The 1976 Brazilian Grand Prix, otherwise officially known as the V Grande Premio do Brasil, was the opening round of the 1976 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Autódromo do Interlagos on the 25 January, 1976. The race, which would be the first for several new teams and driver line-ups, saw defending World Champion Niki Lauda open his maiden title defence with a strong performance.
Qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix had been ultra-competitive despite the reduce 22 car entry list, with new McLaren racer James Hunt taking pole position. He bested the #1 Ferrari of Lauda by just two hundredths of a second, while Jean-Pierre Jarier and Clay Regazzoni shared the second row just a tenth behind.
There would also be a new start procedure in Brazil, with the flag drop replaced by a set of lights hung from the start/finish gantry. Although the new system had been tested and tried before, several were shocked to see Regazzoni time his launch perfectly to shoot into the lead. Teammate Lauda would slot in behind, with Hunt dropping to third ahead of Vittorio Brambilla.
The opening stages would see several drivers drop away from the lead pack through mechanical strife, Jochen Mass, John Watson and Emerson Fittipaldi all falling out of contention. That allowed Tom Pryce to tag onto the top six early on, although the Welshman would follow teammate Jarier's lead as the two Shadows picked their way up to fourth and fifth.
On lap nine the pattern of the race changed, as Lauda elbowed his way past Regazzoni and inadvertently opened the door for Hunt to pass the Swiss racer too. Jarier also seized upon the opportunity and duly dived inside the #2 Ferrari, only for the pair to bang wheels and leave Regazzoni with a trip to the pits for repairs.
Lauda would drive away from the rest after that, leaving Hunt to fend off an increasingly aggressive Jarier. The pair were tied together until Hunt hit engine trouble, with the Brit ultimately retiring on lap 33 after a spin, throttle jam and major oil loss.
Hunt's oil dump would be a problem a lap later, as the charging Jarier hit the slick and duly sailed into the catch fencing, fortunately emerging uninjured. The sister Shadow of Pryce almost did the same but the Welshman held onto the car, only to see Patrick Depailler cruise past for second with only a handful of laps to go.
With that the race was run, with Lauda ultimately coming across the line 22 seconds clear of Depailler and Pryce. Fourth went the Hans-Joachim Stuck ahead of Jody Scheckter, while Mass claimed the final point ahead of Regazzoni.
There was some minor controversy ahead of the first race of the 1976 season, with the cancellation of the Argentine Grand Prix the ultimate cause. The race near Buenos Aires had originally been scheduled as the opening round on the 11 January, but with political and financial turmoil spreading across Argentina there was no chance of the race taking place. That left the organisers at the Autódromo do Interlagos to foot the bill for shipping the entire Formula One circus over to South America for the opening race, although the race's sponsors were more than happy to foot the bill for one of Brazil's biggest sporting events of the year.
Indeed, much of this desire to host the race came from the remarkable events surrounding Brazil's double World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. After being thoroughly beaten to the 1975 crown, Fittipaldi opted to switch his focus on creating a legacy in his homeland, and duly signed up to race for older brother Wilson's fledgling F1 team. The brand new FD04, designed by Richard Divila, reflected the most up-to-date trends followed by other Ford Cosworth engined outfits.
Sporting inboard brakes, conventional suspension and new, less bulky body work, the new FD04 showed a lot of promise. Emerson Fittipaldi would complete a week long test with the car at Interlagos prior to the race meeting, with the team optimistic of challenging the usual Cosworth contingent out front. A single 1975 FD03 would also make an appearance, handed to local racer Ingo Hoffmann for his debut.
Fittipaldi's former team McLaren had not been idle since his departure, with the Marlboro sponsored squad signing up Hesketh's rising star James Hunt to lead their effort. The Brit would partner Jochen Mass, retained from 1975, with the pair getting a lightened set of M23s to try in Brazil. Changes included a rear-wishbone suspension setup, new lightweight body panels, and a lightened version of the Hewland gearboxes used by all of the Cosworth engined teams.
McLaren's major rivals Ferrari arrived in Brazil as defending Champions, sporting #1 and #2 on their cars, but were unchanged from 1975. That meant that defending World Champion Niki Lauda would once again be partnered by Clay Regazzoni in the team's set of 312Ts, which were likewise unchanged from the end of 1975. Indeed, the only change of note to the cars that had competed in Watkins Glen a few months earlier was the addition of a roll-hoop over the instrument panel, as per CSI regulations.
Elsewhere, Tyrrell had spent the winter focusing on their "Project 34" design, the increasingly intriguing six-wheeled prototype that Ken Tyrrell had publicised late in 1975. Unfortunately for them the opening round of the season arrived too early for any serious running, meaning Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler would have to use their 1975-spec 007s. The cars appeared with only minor revisions to how they had ended 1975, with attention mostly paid to shaving weight from the chassis.
Shadow had made modifications to their DN5s over the winter, as development of the new DN8, designed by Tony Southgate had stalled when major sponsor UOP quit the team. Yet, the now British based and registered effort would arrive in Brazil with its DN5Bs race fit and ready, sporting new monocoques, revised suspension and other minor detail changes. Unchanged was the driver line-up of Tom Pryce and Jean-Pierre Jarier, although the latter was being courted by a returning French engine builder.
Following Shadow's lead, but being less officially open about it, were March, who returned with a three car effort for Vittorio Brambilla, Lella Lombardi and Hans-Joachim Stuck. Designer Robin Herd had updated their 1975 effort to create the 761 for 1976, which sported new bodywork and strengthened chassis due to a set of regulation changes issued by the CSI. Otherwise the team and cars were as they were in 1975, each sporting unique liveries and ambitions.
1975 runners-up Brabham, meanwhile, had finally revealed their deal with Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo to use their new F12 engine. After their comprehensive defeat by the F12 Ferrari engine in 1975, team owner Bernie Ecclestone and designer Gordon Murray pushed for the new F12 engine, resulting in the all new BT45 for Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace. Unfortunately, the new engine, revised brakes and suspension, and new bodywork meant that the car was well above the minimum weight limit, causing some to question the project's feasibility. Regardless, the team would arrive in Brazil confident their new creation would work, with both cars decked out in a new Alfa Romeo red-Martini livery.
Likewise, Lotus came to Brazil with a new creation, although Colin Chapman had not opted to seek an alternative to the Cosworth V8 that the Norfolk squad had helped create. Instead, Ronnie Peterson and American loanee Mario Andretti would start the season in the new 77, which took the principles of the relatively ancient 72E and added more 1975/76 design directions. A shortened wheelbase, revised suspension, new brake calipers and new "razor-blade" style bodywork made the 77 a formidable presence in the paddock, with the infamous John Player Special livery still adorning the team.
Joining the Formula One field for the first time would be French constructors Ligier, who arrived with a French driver, team, engine and sponsor. Guy Ligier, an ex-F1 racer, had opted to go into the realm of chassis building post-racing retirement, and had struck a deal to bring engine builder Matra back to Formula One full time. The result was the V12 Matra powered JS5, named for Ligier's deceased friend Jo Schlesser, a single example of which had been entered for Jacques Laffite. The design had been split between Matra and Ligier, with a distinct "teapot" air-intake the most striking thing about the car.
Elsewhere, the departure of Hunt from Hesketh had heralded some major changes at the back of the field. Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh, had decided to sell off the team's 308C to Frank Williams amid speculation that he was to quit the sport. Hesketh's designer Harvey Postlethwaite followed his creation over to Frank Williams Racing Cars, which had recently seen Canadian businessman Walter Wolf become the majority share holder. The Hesketh 308C was rebadged a FW05, painted black with gold trimming, and handed to Jacky Ickx, while the team's old FW04 was given to Renzo Zorzi.
Into the American contingent, and Penske were back, hoping to overhaul absent rivals Parnelli with their updated PC3. Two of the new cars, based off of the March 751, were shipped to Brazil for John Watson to use, although the Brit was ultimately restricted to the newer of the pair. The team also sported a new title sponsor and were renamed Citibank Team Penske ahead of an optimistic third F1 season.
Completing the field would be the lone BRM of Ian Ashley, although the revised P201B was not expected to shine with its unchanged BRM V12. Therefore absent from the race were Surtees, seeking a title sponsor, Ensign who lacked the budget to travel, and the Hesketh team which appeared to lack interest. However, the most notable absence would be the Hill effort, gone for good after the tragic events of 29 November 1975.
The full entry list for the 1976 Brazilian Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice/qualifying were to be staged across Friday and Saturday as had become standard at Formula One meetings, with two, one hour and a half long, sessions each day. Both days were warm and dry, allowing the circuit to develop fairly well across each day, although overnight rain washed away the rubber ahead of Saturday's running. As for a target time, the top teams believed that the previous circuit record, a 2:29.88 set in 1975 by Jean-Pierre Jarier, would be out of reach, as the final corner had been re-profiled to slow the cars down in the final sector.
The first session on Friday would start with a bang, as Ronnie Peterson smashed into the crash fencing on his fifth lap, removing all four corners from the new Lotus 77. The cause was found to be a loose nut which allowed the water from the cooling system to spray onto the rear tyres, resulting in the Swede's sudden loss of grip. Without a spare car, the Lotus crew were left to rebuild the #5 car with what few spares they had brought, while Peterson was left sat on the sidelines.
Elsewhere, Friday morning provided the result everyone expected, with Niki Lauda leading a Ferrari one-two having recorded a 2:32.68. Emerson Fittipaldi sent home hearts soaring by recording a 2:33.33 in the Brazilian Fittipaldi, while his McLaren replacement James Hunt was fourth fastest with a 2:33.87. Elsewhere, the Shadow's were struggling having been so impressive twelve months earlier, while the Alfa Romeo engines in the back of the Brabhams spent the entire session running on a variable number of cylinders rather than the 12 with which they had been built.
Friday afternoon followed much the same pattern in terms of pace, with Lauda continuing to top the timesheets having improved to a 2:32.64. Regazzoni would end the session still sharing the provisional front row with his teammate, while Fittipaldi held onto third overnight after his morning run. Jarier, meanwhile, suddenly got among the elite drivers by recording the fifth fastest time, with Hunt remaining in fourth.
Elsewhere, Mario Andretti was slowly finding time in the new Lotus, while Jacques Laffite was doing well in the brand new Ligier-Matra. The Alfa engines at Brabham continued to run poorly, although Carlos Pace did get enough reliable running in to record a relatively quick time. Jochen Mass improved throughout the afternoon, despite his series of issues in the second McLaren, while the Marchs seemed to be all over the timesheets with Vittorio Brambilla among the top runners, while Lella Lombardi was kept off the bottom of the table by BRM.
The third session of the weekend, the first on Saturday morning, was to be the odd one out in terms of official timing, with the FIA dictating that the session was to be for long fuel running only. The logic behind this was to ensure that every driver could complete some race simulation runs without risking their grid position by completing a high fuel run while others were trying to set ultimate lap times. Whether this was to be implemented throughout the season was an unknown, although its future use was put into doubt straight away as teams appeared not to have been informed.
The big victims of this would be Shadow, as Jarier recorded the fastest time of the weekend at 2:32.38, only to have that effort go unrecorded. Pryce also recorded his best effort of the weekend only to find it did not count, as did John Watson at Penske, Lombardi, and Hans-Joachim Stuck. Elsewhere, Peterson was back in action for the best part of a lap before the steering failed on his rebuilt Lotus, leaving him with a walk back to the pits, while Andretti did not look comfortable with the car on either low or high fuel.
Into the final session of the weekend and the Ferrari's were finally, officially, challenged, as Hunt put together a series of quick laps to settle for a 2:32.50. Lauda went out late in the day to try and challenge, but the Austrian would fall shy by just two hundredths of a second, while Hunt's teammate Mass was about to join him at the front, only for his on-board fire extinguisher to go off on his best lap. A frustrated Jarier ended qualifying in third ahead of Regazzoni, while Fittipaldi was up in the top five for his brother's team, sending the natives into orbit.
Elsewhere, Peterson finally got some serious running in his new Lotus, although both himself and teammate Andretti were well down the timesheets come day's end. The Alfa Romeo engines at Brabham were running better, a solution to their problems partially found by the addition of a load carrying bar strapped across the top of the gearbox. Laffite and the Ligier slowly slid down the order as others improved, while Renzo Zorzi somehow managed to out-qualify vastly more experienced teammate Jacky Ickx, despite the Belgian's use of the Williams owned 308C.
The full qualifying results for the 1976 Brazilian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||11||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||2:33.87||2:33.78||2:33.87||2:32.50||—|
|3||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||3:25.76||2:33.74||2:32.38||2:32.66||+0.16s|
|5||30||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||2:33.33||2:33.45||2:33.22||2:33.85||+0.83s|
|6||12||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||2:34.58||2:33.59||2:34.82||2:34.74||+1.09s|
|7||9||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||2:34.61||2:33.63||2:35.86||2:34.72||+1.13s|
|8||28||John Watson||Penske-Ford Cosworth||2:34.75||2:35.05||2:33.00||2:33.87||+1.37s|
|9||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||2:34.78||2:34.82||2:35.05||2:34.49||+1.99s|
|10||8||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||2:35.66||2:34.54||2:38.93||2:37.70||+2.04s|
|12||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||2:34.84||2:35.58||2:33.12||2:34.99||+2.34s|
|13||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||2:35.69||2:35.03||2:34.68||2:36.30||+2.53s|
|14||34||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||2:42.00||2:35.84||2:35.84||2:35.38||+2.88s|
|15||7||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||2:36.19||2:35.97||2:36.03||2:37.88||+3.47s|
|16||6||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:39.15||2:36.15||2:36.56||2:36.01||+3.51s|
|17||21||Renzo Zorzi||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||2:41.30||2:39.58||2:39.88||2:37.07||+4.57s|
|18||5||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:57.06||—||—||2:37.19||+4.69s|
|19||20||Jacky Ickx||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||2:38.49||2:37.62||2:39.20||2:37.73||+5.12s|
|20||31||Ingo Hoffmann||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||2:40.86||2:40.67||2:40.49||2:40.35||+7.85s|
|22||10||Lella Lombardi||March-Ford Cosworth||2:42.02||2:41.40||2:40.31||2:40.95||+8.45s|
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- * The third session of practice was not counted towards a driver's qualifying time.
After two warm days of practice, race day proved to be nothing short of boiling, with temperatures well into the 90°F window as the race start loomed. A huge crowd had also gathered in the stands ahead of the start, while the warm-up session early in the morning passed without issue. The twenty two entries would therefore all line-up for the start of the 1976 season, with a new start procedure seeing a lighting gantry used rather than the traditional flag drop.
Unfortunately, the new start procedure would go wrong, as confusion over what the two green lights meant saw Clay Regazzoni storm into the lead. The two lights dictated to the drivers that they were to pull from the "dummy" grid onto the full grid, although before the back markers lined up, the Swiss racer jumped on the throttle and slithered past the front row starters. The #2 Ferrari duly claimed the lead into turn one, with teammate Niki Lauda quickly reacting to beat James Hunt into second.
Inspite of the issues surrounding the start, the opening tour would pass without major incident, with Regazzoni leading from Lauda despite the Austrian's constant harassment through the middle part of the lap. Hunt retained third and looked a threat as long as Regazzoni retained the lead, while Vittorio Brambilla had elbowed his way up to fourth having followed Regazzoni's example at the start. Jean-Pierre Jarier was next ahead of Jochen Mass, while a miserable start for Emerson Fittipaldi saw him trail behind John Watson in eighth.
The opening phase of the race largely followed the opening lap, with Regazzoni fending off Lauda and hence creating a long, if fairly intermittent queue of cars behind him. The first proper change to the order came when Jarier lunged his Shadow up the inside of Brambilla into the hairpin, having moments earlier had Mass tag the back of his car. The resulting damage to Mass' nose put the German in the pits for repairs, while Jarier joined the leading trio a few yards ahead of Brambilla.
Jarier's teammate Tom Pryce was also on the move in the opening stages, taking Fittipaldi and Watson in short order before taking fifth away from Brambilla as the Italian struggled with his steering. Lauda, meanwhile, had seen Jarier move up the order and so doubled his efforts to pass teammate Regazzoni, but to no immediate avail. Elsewhere, Lella Lombardi had stopped by the pits on the first lap with a jamming throttle, the BRM of Ian Ashley was out after an oil pump failure, and Watson's Penske had gone up in flames after a fuel leak. Fortunately, the Ulsterman had escaped the car before the fire got to the cockpit.
The pattern of the race would completely change at the start of lap nine, as Lauda finally got a good run off of the back straight and duly out-braked teammate Regazzoni into the first corner, running the #2 Ferrari wide as a result. This move also opened the door for Hunt to move up into second, while Jarier, seeing the McLaren move inside the Ferrari, would try and dive past later in the lap. Regrettably for Regazzoni, the Swiss racer had taken a wide entry into the right hander as Jarier charged through, resulting in heavy contact between the Ferrari's front right tyre and the side of the Shadow.
The contact sent the Ferrari into the pits with a shattered wheel rim, resulting in a puncture and trip to the pits. Jarier, meanwhile, found himself stuck behind Hunt, who simply lacked the pace to keep with Lauda once the Austrian hit clean air. Pryce, meanwhile, had been promoted to fourth and was literally shadowing his teammate a few seconds back, with Patrick Depailler in fifth.
With the fight for the lead over attention focused on the early casualties, with Brambilla stopping in the pits for a look at his steering. The debuting Ligier-Matra was already out after a gearbox failure, Jacques Laffite having been running in the top ten at the time, while the two Lotus cars were carrying damage after contact on lap five. This resulted in terminal damage for Mario Andretti, able to limp back to the pits, while Ronnie Peterson carried on for a few laps before succumbing to low fuel pressure.
Half distance thundered past with Lauda still pulling clear of Hunt and Jarier, although the fight for second was about to be decided. Indeed, Hunt was looking strong enough to resist all the pressure that Jarier could throw at him, only for an injection trumpet to jam his throttle partially open and damage a cylinder. The sudden change to the balance of the M23 gave Jarier an easy opportunity to pass and blast away for second, leaving Hunt to fall back towards Pryce in fourth.
Now released from the tail of the McLaren, Jarier began to carve into Lauda's lead, taking a second a lap as he slithered his way around the Autódromo do Interlagos. Hunt was battling against his ill-handling and sounding car but losing time steadily to Pryce, with the Welshman fending off a half-hearted challenge from Depailler. Elsewhere, Fittipaldi's race was effectively over with a misfire, but the Brazilian continued to entertain his home fans, while Hans-Joachim Stuck was now sat in the top six, mainly as a result of other's misfortunes.
Indeed, the German's race was to get a whole lot better in the closing stages, as Hunt's sick McLaren finally ended his race on lap 33. The Brit's sticking throttle ultimately jammed open as Hunt entered Laranja, pitching the car into the catch fencing which ripped the oil coolers partially from the car. As the Brit pulled back onto the circuit he would lay an oil slick across the track as he tried to make it back to the pits, which would cause more drama a lap later.
Indeed, the next man into the crash zone would be Lauda and Jarier, with the Frenchman just a couple of seconds behind the Austrian and still closing at a rate of knots. Lauda, seeing the slick first, duly slowed and managed to make it through without issue, moments before Jarier came charging in at full pelt and slid on the slick. Momentum carried the Shadow into the barriers on the outside of Pinheirinho to end his race, leaving Lauda with a comprehensive lead.
Jarier's teammate Pryce was also a victim of the slick, the Welshman barely managing to keep his Shadow on the tarmac after some huge twitches, allowing Depailler to move through into second. The Welshman was unable to respond with worn tyres, and would duly cruise home to third behind Depailler as Lauda swept to victory some twenty seconds clear. Fourth would go to Stuck after a trouble free afternoon, while a quiet Jody Scheckter and Mass rounded out the scorers.
The full results for the 1976 Brazilian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Reutemann was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- Debut race for Ingo Hoffmann.
- Ligier entered their first race as a constructor.
- Maiden pole position for James Hunt.
- Fifth pole position set in a McLaren.
- Niki Lauda claimed his eighth career victory.
- Ferrari earned their 59th triumph as a constructor and engine supplier.
- Second and final podium for Tom Pryce.
Niki Lauda made the perfect start to his title defence by claiming victory in Brazil, although the manner of his win suggested that the Austrian could be beaten at some point on the season. Patrick Depailler was a happy second on the day and in the Championship, while Tom Pryce completed the early top three. Hans-Joachim Stuck, Jody Scheckter and Jochen Mass completed the day one scorers.
Ferrari had Lauda to thank for opening their 1976 account with a perfect score, the Italian squad three points ahead of second placed Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth. Shadow-Ford Cosworth, officially a British entry in 1976, found themselves ahead of March-Ford Cosworth, while McLaren-Ford Cosworth were the only other point scorers in fifth.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: BRAZILIAN GP, 1976', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2015), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr265.html, (Accessed 17/01/2018)
- A.H., 'The Brazilian Grand Prix: Lauda confirms Ferrari's mastery', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/03/1976), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/march-1976/42/brazilian-grand-prix, (Accessed 17/01/2018)
- 'Brazil 1976: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/bresil/engages.aspx, (Accessed 17/01/2017)
- 'Brazil 1976: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/bresil/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 17/01/2018)
- 'Brazil 1976: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/bresil/classement.aspx, (Accessed 17/01/2018)
|V T E||Brazilian Grand Prix / São Paulo Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Interlagos (1972–1977, 1979–1980, 1990–present), Jacarepaguá (1978, 1981–1989)|
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