Grand Prix History – Checkbook Racing & The Introduction of Advanced Aero

1968 - 1976

Motor Racing History – The Big 12 Cylinders & The Arrival of Sponsorships, Advanced Safety and Aerodynamics

Checkbook Racing

The 1968 season had barely begun before it was rocked to its very foundations by the death of its biggest star, Jimmy Clark, in a minor Formula 2 race (ed. The circumstances surrounding Clark’s death has already been covered in great depth. If the reader wishes additional information, Eric Dymock’s recent book Jim Clark – Tribute to a Champion is an excellent source). Clark had won the season opener over Graham Hill in South Africa. The V8 Ford-Cosworth DFV which had shown so much promise last year would come to dominate Formula 1 for the next 14 years. But the biggest change would come from another source, the tobacco industry. The introduction of tobacco sponsorship would cause ramifications that are still being felt to this day. The insular world of Formula 1 and Grand Prix racing would never be the same.

In 1967 two major oil suppliers, BP and Esso, withdrew from Formula 1 and Firestone, the American tire manufacturer would no longer offer free tires. The small British teams were put under tremendous financial pressure and petitioned the CSI to change their long standing policy restricting advertising on race cars. By the Grand Prix of Monaco, Lotus would no longer be painted green but would now display the colors of Gold Leaf tobacco and would hence forth be known as Gold Leaf Team Lotus. In 1972 Philip Morris joined the fray with its Marlboro brand and in the years that followed Gitanes (SEITA), Camel, Rothmans, Mild Seven, Benson & Hedges, West and Lucky Strike all became major players. Formula 1 is one area where the tobacco companies have been able to gain huge exposure and as a result they have been willing to pay a lot more than other sponsors for space on Formula 1 cars. The influence of this new “foreign” money would in due time alter the balance of power and spell the end of privateers. A new type of driver, with their own private financing, would be able to make the jump to the pinnacle of motorsport. On some teams the second seat would become just another “revenue stream”. Louis Stanley would later remark that one of his biggest regrets was introducing Marlboro to Formula 1.

Wings

The other major introduction into the sport was the use of aerodynamic devices in the form of inverted wings. The principles which allow aircraft to fly are also applicable in car racing. The Bernoulli Effect means that: if a fluid (gas or liquid) flows around an object at different speeds, the slower moving fluid will exert more pressure than the faster moving fluid on the object. The object will then be forced toward the faster moving fluid.

The wing of an airplane is shaped so that the air moving over the top of the wing moves faster than the air beneath it. Since the air pressure under the wing is greater than that above the wing, lift is produced. Airfoils or wings used in the front and rear of a race car were shaped so that the air moved faster below the wing in an effort to generate more downforce. The first of these were incredibly spindly contraptions that were more of a danger to their drivers than to the competition. Matra’s wing was adjustable and was powered by a small electric motor that was actuated by impulses from the break pedal. The next race on the schedule was the Spanish Grand Prix and the Lotus team still devastated by the death of its leading driver saw his teammate Graham Hill garner the checkered flag. Monaco, the next race again belonged to Hill. The race was one of attrition and the fourth victory at the principality for Hill.

Matra supplied cars to two teams in Formula 1. The works team led by Jean-Pierre Beltoise and the Tyrrell team led by Jackie Stewart. Encouraged by its successes in the ‘lesser’ classes, Matra had its eyes strongly set on Formula 1. The ultimate goal was to become a dominant force with a completely French car, so work was started on a suitable engine. Following Ferrari’s example, the engineers decided to develop a quad-cam, 60 degree V12 engine. Even though the engine was announced early in 1967, it was quickly obvious that it would not be ready for the opening race of 1968. Thanks to Tyrrell’s British contacts, the team managed to source the Cosworth DFV V8 engines that had shown great promise in the Lotus 49. Dubbed the MS9, Matra’s first Formula 1 car was little more than an upgraded F2 racer and served mainly as a test bed, but also raced in the opening Grand Prix of 1968 where it qualified on the front row.

At Belgium Stewart took the early lead only to run out of fuel giving the race to a surprised McLaren driving one of his own cars. Stewart would not be denied at the next race, the Dutch Grand Prix where he was followed by the works Matra of Beltoise. For the French Grand Prix, Lotus used the 49B which had a tall rear wing mounted directly to the suspension which offered much greater efficiency. Honda brought a brand new car, the Type RA302 that used an air-cooled V8 motor.

Former World Champion John Surtees was slated to drive the car but backed out because he considered the new car unsafe. The car was given to newcomer Jo Schlesser who tragically suffered a fatal accident on the third lap. The race run in driving rain was won by Jackie Ickx in a Ferrari 312. The race at Brands Hatch saw more of the cars sporting rear wings with the exception of BRM and Cooper. The Lotuses of Hill and Jackie Oliver looked to dominate the race, alternating the early lead before both had to drop out due to mechanical failures. Another Lotus, this one entered by Rob Walker and driven by Jo Siffert won the race after an exciting duel with long time bridesmaid Chris Amon.

The next race, the German Grand Prix was run under atrocious conditions with many of the drivers reluctant to drive in such whether. No one more so than Jackie Stewart who had to be ordered by Ken Tyrrell to start the race. Ironically many would later consider this his greatest race. Actually it was more like two races, The one that Stewart was driving in and the one that contained all of the others. Nursing a broken wrist suffered in a Formula Two race he started the race from the sixth position. As soon as the flag dropped he began his charge to the front reeling in the other cars and by the end of the first lap he was 8 seconds clear. After the second lap he was more than 30 seconds in the lead. Behind him Graham Hill and Chris Amon struggled to maintain this blistering pace. Many of the other cars spun out including eventual second place finisher Hill. At the flag Stewart’s winning margin was almost four minutes giving him enough time to extricate himself from his car to accept congratulations, before Hill’s Lotus crossed the line. 

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza was another wild slipstreaming affair with the lead changing no fewer than 16 times. Denis Hulme in a McLaren-Ford sans rear wing was the eventual winner. The World Championship was wide open with any of four drivers, Hill, Ickx, Stewart and Hulme capable of taking the prize. The next race, in Canada,  saw the end of any title hopes for Jacky Ickx when he crashed his Ferrari and broke his leg. Hulme continued his late season charge and won his second consecutive race. Watkins Glen was up next and saw Jackie Stewart take the prize. That left it up to the season closer in Mexico to decide the title. Jo Siffert dominated the early part of the race only to suffer mechanical problems that cost him two laps. The winner and now double World Champion was Clarks teammate Graham Hill. Fittingly Lotus also won the Constructor’s Title. At the end of the season the team that more or less started the rear-engine domination of Formula One and helped many a future star learn his craft was forced to quit. Cooper, which made a name for itself with its 500cc Cooper-JAP Formula Three, could no longer find the funds to compete in the increasingly expensive sport.

If 1967 marked the introduction of Cosworth, 1969 marked its total dominance of Formula 1. Now available to any team, the Cosworth V8 found itself at the rear of cars by Matra, McLaren, Brabham as well as Lotus. The engine would go on to power every winner in 1969.

The Matra entered by Ken Tyrrell and driven by Jackie Stewart won the season opener, the South African Grand Prix. Stewart also won the next race in Spain while the Lotus 49s of Hill and Rindt both suffered wing failures. The ruling organization took action and banned the tall movable wings for the Dutch Grand Prix. Before that race came the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and the fifth and final victory at the famed circuit for Graham Hill. The Dutch Grand Prix had arrived and all of the cars now used low permanently mounted wings.

Four Wheel Drive

Matra MS84The race was also noteworthy for the appearance of two four-wheel drive cars, the Matra MS84 and the Lotus 63. Teams were scrambling to find ways of transferring the torque generated by the ever more powerful 3-liter engines to the road. The wedge shaped Lotus 63 was developed by Maurice Phillippe and resembled in appearance at least, the cars created by Lotus for the Indianapolis 500. Matra’s car was more conventional in appearance but was compromised by its space frame chassis. Cosworth, too had developed a four-wheel drive car that was intended to compete under the Ford banner until the company decided to withdraw its support, regrettably it never raced.

The four-wheel drives fatal flaw started at the front differential. On right hand corners the load would be primarily on the left front tire with hardly any load on the inside one. This caused the free wheel to spin madly on tight corners and resulted in terminal understeer. On the Cosworth a limited-slip differential was tried at the front but this proved tremendously heavy to drive. Torque-splitting was tried with 25% to 40% at the front. This alleviated some of the problems but resulted in minimizing any advantage of the four-wheel drive layout. In fact most drivers found no discernable advantage to compensate for its side effects. Rindt who had claimed pole position understandably refused to even bother with the Lotus 63 but Hill after qualifying another 49B took the 4-wheel drive car and recorded a time of 1:28.3 which was 7 1/2 seconds off the pace. Stewart in the Matra MS84 was able to better that time by recording a 1:26.68 but that took all the considerable skill that he had. Neither car actually entered the race as each would require additional development.

After Rindt’s early lead from pole he was overtaken by Stewart who went on to win his third race of the year followed by Jo Siffert in a private Lotus and Chris Amon in the Ferrari. For the French Grand Prix Lotus appointed new driver John miles to drive the 63 only to see him retire on the second lap due to a broken fuel pump. Stewart repeated again in France.

For the British Grand Prix the four-wheel contingent was joined by McLaren and their M9A, but once again none of them finished in the points and the race was won by Stewart driving a borrowed car. Mario Andretti drove the Lotus 63 at the German Grand Prix and actually put up some respectable times even though he had never been to the Nurburgring before. Unfortunately the race was another matter, which saw him leave the track. Stewart’s victory parade was finally broken at the Nurburgring with Jacky Ickx driving a Brabham-Ford to victory only to see Stewart again in the winner’s circle at Monza. Amazingly Stewart showed that he too was human when he left the track in Canada giving the victory to Ickx who was followed over the line by his boss Jack Brabham. Jochen Rindt finally tasted victory in America, at Watkins Glen but the race was marred by a serious accident that broke both the legs of his teammate Graham Hill.

The last race of the season was in Mexico but the victory of Denis Hulme did little to change the outcome of the World Championship. Jackie Stewart claimed what everyone knew one day would be his. At 63 points he was way ahead of his nearest rival Jacky Ickx with 37. The four-wheel drive cars were slowly abandoned by all of the manufactures save for Lotus who continued to work on their car, their best result being Rindt’s second place at Oulton Park.

In 1971 Lotus brought out their four-wheel drive turbine car and during the wet Dutch Grand Prix of that year it began to make some noise. Driven by novice David Walker, as the conditions worsened he began to pick off his rivals one by one only to overdue it and crash later in the race. Colin Chapman would remark later that “that was the one race that should, and could, have been won by a four-wheel drive.”

Lotus-Ford 72

1970 was notable for the debut of a number of new talented drivers to Formula1 led by Ronnie Peterson this group would include Francois Cevert, Clay Regazzoni, Henri Pescarolo and future World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. The year was also a tragic one that saw the deaths of Bruce Mclaren, Piers Courage and almost unbelievably Jochen Rindt on the eve of his first World Championship which was awarded to him posthumously. The other sensation of 1970 was the new Lotus-Ford 72.

This was to be Jack Brabham’s last season driving as he would retire at the end of the year. To show the younger drivers that there was still some fire in the old man he won the first race of the season in South Africa braking a three year drought. At Jarma, the current World Champion Jackie Stewart won the first race for the new car by March Engineering. This British team founded by Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd prepared their own team cars as well as providing cars for Tyrrell. Having the World Champion driving one of their cars albeit for another team, was a big coup for the new company. Unfortunately the team’s resources were stretched thin and their cars was soon overshadowed by the new Lotus. Chris Amon had joined the team with the understanding that they would start slowly fielding just one car initially. Imagine his surprise in finding four other cars just like his on the grid.

Monaco proved to be the greatest race of the year when Jochen Rindt passed Brabham on the last corner of the race. The race looked like Brabham had it in the bag but some minor mechanical problems and lapped traffic gave Rindt the opening he needed. The sight of the old Lotus 49, the 72 was still not ready, being thrown around the tight city circuit was a something not soon forgotten by those lucky enough to witness the event. Younger readers from the United States should be reminded that the race was shown on ABC television in those days as part of the “Wide World of Sports”. In fact it was just such a telecast eight years earlier that got this writer interested in the sport. The next race was Spa, and another fantastic race was held, this time between the BRM of Pedro Rodriguez and the March of Chris Amon. Rodriguez was just able to hold off a determined Amon.

Zandvoort was next and the Lotus 72 without the anti-dive won a convincing victory amongst the sand dunes of Holland with Rindt at the wheel. There were no celebrations on the somber podium as the race was marred by the death of the popular Piers Courage in a De Tomaso. This began a string of four straight victories with the French, British and German GPs. Of these it must be noted that the British GP was a gift win when Brabham ran out of gas while in the lead. The British Grand Prix also saw the debut of a young Brazilian, Emerson Fittipaldi, in a Lotus 49C finish in 8th place. Zeltweg was the next stop in the Championship and the home crowd was ready to celebrate their first World Champion but were disappointed when Rindt failed to finish leaving the race to a Ferrari 1-2 with Ickx leading Regazzoni.

The Championship moved to Monza the home of Ferrari and the unthinkable happened when Jochen Rindt was killed during the second practice session. Several investigations were conducted but with conflicting results. In the end it was though that a brake shaft had failed. The air had momentarily gone out of the World Championship though Ferrari would achieved victory not through Jacky Ickx but with his teammate Clay Regazzoni in only his fifth start. Ickx still trailed by 17 points but with a possible 18 still up for grabs in the US and Mexican GPs. While Ickx had a mathematical chance to win the World Championship it was something he didn’t want, at least not this way with Rindt unable to defend his lead. There was some consideration on whether Rindt would be awarded the title if no other driver surpassed his point total. Thankfully this was the case when Emerson Fittipaldi won the US Grand Prix with new driver Wisell finishing third. Lotus won their fourth Manufacturers’ Cup but under very sad circumstances. 

Tyrrell

Ken TyrrellAfter a late season rush many felt that Ferrari would be the class of the field in 1971. Ferrari must have felt that way also as they attempted to sign Jackie Stewart for the upcoming season but Stewart decide to stay with Tyrrell. Derick Gardner had designed a new car for Stewart to drive and coupled with the Series 2 Cosworth engine the team was ready to enter the new season as a constructor. Jack Brabham had retired at the end of last season and his team was now run by Ron Tauranac. The defending champions, Lotus, suffered one of their periodic down years as much of their resources was taken over by their efforts to build a competitive turbine car. McLaren who lost their founder during a testing accident had a new car designed by Ralph Bellamy, the McLaren M19A with Denis Hulme now the team leader. Ferrari unable to sign Stewart turned to American Mario Andretti while March reeling from their disappointing first season turned to Robin Herd and Frank Costin. Their car sported an oval airfoil mounted over its nose and was dubbed the coffee or tea table.

The first championship race was the South African Grand Prix with Andretti taking the lead from Hulme and scoring his first Grand Prix victory. Matra showed up at the race with a tall air-scoop above the engine, a feature that was to become universal to this day. Stewart won the next two races at Spain and Monaco while Ickx won a wet Dutch Grand Prix. Stewart returned to his winning ways with victories in France, Britain and Germany. The string was finally broken by Jo Siffert in a BRM at Zeltweg, Austria. Further back on the grid in a March was a local Formula 2 driver by the name of Niki Lauda.

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza witnessed the closest race in history. Its hard to imagine these days but the Monza circuit used to play host to tremendous slipstreaming duels of which 1971 was the greatest. Clay Regazzoni’s Ferrari blasted into the lead from the fourth row but on the fourth lap he was passed in turn by Peterson, Stewart and Jo Siffert. Stewart and Peterson would trade the lead for the next couple of laps.

Resembling not so much a Grand Prix race but an American stock car race, all that was missing was the fender bending. The lead group consisted of no less then 12 cars racing flat out nose to tail but soon this murderous pace began to take its toll. Both Ferraris and Stewart’s Tyrrell were out while Mike Hailwood, the motorcycle champion, was now in the lead from his 17th position at the start of the race. Chris Amon decided to make his move and went from fourth to first in one lap with eighteen to go. With seven laps to go he accidentally tore the visor on his helmet and had to drop back. The lead group now consisted of four cars, Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood and Gethin.  Entering the last lap Peterson was in the lead but was passed by Cevert entering Lesmo. Peterson took this in stride as he was planning to resume the lead at Parabolica where he had a definite advantage over the Frenchmen who he felt to be his biggest challenger. Just as he was lined up to make his move he saw out of the side of one eye a blur streak by. That blur turned out to be Peter Gethin passing on the grass and seemingly out of control. Fearing the worse both Peterson and Cevert hesitated as Gethin with all four wheels locked up and smoking furiously was able to regain control and cross the finish line 0.01 sec in from of Peterson.

In the end 0.61 seconds covered the first five cars. The rest of the season proved anti-climatic as Stewart and his teammate Cevert traded wins at Canada and the United States respectively. With sixty-two points Stewart was an easy winner over second place Peterson in the March. On a final tragic note Jo Siffert lost his life in a non-championship event at Brands Hatch which replaced the canceled Mexican Grand Prix.

The 1972 season looked set to be a repeat of last year which was dominated by Jackie Stewart and Tyrrell. Ferrari had the experienced Ickx ably joined by Regazzoni and American Mario Andretti when his schedule would permit. Lotus without Jochen Rindt and led by a young 25 year old Brazilian, Emerson Fittipaldi was not thought to be a major challenger. Now called John Player Specials after the cigarette brand, they were painted in a stunning black and gold. Another major tobacco company, Phillip Morris paid a large sum to BRM who would now be called Marlboro-BRM. Unlike the gentleman drivers of the past the sport saw the rise of the paid driver who would purchase his seat in a team with personal sponsorship money.

In Niki Lauda’s case it was by means of a bank loan from and Austrian bank as he joined Peterson at March. The Brabham team was bought by Bernie Ecclestone then a wealthy London businessman, now a very wealthy London businessman! McLaren led by Denis Hulme was joined by Peter Revson. The rest of the grid was filled by a motley group of teams, one that would eventually become the world beating Williams Grand Prix, the others long forgotten. In the middle of a tire war between Goodyear and Firestone, the use of special “qualifying tires” became widespread. Lasting only three to four laps they would eventually be joined by the “qualifying engine.”

The first race of the championship season was the reinstated Argentine Grand Prix which saw a sensational performance by a local driver name Carlos Reutemann. Driving a Brabham he came out of nowhere to gain pole position. The race though was won by Jackie Stewart, starting where he had left off last year. The next race was South Africa and again Stewart led but on lap 45 he suffered transmission problems and the race was won by Denis Hulme in a Mclaren. The tour now moved to Europe and the Spanish Grand Prix which was won by Emerson Fittipaldi. Monaco was run in a tremendous downpour with spinning cars in all directions. Jean-Pierre Beltoise, in a BRM, would teach the field a lesson in wet weather driving, leading from start to finish to score his first and only championship victory. Stewart suffering from a severe stomach ulcer had to miss the next race, the Belgian Grand Prix which was won by Fittipaldi on a new track near Nivelles.

Stewart was back for the next race, the French GP which he won after race leader Chris Amon suffered a late race puncture. Fittipaldi came in second. The order was reversed the following race in England with Fittipaldi leading Stewart. Lotus which seemed to be in a state of transition was now leading the championship with Fittipaldi. Ferrari after many disappointments was finally able to win a race and did it one better when they finished 1-2 at the Nurburgring with Ickx leading Regazzoni. Fittipaldi extended his lead for the title by winning the Austrian Grand Prix and clinched it at Monza. Stewart won the final two races of the season but The World Championship went to Fittipaldi while Lotus garnered the Constructor’s Cup. Fittipaldi became the youngest World Champion in history and would double the score two years later.

The year 1973 marked the retirement of Jackie Stewart but before he was done he would win five more races for Tyrrell and his third World Championship. The season was dominated by three drivers – Stewart and Lotus teammates Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson. Matra was no longer in Formula 1, BRM was in its death throes and Ferrari was in turmoil. Ralph Bellamy left McLaren to join Lotus and replace the recently departed Maurice Phillippe. At McLaren Gordon Coppuck designed the new wedge shaped M23 which would be McLaren’s mainstay for the next four-odd years. Brabham had a young designer of its own in Gordon Murray who would become one of the leading designers in all of Formula 1. As every year there were a number of Cinderella teams such as Shadow and Ensign.

The Championship season began with a shock when Clay Regazzoni, formerly with Ferrari scored the last pole for BRM at the Argentine Grand Prix. The race though was won by Fittipaldi followed by the Tyrrells of Cevert and Stewart. The Brazilian Grand Prix was held for the first time and was won by native son Fittipaldi. After the two Latin American races the championship moved to South Africa which played host to the debut of the new McLaren M23. As on cue the car was promptly placed on the pole by Denis Hulme. Unfortunately for McLaren their lead lasted only four laps when Hulme was overtaken by a local lad Jody Scheckter. Two laps later he in turn was passed by the eventual winner Jackie Stewart. Fittipaldi returned to the winner’s circle at the next race in Spain and after four races he held a commanding lead. Unfortunately for the Brazilian this was to be his last win for Lotus. The Belgian Grand Prix, run at Zolder, saw a Tyrrell 1-2 with Stewart leading Cevert. Stewart won again at Monaco which saw the debut of a young Englishman by the name of James Hunt driving for the Hesketh team of Lord Hesketh.

The next race was the Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp and here Denis Hulme brought the first victory for the new McLaren. Lotus won the next race in France but this time it was Fittipaldi’s teammate Peterson who took the flag. The British Grand Prix after a re-start following a multi-car pile-up was won by Hulme teammate, American Peter Revson. The Championship had now seen five different winners but at Zandvoort the results saw another Tyrrell 1-2 with Stewart winning a race marked by the death of Englishman Roger Williamson. The Nurburgring saw the same Tyrrell 1-2 but the sensation of the race was the record lap posted by Carlos Pace in a Surtees. Pace repeated this feat in Austria which was won by Peterson. Peter Revson scored his second and last win in Canada under adverse weather conditions. There was some dispute amongst independent observers on whether second place finisher Fittipaldi had actually won.

The United States Grand Prix was won by Ronnie Peterson but it was Stewart  who clinched his third and last World Championship. What should have been a Tyrrell celebration was marred by the tragic death of Stewart teammate Francois Cevert during practice. Stewart who had decided to  retire at the end of the season would not start the race which would have been his last.

After a disastrous season Ferrari decided to quit sports car racing and concentrate on Formula 1. The Ferrari 312B which was redesigned last season by Mauro Forghieri would show immediate results from the renewed focus of the Italian Factory. Clay Regazzoni returned from his unlucky year at BRM and with him came the Austrian Niki Lauda. Many who knew only of Lauda as a paid driver were surprised of his selection by the Prancing Horse but he would soon show that he belonged at the top.

The Lauda Years

Lauda would bring to Ferrari new blood and along with the promotion of a young lawyer, Luca di Montezemolo, to head the F1 team Ferrari’s fortunes would take a turn for the better. Ironically it was Regazzoni who at first was considered the leading driver. Lauda soon got down to work. After taking up residence at the Canal Grande Hotel in Modena he spent endless days testing and working with the engineers and mechanics to improve the performance of the Ferrari 312B3.

The chief rivals to Ferrari would be the McLaren M23s of Emerson Fittipaldi and Denny Hulme, the Lotus of Ronnie Peterson, the Brabham driven by Carlos Reutemann and the Tyrell of South African Jody Scheckter. McLaren drew first blood in Argentina in the hand of Denny Hulme. Moving to Brazil it was teammate Fittipaldi’s turn as he battled Ronnie Peterson before a puncture ended the Swedish driver’s challenge. Even though McLaren took the first two races it was evident to all that the Ferraris of Regazzoni and Lauda would soon be heard from. Meanwhile Brabham showed that they couldn’t be counted out when Carlos Reutemann won in South Africa. At Jarma, Spain Ferrari was back on top with Niki Lauda taking the victory.

Next in order came the Belgian Grand Prix, this year run at Nivelles,  which was claimed by Fittipaldi, Monaco which went to Peterson and Sweden which was won by Scheckter.

Niki LaudaThe race for the Championship was now wide open but it was the dependability of McLaren and Fittipaldi which would soon see them through. Lauda and Regazzoni scored a strong 1-2 at the Dutch Grand Prix and Scheckter returned to the winner’s circle at Brands Hatch. Regazzoni was victorious at the Nurburgring while Lauda was unable to finish the first lap when he uncharacteristically made an error. Reutemann became a double winner at the Österreichring ad Peterson did at Monza. The Championship moved to North America and Fittipaldi  became the first three time winner. The title race was now a tie between Fittipaldi and Regazzoni but with fourth place at Watkins Glen, the race being won by Reutemann, the Brazilian became a two time World Champion as Regazzoni could not keep pace due to mechanical problems. McLaren also won the Constructors Championship but Ferrari served notice that they would be a potent force in the years to come.

In 1975 Ferrari regained the top step of Formula 1, after 11 years the Constructors Championship as well as the World Driving title was returned to them courtesy of an Austrian driver who had to buy his way into Formula 1. Niki Lauda won five races to triumph over last year’s champion Emerson Fittipaldi. The season started off with a surprise when Jean-Pierre Jarier in a Shadow started the Grand Prix from pole position. The race played more to form with Fittipaldi assuming the lead from the Hesketh of Hunt and continued on to victory. Graham HillIf once wasn’t enough Jarier again started from pole in Brazil only to watch local star Carlos Pace score a well received victory. At the South African Grand Prix Ferrari replaced the 312B3 with the 312T (“T ” for transversely mounted gearbox). Carlos Reutemann was able place his Brabham on the front row but again the race was won by a native son, Jody Scheckter in a Tyrrell. At Montjuich in Spain both Ferraris started from the front row but the race turned to tragedy when the rear wing broke lose on the race leaders car causing a crash that killed several spectators. The race was soon halted and Jochen Mass was declared the winner though he was only awarded half points for his victory.

Lauda then took over and won 4 of the next five races including Monaco, Zolder, Anderstorp and Paul Richard. Only Hunt’s victory in Holland interrupted Lauda’s run for the championship. Silverstone saw a crash marred race won by Emerson Fittipaldi. Reutemann scored a victory In Germany but tragedy struck again in Austria when American ace Mark Donohue suffered fatal injuries during practice. The rain-shortened race was won by Vittorio Brambilla in a March. With a third place at Monza Lauda clinched his first World Championship while teammate scored his first victory of the year. The season ender at Watkins Glen saw Lauda celebrate his title with another victory. In November Graham Hill who had retired earlier in the year after a legendary career was killed in an airplane crash with other members of his team including promising driver Tony Brise. With Hill’s retirement and death came the end of an era.

The next year, 1976, started with a few surprises. The racing season was expanded to sixteen races. Two-time World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi quit McLaren and joined his brother at Copersucar. James Hunt who was without a drive when Lord Hesketh decided to pull out of Formula 1 was hired to replace the Brazilian. The remnants of the Hesketh team was purchased by Frank Williams who along with his partner, Austrian-Canadian oil millionaire Walter Wolf would contest the new season. On the technical side Tyrrell produced a six-wheeled car, the P34, with four small driving wheels while Brabham was now powered by Alfa Romeo engines. Lotus was still struggling with their Type 77. Ickx had left to join Wolf-Williams and his seat was taken by Mario Andretti.

Tyrrell P34The first two races, Brazil and South Africa were both won by Lauda for Ferrari. The South African Grand Prix did see James Hunt starting from pole. Peterson fed up at Lotus, and his relationship with Chapman deteriorating quit to re-join March. A second US Grand Prix was added to be run on the streets of Long Beach, California. This race was dominated by Clay Regazzoni who started from pole and won a popular victory. At Spain, Ferrari debuted their 312T2 and looked like the winner of the race when Hunt was disqualified only to be reinstated. Lauda went on to win at Monaco and Belgium.

The Swedish Grand Prix proved to be the high-water mark for the six-wheeled Tyrrell when Jody Scheckter led his teammate, Depailler to the checkered flag. Hunt retaliated with another victory at the French Grand Prix but at Brands Hatch, Hunt was again disqualified after an opening lap melee which saw the race restarted. This time the results stood and Lauda moved up from second to first. The battle between these two drivers became the talk of the paddock. Each driven to win but with completely different personalities. Hunt the non-conformist playboy who was known as “Hunt the shunt” in his earlier days and Lauda the serious strategist. The only thing they seemed to have in common was their speed.

The season moved to Germany and the forbidding Nurburgring. Hunt qualified on pole but Niki Lauda was right beside him on the front row. The crowd was set for what looked to be a fantastic battle between the two main rivals for the championship. Lauda still held a sizable lead but Hunt was coming on strong. On the second lap Lauda’s Ferrari spun across the track and hit the barriers at over 150 mph. The Ferrari burst into flames and was rammed by a following car. Several drivers arrived at the scene and managed to pull their colleague from the stricken car. Lauda had somehow lost his helmet when the car overturned and suffered major burns to his head, face, arms and hands while his lungs were also severely damaged. Helicoptered to the hospital he was given last rites by a Roman Catholic priest. Amazingly he fought back from his injuries, his face permanently scarred, and competed in the Italian Grand Prix 6 weeks later! James Hunt went on to win the German Grand Prix.

James HuntWhile Lauda was recuperating Ulsterman John Watson scored a tremendous victory in the Austrian Grand Prix at the Osterreichring and fought a wheel-to-wheel duel with James Hunt at Zandvoort before succumbing to gearbox trouble. Lauda with one more victory continued to gain on the idle Lauda. September came on this long season and that meant Monza and the Italian Grand Prix. Hunt must have felt that he was racing against a ghost when Lauda climbed back into his Ferrari.  Whether this added pressure caused him to spin out of the race is not known but Lauda was able to finish a courageous fourth and earn some valuable points. The race was won by Ronnie Peterson in a March. Hunt rebounded with wins at Canada and Watkins Glen to set the stage for the final shootout in Japan. Hunt qualified on the first row but was beaten to the pole by Mario Andretti who through hard work and talent brought Lotus back to the sharp end of the grid. The race was run in monsoon conditions.

Lauda once again displaying his own brand of courage for which he was unfairly criticized and withdrew after two laps. Lauda would rightly claim that his life was more important than the World Championship.   Now all Hunt had to do was finish third or higher to claim the title. Hunt was in the lead when he had to slow down due to tire trouble and was passed by Depailler and Andretti. Andretti driving the race of his life soon passed the Tyrrell and assumed the lead. Hunt pitted on the 68th lap and returned to the race in 5th with four laps to go. All seemed lost until both Regazzoni and Jones, 2nd and 3rd respectively, suffered tire problems and Hunt was given third place and the four points necessary to pass Lauda for the World Championship. Andretti served notice of things to come with a stirring victory followed by Depailler in the Tyrrell.