Spanish GP - 1976


XXII Gran Premio de Espana


New regulations!, same old confusion

THIS YEAR IT was Jarama's turn to hold the Spanish Grand Prix. I don't know whether it will ever be held at Barcelona again; after last year's catastrophe it is unlikely to be on the street circuit there.

Since the Long Beach race there has been one non-championship Formula 1 contest, the Graham Hill International Trophy at Silverstone. It was not a very competitive race as on the whole there was only one car from each team and no works Ferrari. Niki Lauda was supposed to be there, but had an accident at his home near Salzburg, Austria; his tractor rolled over on him on a hill and he suffered a broken rib. It only goes to show that even the World Champion is not master of all single-seat open wheelers. The Silverstone race was won with comparative ease by James Hunt, driving very well and very fast.

The new 1976 FIA regulations went into effect at the Spanish GP. As a result, the rear wing was moved forward 8 in., a roll hoop was installed over the dash and the rear one was strengthened and heightened so that a straight edge placed between both the hoops would clear the driver's helmet. Most important of all, the height of the airbox was reduced. This made the cars look much lower and more like realistic racing cars.

The Tyrrell 6-wheeler Project 34 made its first appearance at the Spanish GP. It is not all that novel for a racing car to have six wheels. I have driven my 1927 1.5-liter supercharged Delage with six wheels. But in those days they had twin rear wheels, not two little front bogey wheels. 

The entry list had grown from Long Beach. It was agreed that 24 cars would be allowed to start and 30 practiced. The big surprise was that Mario Andretti had parted from Vel's Parnelli Jones, which was no longer in F1. Mario signed for the rest of the year with JPS, having said after Brazil he never wanted to get in one again. But Colin Chapman managed to persuade him; the bait was that designer Tony Southgate from Shadow was to join Lotus after this GP.

The additions included two Spaniards: Emilio Zapico in a last year's Williams and Emilio Villota in the RAM Team's 1-year old Brabham BT44-Ford. Villota was joined by a Swiss, Loris Kessel. Larry Perkins, an Australian, was driving an RB. Bewaking Bora, formerly an Ensign.

There had been quite a lot of tire testing with the result that James Hunt in his McLaren and Patrick Depailler in the Project 34 were equally fast at I min 18.90 sec. First thing Friday morning it was raining, but by the time practice started at 10 a.m. it had stopped. It was cold, though, with a temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit; in the afternoon the sun came out and the temperature rose to 82.

For one palpitating moment I thought they were going to start practice on time, but they put my mind at rest by eventually getting going half an hour late. Ingo Hoffman in the number two Copersucar managed only two laps before his engine blew, and that put him out for the rest of the day. Hunt soon got into his stride and recorded the fastest time of the day with I: 18.52. He told me he would be able to go faster if only he could get the car to put the power down on the road sooner.

Lauda was not able to give Hunt his usual competition as his rib was hurting him. He said that if the new seat they were preparing for him didn't help he would not race. Fortunately, the alterations helped and in the second period of practice he was getting more accustomed to driving again. He told me it was the most terrifying experience of his life when the 2-ton tractor rolled right over on him. He was very lucky not to have been killed. He nearly died on the way to the hospital because of shock. After some days they found an Austrian doctor who was an expert on these matters, and Niki went through a course which included passing electric currents through him. The doctor gave him an injection which completely deadened the offending nerve for a whole month. In spite of all this, Niki was able to make 2nd fastest time of the day.

Clay Regazzoni said his Ferrari was not as good as at Long Beach and it had a wheel out of alignment. He still placed 3rd. Vittorio Brambilla was up there again, going beautifully in his Beta March.

Brett Lunger had a nasty accident in the practice for the Silverstone race. He was knocked unconscious and had his neck badly ricked. Here he was driving with a collar support, which did not help him to go fast. His Surtees had a flat tire, a wheel bearing let go and a duff gearbox. By the end of the day he had failed to qualify.

Emerson Fittipaldi was very unhappy with the handling of his Copersucar and said it was oversteering, understeering and sliding all over the road. It was unfortunate as eight people from Copersucar had flown over from Brazil to see the race.

John Watson was complaining of exactly the same problems with his First National City Travelers Checks Penske, although he did manage to improve to finish up in 14th spot. In the morning session Jody Scheckter spun and knocked the nose off his 4-wheel Elf Tyrrell, but it was soon repaired. Depailler was going well in the Project 34 and finished 5th, but was puzzled why he could not go as fast as he had in testing. Scheckter was just plain puzzled.

The Shadows were disappointingly slow and they decided to use the shortened-wheelbase version for the next day. Chris Amon had the new Ensign rolling for the first time, so it

obviously needed a lot of testing. In his own inimitable way he got it up there into 10th spot. Chris told me Jacques Laffite was terrifically fast in the Gitanes Ligier-Matra; it was quite slow through the corners, but then Laffite would put his foot in it and it would simply squirt away. Chris reckoned it had much more power than the Ferraris.

Only Jochen Mass improved in the last period; the track was slower than the morning session, possibly because of the higher temperature. Had Mass been going as well in the morning he might neady have gotten fastest time of the day.

Carlos Reutemann went off the road into the catch fencing and literally destroyed his Brabham. As Bernie Eccelstone put it, it hit a series of trees linked with wire fence. The trees he referred to

were the catch fence posts. When the circuit had been examined in the morning, the organizers were told to saw the sturdy posts halfway through so they would break easily. But, of course, they did absolutely nothing. Fortunately, Carlos was unhurt.

The fastest six on Friday were Hunt 1:18.52, Lauda 1:18.84, Regazzoni I: 19.15, Brambilla I: 19.27, Depailler I: 19.32 and Nilsson I: 19.35.

Saturday's weather was exactly the same as Friday's, with the addition of a bitter wind in the morning. Some people had a theory that when the sun was on the circuit it brought the oil out of the track and made it more slippery. At any rate, the track was again slower in the last period and the first period was unofficial.

So all depended on the last hour and it was bad luck for those trying to qualify as the track was slower. Carlos Pace said, "I have just understeer, it won't handle and, in fact, it is a heap." The JPSs were keeping up the good work and Mario told me, "I am quite satisfied with the way things are going." Chapman said, "We have plenty more improvements on the way."

The expected Hunt-Lauda confrontation did not take place because Niki was trying to conserve his energy. He did go out in the last 15 minutes, but without much success. He told me, "I am really tired," and I told him not to do anything foolish. Hunt was again fastest without any trouble, but the man who set things alight at the end was Depailler in the Project 34. He was balked on the lap thai he did his best time, which was 2nd fastest of the session, and put him 3rd on the grid.

Tom Pryce was not up to his usual brilliance, but it was his first time here, his engine was down on power by 400 rpms and the car had violent oversteer. The last person to qualify was Larry Perkins in the Boro. Larry was very pleased and said he had achieved his first object (to qualify), and now he must gain his second, which was to finish. Those who did not qualify were Lunger, Kessel, Villota, Zapico, Harald Ertl and Hoffman.

The fastest six at the end of the day were Hunt I: 18.52, Lauda I: 18.84, Depailler I: 19. I I, Mass I: 19.14, Regazzoni I: 19.15 and Brambilla I: 19.27.

THE WEATHER on Sunday was good with a temperature in the sun of 90. The race was not to start until 4:15 (the Spanish can never do it in the normal way. There was a football match earlier on and there was the arrival of King Juan Carlos I. However, the race did start somewhere near the schedule. Jackie Stewart introduced the drivers to the King. There were guns bristling everywhere. It was rumored that there was a gang of assassins there, dressed up in marshal jackets stolen the night before. Every genuine marshal had to have his jacket officially rubber stamped. The King was then put in the glass timekeeping tower, with three floors sealed off for security, after which the race was ready to commence.

Emerson came round from his warm-up lap with brake fluid pouring from his left front caliper. He dashed back to the pits to get Hoffman's car, which had been semi-prepared for him as a spare, but as it had only done seven laps practice the preparation had not been too thorough. In fact, it lasted only three laps before the gear linkage broke.

By the time they had got to the grid, Andretti had lost 1st gear and had to start in 2nd, but he made a good job of it. Amon made a mess of the start with too much wheels pin and lost six places. Pryce, at the back of the grid, got all the dust from the King's helicopter down his air intake and his throttle stuck closed. Tom later said that he knew that if he played it cool and gently touched the throttle, eventually the fuel would wash it clean and it would unstick it. This is what happened, but by this time he was half a lap behind the field. However, he fought a great rear-guard action, finishing 8th.

At the end of the 1st lap the order was Lauda three lengths in front of Hunt, then Brambilla, Depailler, Mass, Laffite, Nilsson, Andretti, Scheckter, Regazzoni, Reutemann, Pace, Jarier, Wat­son, Peterson, Amon, Fittipaldi, Jones, Stuck, Merzario, Ickx, Perkins, Leclere and, way behind, Pryce.

On the 2nd lap Depailler passed Brambilla and Niki was fractionally drawing away: Next time round, Mass too moved past Vittorio and Emerson drew into the pits to retire. Bram­billa now became a bit of a moving chicane and the front four of Lauda, Hunt, Depailler and Mass began to draw away. Vittorio is such a difficult person to pass. You can slipstream him all the way down the straight, but he brakes so late, sometimes too late, you just can't pass him. Laffite, who had the most powerful engine with 520 bhp, took until lap 12 to get by. Then another queue formed up behind the Beta March of Brambilla with Nilsson right up his exhaust pipe, followed by Andretti, Regazzoni, Scheckter, Jarier and Watson, who had passed Pace. There was a gap behind the Citibank car as Peterson had called into the pits earlier because his temperature gauge was reading malfunctions fixed. After that he went well and, as he had aimed, he finished the race.

On lap 52 Mass turned in the fastest lap at 1 :20.93, possibly helped by a tow from Hunt. Lauda was about 15 sec astern and Nilsson a further 20 sec behind. Nilsson was nibbling at the gap until his engine went flat over 10,000 rpm. The struggle for 5th place now became the best part of the whole race with Reutemann driving his heart out and Chris Amon pushing him all the way. With just 10 of the 75 laps to go, Mass came around the corner before the pits in a cloud of smoke. He said all his gauges were perfect and then bang and he managed to cruise into the pits. This worried Hunt a little as he did not know what had caused Jochen to fall out. But James was more than 20 sec ahead of Niki, who had the same amount over Nilsson.

It was now 4th place Reutemann and Amon were fighting for. Afterwards Carlos said to me, "It was bloody hard, Rob. I made my money, I tell you." Chris said he just did not have enough speed on the straight to outbrake the Alfa-engine car, although if he dropped 2 or 3 sec in traffic, he had no trouble catching him up around the back. They were now joined by Charlie Pace, who had managed to force his way up to them. But none of them were giving away anything and they finished in the same order: Reutemann, Amon and Pace.

Another good dice was going on for 7th place between Alan Jones in the Surtees and Jacky Ickx in his Williams. Ickx was in better form than in a long time. The fight was resolved just five laps from the end when Alan's Surtees had the gear handle break off; he was left stuck in 3rd gear and dropped two places.

Hunt crossed the finish line to win the race, from pole position, with the greatest of ease. He said he had to work hard to start with but then everyone made it very easy for him and he had been using less than 10,000 rpm. Lauda put on a very courageous performance which few could have done. When he started he did not think he could complete the race and at the end he was really shaken up and could hardly even talk.

I think Nilsson's performance thrilled everyone. Reutemann, Amon as usual and Pace all had great drives. It was nice to see Jacky Ickx doing so well also.

The King shook hands with James and presented him with the cup and an enormous bottle of champagne. Then they played "God Save the Queen," which was the first time since Zandvoort last year and it thrilled me. But suddenly there were rumors and consternation reigned. Before the meeting the CSI had announced that there would be very thorough scrutineering here because it was the start of the new regulations. Soon there were mutterings that Hunt's McLaren was outside the width regulations. The rules say that the widest part of the car must not exceed 215 centimeters and the track of Hunt's car was 16 millimeters too wide. That is about 5/8 in. in our language. This would not make any difference to the handling of the car or the ease with which Hunt won the race. The Ligier was found to have its rear wing 3 cm too far back and this could help the performance slightly. The scrutineers reported both these irregularities to the stewards and left it up to them to decide what should be done about it. After three hours of deliberation they disqualified both cars. To Hunt, who would not have been helped by the small gain in width, it meant he had lost the race and everyone else moved up a place. To Laffite in the Ligier, who might have got some gain from his win, it meant nothing but losing 12th place. The Spaniards are still deliberating, but if it goes against him, Teddy Mayer can appeal and the case will go before a CSI tribunal. The CSI invariably breaks its own rules. But this time I don't think they will, although the winner of a World Championship race has never before been disqualified.

How did it happen? Gordon Coppuck, the McLaren designer, explained it to me. The rules were designed on this actual McLaren model and its sizes were taken to make the regulations, as it was known to be the widest car. However, when the regulations were made, the McLarens were using a tire whose wall was flush with the rear wheel rim. For the Spanish GP Goodyear was using a tire that bulged from the wheel rim and it was this bulge on either side that made a 16-mm difference.

What I don't understand is that at the pre-race scrutineering they picked up the fact that the rear wing was 3/16 in. too wide (immediately rectified), but they missed the track width discrepancy. The other thing that bothers me is that I have the official race results issued by the Real Automovil Club de Espana and they list Hunt as winning. Normal procedure is to issue provisional results and then one hour after the race, if there are no protests and the scrutineering is correct, issue the official results and these stand. If they are not satisfied with the scrutineering, they don't issue them.

The person who took the disqualification best was Hunt. After the initial shock he just said, "Well, that's life."

To give you some idea of the atmosphere during the meeting, Heinz Priiller, a well-known Austrian journalist and a great friend of Lauda, was standing by the rail in front of the Ferrari pit. A policeman came up to him and told him to move away. Heinz showed him his International Racing Press Association armband which entitled him to be where he was. The policeman immediately whipped out his revolver and pointed it at him. Heinz did nothing, thinking it was some sort of comic opera. The cop clicked something and Heinz thought it was time to move off. A photographer had been taking pictures of the whole scene and two policemen grabbed his camera and tore the film out. Fortunately another photographer, who shall be nameless, got photos of the whole affair. I have got news for Seattle policeman Gordon Barnett who gave me a replica of his badge at Long Beach: It doesn't work in Spain!

The people handling the press were just terrible and the less said the better. Walking to my car hours later, I came upon Niki Lauda. I told him about Hunt's car and that he had probably won the race. I think I was the first to break the news to him. I am glad to say by then he was looking fitter than he had all weekend. I must say I think the feeling of most of us seemed to be that the happiest moment of the weekend was when the aircraft lifted off bound for home.

Targa Florio 62

Targa Florio 65





F1 RACES IN THE 1970's