The 1977 Austrian Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XV Großer Preis von Österreich, was the twelfth round of the 1977 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at a slightly remoulded Österreichring on the 14 August, 1977. The race would see conditions change from wet to dry, although it would be a series of engine faults that ultimately decided the race.
Qualifying would see Niki Lauda claim a popular pole in front of his home crowd, the Austrian driver edging out arch-rival James Hunt across the two days. Mario Andretti would start from third for Lotus ahead of Hans-Joachim Stuck, while title protagonist Jody Scheckter found himself down in eighth.
It would rain shortly before the race start, prompting a last minute scramble to wets, before another late switch, by most, to slicks as the rain stopped. Regardless, a less-than chaotic start would see Lauda shoot into an early lead ahead of Hunt and Andretti, all of whom had chosen to start on slicks.
Lauda's lead would only last until the Bosch Kurve on the opening tour, where a small mistake from the Austrian saw him slide wide, taking Hunt with him. That opened the door for Andretti to move into the lead, while Hunt slithered ahead of the Ferrari on the exit.
Elsewhere, the highest placed starter to gamble on slick, Gunnar Nilsson, would complete the opening lap in seventh having started from sixteenth on the grid, and would continue to climb up the order in the early stages. Indeed, the #6 Lotus would soon climb up into second, as Lauda slipped behind Scheckter, Stuck and Arturo Merzario, another wet shod racer.
However, the track was quickly drying as the laps ticked away, and so with just ten tours of the Österreichring completed both Nilsson and Merzario had to stop for a tyre change. They rejoined well behind the lead group, although were both to be promoted up the order as Andretti suffered an engine failure.
Yet, Nilsson was not done for the day, and as Hunt began to establish his freshly inherited lead, the Swede began to pick his way back up the order. It was not long before the #6 Lotus breached the top three with a move on Stuck, only for his engine to fail as he closed on the then second placed Alan Jones.
The Australian had been running in the top three since the Swede's stop, and was in a lonely second once Nilsson's engine expired in his mirrors. It therefore seemed ample reward for his heroics when Hunt's engine also detonated with ten laps to go, handing the Shadow the lead.
Ultimately, it was Jones who claimed a maiden victory for himself and the British squad, over twenty seconds clear of Lauda whose car had come more alive once the circuit dried. Stuck brought another sick Brabham-Alfa Romeo home in third ahead of Carlos Reutemann, while Ronnie Peterson and Jochen Mass completed the scorers.
The F1 circus headed to the foot of the Styrian Mountains in Austria for the twelfth round of the season, the increasingly popular Austrian Grand Prix. The impressive Österreichring would play host once again, although the circuit had been modified following a series of huge accidents at Hella Licht, culminating in the death of Mark Donohue in 1975. The change to Hella Licht transformed the corner into a narrow, but fairly quick, right-left-right chicane, while other corners around the circuit were given new kerbs.
Into the entry list and it was another bumper entry for the Austrian Grand Prix, so much so that a pre-qualifying session was scheduled. However, a series of last withdrawals came from Renault, who went away testing, BRM, RAM Racing and Loris Kessel, reducing the entry to thirty as the teams arrived in the Styrian Mountains. As such, the pre-qualifying session was dropped, meaning all thirty remaining entries would get a shot at qualifying.
Among those aiming to qualify there would be some minor changes at a couple of teams, the most notable swap coming at Shadow. It seemed as if Riccardo Patrese had left the team, for not only was the Italian absent, but his sponsors had had their logos removed from the #16 car. That left Alan Jones, and the recently hired Arturo Merzario in rather stark-white cars, although the team's main sponsor Tabatip would have their logos enlarged.
Elsewhere, the German run Penskes were set to be piloted by Jean-Pierre Jarier and Hans Binder, the latter joining the team in place of Hans Heyer. The Austrian would be one of two men representing his nation at his home race, although it was the other who was expected to challenge for victory. Indeed Niki Lauda, and teammate Carlos Reutemann, arrived in Austria with a full compliment of Ferraris, all sporting updated rear-ends to improve rear stability.
Away from the Austrian contingent and there was another change at Hesketh, who were back up to three cars all carrying different sponsors. Joining the team was British racer Ian Ashley, who brought sponsors Obex Oil to the third, and newest, 308E, run as a partial works effort. The other pair of cars were handed to Rupert Keegan and Héctor Rebaque, although the Mexican racer was still looking for more sponsorship.
Away from the changes and McLaren were at full strength upon arrival in Austria, with James Hunt and Jochen Mass getting fresh Ford Cosworth engines for the weekend. The British squad would also be represented by the two privateer entries for Emilio de Villota and Brett Lunger, which were unchanged from their last appearance in Germany. Those two would use ex-factory M23s, while the factory duo had their usual M26s.
Elsewhere, there were murmurs of discontent at Lotus, although not among their drivers Mario Andretti and Gunnar Nilsson. Indeed, the issues stemmed from the fact that Goodyear were insisting that teams use their hardest, puncture resistant, tyres for the foreseeable future, having decided that the threat from Michelin was less than it had expected. Colin Chapman therefore joined the calls of Enzo Ferrari for the American firm to develop quicker tyres, although Goodyear held their ground as their tyres were distributed in the paddock.
There were similar issues for Tyrrell, although their tyre concerns were more acute given their minisule front tyres, unlike any others in Formula One. As such, Ronnie Peterson and Patrick Depailler knew that any improvement in pace would have to come from their cars, although neither driver received updates to their P34Bs. Indeed, the only change for Ken Tyrrell's squad would be shuffle of their cars, with Depailler taking over the newest chassis from Peterson.
Over at Brabham-Alfa Romeo the fortnight since the German Grand Prix had been spent, as ever, chasing their engine gremlins, although John Watson and Hans-Joachim Stuck were confident of getting a result at the Österreichring. Wolf were in a similarly optimistic state, with Jody Scheckter picking the oldest and the newest Wolves to ship to Austria. Completing the genuine contenders for victory would be the lone Ligier-Matra of Jacques Laffite, with the Frenchman issued with a new JS07.
Elsewhere, March had their two factory cars back in action, although the pressure was on for Alex Ribeiro to match teammate Ian Scheckter's form in qualifying. They were to be joined by the two privately entered Marches of Williams Grand Prix Engineering and the British Formula One Racing Team, who fielded Patrick Nève and Brian Henton respectively. Merzario was also on the preliminary entry list with his self-entered car, although that had been withdrawn upon his move to Shadow.
Surtees were back with two cars for Vern Schuppan and Vittorio Brambilla, the Australian getting the added bonus of a new TS19 having used an older car since joining. The semi-related Ensigns would also make the trip, with Clay Regazzoni in the factory car, while Patrick Tambay used the semi-works chassis. Finally, there would be the new Fittipaldi for the eponymous Emerson Fittipaldi to complete the entry, unchanged from its disappointing display at the Hockenheimring.
Championship-wise, a victory in Germany had helped Lauda to extend his Championship lead to ten points with a third of the season still to go, the biggest that the margin had been all season. Behind, Jody Scheckter had moved back into second ahead of Andretti, who seemed to be suffering the curse of the fragile Team Lotus like so many before him. Reutemann, meanwhile, had closed to within a point of the American, while Hunt arrived in Austria in the top five.
Ferrari had continued their march to the International Cup for Constructors for the third successive season, their tally now up to 65 for the year. Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth remained their closest challengers, albeit some eighteen points behind, with Wolf-Ford Cosworth having moved back into third. McLaren-Ford Cosworth slipped further away in fourth ahead of Brabham-Alfa Romeo, while Surtees-Ford Cosworth had overtaken Shadow-Ford Cosworth in the second half of the table.
The full entry list for the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix is outlined below:
The reduction in entries on the eve of battle meant that the usual four sessions were all that was required to sort out the grid. Three of these sessions would be "timed", with two held on Friday, ahead of the lone "untimed" period on Saturday morning, which was itself followed by final "timed" session. As for a target time the new Hella Licht chicane was thought to have added six to seven seconds to the lap, meaning a time within six seconds of Niki Lauda's 1975 pole time of 1:34.85 would put a driver up among the elite.
Conditions were cool but dry in the Styrian Mountains during the first Friday session, so it came as a surprise to everyone when James Hunt dictated the pace early on. Indeed, the Brit would end the morning with a stunning effort of 1:39.69, although Hunt believed that there was more to come after an effortless display. His closest challenger proved to be Lauda himself with a 1:39.99, but that was only after the Austrian had transferred his colours to the spare Ferrari.
Lauda would be back in his usual car for the afternoon session, which had a new set of bearings after the failure in the morning. Yet, the change in immediate surroundings would do little to prevent the Austrian from refining his effort, with Lauda ultimately ending the day with an excellent effort of 1:39.32. Hunt would challenge him throughout but ultimately fell shy with a 1:39.54, while Hans-Joachim Stuck joined the "aces" bracket with a 1:39.99.
Elsewhere, there were troubles for several potential Championship pretenders, with Jody Scheckter simply looking slow, while John Watson struggled to get his Brabham-Alfa Romeo to work at all. The Ulsterman would end the afternoon over a second off his teammate's pace, and was in danger of slipping further down the grid if his multitude of issues continued. He would at least complete the session with a, relatively, healthy car, unlike Alan Jones or Jean-Pierre Jarier, who both suffered engine failures.
Overnight on Friday it would seem as if the entire circuit would be washed away from the foot of the mountains, for heavy rain thundered down on the Österreichring. As such, there was little surprise that a soaked circuit would greet the field on Saturday morning for the "untimed" session, which was the ultimate cause for a monumental accident for Vittorio Brambilla. The Italian would continue on in the spare Surtees having miraculously escaped his car without injury, while Alex Ribeiro would wish he had not bothered going out at all when he wrote off his March on the back of Ronnie Peterson.
Conditions would improve throughout the lunch break and during the final qualifying session, meaning it was not until the final moments that the times from Saturday were truly challenged. Ultimately, Lauda's time would escape unchallenged, although a late run from Hunt almost saw a popular home-pole denied. Indeed, Hunt's final run would consist of a series of flying and "cooling" laps, resulting in a final effort of 1:39.45. Another late charger would be Mario Andretti, whose final effort of 1:39.74 saw him leapfrog Stuck to claim third, and become the fourth "ace" in the field.
Those efforts were a stark contrast to those of both Watson and Scheckter, who both failed to improve despite switching to their spare cars. Another man to struggle was Gunnar Nilsson, who had to switch to the spare Lotus after a series of woes, while Ribeiro failed to get out at all. That meant that the Brazilian joined Brian Henton, Ian Ashley and Héctor Rebaque on the sidelines for the rest of the weekend.
The full qualifying results for the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|2||1||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:39.69||1:39.54||1:39.45||+0.13s|
|3||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:41.24||1:41.29||1:39.74||+0.42s|
|4||8||Hans-Joachim Stuck||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:40.28||1:39.97||1:40.31||+0.65s|
|7||23||Patrick Tambay||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:41.39||1:40.29||1:41.98||+0.97s|
|8||20||Jody Scheckter||Wolf-Ford Cosworth||1:41.07||1:40.40T||1:40.56||+1.08s|
|9||2||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:41.23||1:40.44||1:41.55||+1.12s|
|10||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:41.69||1:40.62||1:41.49||+1.30s|
|11||22||Clay Regazzoni||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:41.17||1:40.74||1:41.36T||+1.42s|
|12||7||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:41.14||1:40.92||1:41.90T||+1.60s|
|13||19||Vittorio Brambilla||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:41.03||1:40.93||1:49.77T||+1.61s|
|14||17||Alan Jones||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:41.00||1:50.96||1:41.68T||+1.68s|
|15||3||Ronnie Peterson||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:42.00||1:41.13||1:41.81||+1.81s|
|16||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:41.24||1:41.29||1:41.61T||+1.92s|
|17||30||Brett Lunger||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:42.62||1:41.40||1:41.90||+2.08s|
|18||34||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Penske-Ford Cosworth||1:43.94||—||1:41.70||+2.38s|
|19||33||Hans Binder||Penske-Ford Cosworth||1:41.71||1:42.31||—||+2.39s|
|20||24||Rupert Keegan||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:44.05||1:43.82||1:41.92||+2.60s|
|21||16||Arturo Merzario||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:48.05||1:43.04||1:41.92||+2.60s|
|22||27||Patrick Nève||March-Ford Cosworth||1:42.20||1:42.19||1:41.96||+2.64s|
|23||28||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||1:42.15||1:42.46||1:43.46||+2.83s|
|24||10||Ian Scheckter||March-Ford Cosworth||1:43.00||1:42.30||1:42.22||+2.90s|
|25||18||Vern Schuppan||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:43.36||1:43.07||1:42.31||+2.99s|
|26||36||Emilio de Villota||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:43.35||1:43.21||1:42.38||+3.06s|
|DNQ||38||Brian Henton||March-Ford Cosworth||1:43.20||1:42.45||1:42.43||+3.11s|
|DNQ||39||Ian Ashley||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:43.23||1:42.79||1:42.52||+3.20s|
|DNQ||25||Héctor Rebaque||Hesketh-Ford Cosworth||1:43.62||1:42.75||1:43.07||+3.43s|
|DNQ||9||Alex Ribeiro||March-Ford Cosworth||1:43.07||1:43.03||—||+3.71s|
|WD||32||Boy Hayje||March-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
|WD||41||Loris Kessel||Apollon-Ford Cosworth||Withdrawn|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a test/spare car.
|Emilio de Villota||______________|
Saturday night and Sunday morning would be much akin to Friday evening, with heavy rain soaking the circuit ahead of the race. Indeed, there would be so much water that, even as the rain began to ease, the pre-race warm-up had to postponed for more than an hour, while a support race was abandoned altogether. That race was to be staged at the end of the day, with the race start time officially set for 2:00pm local time.
After the warm-up and the delays 25 of the 26 qualifiers rolled out of the pits, all on wet tyres as the circuit remained wet, although the warm Austrian sun was causing the circuit to dry in certain spots. As such, as the field assembled on the grid most of the drivers would decide to gamble on slicks, including the whole of the top ten. Back in the pits, Hans Binder was too late to join the field, despite sprinting onto the circuit half a minute behind the pack, and so forfeited his nineteenth place grid slot.
By the time the field had completed the formation lap only four drivers chad chosen to start on wets: namely Gunnar Nilsson, Arturo Merzario, Jean-Pierre Jarier and Vern Schuppan. Everyone else was on slicks, meaning it was a rather slippery start at the front of the pack, with pole sitter Niki Lauda just sliding into the new Hella Licht chicane ahead of James Hunt. Mario Andretti stalked them into the first sector with Jody Scheckter leading the rest.
It was to be an eventful opening lap, with Lauda getting it wrong at the Jochen Rindt curve and running wide, taking Hunt with him. Andretti slithered through to take the lead, while Hunt managed to scramble out of the corner ahead of Lauda. Behind, Clay Regazzoni went sliding down a grass slope at the back of the circuit, never to find enough traction to rejoin, while Vittorio Brambilla spun onto the grass in the tighter section of the circuit.
As the Italian was pushed back into action by the marshals, Nilsson was carving his way through the back markers, having already scythed his way into the top ten off the line. It was a stunning opening lap for the Swede, with the #6 Lotus ending the opening tour in seventh, dragging Merzario with him. Jarier and Schuppan had also made ground but with less spectacle, although a dry-line was already beginning to form as Andretti started the second lap.
Yet, it was still advantage Nilsson in the damp conditions, with the Swede climbing up into fourth with successive moves on Hans-Joachim Stuck, Patrick Tambay and Lauda over the course of the second tour. Lauda himself had struggled on the second lap, finding his Ferrari to be too prone to sudden snaps of oversteer in the damp for his liking, and so eased enough to allow first Scheckter, then Nilsson to flash past. Andretti, meanwhile, would scamper several seconds clear of Hunt over the lap, leaving the Brit vulnerable to Nilsson's continuing charge.
Indeed, the Swede would take centre stage in the early phase of the race, taking Scheckter on lap three, Hunt on lap four, and then on to try and catch teammate Andretti before the track dried. Behind, Merzario was making equally solid, if less spectacular, progress, elbowing his way past teammate Alan Jones to take sixth. Lauda's downward progress would continue, with the Austrian also falling behind the Italian, while Jacques Laffite was already out with a major oil leak.
The Ligier's disappearance was the third of the afternoon, following Ian Scheckter's dramatic accident at the chicane. The South African had got out of shape in the middle of a queue of cars skipping across the kerbs, with his March getting spat out onto the grass. He was out as soon as the March tangled itself in the catch fencing, although it was miraculous how everyone around Scheckter had avoided joining him.
By the start of lap six it was clear that the circuit was now dry enough for slicks, prompting Nilsson, who had got within a couple of seconds of Andretti, to sweep into the pits for slicks. Equally "slick" work from Lotus got the Swede back in action in record time, although Nilsson still rejoined down in thirteenth, just ahead of Rupert Keegan. After a tricky couple of corners on cold tyres Nilsson rediscovered his groove, and duly went charging off to fight his way back into the lead group.
Merzario would hang onto his wet tyres until the last moment, ultimately forfeiting fifth place when he finally stopped on lap eleven. Elsewhere, John Watson gave up hope of a good finish having failed to climb into the top ten early on, and so was easy pickings for the charging Nilsson. Indeed, it only took a few laps to regain a spot in the top ten, and was soon re-tracing the path of Jones as the Australian scythed his way past Tambay, Jochen Mass and Lauda.
Both would then inherit a position on the twelfth tour, as Andretti's Ford Cosworth engine expire in a huge cloud of smoke, despite the fact that the American had been cruising since the end of lap two. As he pulled off to the side, Hunt claimed a rather comfortable lead, with Scheckter struggling to match the McLaren's pace. The Wolf had Stuck for company, albeit a few seconds back, while Jones was rapidly closing in on the pair of them.
Lauda, meanwhile, would finally wake-up from his early race slumber, the Ferrari suddenly carving past Tambay around the back of the circuit re-claiming fifth. That would have been a move for sixth had Mass not pitted a few moments earlier with an engine issue, although with Nilsson was still coming, having most recently scythed past the two Tyrrells. Indeed, the Swede's exploits were only really being matched by Jones, who had put two excellent dives into Hella Licht on Stuck and Scheckter on successive laps to move into second.
The Nilsson charge soon brought the now lone Lotus onto the back of Carlos Reutemann, just as the Argentine latched onto the gearbox of Tambay. They would both blast past the Ensign before the Swede could launch an attack at the Ferrari, ultimately seizing sixth on lap 23. It took Nilsson a few more laps to draw onto the back of Lauda, who was just beginning to challenge Stuck for fourth.
On lap 29 the Austrian would go dancing past the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, although his move would inadvertently open the door for Nilsson to follow him through. They would then both charge off to catch Scheckter, with the Ferrari and the Lotus ultimately queuing up behind the Wolf on lap 32. However, momentum was on the Swede's side, and two excellent moves at Texaco and the Jochen Rindt curve saw the Lotus move up into third.
Lauda would have to wait until the Hella Licht chicane to pounce on Scheckter, by which stage Nilsson was already out of touching distance. Indeed, the Lotus was taking sizeable chunks out of the impressive Jones' advantage over him as the sun finally appeared, helping to burn off the last remaining wet patches. Yet, whether Nilsson would catch the Shadow would become academic, as his Cosworth "special" expired with a mix of oil, smoke and aluminium shooting out of the exhausts.
Nilsson's final blow ultimately ended any real hope of on-track action, with huge gaps separating the drivers in the top ten. Indeed, the only major revisions to the order would come in the form of more costly engine explosions, with another Cosworth unit expiring in the back of Tambay's Ensign. A few moments later and another, more significant, Cosworth V8 was destroying its internal systems, with Hunt suddenly rolling to a stop on lap 44.
Elsewhere, Scheckter would throw away third place by spinning onto the wet, and therefore traction-less, grass, blaming the March of Patrick Nève whom he had been lapping at the time. His demise promoted Keegan into the points, although the Hesketh was being chased down by Mass in the closing stages. However, the Brit would be denied a maiden points finish by a spin on the penultimate lap, just as Watson's anonymous performance saw him claim fastest lap.
With that the race was run, with Jones cruising home to claim a shock victory for Shadow, sending the British crew into orbit as he crossed the line. Lauda was a lonely second, while Stuck just managed to deny Reutemann a podium spot in the closing stages. Peterson was surprised to find himself in fifth as others around him hit trouble, while Mass' recovery drive saw him settle for sixth. Watson, meanwhile, would move past Nève on the final lap to claim eighth, with Keegan just out of reach.
The full race results for the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Binder was forced to start at the back of the field for joining the grid late.
- † de Villota was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- Fifteenth Austrian Grand Prix.
- Clay Regazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi made their 100th Grand Prix entries.
- Maiden victory for Alan Jones.
- Shadow claimed their first (and only) victory as a constructor.
- 30th podium finish for Niki Lauda.
- Hans-Joachim Stuck earned his second and final podium finish.
While Alan Jones celebrated his maiden victory, Niki Lauda was the real winner on the day, for the Austrian had pulled sixteen points clear at the top of the Championship as his rivals, once again, failed to score. Jody Scheckter was still in second but losing ground to Lauda, and was instead being drawn in by the Austrian's teammate Carlos Reutemann. The Argentine had overtaken Mario Andretti after his own podium spot, while James Hunt's title defence was already effectively over with five races to go.
Like their driver it was Ferrari who left Austria in the best position in the International Cup for Manufacturers, pulling 24 points ahead of their nearest challengers. That challenge now rested solely in the hands of Lotus-Ford Cosworth, although the ever fragile Loti were costing them as many points as the lone Wolf-Ford Cosworth entry in third. McLaren-Ford Cosworth, meanwhile, had inched closer to the top three with another score, while Shadow-Ford Cosworth were within sight of the top half of the table after their maiden victory.
Images and Videos:
- 'AUSTRIAN GP, 1977', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr292.html, (Accessed 10/05/2018)
- D.S.J., 'The Austrian Grand Prix: A well-earned victory', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/09/1977), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/september-1977/25/austrian-grand-prix, (Accessed 11/05/2018)
- 'Austria 1977: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1977/autriche/engages.aspx, (Accessed 10/05/2018)
- 'Austria 1977: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1977/autriche/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 11/05/2018)
- '12. Austria 1977', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1977/autriche.aspx, (Accessed 10/05/2018)
- 'Austria 1977: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1977/autriche/classement.aspx, (Accessed 12/05/2018)
- '1977 Austrian GP', chicanef1.com, (Chicane F1, 2018), http://www.chicanef1.com/racetit.pl?year=1977&gp=Austrian%20GP&r=1, (Accessed 10/05/2018)
|V T E||Austrian Grand Prix|
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