Fer­rari be­come F1’s most fiercely com­pet­i­tive team, win­ning four from five con­struc­tors’ ti­tles. But it al­most costs the life of their star driver…

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Con­tin­u­ing our se­ries chart­ing the his­tory of the great Ital­ian mar­que, we re­call the 1970s

Those la­bels alone do Niki Lauda a mon­u­men­tal dis­ser­vice, how­ever. Clin­i­cal? Oh yes, cer­tainly. But also sear­ingly fast – a match for any­one at his mid-decade zenith, and al­most cer­tainly on a curve that was still ris­ing… un­til the Nür­bur­gring 1976.

The blaz­ing crash, head-melt­ing scars and awe-in­spir­ing re­cov­ery are the stuff of Lauda’s leg­end, though his con­tri­bu­tion to Fer­rari’s myth-mak­ing in the team’s fourth decade was al­ready of epic pro­por­tions, even be­fore that fate­ful meet­ing with the bar­ri­ers at Berg­w­erk.

Like all the For­mula 1 greats be­fore him – Fan­gio, Moss, Clark and Ste­wart – Lauda re­set the bar: he was fit­ter, more ded­i­cated, more pro­fes­sional and, as 18 im­pres­sive pole po­si­tions in 29 races across ’74-75 in­di­cate, con­se­quently the best of his time. That’s the speed he had, right there. With­out the hor­ror at the ’Ring, it’s un­likely he’d have needed to wait un­til 1984 to be pro­claimed a three-time cham­pion.

Of course, Niki didn’t do it all alone. Like Schu­macher two decades later, he was part of an axis of power within which his strengths could shine. Watch­ing his back was the smooth-talk­ing lawyer and be­side him the be­spec­ta­cled ge­nius forg­ing rac­ing gold. With­out them, Lauda’s leg­end might have re­mained la­tent.

Luca Cordero di Mon­teze­molo was Gianni Agnelli’s man, parachuted in by Fiat’s pa­tri­arch in the midst of all-too-char­ac­ter­is­tic Fer­rari tur­moil dur­ing 1973. That sea­son, the Scud­e­ria hit per­haps their low­est ebb, miss­ing races mid- sea­son and drop­ping to the sta­tus of a one-car team. Just 12 points were dredged to leave the reds joint sixth in the con­struc­tors’ stand­ings.

But Mon­teze­molo was ped­alling fast – and some­how with­out any no­tion of un­der­min­ing the Old Man. Mauro Forghieri’s Peter Sell­ers-style specs were back in the F1 pit­lane by Au­gust, the mer­cu­rial de­signer com­ing back in from the cold (again) fol­low­ing ex­ile to the ‘ex­per­i­men­tal de­part­ment’. Then for ’74, Fer­rari hired Lauda.

His stock was of sim­i­larly aris­to­cratic pedi­gree to Mon­teze­molo’s, but in de­fi­ance of his grand­fa­ther, Lauda raised spon­sor­ship to gain ac­cess to the F1 fold, be­com­ing with hind­sight the sport’s most cel­e­brated ‘pay driver’. But his tal­ent, first at March and then BRM, quickly el­e­vated him be­yond such dis­mis­sive tags.

Mous­ta­chioed Fer­rari team leader Gian­clau­dio ‘Clay’ Regaz­zoni knew what Lauda was made from and was man enough to point it out to Enzo. The Swiss, through solid re­li­a­bil­ity, would lead an un­likely ti­tle re­vival in ’74, los­ing out only in the fi­nal round to Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi’s Mclaren. As for the fu­ture, as far as Fer­rari were con­cerned, that was in the hands of Clay’s forth­right team-mate.

Lauda had la­belled the ’73 B3 a pile of “shit” on his first test at Fio­rano, then im­me­di­ately set to work, in har­ness with Forghieri, to dial out the trou­ble. By the new sea­son, the B3’s heavy re­vi­sions included an en vogue periscope air in­take, im­proved weight dis­tri­bu­tion, pan­nier­mounted ra­di­a­tors and im­proved aero­dy­nam­ics. From an em­bar­rass­ing also-ran, the B3 was trans­formed into the fastest thing on the grid. Niki’s nine poles would con­firm that sta­tus, but a re­turn of only two wins of­fers clues to his stalled ti­tle chal­lenge. No mat­ter,’75 would be their year – and in some style thanks to an­other dash of ca­reer-defin­ing Forghieri ge­nius.

Upon ar­riv­ing at Maranello, Lauda had won­dered why Fer­rari didn’t win ev­ery year, such were their re­sources and fa­cil­i­ties. Like John Sur­tees be­fore him, he’d learn the hard way that Ital­ian machi­na­tion could (and of­ten would) un­der­mine the best-laid plans – but for now he had Mon­teze­molo to pro­tect him, as Schu­macher would have Jean Todt 20 years later.

Luca’s first sig­nif­i­cant call re­mains, for some, one of his most de­struc­tive: he canned Fer­rari’s sportscar pro­gramme at a sin­gle slash. Once the dom­i­nant force at Le Mans, Fer­rari have still yet to re­turn to the 24 Hours as a true fac­tory force. Mon­teze­molo, though, had cir­cled the prob­lem that had frus­trated Sur­tees a full decade ear­lier: Le Mans was a dis­trac­tion to the F1 ef­fort. Luca knew what had to be done – and the sub­se­quent suc­cess of ‘To­tal F1’ would of­fer all the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion he’d ever need.

Mon­teze­molo’s other gi­ant con­tri­bu­tion, and in part a con­se­quence of the sportscar cull, was how he carved Forghieri the space and free­dom to do what he did best. The re­sult was the 312T of ’75 and the be­gin­ning of Fer­rari’s great­est se­ries of F1 cars – at least un­til Rory Byrne be­gan to weave his magic for Schu­macher.


‘T’ equals Trasver­sale – and rep­re­sents the key fea­ture of a car that would dom­i­nate ’75, and in sub­se­quent evo­lu­tions de­liver a hat­trick of con­struc­tors’ ti­tles. Ob­sessed with the quest to con­quer the po­lar-mo­ment-of-in­er­tia physics that de­fined this pre-ground-ef­fects era, Forghieri was con­vinced that a gear­box mounted transver­sally would un­lock new lev­els of per­for­mance in al­liance with his mas­ter­piece flat-12 that re­mained the bench­mark, to the tune of at least 20hp over ri­val Cos­worth V8 DFVS.

Mem­o­ries of painful ex­per­i­ments at March left Lauda un­con­vinced, but he trusted Forghieri, and as usual, his in­stincts proved sound. This would be one of the great F1 cars.

Lauda’s sea­son started qui­etly with a fifth and sixth in the South Amer­i­can open­ing rounds in the old B3. The new car took its bow in South Africa, but only af­ter Niki crashed it in prac­tice. A lack­lus­tre fifth in Kyalami brought howls from the Ital­ian me­dia, Forghieri stood firm.

The first win, at the non-cham­pi­onship Sil­ver­stone In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy, was a nar­row one over Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi’s Mclaren. But the 312T was just be­gin­ning to get into its stride.

Next up, Niki would claim pole for the fi­nal (and tragic) Span­ish GP at Mon­tjuïc Park, a race for­ever re­called for the crash in­volv­ing Rolf Stom­me­len’s Hill which killed five spec­ta­tors. Safety (or rather the lack of it) at Barcelona’s swoop­ing park track dom­i­nated the whole week­end and Lauda was haunted by the mem­ory. His girl­friend Mariella Rein­ing­haus an­grily ac­cused him and his fel­low driv­ers of hypocrisy for tak­ing the start at all, af­ter team mem­bers felt com­pelled to tighten bolts on bar­ri­ers, such were the lam­en­ta­ble lev­els of cir­cuit prepa­ra­tion.

Con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries in Monaco, Bel­gium and Swe­den en­sured Lauda had one hand on his first ti­tle by the sum­mer, de­spite a sub­se­quent fal­low patch. He’d se­cure the ti­tle with a safe third at Monza, to the de­light of all Italy, be­fore win­ning the fi­nal round at Watkins Glen to fin­ish a healthy (for those days) 19.5 points clear of best-of-the-rest Fit­ti­paldi.

By fu­ture Schu­macher stan­dards, this had been a far from per­fect cam­paign. But in the per­spec­tive of this su­per-com­pet­i­tive era, Lauda and Fer­rari looked for­mi­da­ble. Who – or more point­edly what – could pos­si­bly beat them in ’76?

James Hunt had al­ready de­feated his friend at Zand­voort in ’75, prov­ing the true sub­stance be­neath the good-time fri­vol­i­ties at pri­va­teer Hes­keth Rac­ing. Now he found him­self thrust into a top-line Mclaren drive thanks to Fit­ti­paldi’s puz­zling de­ci­sion to leave. Hunt was clearly bet­ter than he’d been given credit for – but could he re­ally lead Mclaren in a ti­tle bat­tle against the might of Lauda and Fer­rari?

The an­swer to that ques­tion is too well known to re­quire a de­tailed re­count here. Hunt stepped up glo­ri­ously in a man­ner that would cap­ture at­ten­tion around the world. In the year punk shook the cul­tural es­tab­lish­ment, a di­shev­elled


pub­lic school­boy took F1 be­yond its nar­row band of fans to a global sport­ing au­di­ence ravenous for the next chap­ter of a riv­et­ing ri­valry: 1976 was Year Zero in more ways than one.

With­out the hor­ror of the Nür­bur­gring, would Hunt have been able to claw back the deficit to Lauda and beat him to the ti­tle? It’s an ir­rel­e­vant and point­less ques­tion. More perti­nently, the events of the long, hot sum­mer of ’76 proved to Lauda once and for all that there’s more to life than world ti­tles. The brav­ery of his rac­ing re­turn, and per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly his de­ci­sion to stop and walk away from the del­uge at Fuji, cap­ture the true spirit of this in­cred­i­ble man more than any ca­reer stat ever will.

From a Fer­rari per­spec­tive, the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in this fa­mous episode of their his­tory was an ab­sence; the man who was no longer there. His task seem­ingly achieved, by ’76 Mon­teze­molo had been pro­moted away into the up­per hi­er­ar­chy of Fiat. Lauda surely missed his in­flu­ence, but more sig­nif­i­cantly Fer­rari re­turned to bad old habits. The cal­lous re­sponse to Lauda’s tri­als – the han­dling of Car­los Reute­mann’s hir­ing just as Niki was com­ing back at Monza, and the lack of sup­port for his brave stand at Fuji – cost Enzo his cham­pion. Sure, Niki stayed on and even se­cured a sec­ond ti­tle in ’77 – but once he’d done so, he couldn’t wait to ex­act his re­venge and walk away.

Once he was gone, Fer­rari – as usual – wasted lit­tle time mov­ing on. Es­pe­cially when they had some­one fresh on their books, a bril­liant French-Cana­dian who would blaze a won­drous trail for an all-too-brief hand­ful of sea­sons.

For many, Gilles Vil­leneuve re­mains the Fer­rari grand prix driver archetype: free-spir­ited, ut­terly com­mit­ted, squeez­ing ev­ery last drop from life – and dev­as­tat­ingly fast. Enzo saw some­thing of his pre-war hero Tazio Nu­volari in Gilles, and loved him like a son.

This purist racer burst into F1 at the wheel of a Mclaren at the ’77 Bri­tish GP, hav­ing im­pressed Hunt dur­ing a so­journ to a Cana­dian For­mula At­lantic race. But to eter­nal be­muse­ment, Mclaren boss Teddy Mayer let Vil­leneuve walk – straight into the arms of his arch ri­vals.

When Lauda quit im­me­di­ately af­ter se­cur­ing his ti­tle, Vil­leneuve was cat­a­pulted straight into a Fer­rari race seat. The hard-try­ing mis­takes, the flail­ing rear wheels spark­ing off as­phalt are all well doc­u­mented. But the sen­si­tiv­i­ties, how he be­came adept at nurs­ing tyres and how fel­low rac­ers just loved to go wheel-to-wheel with a man they knew they could trust… these are qual­i­ties less com­monly cel­e­brated.

When Jody Scheck­ter joined him for ’79 there might have been rea­son to ex­pect more sparks. Once a ‘wild­man’ him­self, Scheck­ter was now an el­der states­man with a strong sur­vival in­stinct, look­ing for a ti­tle that would al­low him to quit on his own terms. In the 312 T4 on Miche­lin ra­di­als, against ground-ef­fect Ligiers and Wil­liams yet to be fully tamed, still-grenad­ing Re­nault tur­bos and ’78 cham­pi­ons Lo­tus try­ing to back out of one of Colin Chap­man’s oc­ca­sional tech­ni­cal cul-de-sacs… he had his chance.

Sure, Vil­leneuve was faster over one lap and won races early in the sea­son, but Scheck­ter’s con­sis­tent ap­proach even­tu­ally de­liv­ered the ti­tle his ca­reer de­served. And per­haps against ex­pec­ta­tion, the pair be­came firm friends. Af­ter his fair share of run-ins with the es­tab­lish­ment, per­haps it’s no sur­prise that Jody loved Gilles’ rac­ing spirit and full-blooded ap­proach. At Monza, Vil­leneuve re­spect­fully played the team game. A man of high mo­rals, he obe­di­ently fol­lowed his team-mate across the line for Scheck­ter to se­cure vic­tory and the ti­tle. His own chance would come, rea­soned Gilles.

Not in 1980 it wouldn’t. The old boom-and-slump habit bit hard as Forghieri per­se­vered with his cher­ished flat-12 a year too long, the T5 prov­ing slow and even un­re­li­able against the now ma­ture ground-ef­fect op­po­si­tion. At sea­son’s end, Scheck­ter stepped from the cock­pit, pur­pose­fully walked down the nose of his car… and kept go­ing into the sun­set.

Scheck­ter’s ti­tle had capped a fruit­ful decade for the Scud­e­ria; at the birth of the 1980s no one would have imag­ined the tree would be bar­ren for the next 21 years.

NEXT MONTH 1981-1993

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