— A Ferrari Walk-over
Monza, Italy, September 7th
There was a strange air of resignation about the place as the teams assembled in the paddock at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. The chances of Lauda and Ferrari being beaten for their respective World Championships were so remote as to be non-existent and a Ferrari win on the fast Monza track seemed a foregone conclusion. There were a few minor changes in the teams, but nothing to get excited about, with Crawford taking over the number two Lotus, Renzo Zorzi an Italian F3 driver having a go in one of Frank Williams’ cars and Merzario driving the Copersucar Fittipaldi as Wilson Fittipaldi still had his arm in plaster; for the rest the personnel were as in Austria, except that there was no Surtees entry, the team having withdrawn from Formula One until such times as their conditions improve.
It was almost a foregone conclusion that Lauda would be setting the pace with the works Ferrari, but nobody envisaged him having a dominating lead of more than 1 1/2 seconds over the nearest Cosworth V8 car by the time the first practice session had finished. It seemed as if everyone had given up and were merely going through the motions of being competitors to the two Ferraris, but in fact there was a lot of hard trying going on and some pretty desperate breakages among some of the teams. The McLaren team were in such a shambles after an hour of practice that it seemed unbelievable and they were smiling, knowing they had reached rock-bottom and things could only improve. Fittipaldi had not been going long before his Cosworth engine blew up and he had to abandon the car on the far side of the circuit. Barely had he got going in the spare McLaren than Jochen Mass came into the pits with his Cosworth V8 blown up and as his car was wheeled away to have a new engine installed, Fittipaldi bounced himself off the far chicane and bent the right front corner and crinkled the monocoque of the spare car. From a thriving team they were reduced to spectators in less than an hour. Depailler was going well in his Tyrrell and the two South American Brabham drivers were beginning to get to grips with the situation, even though they both suffered spins in their attempts to challenge the speed of the Ferraris. For the general run of the entry it was the old, old story of “too much of this”, or “too much of that” or “not enough of the other”, but the facts were that everything was looking pretty normal with the usual car/driver combinations being in the front half of the field and the rest in the back half.
In the short afternoon session the McLaren team got half way back to normal with the spare car repaired sufficiently for Fittipaldi to continue practice while his own car had an engine change, and before the session ended Mass was out again. Lauda improved on his morning time of 1.32.94 to 1.32.82 and he was alone in this bracket, Regazzoni being next fastest with 1.33.11. The only driver to get in the second-class Ferrari bracket was Reutemann who scratched a lap in 1.33.99, which could hardly be called “getting into the thirty-threes” which was everyone’s aim. Some drivers were not even in the thirty-fours, so that Lauda had as much as 2 seconds lead on some quite good runners. Needless to say a large crowd had taken time off on this Friday afternoon and there was continual applause and cheering for the Ferrari pair and quite a lot for Brambilla as well, even though he was not in the running.
While Friday had been comfortably warm, Saturday was grey and dull and there was a more determined atmosphere around the pits. McLarens were back to square one, virtually starting all over again and Fittipaldi was trying hard and looking confident. Hunt was trying the spare Hesketh, though not despairing of the new C-type, the Brabham team looked good and Peterson was going quite well in the Lotus, but his new team-mate was out of his depth, as were a number of other drivers. Brise was really having a go at the Monza Autodrome and looking a bit on the ragged edge, but he was getting results and Graham Hill did a big shuffle round of his cars to let Brise try Stommelen’s car, while Stommelen drove the spare car, which was one of the old Lolas. Engines were still breaking under the strain of the efforts to achieve a lap at more than 220 k.p.h. average (around 137 m.p.h.) and Regazzoni lost the oil pressure in his Ferrari engine after getting down to 1.32.79, continuing practice in the spare car and Depailler broke the engine in his Tyrrell, taking over the spare Tyrrell, but it was not sounding too healthy. In general brakes were coping with the heavy and frequent applications, or rather Ferodo disc pads were coping, but one or two teams were keeping a watchful eye on disc temperatures, for with the two chicanes there is not much time for things to cool off after each heavy application. Tyres seemed to be completely trouble-free at this race, though care was being taken to ensure that rear ones were “matched pairs” and remained that way after some fast laps.
The fourth and final practice session started with only Lauda and Regazzoni in the 1 min. 32 sec. bracket, and Brambilla, Reutemann, Fittipaldi, Mass and Scheckter in the “thirty-threes” with one or two more not far off, but Fittipaldi, who was third fastest was still three-quarters of a second behind Lauda, and at 140 m.p.h. that is a long way. In the closing stages of practice Brise and Hunt joined the elite in the “thirtythrees” and Regazzoni made his best time of all in the spare Ferrari. It all seemed as if Sunday would be a mere formality for the Ferrari team, except for two important points, one being the fact that they threw the 1974 race away when in a similar position of apparent domination, and the other that they had not won a major race since the French Grand Prix, failing in the British GP, the German GP and the Austrian GP. It was these two facts that were keeping the rest of the competitors going.
During Saturday evening the rain started and the fiercest of storms began, with thunder and lightning of impressive proportions. It continued through the night and was still in full swing on Sunday morning. A half-hour of untimed practice was due at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning and some drivers went out to find the track flooded in places and so much water about that under heavy braking the nose cowlings were acting like water shovels and disappearing from view. There seemed no signs of the storms abating and while everyone was prepared to have a wet race, if the bad parts of the track did not drain properly it would be impossible to drive through the water. As the start was scheduled for 3.30 p.m. there was not much hope of postponing it for an hour or more, as it would be nearly dark by the time it was over. A deadline of 2 p.m. was chosen for making a final decision as to whether the race would take place or be abandoned, and still the rain was pouring down and the fire-brigade were hard at work trying to pump the flood waters away. By 1 p.m. there was a distinct improvement in the weather and the rain stopped and during a supporting race for Formula Renault the sun actually appeared. By the 2 p.m. deadline things looked very hopeful and by 3 p.m. everyone was ready and the track was virtually dry. Fittipaldi and Lauda drove round to survey the situation and all was well, with two warm-up laps being allowed for reconnaissance purposes. Miraculously all was relatively sunny and bright in time for everyone to be on the grid on a dry track, with no problems over tyres and a dry race being almost guaranteed. Everyone deserved credit for the start being a mere 15 minutes late, when a few hours before abandonment seemed the only way out.
The twenty-six starters lined up on the “dummy-grid” in pairs, ready for a 52-lap chase and as the two Ferraris led the field up to the starting line there was a confident and almost arrogant air about the two cars from Maranello, the sound of their flat-12 cylinder engines drowning the array of Cosworth, BRM and Matra power spread out behind them. With his rear wheels spinning wildly, Lauda had to watch Regazzoni make a perfect start and the field roared away heading for the Curva Grande without going through the silly chicane. In mid-field and behind there was a lot of excitement, for on the warm-up laps Brambilla had lost the use of first gear, so started the race in second gear and the clutch had given out. As he crept away cars were dodging all around the orange March and in the middle of it all the BRM died completely with an electrical failure. As Evans coasted helplessly along Stommelen collided with Crawford as he dodged the BRM and miraculously no-one hit Brambilla.
The start had taken place on the left side of the wide pits straight and at the end of the opening lap, with Regazzoni leading Lauda, the field streamed up the right-hand side of the track, heading for the chicane in single file. Scheckter was in third place but overshot his braking and then everything happened at once and there were cars bouncing in all directions. When the dust had subsided Andretti was seen climbing out of a damaged Parnelli and Peterson was also out, while Mass, Brise, Stommelen and Crawford all stopped at the pits at the end of lap 2, the Lotus with its left rear tyre a mangled ball of rubber. Amon was also in the pits, having stopped on the opening lap, with a flat-sounding engine in the Ensign. It only needed two laps to sort things out, with the two Ferraris drawing away, Reutemann in third place, followed by Fittipaldi and Hunt. Then came Depailler, Pace, Laffite and Pryce and a while later came Stuck, Scheckter, Ertl, Merzario, Jarier, Lunger, Zorzi and Lombardi. Brambilla had just managed to creep round for one lap and then disappeared. As a result of the pushing and shoving at the chicane, Mass, Brise and Stommelen were forced to retire with various suspension parts bent and the field was already looking a bit thin, though Crawford eventually rejoined the race.
Before ten laps were completed Laffite had retired with a broken gearbox and Pace had retired with a broken throttle linkage and the order at the front was unchanged except that Depailler had caught Hunt and took fifth place from the new Hesketh on lap 10. There was nothing to stop the Ferraris and Lauda had to be content with second place as Regazzoni was clearly out to win. Depailler now had his sights on Fittipaldi who was in fourth place, but the falling World Champion woke up to the fact and overtook Reutemann into third place. On lap 15 Depailler’s efforts were completely nullified when he overshot the silly chicane and went up the escape road, rejoining the race a long way back in seventh place, behind Pryce and ahead of an unhappy Jarier for the Matra engine was popping and banging with fuel feed trouble. As half-distance approached, Regazzoni began to open the gap between him and Lauda and it crept up from 3 seconds to 6 seconds, to 10 seconds and it was clear that Lauda was, in fact, dropping back, for Fittipaldi now had the future World Champion in his sight. All the time Regazzoni was setting up new fastest laps, showing no signs of easing up and behind him it looked like stalemate between Lauda and Fittipaldi, with the McLaren driver unable to see any way of getting past the Ferrari and never getting really close enough to worry Lauda. Almost by surprise Fittipaldi overtook the Ferrari as they braked for the chicane at the start of lap 46, and it was all over. Lauda had no need to fight back for all he wanted was a championship point to make him World Champion and he had given up all idea of actually winning the race. Not so Regazzoni, he just drove on and on, his average speed rising all the time. At 5 laps it had been 210.096 k.p.h. and it rose steadily to 218.034 k.p.h. by the end of the 52 laps, with a new lap record on lap 47 into the bargain.
In mid-field there had been a slight reshuffle when Hunt overshot the chicane and lost fifth place to Tom Pryce, but it was only temporary, for he got it back in ten laps. The first six completed the full distance, but the rest were a long way back, lapped by the relentless Regazzoni who was acclaimed vociferously for a long time after the race was over, by the surprisingly large crowd in view of the uncertain start to the day. It was a fitting end to a season that has been dominated by the presence of the 1975 Ferrari 312 with its transverse gearbox layout, and with the Canadian Grand Prix cancelled there only remains the United States GP and it hardly seems worth the bother of running it. To most Italians 1975 finished at Monza. — D.S.J.