Osterreichring, Knitteffeld, August 17th
In torrential rain with a back-drop of thunder and lightning the Austrian Grand Prix started over one hour late with conditions officially declared to be “wet”, which meant that the organisers could apply the appropriate CSI rules for ending the race prematurely if desired. In unbelievable conditions of rain and spray Lauda powered off into the lead from pole position, leading Hunt, Depailler, Stuck, Fittipaldi, and Brambilla. As conditions worsened Brambilla out-drove everyone pressing hard on Lauda and Hunt until Lauda made an error on the treacherous surface on lap 15 and dropped to third place. Hunt was the next to wilt under the pressure of the swarthy Italian and on lap 19 Brambilla took the lead, almost to the disbelief of the Ferrari, Hesketh, Lotus, McLaren and Tyrrell pits. Not content with getting the lead Brambilla simply ran away from everyone in the appalling conditions and at lap 29 the race was stopped.
After crossing the line to the wild cheering of the March mechanics Brambilla threw an arm in the air, blipped the throttle in wild delight and promptly went sideways up the streaming track, crumpling the nose of the March on the guard-rails, but continuing on his slowing-down lap, to arrive at the finish with a very second hand looking car.
Hunt drove a worthy race into second place, finishing on seven cylinders, while Torn Pryce was third. In fourth place was Jochen Mass, who had lost third place one lap before the finish. In fifth place was Peterson who had showed some of his old fire in the bad conditions, running fourth until a pit stop for a new visor dropped him to seventh place, but he fought back like a hero. Lauda was unable to cope with the conditions and gradually fell back to finish in an unhappy sixth place, just ahead of Regazzoni.
During practice, which was dominated by Lauda and his Ferrari in the dry on Friday and was unchallenged on Saturday when the weather turned wet, Wilson Fittipaldi had a bad accident due to a mechanical failure on his car, and Henton crashed his Lotus 72 through error, but was unhurt, though unable to start in the race. On race morning, during unofficial practice, Donohue suffered a tyre failure on the Penske March and crashed very badly, injuring two marshals and suffering head injuries himself. This delayed the day’s programme as catch-fences had to be replaced, and this delay built up until distant rain arrived before the race could be got under way, and this delayed the start even more.
[Full report next month]