The 1976 Austrian Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XIV Großer Preis von Österreich, was the eleventh round of the 1976 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Österreichring in the Styrian Mountains on the 15 August 1976. The race would largely be remembered as the last to see an American constructor take victory.
With Niki Lauda still in hospital recovering from his huge accident at the Nürburgring, James Hunt was left to cruise to pole, sharing the front row with John Watson in the Penske. It proved to be an all Swedish second row, Ronnie Peterson ahead of Gunnar Nilsson, who both performed well across two days of damp running.
The skies remained a dull grey on raceday, although the circuit itself was dry when the lights went out. Hunt and Watson would duel for the lead out front, the Penske ultimately emerging ahead of the McLaren through Hella Licht by virtue of using the inside line. Peterson took advantage of this to elbow his way up into second, with the rest of the field thundering through behind Nilsson.
Come the end of the opening lap Peterson had latched onto the back of Watson, while Hunt was fending off Nilsson. It would take until lap three for the order to seriously change, however, with Peterson snatching the lead from Watson, while Tom Pryce tumbled down the order.
The following laps were all about Jody Scheckter, who rose from eighth to second by lap seven, before entering a long duel with Peterson. Scheckter would ultimate seize the lead on lap ten, but a troublesome back marker was enough to relegate the South African down to fourth.
It was Watson who now seized the initiative, diving past Peterson two laps later to retake the lead, moments before Scheckter flew into the barriers after a suspension failure. As the South African racer climbed out of his ruined car without injury, Watson pulled clear of Peterson to leave the Swede to fight for second.
Ultimately, Peterson would be left to tumble down the order, with Nilsson, Jacques Laffite, Hunt and Mario Andretti before the end of the race. Laffite, meanwhile, would push hard in the closing stages to catch and pass Nilsson, but was unable to worry the impressive Watson out front.
With that the race was run, with Watson cruising home to record his and Penske's maiden victories, a result which also meant the end of the Ulsterman's beard. Laffite came home second a few yards ahead of Nilsson, while a low-key Hunt was fourth, having simply lacked the pace to seriously challenge. Andretti and Peterson would complete the points, ahead of Jochen Mass in seventh.
Given the events of the German Grand Prix just two weeks earlier, there was little surprise that interest in the Austrian Grand Prix was at an all time low. With Austria's hero Niki Lauda still in hospital, beginning his gruelling treatment programme, there were no great hoards of Austrian fans heading to the Österreichring. Furthermore, Enzo Ferrari had declared that his eponymous team would also miss the race, scything through any Italian or Swiss fans making the trip across the mountains, while the miserable weather across the race weekend would hamper those who did attend.
With the scarlet cars absent it seemed as if James Hunt and the McLaren team would have a free run in Austria, particularly as they had spent almost a week at the circuit already. Most of that week had been spent testing the new M26, in which both Hunt and Jochen Mass had spent time, although both would ultimately settle for their usual M23s. The M26s were ultimately shipped back to the U.K. for a final test at Goodwood, with the McLaren team hoping to debut the car next time out in Zandvoort.
Indeed, the only team thought likely to challenge the McLaren squad would be the Tyrrell team, although whether the six-wheelers would cope with the long sweeping corners. No changes were made to either Jody Scheckter or Patrick Depailler's cars, while the newest P34 would serve as the team's spare. A third Tyrrell was in action with the Gulf sponsored Italian Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi, while a fourth was handed to Austrian rookie Otto Stuppacher, set to use an old 007 only to have his entry rejected by the organisers.
Another team hoping to challenge the McLarens would be the Brabham-Alfa Romeo squad, with Carlos Pace and Carlos Reutemann hoping the flowing Österreichring would suit their F12 engine. The team itself, however, was at the centre of another political debate, for team boss Bernie Ecclestone, as head of the Formula One Constructors' Association, was pushing for full payments to the teams. At the time, teams were given money from the organisers for attending, but with the crowd expected to be less than 50% of the usual figure, the organisers wanted to cut the money handed to the entrants. Mr. Ecclestone challenged this idea, pointing out that the race was backed by the Raiffeisen Bank, although with Ferrari absent F.O.C.A. were unable to shout as loud as usual.
Elsewhere, the March had been by far the busiest team since the fight with the Nordschleife, having had to rebuild three cars for Vittorio Brambilla and Ronnie Peterson. All three cars had required new monocoques, while Hans-Joachim Stuck's car had been fitted with a new drivetrain after his miserable weekend. A fourth 761 was also expected to be in attendance, having been sold to Austrian rookie Karl Oppitzhauser, but his entry was rejected.
Over at Lotus time had been spent bringing Gunnar Nilsson's car on par with teammate Mario Andretti's entry, the Swede getting the team's new anti-roll bar adjuster. Shadow, in contrast, had been busy focusing on their new DN8 after getting some fresh funding, but Tom Pryce and Jean-Pierre Jarier were still stuck with the old DN5s. Surtees were another team with fresh sponsorship and new ideas, Brett Lunger getting a new front end design, while Alan Jones received a fresh engine.
Penske arrived with some minor changes to their car, with John Watson hoping that the team could once again challenge for a podium spot. Ligier-Matra were also optimistic, Jacques Laffite at the wheel, while the Wolf-Williams crew were still having to cope with a single driver, in the form of Arturo Merzario. Hesketh continued to field their two pay drivers, Harald Ertl and Guy Edwards, with Fittipaldi continuing to field their lone entry for Emerson Fittipaldi.
Completing the factory entries were the Ensign team, who arrived after a series of issues since the Nordschleife. Sole driver Chris Amon had lost heart after seeing Lauda's accident, and had duly quit the team, and reportedly racing, leaving Morris Nunn with a car but no pilot. It was therefore fortunate that the well funded Hans Binder approached the team, effectively buying his way into a semi-competitive seat in time for his home race.
Into the privateer entries and RAM Racing had somehow managed to get out of their legal problems last time out, rehiring Loris Kessel to partner Lella Lombardi after the Swiss' legal wranglings. The team's two Brabham-Ford Cosworths had emerged unscathed from the Nordschleife, having not run after Friday, and sported another minor sponsor. Other private entries included Henri Pescarolo in a TS19, as well as Pesenti-Rossi's Gulf coloured Tyrrell 007.
In terms of the Championship there was the potential for some huge changes in Austria, for lead driver Lauda was out of action, but fortunately out of a life threatening condition in hospital. That left German Grand Prix winner Hunt as the favourite to overhaul the Austrian's points tally, himself sat on 44 points, although with nine of those points about to be lost when the Brit was retroactively excluded from the British Grand Prix. That change meant that Scheckter ultimately led the chase with 36 points, some 25 behind Lauda, while Depailler arrived as the dark horse, a further ten points back.
Furthermore the International Cup for Manufacturers fight had been reignited after the infamous visit to the Nordschleife, for Lauda was Ferrari's biggest asset. Without him, their 15 point lead suddenly looked vulnerable, with Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth their closest challengers. McLaren-Ford Cosworth were also a serious threat, nine points back, with Ligier-Matra and Penske-Ford Cosworth completing the top five but out of the fight.
The full entry list for the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix is outlined below:
- * Chris Amon was initially entered for Ensign but refused to drive ahead of the race weekend.
Practice/qualifying were staged across Friday and Saturday, with three "timed" and a single "untimed" session scheduled. The "untimed" run would come on Saturday morning, designed to allow teams to complete some race simulation runs without risking their potential grid position. As for a target time, the top runners would hope to get in sight of the circuit record, a 1:34.85 set by Niki Lauda in 1975.
It proved to be a grey morning in both the pits and the skies, a threat of rain lingering throughout the session putting many people off an early run. Ultimately, however, everyone would get out on circuit at some point, with James Hunt inevitably leading the way with a 1:35.02, some eight tenths clear of the next driver. That man came in the form of John Watson, who recorded a 1:35.84, while Ronnie Peterson was a further half second back in third.
Elsewhere, Lotus and Tyrrell spent most of the morning completing maintenance work on their cars, while Surtees cut some makeshift ducts into their new front ends to aid airflow to the radiators. The work at Lotus meant that Mario Andretti had to use the spare car for most of the session, although he had barely stepped out of it before teammate Gunnar Nilsson climbed in having suffered an engine failure in his car. Jochen Mass, meanwhile, tried out Hunt's car but made no real improvement, while Vittorio Brambilla sent himself bouncing across the grass several times while pushing to match Peterson.
Rain over the lunch-break on Friday further damped the mood, with the clouds hanging around long after the rain stopped. Regardless, the circuit remained quiet for most of the session, until Carlos Pace went out on a fresh set of wet Goodyear tyres. Yet, few would bother to join the Brazilian out on circuit, his only on-track compatriots being those whom had had issues earlier in the day.
The Saturday morning "untimed" session passed by in damp conditions, the only issues coming at Tyrrell where Jody Scheckter blew the engine in the spare car. The end of the session was then heralded by another rain shower, meaning the final "timed" session of qualifying would effectively be a washout. Unlike Friday afternoon, however, the entire field would complete a run in the conditions, the final minutes of the session the busiest as the circuit began to dry during a rare glimpse of the sun.
Peterson, using the newest March would end the final session fastest overall, but had to be satisfied with third on the grid, the order effectively having been decided during Friday morning. That meant Hunt would start from pole alongside Watson, while, at the back of the field, there were no non-qualifiers due to the withdrawals and rejections earlier in the weekend. Last on the grid would therefore be Loris Kessel, who failed to run in the dry at all, just behind Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi and Lella Lombardi.
The qualifying results for the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||11||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:35.02||—||1:56.65||—|
|2||28||John Watson||Penske-Ford Cosworth||1:35.84||2:10.30||2:00.62||+0.82s|
|3||10||Ronnie Peterson||March-Ford Cosworth||1:36.34||2:01.75||1:54.50T||+1.32s|
|4||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:36.46||—||2:00.42||+1.44s|
|6||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:36.56||—||1:56.42||+1.54s|
|7||9||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||1:36.59||1:56.60||1:56.35||+1.57s|
|8||8||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:36.66||1:57.65||1:56.77T||+1.64s|
|9||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:36.68T||—||1:56.68||+1.66s|
|10||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:36.91||—||1:55.64||+1.89s|
|11||34||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||1:36.95||—||2:13.77||+1.93s|
|12||12||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:37.22T||—||1:55.73||+2.20s|
|13||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:37.24||1:56.24||1:54.74||+2.22s|
|14||7||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:37.24||—||2:12.08||+2.22s|
|15||19||Alan Jones||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:37.60||—||—||+2.58s|
|16||18||Brett Lunger||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:37.62||2:10.98||—||+2.60s|
|17||30||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||1:37.76||—||1:59.48||+2.74s|
|18||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:37.88||—||2:04.27||+2.86s|
|19||22||Hans Binder||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:38.36||—||1:56.15||+3.34s|
|20||24||Harald Ertl||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:39.09||—||2:07.02||+4.07s|
|21||20||Arturo Merzario||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:39.33||2:21.11||2:04.89||+4.31s|
|22||38||Henri Pescarolo||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:39.84||—||2:00.66||+4.82s|
|23||39||Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:40.67||—||2:11.65||+5.65s|
|24||33||Lella Lombardi||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||1:42.25||—||2:21.92||+7.23s|
|25||32||Loris Kessel||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||—||2:09.72||1:56.01||+20.99s|
|WD||22||Chris Amon||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
|WD||25||Guy Edwards||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||Injured|
|WD||40||Karl Oppitzhauser||March-Ford Cosworth||Entry rejected|
|WD||41||Otto Stuppacher||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||Entry rejected|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a test/spare car.
Sunday proved to be a pleasant change to the scenery in terms of the weather, with bright clear skies and dry circuit a relief come the warm-up session. Unfortunately the good conditions did little to increase the crowd, an optimistic total of 70,000 far below the expected tally, although the drivers themselves were optimistic of a good race. That was, until the dark clouds of the Styrian mountains returned, causing almost half an hour of delays as the circuit became more and more damp.
Despite the light shower falling on the Österreichring by the time the field lined up on the grid, the race was declared "dry" meaning everyone had dry tyres bolted on. This, if anything, added to the anticipation of the start, and when John Watson pulled level with pole sitter James Hunt on the sprint to the first corner everyone was stunned. They were even more shocked when the Ulsterman seized the lead into turn one, before elbowing the pre-race favourite wide on the exit to enforce his claim.
Watson's move also opened the door for Ronnie Peterson, leaving Hunt to fend off Gunnar Nilsson and the rest of the mob on the run to the second corner. The rest of the opening lap proved to be nothing short of stunning, with Peterson challenging Watson, while Hunt just fended off Nilsson and co. to hold third across the line. Behind Nilsson sat Jacques Laffite, Tom Pryce, Carlos Pace, Jody Scheckter and Mario Andretti, all charging across the line in a blur.
Scheckter proved to be the man on the move on the second lap, two excellent dives into the tighter hairpins carrying the South African from eighth to sixth by the end of the lap. As he fought up the order, Carlos Reutemann dragged a terminally ill Brabham-Alfa Romeo to the side of the circuit, a clutch failure leaving him stranded on the run out of Hella Licht. Another man having dramas was Vittorio Brambilla, who managed to wipe the nose from his March but carried on without any loss of speed or aggression.
The action carried on into lap three, which ended with Watson and Peterson screaming past the pits side-by-side, the Swede ultimately winning the duel on the brakes into Hella Licht. The March, however, was not able to escape from the threatening Penske, with Watson almost retaking the lead later in the lap. As they fought, Pryce tumbled out of the top six with a suspected issue, while Scheckter elbowed his way past Jochen Mass.
Indeed, Scheckter was fast becoming the man to watch in the opening stages, and with successive moves on Laffite, Nilsson and Hunt, the South African was up with the leaders at the end of the sixth lap. Watson duly fell to the Tyrrell at the end of lap seven, leaving Scheckter right on Peterson's tail. Peterson, however, proved to be a far more stubborn target, with Scheckter unable to complete an instant move.
The brief pause in the action out front allowed everyone to calm down, the pre-race panic over the conditions all but evaporated along with the worst of the damp patches. There had been a brief panic when a car was spotted throwing spray up from the tyres on one of the replays, but everyone was too enthralled to take action. This proved fortunate for Scheckter, who finally managed to elbow his way past Peterson as the leaders came to lap the back markers.
Indeed, such was the pace of the lead group that the slowest cars, including the dispirited Jean-Pierre Jarier, suddenly found themselves in the middle of the lead brawl. Jarier himself was given a double fly-by by Hunt and Laffite, a move that ultimately let the Ligier take the McLaren, while Henri Pescarolo received similar treatment a lap later. This time, however, the Frenchman was caught by the Scheckter/Peterson duel, with the Swede coming out on top as the Tyrrell pilot hesitated.
Scheckter's hesitation also allowed Watson and Nilsson to pass, a move which seemed to fire-up the after-burners on the Penske. Within a lap, Watson had exacted his revenge on Peterson to retake the lead, before becoming the first driver to really establish a gap over the rest. The irony of the situation proved to be the fact that Penske's title sponsors Citibank had not sent representatives for the first time all season, in the race in which their team was seemingly coming of age.
With that move the race began to settle down, with Watson leading from Peterson, Nilsson, Scheckter, Hunt, Laffite and Mass in the opening group. Andretti was next and on his own having been elbowed out of the lead group early on, meaning he had to battle his way past Hans-Joachim Stuck and Pace before he could get back on terms. Patrick Depailler was another man in no-mans land ahead of Pryce, who was soon to retire with a brake issue, while Harald Ertl and Hans Binder battled for the honour of being the best Austrian racer in lieu of the absent Niki Lauda.
Watson would begin to pull away from the rest of the lead pack during the subsequent laps, aided by the fact that Peterson had taken the edge off his brakes in the opening stages. The Swede, however, was more than capable of keeping Nilsson at bay, while Scheckter would soon exit the race with a suspension failure. Rather bizarrely, the suspension arm holding the middle right tyre was the one to fail on the Tyrrell, which would duly pitch the car into the barriers before it ricocheted across the circuit.
Hunt and Laffite had to take avoiding action as the Tyrrell shot across the circuit, both getting coated in mud as they screamed past Scheckter's demolished car. Unfortunately their reaction meant that they lost real contact with the lead group, leaving Peterson and Nilsson in a Swedish stand off for second. Scheckter, meanwhile, was able to climb out of his ruined car, shaken but otherwise uninjured.
Nilsson now stole the show in his attacks on Peterson, the black-gold Lotus ultimately sent lunging past the yellow-blue March on lap nineteen. The Swede soon went chasing off after Watson, now five seconds up the road, while Peterson's fading brakes meant he would drift back towards Laffite and Hunt. Ten laps later and Peterson was fighting bravely against the Ligier, actually managing to retake third away from Laffite after the Frenchman's first successful dive.
Ultimately, however, the Swede's brakes were too far gone to realistically maintain the position, and by the end of the 31st lap the March was down in fifth. As they fought, Alan Jones sent himself skating off the circuit, the result accident resulting in a badly damaged Surtees as the Australian hit a catch fencing post at a bad angle. Jarier would be the next man to fall, the victim of a fuel pump failure, while Pace suffered a brake failure on the run to the Hella Licht on the same lap, flying into the barriers but escaping uninjured.
The race became rather tame as the final laps approached, although with ten laps to go there would be a real fight for second as Laffite got Nilsson fully in his sights. At the end of the 43rd tour the Ligier managed to pull alongside the Lotus on the run to the Hella Licht, but the canny Swede braked a fraction later to hold the position. It took another two laps for the Frenchman to pass, an unconventional move around the back of the circuit, and hence off camera, enough to get the job done.
Nilsson would be unable to respond, for his Ford Cosworth engine was slowly losing oil pressure as the race entered its closing stages. Elsewhere, Peterson was relegated to sixth by Lotus replacement Andretti, while Brambilla had been told to stop for a fresh nose. However, this new nose would ultimately be the cause of the Italian's downfall, for he was out of the race within a lap after contact with a rather low-key Emerson Fittipaldi.
With that the race was run, with Watson cruising home to claim his, and Penske's maiden victory, making them the first American team since Dan Gurney's Eagle effort to win a Grand Prix, all the way back in 1967. Laffite came home second ahead of Nilsson, whose engine failed moments after he crossed the line, while Hunt had a barrage of excuses for finishing fourth. Andretti came home fifth to underline Team Lotus' recent improvements, while Peterson kept his brakes alive long enough to claim sixth, well clear of Mass in seventh.
The results for the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Lunger was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- † Kessel, in contrast, could not be classified as he had not completed 90% of the race distance.
- 275th Formula One World Championship Grand Prix to be held.
- Debut race for Hans Binder.
- First time since the 1973 German Grand Prix that Ferrari had not been represented.
- James Hunt claimed the tenth pole position for McLaren as a constructor.
- Maiden victory for John Watson.
- First and only win for Penske as a constructor.
John Watson was the man on the move in the Championship after his maiden victory, claiming a spot in the top five having become the fifth different winner of the season. Out front, meanwhile, James Hunt had moved up into second, in-spite of his exclusion from the results of the British Grand Prix, but was still 23 point behind the recovering Niki Lauda. Jody Scheckter dropped to third having failed to score, while Patrick Depailler retained fourth and was realistically out of the title hunt.
Ferrari continued to hold a healthy lead in the International Cup for Manufacturers standings despite their absence, retaining their fifteen point advantage over Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth. McLaren-Ford Cosworth would have sat in second had Hunt not been retroactively disqualified from Brands Hatch, leaving them in third, while Penske-Ford Cosworth pulled clear of Ligier-Matra in fourth. Elsewhere, Lotus-Ford Cosworth were slowly climbing up the table, now up to sixth, while March-Ford Cosworth drew level with Shadow-Ford Cosworth in eighth.
- * Corrected to show points after Hunt's disqualification from the British Grand Prix, confirmed on the 25 September.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: AUSTRIAN GP, 1976', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr275.html, (Accessed 09/03/2018)
- D.S.J., 'Austrian Grand Prix: The sun came out', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/09/1976), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/september-1976/25/austrian-grand-prix, (Accessed 09/03/2018)
- 'Austria 1976: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/autriche/engages.aspx, (Accessed 09/03/2018)
- 'Austria 1976: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/autriche/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 09/03/2018)
- 'Austria 1976: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/autriche/classement.aspx, (Accessed 09/03/2018)
|V T E||Austrian Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Zeltweg Airfield (1963–1964), Red Bull Ring (1970–1987, 1997-2003, 2014-present)|
|Races||1964 • 1965–1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988–1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004–2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020 • 2021|
|Red Bull Ring was previously called Österreichring and A1-Ring.|
|v·d·e||Nominate this page for Featured Article|