The compelling 1976 Formula 1 World Championship is on! Who will become World Champion in October? I think we all know that – but if you haven’t yet seen the Ron Howard film Rush then perhaps you should stop just before the German Grand Prix in August!
Read on to follow the 1976 Formula 1 season as it happened. Niki Lauda and James Hunt are the main players, but we shouldn’t forget Patrick Depailler, Clay Regazzoni, Jody Scheckter and others, who all played their part in one of the most dramatic F1 seasons ever. It’s no wonder it has hit the big screen. Click here to read another blow-by-blow account of a fantastically competitive season which could be dramatised next…
Interlagos, January 25
Niki Lauda kicks off his season in commanding style, leading Patrick Depailler’s Tyrrell-Ford home by nearly 22 seconds. Hunt demonstrated his competitiveness in the McLaren by taking pole position just 200th second ahead of Lauda, only to spin off during the race.
Lauda – 9 pts
Hunt – 0
Kyalami, March 6
James Hunt again takes pole, this time by the increased margin of one-tenth of a second, but Niki Lauda takes the lead in the race and wins by just over a second. Hunt pulls alongside Lauda just after taking the chequered flag in second-place. He knows the champion is in his sights and gives Lauda a jaunty salute. The next race can’t come too soon.
Lauda – 18 pts
Hunt – 6
United States (West)
Long Beach, March 28
A battling Hunt crashes out while trying to pass Depailler on lap four and Ferrari dominate the race. Luckily for Hunt, Lauda comes in second best to his team-mate for once, as Clay Regazzoni takes a start-to-finish victory by over 30 seconds. Niki Lauda has now gained four times the points of James Hunt, having two victories in hand.
Lauda – 24
Hunt – 6
Jarama, May 2
Hunt stakes his claim to the Championship by dominating in Jarama, securing pole position by three-tenths of a second over Lauda and going on to win by over thirty seconds.
If a picture could say a thousand words it is James Hunt’s look of determined intensity on the winner’s rostrum.
However, the McLaren M23 was deemed to be 1.7 centimetres wider than the regulation 215 centimetres and victory is handed to second-placed Lauda.
Lauda – 33 pts
Hunt – 6
(This was the points position as they headed for Belgium two weeks later, but the original classification was reinstated later in the season – 9 more for Hunt, 3 less for Lauda)
Zolder, May 16
The Championship seems to be slipping away for James this season, his first serious challenge in a car with Championship potential. Niki Lauda re-emphasizes the Ferrari’s speed with yet another victory, his team-mate Regazzoni following close behind. Third-placed Jacques Lafitte finishes a third of a lap behind in his Ligier. James Hunt struggles with an ill-handling car and eventually retires with an oil leak.
Lauda – 42 pts
Hunt – 6
Monte Carlo, May 30
Another Ferrari front-row lockout. Niki Lauda leads from start to finish, and leaves Monaco with a seemingly unassailable lead of 36 points over his closest rivals in the World Championship, although there are still ten rounds remaining. James Hunt retires once again, with a sick engine. At this stage he does not even appear to be a serious challenger, lying joint sixth behind Regazzoni, Scheckter, Depailler and Lafitte.
Lauda 51 pts
Hunt – 6
Anderstorp, June 13
A glimmer of hope for the chasing pack, as Niki Lauda finishes only 3rd, his worst result of the year. Winner Jody Scheckter closes the gap in the Championship to a mere 32 points, while Hunt gains 2 pts from 5th position.
Lauda 55 pts
Hunt – 8
Paul Ricard, July 4
James Hunt kick-starts his Championship challenge with a victory from pole position, overtaking the initial leader Niki Lauda on the ninth lap as Lauda fails to finish for the first time this season. In a double blow for Lauda/boost for Hunt, the controversial disqualification of Hunt’s ‘wide’ car in Spain is reversed on appeal. This demotes Lauda’s inherited victory to second place, and awards Hunt nine points for victory. The second half of the season seems to be a turning point, as Hunt gains twenty-one points on Lauda and lies just 26 pts behind. That’s still nearly three race victories away! Eight races left.
Lauda – 52 pts
Hunt – 26
Brands Hatch, July 18
James Hunt continues to take the fight to Lauda, seizing the lead from the Austrian on lap 45 to secure victory in his home Grand Prix. However, this controversial season has a twist in store once again, as Lauda is later awarded 9 points for victory and Hunt is disqualified for an infringement at the race restart following a first lap incident. Before this reversal in early October the rivalry appears to have become even closer. The gap has narrowed to 23 points.
Lauda – 58 pts (later to become 61)
Hunt – 35 (later to be reduced to 26)
Nurburgring, August 1
James Hunt’s momentum is building, his McLaren taking pole at the intimidating Nurburgring circuit by nearly one second over Lauda’s Ferrari. Niki’s fiery second lap accident ends his race, nearly his life, probably his season, and leads to a restart. James Hunt takes full advantage, and goes on to win by nearly half a minute from second-placed Jody Scheckter.
Lauda – 58 pts
Hunt – 44
Here is a superb video with excellent clear footage of the Nurburgring in 1976, showing the dramatic and shocking accident which would have ended Niki Lauda’s life but for the bravery of fellow driver Arturo Merzario, as acknowledged by Lauda himself.
Niki Lauda 1976 Crash reports
Osterreichring, August 15
Enzo Ferrari withdraws his cars “for the rest of the season”, which hands the initiative to James Hunt. Niki Lauda remains seriusly ill in hospital and there are no competing Ferraris to contest the Hunt-McLaren combination’s superiority over the rest of the field. James takes pole by eight-tenths of a second and fastest lap of the race – but never leads it. The McLaren comes in a disappointing fourth.
Lauda – 58 pts
Hunt – 47
Zandvoort, August 29
The European Grand Prix in the Netherlands is a closely-fought four way battle, led initially by pole-sitter Ronnie Peterson, but Hunt prevails over the chasing pack led by Clay Regazzoni and Mario Andretti to take an important victory. He now sits just two points behind the ‘ill-disposed’ Lauda in the World Championship.
Lauda – 58 pts
Hunt – 56
Monza, September 12
Against all odds, Niki Lauda returns in his Ferrari for the Italian Grand Prix, just six weeks after his life-threatening crash. Ferrari has returned to the field this season after all! In a drama defying belief, it is Hunt who crashes out while Lauda extends his Championship lead by finishing fourth.
Lauda – 61 pts
Hunt – 56
Mosport Park, October 3
Is this the turning point in the season? Hunt has retrospectively been disqualified from the British Grand Prix, losing nine points in his Championship bid, which effectively becomes twelve points as Niki Lauda gains three from his promotion from second place to victory. What more can Hunt do than win in Canada? He does so by six seconds over Patrick Depailler’s Tyrrell, while Niki Lauda fails to score back in eighth. The upshot of these machinations is a net gain of three points for Lauda in the Championship battle. Still close, but Lauda has nearly a race victory in hand with only two races to go.
Lauda – 64 pts
Hunt – 56
United States (East)
Watkins Glen, October 10
James Hunt’s main challenger at Watkins Glen proves to be Jody Scheckter, whose Tyrrell shares the front row with the McLaren, leads from the start, swaps places with Hunt’s McLaren several times but eventually yields a vital victory to Hunt. Niki Lauda is never really in the hunt, but still comes home a distant third, only losing five points to his Championship rival. Just three points in hand with one race to come.
Lauda – 68 pts
Hunt – 65
How will this dramatic season be resolved? Here is the TV preview shown on Britain’s ITV channel immediately before the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix began.
F1 Season 1976 Niki Lauda vs James Hunt
Fuji, October 24
All Niki Lauda has to do is win and he will retain the World Championship. If James Hunt fails to finish, or is classified lower than fourth then Lauda will be Champion once again. However, if Hunt finishes fourth or higher, while Lauda fails to score any points, the Englishman will become world Champion for the first time. In the event of Hunt finishing just fourth, reaching an equal points tally at the top, he would still win by virtue of his superior race win total (6 to 5).
Race day is set up for a classic contest at a frighteningly wet and misty Fuji circuit. Niki Lauda withdraws from the rain-delayed race after completing one lap of the flooded track, followed into the pits by several other drivers. As Lauda heads for the airport, in the meantime the race is very much on. James Hunt holds the lead for 61 laps before losing it to Patrick Depailler, who contests the closing laps with eventual winner Mario Andretti. In the confusion of the wet race conditions James Hunt is uncertain about his position, and remains convinced that he has not done enough to secure the Championship, despite his third place. That translates to four points for Hunt, and he becomes World Champion by a single point!
Hunt – 69 pts
Lauda – 68
Did You Know?
If the 1976 Formula 1 Championship had been run under the present-day points system (25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1) then Niki Lauda would have remained World Champion, beating James Hunt by 2 points!
Have you seen Rush yet? What did you think of it? Add your comment below.
Watch more Rush movie trailers here.
*Rush* – Official Trailer (2013) – Chris Hemsworth Racing Movie
HD version – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsHynV0F-q0 *Rush* – Official Trailer 2013 – Chris Hemsworth racing movie. Rush is an upcoming American biographical movie…