1976 South African Grand Prix
- Saturday, March 6, 1976
- Citizen Grand Prix of South Africa
- F1 World Championship
Although Niki Lauda won the South African Grand Prix in apparently comfortable style, this is in no way a reflection of the efforts of several other teams who rely on Cosworth’s long-lived DFV 3-litre V8 for their motive power. At some points during 1975 one could almost sense that one or two teams had virtually given up the difficult task of trying to beat the Italian cars, there being a feeling “oh well, the best we can do is to race for second place since they’ve got 40 brake horsepower more than us”. The fact of the matter is that while Lauda was pretty good, winning five out of the fourteen World Championship qualifying rounds, he wasn’t totally dominant and it was possible to beat him, or give him a run for his money in certain circumstances. James Hunt proved that it could be done with his splendid Zandvoort victory, Patrick Depailler gave the Austrian an enormous fright at Nurburgring (where Reutemann won) and Emerson Fittipaldi proved that a Ferrari could be caught and passed at Monza where his McLaren M23 finished second, sandwiched between the two Italian cars.
This year Lauda has got off to a fine start, winning at both Interlagos and Kyalami, both circuits on which he was not expected to do well. In fact, it should be remembered that the 312 transversale had its first race on the Brazilian track in 1975 as the team was still relying on their 1974 312B3 models for last year’s race and as the 1975 South African Grand Prix marked the debut of the new Ferrari, so one didn’t in truth know what to expect from Lauda and his machine. Since then the young Austrian has improved immeasurably, confidence and assurance steadily increasing hand in hand with his experience and the way in which he took the first two races in his stride was what one should expect from a worthy World Champion. However the signs of opposition are once again evident. In neither ,Brazil nor South Africa did Lauda Start the race from pole position. On both occasions he did start from the front row, but he was beaten in the official practice sessions at both races by James Hunt, the former Hesketh driver who replaced Emerson Fittipaldi as team leader at McLaren Racing. At the time of his abrupt departure from McLarens, Fittipaldi left the Colnbrook team in a bit of a quandary for it was by no means clear just who was the most suitable candidate to fill his vacant seat. The McLaren directors thought very carefully for a long time before nominating Hunt and the wisdom of their choice was proved in South Africa where he raced tremendously hard for the entire race, gobbling up the Ferrari’s advantage in the closing stages as Lauda slowed with a deflating rear tyre.
In fact the McLaren team were looking very pleased with themselves after the Kyalami race for not only had Hunt finished second, but Jochen Mass was third, on the same lap, in the other M23. It was a long, hard race and McLarens could feel justifiably content in being the only team having two healthy cars finishing so high up in the results. The only way they could have improved on that would have been by finishing first and second, but otherwise they had the satisfaction of seeing a job well done.