The 1977 Japanese Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XIII Japanese Grand Prix (XII日本グランプリ in Japanese), was the seventeenth and final round of the 1977 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Fuji Speedway on 23 October, 1977. The race would be marred by the deaths of a marshal and a photographer, both of whom were standing in a prohibited area.
Qualifying would see Mario Andretti claim pole position for Lotus, edging out James Hunt and the two Brabham-Alfa Romeos. Next up would be Jacques Laffite and Jody Scheckter, while World Champion Niki Lauda was, once again, absent.
However, having once again taken pole, Andretti made a mess of his start, allowing Hunt to claim an early lead from Scheckter, who shot through from sixth on the grid. Indeed, Andretti would drag John Watson and Hans-Joachim Stuck down with him, although it was the American who ultimately fell furthest, dropping to eighth.
Andretti instantly began to fight back through the field, although a collision with Laffite on lap two sent the Lotus spinning out of the race. Indeed, the impact was enough to cause a wheel from the #5 Lotus 78 to fly off onto the circuit, causing Hans Binder and Noritake Takahara to spin out of the race while taking avoiding action.
The race soon settled, although as Hunt completed the sixth lap, Gilles Villeneuve misjudged his braking point and slammed into the front of Ronnie Peterson, sending his Ferrari into the air. The Canadian then cartwheeled into the barriers, with debris from the smashed Ferrari striking a marshal and photographer with deadly force. Villeneuve escaped his ruined car uninjured, while a team of medical staff arrived to try and save the fatally injured victims.
In spite of the seriousness of the accident, there would be no stop to the race, meaning Hunt continued to extend his advantage over Scheckter with ease. Indeed, Scheckter seemed to struggle in the early stages and so fell behind Jochen Mass and a resurgent Watson, although was able to move back ahead when the both fell to mechanical failures.
Scheckter would then be overtaken by Clay Regazzoni, only for the Swiss racer to encounter an engine issue and retire. Carlos Reutemann was next to take the South African, but was immune to the curse of overtaking the Wolf and managed to carry on without issue. Laffite then lunged past the Ferrari to claim second, only to run out of fuel on the penultimate lap.
With that the race was run, with Hunt cruising home a full minute ahead of Reutemann to claim his third victory of the season. Patrick Depailler survived well to claim third ahead of Alan Jones, while Laffite had enough of an advantage to take fifth ahead of Riccardo Patrese. Scheckter's pace deteriorated during the final lap, meaning he slipped down to tenth.
There would be more controversy after the race, with Hunt and Reutemann leaving the circuit before the podium ceremony, a major insult to the Japanese organisers. After the race the podium ceremony would be made compulsory but, after receiving such an insult, the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix would be the last F1 race in Japan until 1987.
The Japanese Grand Prix returned to serve as the finale for the 1977 season although, unlike the race twelve months earlier, there was really nothing on the table to fight for. That, combined with the absence of pre-crowned Champion Niki Lauda, and ex-Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, there was relatively little attraction bar the sight of twenty plus Grand Prix cars to tempt in a large crowd. The knock on of this would be that there was a realistic chance that Fuji could not afford to host the race next season, although that would be an issue for the future.
Into the entry list and, as had been hinted at with the absence of Fittipaldi, there would be far fewer entries for the Japanese Grand Prix, with several regular privateers, and constructors, also absent. In their place would be three local racers in their Ford Cosworth, Japanese shod, cars, two of which were Kojimas. Those were handed to Noritake Takahara and Kazuyoshi Hoshino, while Kunimitsu Takahashi appeared with Hoshino's old Tyrrell 007.
Elsewhere, taking advantage of the less crowded field, Ligier-Matra would add a second car to their effort, partnering regular runner Jacques Laffite with Jean-Pierre Jarier. In contrast, March were down to just a single entry after a paperwork issue that left them with just Alex Ribeiro on their books. Indeed, Ian Scheckter had been refused entry into Japan by virtue of having the wrong visa issued to him, which ultimately saw him back on a plane to London before the March team arrived at the Fuji circuit.
There were changes too at Lotus, albeit a cosmetic one, with Gunnar Nilsson running in a unique red livery representing "Imperial Tobacco" for his final race with the team. Teammate Mario Andretti, meanwhile, would continue to use the familiar "John Player Special" livery that had come to define Team Lotus, with both cars otherwise unchanged since the race in Canada. The third 78 that usually served as the spare car was not shipped across the Pacific.
Over at Ferrari there was a promotion for Gilles Villeneuve, with the Canadian now officially registered as the team's second driver alongside Carlos Reutemann. This was because Lauda had now fully left the team along with his chief engineers, meaning there was a rather large vacancy in the #11 garage. It was therefore hoped by the Scuderia that Villeneuve's raw talent enthusiasm, combined with some quick fire internal promotions, would be enough to replace Lauda's deeply analytical style.
McLaren, meanwhile, were unchanged since the race in Canada, although they only had two M26s for James Hunt and Jochen Mass after the former's accident at Mosport Park. Tyrrell, in contrast, arrived with a spare P34 for either Patrick Depailler or Ronnie Peterson, although they would prefer to use their usual race cars instead. Brabham-Alfa Romeo were without a spare but also unchanged, although John Watson and Hans-Joachim Stuck would hope that their recent run of accidents and retirements would come to an end.
There was little to report at Shadow, whom fielded usual pairing Alan Jones and Riccardo Patrese, as did Surtees with Hans Binder and Vittorio Brambilla. Next up were the two Ensigns of Clay Regazzoni and Patrick Tambay, which were, like most other cars, unchanged after their brawl in Canada. Completing the field would be Jody Scheckter in his Wolf, with the South African the only man with a fully dedicated spare car in Japan.
As mentioned above, Lauda had already been declared as World Champion all of the interest in Canada had been placed on the fight for second, although very little had been resolved. Yet, victory for Jody Scheckter had meant that he had an eight point advantage over Andretti heading across the Pacific, meaning the American would have to win just to move ahead. Even then, Scheckter only had to finish fifth to secure the runner-up spot, although the mixed pace of the Wolf in the second half of the season meant anything was possible.
In the International Cup for Constructors, there had been a change for third, with Wolf-Ford Cosworth overtaking McLaren-Ford Cosworth, leaving the latter squad out of the fight for second. Indeed, it was now between the Canadian constructor and the Norfolk based Lotus-Ford Cosworth efforts as to who would finish the season as runner-up, with Lotus holding a seven point advantage. Wolf therefore needed a victory in Japan to claim second in the debut season, while Lotus only needed to have one of their drivers finish fifth or higher.
The full entry list for the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix is outlined below:
Qualifying was set to be staged across the usual four sessions across Friday and Saturday, with two "timed" periods on the former, before a lone "untimed" session was staged on Saturday prior to the final "qualifying" period. However, Friday's running had to be condensed into a single session, for the circuit doctor was late getting to the circuit. As for a target time, the aces in the field would be aiming for a 1:12.77, a time which had given Mario Andretti pole position in 1976.
The delayed arrival of the circuit doctor meant that Friday's lone session would be staged for two hours, although even that change to schedule would not deter Andretti. Indeed, the American was on top form from the get go on Friday, and was quickly below his mark from 1976. Come the end of the day, Andretti had managed to record a 1:12.23, almost two tenths faster than his nearest challenger.
That challenger would be James Hunt, although only after the Brit had commandeered teammate Jochen Mass' car during the early stages. The issue for the outgoing Champion was severe understeer, although his switch to Mass' car barely resolved his issues. Indeed, despite recording a 1:12.39 to go second fastest overall, Hunt would later remark that "Jochen has got stronger arm muscles than I have."
Elsewhere, John Watson spent the afternoon running quickly in six lap bursts, before dragging his Brabham-Alfa Romeo in for a top up of water. Regardless, the Ulsterman recorded a 1:13.20 to claim third fastest ahead of teammate Hans-Joachim Stuck, whose own Alfa F12 was not suffering from apparent dehydration. Indeed, the only issue for the Brabham-Alfas was the distance between themselves and the top two, with their Italian rivals Ferrari finishing well down in the pecking order.
Jean-Pierre Jarier, meanwhile, would initially be credited with a 1:13.23, splitting the two Martini liveried Brabhams, only to have his time re-adjusted to a more believable 1:14.25. Kazuyoshi Hoshino, meanwhile, would resume from where he had left off in 1976, recording an excellent effort of 1:13.55 in his Kojima, albeit using some very soft Bridgestone tyres. Indeed, it was such a strong time from the Japanese racer that it put him sixth on the provisional grid, and ahead of Gunnar Nilsson and Mass in Hunt's McLaren.
There would be no issues of absent doctors on Saturday, meaning the scheduled programme of an "untimed" morning session, followed by a final "timed" period, would be respected. In terms of the "untimed" period most of the field decided to experiment with the harder set of Goodyear tyres, although with varied results. Indeed, while Andretti would top the unofficial score board on the hard tyres, he deduced that the lack of grip would wear the front tyres as much as using the soft compound.
Into the final blast for pole and, ultimately, no-one could challenge the times of Andretti and Hunt, with even those two unable to best their Friday best. However, Watson would come close now that his Alfa F12 had been cured of its dreadful thirst, recording a 1:12.49, a full half second faster than teammate Stuck in fourth. Jacques Laffite was next once the Ligier-Matra crew found a solution to his fuel mixture issues on Friday, just ahead of a very quiet Jody Scheckter.
Other honourable mentions would be Hoshino, who claimed eleventh on the grid courtesy of his Friday time, while Noritake Takahara managed to oust the highly rated Gilles Villeneuve. Indeed, while the Canadian was really giving his all at the wheel of his Ferrari, inexperience combined with his new pitcrew meant that he was over a second slower than new teammate Carlos Reutemann. The Argentine himself had been fighting some very irritating handling issues, but managed to wrestle his Ferrari into the top ten.
The full qualifying results for the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:12.23||1:12.31||—|
|2||1||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:12.39T||1:12.67T||+0.16s|
|3||7||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:13.20||1:12.49||+0.26s|
|4||8||Hans-Joachim Stuck||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:13.33||1:13.01||+0.78s|
|6||20||Jody Scheckter||Wolf-Ford Cosworth||1:14.38||1:13.15||+0.92s|
|8||2||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:13.71T||1:13.37T||+1.14s|
|9||19||Vittorio Brambilla||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:14.23||1:13.37||+1.14s|
|10||22||Clay Regazzoni||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:13.72||1:13.52||+1.29s|
|11||52||Kazuyoshi Hoshino||Kojima-Ford Cosworth||1:13.55||1:14.02||+1.32s|
|12||17||Alan Jones||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:13.90||1:13.56||+1.33s|
|13||16||Riccardo Patrese||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:14.02||1:13.58||+1.35s|
|14||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:13.66||1:13.76||+1.43s|
|15||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:14.94||1:14.16T||+1.93s|
|16||23||Patrick Tambay||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:14.22||1:14.30||+1.99s|
|18||3||Ronnie Peterson||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:14.49||1:14.26||+2.03s|
|19||51||Noritake Takahara||Kojima-Ford Cosworth||1:14.36||1:14.44||+2.13s|
|21||18||Hans Binder||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:15.26||1:14.73||+2.50s|
|22||50||Kunimitsu Takahashi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:14.88||1:15.14||+2.65s|
|23||9||Alex Ribeiro||March-Ford Cosworth||1:15.21||1:15.01||+2.78s|
|WD||10||Ian Scheckter||March-Ford Cosworth||Visa rejected|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a test/spare car.
Unlike the race staged twelve months earlier, race morning at Fuji was a bright, warm affair, with no sign of heavy rain to damped the spirits. The morning warm-up passed without issue, and, with no delays among the small support programme, the grid assembled on time. As such, the race would get underway dead on the 2:00pm start time, with Mario Andretti sitting in pole position.
Unfortunately, while he had the advantage in qualifying, Andretti would make a mess of his start, allowing James Hunt to streak into the lead. Indeed, Andretti's wheel spinning Lotus would disappear into the middle of the pack, as Jody Scheckter and Clay Regazzoni shot through to chase after Hunt. The latter would ultimately be relegated to fourth by Jochen Mass into the first corner, although only after the German racer had thrown his McLaren up the inside of the Ensign.
After a rather tame opening lap it was still Hunt leading from Scheckter, Mass and Regazzoni, although the Brit already had a second advantage over his chasers. Behind Regazzoni came John Watson and Jacques Laffite, while Andretti followed Hans-Joachim Stuck through in eighth, just ahead of Carlos Reutemann. That was not to last, however, for Andretti sent his Lotus skating past Stuck into turn one at the start of lap two, a sign of his personal frustration of having made a poor start.
Ultimately it would be that frustration that proved to be the American's undoing, for the #5 Lotus was soon sailing towards the barriers and into retirement. Indeed, as Andretti tried to run around the outside of Jacques Laffite through "100R", the Ligier-Matra moved across to take the racing line, causing the two to make contact. The rear left of the Ligier broke the right-front of Andretti's Lotus, with the American powerless to prevent the car from shattering into the barriers.
The force of the impact with the barrier managed to remove the left rear wheel from the Lotus 78, which duly flicked back towards the circuit. The wheel duly landed in the path of Noritake Takahara, who was powerless to prevent his Kojima striking it at full speed, ending his race on the spot. Hans Binder then had to take avoiding action and so spun onto the grass, although neither he, Takahara, nor Andretti were injured as they climbed out of their cockpits unaided.
After that the race began to settle down, with Hunt pulling clear out front, while Scheckter slipped behind both Mass and Watson. Scheckter's issues came from his Wolf's tendency to understeer, an issue that was enhanced by the layout of the Fuji Speedway. As such, the Wolf was soon under pressure from Regazzoni, while Stuck was leading a queue of cars a few seconds back after picking up his own handling issues.
At the back of the Stuck queue would be Ronnie Peterson although on lap six, with the assistance of Gilles Villeneuve, the Swede was about to get involved in a life taking accident. Coming into the tight Daiichi corner at the end of the start/finish straight, the young Canadian misjudged his braking point and duly slammed into the side of Peterson's Tyrrell. Momentum then carried the Ferrari over the top of Peterson's car, which also flicked the car into a series of end-over-end somersaults towards the barriers.
Villeneuve was therefore powerless to prevent his car slamming into the barriers, only escaping uninjured by virtue of his small stature, which allowed him to tuck himself into his cockpit. A nearby marshal and photographer, however, was less fortunate, and were both struck by pieces of shattered Ferrari as it slammed atop the barriers. An emergency medical team quickly arrived on the scene but found there was little they could do for either the photographer of marshal, while Villeneuve and Peterson escaped remarkably without injury.
The race would again settle after that incident, with twenty laps passing before another series of incidents reset the order. Indeed, as Hunt started his 29th tour of Fiji, teammate Mass suffered a catastrophic engine failure in the sister car, coasting to a stop at the end of the straight in a cloud of smoke and steam. Watson duly inherited second but suffered a gearbox failure later on on the same lap, meaning it was Schectker's ailing Wolf that now led the chase behind the outgoing Champion.
However, the Wolf was still not over its understeer issue, and, after a brief pause, was under attack from Regazzoni's Ensign into Daiichi. Indeed, the Swiss racer sent his car lunging inside the Wolf on the brakes, leaving Scheckter to try and hold on around the outside. Regazzoni, however, was not to be denied and powered past on the exit, prompting Scheckter to stop at the end of the lap for a new set of tyres and some wing adjustments.
Regazzoni was now a safe second from Reutemann, although the Ensign was beginning to lose oil every time the Swiss racer went into a right hander. Ultimately this rather bizarre issue would cause the Ensign to lose all of its oil pressure on lap 43, forcing Regazzoni into the pits to retire. That duly promoted Reutemann into second, although he was looking in the mirrors to check on the progress of the now charging Laffite.
Indeed, having deduced that he had escaped from his early incident with Andretti without damage, Laffite's Ligier was now one of the fastest cars int he field, and rapidly closing in on the Argentine's Ferrari. After a six lap tussle with Gunnar Nilsson's scarlet Lotus, the Frenchman had been released to catch Reutemann, and duly sent his Ligier scything past the Ferrari into Daiichi on lap 48. Laffite duly sprinted off to secure himself in second, while Reutemann was left with a comfortable advantage over Nilsson.
Nilsson himself, meanwhile, was having to put up a ferocious rear-guard action against Alan Jones, although with 30 laps to go it seemed as if the Swede would hold out. Unfortunately for him curse of the fragile Lotus was never too far away, and, on lap 58, Nilsson's gearbox missed a beat and allowed Jones to shoot past. Nilsson held out for another four laps before Patrick Depailler passed with ease, prompting him to stop in the pits and retire having lost access to most of his gears.
That seemed to be it for the race, until a heartbreaking moment on the final lap shuffled the order once again. Indeed, with half a lap to go and having got within ten seconds of Hunt, Laffite's Matra V12 drank the last of its fuel, causing the Frenchman to coast to a stop. Reutemann duly inherited second, while Depailler caught and passed Jones as the Australian was informed of the Ligier's demise.
Out front, meanwhile, Hunt would majestically sweep through to claim a dominant victory for McLaren, having nursed his car through since the early stages to preserve his front tyres. Reutemann was next ahead of Depailler, while Jones tried in vain to repass the Frenchman on the final tour. Laffite was given some consolation by being classified in fifth ahead of Patrese, while Scheckter collected fastest lap en-route to finishing tenth.
After the race there would be a minor international incident, for neither Hunt nor Reutemann bothered to attend the podium ceremony, with both heading to airport the moment they stepped out of their cockpits. Insulted by his actions, the Japanese press would go into overdrive with criticism of the Brit, in spite of his impressive performance. It also resulted in a rather surreal experience for Depailler, who was the only man to stand on the podium, alongside his engineer.
The full race results for the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Laffite was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- Second Japanese Grand Prix to be staged.
- It would also be the last Japanese Grand Prix to be staged until 1987.
- Ensign started their 50th Grand Prix.
- Gunnar Nilsson made his 31st and final start.
- Debut race for Kunimitsu Takahashi.
- Mario Andretti claimed the 75th pole position for Lotus as a constructor.
- Tenth and final victory for James Hunt.
- McLaren claimed their 24th victory as a constructor.
- Patrick Depailler claimed the 60th podium finish for Tyrrell as a constructor.
- Maiden points finish for Riccardo Patrese.
- Jody Scheckter set his fifth and final fastest lap.
Niki Lauda had long since been declared as World Champion, meaning the fight for second was all that was to be resolved in Japan. Ultimately, with both Jody Scheckter and Mario Andretti failing to score, the runner-up spot in 1977 would fall to the South African, beating the Italian-American by eight points. Carlos Reutemann ended the season fourth ahead of race winner James Hunt, while Riccardo Patrese entered the top twenty at the final attempt with his maiden points finish.
Like their now ex-driver Lauda, Ferrari had already been declared as the International Cup for Constructors Champions, once again meaning it was the runner-up spot that was up for grabs. Ultimately, Lotus-Ford Cosworth ended the season in second, having just enough of an advantage to hold McLaren-Ford Cosworth at bay. The latter squad overhauled Wolf-Ford Cosworth to claim third, while Brabham-Alfa Romeo just edged out Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth on count-back for fifth.
Images and Videos:
- F1-history, 'Gunnar Nilsson | Jacques Laffite (Japan 1977)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 06/03/2016), https://f1-history.deviantart.com/art/Gunnar-Nilsson-Jacques-Laffite-Japan-1977-595058650, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
- F1-history, 'Ronnie Peterson | Gilles Villeneuve (Japan 1977)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 19/11/2012), https://f1-history.deviantart.com/art/Ronnie-Peterson-Gilles-Villeneuve-Japan-1977-338626109, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
- 'Japanese GP, 1977', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2014), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr297.html, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
- A.H., 'The Japanese Grand Prix: Hunt leaves no doubt', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/12/1977), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/december-1977/44/japanese-grand-prix, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
- 'Japan 1977: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1977/japon/engages.aspx, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
- 'Japan 1976: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1977/japon/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
- "1977 Japanese Grand Prix". formula1.com. https://www.formula1.com/en/results.html/1977/races/390/japan.html. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- '17. Japan 1977', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1977/japon.aspx, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
- '1977 Japanese GP', chicanef1.com, (Chicane F1, 2018), http://www.chicanef1.com/racetit.pl?year=1977&gp=Japanese%20GP&r=1, (Accessed 04/06/2018)
|V T E||Japanese Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Fuji (1976–1977, 2007–2008), Suzuka (1987–2006, 2009–present)|
|Races||1976 • 1977 • 1978–1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020|
|See also||Pacific Grand Prix|
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