Notes on the Cars in Austria, 1976

Making notes about the Ferrari ears at the Osterreichring was quite simple; there were no Ferrari cars. After the German Grand Prix the Commendatore withdrew his team, ostensibly for the rest of the 1976 season, for reasons dealt with elsewhere. The March team had to undertake one of their biggest rebuilding programmes ever, after the Nurburgring. The cars of Brambilla and Peterson were virtually new, both requiring new monocoque tubs, as did the car that Merzario used to drive. 761/1-3 and 761/3-3 were still kept for Brambilla and Peterson, respectively, but 761/4-3 was fitted out with new pristine white panels and sold to an Austrian amateur who hopefully tuned up to try and get an entry in his own National OP. However, it was dependent on getting the agreement of all the drivers in the race, but understandably some of them were a bit chary of letting an unknown amateur loose on a 135-m.p.h. circuit in their midst, so the rebuilt March remained silent. Similarly, an Austrian sports-car racer, Otto Stuppacher, was unable to get an entry with Tyrrell 007/6-4, Jody Scheckter’s old car, which he had recently bought off Team Tyrrell. With the Formula One Constructors’ Association squeezing non-Championship Formula One races out of existence it is difficult to see how a private-owner is ever going to get started in Grand Prix racing.

With Merzario permanently gone to the Frank Williams team, March Engineering now feel they can catch their breath and cope with three drivers, and indicated this by completing the brand-new car 761/6 (not 761/7 as suggested in the German GP report) as a second car for Peterson.

With Chris Amon leaving the Ensign team, Nunn was fortunate to be able to do a deal with the Austrian F2 driver Hans Binder, who got some sponsorship money from a bank and thus bought himself a place in the Ensign MN05. The Swiss driver Ressel was back in the cockpit of the RAM-Racing Brabham BT44B/1, having made his point at the Nurburgring, and the second 131’4413 was being driven by Lelia Lombardi. After the German race Our Edwards discovered he had damaged a wrist rather badly, which was fortunate for Harald Ertl, as his Hesketh 308/3 was virtually written-off in the Lauda crash, so he was able to borrow the basic monocoque tub from Edwards’ car 308/2, for this race. Another car that was scrap after the Nurburgring race was Lunger’s Surtees TS 19/03 and he was fortunate in that a new car was almost finished in the Edenbridge factory, this being TS19/04. It was destined for Alan Jones, with the idea that his old car. TS 19/02, would be kept as a spare car for testing. With Lunger’s car a write-off it meant that the American driver had to take over TS 19/02, repainted in chesterfield cigarette colours, Jones having the new car as planned. Both cars had new full-width nose cowlings, with individual air intakes to the two radiators.

ELF Team Tyrrell were looking very strong with a brand-new Project 34, the fourth in the six-wheeled series and this car had a single large oil-cooler in the nose with a cowling not unlike the ELF Formula Two cars. Its cockpit surround still had the small Perspex windows as favoured by Patrick Depailler and it appeared with number 4 on it. During the Saturday morning untimed practice Scheekter took it out with number 3 on it but was sidelined with engine trouble. Team Lotus had fitted an adjustable rear anti-roll bar system to Nilsson’s car, 77/R2, with the Sliding control in the cockpit hastily labelled HMS, meaning Hard to the rear, Medium in the centre and forward for Soft. Andretti was still driving 77/R3 and the original car was the communal spare, the American using it in the first practice while his own car was being finished off and the Swede using it in the second session due to his own car breaking its Cosworth V8 engine. 77/R3 was still the only Lotus with a compressed-air starter motor, the air-bottle being under the lefthand radiator cowling and the small battery being under the r.h. cowling. On 77/R2 the larger battery was still mounted at the rear.

The McLaren team were a little bit embarrassed for they had their brand-new car, the M26, hidden away, and had no incentive to use it as the M23 cars were more than satisfactory. The new M26 had been tried at Goodwood and Silverstone before leaving England, and also at the Osterreichring before practice began. Apart from some detail changes to the fuel system and the rear antiroll bar layout it showed promise, but with an M23 as the fastest car in practice it could nest have improved their situation. Hunt and Mass were using the usual three cars, M23/6. M23/8 and M23/9. In the Brabham-Alfa Romeo team the carbon-fibre inserted disc brakes had been fitted to Pace’s car BT45/4 as had the air-ducted front wheels, and Reutemann’s Car BT45/3 also had one of the new compressed-air starter motors. 13T45/1 was the team spare, and during the wet practice sessions the cars were run without aircollector boxes over the inlets, but with great wads of an absorbent material strapped over the intakes, material that presumably allowed the passage of air but repulsed water and dirt particles.

Apart from the Scuderia Rondini Tyrrell 007/4 now being painted in Gulf colours, sponsored by the Italian branch of Gulf Oil, there were not many changes among the rest of the regular runners. Laffite used the newer of the two Ligier-Matra VI2 cars all the time, though the earlier one was there as a stand-by, and likewise Emerson Fittipaldi used his brother’s latest car all the time and Merzario used the Williams FW05/3, both having spare cars available. The Shadow team retained its Tabatip cigar sponsorship, still using the DNS cart, but mention was made of the new DN8 being near completion. John Watson was in the Penske PC4/01, as immaculately prepared as ever.—D.S.J.