1977 German Grand Prix race report
“Der Kleiner Preis von Deutschland”
The German round in the Formula One World Championship series for Drivers and Constructors was held on the fast and flat Hockenheim Ring on July 31st with all the regular Formula One teams and drivers taking part. Vern Schuppan remained in the Surtees team, after his promising showing at the British GP, new-boy Tambay was in the second Ensign, while Rebaque replaced Ertl in the second works-supported Hesketh. The German team ran both their Penske PC4 cars, the second one being driven by saloon car driver Hans Heyer, and the Stanley-BRM team had Pilette driving the Bourne car, for no very obvious reason.
The Hockenheim Ring is not the most inspiring circuit and few drivers were very enthusiastic about it, most of them taking it for what it was worth as part of their regular job. It is all centred round a giant concrete stadium, more suited for a Hitler Youth rally than for motor racing, on the infield of which is a “micky-mousy” series of flat curves, which end up in the pits/starting grid area. From the start the course runs round a right hander and out of the stadium on a long “out-and-back” section, each leg being interrupted by a fast ess-bend or chicane. At the far end the course turns more or less through 180-degrees via a very fast right hander that goes on and on and is the only adrenaline-flowing part of the course. It re-enters the stadium (or arena) by a sharp right hander and then convolutes through the stadium wiggles. Drivers had the choice of tuning their cars to be fast on the “out-and-back” section, and slow through the twisty bit, or vice versa. Some drivers made a choice, others had it made for them by the vicissitudes of their cars. Right to the last minute of practice it looked as though Watson’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo would be on pole position, but in the last minutes Scheckter got a clear run with the Wolf, aided by some crafty slip-streaming of other cars, and snatched the best time from the Ulterman. Everyone else who should be up near the front of the grid seemed to be there, except Mass and the two Tyrrell drivers. The number two McLaren driver had crashed his M26 in the untimed practice on Saturday morning, when a tyre deflated, and had to finish his qualifying in an M23, while we have been forced to accept that Peterson and Depailler are not longer in the running with the six-wheelers. Tambay made another good showing with the Ensign, but Regazzoni only just scraped in. Fittipaldi got nowhere at all with his brother’s car, and mechanical trouble caused Merzario to fail. The BRM was last.
A start-line accident which was the result of a chain-reaction eliminated Regazzoni and Jones on the spot. The regulation red/green light signals had been damaged by a service vehicle so the start was given by a flag; this caught out Depailler, who hesitated, causing those behind him to swerve sideways, and Regazzoni who was charging through from the back collected Jones’ Shadow and Schuppan’s Surtees, and there was a lot of bumping and colliding at the back of the grid. At the front Scheckter shot into the lead with Wolf, from Watson, with Lauda, Hunt and Stuck behind him. From the starting grid confusion Hever joined in the race with the second ATS Penske, even though he was not actually first reserve.
The leading five cars soon opened out a gap from the rest of the runners, who were led by Reutemann. Watson’s car lasted no time at all, the Alfa Romeo engine blowing up well and truly, and Lauda confidently took the lead from Scheckter on lap 13. From then on the Austrian ran the race as he wished, being in complete command right through to the end of the 47 laps, driving with all the calm and confidence that he used to show before he became at loggerheads with the Ferrari team earlier in the season. Certainly there was nothing wrong with the Ferrari and it was a typical Lauda/Ferrari victory, his recent slips form his formula being most untypical. Hunt’s efforts to do something about Scheckter and the World were firstly hampered by a broken exhaust manifold pipe and then the Cosworth development engine went flat as the mechanical fuel pump went on the blink, the electric one being insufficient to maintain fuel pressure in the upper rev-ranges. Towards the end of the race the Wolf popped and banged out of corners with what sounded like fuel-pressure trouble, and behind it the Brabham-Alfa of Struck was hiccoughing along in the closing laps as the fuel level got precariously low. As Lauda sailed home to a most convincing win, the sick Wolff and Brabham struggled along to the finish, the latter coasting across the line in third place with dry tanks.
Of the mid-field runners Andretti pressed Reutemann as had as he could, but the Lotus was suffering from poor top speed, though it was fast through the corners, but this race ended when the Lotus burst its Cosworth engine. Team-mate Nilsson, driving the team spare car had already retired with engine trouble and Mass had gone out with a broken Hewland/McLaren gearbox. Through all this Tambay had come up to a very worth sixth place, in spite of not having the use of all the gears in the Ensign gearbox, and Brambilla had kept his Surtees more or less on the road to finish fifth. Among those at the back of the race Lunger retired from the effects of getting bumped in the starting-grid melee, Keegan threw away a good finishing place by having an accident with Ribeiro (a repeat of a similar one he had in practice) and Jarier bounced off a barrier which caused a drive-shaft to break. Patrese and Peterson both retired before the end of the race but had covered enough laps to be classified as finishers.
The race was clean and clinical with no anguish and the 100,000 people in the Stadium had their “ day at the races ” but not with the camping/holiday experience of the Nurburgring.