1976 United States Grand Prix
- Sunday, October 10, 1976
- United States Grand Prix
- F1 World Championship
With only two days separating the end of the Mosport Park race with the opening of the Watkins Glen circuit for unofficial testing (on the Wednesday prior to the race), there wasn’t much time for the hard-worked mechanics to give their cars more than a “wash and brush up” although the Hesketh team put together a fresh machine for Harald Ertl to drive and the Wolf-Williams (or is it Williams-Wolf?) lads ferried out a fresh monocoque from Reading to rebuild Amon’s crashed car from Mosport. Both drivers involved in the Canadian practice accident were present at Watkins Glen on crutches, Amon with a nasty knee injury which prevented him from driving and Ertl with a cracked hip bone, despite which he was determined to have a crack at practising, at least. Guy Edwards decided that he wasn’t going to drive the Penthouse/Rizla Hesketh 308 and made off to new York “wheeling and dealing” for 1977, “renting” the vacant seat to the young March Formula Two charger Alex Arkell:Ribeiro who was having his first taste of Cosworth DFV power after a season grappling with 300 b.h.p. from a BMW 2-litre motor. Frank Williams spend one evening on the telephone at the Glen Motor Inn attempting to find a replacement for Amon, Michel Leclere declining (possibly he felt he knew enough about the car already having driven it in some early-season races!) and French Formula Two hopeful René Arnoux doing likewise. Frank then turned his attentions to California where he attempted to find Australian Vern Schuppan but instead found 1973 Tasman Champion Warwick Brown who agreed to come across to the other side of the country and drive the car. It was Brown’s first Formula One race after several seasons, both in America and Australasia, driving big V8-Chevrolet-powered Formula 5000 machines.
The official record for Formula one cars round Watkins Glen stands to Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi at 1 min 43.3 sec., established during last year’s race during his vain chase of Lauda’s winning Ferrari. Since that time there has been a minor alteration to the chicane which was incorporated into the circuit layout last year. The intention of the chicane had been to slow up cars as they approached the flat-out “Esses” where Tyrrell driver Francois Cevert was killed in practice for the 1973 United States Grand Prix, but in last year’s race it caused a great deal of trouble with drivers spinning sideways over its kerbs, sliding into the catch-fences and generally making a mess of their cars. This year the chicane was only slightly modified, the organisers quite rightly feeling that they’d done what the drivers had requested and now they didn’t feel particularly inclined to change it again.
Pre-race testing gave an interesting indication of what was to follow at the weekend with James Hunt taking his McLaren M23 round in 1 min. 42 sec., a full second faster that Lauda’s Ferrari according to the stop-watches operated by other interested teams. Mario Andretti (hoping for a win in his home Grand Prix), Patrick Depailler and John Watson were all bracketed between 1 min 43 sec. and 1 min. 44 sec. in Lotus, Tyrrell and Penske respectively, while Jacques Laffite was next in the all-French Ligier-Matra. Unfortunately this patriotic little team faced a major set-back when Laffite crashed chassis JS5/02 during this testing session and although the little Frenchman wasn’t injured, the car was badly damaged to put it out of cation of the rest of the week. Accordingly, Laffite was forced to use the team’s original car (JS5/01) ofr official practice and the race. Another surprise was seen in the form of Tyrrell driver Jody Scheckter having a “sneak preview” of the Walter Wolf financed team (for whom he’s signed to drive in 1977) by trying one of the Williams FW05s with the permission of Ken Tyrrell. Despite not fitting comfortably in the car, Scheckter lapped in a very respectable 12 min, 45 sec., which certainly put into perspective the efforts of the experienced Arturo Merzario. While nobody’s trying to pretend the FWO5 is the best formula One car in the world, it’s amazing what a “get-up-and-go” driver can do in place of all the whining and moaning that the tam’s previous drivers have regaled us with for most of the season!
Watkins Glen, New York State
Permanent road course
Alan Jones (Williams FW07B-Ford), 1m34.068, 129.238 mph, F1, 1980
First Race1957 Watkins Glen NASCAR