On this day in F1… 19th July 1975
Fittpaldi wins British GP. Hardly a breakthrough headline, I grant you, he was after all the reigning World Champion driving for Mclaren.
Maybe of more significance were the facts that it would be his last F1 win, a Welshman qualified on pole, Graham Hill chose to retire at the British GP and this was the first ever race started under green lights rather than the traditional dropping of the national flag. Oh yes, the race was stopped because of a monsoon hitting the Northamptonshire track which accounted for 13 cars retiring from the race.
Graham Hill announced his retirement from Formula One and was cheered and applauded as he drove a demonstration lap just before the start of the race, smiling, waving and without a crash helmet. He had started a record 176 races at that point, a record that was equaled by Jacques Laffite and eclipsed by Riccardo Patrese.
Hill was in his mid 40’s and he’d been experiencing difficulties getting drives in F1 for some years. He had suffered a leg breaking accident at Watkins Glen in 1969 and his driving never truly recovered. Sadly, considering his legacy, his last attempt at qualifying for a race was at the 1975 Monaco GP. It would prove pivotal in his decision to retire.
A career that had spanned 17 seasons, he won the Drivers title in 1962 and 1968 and took 14 Grand Prix victories, including 5 at Monaco, earning him the moniker of “Mr Monaco”. He also won the Indianapolis 500 in 1966 and Le Mans in 1972. A much loved personality, who always reminded me of the devilish Terry Thomas or Dick Dastardly cartoon character. He was popular for both interviews and after dinner engagements.
Maybe this video gives an insight into his wit…
In the previous 2 Grand Prix, James Hunt in the British Hesketh had beaten Lauda’s Ferrari to win the Dutch GP and finished 2nd to the Austrian in the French GP so the partisan crowd was expectant of a continuation of form. Qualifying resulted in a popular pole position for Welshman Tom Pryce, and qualifying second in a gorgeous Brabham BT44 was Carlos Pace. Lauda had qualified 3rd, Fittipaldi 7th and Hunt in 9th.
As the cars lined up for the start of the race, there were 2 changes to Silverstone. The flag dropping procedure had been changed as already mentioned, but Silverstone had had a more fundamental change for the race.
After the massive first lap pile up in 1973 and more recently an accident at Spain’s Montjuich Park, the Formula 1 Association, headed by Bernie Ecclestone, recognised that bad accidents and fatalities were detrimental for business. Ironic really, as Jackie Stewart had been championing safety for some years and been vilified for it! TV has always been king obviously.
Fast corners with barriers and grandstand close by were targeted and chicanes began to be installed as they were the easiest/ cheapest/ quickest solution. Woodcote, which had been a daunting and fast corner previously was replaced with a right-left-right chicane which many fans and drivers alike believed a travesty.
Pace got the jump on Pryce and led into Copse. Regazzoni was out-performing Lauda and chased after the duo, passing Pryce on Lap 10 and Pace into the new chicane on Lap 13. Rain arrived a few laps later and Regazzoni lost control and damaged his rear wing on a barrier. Pryce took over the lead but as the rain intensified he lost control at Becketts and retired.
Scheckter was now leading, but changed to wet tyres in a stop that took 43 seconds! It was for this reason, that Fittipaldi, Pace and Hunt continued circulating on slicks as they gambled that the brightening sky would clear the wet track.
Lauda had had a poor stop and had to return the following lap to have a wheel nut tightened, but Scheckter was using his grip advantage to catch and pass the leaders. By now the track was dry once more and Scheckter came in to change tyres, which left Hunt in the lead and Fittipaldi close behind.
Hunt suffered a broken exhaust which heated the CV joint causing grease to leak onto the rear brake. He fell back as Fittipaldi, Pace and a recovering Scheckter raced on. But the Gods were not yet finished playing with Silverstone. 20 laps from the end, rain began to fall again at Club, intensifying rapidly from a mere drizzle.
Fittipaldi “I remember seeing a very black cloud heading towards us and I knew for sure it was going to cause trouble. It was a typical English summer’s day; one cloud here, another one there – and this one was coming towards Stowe. When it arrived, it was like you had turned on the shower just over that corner. Everywhere else was 100 per cent dry.
‘As I went down Hangar Straight, I could see it. I braked and went through the corner very slowly, in second gear. I got back to the pits, put on my wet tyres and went back out. Now it was really bad down at the far end of the circuit. The safest place was to stay in the middle of the track because the car could have spun off in any direction at any time.”
The race was stopped at 56 laps and the results taken from the previous laps positions. Fittipaldi was acknowledged as the winner of the 1975 British GP. At season’s end, Emerson committed career suicide by leaving Mclaren and joining his brothers Copersucar concern. He would never win another F1 race again.
We all indulge in speculating about how many more titles would Senna have won, and how many less would this have meant for Schumacher. It’s also romantic to believe that Senna would have joined Ferrari at the end of his Williams contract in 1998 and returned the team to winners, but Ferrari didn’t turn around without the input of Schumacher, Brawn and Byrne.
Ignoring Fittipaldi/s first 1 1/2 seasons, he won the 1972 and 1974 championships, finished 2nd in 1973 and 1975 and his car won the 1976 championship with Hunt. Ferrari had expressed an interest in the man, would it not be logical to believe he had at least another 2 titles in him? He may well even have matched Fangio…