The 1976 Dutch Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XXV Grote Prijs van Nederland, was the twelfth round of the 1976 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Circuit Park Zandvoort in the Netherlands on the 29 August 1976. The race, which was registered as the 1976 European Grand Prix, would see James Hunt claim a dominant victory from Clay Regazzoni, although only after battling back from a poor start.
The Brit had started the weekend by just missing out on pole position, for Ronnie Peterson had finally rediscovered his former form in the #10 March. Behind them came Tom Pryce, debuting the new Shadow, while John Watson claimed fourth for Penske.
The start would see Peterson immediately jet off into the lead, while Watson bested Hunt into the first corner to snatch second. Behind came Mario Andretti and Pryce, with the rest of the field following them through.
While Peterson had been able to sprint clear at the start, it soon became clear that the March was carrying a problem, allowing Watson to close the gap. The Ulsterman, however, was unable to force his way past, and a mistake on lap seven ultimately gifted Hunt second place. The McLaren racer then tried to pass the Swede, finally managing to seize the lead after several aborted attempts on lap twelve.
It was effectively race over for Peterson from that moment on, the Swede tumbling down to third before an engine failure ended his afternoon. Watson therefore moved into second, while Clay Regazzoni fought up to third as Peterson fell, having had to elbow his way past Andretti and Pryce.
The race order settled after that point, the only major change coming when Watson's gearbox failed, a failure which promoted Jacky Ickx into the points. The Belgian was making his debut for the lowly Ensign team, and was set to take the final point before being struck by an electrical issue in the closing stages.
With Ickx's fall the race was run, Hunt claiming victory by just under a second having cruised to the flag in the final laps. Regazzoni claimed second for Ferrari, amid rumours that the injured Niki Lauda would be returning in Italy, while Andretti completed the podium for Lotus. Pryce and Jody Scheckter were next, while Vittorio Brambilla claimed the final point after the Ensign faltered.
Unfortunately, the entire weekend would be marred by the death of Ron Lenderink, a track marshal who was struck by an out of control car during a support race.
The Austrian Grand Prix, staged a fortnight earlier, seemed to have reinvigorated the field ahead of the annual trip to the dunes of Zandvoort, with a much happier atmosphere across the paddock. This was further fuelled by news of Niki Lauda's incredible recovery, with the Austrian back at home in Salzburg and rumoured to be eyeing a return in Italy. His recovery prompted the return of the Ferrari team, although Enzo Ferrari would only send a single effort in the hands of Clay Regazzoni.
Ferrari were not the only team making a return in the Netherlands, with the Dutch entered Boro entry also making a comeback with Larry Perkins at the wheel. Their major rivals, by virtue of a share history, would be Ensign, who had hired the seemingly disinterested Jacky Ickx, whom had been sacked by the Wolf-Williams team after the British Grand Prix. The privateer field would also be bolstered with the return of Hexagon of Highgate, who loaned a Penske PC3 for local racer Boy Hayle.
Penske themselves, meanwhile, suddenly found that they had arrived in Zandvoort as one of the favourites, particularly as driver John Watson was a little bit lighter after his victory. The Ulsterman, as per the terms of a bet he had with team boss Roger Penske, had had to shave his beard after pushing his PC4 to victory, and duly arrived clean shaven for the first time since joining the American effort. The car itself was unchanged since its victory, with a hoard of sponsor representatives sent over to watch after ironically missing out in Austria.
Elsewhere, McLaren arrived as the de facto favourites, bringing along the first of their new M26s to actually race. That car would be handed to Jochen Mass, lead driver James Hunt opting to use his more familiar M23, with Mass' car serving as a communal spare. Once again, the team arrived almost a week early to carryout some testing for the new car, with both Mass and Hunt spending time in the cockpit.
Over at Tyrrell the P34 was thought to have more of a chance amid the dunes, the circuit being less stressful for the car's four tiny front wheels. That gave drivers Jody Sheckter and Patrick Depailler hope of getting right into the title fight, with both needing to finish on the podium regularly to overhaul Lauda, regardless of whether the Austrian returned. The team would also be fighting without a spare, the oldest P34 having been damaged during testing, although a lone 007 would be in action for Scuderia Gulf Rondini, who once again entered Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi.
The optimistic mood had also spread to the Lotus team, with both Gunnar Nilsson and Mario Andretti hoping to repeat their double score at the Österreichring. Their trio of 77s arrived with more minor modifications, tweaked suspension designs and small ducting revisions, with all three chassis now on a par with one-another. The oldest car would serve as the spare, with Andretti's number plastered on the side, with the American also getting the newest chassis once again.
The Brabham-Alfa Romeo team also had reason to be optimistic after Carlos Pace's promising run in Austria had come to an end via an easily curable brake issue, although Carlos Reutemann had been off the pace all weekend. Regardless, the team arrived with three Martini liveried cars as usual, although Pace had been forced to use an older BT45 after the damage sustained to his regular car. Customers RAM Racing had also entered the race with Loris Kessel and Lella Lombardi, but were forced to withdraw after shipping issues.
The March trio arrived in the Netherlands in their usual mixed mood, Ronnie Peterson the most optimistic having finally rediscovered his mojo. Direct teammate Vittorio Brambilla was also keen to get on with things after his series of accidents across the last two races, with his car now on its fourth monocoque. Hans-Joachim Stuck completed their familiar trio in the "Jägermeister" entry, with a fourth 761 held in reserve.
Shadow brought along a new toy to try amid the dunes, Tom Pryce finally getting his hands on the new DN8 after their funding issues prevented its development mid-season. Teammate Jean-Pierre Jarier would use his usual DN5B, his form having dipped in recent races, while Pryce's old car became the team's spare. The new car itself was an evolution of the DN5B, sporting redesigned bodywork, brakes, suspension but retained their sinister black livery.
Elsewhere, there were changes at Surtees, with Alan Jones being partnered by Formula 3 star Conny Andersson after Brett Lunger left the team. A third Surtees would once again be entered privately for Henri Pescarolo, although the Frenchman's trip was delayed as the team's transporter expired in the paddock in Austria. The factory team had also renegotiated their deal with the London Rubber Company, meaning the "Durex" logos that had caused so much controversy were made less conspicuous on both cars.
Completing the field would be Arturo Merzario and the Wolf-Williams team, remaining their sole entry, while Jacques Laffite returned with two Ligier-Matras at his disposal once again. The Hesketh team, meanwhile, had made a change to their line-up, signing Rolf Stommelen to replace Guy Edwards, while Harald Ertl continued on as their major entry. Completing the field would be the lone Fittipaldi of Emerson Fittipaldi, although the ex-Champion would have two cars to try as the team tried to get back into the points once again.
Championship-wise it was Watson who had been the man on the move in Austria, his maiden victory earning the Ulsterman a spot in the top five having become the fifth different winner of the season. Out front, meanwhile, Hunt had moved up into second, in-spite of his imminent exclusion from the results of the British Grand Prix, but remained 23 points behind the recovering Lauda. Scheckter had dropped to third having failed to score, while Depailler retained fourth and was realistically out of the title hunt.
Ferrari returned with 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, Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth were slowly climbing up the table, arriving in Zandvoort in sixth, while March-Ford Cosworth had drawn level with Shadow-Ford Cosworth in eighth.
The full entry list for the 1976 Dutch Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice/qualifying would follow the now established balance of sessions, with three "timed" sessions supported by an additional "untimed" run out across Friday and Saturday. Two of the "timed" periods would be staged on Friday, split by a lunch break, while in a minor change to the schedule, the "untimed" session was to be staged on Saturday afternoon, meaning qualifying would be sorted by Saturday lunch time. In terms of a target time the "aces" would be aiming for the 1975 pole time, a 1:20.29 set by Niki Lauda.
Momentum seemed the be the major contributing factor at the top of the times in the first "timed" session of the weekend, John Watson setting the pace with a 1:21.94. Likewise, second fastest would go to second placed finisher in Austria Jacques Laffite, with the Frenchman a tenth behind the Penske. James Hunt completed the early top three with a 1:22.18, while the new McLaren in the hands of Jochen Mass struggled to make an impact.
Elsewhere, Carlos Reutemann's running was ended prematurely by an engine failure, the Argentine actually beating the pace of teammate Carlos Pace before that point. Jacky Ickx, meanwhile, was struggling in his new cockpit, the Ensign proving tricky to mould to his requirements, an issue that Mass was having with the new McLaren. The reverse was true for Tom Pryce in the new Shadow, who found himself over a second quicker than teammate Jean-Pierre Jarier.
The star of Friday afternoon proved to be Hunt, whose sudden switch to aggressive driving saw him set a 1:21.57 and claim provisional pole, moments after blasting through a herd of slower cars. Watson also improved by was unable to match his countryman's pace, while Vittorio Brambilla suddenly appeared in third as the only other man in the 1:21.00s. Further down the order there were widespread improvements, with Ickx a notable highlight by matching the pace of the lone Ferrari in the hands of Clay Regazzoni.
While some enjoyed their afternoon, others were battling a mixture of mechanical and driver related issues. Gunnar Nilsson, for example, had come to a stop at the side of the circuit with an electrical glitch, prompting Lotus to scramble two mechanics to try and sort the issue as the Swede had stopped on the exit of Tarzan. As they worked, Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi came spinning towards them, the Gulf liveried Tyrrell just missing the black-gold car before sliding to a stop a few yards away in the middle of the circuit.
Disgruntled, the Lotus mechanics helpfully pushed the stalled Italian off the circuit and down a dune before returning to their work, leaving Rossi to trudge back to the pits to arrange a recovery. As their dramas unfolded, Pryce brought the new Shadow into the pits amid a cacophony of noise, an issue traced to a split exhaust pipe, typically buried at the back of the system. Elsewhere, the two Tyrrell six-wheelers were struggling, the middle pair of wheels locking up every time Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler touched the brakes, while Reutemann was force to his the spare Brabham as his crew awaited the arrival of a fresh engine.
The revised schedule meant that Saturday morning actually meant something for a change, and with settled weather ahead of the session the promise of a scrap for pole was fulfilled. The pace throughout the field had improved after the overnight tinkering, although the man to seriously mess-up was Watson, who failed to beat his Friday pace. First blood duly went to Hunt, improving to a 1:21.39, only for the #11 McLaren to be relegated to second in the dying moments of the session.
The man to take pole would be Ronnie Peterson, who had been quietly getting on with things in the newest March before igniting the afterburners on Saturday. Both the Swede, and teammate Brambilla, had had new engines fitted for the final session, resulting in a 1:21.88 for the Italian, and an excellent 1:21.31 for Peterson. Elsewhere, Pryce improved to third now that his exhaust system had been properly fitted, while Regazzoni, Scheckter and Mario Andretti all broke into the 1:21.00s.
Away from the elite end of the field and it proved to be a difficult morning for Mass in the new McLaren, failing to a time remotely close to Hunt in the older car. His day was almost made all the worse when Nilsson chopped across the nose of the new car, although both would continue on without issue. Elsewhere, Arturo Merzario and Larry Perkins would go for a synchronised spinning at Tarzan, the Australian showing beautiful control to stop the spin after completing the full 360°, while Pesenti-Rossi was the only driver to fail to qualify.
The final session on Saturday was given over to race running, and despite the more relaxed atmosphere there would be even more drama across the field. Qualifying hero Peterson was among the incidents, rudely chopping across Perkins on the brakes into Tarzan only to have the Boro ram into the back of his car. Mass then went flying off at the hairpin after a gearbox failure, while Alan Jones lost an engine in the spare Surtees.
The qualifying results for the 1976 Dutch Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||10||Ronnie Peterson||March-Ford Cosworth||1:23.04||1:22.58||1:21.31||—|
|2||11||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:22.18||1:21.57||1:21.39||+0.08s|
|3||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:24.14||1:23.82||1:21.55||+0.24s|
|4||28||John Watson||Penske-Ford Cosworth||1:21.94||1:21.75||1:21.62||+0.31s|
|6||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:23.18||1:22.57||1:21.88T||+0.57s|
|7||9||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||1:24.07||1:21.89||1:21.88||+0.57s|
|8||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:23.06||1:22.51||1:21.91||+0.60s|
|9||8||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:23.82||1:22.93||1:22.03||+0.72s|
|11||22||Jacky Ickx||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:30.74||1:23.99||1:22.13||+0.82s|
|12||7||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:22.47||1:22.16T||1:22.85||+0.85s|
|13||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:24.84||1:24.27||1:22.16||+0.85s|
|14||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:23.64||1:22.99||1:22.27||+0.96s|
|15||12||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:23.69||1:23.72||1:22.48||+1.17s|
|16||19||Alan Jones||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:23.97||1:23.01||1:22.51||+1.20s|
|17||30||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||1:24.15||1:23.13||1:22.55||+1.24s|
|18||34||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||1:23.40||1:23.06||1:22.59||+1.28s|
|19||27||Larry Perkins||Boro-Ford Cosworth||1:23.56||1:23.12||1:23.10||+1.79s|
|20||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:25.24||1:24.13||1:23.18||+1.87s|
|21||39||Boy Hayje||Penske-Ford Cosworth||1:24.94||1:24.00||1:23.26||+1.95s|
|22||38||Henri Pescarolo||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:25.70||1:24.50||1:23.55||+2.24s|
|23||20||Arturo Merzario||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:27.78||1:24.63||1:24.09||+2.78s|
|24||24||Harald Ertl||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:26.57||1:26.07||1:24.37||+3.06s|
|25||25||Rolf Stommelen||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:27.58||1:26.03||1:24.71||+3.40s|
|26||18||Conny Andersson||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:25.62||1:31.58||1:24.74||+3.43s|
|DNQ||40||Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:32.63||1:27.40||1:26.01||+4.70s|
|WD||32||Loris Kessel||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
|WD||33||Lella Lombardi||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a test/spare car.
Local laws prevented any noise before 12:00pm on Sunday morning, meaning Zandvoort was largely silent as 65,000 fans gathered around the dunes to watch the Netherlands' biggest sporting event of the year. There was therefore a double eruption when the pits were opened at 1:00pm for the warm-up session, which saw March quickly cure an ignition issue for Ronnie Peterson, while Brabham-Alfa Romeo did some last minute fuel calculations. An hour later and the field were sent away to complete a parade lap ahead of the start, heralded by the appearance of two green lights on the starting gantry.
It was Peterson who shot away from the grid in the lead, quickly followed by John Watson as the Penske shot past James Hunt for second. Tom Pryce, meanwhile, went backwards after misjudging the clutch bite in his new Shadow, although smart braking into Tarzan saw him gain back some ground. As the dust settled a speck of orange March was left on the grid, Hans-Joachim Stuck being pushed off into the pits after his clutch failed on the parade lap.
The opening lap was all about the recovery drive from Pryce, a series of excellent move carrying the Welshman back into the top five, streaming past the pits in the wake of Mario Andretti. Peterson, meanwhile, came across the line with a small lead over Watson, with Hunt, Andretti and Pryce all tagged onto the back of him. The rest of the field then followed through behind Clay Regazzoni and Jody Scheckter, with Stuck escaping from the pits just after the field charged past.
Pryce began to fall away from the lead quartet after the second lap, leaving Peterson, Watson, Hunt and Andretti to fight it out between them for the lead. It was an excellent scrap for the leaders, with Watson trying several moves on Peterson each lap, only to be met with an equally excellent response by the Swede. Hunt and Andretti loomed all the time, both hoping the jousting duo would take each other out.
The start of lap seven saw Watson make his best attempt at taking the lead, dicing with Peterson along the start/finish straight before both slammed on the brakes to enter Tarzan. The Ulsterman was a fraction later, but in their jostling had been forced onto the outside of the circuit, meaning he was sliding on the sand and dust, while Peterson hadh the racing line. However it was Watson, excellently balancing his Penske on the limit of adhesion who looked to have won the battle, only for Peterson and Hunt to blast past on the exit with better traction.
As the fight for the lead went on out front, Pryce seemed destined to tumble out of the points scoring positions, getting passed and dropped by Regazzoni in short order. Arturo Merzario, meanwhile, disappeared off the circuit almost unnoticed, the only sign of his exit being the cloud of sand he threw up before coming to rest at the foot of a dune. Elsewhere, Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depailler were both carrying damage after an unseen collision, the Ligier-Matra the worse off with bent steering, while Carlos Reutemann dropped out with a clutch failure.
Back with the leaders and it was down to three for the lead, with Andretti falling away far enough that Regazzoni could catch and pass him, while Pryce was resisting Scheckter in a duel for second. However, as the lead trio came to start the twelfth lap it seemed that Peterson's March had given up the fight, for Hunt breezed past on the brakes into Tarzan, followed by Watson a lap later with an identical move. A variety of potential reasons were suggested as the Swede was steadily dropped by Hunt and Watson, with Regazzoni soon catching and passing the #10 March to dump the pole sitter off the podium.
The delay between Hunt and Watson passing Peterson had allowed the McLaren to pull out a small lead, although Watson threw everything he could at the wheel of his Penske to close the gap. Twelve laps after passing the March, Watson found himself tucked under the rear wing of the McLaren, just pulling out from behind Hunt as the pair hit the brakes for Tarzan. For the second time that afternoon, Watson was forced to run around the outside of the leader to try and complete the move, and duly had to settle for second on the exit as Hunt had better traction.
Two laps passed before Watson launched another assault at Hunt's McLaren, although a more proactive response from the Brit saw the Ulsterman's moved baulked before the pair entered Tarzan on lap 29. Another brief pause and then the Penske was back on the attack again, this time aided by the added confusion of the back markers whom the duo had begun to lap. Yet, Hunt was the master of judging gaps when lapping cars at the back of the field, and so the fight was on hold until both drivers cleared the moving chicanes.
Had it not been for the fight for the lead, Jacky Ickx in the lowly Ensign would have been the star of the show, moving within sight of the points before the halfway point. Successive moves on Jochen Mass, Depailler, Carlos Pace and Vittorio Brambilla to leave himself in eighth, just behind Scheckter as the South African made his final move on Pryce. Another two laps passed before the Belgian moved into seventh, although this was not as a result of his efforts.
Indeed, the Ensign's promotion would ultimately come from the conclusion of the fight out front, for Hunt and Watson had cleared the backmarkers and were duly dicing again on the start/finish straight. The fight had developed a very familiar pattern, Hunt hugging the pitwall with Watson under his wing, before the Ulsterman had to jink left on the brakes into Tarzan to avoid the back of the McLaren. Then, it seemed that the Penske gained some more power, with Watson pulling alongside the McLaren earlier and earlier, but still fruitlessly on the outside when the pair came to the hairpin.
Yet, at the end of the 47th tour it was over, the Penske pulling off to the side of the circuit on the run to the start/finish line with a dejected Watson at the wheel. The cause proved to be a gearbox failure, and as the Ulsterman climbed out of his cockpit he received an acknowledging cheer from the crowd for his efforts. Hunt, meanwhile, was left with a healthy advantage at the head of the field over Regazzoni, while Pryce seemed to have woken up again in the Shadow, re-passing Scheckter almost unnoticed.
The rest of the race proved to be as much about retirements then racing, with Emerson Fittipaldi disappearing with an electrical issue, while Larry Perkins went charging off into the fences at the final corner. He emerged from the ruined Boro unharmed, but covered in sand, walking back to the pits just as Pace and Laffite retired within moments of each other with oil leaks. Peterson had gone out a lap earlier after his Ford Cosworth lost oil pressure before Ickx disappeared from sixth with a catastrophic electrical failure.
Into the closing stages and Andretti had closed right onto the back of Regazzoni, who had, in turn, begun to close the gap to the cruising Hunt out front. With five laps to go it seemed as if Regazzoni might snatch the victory, for Hunt was getting baulked badly in traffic, while Andretti was similarly caught. All three were then in the midst of a cloud of traffic, before ending the penultimate lap all queued up behind Alan Jones.
It was the Australian who ultimately settled the race, for he slipped out of the way of Hunt into Tarzan, before sweeping back onto the racing line just as Regazzoni tried to send his Ferrari past too. That gave Hunt a one second advantage that he would hold to the flag, with Regazzoni waving his fist at Jones both before and after crossing the line in pure frustration. Andretti was left to claim third ahead of the scrapping Pryce and Scheckter, while Brambilla ended the day in sixth after a strangely quiet afternoon.
The results for the 1976 Dutch Grand Prix are outlined below:
- 25th Dutch Grand Prix to be staged under Formula One regulations.
- Jean-Pierre Jarier started his 50th Grand Prix.
- First entry for Boy Hayje.
- Only Grand Prix start for Conny Andersson.
- Ronnie Peterson claimed the fifth and final pole position for March.
- Fifth career victory for James Hunt.
- The McLaren team claimed their nineteenth victory as a constructor.
Victory ensured that James Hunt closed the gap at the top of the standings to just five points, although his retroactive removal from the results of the British Grand Prix meant that the gap was actually fourteen between first and second. The man leading the field therefore remained Niki Lauda, rumoured to be making an unlikely return in Italy, meaning there would be a fight for the title in the final rounds of the season. Elsewhere, Jody Scheckter fell away from the battle in third, while Clay Regazzoni had moved back into the top five.
McLaren-Ford Cosworth overhauled Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth, even with Hunt's British penalty, meaning they were now the closest challengers to Ferrari in the International Cup for Manufacturers. The Italian firm themselves were up to 70 points, eighteen clear of their British combatants, with Tyrrell just a single point further back. Penske-Ford Cosworth remained in fourth, while Lotus-Ford Cosworth drew level with Ligier-Matra.
- * Corrected to show points after Hunt's disqualification from the British Grand Prix, confirmed on the 25 September.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: DUTCH GP, 1976', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2015), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr276.html, (Accessed 11/03/2018)
- 'Ron Lenderink', motorsportmemporial.org, (Motorsport Memorial, 2012), http://www.motorsportmemorial.org/focus.php?db=ct&n=2524, (Accessed 11/03/2018)
- D.S.J., 'The Dutch Grand Prix: Hunt wins through', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/10/1976), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/october-1976/44/dutch-grand-prix, (Accessed 11/03/2018)
- 'Netherlands 1976: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/pays-bas/engages.aspx, (Accessed 11/03/2018)
- 'Netherlands 1976: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/pays-bas/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 12/03/2018)
- 'Netherlands 1976: Results', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/pays-bas/classement.aspx, (Accessed 13/03/2018)
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