Of special interest was the reappearance of the Ferrari de Dion rear suspension, this system being fitted to 312T2/ 025 which is now the regular spare car for the team. The tubular “bridge” that locates the rear hub carriers relative to one another is located sideways at the top by a telescopic shock-absorber unit lying horizontal and fixed at one end to a lug on top of the gearbox/ rear axle unit. From the lowest points on the hub carriers transverse tubular links extend inwards to a short link pivoted on a gimbal, providing a Watt linkage in a horizontal plane. Fore and aft movement of the hub carriers is prevented by tubular radius rods running forwards as in the conventional i.r.s. layout. Lauda tried this car briefly during the first practice session and then it was put away, there being no obvious advantage over the conventional T2 Ferrari layout. On the night before the race the de Dion assembly was removed completely and a standard independent layout substituted and the car was race-prepared in standard form as a spare car for Lauda, should some disaster befall his regular car 312T2/026. Regazzoni once again had the latest of the 1976 cars, which is 312 T2/027 and for the first practice all three cars were fitted with fibreglass deflectors ahead of the front wheels. These were moulded as part of the normal air-scoops for the front brakes, so naturally they turned with the wheels. The technical scrutineers deemed them to be “aerodynamic devices” and therefore they were illegal, for any such aid to airflow must not move. They were removed before the second practice session and the normal fibre-glass air scoops were put back. According to the rule book (and 1976 seems to be the year of the rule book), the cars were illegal during the first practice session so the times recorded by Lauda and Regazzoni were removed from .the official list. In line with common sense Motor Sport has left the recorded times in the tabulated list accompanying the race report. In the second practice session both drivers Improved substantially on their morning tunes, so the action of the stewards was purely academic.
The Project 34 Tyrrells were the same as used so successfully in Sweden, no major changes being visible, but during the first practice Scheckter had to abandon P34/3 out on the circuit when a steering link broke, the car not being steerable with three controlled wheels and one wayward one. This caused a hurried replacement of steering and suspension links on the car before it re-appeared for further practice. Depailler was driving P34/2 and both cars were running without air-collector boxes on the engines, the inlet trumpets covered by a gauze lid. The 007 cars are still taken to races, 007/4 for Depailler and 007/6-4 for Scheckter just in case there is a major disaster, but in fact they are seldom used. Standing by at the back of the pits they look large and ungainly by comparison with the Project 34 six-wheeled cars and this caution on the Part of Elf Team Tyrrell means that the Paddock contains quite a fleet of transporters to carry all the cars and all the material.
Team Lotus produced a new car in the Type 77 series, the third one and designated R3, but in fact it was labelled JPS 14. The series of John Player Specials started with JPS 9 and JPS 10, which were the two abortive Type 76 cars and these Were followed by JPS 11, which was Lotus 77/R1. This was followed by JPS 12 or Lotus 77/R2 and now we have JPS 14 (13 is unlucky?) or Lotus 77/R3 and this new car was for Andreui, the car that went so fast in Sweden being his spare car. Nilsson’s car was Limn 77/R2 repaired after his indiscretion in Sweden. By the end of the first day of practice the new car had virtually broken in two so it was loaded onto a trailer and covered over and Andretti continued practice with 77/R1 .
The Brabham-Alfa Romeos had done a lot of pre-race testing and had shown signs of improvement, recording some quite competitive lap times. Alfa Romeo had been working hard to try and keep the oil in the engines and make them more reliable and the cats were fitted with yet another variation on the air-box theme. Pace had BT45/3, the lightest of the three cars, Reutemann had BT45/2-2 repaired after his accident in Sweden and the first car 8T45/1 was the communal spare. McLaren were another team who were benefiting from some pre-race testing at the Ricard circuit and they appeared to have recovered their composure and got all the variables back under control with a subsequent effective balance of the car and an effective compromise between straight-line speed and cornering power. Hunt was still with M23/6, the earlier car that he changed to in Sweden, his original car M12/8 being the spare and Mass remained with M23/9.
The Shadow team had used the break since Swedish GP to rebuild Jarier’s car around the 1976 monocoque that he damaged in South America, which had been repaired. Although the B-type monocoque looks similar to the A-type, it differs internally and structurally. These are still in the DNS series so Jarier’s rebuilt car thus became DN5/4B, identical to Pryce’s car DN5/513 which itself had undergone a major rebuild after its practice crash in Sweden. DN5/3A was back to being the spare car again. Brett Lunger and Alan Jones had the two “works” Surtees TS19 cars, and Henri Pescarolo was running the original TS19 car as a private entry. At the Williams factory a third Postlethwaite Hesketh 308C had been completed. so that the original 1975 was left behind and Ickx had the brand new one, FW05/3 in the Williams’ series, Leclere still having FW05/2. Both cars had louvres in the cowlings over the sidemounted radiators and redesigned rear suspension layout brought about by the use of different hub carriers, which themselves had been redesigned to utilise larger diameter hubshaft bearings in the search for more rigid rear wheel locations as Postlethwaite felt that a lack of rigidity in the hubs and bearings may have been allowing the rear wheels to do some steering of the car. Bifurcated air scoops on the front hubs fed, cooling air to the centre of the brake disc, from whence it was centrifuged out through the slotted disc, and also to the brake caliper, though during practice these scoops were partially blanked off as the brake pads were not reaching their working temperature. Also, both cars disdispensed with the engine cowlings incorporating air ducts to the engine inlets, and ran naked and exposed.
The long works Ensign had undergone a major rebuild after its Swedish accident and a lot of toil and sweat at the Walsall works had got it ready to race again. Unfortunately Chris Amon had developed spinal trouble as a result of the accident at Anderstorp and was unfit to drive, so after financial Rent-aDrive discussions with Lelia Lombardi and her Italian sponsors Morris Nunn turned the offer down and then found himself saddled with Patrick Neve at the request of the Constructors’ Association. Previously, and somewhat precariously, Neve had been part of the RAM Racing team of John MacDonald along with Loris Kessel who supplies the money from Tissot watches from Switzerland. This time Damien Magee was driving the second or the ex-works Brabham BT44B cars. The Hesketh Rent-a-Drive team were at full strength, with Harald Ertl in 308 /3 and Guy Edwards in 308/2.
The evening before practice began a brand new Ligier-Matra V12 was wheeled into the pits, number J55/02, basically to the same design as the first Ligier, but with a slab-sided monocoque instead of the curvaceous one, with the side-mounted radiators at an angle to the air-flow instead of parallel. It had a rectangular rear aerofoil as against the one on the original car which had the fashionable Vee leading edge. There had been some pre-race talk about Jean-Pierre Jarier leaving the Shadow team to drive this second French car, but it came to nothing and both Ligiers were numbered 26 for the use of Jacque Laffite. The Penske team had straightened out their new PC4 after its excursion off course on the opening lap of the Swedish GP and as a spare car for John Watson they had PC3/02. In the Fittipaldi team Emerson Fittipaldi had a brand new car, FD04/3 while his original car FD04/1 became the team spare and for this race a second entry was made for Ingo Hoffman driving FD04/2. Engine air-boxes seemed to be a thing of the past for this team and the team-leader’s new car was fitted with a second aerofoil at the back down by the gearbox, as instigated by McLaren. The Hesketh 30/3 of Ertl had also copied this idea.
The two March teams were as before, except that Peterson’s car, 761/3-2, was back to its original colours of blue and yellow after its brief flirtation with the Penske sponsors’ colours in Sweden. For a change neither the Bicester A-team nor the Reading B-team had had to in any major rebuilds after the previous race, the same four cars used at Ricard