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#285 1977 Spanish Grand Prix

2022-07-22 01:00

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#1977,

#285 1977 Spanish Grand Prix

Practice is noticeable for the crowded conditions on the track with far too many cars trying to get into the fastest 24 that are to be allow to start

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Practice is noticeable for the crowded conditions on the track with far too many cars trying to get into the fastest 24 that are to be allow to start the race. There are lots of new faces in new places as well as some old ones, and some complete newcomers to the world of Grand Prix. Ian Scheckter is back with the works March team after his lay-off following an accident in South African racing, and he is 100% fit again. In contrast, Niki Lauda is looking anything but fit, seemingly having made little physical progress since last year, and being carry along by sheer will-power and determination. Rupert Keegan is making his Grand Prix debut with the new Hesketh, following his good showing at the Race of Champions, and Harald Ertl, the beard Austrian, is in the second new Hesketh. Frank Williams has start up a new team with a March 761 and the young Belgian Patrick Neve as driver, while David Purley is entering the fold with his LEC (CRP/1) design by Mike Pilbeam. The Spaniard Villota has acquires an ex-works McLaren M23, Connie Anderson has replace Larry Perkins in the blue and white B.R.M. (P207/01) and Brian Henton is running his own March 761, having had a brief moment of glory in the works March while Ian Scheckter is convalescing. Arturo Merzario returns to the fray as a private entrant of an ex-works March 761B. On Friday morning there is the usual 1 1/2 hours of practice free-for-all in which cars spin, go over kerbs, broke engines, gearboxes, minor parts and major parts and through it all rang loud and clear that Colin Chapman and Mario Andretti have arrive at that desirable point where they not only thought on the same wave-length but are ahead of each other by equal amounts and every answer they come up with is the right one. Everything is clicking into place to perfection, whereas other teams seem to be in a shambles. If B.R.M. hadn’t won the Shambles Trophy outright many years ago, it would have been a close contest between Tyrrell and McLaren for honors, Tyrrell with a new car to old thinking and McLaren with old thinking and a new car. Meanwhile Andretti and the Lotus 78 are disappearing into the distance.
 
Whether it’s due to the Italian’s (naturalized American) driving, the clever aerodynamics of the 78, the John Nicholson Cosworth DFV engine, the differential-less rear axle, the water pours over the tyres before each fast lap, or a combination of all these and Chapman’s control of things we’ll never know, but a lap in 1'18"7 left everyone else breathless, and caused McLaren and March personnel to appear at the Lotus pit to see if Chapman is cheating in some way. Just as content cows give good milk, content drivers go very fast, and Mario Andretti is really looking for content. His nearest rival is Jacques Laffite with the Ligier-Matra V12, with a time of 1'19"42 and Watson and Reutemann are the only others to break the 1'20"0. Normally one will say that anyone with a lap in the 1'19"0. the bracket will be an ace, but now we have to put Andretti in the super ace category and throughout practice nobody looks like joining him. The Ferrari team seems to be suffering from a lack of anyone being in full control, the brilliant Mauro Forghieri not being present, while the Tyrrell team seems to be lacking a sense of direction. McLaren’s are struggling to come to grips with the new M26, James Hunt trying all he knew, and some that he doesn’t know, in his efforts to get to the front of the grid. At one point he runs over the back of Hans Stuck’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo and does his popular flying act fortunately without damage. That Andretti’s fast lap isn’t a lucky fluke can be see by the way he can do 1'19"1 on laps on which he is balk or holds up by slower cars, lap times that still keep him ahead of everyone else. This time last year I had despaired of Andretti ever coming good but now I’m happily eating my words, though at times I wonder if he is the same as he’s always been and that the opposition have deteriorated! In the afternoon the conditions are a lot warmer and slower overall, but still the combination of Andretti and Lotus are uncatchable, though Scheckter joins the elite, but not close enough to worry the Lotus team. It’s still FTD to Andretti and some teams begin to progress backwards in their efforts to juggle the variables. With everything about a Formula 1 car being adjustable on each side of a mean setting, even the driver in some cases, it isn’t surprising that few teams can get 8 out of 10 right, or 8 pluses. Some, like the Fittipaldi team, seem to keep coming up with 8 minutes, while others like B.R.M. don’t seem to be able to tell a plus from a minus.
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At the end of the first practice the Bourne world-beater is seen being towed in behind a breakdown lorry. I just can’t bring myself to ask what awful thing has befallen the car, not after the “trumpet voluntary and pomp and circumstance of the car’s introduction at the London Dorchester Hotel last winter. The majority of the usually fast runners are so appalled at how far behind the Lotus-Cosworth V8 they are, that they seem to overlook the fact that they haven’t even caught the Ligier-Matra V12. In spite of stories to the contrary in South Africa, the Saturday morning practice session is untimely, in accordance with the dictates of Goodyear, but you will not have known it. No-one is doing full-tank testing or tyre-scrubbing, they are all going like hell to try and break into the super ace class. Some of the tail-enders are still trying to get going properly, like Jarier with the yellow Penske, for the gearbox has break in both sessions the day before, and now he is feeling sick. David Purley is going to feel sick, as the previous day he is delay by differential trouble and now that he has got everything going properly the times don’t count for the starting grid. In the final hour he is unable to repeat the times and fails to qualify. As this tyre-scrubbing and full-tank testing session ended Hunt lost the McLaren M26 in a big way on the fast right-hander before the pit-straight and crumple the nose in the barriers, but damage is light. He is certainly trying hard. The final hour of practice sees a mad scramble with everyone falling over each other in their efforts to get on the starting grid or to get higher up if they are safely on it. When the dust has settle Andretti is still way out on his own, with 1'18"78, though Lauda now joins the elite with 1'18"48, so we still have one super ace with five aces behind him and the Ligier-Matra V12 is still alongside the Lotus on the front row. Behind Andretti are three 12-cylinder cars, then the Wolf-Cosworth V8 and then another 12-cylinder car (no, it isn’t the B.R.M., that is utterly, completely and irrevocably last, and the owners wisely stay at home). 
 
In spite of all the apparent problems it’s still the same regular bunch in the front half of the grid, and the same hopeful lot at the back, but in the middle is the new face of 22-year-old Keegan, alongside a very disgruntle Ronnie Peterson who has, perhaps, trying too hard, and going slower in consequence. Mario Andretti (Lotus) takes the lead at the start of the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix, Jarama. The warm dry weather continues into Sunday and the morning warm-up session takes place while the non-qualifiers either pack up and go home or take up vantage points to watch the fun. For Lauda there isn’t fun at all for he is suddenly attacks by a vicious pain in his side while driving round one of the hairpins. He is rush off to hospital and it’s discover that he has a crack rib! At first it’s thought that he has damage it with his elbow while changing gear, but it seems very unlikely. More likely that something has given way in his internal bone structure, due to his body not mending as quickly as his mind and will-power. Whatever it’s there isn’t question of him taking part in the race and this let the first non-qualifier join the ranks on the back of the grid, this being Brett Lunger with his private March 761. Although everyone is at the track since early morning the race isn’t due to start until 4:17 p.m. After a warm-up lap from the pits the cars line up on the grid, the King of Spain arrives, the cars do another warm-up lap, everyone assembles on the grid, with Lauda’s space left unoccup, the green light comes on, and Andretti is gone. Reutemann shot across from the left to the right, Scheckter makes a hesitant start in 2nd gear because he can’t select bottom, and Hunt makes a scorcher of a start from the fourth row. Around the first hairpin the Lotus is already a measurable distance ahead, followed by Laffite, Reutemann, Hunt, Watson, Scheckter, Regazzoni and Brambilla, the Italian Surtees driver having equalle Hunt for a good getaway. The rest follow and the 24 cars form a crocodile as they wind their way through the twists and turns. It takes but one lap to show that barring accidents or breakdown, no-one is going to catch Andrew and the Lotus, for he has already open up a gap between himself and Laffite in the Ligier. The Frenchman is just about holding the Lotus, while Reutemann was keeping them in sight but the rest were falling back.
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Hunt’s engine is misfiring on the warm-up lap and though a change of plugs has appear to cure it, the misfire starts again. On lap 5 he is pass by Watson and Scheckter and is struggling to stay ahead of them, so at the end of the next lap he goes into the pits and the mechanics change the ignition unit. This isn’t the answer and after 10 laps the World Champion gives up the hopeless task. What a pity the rules of Formula One forbid drivers from changing cars, for on lap 6 Jochen Mass is lying tenth and if he has come in on the next lap and Hunt has taken over it will be interesting to watch his progress up the field in the M23. Such legendary deeds as perform by Fangio, Moss or Jim Clark are now gone forever, and some of those people in the know will tell you that a driver can’t achieve the impossible today, it’s all too complicate and technical, they say. If you look at the starting grid of this race and the fastest race laps that are given in brackets, you will see that the overall fastest lap is record on lap 5, and most of the drivers are giving up trying within ten laps, and are cruising round to collect the money at the end. Hunt’s spirit approach to motor racing will see him have a real go and we may see some inspired Grand Prix driving instead of the professional procession that actually takes place. For Andretti there isn’t need to indulge in heroics or inspire driving, any more than he is doing, for he has the race in the bag, and even more so after lap 12, for at that point Laffite goes into the pits as the Ligier is swaying about at the back. It’s found that the right rear wheel is loose, which causes a lot of screaming and yelling in the Ligier pit. Laffite rejoins the race in nineteenth position, black with rage, and drives really hard for the rest of the race to get back up to seventh position. It isn’t inspiring, for he got bogged down behind Nilsson for too long, when he is trying to unlap himself from the Swede. With the Ligier going and Reutemann clearly settling for second place, Andretti has it all his own way and he drove a smooth and unruffle race in the style of the real professional that he is. The Lotus never misses a beat and gives him one of the nicest races he has ever had.

 

If the lead is a bit dull for those who aren’t Lotus enthusiasts, the rest of the runners provide plenty of light entertainment. Brambilla collides with Regazzoni in the most unruly fashion at the exit from the first hairpin, and they both disappear into the scenery! For once Regazzoni is entirely blameless for Brambilla has had his usual brain-fade, and wisely keeps his helmet on as he tries to apologize, otherwise he may have a Swiss fist bur deep into his brain. Somewhile later Alan Jones gots into the same situation with Peterson, on two occasions, both times managing to scrabble back onto the track. The third time the Shadow hit a rear wheel on the Tyrrell and bent its front suspension, which put Jones out of the race after a courageous drive. Peterson’s Tyrrell has earlier break a rear anti-roll bar mounting and is now a bit out of line, so the Swede has plenty to complain about after the race, even though he is happy to have finish. His team-mate Depailler last no time at all, for his Cosworth engine blew up. In spite of a week of testing and a week of preparation and practice most of the cars seem to be falling to bits during the race, if the drivers are to be believe. If clutches aren’t working properly, gearboxes are mal-functioning, or brakes are out of balance, or engines are down on power, or the aerodynamics are wrong, or the tyres are wrong, either too hot or too cold, but for Andretti everything is fine. Afterwards it’s a pleasure to hear him explain how everything runs perfectly, no heroics, no bravery, no battling against the odds. There are some good dice among the nonwinners, such as that between Scheckter and Mass, the German trying very hard to rattle the South African, but failing valiantly, while Watson and Nilsson have a good run until the Brabham uses up its tyres. Watson stops at the pits and then the engine will not restart for the electric fuel pump has given up the ghost. Keegan is acquitting himself well in the Hesketh with a good ninth position, behind Peterson and Jones, in spite of the Hewland box wanting to jump out of gear. Before half distance it does it once too often, on the fast downhill right-hand bend and the debutant spins off as the back-end gets away from him. Poor Fittipaldi finds himself sandwiched between Hans Binder and Patrick Neve, and when he can stand it no longer he stops at the pits and fitt some new tyres, but it makes little difference to his progress, other than now being last of all, behind Villota.

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Rebecca Asolari


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