The 1976 Italian Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XLVII Gran Premio d'Italia, was the thirteenth round of the 1976 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on the 12 September 1976. The race would be long remembered for the remarkable return of Niki Lauda after his fiery crash just six weeks earlier, although only after a political mess ahead of the start.
Before all of the political wranglings, qualifying had thrown up a surprise result, with Jacques Laffite taking pole position for Ligier-Matra, ahead of Jody Scheckter. Carlos Pace managed to claim third in the Alfa Romeo engined Brabham, while Lauda, in tremendous pain, claimed fifth ahead of his major title rival James Hunt.
It was race morning when things kicked off, with the Italian organisers taking fuel samples from the McLaren and Penske teams, before declaring that the fuel used in qualifying was illegal. Their times were duly wiped, leaving Hunt at the back of the field while Jochen Mass and John Watson dropped out entirely, although a series of withdrawals saw them all get back onto the grid just before the start.
Once that mess was, partially, sorted, the race got underway, with Scheckter snatching the lead from Laffite, while Pace was elbowed down the order through the Rettifilo chicane. Lauda made an awful start to drop to twelfth, while Mass, Hunt and Watson flew past several backmarkers on the opening tour.
The opening stages of the race would see Scheckter pull a small gap over the chasing pack, leaving Laffite to drop behind Patrick Depailler and Ronnie Peterson. Those two would soon swap positions, leaving Peterson to chase down Scheckter, while Clay Regazzoni caught and passed the Ligier on lap eleven. As the crowd focused on Regazzoni's move for sixth, Peterson pounced on Scheckter to take the lead.
Elsewhere, the two McLarens were out before the end of lap twelve, Mass disappearing with an ignition failure while Hunt spun himself out of action while fighting in the top ten. Lauda, meanwhile, was up to seventh, watching Scheckter fight with Laffite for fifth as the South African lost out to Depailler and Regazzoni in short order.
Into the closing stages and Peterson was cruising, aided by the demise of Depailler whom had hit engine trouble. The Frenchman would drop to sixth in the final laps, while Lauda elbowed his way past Scheckter after witnessing Laffite do the same a couple of laps earlier.
With that the race was run, with Peterson claiming a famous final victory for March, two seconds clear of Regazzoni in second. Laffite claimed third ahead of Lauda, who was in tremendous pain by the time the chequered flag fell, with Scheckter and Depailler rounding out the point scorers.
Watson, meanwhile, would finish the race down in eleventh as the last man on the lead lap, although the pre-race politicism would have dire consequences for the Penske effort's future.
Another year and another face lift for the Autodromo Nazionale Monza would greet the F1 circus in 1976, an entirely new set of chicanes, named the Rettifilo, added just ahead of the fearsome Curva Grande. A second chicane had also been added on the run to the two Lesmo right handers, effectively reducing the speed of the first half of the circuit in the name of safety. Although this marred the once legendary Autodromo, a record crowd was predicted, amid news that the Ferrari team were back at full force, and then some.
Indeed, the Scuderia would arrive for their home race with three drivers at their disposal, having signed up Carlos Reutemann after the Argentine racer quit Brabham-Alfa Romeo. He was set to partner Clay Regazzoni in Monza, only for Niki Lauda to make a stunning comeback to the paddock, climbing into his familiar cockpit just six weeks after his fiery crash at the Nürburgring, albeit in tremendous pain. This left Ferrari with three contracted drivers, and so they took the most sensible option of running three cars, with a fourth held in reserve. All four cars had updated rear wings, featuring slots in the aerofoil, while the three race cars were all fitted with new engines.
Reutemann's former team Brabham-Alfa Romeo, meanwhile, were left to sign up reserve driver Rolf Stommelen to the Argentine's seat, partnering Carlos Pace. The Argentine had decided to buy himself out of his contract with the team immediately after the Dutch Grand Prix, citing the team's use of Alfa Romeo engines as his reason for quitting. Given that the Italian Grand Prix was Alfa's home race, Pace and Stommelen would be under immense pressure to prove Reutemann wrong.
Elsewhere, McLaren arrived fresh from James Hunt's victory last time out, with the Brit still opting to use his older M23 for the time being. Jochen Mass, meanwhile, was listed as using the newer M26, in spite of its poor debut in Zandvoort, with minor changes made to both cars. The communal spare would be Mass' old M23, which remained unchanged since its last race in Austria.
Over at Tyrrell there had been some significant changes behind the scenes, with Ken Tyrrell signing Ronnie Peterson for the 1977 season after the Swede's recent return to form. Jody Scheckter was the man to make way for the Swede, prompting him to agree a deal to race for the Wolf-Williams team next season, although whether he would make the jump earlier remained a significant possibility. Patrick Depailler, meanwhile, was left fairly happy knowing that his seat in the team was safe, and having been favoured over the highly rated Scheckter.
Peterson's current team March arrived in their now increasingly familiar bullish mood in spite of the Swede's future betrayal, citing Monza as a circuit to suit the 761. The Swede was forced to revert to his older chassis, partnering Vittorio Brambilla in the "A" team once again, while Hans-Joachim Stuck continued to fight alone in the "B" squad. Ex-driver Arturo Merzario remained as the lone entry for the Wolf-Williams squad, although his future was in doubt given the imminent arrival of Scheckter.
There were also changes at Surtees, with Brett Lunger returning to partner Alan Jones after Conny Andersson's quiet debut in Zandvoort. Another returnee would by Guy Edwards at Hesketh, partnering Harald Ertl once again having missed out in the Netherlands due to other commitments. Jacky Ickx, meanwhile, carried on with the Ensign after an impressive debut last time out, while Emerson Fittipaldi returned with the Fittipaldi.
Penske once again brought a legion of sponsor representatives with them to watch John Watson, interest in the American effort at an all time high after his recent victory. The Ligier-Matra squad were also in an optimistic mood, Jacques Laffite once again at the wheel, although many noted the fact that they had only produced two chassis throughout the season. Shadow, in contrast, had their new DN8 on show, once again in the hands of Tom Pryce, leaving Jean-Pierre Jarier in his usual DN5B.
It had been a quiet couple of weeks in Norfolk for Lotus, although lead driver Mario Andretti was determined to put on a good display given his Italian roots, while Gunnar Nilsson simply hoped for a trouble free run. They rounded out the factory entries, with two privately entered Tyrrells in the field, one for Italian racer Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi, and the other for Otto Stuppacher, who was suddenly deemed worthy of an entry having had his last submission rejected in Austria. Henri Pescarolo was back with his privately run Surtees, while the Boro squad did well to rebuild Larry Perkins' car after his Zandvoort crash. RAM Racing were also set to make a return with Lella Lombardi and Loris Kessel, but they never arrived in the paddock.
Into the Championship and victory last time out had ensured that Hunt closed the gap at the top of the standings to just five points, although his impending 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 Lauda, meaning there would be a fight for the title in the final rounds of the season. Elsewhere, Scheckter had fallen away from the battle in third, while Regazzoni had moved back into the top five.
McLaren-Ford Cosworth managed to overhaul Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth in the Netherlands, even with Hunt's looming 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 Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth had drawn level with Ligier-Matra.
The full entry list for the 1976 Italian Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice/qualifying would be staged across Friday and Saturday, with three "timed" sessions supported by an "untimed" session, as per the new-for-1976 rules. Friday would host two of the "timed" periods, split by the lunch break, while Saturday would see the "untimed" session staged in the afternoon, after the final "timed" run out. As for a target time it was thought that the new chicanes would add ten seconds to the lap, meaning anyone getting within ten seconds of Niki Lauda's 1:32.24, set in 1975, would be near the top of the timesheets.
Unfortunately there would be no real test for the new chicanes on Friday morning, with Monza getting sheathed in torrential rain throughout the opening session. As such, only three drivers would even attempt to leave the pits, although Vittorio Brambilla would stay out for a fairly long time on his own. The Italian ended the session, unsurprisingly, fastest with a 2:44.90, with Rolf Stommelen and Larry Perkins, who spun while travelling down the start/finish straight, the only others to hit the circuit.
The rain would ease off during the lunch break on Friday, although it was replaced by a steady fall of drizzle which prevented the circuit from drying out. The lighter rain did, however, tempt the entire field out onto the circuit, although only after everyone had taken time to cover-up their vital components and bolted on full wet tyres. First out would be Carlos Reutemann and the returning Lauda, prompting huge cheers from the tifosi who had arrived in their droves in spite of the weather.
As Lauda received admiration, Championship rival James Hunt was met with aversion, the McLaren resoundingly jeered as it flashed around the circuit. The jeers briefly became ironic cheers when the Brit spun into the barriers at the Parabolica, leaving Hunt's race car with a bent nose. He would complete the session in the spare car, with Hans-Joachim Stuck and Clay Regazzoni the only others to have significant offs.
Time-wise, it was Stuck who ended the afternoon with a very soggy provisional pole, although his 2:02.79 would obviously be vulnerable if Saturday was even remotely dry. Ronnie Peterson was the closest man to him in second, while Jacky Ickx put the Ensign third overnight with a very calm run. Lauda, meanwhile, found himself in the mid-pack after a successful return to the cockpit, while Hunt was up in the top five, much to the tifosi's dismay.
Fortunately, Saturday's final "timed" session would be dry, although with a blanket of cloud hanging over the circuit suggesting rain was never far away. This, combined with the lack of running on Friday, meant that the entire hour was filled with action, resulting in a lot of "racing practice" as drivers fought for space on circuit. As such, Saturday morning would see one of the most jumbled grids in recent memory, although the results would be overshadowed by political motivations that further revised the grid.
Pole position would ultimately fall to Jacques Laffite in the Ligier-Matra, the Frenchman recording a 1:41.35 to claim a new circuit record. Jody Scheckter claimed second in his Tyrrell, just 0.03s behind, while Carlos Pace claimed a surprise third for the Alfa Romeo engined Brabham squad. The best of the Ferraris would be Lauda in fifth, while Perkins caused a stir by splitting the two Loti in thirteenth place.
Missing out on a place on the grid would be Arturo Merzario and Otto Stuppacher, who duly packed up their equipment and left Monza during the "untimed" session. Given the lack of running earlier in the weekend, there was little surprise that everyone found time during Saturday afternoon, but with the official clocks switched off there were no changes to the grid. Otherwise there was little of note during the final practice session of the weekend, the only on-track drama coming when the two Surtees drivers sent themselves spinning through Lesmo.
The qualifying results for the 1976 Italian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|2||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||—||2:23.69||1:41.38||+0.03s|
|3||8||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||—||2:32.08||1:41.53||+0.18s|
|4||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||—||2:41.21||1:42.06||+0.71s|
|6||34||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||—||2:02.79||1:42.18||+0.83s|
|8||10||Ronnie Peterson||March-Ford Cosworth||—||2:04.97||1:42.64||+1.29s|
|10||22||Jacky Ickx||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||—||2:07.80||1:43.29||+1.94s|
|11||7||Rolf Stommelen||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||2:52.90||2:45.38||1:43.29||+1.94s|
|12||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||—||2:40.89||1:43.30||+1.95s|
|13||40||Larry Perkins||Boro-Ford Cosworth||3:38.74||—||1:43.32||+1.97s|
|14||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||—||2:08.13T||1:43.34||+1.99s|
|15||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||—||2:16.89||1:43.63||+2.28s|
|16||9||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||2:44.90||2:18.41||1:43.94||+2.59s|
|17||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||—||2:37.37||1:44.05||+2.70s|
|18||19||Alan Jones||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||—||2:23.36||1:44.41||+3.06s|
|19||24||Harald Ertl||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||—||—||1:44.56||+3.21s|
|20||30||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||—||2:14.88||1:44.57||+3.22s|
|21||37||Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||—||—||1:44.62||+3.27s|
|22||38||Henri Pescarolo||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||—||—||1:45.12||+3.77s|
|23*||25||Guy Edwards||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||—||2:12.49||1:45.79||+4.44s|
|24||18||Brett Lunger||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||—||2:18.58||1:46.48||+5.13s|
|25†||20||Arturo Merzario||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||—||2:44.94||1:47.31||+5.96s|
|26†||39||Otto Stuppacher||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||—||—||1:55.22||+13.87s|
|DNQ‡||11||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||—||2:08.76T||1:42.51||+27.41s|
|DNQ‡||12||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||—||2:11.06||1:42.68||+29.71s|
|DNQ‡||28||John Watson||Penske-Ford Cosworth||—||2:13.95||1:42.47||+32.60s|
|WD||41||Lella Lombardi||Brabham-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
|WD||42||Loris Kessel||Williams-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a test/spare car.
- * Edwards withdrew from the meeting on race morning.
- † Merzario and Stuppacher were registered as first and second reserves but were subsequently promoted to the grid on race morning. Both, however, were unable to take the start.
- ‡ Hunt, Mass and Watson had their Q3 times deleted after a fuel discrepancy.
- * Edwards withdrew from the grid on race morning, meaning his grid slot was left blank.
- † Hunt, Mass and Watson were relegated to the back of the field after their qualifying times were deleted.
Sunday dawned brighter than either Friday or Saturday, with the start time set at 3:30pm, local time. 80,000 fans, almost all members of the fanatical tifosi had gathered around the circuit well before the start time, all out to see Niki Lauda make his historic return. Yet, while it was a pleasant enough day around the circuit, a storm was about to break in the paddock.
After Saturday's running concluded the Automobile Club of Italy, responsible for running the Italian Grand Prix, had taken samples of each car's fuel, testing for octane levels. A discrepancy was duly found in the samples from the McLaren and Penske teams, prompting the ACI to exclude James Hunt, Jochen Mass and John Watson from the results. They were duly relegated to the back of the field, leaving Hunt, Mass and Watson on the reserve list.
Their relegation promoted Brett Lunger back onto the grid, as well as Arturo Merzario and Otto Stuppacher. However, the latter two had left the circuit during Saturday afternoon, putting the two McLarens back onto the grid, albeit on the back row. That left Watson as the only man without a spot on the grid, leaving Roger Penske to question whether racing in Europe was worth the hassle.
With McLaren and Penske protesting their exclusions, Watson was left in limbo as to whether he was to race or not. As fate would have it, friend and compatriot Guy Edwards duly decided to withdraw his Hesketh, which, if its sponsorship was tracked, was partially supported by Citibank, the title sponsors of the Penske team. Watson was therefore allowed to join the back of the grid, with the squabbling fading to the background as the field assembled, physically, on the grid.
Dull grey clouds had gathered over the circuit by the time Jacques Laffite pulled onto the grid to complete the parade lap, with all 26 cars pulling smartly into their grid slots. A brief pause and then the lights on the gantry flared green, met with screeching tyres as Laffite and Jody Scheckter shot away from the grid. As they screamed off, Mass and Watson came charging through the middle of pack, already in the top twenty before reaching the timing line, with Hunt following them through.
Lauda, meanwhile, had made an awful start, dropping out of the top ten before the field filtered through the Rettifilo for the first time. Scheckter, meanwhile, had snatched the lead on the brakes into the chicane, and would duly lead Laffite, Patrick Depailler, Ronnie Peterson, Carlos Reutemann, Clay Regazzoni, Carlos Pace and Hans-Joachim Stuck across the line. The next batch came charging through behind Mario Andretti, while Mass came around at the back of the field having hit trouble towards the end of the opening tour.
The second lap would see the top four pull clear of Reutemann, leaving the Argentine to duel with new teammate Regazzoni to be the best Ferrari. Mass, meanwhile, would limp around with a worsening ignition issue, retiring at the end of the second tour, while Watson and Hunt continued to pick off the weaker drivers at the back of the field. Lauda was also making ground, chasing Brambilla hard as the duo caught the back of Pace, while Gunnar Nilsson ended the lap with damage to his nose after rear-ending someone in the Parabolica.
Peterson would steal the show during the third lap, pulling a sensational double move on Laffite and Depailler through the Parabolica. The two Frenchman had been scrapping into the braking zone, and as they both slid wide Peterson was left with a clean run past the pair of them on the inside, putting the March into second. He duly went charging off after Scheckter, while Depailler had to wait another lap before elbowing his way past Laffite.
The race soon settled during the following laps with Peterson slowly drawing in Scheckter, while Regazzoni caught Depailler and Laffite, who both remained within striking distance of Peterson. Next came Reutemann, Stuck, Brambilla and Lauda, the latter two having passed Andretti in tandem, leaving the American-Italian on his own by lap six. Jacky Ickx led the next group containing Tom Pryce, Watson and Hunt, while Alan Jones fought hard with Larry Perkins and Henri Pescarolo to be best of the also-rans.
A few more laps passed before the next major change to the order came, with Peterson lunging past Scheckter with another dive into Parabolica, moments before Regazzoni got the tifosi on their feet with a move on Laffite. Further down, Lauda was about to pounce on Brambilla, prompting another roar from the crowd, having recently been tempered by Hunt after the Brit moved into the top ten. However, Pryce decided to try and retake the position as the pair charged through Curva Grande on lap twelve, before slamming on the brakes into the "Lesmo" chicane. Pryce, who knew his new Shadow could brake hard scrambled through the chicane, while Hunt went charging off into the gravel.
Another huge cheer signalled the fact that Hunt was climbing out of his cockpit, just as Depailler came charging into the Rettifilo to pass teammate Scheckter for second. With that, the race began to settle down, the only on track battle raging between Stuck and Andretti, the American throwing everything he could at the orange March. Ultimately their aggressive fight would come to a rather predictable conclusion at the Rettifilo chicane, the pair both spinning off into the gravel after contact.
In the midst of the Andretti/Stuck tussle a light drizzle had begun to fall on the circuit, although there was no chance of the water gathering on the now warm tarmac. It therefore came as a surprise when the Clerk of the Course walked to the start/finish line holding a black flag and board with a white cross, a signal that the race would be stopped on the following lap. Some mad scrambling behind the scenes ultimately saw the Clerk disappear from the side of the circuit next time through, although whether Peterson would have even attempted to stop was in doubt.
In spite of the brief confusion there would be some victims, Laffite easing off enough to be passed by Scheckter, whose weakening engine had seen him relegated down to fifth just before the drizzle started. Further down, Jones, Emerson Fittipaldi and Lunger slithered into the pits thinking the race had been stopped, effectively relegating themselves down to the back of the field. They duly realised their mistake and charged back onto the circuit, as several team managers jostled in front of race control.
Back on track and Depailler briefly managed to get ahead of Peterson as the pair dived into the Parabolica at the end of the 31st lap, although the Swede was back ahead as they screamed past the start/finish line. The other Tyrrell, meanwhile, was having to defend from Laffite as the leaders fought, as both were steadily being caught by Lauda. By lap 40 the Ligier was back up into fourth and up the road, leaving Scheckter to defend from Lauda as the Austrian slowly closed in on fifth.
Scheckter fell to the Ferrari a lap later, while Depailler looked to have given up hope of taking the lead after Peterson resisted his best effort. His day was to get worse just five laps later, however, when his Ford Cosworth engine suddenly went flat, just as Regazzoni and Laffite drew onto the back of him. The #4 Tyrrell was immediately relegated to fourth, and never recovered, allowing Lauda to close the gap as the race drew towards its conclusion.
Into the final laps and Peterson's lead was suddenly cut in half, the Swede getting caught behind a lapped car badly enough to allow Regazzoni and Laffite to gain ground. Fortunately for March Peterson's advantage was enough that he could almost coast to the line, a fate not shared by Depailler down in fourth. Indeed, the Frenchman's near-perfect run was to be ruined in the final laps, the Tyrrell limping around making a horrendous noise, barely drowned out when Lauda went charging past for fourth.
With that the race was run, Peterson claiming his third victory in Monza and the second for the March factory team. Regazzoni was a content second ahead of Laffite, just, while the crowd chanted the name of Lauda as the Austrian claimed a heroic fourth, climbing out of his cockpit in tremendous pain. Depailler, meanwhile, would slip to sixth on the final lap with his ailing engine, while Watson ended the afternoon down in eleventh having started on the row behind the final row.
The results for the 1976 Italian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Ertl was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- † Edwards withdrew from the grid on race morning citing an injury.
- ‡ Merzario and Stuppacher left Monza before being promoted to the grid so both entries were withdrawn.
- 100th Grand Prix start for Jacky Ickx.
- Maiden pole position for Jacques Laffite.
- Ligier claimed their first pole position as a constructor.
- Eighth career victory for Ronnie Peterson.
- Third and final win for a March chassis.
With James Hunt failing to score it was a hugely successful return for the injured Niki Lauda, who miraculously managed to extend his lead in the Championship upon his return. The gap would stand at seventeen points as the field arrived in Canada, Hunt's retroactive disqualification from the British Grand Prix ratified by the FIA at the end of September. Elsewhere, Jody Scheckter knew he would have to win all three remaining races to stand any chance of claiming a maiden title, with everyone else officially out of the hunt.
The timely Ferrari revival in Italy ensured that they extended their lead in the International Cup for Manufacturers' standings, leaving their home race with a 23 point advantage. Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth were promoted to second once Hunt was disqualified from Britain, meaning McLaren-Ford Cosworth slipped to third, while Ligier-Matra had moved into fourth. March-Ford Cosworth were the big winners, moving into sixth ahead of Lotus-Ford Cosworth.
- * Corrected to show points after Hunt's disqualification from the British Grand Prix, confirmed on the 25 September.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: ITALIAN GP, 1976', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2015), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr277.html, (Accessed 13/03/2018)
- D.S.J., 'The Italian Grand Prix: Lauda's comeback', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 13/03/2018), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/october-1976/23/italian-grand-prix, (Accessed 13/03/2018)
- 'Italy 1976: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/italie/engages.aspx, (Accessed 13/03/2018)
- 'Italy 1976: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/italie/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 14/03/2018)
- Racing Repository, '[1976 Season] - Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix R13', youtube.com, (YouTube: Racing Repository, 29/09/2017), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDaBKJn8Klc, (Accessed 14/03/2018)
- 'Italy 1976: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/italie/classement.aspx, (Accessed 14/03/2018)
|V T E||Italian Grand Prix|
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