The 1976 South African Grand Prix, officially known as the XXII Grand Prix of South Africa, was the second round of the 1976 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Kyalami Circuit on the 6 March 1976. The race, which included a healthier entry list, would see a late charge for the lead by James Hunt, creating a tense final lap.
Qualifying would see Hunt set the outright pace to claim pole, although Niki Lauda once again qualified on the front row in the #1 Ferrari. John Watson was a surprise third for Penske, two tenths back, with Hunt's teammate Jochen Mass lining up in fourth.
The start of the Grand Prix would see Hunt fluff his lines, allowing Lauda to sprint away from the grid to claim an early lead. Vittorio Brambilla and Mass also got ahead of Hunt, who managed to baulk Watson behind, while Ian Scheckter and Michel Leclère hit each other at the back of the field.
The opening lap would see Lauda pull clear of the chasing pack, with Brambilla, Mass and Hunt opening the second lap line astern, all hitting the brakes into turn one within moments of each other. Brambilla braked latest and held onto second, while Mass surrendered third to Hunt later in the lap.
With Hunt harassing him relentlessly it seemed only a matter of time before Brambilla's orange March was prised out of second. The inevitable move happened on the fifth lap of the race, although Brambilla's defence had cost the Brit ten seconds to the leading Lauda. Mass would also find a way past Brambilla during the early stages of the race.
Hunt began to chip away at Lauda's lead as the race wore on, while Brambilla slowly tumbled down the order, believed to be carrying a minor issue. Elsewhere, Patrick Depailler and Ronnie Peterson hit each other, putting the Swede on the sidelines, with their positions inherited by Tom Pryce.
The Welshman would run in fourth through until half distance, at which point the Shadow had burned through the best of his tyres, forcing him into the pits. That allowed Clay Regazzoni into fourth until his engine expired, meaning home hero Jody Scheckter moved into the seemingly cursed position.
Into the closing stages, and Hunt was seriously beginning to threaten Lauda, for the Austrian had picked up a slow puncture and was slowly losing pace. Hunt, however, was running out of time to catch the Ferrari, and as the pair started the final lap the Brit was just two seconds behind.
Ultimately, Hunt would fall just over a second shy of Lauda at the flag, the Austrian nursing his car expertly to claim his second straight win of the season. Mass cruised home to third ahead of Scheckter, while Watson and Mario Andretti completed the points for the American efforts of Penske and Parnelli.
The annual trip to South Africa and the Kyalami Circuit was scheduled for the 6 March, and, unusually for Formula One, there were no major organisational issues ahead of the race. The circuit itself was unchanged from F1's previous visits to Kyalami, although new catch fences had been installed around certain sections. In terms of the entry list there were some major changes and revisions, as well as a protest regarding the design of one of the major cars.
The bone of contention surrounded the modifications made by Gordon Coppuck to the two McLaren M23s over the winter. Both James Hunt and Jochen Mass' cars had been fitted with plastic "skirts" at the bottom of the side-pods after Coppuck spotted some ambiguity in the FIA's rule book and duly added the modification. However, after witnessing the performance of the McLarens in practice, Ken Tyrrell led a protest against the cars.
Tyrrell's protest centred upon the concept that the "skirts" took the M23 outside of the permitted maximum height for a Formula One car, making the car illegal. McLaren's boss Teddy Mayer ultimately decided not to bother with a counter protest, and instead simply removed the skirts ahead of the race. Whatever impact the skirts were or were not having would therefore be shown in the race, although Tyrrell's actions were deemed nothing short of petty.
Indeed, Tyrrell's "pettiness" would be further highlighted in a second protest in Kyalami, when the British team owner questioned the March team's continued use of "NASCAR cans" to refuel. That issue, however, would wait until the end of the race meeting, and only after Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler had completed the race. Those two would have their usual 007s to use during the weekend, while an older car was to be found at Lexington Racing for the use of Ian Scheckter.
Away from the protests, Ferrari arrived in South African without issue, with Niki Lauda leading the Championship with victory in Brazil. Clay Regazzoni also looked content despite Lauda's rather aggressive move last time out, with the pair set to use their usual 312Ts. The Italian squad also shipped their "muletta" spare car to South Africa, which sported some minor revisions compared to the race cars.
Another team uninterested in protesting were Lotus, which had finally seen the issues between owner Colin Chapman and driver Ronnie Peterson boil over after a disappointing start in Brazil. The Swede, touted as a future star when he joined the team in 1973, sensationally quit the former Champions, fed up with the succession of poor cars seemingly carried on by the new 77. Chapman was left to hire Bob Evans and Swedish rookie Gunnar Nilsson for the Kyalami meeting, and spent most of the weekend stating that this was a team for the future.
Peterson himself, meanwhile, had secured himself a drive at former team March, taking over the #10 car as Lella Lombardi left the team. The Swede's new car was painted in the colours of the Swedish flag, which was slapped onto the nose for good measure, and duly wheeled out alongside the two orange Marchs. Those two belonged to Vittorio Brambilla and Hans-Joachim Stuck, both of whom would race in South Africa as usual.
Elsewhere, Alfa Romeo hinted at having solved their engine issues with Brabham, although only time would tell whether Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace would get some serious running in. Shadow were quietly confident with their updated DN5Bs, Tom Pryce and Jean-Pierre Jarier at the wheel again, while Surtees returned with their new car, the TS19. John Surtees' effort arrived with Brett Lunger at the wheel, while the new car itself looked evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Also making returns were the Hesketh Racing team, which appeared with a single new car, the 308D, and a single driver in the form of Austrian journalist Harald Ertl. Likewise, Ensign reappeared with Chris Amon as their sole driver, although they only had their middling car, the N174 available in South Africa. Parnelli also made their return with an updated car for Mario Andretti, with other single car efforts for Penske, fielding John Watson, and Fittipaldi with Emerson Fittipaldi.
Completing the field were the newly re-branded Wolf-Williams effort, which sported two black cars designated FW05s. Canadian tycoon Walter Wolf had had his stake in the effort publicly recognised, with the Canadian flag appearing on the side of both Jacky Ickx and Michel Leclère's cars. BRM were also slated to make an appearance, but seemed to have silently vanished from the racing world after the race in Brazil.
Lauda had 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. Depailler was a happy second on the day and in the Championship, while Pryce completed the early top three. Stuck, Jody Scheckter and 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.
The full entry list for the 1976 South African Grand Prix is outlined below:
As ever, practice/qualifying were held over Wednesday and Thursday in South Africa, with four sessions across the two days. However, as per the new FIA rules, the third session, the first on Thursday morning, would be untimed, allowing teams to complete a full-fuel run without compromising their qualifying prospects. As for a target time, the top teams would aim to best Denny Hulme's circuit record set in 1973, a 1:16.28.
There were to be no major shocks in the first of the practice sessions on Wednesday, although James Hunt showed strong one-lap pace to top the timesheets, recording a 1:16.60 before the end of the morning. Niki Lauda found himself in second after some strong running, with those two the only men to record a sub-1:17.00 time. Elsewhere, Gunnar Nilsson hit trouble in his new Lotus, recording a slow lap before spending the entire day in the pits, while Carlos Pace had more Alfa Romeo engine troubles at Brabham.
The afternoon session likewise passed without issue, as Hunt once again bested Lauda in their seemingly private scrap for pole. The Brit would improve to a 1:16.59 come day's end, with Lauda closing the gap but remaining some three tenths behind. Those two remained the only drivers in the 1:16.00s, although the two Tyrrells of Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler did well to claim the joint third fastest time of the day.
Dramas in the unrecorded third session saw Emerson Fittipaldi sit out the final session, as Lauda and Hunt duelled for pole. Ultimately, the Brit found more speed to set a new circuit record of 1:16.10, a tenth quicker than the best that Lauda could offer. John Watson briefly joined the fight for Penske before the leading duo pulled clear, although Watson did manage to beat the sister McLaren of Jochen Mass.
It was after this session that Ken Tyrrell launched the first of his protests against McLaren's cars, having seen Mass' improvement after seeing the "skirts" added to the German's car. McLaren boss Teddy Mayer resolved the situation quickly and had the skirts removed before the FIA or organisers seriously got involved, although whether Hunt and Mass would be significantly slower in the race remained to be seen. Elsewhere, Nilsson got some running in the Lotus, albeit without much impact on the time sheets, while ex-Lotus driver Ronnie Peterson broke the top ten first time out for March, albeit half a second behind new teammate Vittorio Brambilla.
The full qualifying results for the 1976 South African Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||11||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:16.60||1:16.59||1:16.10||—|
|3||28||John Watson||Penske-Ford Cosworth||1:18.05||1:17.54||1:16.43||+0.33s|
|4||12||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:17.61||1:17.91||1:16.45||+0.35s|
|5||9||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||1:17.11||1:17.50||1:16.64||+0.54s|
|6||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:17.89||1:17.18||1:16.77||+0.67s|
|7||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:17.41||1:17.41||1:16.84||+0.74s|
|10||10||Ronnie Peterson||March-Ford Cosworth||1:17.57||1:17.97||1:17.03||+0.93s|
|11||7||Carlos Reutemann||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:17.84||1:17.21||1:17.09||+0.99s|
|12||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:18.16||1:17.18||1:17.30||+1.08s|
|13||27||Mario Andretti||Parnelli-Ford Cosworth||1:18.78||1:18.25||1:17.25||+1.15s|
|14||8||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:57.25||1:17.67||1:17.26||+1.16s|
|15||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:17.35||1:17.55||1:17.46||+1.25s|
|16||15||Ian Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:17.91||1:17.98||1:17.40||+1.30s|
|17||34||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||1:19.39||1:19.83||1:17.44||+1.34s|
|18||22||Chris Amon||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:18.55||1:18.48||1:17.73||+1.63s|
|19||20||Jacky Ickx||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:19.34||1:19.51||1:18.13||+2.03s|
|20||18||Brett Lunger||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:19.40||1:18.50||1:18.36||+2.26s|
|21||30||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||1:18.40||1:18.84||—||+2.30s|
|22||21||Michel Leclère||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:19.26||1:18.82||1:18.86||+2.72s|
|23||5||Bob Evans||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:19.56||1:19.35||1:19.81||+3.25s|
|24||24||Harald Ertl||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:22.58||1:22.11||1:22.13||+6.01s|
|25||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:25.48||—||1:22.70||+6.60s|
- 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.
Raceday followed the weather patterns of Wednesday and Thursday, with warm temperatures and blistering sunshine. Warm-up passed without issue, the teams having had the entirety of Friday to race prepare their equipment, although some teams were concerned about fuel. Regardless, all 25 qualifiers would make into onto the grid for the start, which would be signalled by the drop of a flag rather than the new lighting system.
A fairly tame start from the grid would see Niki Lauda make a perfect start to streak into the first corner with the lead, pole sitter James Hunt making a poor getaway for the second consecutive race. The Brit was to be passed by his McLaren teammate Jochen Mass, who almost challenged Lauda into turn one, and a charging Vittorio Brambilla in the orange March. In the middle of the pack there was some contact, before Ian Scheckter was sent flying off the circuit on the exit of the first corner by Michel Leclère, who carried on at the back of the field.
The opening lap ended in spectacular fashion, as Hunt and Brambilla pulled alongside Mass in a three way fight for second on the brakes for turn one. Ultimately, it was the Italian who braked latest to snatch the position, leaving Mass to shuffle in behind teammate Hunt at the end of the following straight. However, all their fighting allowed Lauda to build a huge lead during the opening lap, prompting Hunt to aggressively attack Brambilla over the following laps.
Unfortunately for Hunt, Brambilla was in no mood to be overtaken, and the Italian's equally aggressive defence would cause furore in the pits, particularly after the race. Indeed, it would take until the end of lap five before Hunt prised an opening inside the orange March and ran Brambilla wide, finally moving into second. Hunt duly jetted off after Lauda, already ten seconds ahead and setting fastest laps, while Mass was left to find his own way past the Italian for third.
Once Mass found his own way past Brambilla on lap eight, the race began to settle down, with Hunt chipping away into Lauda's lead but without major gains. Indeed, the race would prove rather tame until Patrick Depailler got out of shape on lap fifteen while trying to pass Brambilla, misjudging his braking into turn one and sending himself into a spin. Ronnie Peterson was duly collected the spinning Tyrrell and was left with terminal damage to the suspension of his new March.
Depailler carried on and almost caused a second accident as he rejoined, only lightening quick reactions from Chris Amon preventing a huge accident in the middle of Crowthorne Corner. Elsewhere, the two Alfa Romeo engines in the back of Brabhams had done their best to spray oil across the circuit, leaving Mario Andretti, Jacques Laffite and John Watson covered in oil streaks from nose to rear wing. Ultimately, the two Martini liveried Brabhams would retire within five laps of one another, both succumbing to a serious lack of lubrication.
Once those incidents had been cleared the race became a rather tepid affair, with Hunt only able to take a few tenths of a second at best out of Lauda's lead, while Mass fell away from both. Brambilla had been forced to pit after slipping into the pack, receiving a controversial fuel top up as his steering was looked at, which had allowed Tom Pryce and Clay Regazzoni to pass with ease compared to the McLarens. The Ligier-Matra in the hands of Jacques Laffite was running strongly, in sight of the points, when its V12 engine expired, quickly followed by Regazzoni's F12 Ferrari unit.
Regazzoni's failure shortly after half distance caused some concern among the Ferrari pitcrew, particularly as Lauda was beginning to lose more time to Hunt in the closing stages. However, the Austrian World Champion was not succumbing to an engine issue, rather a slow puncture in his left rear tyre, causing some difficult handling issues and excessive tyre wear. Hunt duly began to take more and more time out of Lauda's lead as the race wore on, opening the final lap a little over two seconds behind the #1 Ferrari.
Ultimately, however, Lauda was able to pace himself beautifully to cross the line over a second clear of Hunt at the finish, the Austrian's tyre finally losing all its pressure as he stopped in the pits on the cool down lap. Third went to the cruising Mass, while a mid-race stop for Pryce promoted South Africa's major F1 star Jody Scheckter into fourth. The oil coated messers Watson and Andretti would complete the points for Penske and Parnelli, a few seconds ahead of the recovering Pryce and Brambilla. Depailler was a frustrated ninth in the second Tyrrell, while Bob Evans was delighted to see the chequered flag in tenth, as were his Lotus pit crew.
After the race there would be some rather petty scenes in the pits, as Ken Tyrrell attempted to log his second protest of the weekend. This time it was aimed at March for their use of "NASCAR cans", a refuelling method that involved a tank of fuel suspended over the refueller's shoulder to fill the car with fuel via gravity. Tyrrell complained that this was a banned method according to the FIA rulebooks, while March boss Max Mosley, deploying his legal knowledge to the full, calmly pointed to the look of their refuelling "device" and claimed that it was simply "a common or garden can."
Tyrrell, furious with Mosley's response, duly handed lead driver Scheckter an envelope to hand to the Clerk of the Course Francis Tucker, before climbing aboard his helicopter to head to the airport. The confused Scheckter duly handed the envelope over to Tucker before disappearing off with the Tyrrell team, leaving a rather bemused Tucker with the contents of the envelope. Inside was a grid sheet and the standard fee charged by the FIA for logging a protest, only there were no documents as to what the protest was about. Such had been Tyrrell's frustration that he had boarded his helicopter without writing is complaints down, making his protest null and void.
The full results for the 1976 South African Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Fittipaldi was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- First race for Gunnar Nilsson.
- Second pole position for James Hunt.
- Niki Lauda earned his ninth victory.
- Ferrari claimed their 60th victory as a constructor and engine supplier.
- Tenth podium for Hunt.
A second straight victory in 1976 saw Niki Lauda hold an already daunting twelve point lead after the opening two races of the season, leaving Patrick Depailler and James Hunt level on points in second. The Brit's form suggested that he was the only likely challenger to the flying Austrian, although Lauda's advantage in the standings suggested that it would be difficult for anyone to challenge. Jochen Mass and Jody Scheckter completed the top five.
Thanks to Lauda's victories, Ferrari already had a whole race advantage over second placed Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth, the Italian firm leaving South Africa with a nine point lead. The Surrey based squad themselves held a two point advantage over McLaren-Ford Cosworth, with a small gap back to Shadow-Ford Cosworth in fourth. Other early scorers included March-Ford Cosworth, Penske-Ford Cosworth and Parnelli-Ford Cosworth.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: SOUTH AFRICAN GP, 1976', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2015), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr266.html, (Accessed 18/01/2018)
- A.H., 'South African Grand Prix: A retrospective view', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 18/01/2018), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/april-1976/30/south-african-grand-prix, (Accessed 18/01/2018)
- 'South Africa 1976: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/afrique-du-sud/engages.aspx, (Accessed 18/01/2018)
- 'South Africa 1976: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/afrique-du-sud/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 18/01/2018)
- 'South Africa 1976: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/afrique-du-sud/classement.aspx, (Accessed 18/01/2018)
|V T E||South African Grand Prix|
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