Brought to you by TJ13 contributor OddBall
On this day…1st August
Nostalgia has seen the 1976 Formula One season picked over time and again with one race in particular evoking harsh memories.
The Nurburgring had been race upon for decades in various configurations, but on this fateful day it was a fraction over 14.2 miles long and had an astonishing 160 corners. This meant the drivers of yester year had no chance of memorising every bump and imperfection of the track.
The cars were driven on instinct as each corner could change lap after lap and one section could be dry while another could be soaking wet. The Nordschleife – ‘green death’ – was a real monster of a circuit and this year it had two masters ready to fight it for control.
In the red corner we had James Hunt, posh boy and son of a stockbroker whose hard living and lust for life had won the hearts of the F1 fans. James’ carefree style of driving had earned in previous years earned him the nick name James ‘Shunt’
Then in the other red corner (McLaren and Ferrari both had red livery) was the undisputed champ. Niki Lauda was a calculating, more professional driver who drove within his limits.
The race started in terrible conditions despite most of the drivers having voiced concern over the limited safety equipment and personnel for the length of the track.
At the end of lap 1, the circuit was drying and Lauda pitted for dry tyres hoping to make up some of the time he’d lost. On approach to the Bergwerk right hander curve, Lauda’s Ferrari 312T2 snapped right and spun through the fencing into a bank – bouncing back onto the circuit engulfed in flames.
Lauda was hit by two following cars before four others stopped their vehicles to assist in the extraction of the burning Austrian driver. Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards, Brett Lunger, and Harald Ertl are names we should never forget as their actions on that day saved a great driver and an outspoken modern day F1 pundit.
So terrible were Lauda’s injuries that he was read the last rites by a priest after he was pulled from the wreck. Astonishingly he recovered and was back behind the racing wheel just six weeks.
This day in history, Niki Lauda lived, but the Nordschleife was dead to Formula One. The decision was taken never to race there again.
This ribbon of tarmac was the fiercest challenge for Formula One drivers, because the weather could change in an instant; different parts of the circuit could even be experiencing different seasons of weather at the same time. Given this, tyre choice could become badly wrong in a moment, but the drivers had to put up with their rubber for some ten long minutes.
Much has been written about these events and the time looms when no one will remain who raced that day.
But for now, suffice to say that anyone I’ve met who has covered those sacred miles at any meaningful speed, describe their experience with the Nordschleife in gentle tones – almost as if it was a secret lover or even some kind of nightmare.
But in their eyes you see they know they can only be understood by another who shares their experience.
For the rest it’s a kind of, ‘You don’t know man… you ain’t seen what I’ve seen… ya weren’t there.. you just weren’t there’.