The 1976 United States Grand Prix, otherwise officially known as the XIX Grand Prix of the United States, was the fifteenth and penultimate round of the 1976 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at Watkins Glen, New York State, on the 10 October, 1976. The race, which was also unofficially referred to as the United States Grand Prix East, was the second of the season to be staged in the United States, and would see the Championship battle tighten heading into the final round.
Championship protagonist James Hunt would start the weekend strong, claiming pole position from Jody Scheckter, Ronnie Peterson and Vittorio Brambilla. Defending World Champion, and Championship leader, Niki Lauda would start from fifth, and could win the Championship if he won the race, or finished in the points ahead of Hunt.
It was the even-side of the grid that got the better start to the race, meaning Brambilla jumped Peterson, while Scheckter snatched the lead from Hunt. Lauda would retain fifth from John Watson, while the third March of Hans-Joachim Stuck made a terrible start, leaving him at the back of the field.
Scheckter and Hunt would steadily pull clear of the Marches behind, leaving Brambilla and Peterson to resist Lauda. Although the Austrian would manage to elbow his way past the pair, by the time he had done so both Scheckter and Hunt were out of sight.
As this was occurring, Jacky Ickx suffered a nasty accident in the Ensign, smashing the barriers hard enough to split the chassis. The back half of the monocoque, to which the Belgian was strapped, immediately burst into flame, although Ickx somehow escaped with just a broken ankle and minor burns.
With Ickx getting checked over in hospital, Hunt duly pulled onto the back of Scheckter, duly elbowing his way into the lead just after half-distance. It would be short-lived, however, as a mistake a couple of laps later allowed the Tyrrell to cut back ahead. Behind, Lauda was running on his own, while Peterson, Patrick Depailler and Jacques Laffite were in a terrific fight for fourth, only for the brawl to be broken up by mechanical strife.
Hunt would duly snatch the lead again on lap 46, this time managing to pull clear of the Tyrrell before the South African could muster a response. The fight for fourth would also fall apart, with first Laffite and then Brambilla dropping out with punctures, leaving Jochen Mass to chase after Lauda in the closing stages.
With that the race was run, Hunt duly collecting a sixth victory of the season to pull within three points of Lauda heading into the final round. Scheckter cruised home second, while Lauda himself came home third to secure the International Cup for Manufacturers for Ferrari, albeit by a narrow margin. Indeed, Mass was within striking distance of the Austrian as the pair came to the chequered flag, but just fell short, while Stuck and Watson completed the points.
Less than a week after the battle of Mosport Park and the F1 circus was set up in Watkins Glen, ready to take part in an unofficial practice session on the Wednesday preceding the race. "The Glen", despite losing its spot as the season finale, remained its picturesque autumnal self, with the chicane before the Esses reinforced with larger kerbs. It was also the Championship's second visit to the United States in 1976, having earlier raced around Long Beach, California, although there were several different faces on the entry list upon the series' second arrival.
The most immediate change came at the Wolf-Williams team, which had flown a new monocoque out from Reading, U.K., to rebuild their second car. That car, which had left Chris Amon with a badly bashed knee, would be handed to 1973 Tasman Championship Champion Warwick Brown, partnering Arturo Merzario at "the Glen". Frank Williams had tried in vain to find more experienced talent, offering the seat to Michel Leclère, Vern Schuppan and Formula Two star René Arnoux, before ultimately settling on F1 rookie Brown.
Another F2 starlet would be making their debut at "the Glen", as Guy Edwards rented out his Hesketh to Brazilian youth Alex Ribeiro. The Brit was attempting to secure more funding for the Hesketh team, hence his decision to loan his car out, while he went out to speak with sponsors in New York City. The main team car of Harald Ertl had been rebuilt after the Austrian's collision with Amon in Canada, with Ertl determined to drive in the States despite being left with a cracked hip-bone.
Elsewhere, the home team would be Penske, although they surprising stuck with just a single entry for the race in the form of John Watson. The team and the Ulsterman were being trailed by the usual wave of sponsor representatives, with pressure on the team to replicate their win in Austria. However, the long-term future of the team was the subject of much rumour in the paddock, with team boss Roger Penske less-than-impressed with the attitude of the FIA, C.S.I. and Formula One Constructors' Association.
In terms of drivers the United States would have two drivers on display, the most prominent being found at Lotus in the form of Mario Andretti. The Italian-American had enjoyed the modifications made to his 77 in Canada, as had teammate Gunnar Nilsson although both had been hampered by mechanical fragility. The team also brought along a set of special "qualifying" Goodyear tyres for each of their drivers, while all three cars had had minor detailing work done to the airbox section.
The other American racer was to be seen at Surtees, where Brett Lunger once again partnered Alan Jones. The team itself was officially entered as "Durex Team Surtees" for the first time, causing another stir among the broadcasters although not to the extent of the protests by the B.B.C. at the British Grand Prix. A third Surtees could be found in the hands of privateer Henri Pescarolo, which had survived most of the season without issues.
Ferrari, meanwhile, had decided to add a third driver to their entry, although they were ultimately left with two as Carlos Reutemann failed to materialise. That left their usual duo of Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni at the helm of their cars, while Reutemann's chassis became the team's spare. All three chassis had had their oil radiators replaced after an inspection at Mosport Park declared their original design illegal, but the cars were otherwise unchanged.
Their major rivals McLaren had no such issues heading to "the Glen", with lead driver James Hunt hoping momentum would carry him to a second straight victory. Both he and teammate Jochen Mass would use their two year old M23s in New York, having both rejected the new M26 before the circus left Europe. Their "race" cars, as well as the older spare, would go unchanged after the Canadian Grand Prix, although they were among the cleanest cars when the field took part in the "unofficial" test session on Wednesday.
Tyrrell arrived in an experimental frame of mind, running a new rear wing on Jody Scheckter's car with larger side-plates. Patrick Depailler, in contrast, would have his car set up as he had used it in Canada, with the spare Tyrrell likewise untouched. The older 007 of Austrian privateer Otto Stuppacher also made the trip to "the Glen", although neither driver nor car were expected to feature prominently.
Elsewhere, Brabham-Alfa Romeo decided to stick with Larry Perkins for the time being, the Austrian again partnered with Carlos Pace. Shadow had their mix of old and new for Jean-Pierre Jarier and Tom Pryce, while Ligier-Matra had two cars ready for Jacques Laffite. March had their usual trio of Vittorio Brambilla, Ronnie Peterson and Hans-Joachim Stuck ready to rumble, while the lone Fittipaldi for Emerson Fittipaldi completed the entry list.
Victory in Canada just a few days earlier had allowed Hunt to close within eight points of Championship leader Lauda, although he could have been four ahead if he had not been excluded from the British Grand Prix. Lauda, meanwhile, could take the title if he won in Watkins Glen, although the Austrian's dramatic fade at Mosport Park caused concern that he was not fully fit. Elsewhere Scheckter was officially out of the fight in third, ten ahead of Depailler, while Regazzoni completed the top five.
The International Cup for Manufacturers fight was still active going into the final two rounds, although the Ferrari team had to score just three points between those two races. McLaren-Ford Cosworth were the only team capable of besting the Italian team, but would have to win both races, while Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth were out of the fight in third. Ligier-Matra and Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth arrived level on points in fourth, the French squad ahead based on results, while home team Penske-Ford Cosworth were a point behind in sixth.
The full entry list for the 1976 United States Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice/qualifying would be staged across Friday and Saturday, following the standardised pattern of three "timed" sessions, partnered with a single "untimed" period. Friday would play host to two of the "timed" run-outs, proving to the be the drier of the two days, while Saturday saw the "untimed" session held in the morning before the final "timed" session. As for a target time it was Niki Lauda who held the circuit record for Watkins Glen with the chicane, a 1:42.003 set in 1975.
It was a rather damp start to qualifying on Friday morning, with "the Glen" coated in low clouds from dawn all the way through to the start of the session. As such, most of the drivers would only attempt cautious runs, with the circuit slowly drying throughout the session. That meant that Tom Pryce could set the fastest time of the session late on, a 1:56.807, edging out Hans-Joachim Stuck whom had topped the timesheets for most of the morning.
Fortunately there were no major incidents in the morning session, and, with the clouds beginning to break up, the circuit dried rapidly at the start of the second Friday session. Again, most of the field would take a cautious approach to the circuit in the opening stages, although once it became clear that the racing line was drying, more and more drivers came out to play on slicks. James Hunt was among the first to do so, and would ultimately take provisional pole with a 1:43.622.
Elsewhere, Jody Scheckter, who had tested one of the Wolf-Williamss during the pre-race test session, claimed a strong second, just two tenths off of the Brit's time. Ronnie Peterson ended the day third after a mixed day, strong running early on overturned by a series of mechanical issues as the circuit neared full dryness. The sister cars of Vittorio Brambilla and Stuck were also at the top end of the field, split by Niki Lauda who was not confident to push in the wet conditions.
Among those in trouble were John Watson, who was forced to use the older Penske after his new one suffered a bearing failure, while Hunt lost a compressed air cylinder on one of his runs. This, unfortunately, would drop off the McLaren at high-speed, right into the path of Patrick Depailler, who jinked the moment he spotted the errant cylinder. The cylinder still hit the Tyrrell, smashing two of Depailler's little front tyres, before being flicked up into the air.
This time the cylinder came smashing down onto the top of Emerson Fittipaldi's eponymous car, bouncing off the Brazilian's roll hoop before gouging into the side of the monocoque. The cylinder was then flicked off the circuit towards the spectators, who duly smuggled it away, while Fittipaldi and Depailler limped back to the pits to have their damage repaired. McLaren, meanwhile, were forced to negotiate with the fans to get their air cylinder, required to get Hunt's Ford Cosworth engine started, promising the group a significant amount of "James Hunt regalia". Most of those negotiations would be conducted by the Clerk of the Course, responsible for control of the spectators.
Saturday ultimately proved to be a washout, with torrential rain keeping the entire field penned in the pit complex to keep dry. Ultimately, during a period of lower intensity rain, the Clerk of the Course opened the circuit for an hour, during which time only Brambilla and Peterson ventured into the gloom. Brambilla returned after his out lap, while Peterson went spinning into the barriers on his flying lap, quietly returning to the paddock through a back gate.
The full qualifying results for the 1976 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||11||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:59.727||1:43.622||—||—|
|2||3||Jody Scheckter||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:59.623T||1:43.870T||—||+0.248s|
|3||10||Ronnie Peterson||March-Ford Cosworth||1:57.835||1:43.941||—||+0.319s|
|4||9||Vittorio Brambilla||March-Ford Cosworth||1:59.801||1:44.250||—||+0.628s|
|6||34||Hans-Joachim Stuck||March-Ford Cosworth||1:57.751||1:44.265||—||+0.643s|
|7||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:58.699||1:44.516||—||+0.894s|
|8||28||John Watson||Penske-Ford Cosworth||2:02.784||1:44.719||—||+1.097s|
|9||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:56.807||1:45.102||—||+1.480s|
|10||8||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||2:00.784||1:45.274||—||+1.652s|
|11||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:07.756||1:45.311||—||+1.689s|
|13||7||Larry Perkins||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||2:07.611||1:45.363||—||+1.741s|
|15||30||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||2:06.334||1:45.646||—||+2.024s|
|16||17||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||2:06.124||1:45.979||—||+2.357s|
|17||12||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:58.988||1:46.067||—||+2.445s|
|18||19||Alan Jones||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:59.512||1:46.402||—||+2.780s|
|19||22||Jacky Ickx||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:59.432||1:46.605||—||+2.983s|
|20||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:07.923||1:46.776||—||+3.154s|
|21||24||Harald Ertl||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:59.432||1:49.418||—||+5.796s|
|22||25||Alex Ribeiro||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||—||1:49.669||—||+6.047s|
|23||21||Warwick Brown||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||2:15.656||1:51.124||—||+7.502s|
|24||18||Brett Lunger||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||2:15.584||1:51.373||—||+7.751s|
|25||20||Arturo Merzario||Wolf-Williams-Ford Cosworth||2:04.441||2:00.932||—||+17.310s|
|26||38||Henri Pescarolo||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||2:05.211||2:08.457||—||+21.589s|
|DNQ||39||Otto Stuppacher||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||2:12.056||2:11.070||—||+27.448s|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a test/spare car.
The rain fortunately went away on Sunday morning, replaced briefly by snow, although Watkins Glen would be dry by the time the field set out for a trouble free warm-up. A support race would follow, ultimately causing an hour's delay to the start, although the delay allowed the last stragglers of the record 100,000 strong crowd to gather at the side of the circuit. Regardless, all 26 qualifiers would line-up on the grid without issue, all awaiting the starting lights, rather than the flamboyant flag waving of Tex Hopkins.
It was Jody Scheckter, starting from the outside of the front row, who made the best leap from the grid, sweeping into the first corner ahead of pole sitter James Hunt. Vittorio Brambilla led the pack behind them, leaping up from fourth, with Ronnie Peterson dropping behind his teammate. The rest of the field filtered into the first corner without issue, leaving Hans-Joachim Stuck to scramble off the grid on his own after a clutch issue.
Come the end of the opening tour it was still Scheckter leading from Hunt, Brambilla and Peterson, with Niki Lauda a few yards behind at the head of the next group. Further down, Stuck had already managed to catch the back of the pack, taking Brett Lunger before the end of the opening tour, while Jean-Pierre Jarier was about half a lap behind after starting from the pits. The reason for this was because Jarier had stalled on the parade lap, meaning the Shadow crew had to push him off the circuit to get the engine fired.
Scheckter and Hunt would steadily pull clear of the pack during the early stages of the race, aided by the fact that Brambilla was suffering from a tyre issue. The Italian had been forced to change to a spare tyre just before the parade lap after a failure was spotted on his original tyres, although in the rush to fit the fresh rubber no members of the March squad had time to check the pressures. Brambilla was therefore having to fight some unusual handling characteristics, allowing Lauda to elbow his way past on lap five.
The Austrian had, however, lost enough time in trying to pass the struggling March that Scheckter and Hunt were out of sight, leaving him a lonely third for the immediate future. Behind Brambilla remained Peterson, whom had been leapfrogged by Lauda on the second lap, although it was not long before the Swede began to suffer from his own handling issues. His failure was somewhat more fundamental, however, Peterson ultimately retiring in the pits on lap twelve after his car was diagnosed with suspension failure.
Peterson's retirement was not the first of the race, however, for Patrick Depailler had already disappeared on lap eight after his fuel line disconnected. Those around him managed to avoid the fluids, which soon drained away, meaning that there were no excuses for Harald Ertl when the Austrian smacked Arturo Merzario out of the race just two laps later. The Austrian and the Italian had been jostling at the back of the field since the start, although after misjudging his braking point Ertl, racing in tremendous pain after his Canadian accident, slammed into the back of the Wolf-Williams at the end of the back straight. Merzario went spinning into the barriers and out of the race, while Ertl shot back into the pits for a new nose.
With Scheckter and Hunt in a stalemate, and Lauda in no-man's land, the race soon became about the fight for fourth, where Brambilla was acting as an excellent road block. Queued behind the Italian were Carlos Pace, Jacques Laffite, Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti and Jochen Mass, with Stuck rapidly closing after picking his way through the back markers. They were all jostling around behind the wayward March, although there were no changes to the order until lap fifteen.
The cause of this change was to be found in the form of Jacky Ickx, for the Belgian had suffered an awful looking accident on the entry to the "boot". The Ensign had suddenly snapped right while going through the left handed turn six, meaning Ickx hit the double tiered barriers head on, ripping the front section of the off entirely. The back section, to which Ickx was strapped, rebounded back onto the circuit in flame, with the Belgian rapidly leaping out of the remains as it came to rest. Ickx managed to get to the side of the circuit limping but unaided, later taken to the local hospital with a broken ankle and minor burns, while his car was dragged off to the side of the circuit.
Ickx's accident would unsettle race leader Scheckter, with the Tyrrell racer fearing the worst having witnessed the eerily similar accident of François Cevert in 1973. Indeed, the South African racer very nearly struck the Ensign as the marshals dragged it off the circuit, allowing Hunt to close right onto the back of the Elf sponsored car. That, however, seemed to jolt Scheckter back into action, with the status quo soon re-established out front.
As everyone watched Ickx's fiery exit, Laffite slipped the Ligier-Matra past Brambilla before jetting off after Lauda in third. Mario Andretti, meanwhile, would pick his way through the queue to get onto the Italian's tail, only to drop out of the race with a suspension failure, the result of hitting a kerb. That allowed Pace and Mass to draw right onto the back of the Italian, while Regazzoni began to fall away into the grips of Stuck and John Watson.
A few laps later and Laffite's race was over in dramatic style, a rear-tyre failure smashing the Ligier's suspension down the back straight, with the Frenchman miraculously bringing the spinning car to rest without hitting anything. A lap later and Brambilla struck the remains of Laffite's smashed suspension, puncturing his troublesome tyre. Pace, immediately behind the Italian, was baulked, allowing Mass to suddenly jump from sixth to fourth.
Back with the leaders and Hunt was now back into striking position, duly snatching the lead with a dive into turn one on lap 37. The Brit quickly established a one second lead for himself ahead of the South African, although a rare mistake while lapping debutante Warwick Brown saw Hunt get himself blocked at the chicane just three laps later. Scheckter duly shot through the chicane he had helped design to take the lead, while Hunt was left to re-catch and pass the Tyrrell.
It would take Hunt until lap 46 to get back with Scheckter, with a near-identical move into turn one ultimately getting the McLaren back ahead. This time, however, Hunt would have more clean air in which to build his lead, meaning there was little chance for Scheckter to counter. Indeed, by the time the leaders came to lap the next group of back markers it was Scheckter rather than Hunt who got baulked.
Into the closing stages and Lauda's pace was falling dramatically in third, the Austrian slipping almost a minute behind as the leaders started the final tour. That fact had allowed Mass to catch at a second a lap, dragging Stuck with him a few seconds behind, while all three were being caught by Watson. Indeed, it looked as if the final lap would be a grandstand finish behind the leaders, with Hunt cruising home eight seconds clear of Scheckter, and well over a minute clear of the fight for third.
Third, ultimately, went to Lauda after the Austrian got an excellent exit out of the final corner, enough to deny Mass a spot on the podium by just 0.05s. A similar fate befell Watson, who was a little over two tenths behind Stuck at the line in the Penske. Regazzoni was the first of the lapped drivers in seventh, while debutantes Alex Ribeiro and Brown both made it to the finish on their debuts.
The full results for the 1976 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Pescarolo could not be classified as he failed to complete 90% of the race distance.
- Ferrari declared as the International Cup for Manufacturers' Champions.
- The United States became the first country since Italy in 1957 to host two World Championship rounds.
- Jody Scheckter made his fiftieth Grand Prix start.
- Maiden Grand Prix start for Alex Ribeiro.
- First and only Grand Prix start for Warwick Brown.
- Henri Pescarolo made his final start.
- James Hunt secured Ford Cosworth's 80th pole position.
- Seventh career victory for Hunt.
- McLaren claimed their 21st win as a constructor.
- Ford Cosworth powered a car to a 95th triumph.
- Niki Lauda secured the 220th podium finish for Ferrari as both a constructor and engine supplier.
James Hunt's sixth, confirmed, victory of the season left the Brit just three points behind Niki Lauda heading into the season finale, with momentum on his side. Victory for either Hunt or Lauda in Japan would earn them the title, with numerous other possibilities in play in Fuji. Behind, Jody Scheckter was secured in third ahead of soon-to-be ex-teammate Patrick Depailler, while Clay Regazzoni completed the top five.
In contrast, the International Cup for Manufacturers' hunt was over, Ferrari securing their second successive crown with a round to spare. Closest to them were McLaren-Ford Cosworth, eleven points behind, leaving them in a fight to finish runner up with Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth just five points further back. The season finale would also decide who would finish fourth, with Penske-Ford Cosworth, Ligier-Matra and Lotus-Ford Cosworth all level on points heaving into Japan.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: UNITED STATES GP, 1976', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2014), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr279.html, (Accessed 23/03/2018)
- A. H., 'United States Grand Prix: Hunt turns the screw', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/11/1976), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/november-1976/23/united-states-grand-prix, (Accessed 23/03/2018)
- 'USA East 1976: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/etats-unis-est/engages.aspx, (Accessed 23/03/2018)
- 'USA East 1976: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/etats-unis-est/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 24/03/2018)
- 'USA East 1976: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1976/etats-unis-est/classement.aspx, (Accessed 25/03/2018)
|V T E||United States Grand Prix|
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