The older head rested on the younger shoulders in the neck-and-neck Formula 1 showdown of October 1974.
Emerson Fittipaldi was 27 and Clay Regazzoni 34 when they arrived – equal on 52 points – at Watkins Glen in autumnal Upstate New York.
This first season since benchmark Jackie Stewart’s retirement had been a cagey, with nobody able to assume the Scotsman’s mantle.
Niki Lauda and Ferrari had been its fastest combination – nine poles including a streak of six – but had won only twice as the victories were shared among five teams: Brabham, Lotus, McLaren and Tyrrell being the others.
The Austrian – recently benefiting from an after-the-fact bestowal of two points from July’s confused and chaotic British Grand Prix – had been leading the penultimate round in Canada when he slid off on debris of which he had received no warning.
But for that he, too, would have arrived at Watkins Glen with a shot at the title.
Lauda, seen at Anderstorp, lost his chance to win the 1974 title when he crashed out at Mosport
Indeed, had not Tyrrell’s Jody Scheckter also crashed out at Mosport – due to brake failure – when lying third, two points would have covered four title contenders: Clay, Emerson and Jody each with 49 points; Niki menacing on 47.
As it was, Scheckter, with 45 points, retained an outside chance – he needed to win while the other pair pretty much tanked – but Lauda, with 38, was out of the running now.
Fittipaldi and Regazzoni finished first and second for McLaren and Ferrari in a Canadian Grand Prix exhibiting an edge earlier rounds had lacked.
The jockeying had stopped.
Victory for Fittipaldi in Canada put him level on points with Regazzoni, going into the decider
Doug Griffin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Fittipaldi’s surprising pole position was arguably the lap of the season – and his first since Brazil in January – and Regazzoni had seemed on the brink of disaster on this marginal, fast and bumpy circuit throughout practice and the race.
The former had been a quick study since arriving in Europe as a trailblazer in 1969. By 1970, he was scoring his first GP win – for Lotus at Watkins Glen – at only his fourth attempt. And by 1972, he was F1’s then-youngest world champion.
An enthusiastic and fastidious tester, the Brazilian’s was a smooth and understated style that had been once too often overlooked at Lotus during 1973 – Colin Chapman being blinded by Ronnie Peterson’s blazing speed – but which perfectly suited the ordered environment of McLaren.
Determined to prove doubters wrong and backers Marlboro right, Fittipaldi neatly set out his stall and picked his moments carefully and wisely in an M23 that was as stable and consistent as he had assessed it would be.
Stable McLaren suited Fittipaldi’s smooth style perfectly
Regazzoni was a very different fish, whose reputation as an uncompromising charger with an ability to shrug off accidents that would cause others to quail rather overshadowed a knack for consistency: the Swiss had won only once in 1974 compared to Fittipaldi’s three.
His rise through the junior formulae had been more tortuous than had Fittipaldi’s – although ultimately successful with Tecno in European Formula 2 in 1970 – but he, too, had arrived in F1 as though born to it, scoring his first GP win – at Monza for Ferrari – at only his fifth attempt.
It’s just that Fittipaldi didn’t entirely trust him. He wasn’t alone in that; Stewart, too, had expressed misgivings about the otherwise delightful Regazzoni’s on-track methods.
Unwritten rules are the most important. They are also the most difficult to apply and to police – and Regazzoni’s stanch defending of his position, including a willingness to weave on a straight, was the thin end of the wedge.
He had crossed a line.
Erratic defending made Regazzoni’s rivals wary
Grand Prix Photo
Both Fittipaldi and Regazzoni struggled in practice at Watkins Glen, neither able to find a happy balance.
But still they were in the same boat, less than a tenth of a second apart in eighth and ninth respectively on the grid.
Fittipaldi, feeling pressure like never before, couldn’t bring himself to glance over his shoulder at his fierce rival. He didn’t need to: Regga’s presence was strong.
Clay’s starts were a strength, too, and he got the jump on Emmo.