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#291 1977 German Grand Prix

2022-07-16 00:00

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#1977, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Michela Petrillo,

#291 1977 German Grand Prix

After ten tests the Formula 1 World Championship keeps its wonderful uncertainty.None of the drivers emerged in a particular way, most of them can hop

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After ten tests the Formula 1 World Championship keeps its wonderful uncertainty.None of the drivers emerged in a particular way, most of them can hope to establish. And in this situation there is still who dreams(with solid real bases) to rejoin the top. It's the case of James Hunt. The World Champion, after finishing second in Brazil and fourth in South Africa, got into an incredible negative series, from which he got out in France when he arrived third behind Andretti and Watson.His points haul was meagre,however it was enough for him to win in Silverstone to get to 22, behind the fantastic four who have been ruling the ranking of the World Championship for a long time now.At the top we have Niki Lauda with 39 points,against the 32 points of Andretti and Scheckter, and the 28 points of Reutemann. Lauda is leading thanks to the reliability of Ferrari and thanks to his class and tenacity.Andretti, with Lotus, could have been in a better situation, but bad luck took him away from almost obvious statements.Scheckter,after an excellent start,culminated in the beautiful win of Monte-Carlo,he dropped with his Wolf. In the end Reutemann with the other Ferrari was able to defend like Lauda.It is clear that Lauda is in a more favourable situation: even if only seven points are a satisfactory margin in themselves, especially considering that it has been collected in a period of technical decline for Ferrari. And the hopes are growing for two motives: first the 312 T2 thanks to the commitment of Lauda and Reutemann and of all the men of the Maranello's team, it looks like to have found back a better competitiveness; secondly the track in which the next four races will take place (Hockenheim, Zeltweg, Zandvoort and Monza) are fast ones, more favorable to the characteristics of the Italian car and to their strong engine. In this perspective good chances are offered to Brabham-Alfa Romeo. Also the engine from Milan, horsepower-rich, should allow the English cars high speed performance. But in Brabham's house the problems are of another nature. Obviously if Watson a bit more luck (and especially if they prepared a better car for him), some wins would also arrive. An indirect way- and maybe not requested-to help Lauda, in view that Watson has very few points in the World Championship while Andretti and others have more.Waiting for the Circus to hit the track of Hockenheim to hold the German Grand Prix, a rumour comes from different sources: they say that Niki Lauda is ready to leave Ferrari. It's just a matter of time. The Austrian isn't satisfied with the car at his disposal. The driver would no longer like anything about Ferrari: not the ambience, not the organisation, not the hole situation. Because of this he would have already started negotiations with Ecclestone for Brabham Alfa Romeo,with McLaren  and with the Italian team, but it will happen only at the end of the season. Before that,before the Japanese Grand Prix that will end the Formula 1 World Championship, Lauda will fully commit in order to try and conquer the title that he reached in 1975 and that the year before eluded him at the last race. These inferences, maybe even well-founded because they always come from authoritative sources (by dint of making them you end up getting a few right), openly call the Austrian driver a liar, who also recently declared to not having done programmes for the future.

 

"For the moment I think about racing with Ferrari. There is a lot of work to do, we need to take the car back to competitive levels and I just have this in mind".

 

As a consequence or Lauda is playing a dangerous bluff, or he forcibly wants to anticipate what could also be the logical consequence of a not easy situation. Someone, in the ambience of Formula 1, has also said that if he should leave the Italian team, the Austrian driver could also give up racing. The only sure thing is that the forced rumours, the polemics annoy the driver a lot, he is inflexible on this aspect. However at the same time everyone looks at Niki Lauda and his Ferrari in amazement. Maybe no one was expecting that the Austrian-Italian pair could resurrect that quickly. The ones who gave up on the ex World Champion now do not know what to think. It was said that Ferrari was no longer competitive and there were a lot to support that the story of the new tyres unsuitable for the 312 T2 was an invention of the technicians of Maranello. But now, in front of the time obtained by Lauda last week, a 1'53"64, registered in the free practice, there is much agitation.It is true that in the race weekend the Ferrari driver will have to confirm the result of the official tests, but it is equally true that there are all the premises to return in pole position. Sante Ghedini, Enzo Ferrari's man of trust, director of the Fiorano's track and inseparable companion of Niki Lauda, says:

 

"There is no secret to discover. The car is constantly evolving. Work is done on the aerodynamics, on the suspensions, on the dampers. However it is not that in these days the miracle has been performed, it is not that the solutions have given the hoped results. The fact is that the Goodyear gave us some new tyres, which probably are best suited to the car".

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With these perspectives Lauda is preparing to face a race that can turn out to be decisive for the World Championship.If the Austrian managed to win the race, the gap on the chasers could be substantial and it could oblige Andretti, Scheckter and Hunt to risk more in every race to grab the fugitive. Niki Lauda should also start with very high morale.We are back racing in Germany but not at the Nurburgring, where last year the Austrian driver lived his drama. The fact that it has been decided to leave (at least for now) the dangerous track in the middle of the forests is a personal victory for Niki Lauda, who obtained as a member of the drivers commission the move of the test to Hockenheim. The only problem for Ferrari concerns Carlos Reutemann. The Argentinian doesn't seem he is going through a very bright time,especially on the psychological side. The difficulties he had in the last races,the lost of pace on the first in the rank have created in Carlos a sort of drop of shape. But Reutemann promises to fight back. A lot depends on the results of the tests on Friday 29 July 1977 and on the ones that will have place on Saturday 30 of July 1977. If the South American will manage to keep pace with the first and especially with Lauda, it is not said that Reutemann will not come back to be the driver of first row in other races. 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 B.R.M. squad, 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. 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. 

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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. There are four cars with the 12 cylinder engine in the first 5 positions at the end of the opening day of the official test of the German Grand Prix, that will take place on Sunday 32 of July 1977. And because the track of Hockenheim is considered a fast track where the power of the engine counts, it takes on a specific meaning the fact that at the top of the times we have James Hunt, with his McLaren and with Cosworth engine of 8 cylinder.Sign that the English makes up for the lack of 4 cylinders with his skills in comparison with the competitors. Maybe because he is pushing too much Hunt keeps running with cut shoes at the toe, from which the long lower extremities he has come out. Jokes aside, in this not defined  world of Formula 1 is the moment of the waves. Before there has been the one of Scheckter, then the Andretti's one and now the one of the World Champion who, after winning the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, stands for another success.

 

The only one who stays afloat,in the good and in the bad, in this sequence of moments is Niki Lauda, who always manages to be near the first ones. To say the truth the daily tests were not regular again. After the first session of the morning, the rain started and the second session of the afternoon served no purpose, so much that the different drivers have beforehand taken the road to the box avoiding risks. The usual Fittipaldi risks not qualifying, and the same is for Merzario, but he has no fault: the driver from Como was able to do only 3 laps and then the changing broke. He had to fit a new one very quickly (paid 2300 pounds) hoping to make it up for it in the hour and a half of testing that remain to be completed on Saturday, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.. A not insignificant problem,seeing that in Germany it becomes official that for all the year 1977 a illimited number of cars can be allowed at the qualifying for the Formula 1 races. To make the information known is the president of CSAI, the engineer Alberto Rogano, who makes it clear that the proposal made recently in CSAI's house to introduce a close number of members did not find chance of application, since they are opposing with the rules of the international sporting code in force. In this picture-a statement informs the CSAI judged worthy of consideration the proposal of Enzo Ferrari of establishing an European trophy of Formula 1, based on 10 Grand Prix, in which would take part the drivers who are not part of the World Championship. Meanwhile the CSAI allows a race of Formula 1 at the Dino Ferrari racetrack of Imola that will be regulated by a regulation prefiguring the aforementioned trophy of Formula 1. At Hockenheim, in the Ferrari's boxes, the young Eddie Cheever, who a lot of people indicate ad one of the drivers that are more liked by Enzo Ferrari, takes a long look at the discussion with Lauda and Reutemann, who show to be very friendly to him.Riccardo Patrese looks less brilliant, he seems to have taken the cocky attitude of other drivers more expert. The Italian, together with the Australian Alan Jones,will be the only to take to the car the signs of a cigar factory. It is not known the motive why it is allowed to do publicity to the cigars Los Sigarillos meanwhile all the others, including Marlboro and John Player, were forced to cancel the signs so not to run into trouble with the German legislation, that does not allow to advertise cigarette brands.

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The news of this first day of official testing is not much: the most important is the one concerning Ferrari that has tested an aerodynamic modification made of two rear slopes, meaning two types of mudguards placed behind the wheels that should allow to obtain less turbulence in the air. But the test was not completed because of the rain. In the Ferrari box, like in the ones of Brabham, there are doubts because of time conquered by Hunt. Both teams have clocked the Englishman a result about two tenths higher than the official one. It is not excluded that the timekeepers, who detect the times with a manual system, were the ones to be wrong. However the substance would have no change. Step by step the duel Lauda-Hunt is present, like last year. In this first session of tests, however, Lauda didn't manage to test like he would have done. During the morning he spent his time balancing the car and reserving the right to push in the afternoon, action then blocked by the weather.If the track keeps dry, we will see tomorrow the authentic line up of forces. Meanwhile the news that Lauda could have already renewed the contract with Ferrari for the next season is spread in a flash. Nevertheles, the fact itself that Lauda doesn't categorically deny the inference provokes astonished comments. Niki Lauda is not clearly the type to let false news about him pass with impunity. And equally he doesn't have the attitude of who denies even the evidence outright. In short, the general impression is that there is at least a kernel of truth in all the situation.A solution - a lot say - is that he should put an end to the discussions that have been done in the last times around the the most famous driver of the Grand Prix. Unless it is a heavy joke, of an indiscretion made on purpose by someone to embarrass those who said Lauda would move to Brabham, McLaren or Wolf. Beyond all discussion, neither the person concerned nor the team in Maranello confirm the rumour that arrives from Italy on Thursday evening, according to which the Austrian driver - on Sunday 26 July 1977 - has signed up to race for another year at least with the Italian team and has also tested a new car powered by a turbocharged engine. Meanwhile, however, something peculiar happens: in the pit lane, during the first day of qualifying, which is almost over, Niki Lauda is at the wall. He notices the presence of Nestore Morosini, an Italian journalist, and raises his hand. With his right index finger, Lauda calls out to the journalist, who approaches him and says:

"Did you write that I'm moving to Ferrari?"

 

Morosini replies:

"Yes, why: isn't it true?"

And Lauda countered:

"I am not saying anything now, but you have created me a big mess".

 

Morosini is puzzled:Niki reprimended him without giving him confirmation. The journalist is sure that Reutemann gave him a news but he doesn't have the confirmation. However it remains the fact that staying with Ferrari would be a great result for Lauda, as well as for the Italian team it would be useful to keep a driver who, for better or worse, is always among the best prepared and one of the best available. The Belgian Jacky Ickx, former conductor of Ferrari, expresses his idea:

 

"To me Lauda would have committed something crazy by signing the contract with another team, unless the relationship had become impossible. Ferrari is for sure the busiest team, the most serious one, the most capable end evolved of Formula 1. It's impossible to find better and a driver, if he has talent, can always emerge by driving the cars, built in Maranello. If Niki stayed it means that he get the calculations right in each sense, and he also listened to his feelings. You can not win a title with a team, you can not live for a long time in a certain ambience, you can not appreciate it and understand it all the way down, just to quit at the first difficulties".

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As soon as they heard the news, the journalists reach Lauda to have a confirmation or denial.

 

"These are things I can not talk about,ask my managers".

 

Obtained this answer, the journalists turn to the engineer Nosetto, asking him the same questions. The head of the Italian team immediately calls Enzo Ferrari, who replies verbatim.

 

"I don't wish to enter into this matter".

 

As a consequence, the journalists reach Lauda again, asking him two precise questions:

 

"Have you tried the turbocharged car on Sunday 24 of July? Have you sign a contract with Ferrari for the 1978 on the same day?"

 

Niki, quite embarrassed, answers to the first question and to the second:

 

"I do not remember".

 

Knowing the driver, used to tell the truth, is possible to assume that at the moment he doesn't have the chance to tell a lie or to confirm what has been said. Only Enzo Ferrari, directly involved, can, if he wants, make it clear in the next hours the intricate and at least unusual affair. Meanwhile it is possible to talk about the present to Lauda, it's possible to see together what his state of mind was in a delicate moment of the season. A few drops of rain falls and Niki Lauda immediately enters the box. While the mechanics hurry up to cover the car with a red waterproof tarpaulin, the driver mumbles:

 

"With the wet is useless to try".

 

Time goes by, everything changes, but the Austrian driver is still the same. Saying - like it has been said - that he is a computer is maybe overdone. But the fact that his behaviour, every gesture, every act are all determined by logic, is true.It is possible to predict well in advance what Lauda is going to say, how is going to react to a question, what his behaviour will be in a certain situation. So that it seems difficult from the beginning to approach, knowing that there is to ask him a matter that he considers overcome,an episode to forget, maybe already forgotten. But while approaching Niki, it's impossible not to wonder how a man was capable of erasing a tragic moment of his life with ease. Already, because in Germany, on the Hockenheim's track, it happens to be the anniversary of the tragic accident in which Niki Lauda got close to death in a fire that left permanent signs on his skin. Everyone should remember, because it was on the newspapers, because of the pictures, that Sunday, August the first of 1976 at Nurburgring. The Ferrari destroyed and the fire, the driver carried in arms, the astonished faces of the people. The car broke at turn Bergwerk, a name that literally means mountain work, a sort of paraphrase to indicate a mine burst.Niki doesn't want to talk about that burst, not because it makes him scared, a scary memory, but because he considers it the past.

 

"I remember absolutely nothing about the accident. I remember the work I had done on the car, which I had managed to set up well. Nothing else. I woke up in hospital".

Now 365 days have passed and Niki is back in Germany, also at the centre of some controversy. The organisers of the Nurburgring do not forgive him for having been one of the main architects (as a member of the drivers' safety commission) of moving the Grand Prix from the old road track to this renovated facility. He himself says that a drunk driver at the Nurburgring allegedly attacked an unsuspecting stranger just because he had been mistaken for Lauda.

 

"Little do I care how much they can support the organisers and all those who are interested in racing in all conditions. We already take enough risks in our sport to go looking for dangerous tracks. There is nothing personal with the Nurburgring. In my opinion, however, it is not suitable for Formula 1 racing there".

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The driver narrows his eyes and stares into space. Perhaps he thinks about that cursed day and the wrinkled skin, the disfigured ear seems to turn greyer, like papier-mâché. All these words, however, divert attention to the German Grand Prix, which will certainly be another very important chapter in the World Championship. The duel of last year, between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, even if others like Laffite, with the Ligier-Matra, and Watson with the ever-powerful Brabham-Alfa, is replayed. Albeit with a certain delay, the Englishman has regained his composure and now has a car that is once again competitive. The Hockenheim circuit, with two long straights interrupted by as many chicanes, imposes a very high rhythm, with about four kilometres, on the 6800 metres of the track, to be run, always at top speed and with the engine at the rev limit. The winner will therefore be the one with the most reliable car, and yes, in this respect the Ferraris have already proved to be cars that hold their own. Next to Lauda, if things do not change with the last official practice session scheduled in the early afternoon, there will also be Reutemann. The Argentinean is determined not to lose contact with his team mate and his direct rivals. The spectacle will therefore not be lacking for the one hundred thousand plus spectators expected on the circuit tomorrow and for the television audience, who will be able to watch the live coverage of the race. 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. It is said that Jody Scheckter is a bit of a madman. Certainly he is a reckless driver, endowed with great determination and a lot of courage. His driving is made up of sudden sprints, braking at the limits of possibility, scorching acceleration. But no one thought that the South African was also very skilful and cunning: so today there are many who have amazement painted on their faces when they see that the Wolf driver has won, for the first time this season, pole position for the German Grand Prix to be held on Sunday on this spectacular circuit that encloses the most tortuous part of the track in an exceptional motor-racing stadium where the public can follow the main phases of the race very well. Scheckter set the fastest time on the last lap of the final practice session, surprising everyone. When the loudspeaker gave the #20 the incredible time of 1'53"07, at an average speed of 216.120 km/h, many people shook their heads in the pits. Some thought that Scheckter had cut one of the two chicanes on the straight but, since the stewards did not intervene, this was a hypothesis to be discarded. The possibility therefore remains that Jody was able to skilfully exploit the slipstream of other competitors and that, with this stroke of cunning, he managed to move into first place for the start of the race. The other two protagonists of today's practice were Mario Andretti, who climbed up from eleventh position to a more acceptable seventh place, and Hans Joachim Stuck, driver number two of Martini-Brabham-Alfa, darling of the crowds of fans (they don't call him the King of Hockenheim for nothing), who was able to move up from thirteenth to eighth place. Stuck, impetuous and nervous, was also the protagonist of a small accident. He crashed into Scheckter himself at the exit of the pits, damaging the nose of his car. More serious, instead, was Mass' exit from the road, which destroyed his McLaren. Luckily the German driver remained unhurt and was able to restart in another car. Behind Scheckter there are the usual championship men: first a stubborn Watson and then a Niki Lauda who begins to regain confidence in his car.

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The Irishman will have to race with a forklift. Indeed, his race car, the last Brabham to come out of the workshops, turned out to be less competitive due to some minor tuning faults than the old one. So technicians and driver, in perfect agreement, decided to use the car from the previous version. For Lauda, the third fastest time (1'53"53), less than half a second behind Scheckter, was a confirmation of the progress made in recent weeks. The Austrian's Ferrari 312 T2, and overall also that of Carlos Reutemann (eighth time with 1'54"02), demonstrated greater grip, meaning they were better able to discharge the engine's horsepower to the ground. Everything was achieved with more precise tuning without resorting to new ailerons or other aerodynamic details, those that had been briefly tested on Friday having been shelved for the time being.On the second row, next to Lauda, will be James Hunt who took a small step backwards compared to Friday. Since the Englishman did not confirm the time he was credited with on the first day of practice (he set 1'53"68 against today's 1'53"89) the suspicion remains that Friday's result was given to him by the timekeepers. However, Hunt is still one of the candidates for victory. The World Champion appears very calm and this morning even subjected himself to a scientific experiment. He drove around in practice with electrodes attached to his heart, through which Dr. Rafael Robles, a Brazilian doctor and friend of Fittipaldi's, checked the reactions of the organ under stress. As always, the race is also a tyre issue.

 

Tomorrow Goodyear will celebrate its 100th Formula One victory. It has already won 99 times, and since all competitors use the American company's tyres, it is obvious to predict that goal number 100 will be reached in Germany. The first round was won by Richie Ginther in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix (a success that also marked Honda's first triumph in Formula 1), it remains to be seen who will be the author of victory number one hundred.While the American company will be celebrating, there will certainly be those who may be unhappy with their tyres. It is now well established that tyres are decisive and that no two sets of tyres are the same. On this final day of practice Niki Lauda fitted new tyres, but had to return to the pit immediately because he was running about 1.5 seconds faster than he had previously. Yet the tyres are all of the same type, compound, series and number. The only good fortune for Ferrari is that it has the possibility of changing them quite frequently until it has found the ones it feels are right. But Brambilla, for example, having only three sets of tyres at his disposal, had to give up trying to get a great time and had to settle for tenth place. It still went better for him than for Merzario, who failed to qualify. His was a real ordeal: on Friday he had broken the gearbox, on the second day of practice he burnt out the clutch and noticed a dangerous oil leak from a gasket. In total he managed to complete nine laps, too few to try and make it into the top 24. Instead, 21-year-old Mexican Hector Rebaque succeeded, making his Formula 1 debut. Instead, Emerson Fittipaldi, increasingly sad in the face, was also excluded. Once practice is over, poleman Jody Scheckter is interviewed. The South African declares:

"The car was going quite well, even if it had a bit of oversteer coming out of the corners. On Sunday, starting on the front row, I have a good chance of finishing among the leaders. It will be a very tough race though, open to any result".

 

In the Martini-Brabham-Alfa Romeo team there is hope again for the first long-awaited victory. Watson, for the sixth time on the front row, fuels these hopes and says:

"I'm counting on getting a good start right away and then if the car holds up I think I won't have any major difficulties".

Even in the Ferrari team the air is relaxed and they look forward to tomorrow's race with confidence. Said engineer Nosetto, in charge of the Italian team:

"Today's results are quite satisfactory for us, because we did over two hundred laps and our engines in general held up well. This is a track on which the engines are always at full throttle, so tomorrow will be an elimination race. More than a Grand Prix, this one in Germany could be considered an endurance test at an average of over two hundred kilometres per hour, so I think Scheckter's time today can only be considered indicative".

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Relaxed and smiling, Niki Lauda responds to the many fans besieging him and gives autographs.

"The car is going well, I had a few problems with a set of tyres, but otherwise everything is fine".

Some problems instead for Reutemann, whose engine had dropped two hundred laps in the first practice session.

"They changed my engine and I was able to improve slightly. It was a pity that in the last five minutes an exhaust manifold broke, and I could not lower my time any further".

Satisfied, though not fully, Mario Andretti.

"I improved considerably compared to Friday, but I could have done better if the bridge between the engine and gearbox hadn't broken twenty minutes before the end of practice. Although it is not the ideal track for my Lotus, as it has two straights that are too long and too fast, tomorrow I have good hopes of finishing among the front runners, because I am the fastest in the mixed section".

 

Formula 1 is increasingly experiencing days as an asphalt jungle. Commercial and non-commercial interests have transformed the world of the gentlemen-drivers of yesteryear. Many drivers, especially those who are not officially settled, in the constant search for large sums of money to continue their activities, have to accept sponsorships of all kinds. And, sometimes, they fall into the hands of adventurers, of pseudo-industrialists, of advertising vultures who also subject them to incredible blackmail. On Sunday morning, Patrick Tambay, at his first Grand Prix experience, was caught up in this situation and risked falling into the trap set by unscrupulous people. The young French driver qualified for the German Grand Prix with a good time, eleventh, placing himself on the sixth row. But on Sunday morning his sponsor, Teddy Yip, manager of Theodore Racing, a billionaire from Hong Kong, who seems to have made his money from strange activities, confronted him with an unusual situation. Mr Yip brings a contract to sign for next year, written entirely in Oriental ideograms (which Tambay defines as vermicelli). Obviously the Frenchman refuses to sign this piece of paper, not knowing what he would be up against. Following his refusal, Teddy Yip makes it clear to him that he would not let him start in the race. Tambay is already ready to pack his bags, when Bernie Ecclestone, president of the Formula One manufacturers, intervenes, quite rightly. Ecclestone resolves the issue, forcing Yip to line up the Ensign entrusted to the French driver at the start. This, however, only applies to the German Grand Prix, while for the future it is not known how the story will end. Also in the course of the morning, a little drama takes place in the pits, due to an accident that almost does not have serious consequences.

 

A large lorry with a crane installed on the body, passing on the straight stretch of the circuit, knocks down the huge luminous scoreboard that is used to start the races and to signal the laps completed. A part of the complicated mechanism, which is very heavy, falls to the ground, colliding with a small group of people underneath. Some fragments hit Ferrari engineer Mauro Forghieri in the leg, and photographer Ercole Colombo in the back, fortunately without injuring them. A young Italian mechanic, who was in the vicinity to watch the Renault 5 race, on the other hand, was hit in the foot and had to seek medical attention at the infirmary. As if that were not enough, shortly before the start of the German Grand Prix, German driver Hans Heyer put on his overalls, put on his helmet and gloves and entered his ATS. Heyer entered the German Grand Prix with a Penske PC4 from the German ATS team, which had taken over the cars and equipment of the American team that had retired at the end of the previous season. Heyer did not manage to qualify for the race, but was given the definition of reserve in case someone could not take part in the race, as Frank Williams chose not to prepare the car of Patrick Nève, who should be the first reserve for the race, and as the car of de Villota, who is the second reserve, had an engine failure at the last moment before the race. Although lined up in the pit lane, Hans Heyer cannot take part in the race as all twenty-four qualifiers are present at roll call.However, while his colleagues are getting ready to move for the reconnaissance lap, despite the fact that there are no retired competitors, Hans Heyer, at the pit lane entrance, asks the grid girls (who had in the meantime deflected and were preparing to re-enter through the pit lane) to stop in front of his car to hide his ATS. 

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As the race gets underway, Hans pulls alongside the girls present and, to the general amazement and whistles of the crowd, sets off in pursuit of the group. While the race direction is wondering what to do, Hans Heyer climbs a few positions thanks to a few retirements: a damaging contact between the Ensign of Regazzoni and the Shadow of Jones on the first lap, the retirement of his team-mate Jarier on the fifth, that of Watson on the eighth and that of Jan Scheckter on the ninth lap. It was on lap nine, when the race officials had not yet stopped the German driver, that the ATS gear lever solved the problem, forcing Heyer to pit and stop. For what he did, Heyer would be disqualified for life by the FIA. 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.

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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. Niki Lauda crossed the finish line victoriously and the Ferrari men began a dance of joy, something between the Viennese waltz and the Neapolitan tarantella, which had not been witnessed for a long time. Sante Ghedini and a few mechanics leap onto the track and with great leaps express their happiness. The strict German marshals, taken by surprise, were stunned but, once they had overcome their moment of bewilderment, they threw themselves at the invaders and stopped them. Order comes first. Lauda, meanwhile, performs the lap of honour and returns to the pit where he is immediately stormed by the fans, among whom are numerous Italians working in Germany. They all want to congratulate him. Niki struggles his way through the tide of the crowd that holds him in an affectionate grip, and reaches the podium for the prize-giving ceremony. Cups, crowns and ritual champagne, then Niki is caught by a moment's surprise when the loudspeakers play the notes of Mameli's anthem in honour of Ferrari. Afterwards, from the Italian team van, the Austrian champion lends himself to the ritual interviews.

 

"It is a very important victory, because it gives me the opportunity to increase my lead in the World Championship standings. I got off to a good start and in the first few laps I was mainly concerned with controlling the situation. Then I forced a bit, caught up with Scheckter and at the braking of the first chicane I pulled alongside him on the inside and overtook him. In the remaining laps I had no great difficulty in keeping the lead, except in the last few laps when the wind increased and on the straights it felt like driving on an ice track. The car, on this circuit, perfectly responded. The important thing now is to continue working to further improve the reliability of the 312 T2. This victory also clears up some alleged disagreements between me and Ferrari, which in fact never existed".

Shortly afterwards, engineer Roberto Nosetto, responsible for the Maranello team, says with a satisfied air:

 

"When I saw Niki behind Scheckter I was reassured, because I know that Niki, when he is in that position, is so careful and concentrated that he hardly makes mistakes. Of course, my heart is still beating fast now but I am immensely happy because today's is an important success for the whole team. Along with Niki, I also want to praise Reutemann, who drove a very careful race and resisted the constant attacks from Andretti well,excellently finishing in fourth place. Enzo Ferrari had phoned us this morning, expressing his confidence. We did not disappoint him".

 

The Maranello team's happiness is matched by a new bitterness for the men of the Martini-Brabham-Alfa Romeo team, barely softened by Stuck's excellent third place. To say that John Watson is unlucky seems even reductive. The Irish driver was again forced to retire when he was attacking the outdistance driver Scheckter.

 

"I don't know what to say. After a steady start I had now latched onto Scheckter and was waiting for the favourable moment to overtake him. Unfortunately, this time it was the engine that betrayed me and my hopes of a first place are postponed until the next Grand Prix".

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On Stuck's face, on the other hand, one can read happiness at having stepped onto the podium for the first time this season. The fact becomes even more important if one takes into account that for the German driver this is practically his home track.

 

"I am delighted with my third place even though in the last two laps, during which the engine began to show a lack of petrol, my heart was in my throat for fear of having to stop at any moment. In the race I had some difficulties when Keegan and Ribeiro touched and went sideways on the track: to pass between them was a real miracle".

 

It was also a positive day for Vittorio Brambilla, who managed a valuable fifth place.

 

"I ran out of fifth gear straight away on the first lap, which caused me some difficulties. The gearbox no longer worked properly, but otherwise the car was fine. I had a regular race, taking care above all to get to the end. I am satisfied because I gained another two points for the World Championship".

 

Unlucky, on the other hand, was the other Italian in the race, Riccardo Patrese, who seemed on his way to a good placing, but was forced to retire in the last two laps.

 

"A lot happened to me: at the start my throttle jammed and I couldn't push it all the way. I was also afraid that I would get stuck at full throttle, which is why I did the first few laps with caution. Then, the fuel pump started to work erratically and I had to go into the box to fix it. Finally, my left rear wheel came off, right at the stadium entrance, and I finished the race with two spectacular spins".

 

The German super-organisation liquefied the German Grand Prix in a few tens of minutes. Escorted by the police, the drivers entered directly into the countless motorways surrounding the circuit, while the public immediately disappeared into the forests, vanishing into the dense network of small roads leading towards the big cities; 200.000 people to see the race with the secret hope of a victory for the favourites Hans Joachim Stuck and Jochen Mass had to watch Niki Lauda and Ferrari's success. There was even some booing from the stands towards the Austrian for his adamant attitude towards the dangerous Nurburgring circuit. But in the end a standing ovation greeted Lauda's first place. He drove a race without mistakes, making a great impression with the grit with which he led the race, enhanced by the overtaking move on Jody Scheckter with true bravura. Last year, at this time, Niki Lauda was fighting not to die in an intensive care room of the Mannheim hospital, where he had been transported by helicopter after the fire on the Nurburgring track in the Formula One German Grand Prix. His face burnt, his lungs intoxicated, his cheekbone fractured, the Ferrari ace lay in a bed surrounded by doctors and watched over by a brave and loving woman: his wife Marlene.Monday 1 August 1977 Lauda is on holiday in his villa in Salzburg, Austria. Twelve months later, he won the German Grand Prix at the wheel of Ferrari, this time held on the safer Hockenheim circuit. He won it like a champion, dominating the race and his rivals, flying at an average speed of more than 200 km/h over a distance of 300 kilometres, pushing his red single-seater to 270 km/h on the racetrack's straights, thundering through the bends with millimetric precision. And at the end of the race the public - team fans who had come from Italy, Italian workers in Germany and German fans - greeted him with a long applause that rewarded the man and the driver, the feat not only in competition of a sporting protagonist who managed to become himself again.

 

In one year Lauda has performed many miracles. With a portentous psychophysical recovery he returned to racing 42 days after his accident: at Monza he was fourth in the Italian Grand Prix, proving that the Nurburgring fire was by then an outdated episode; at the end of October, in Japan, in the decisive race for the title of World Champion, he gave up racing because the circuit was flooded; a rational man's choice, a choice of extreme courage, which was stupidly mistaken for a gesture of cowardice; in March at Kyalami, in South Africa, he found his way back to victory, shutting everyone up.And now, finally, he has consolidated his supremacy at the top of Formula 1 and appears the favourite in the race for the most prestigious title in motor racing. It is the triumph of will and intelligence, the umpteenth demonstration that Lauda is not only a driver with class and talent, but also a man with great inner resources, in this perhaps even more of a champion. In a certain sense also an example for many, as sport should be. But this is the kind of talk Lauda does not like. The Austrian is a singular character, uncomfortable if you like, often misunderstood or incomprehensible to the Italian fan. He is a shy person who can appear unpleasant, he is an introverted reasoner who can seem like a cold computer. Above all, he is a person who does not look back, who dislikes commemorations and reminiscences, who sticks fiercely to his job. So those who looked for a sign of emotion in his scarred face on Sunday, or hoped for a special speech for the occasion, were disappointed: the usual measured satisfaction and the usual responses, such as everything's fine, car OK, good job everyone.A little bit, but that's Lauda. And Lauda and the Ferrari men really worked hard this year to overcome the technical crisis that had affected the cars produced in Maranello. The Austrian and his team-mate Carlos Reutemann have defended themselves with perseverance for many races, searching on the private Fiorano track for the right remedies to improve the performance of their cars. Today the situation seems to have straightened out. In Germany Lauda won and Reutemann came fourth while the British teams suffered a crushing defeat. It is the moment of revenge for the Austrian champion and for Enzo Ferrari, who at almost eighty years of age runs the team with amazing energy, willpower and passionate competence. Two men born to win.


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