money. Fittipaldi, meanwhile, arrives with another new car for Emerson Fittipaldi, although the Brazilian has seemed to have lost his edge since the start of the season. Completing the constructors entries will be the BRMsquad, which have decided to let Teddy Pilette drive their latest P207. Into the privateer field and all of the focus will be on the German ATS Racing Team, who have decided to submit entries for both of their privately owned Penskes. Jean-Pierre Jarier is therefore to be joined by local racer Hans Heyer, who has a lot of experience at the Hockenheimring due to his German touring car exploits. Indeed, Germanic pride is running high in the ATS team, with both cars running in the German national colours. Elsewhere, March have their factory duo of Ian Scheckter and Alex Ribeiro back in action, joined by two of the more prominent, and often quicker, customer cars. The familiar faces of Patrick Nève and Williams Grand Prix Engineering are back in action, as is Arturo Merzario's self entered 761B. They are joined by the two ex-factory McLarens owned by Brett Lunger and Emilio de Villota. Into the Championship and another podium finish for Lauda last time out has ensured that the Austrian racer extended his Championship lead over Andretti and Scheckter to seven points. Those two will be left to rue their late race issues in Silverstone as they slipped away from the leader, while race winner Hunt finally claimed a spot in the top five. The Brit remained behind Lauda's teammate Reutemann in fourth, while Nilsson has made way for Hunt by slipping to sixth.


Ferrari continues to lead the way in the International Cup for Constructors, extending their advantage back up to nine points over Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth. Behind, McLaren-Ford Cosworth are back into the top three after their first win of the season, overtaking newboys Wolf-Ford Cosworth. The Canadian team are still reluctant to field a second car to support Scheckter, meaning if the South African's recent run of bad luck continues in Germany, the young team will be out of the title fight. Practice/qualifying will be a simpler affair without the extensive list of extra entries that has appeared at Silverstone, with just the four sessions scheduled. Of these, Friday's running will see two timed or qualifying sessions staged, while Saturday's timetable features the lone untimed session scheduled before the final fight for pole in the afternoon. In terms of a target time there are no real references in the minds of any of the F1 bosses, with the Hockenheimring completely virgin soil for F1 machinery. It is James Hunt who tops the timesheets during the first session of the weekend, the Brit quick out of the gates with a 1'53"68. Closest to him, and the only other man in the 1'53"00, is Jacques Laffite in the Ligier-Matra, with John Watson next on a 1'54"12. The rest of the field is spread out beyond the two minute mark, with a mix of setups tested throughout the day. Indeed, teams are forced to choose between a low-drag/low-cornering speed setup to dominate down the long sweeping straights, or try and maximise their performance in the time eating section around the pit complex and stadium and lose out in the forest. 


Ultimately, however it is Niki Lauda, choosing the middle road between the two, that tops the second session, albeit with a time slower than he has recorded in the first run of the weekend. This is due to a brief spell of rain mid-session that denies many drivers an extended amount of time on track. The untimed session on Saturday morning will see Jochen Mass destroy his McLaren, the German suffering a puncture at the back of the circuit at high speed and so duly slams into the barriers. He will therefore join in the final qualifying session in the old M23, making it near-impossible for him to grab a spot at the front of the field. Arturo Merzario also has one hand tied behind his back heading into the final period as his March suffers a series of mechanical faults, while Emerson Fittipaldi is simply lacking speed, in any form, in the Fittipaldi. Most of the final session will be dominated by Watson in the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, with the Brit improving with almost every run before settling with a 1'53"34. Indeed, it is only in the final moments that his time is truly challenged, and ultimately beaten as Jody Scheckter storms across the line to claim a 1'53"07. They will share the front row ahead of Hunt, who fails to improve on his Friday morning run, with Lauda next after a quiet afternoon for Ferrari. The fight to qualify also goes into the closing stages, although it is clear that neither Merzario, nor the B.R.M. of Teddy Pilette will make the cut. Another early withdrawal from the fight will be the aforementioned Fittipaldi, while Clay Regazzoni and the Heskeths slowly slides towards the fight. They will all escape, however, as Patrick Nève, Emilio de Villota and Hans Heyer all fail to make the cut. Yet, despite being 27th overall, and third in terms of the non-qualifiers, it is Heyer who is listed as first reserve, largely as a result of his contacts among the organisers.


Raceday proves to be an overcast affair, although conditions are to remain dry for the race itself. Warm-up will pass without issue as will most of the pre-race entertainment, before a service vehicle manages to damage the starting lights ahead of the Grand Prix. As such, it is hastily agreed, on the grid, to start the race with a green flag, although this message is not very effectively delivered to the drivers before the start. As such, there is little surprise when a series of collisions rock the back of the field, while pole sitter Jody Scheckter leaps into the lead. The source of the issues at the back will be a hesitant Patrick Depailler, whose slow starting Tyrrell becomes a chicane for the crowd behind. Indeed, Clay Regazzoni has to jink around the Frenchman at the last moment and duly slams into the side of Alan Jones, a collision which forces Vern Schuppan to bounce his Surtees across the grass. When the dust settles, the Ensign of Regazzoni and the Shadow of Jones are found at the side of the circuit, both with smashed suspension. Depailler has disappeared with the back of the pack, while Schuppan is on his way with only minor bodywork damage. Amid the confusion, first reserve Hans Heyer has slipped into the race from the pitlane, although given precedents set in other Grand Prix, the German is not expected to continue to the flag. Out front, meanwhile, Scheckter will complete the opening lap a few yards ahead of second placed John Watson, although the Brabham-Alfa Romeo is yet to throw a challenge at the Wolf. Behind comes Niki Lauda, James Huntand Hans-Joachim Stuck, all in grid order, before Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti lead the rest across the line. Those two have made an excellent start from the back of the top ten to sixth and seventh, although their fighting around the back of the circuit means that top five have clear air behind them. Indeed, the early laps will  see Scheckter and co. streak away from Reutemann and Andretti, who continues to fight one another rather than work to catch the leaders. The lead quintet will soon become a quartet, however, as Watson's engine expires, opening the door for Lauda to attack Scheckter. 


It takes a few laps before the #11 Ferrari get into striking position, before Lauda calmly outbrakes the Wolf into the stadium section. Lauda duly pulls clear of the rest of the lead pack over the following laps, leaving Scheckter to defend from Hunt and Stuck. Elsewhere, Jean-Pierre Jarier goes out early courtesy of a self induced trip to the barriers, before the sister car of Heyer is disqualified for starting illegally. Other early retirements include Ian Scheckter and Brett Lunger, with clutch and gearbox issues respectively, before Héctor Rebaque disappears with a battery failure. Back to the fight for second and Hunt's progress is being hampered by a damaged exhaust manifold, denying the Brit full power at the end of the long straights as his Ford Cosworth engine lost exhaust pressure. That allowed Scheckter to retain second without much effort, while Stuck remains glued to the back of the McLaren despite his the increasing crescendo of strange noises from his Alfa F12. Behind, the Reutemann/Andretti duel is getting even more physical, with the Lotus losing out down the straights before almost running into the back of the Ferrari through the corners. As their fights continue, a wave of engine retirements eliminates the runners in the midfield, with Jacques Laffite and Gunnar Nilsson both pulling out of the fray with smoke pouring from their exhausts. Jochen Mass is also out having made no real progress in the spare McLaren, as is Depailler with another ruined Cosworth V8. Further retirements will thin the field throughout the afternoon, with the Hockenheimring's long straights proving to be particularly brutal on all of the cars. Indeed, it will ultimately be at the end of one of the long Hockenheim straights that Hunt's race comes to a reluctant end, a mechanical fuel pump failure ultimately starving his engine of fuel at the end of the straights. His withdrawal gives Scheckter a little more security in second, although his Wolf is beginning to tire with the strain. That means that Stuck can entertain his own hopes of finishing as runner-up at his home race, although his Brabham-Alfa is also fading as the race enters its closing stages.


Another unfortunate retirement comes in the form of Andretti, who is left coasting down the back-straight when his Cosworth engine expires in a huge cloud of white smoke. Those failures promote Rupert Keegan well into the points, only for the Brit to come across a slow moving Alex Ribeiro at the chicane. The Hesketh duly goes skating into the catch fencing trying to avoid the Brazilian, who will cruise on towards the flag at the back of the field. With that the race is pretty much over, bar an engine failure for Ronnie Peterson, and a scary looking wheel failure for Riccardo Patrese. Lauda, meanwhile, will cruise home to claim a very Lauda-like victory, a quarter of a minute clear of the sick sounding pair Scheckter and Stuck. Reutemann is a very lonely fourth once Andretti has disappeared, with Vittorio Brambilla completing the race in fifth despite losing his nose during a bounce across the grass. Behind him comes Patrick Tambay, who has performed admirably despite a race long battle against a damaged gearbox, while Schuppan drags his battle damaged Surtees home in front of Ribeiro. Victory in Germany has helped Niki Lauda to extend his Championship lead to ten points with a third of the season still to go, the biggest that the margin has been all season. Behind, Jody Scheckter has moved back into second ahead of Mario Andretti, who seems to be suffering the curse of the fragile Lotus like so many before him. Carlos Reutemann, meanwhile, has closed to within a point of the American, while James Hunt completes the top five. Ferrari continue their march to the International Cup for Constructors for the third successive season, their tally now up to 65 for the year. Lotus-Ford Cosworth remains their closest challengers, albeit some eighteen points behind, with Wolf-Ford Cosworth moving back into third. McLaren-Ford Cosworth slips further away in fourth ahead of Brabham-Alfa Romeo, while Surtees-Ford Cosworth overtakes Shadow-Ford Cosworth in the second half of the table.


Greta Martorana


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