1976 Austrian Grand Prix
- Sunday, August 15, 1976
- Raiffeisen Grosser Preis von Osterreich
- F1 World Championship
Those members who were honouring the contract had worked the usual miracles since the last Grand Prix, or rather their mechanics and skilled workers had worked miracles, and in spite of six cars being badly damaged at the Nurburgring everyone was back with a full complement of pristine cars, even if some were having finishing touches put to them in the paddock on Friday morning when practice began. There was quite a lot of interesting speculation before proceedings began, such as who was going to challenge Hunt and the McLaren? Who was going to be alongside him on the front row of the grid, for somebody had to be, and without Lauda and the Ferrari the position was there for the taking? There was a feeling that the Alfa Romeo flat-12 engines might come into their own on this high-speed circuit, with no slow corners, and the thought of the Tyrrell six-wheelers with their four little pudgy front wheels working overtime on the down-hill under steer-provoking bends was intriguing. Among the back-markers the RAM Racing team had talked itself out of its legal predicament and was back in business with Loris Kessel, the originator of the sponsorship, while the Ensign team were wondering how their relatively unknown Austrian driver, Hans Binder, was going to cope with 450 b.h.p. The flat-out bend at the top of the hill after the pits, where Mark Donohue crashed last year, had been eased on the inside to make it even more flat-out, if that is possible, this alteration giving more run-off area on the outside. A vast new grandstand had been built on the outside of the down-hill Bosch Kurve, and the trees had been cut back on the last corner to give a better view of the cars coming into the pit straight. A memorial to Jochen Rindt had been put up alongside the entrance toad to the circuit.
While practice got under way Lotus mechanics were finishing off Andretti’s car, 77/R3, so the USAC driver was using 77/R1, and Tyrrell mechanics were putting the finishing touches to the brand-new six-wheeler P34/4, Scheckter and Depailler using their regular mounts. Although conditions were dry they were far from being settled and the grey skies were reflected in a strange grey atmosphere in the pits as everyone accepted that the Scuderia Ferrari really were not there, and there didn’t Seem to be anyone to beat. Those who had already been doing some pre-race testing were soon into the swing of things, though the overall pace was not as fast as it should have been. There was a distinct air of lethargy about the place. In spite of this things still managed to go wrong, for the engine in Nilsson’s Lotus broke, Brambilla had a mild excursion off the road, and John Surtees felt that the air was not going the right way into the ducts on the new fronts on his cars and added some guide vanes. To appease some German rumblings behind Jochen Mass that McLaren’s were giving him a duff car, he was allowed out in Hunt’s spare car, but it didn’t make much difference! Not surprisingly Hunt recorded the fastest lap of the morning at 1 min. 35.02 sec., with John Watson next with 1 min. 35.84 sec., no-one else being within sight of them. The Alfa Romeo were not coming up to expectations, the Tyrrells had not got into the six-wheeled groove, and the Marches had not sorted themselves out, though Peterson was third fastest overall. While everyone ruminated on the situation during the lunch break the rain started and that was the end of the day as far as fast laps were concerned.
The one-hour practice period in the afternoon saw a reluctance for anyone to do anything, even though it was obviously never going to get dry and the low grey clouds looked as if they had come to the Zeltweg plain for good. Eventually Pace started the ball rolling, going out in the Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT45/4 with the carbon-fibre brakes, the car fitted with Goodyear wet weather tyres. The rain had more or less stopped but the track was still very wet and Pace was not creeping round reconnoitring, he was finding out just how fast he could go in the wet. As he went past the pits faster than some people go in the dry, one got the feeling that he was serious, and Brambilla soon joined him, followed by Depailler, the mini front tyres of the Tyrrell throwing up double the spray from their wet-weather treads. Kessel went out, having missed the morning practice while his car was being re-adjusted for him, and Andretti was out in the newer Lotus, while Nilsson took the spare Lotus while his own was having an engine change. A few more joined in, some only doing single exploratory laps, which is why they did not have a lap time recorded, but the whole day ended on a very low key and a wet one at that.