Vittorio Brambilla's March 751. While other manufacturers were striving to build more advanced cars, March made their car as simple as possible ... and when it managed to hold itself togther it was faster than most in a straight line.
While 1977 never repeated the high drama of the previous year, it was nonetheless a see-saw season which saw eight Grand Prix winners and a very open run for the title. It was much less tainted by political in-fighting but there were inevitable rumblings about the scoring system when it was realised that the champion had won fewer races than the man who was placed third. After Japan, Niki Lauda might well have been written off as a championship challenger but in the end it seemed almost inevitable when he regained his coveted title. He won in South Africa, Germany and Holland, but his championship was earned more through dogged insistence on finishing in the points than on a need to win at all costs; to Lauda the championship was all important, the races relatively incidental.
Mario Andretti seemed intent on winning races at whatever cost and the occasional impetuous moment helped snatch the championship from his grasp. In spite of this and a spate of Cosworth 'development' engine failures, Andretti won at Long Beach and in Spain, France and Italy, yet he did not even take the runner-up spot to Lauda; that went to Scheckter, who had left the struggling Tyrrell team and put his faith in Waiter Wolf Racing - as their sole driver. Scheckter opened the season in fairy-tale style, taking the debutant Wolf WR1 to victory in Argentina. His was not the fastest car in Buenos Aires but as the intense heat took its toll of cars and drivers he outlasted the opposition.
A strong military presence and volatile political situation added tension to the stifling heat and when the fire extinguisher bottle on Andretti's Lotus exploded during practice (at very high speed, in front of the pits) there were mutterings of terrorist bombs. Hunt, on pole position with the latest M23, was one of four leaders, the others being the winner and the much improved Brabham-Alfas of John Watson and Carlos Pace. Hunt and Watson fell foul of suspension failures while Pace succumbed to the heat, surrendering the lead to Scheckter just six laps from home. Speculation about rivalry between Lauda and his new team-mate, Carlos Reutemann, was fuelled when the latter scored a convincing first win for the team in Brazil.
Hunt was on pole again but, after a storming start, local hero Pace led for six laps before being caught out by the crumbling track - forfeiting his nose cone to the pursuing McLaren. As the track surface began to break up in the heat, eight cars came to grief on one corner alone. From thirteenth on the grid Lauda avoided the mayhem to snatch third place, behind Hunt and ahead of a delighted Emerson Fittipaldi who at last seemed to be making progress with the home grown FD04. Lauda retorted by winning at Kyalami, but his win was not to be feted as the race was marred by the death of Welshman Tom Pryce and a young South African marshal.
Ironically, an incident involving Pryce's new Shadow team-mate precipitated the disaster. On lap twenty, Renzo Zorzi pulled off the pits straight with a dead engine. As he walked away, leaking fuel flared up briefly, sending Zorzi back to activate the car's extinguisher. As the flames fizzled out two marshals, one carrying a heavy extinguisher, ran across the track to the Shadow. The unencumbered one made it but the other was hit head on by Pryce who was probably killed instantly. The car continued out of control along the straight until it clipped the Armco, collected Laffite's Ligier and crashed headlong into the barriers. It was a needless end to a career which had the utmost promise.
Pryce started racing with a Formula Ford car, won in a newspaper competition. He progressed to Formula Three and trounced the opposition in the prestigious Monaco race in 1974, earning himself a Formula One contract with Shadow. He won only one Formula One race, the Race of Champions, at Brands Hatch, in 1975. That his unbounded enthusiasm and abundant talent should never be rewarded was a sad blow. Two weeks later Carlos Pace died in a flying accident in his native Brazil. He had never lost faith in the difficult Brabham-Alfa and his death was a major setback to the team just as it seemed he had transformed the car into a winner. As always, the circus recovered from its too oft felt sense of loss and returned to the fray with a stirring, three-cornered, flag-to-flag battle at Long Beach.
Having avoided a first corner barging match involving Hunt, Reutemann, Watson and Brambilla, Jody Scheckter demonstrated the Wolf's worth. For 75 of the eighty laps he held off determined challenges from Andretti (the Lotus 78 now sufficiently reliable to show its pace) and Lauda, but now he was fighting the effects of a slowly deflating right front tire . On lap 76 he could hold off his pursuers no longer and both Andretti and Lauda slipped past. At the end less than five seconds covered the three and Lauda had left the lap record for the increasingly well respected waterfront circuit at 87.87mph. Andretti made it two in a row with a demoralising walkover in Spain, where he sat on pole by the margin of .72 seconds.
A very on-form Carlos Reutemann was sixteen seconds adrift at the end. The only remote threat to the Lotus came from Jacques Laffite who had the Ligier JS7-Matra flying to be second on the grid and set fastest lap, at a record 94.24mph. Laffite lost over a lap early in the race but fought back from nineteenth place to seventh - just outside the points. Third place for Scheckter put him into an outright lead in the championship as Lauda missed the race, having cracked a rib (without apparent reason) during practice. Andretti's hat trick was scotched in Monaco by an absolutely stunning performance from Scheckter which, coincidentally, brought up the hundredth win for the ubiquitous Cosworth engine. Lauda missed his Monaco hat-trick by less than a second in beating Reutemann into third place.
A race long battle between Andretti and Jochen Mass finally went to the McLaren driver and the final point went to new Shadow team leader Alan Jones. Belgium showed again the superiority of the Lotus 78. Andretti was on pole by a demoralising 1.54 seconds from Monaco pole man John Watson but in dismal conditions the two collided in the chicane on the first lap and went no further. As the weather went from wet to dry to wet six drivers led: Scheckter, Watson, Mass, Brambilla, Lauda and Gunnar Nilsson. Having outbraked Lauda on lap fifty, it was Nilsson who led them home. Lauda was second and Ronnie Peterson gave Tyrrell a rare moment for celebration by wrestling the six-wheeler into third place. Sadly, Zolder was to be Nilsson's only Grand Prix win.
He began experiencing health problems and early in 1978 it was learned that he was suffering from cancer. He never drove for the Arrows team for which he had signed for 1978. In October the 28-year-old Swede died in a London hospital. He had taken Formula Three and Formula Atlantic by storm but instead of the world title which many predicted, his monument became the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Treatment Campaign. Andretti was one of the few who did not rejoice in Jacques Laffite's all-French win in Sweden; Andretti led for all but the last two laps when a fuel metering fault finally resulted in the inevitable fuel shortage. The tables were turned two weeks later at Dijon where Andretti was forced to settle for second place to John Watson's Brabham until almost within sight of the flag when it was Watson's turn to run out of fuel!
By this time in the season there were so many entries for most races that organisers were making life very hard for privateers who, on occasion, had to resort to legal action even to gain the right to practice. For the British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, the organisers set aside a separate 'pre-qualifying' session to determine which of the many second string entries would go forward to qualifying proper. During this session David Purley survived what was later billed as racing's most severe non-fatal accident, when his Lee went straight on at Becketts, hitting the barriers at about 110 mph.
Sticking throttles were to blame. It was a happier weekend for James Hunt who (having put the M26 on the front row and led briefly at Dijon) at last scored his first win of the season. Watson again led much of the race before succumbing to fuel feed problems and Lauda cruised home second, to extend his lead in the championship. He extended it still further with a sweet victory, just one year after his accident, in the German Grand Prix - now transferred from Nurburgring
In Austria Alan Jones drove the Shadow magnificently in poor conditions to haul himself to second place behind James Hunt and was delighted to inherit a well deserved first Grand Prix win when Hunt's engine expired eleven laps from home. Yet again Niki Lauda stayed clear of everyone else's problems to take home six points from second place, stretching his lead to sixteen points. At Zandvoort he virtually sewed up his second title by overhauling and just staying ahead of Laffite's very quick Ligier. Andretti threw away all hopes of challenging Lauda in an early incident with Hunt when both laid claim to the same piece of road.
With his sixth second place of the season, this time behind an uncatchable Mario Andretti, Lauda put the championship beyond all doubt at Monza and finished his season with a cool drive to fourth place in the wet US Grand Prix behind Hunt, Andretti and Scheckter. Thereafter he earned few friends by taking no further part in the championship after Ferrari had eo-opted young Gilles Villeneuve into the team for the Canadian and Japanese races. Lauda expressed his feelings by heading for Brabham with his faithful mechanic, Ermanno Cuoghi, in tow .... Scheckter scored his third win in Walter Wolf's adopted country, Canada, and no doubt reflected on what could so easily have been a first time championship but for a disastrous loss of form in mid-season.
James Hunt too, no doubt, thought back to the previous season as he won the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji. Hunt's results for the season did not do true justice to his title defence for he led many races and was inevitably competitive but dogged by cruel luck. The Fuji race was marred by a dreadful accident involving Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari which cartwheeled off the end of the straight after hitting Peterson's Tyrrell and killed two onlookers standing in a prohibited area. Villeneuve was unhurt and as third place man Patrick Depailler climbed alone onto the victory rostrum the circus tramped wearily home for a short rest after a long and not always happy season.
1977 was not to be dominated by any one car - at least not in terms of results - and it was the newest team of all which opened the scoring. The Wolf WRI was designed by ex-March and Hesketh man Harvey Postlethwaite and was a thoroughly conventional Ford kit car, blessed with excellent traction and the ministrations of a dedicated team. Its debut win in Argentina probably owed more to Scheckter's fitness than to the car's outright speed, but it is significant that - aside from engine breakages - the team did not suffer a single mechanical failure all season.
After two doubles - for the Ferrari 312T-2 in, Brazil and South Africa and for the remarkable Lotus 78 in Long Beach and Spain - Scheckter took the original WRI chassis to a memorable win at Monte Carlo, marking an unsurpassed century of victories for the splendid Cosworth DFV. In its ten year history, the DFV had powered eight World Champions and taken seven constructors' titles. It had scored more points and more fastest laps than any other engine in the history of the Championship.
From around 408 bhp in 1967, its output had risen to a touch over 480 bhp a decade later. Most important of all, it had undoubtedly kept Grand Prix racing within financial reach of more than a privileged few, had shaped the whole character of the sport throughout the seventies and, it might be argued, saved a branch of racing otherwise doomed by spiralling costs. Cosworth, however, were not without their problems, and their fortunes played an important role in a highly competitive season. In the face of increasing opposition from the Ferrari, Alfa and Matra twelves, Cosworth made available to Lotus, Tyrrell and McLaren a total of nine 'development' engines.
These had various features, including magnesium heads and cam In spite of its early introduction, protracted testing and use of aircraft inspired honeycomb chassis materials, the M26 was a late developer. Hunt put the M23 (latterly fitted with driver adjustable rear anti-roll bars) on pole three times before the M26 made its race debut in Spain. The car's main problem was in the steering, which was heavy and Inclined to severe understeer. By mid-season, suspension changes and a switch to front radiators made the M26 a formidable weapon in Hunt's hands.
The 78 brought a new term to the Grand Prix glossary: wing car. By building the chassis as narrow as possible and locating all the fuel in the centre of the car, behind the driver, Chapman was able to use the whole of the car's side pod area to good aerodynamic effect. In essence the side structures were large inverted aerofoils, carrying the cooling systems and supplemented by flexible skirts to keep the airflow over the lower, working, surface. The 78 incorporated lessons of weight distribution learned from the later developments of the 77, moving more weight (including the oil radiator) to the front to help in generating efficient front tire temperatures. It also featured such niceties as an oil tank incorporated within the engine bellhousing, which also held an annular clutch slave cylinder, and a Salisbury-type differential which, on occasion, could be run virtually as a locked unit. Lotus's own gearbox proved troublesome however and the car relied mostly on the trusty Hewland FG400.
Just as the 25 and 72 before it, the 78 was destined to spawn a host of imitators. Also among the winners were the 312T-2 Ferraris and it was with this car that Niki Lauda was to take his second World Championship. He was also to notch up the season's second winning century, this time for Goodyear tyres who had opened their account through Ritchie Ginther way back in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix. It was in a way ironic that a Ferrari should score Goodyear's hundredth win, as relations between the two companies were becoming very strained. Ferrari owed their success much more to the strength of the flat-twelve engine than to the cars handling, which for most of 1977 was dreadful.
Characteristically, and in this case perhaps with some justification, the Maranello company could not shoulder the blame for such inadequacies and pointed the finger at Goodyear. The root of the problem was that Lotus now dictated tire parameters and the smooth way in which the 78 got on with the job allowed it to use a much softer - hence grippier - compound than the rest. Ferrari made no secret of his pique and was soon to be seen talking to other possible tire suppliers - backed no doubt by the size of the potential Fiat market.
For their part, Goodyear had played a role as important in its way as that of Cos worth, creating general availability and being fundamental in most development work. The company's test and development programme was a major part of the sport by the mid 'seventies. The Vehicle Dynamics Programme, instituted in 1975, set out to lend testing more of a scientific basis.
With the aid of applied mathematician and polymer scientist Karl Kempf, a means of interpreting and recording a cars dynamic behaviour through on-board instrumentation was evolved during the early 1970's. Goodyear's development programme and their advice to circuit owners on eliminating some of the causes of punctures led to much closer racing with less of an element of chance about it. Their testing sessions and their own test facility in Luxembourg speeded chassis development for many teams. To Goodyear's credit, the company did not abuse the monopolistic situation, but in a highly competitive sport there was a natural frustration in having no-one else to beat.
Japanese Dunlop and Bridgestone tyres had made a brief incursion into the Goodyear monopoly at Fuji in 1976 but a more formidable rival arrived on the scene in 1977 when Michelin radial tyres appeared on the Renault RSa. Aside from its tyres, the Renault was one of the most significant cars to appear for many years; it marked the return of direct participation by a major manufacturer (coincidentally, the one which had won the very first Grand Prix in 1906) and it marked the first time since 1954 that anyone had pursued the supercharging option.
At the British Grand Prix, encouraged by the success of their Formula Two and sports car engine programmes, Renault wheeled out their turbocharged 1.5-liter challenger. The turbocharging option was an attractive one to Renault for several reasons: first of all, the Gordini-developed engine could be used in this Formula One guise, turbocharged 2.5-Iitre form for sports car racing (it was to win at Le Mans in 1978
) and as a normally aspirated 2-Iitre unit for Formula Two: furthermore, it bore more relation to the way Renault foresaw the passenger car engine developing than did a highly stressed, larger capacity motor.
Turbocharging in itself was the perfect way of achieving good thermodynamic efficiency and hence providing ample power without incurring the penalty of an increased fuel load. The turbocharger was essentially a centrifugal supercharger (which worked most efficiently at very high rotational speeds) driven by a small turbine powered by otherwise waste exhaust gases. The considerable dynamic and heat energies of the fast moving exhaust gases were therefore channeled back into the engine instead of simply being thrown away. As an engine works better on cooler, hence denser, fuel charges, the pressurised air from the Renault's turbocharger was piped forward to an intercooler placed between the driver and the engine and was then fed back to the inlet ports via short pipes each equipped with Kugelfischer fuel injection nozzles.
A waste gate controlled the upper limit of boost and also allowed some control over the slight lag caused by the fact that the turbine had to be spinning very quickly before the engine produced sufficient power. This, however, remained one of the turbocharged engine's major drawbacks. The Renault engine itself was a relatively simple V6, with exaggeratedly oversquare bore and stroke dimensions of 86 x 42.8mm and a nominal compression ratio of just 7: 1. The large bore allowed plenty of valve area, the two inlets and two exhausts being set in a very flat pent-roof arrangement, and it also gave lots of piston area to aid internal cooling.
With four belt-driven overhead camshafts, a cast iron block and Marelli electronic ignition the engine was immediately good for around 510 bhp at 11,000 rpm, with an impressive spread of power. Unfortunately, in spite of not being per se a highly stressed unit, the engine did lack reliability. Early turbocharger problems prompted inlet and exhaust manifolding changes and a change to the turbine but then gave way to valve and piston problems. However Ferrari and Alfa were far from reticent about the fact that they already had their own turbo motors under development. For the most part the rest of the year's offerings were mundane in comparison, but at least their numbers reflected the healthy state of the sport during the late 'seventies.
The other race winners were the Shadow DN8 (helped along by an inspired Alan Jones in appalling conditions in Austria) and the Matra V12-powered Ligier JS7. Both teams had long been bridesmaids and both had come very close to winning in the past, so their victories were popular ones. With a claimed 520 bhp delivered at 12,300 rpm, the screaming Matra MS76 engine was probably the most potent and high revving engine of the current crop. It had been a long road to victory since the first V12 appeared in 1968 but it was the sweeter for the waiting.
The Alfa-powered Brabham BT 4SB
The car which at last looked most likely to succeed, but never quite made the winner's circle, was another 'twelve'. The Alfa-powered Brabham BT 4SB was often capable of running near the front but all too often it was not around when the flag dropped. It too was laying claim to 520 bhp, at 11,000 rpm, and its performance gave no reason to doubt the figure. On the debit side, the engine was notably thirsty and demanded a big chassis to accommodate it, its 615 kg being surpassed only by the Tyrrell P34 at a hefty 630 kg. In spite of the ministrations of Karl Kempf's computer analysed on-board monitoring systems, P34 had a dreadful year. Its main problem was incompatibility with the latest Goodyear compounds; during a troubled season it gained some ten inches in the front track, reverted to its old style bodywork and put on a good deal of weight, but to no avail.
The Penske PC4S became known as ATS but continued to perform like Penskes. The new Fittipaldi FS, designed by ex-Lotus and Ensign man Dave Baldwin, showed occasional pace as did the very similar Ensign N 177 itself. None of the numerous March offerings or the Surtees TS 19 had much success and of the remaining runners the most interesting was perhaps Dave Purley's Lee CRPI, designed by Mike Pilbeam. Alas the Lee's promising career was cut short by Purley's dreadful accident in practice for the British Grand Prix. His survival spoke volumes for the strength of the car's chassis.
Of Pilbeam's earlier employer's offering, the overweight, overheating, under-powered BRM P207, the less said the better ...