SMALL GOOD WOLF
NO OTHER FORMULA ONE TEAM HAS MADE A DEBUT QUITE LIKE IT. DAVID MALSHER REASSESSES THE ASTONISHING FIRST SEASON OF WALTER WOLF’S ONE-CAR BAND WAITER WOLF, MID-1976, ICNEW FORMULA ONE HAD
more to offer him than this. His partnership with Williams had produced a two-car team that played a flotsam-and-jetsam role at grands prix, mobile chicanes for serious drivers in serious cars to slice through. The machines (Hesketh 308Cs, but known as Williams FVVO5s) were hopeless, the drivers inadequate, and the future didn’t look any better.
Gianpaolo DaIlara, a friend of Walter’s who built him a Can-Am car, had encouraged the Austrianborn Canadian with the pot of gold to back one of the likely lads among the Fl team managers, Frank Williams. That deal was done mid-1975, and at the end of the year, Wolf offered to buy a 60 per cent stake in the team for ’76, with Frank still playing a key role. FVV, seeking a promised land beyond the hand-to-mouth existence that had characterised his recent Fl efforts, agreed. “Frank is one of the nicest people you could meet,” says Wafter, “but at that time he was struggling and just didn’t have the business touch you need. So I decided to set up Walter Wolf Racing, with Frank as my assistant, and Peter Warr from Lotus as team II+
fretted behind him, Jody held his line, stubbornly resisting without swerving or chopping. When the Brabham’s gear selection hindered its progress, Scheckter was away. But on the penultimate lap, the engine cut out, briefly. Jody had to pay out the line on the final tour, allowing Lauda to close to within a second at the chequer.
Victory number two, and the championship lead (Scheckter 32, Lauda 25, Reutemann 23, Andretti 22) after six rounds — it looked good.
Good? Good? It was amazing. But if Wolf’s form continued to astound, now their fortunes took a dive.
At Zolder, in wet-but-drying track conditions, Scheckter was leading by 25sec when he spun: “As it got drier, I thought I’d try the kerb a little bit, but there was water on it, and that was effectively the race gone. Then at Anderstorp, I was in third but felt the others were catching me, and so I decided to take a chance and pass Waffle and ended up hitting him.”
French GP, another collision: Clay Regazzoni’s Ensign pitched Scheckter off the Dijon track. It cost Jody little, for he lay only seventh at the time. He had never found a decent set-up, having had practice restricted by a recurrence of the fuel-feed problem that had struck in practice in Argentina, and in the closing lap of Monaco. In Germany two rounds later, the same fault would cost Wolf a stab at another win.
Remarkably, the car that had worked so well at Monaco, Long Beach and Jarama also adapted to the endless blinds of Hockenheim. Scheckter sat on pole. “I wasn’t really surprised,” he says. “We were always trying different things in testing — long wheelbases, wider tyres — so we were always finding ways to adapt to the different circuits.”
Topp reckons it was more basic than that: “Despite its stumpy looks, WR1 was very aerodynamic.” In the early stages, Scheckter held the lead, and though Lauda outbraked him into the second chicane on lap 12 to take the lead, the Ferrari could not shake off its blue-and-gold shadow. Jody was just winding himself up for a victory challenge in the closing stages when, as he pitched hard into the Stadium section, he heard that horribly familiar
cough, splutter, silence, restart. As he gently caressed the car to the finish and second place, he could be grateful for his first score in five grands prix. From a different perspective, however, it was the turningpoint in the title race. Scheckter was now more than a win behind Lauda in the points table, and The Rat’s Ferrari seemed awfully reliable.
“The fuel-feed problem only happened when the car got hot, and I think the fact that this was not allowing us to sort the car out was our big problem,” says Scheckter. ‘This issue went on for about six races and I think cost us the championship. But you could also say that, WI hadn’t made a couple of mistakes, things might have been different, too.”
Topp: “I’ve worked on the cars since then and I think it was all down to the collector pod in the fuel tank. When I built a new one, I copied the one out of a Williams FW07 and there was no problem. It’s easy to look back and see where we lost points.” Lauda, the scarred, cautious version, had been pretty much mistake-free in 1977, almost always finishing, usually on the podium. He was dauntingly x.-?
relentless — absolutely the last person you wanted to be facing while on the back foot Jody’s spinningaway of third place in Austria while lapping abackmarker in the closing stages, is testament to that.
By contrast, at Zandvoort, the Wolf was so far off the pace that Jody was almost relaxed by race-day; he kept his head and calmly made his way through the field to third place. On the top step of the podium, though, was… Lauda. The points table now read 63-42 in his favour, and Scheckter’s blown engine, while running second at Monza (Nilci finished second), virtually confirmed that the title would go to the Austrian. He finally secured it at Watkins Glen with a fourth; Jody was third. As a consolation, Wolf won the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport, an emotional day for the team owner And though it was hugely lucky, Andretti retiring from the lead with just two laps to go, it thus neatly balanced the Long Beach disappointment
There were no points at Mount Fuji. A long pitstop for fresh tyres and wing adjustments dropped Jody down the field, but he did at least set fastest lap.
So how should we regard the season as a whole, a season in which a one-car team finished fourth in the constructors’ championship, and its driver second in the chase for the drivers’ crown?
Walter Wolf: “Whenever we finished races, we were on the podium: three wins, two second places, four thirds. These days, teams who have been in Fl for a long time, and who have two can, are told they have had a good season if they have half as many points as we got! When anyone asks me when I’m going to come back to Formula One, I reply ‘When a new team does better than I did in my first year’.
Scheckter: “That 1977, along with my first year at Ferrari, was the most fun I ever had in a season. We were a happy team and were doing very well. But at the end of the season, I looked back and cursed, because I think that team had the potential to win the title.” But the very fact that Wolf were in championship contention at all surely proves that this was the greatest debut season in Formula One history. CI
WOLF’S 17-ROUND PROWL
Argentina Brazil 5th Africa USA West Spain Monaco Belgium Sweden France Britain Germany Austria Holland Italy USA East Canada Japan
Qualifies 11th. Climbs steadily to first. And wins! Reaches eighth from 156 on grid. Then engine fails. Fifth on grid. Passes Hunt to finish second. Grids third. Takes lead at start. Slow puncture 15 laps from end. Finishes third.
Fifth on grid. Finishes third. Way off Lotus pace. Qualifies second. Leads from start to finish. Spins out of lead. Fights back until engine quits. Fourth on grid. Crashes trying to take second. Not in the hunt. ‘Regga’ takes him out of seventh. Fourth on grid. Up to third when engine blows. Pole! Leads early stages. Passed by Lauda. Has to nurse fuel-starved engine to second. Qualifies eighth. Hits backmarker when third. Steady, excellent climb from 15th to third. Leads. Passed by Andretti. Retires from second. Brilliant early laps, then steady drive to third. Andretti’s engine blows three laps from home, handing Wolf a home win.
Poor set-up until pitstop. Fastest lap. Finishes ninth.