O-levels and a seriously hot summer. At boarding school I kept abreast of F1 via Motoring News (couldn’t afford Autosporti) and borrowing a radio for the GP results on a Sunday evening. In 1976, I was keener than before for a couple of reasons: I had finally saved enough to buy a kart and was now firmly addicted to driving; and it was year of yo-yoing emotions as the disqualifications and reinstatements repeatedly altered the outlook on my big brother’s world title chances. The highlights (and low points) for me?
James’s stunning pole out of nowhere at round one, Interlagos. News of his win at Jarama, followed by the low of the late-night radio bulletin stating that he had been disqualified. The uncompetitive slump over the next three races after the team had repositioned the oil cooler, leaving James 47 points behind Niki after seven of the 16 rounds. Moving that cooler back resulted in a return to form so stunning that, barring politics and freak weather, he might have won every remaining race that year.
I was out at Hawthorns for the famous display of British jingoism prior to his winning the restarted Brands Hatch race. After that, there was the horror of Niki’s accident and the feeling of deflation that James now had little competition for the title (although he was still 35 points behind).
I accompanied my Mum to the Dutch GP for her to be in an advert with James. I spent the victory party trying to kiss a tipsy English nanny who was looking after a McLaren sponsor’s kids. Just as I succeeded, she vomited. An early lesson about girls and alcohol!
Monza: Lauda’s return; McLaren put to the back of the grid due to ‘illegal’ fuel; James being stoned by the tifosi as he stalked back to the pits.
I recall the tension building as James won in Canada and the US, and being invited to the rrv studios to watch the Japanese cliffhanger live in the middle of the night. Then the victory party at home later that day, most of which I missed because I was upstairs trying desperately to get a long way beyond kissing with the nanny, having rationed her booze consumption. I should have attended the party.
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