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The 1970s was one of the most exciting, technologically innovative, and closely contested decades in the history of Formula One. A remarkable decade began with the only posthumous World Champion, and closed with the advent of the turbo-powered cars. All points in between saw a heady mixture of close racing, new and old winners, exciting cars, and amazing acts of sporting heroism: truly a special era.
Under the lead of the Lotus team, aerodynamics were vastly improved, and became the modern 'wing' cars. Engines were more powerful, and speeds increased accordingly, whereas Goodyear, Dunlop, and Firestone made leaps in tyre technology. Many of the drivers from that era have become legends: Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Clay Regazzoni, Jackie Stewart, among others.
The teams, cars, and tracks are just as evocative. High speed battles at the established circuits of Monza, Monaco, Watkins Glen, and Zandvoort continued to thrill the crowds, while newer tracks such as Anderstorp, Long Beach, Interlagos, Hockenheim, and the Osterreichring appeared and quickly became firm favourites. Lotus, Tyrrell, Ferrari and McLaren all had successes, and joining them were the newer teams of BRM, March, Hesketh, Wolf, and others. This ensured an exciting mixture of big budget teams racing alongside the upstart independent outfits.
1970 is best known, unfortunately, as the year of the posthumous World Champion, Jochen Rindt and also as the year that Kiwi driver Bruce McLaren was killed while testing his team's new 'Batmobile' design. Rindt had secured enough points during the season prior to his fatal crash at Monza that no other driver was able to catch him - a bittersweet legacy.
This year also saw the appearance of several talented new drivers that would go shape Formula One in the coming decade, most notably Emerson Fittipaldi and Gianclaudio ('Clay') Regazzoni, both of whom were to achieve wins in their debut seasons - a rare feat. Tyrrell, Surtees, and March were all teams that made their first appearances in 1970.
The competition this year was incredibly close, with seven different drivers winning in thirteen races. Several of these races were in turn incredibly close: in Monaco, Rindt won in the last 150 metres, and in the last 200 metres at Hockenheim, both times stealing wins from Jack Brabham. Jackie Stewart ran well in the new Tyrrell Ford all year and was often leading until his new car suffered mechanical failure. A surprise winner was the BRM driven by Pedro Rodriguez at the fast Spa circuit. Ferrari managed to improve their cars greatly over the season, and took four wins with Jacky Ickx and Regazzoni at the wheel.
Despite being overshadowed by the deaths of Rindt and McLaren, 1970 will be remembered as a wonderfully competitive season between Ferrari, Tyrrell, and Lotus.
1971 was a second great year for Jackie Stewart, in which the Tyrrell team won seven of the years' eleven races. With the new, reliable Ford engine, they became the team to chase - which BRM and Ferrari did, taking two wins each in the season.
This season Dunlop tyres abandoned Grand Prix racing, and left Firestone and Goodyear to battle it out. Goodyear emerged the stronger, largely due to their association with the Tyrell team. McLaren also unveiled their new car, the M19A, which was to be a great improvement for the growing team from England. This was also the season that saw, in the Austrian Grand Prix, a little-known driver named Niki Lauda start his first race, and begin his climb up the Formula One ladder. On another technical note, the Lotus team was extremely unsuccessful this year as they tried to run a turbine car that was impractical on road courses. They managed only three podium finishes.
Track action this year was quite spectacular - when Stewart was not in control. Mario Andretti scored his first win for Ferrari at Kyalami, but the highlight of the year - and perhaps the decade - was Peter Gethin's victory at Monza. Gethin, driving for BRM, won one of the closest finishes in history by winning by less than one metre over Ronnie Peterson. The final race of the year was at Watkins Glen, as the Mexican Grand Prix was cancelled after concerns for spectator safety. It was won by debutante Francois Cevert, in his Tyrrell.
Again, though, this was a season tinged with sadness. This year saw the deaths of two promising drivers and race winners - Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert. But, as ever, the racing continued unabated. Ford-powered cars took a fourth championship in five years and looked to be unbeatable, and advances in aerodynamics, engineering and tyres were now as important to a winning team as the driver. Times were changing.
Fittipaldi completed his meteoric rise by winning his first championship behind the wheel of the Lotus 72, after only three years in Formula 1. This was also the year that marked the entry of the man who was to change the sport forever: Bernie Ecclestone, who took over the Brabham team this year. Perhaps the most enduring memory of this season, though, was the last win of the BRM team in the rain at Monaco with Jean-Pierre Beltoise at the wheel - his only win. The tyre 'war' also continued to escalate with Firestone and Goodyear trying to outspend the other for the kudos of having their product on the winning car.
On the track, it was a straightforward year, with Fittipaldi clinching the title two races early, with a total of five wins for the season. The rest of the races were picked up by Stewart with four, and Jacky Ickx, Beltoise, and Denny Hulme with one each.
But it was the off-track antics of Goodyear and Firestone that were a sign of where the sport was heading, both tailoring their product to specific teams, and even supplying qualifying tyres designed to last only a few laps.
This was Jackie Stewart's final year in Formula One, and he went out with typical style, winning five races - and the Championship - on the way. This fifteen-race season was dominated by three drivers, Stewart, Ronnie Peterson and Fittipaldi, each with three wins. Denny Hulme and Peter Revson picked up the last races for McLaren. For the teams, this was a Lotus year, with seven races in total - but neither of their drivers could match Jackie Stewart. The tyre war continued with Goodyear developing the best qualifying rubber while Firestone held a slim advantage in wet conditions.
Shadow and Ensign were new team arrivals, both American entries, and by the end of the year McLaren had designed the M23 that was to be used successfully, in some form, until 1978.
Many of the early races were led by the Tyrrell 'twins' of Stewart up front and Cevert in second. However, by mid-season, Lotus and McLaren were in full effect and together dominated the rest of the season, although Stewart was able to finish well in almost every race to win the Championship. In fact, he failed to score points in only three races, one of these being the season finale, which he did not start due to the death of his team mate Cevert during practice for the race. Brazilian Carlos Pace made several strong showings in the small Surtees car, with a fourth place at the Nurburgring and a third at the Osterreichring. The season finished with Lotus regaining its usual form taking top honours in the Constructor's category for the season.
As the year closed, expectations were high for 1974. The new Ferrari was keenly anticipated, McLaren planned to fill the void left by the breaking of the Stewart/Tyrrell combination, and the question of who would take over Stewart's spot as the leader monopolised trackside gossip.
1974 was one of the closest seasons to date, with Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni entering the final race tied on points and Jody Scheckter waiting to snatch victory from both. The season was dominated by the Ferraris of Lauda and Regazzoni. Lauda led a total of three hundred and thirty eight laps and had nine poles in the season, yet failed to score points in the last five races of the season. The next closest was Jody Scheckter, with a total of eighty six for Tyrrell.
McLaren won the first two races of the year, with Brabham taking the third, but once the new Ferraris were broken in, it was clear they were the ones to beat. However, Ferrari suffered many mechanical problems on the track, often allowing other teams to steal races from them. The races this season were fairly straightforward, with excitement building towards a showdown at Watkins Glen. Fittipaldi and Regazzoni both had 52 points each with Scheckter at 45, which meant that all three had a chance of the Championship. However, it was Fittipaldi who won out in the rain that day with a conservative fourth place finish as the Ferrari mysteriously failed to sparkle. This race was also the last in Denis Hulme's career, as the 1967 champion retired.
One of the most interesting aspects of the season was the off-track team action. There were many new teams such as Token, Lyncar, Maki, Trojan, and Amon - who ran out of money before even entering a race, leaving team owner and driver Chris Amon in a very precarious position. Two American teams ran under Parnelli Jones, and Roger Penske also took part.
The great fight to the end between the unlucky but lightning fast Ferraris that had been building during the 1973 season and the slower but more reliable McLaren cars made this season fascinating. This was also the eighth Championship in a row won by a Ford powered car. The growing financial considerations saw smaller teams being dissuaded from entering Formula One.
This was at last the year of the Ferrari/Lauda partnership. Though there were a total of nine different winners in six different makes of car, Lauda outclassed the whole field with five wins, including a stretch of three in a row. The tyre situation also changed dramatically, with Firestone pulling out, and all teams now equipped with the same Goodyear rubber. The big surprise was that Lotus did not win a race this season, due to technical problems with their new (and still developing) cars.
The beginning of the season saw one of the most magical moments in Formula One racing when Carlos Pace won his one and only grand prix at his home track in Brazil for Brabham. The track at Interlagos was eventually named after him as a result. Also, a surprise early in the season was the Shadow team from America, who came from nowhere and took three poles in the season, including the first two of the year. The secret was a new test version of the Ford V8 that was being used by the team.
At Zandvoort, James Hunt gave the Hesketh team their first win. Later that year the new March car driven by Vittorio Brambilla surprised everyone by leading at Belgium, taking pole and then leading at Anderstorp, before finally winning in Austria. His win however was overshadowed by the death of American driver Mark Donohue during practice. Montjuich was also held under difficult circumstances due to safety issues on the track. Eventually, the drivers agreed to race but there were numerous accidents, one involving the death of one track marshal, two fire marshals, and a reporter. The race was then stopped early and Jochen Mass was declared the winner, since he was leading at the time. Most of the main contenders had crashed out and Jochen was awarded only half points for the race.
Then tragedy struck again. Graham Hill (who had attempted to qualify one of his own Embassy Team cars at Monaco) his team driver and several others were killed in a plane crash after leaving a test session in France. Racing had lost one of its true gentleman champions. At this time, however, a new team joined Formula One, the Copersucar-Fittipaldi that was built by Wilson Fittipaldi, Emerson's older brother.
The rest of the excitement of the season was largely generated by the unusual amount of races run in the wet, which resulted in many tyre changes and much strategic driving. In the end it was a deserved victory for Niki Lauda and Ferrari, thus breaking Ford's monopoly on Championship winning teams.
1976 was one of the most dramatic seasons ever in modern Grand Prix racing, dominated by the sheer will and determination of Niki Lauda. Lord Hesketh pulled his team out of racing and his driver James Hunt joined McLaren, filling the seat of Fittipaldi, who went to drive his brother's car. James Hunt would eventually win the Championship, after an extraordinary see-saw tussle. Also on the grid there appeared the peculiar a six-wheeled Tyrrell.
The Tyrrell team had decided to use four smaller wheels in the front of the car to reduce aerodynamic disturbances caused by the two, larger, wheels. The car was mechanically awkward but extremely effective: picking up one win, one pole, and nine second place finishes between Patrick Depailler and Jody Scheckter.
The year began with Ferrari dominating, winning five of the first six races, with four going to Lauda and the other to Regazzoni. Hunt and Scheckter were the only others two score wins in the first nine races, with two wins and one win respectively. It looked as if the season would be walkover for Lauda.
Then tragedy struck at the Nurburgring. Niki Lauda's car crashed, was rammed, and burst into flames. Due to the loss of his helmet in the initial impact, Lauda suffered severe injuries to his face, lungs, and hands. His injuries were so extensive, in fact, that he was administered the Last Rites by a priest. However to the surprise - and relief - of all, he did return, a few weeks later at Monza scoring a fourth place finish! James Hunt had dominated the series with Lauda's absence, bringing his total up to six wins for the season. Scheckter, Watson (who gave Penske their first Formula 1 win), Andretti, Regazzoni, and Peterson each had one.
At the last race of the year at the new Fugi track in Japan Lauda still had a slender three point lead over Hunt. The race was held in pouring rain and on the second lap of the terrible conditions Lauda pulled into the pits, and withdrew. He is quoted as saying 'My life is worth more than the World Championship.' James Hunt looked on his way to the title when he began to develop tyre trouble and had to pit, moving him back to fifth place. Then in the last few laps Alan Jones and Regazzoni, who had been ahead of Hunt, were forced to drop back, leaving the Englishman to take third place. Hunt won the Championship by a single point.
Lauda's comeback had amazed many, and his courage in retiring from the final race won him much respect. Lauda's crash resulted in the removal of the Nurburgring from the Formula One calendar, as it was now too big and unsuited to modern racing. German races were moved to the fast Hockenheim track where Jim Clark had lost his life years before.
1977 was a time of great technical change in Formula One and also a season of triumph as Niki Lauda continued to bounce back from his crash at the Nurburgring to claim another title. Lotus began to perfect the concept of the 'wing car' and the first turbocharged Formula One car appeared mid season from Renault. Even with all of this going on however the story of the season was a new team, Walter Wolf Racing. The team was set up by the Canadian Walter Wolf, and in its first season, with Jody Scheckter behind the wheel, won three races, and took one pole. Scheckter finished second in the Championship in this new car and things looked promising indeed for the new team.
The season was not easy for Lauda at Ferrari, however. His actions in forfeiting the 1976 race in Japan had weakened the team's confidence in him. This was most evident at the second race of the year in Brazil, when Ferrari unveiled their new car and gave it to team mate Carlos Reutemann only. He went on with it to win the Brazilian race. The next race in South Africa was home to one of the most tragic and unnecessary accidents in Formula One. A track marshal was rather too eager to respond to the broken Shadow of Renzo Zorzi and ran across the track in the middle of heavy traffic. The other Shadow of Tom Pryce was unable to avoid this unexpected obstacle in the track and hit the marshal. The marshal was killed along with Pryce who was struck in the head by the marshal's fire extinguisher. His car continued along the track uncontrolled and eventually ploughed into one of the Ligier cars near the first turn. Niki Lauda, his car damaged from debris of the crash, went on to win his first race since his accident.
Sadness again hung in the air for the United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach. Brazilian Carlos Pace, who seemed to be destined for a promising career and already had one win to his name, was killed in a private plane crash. Mario Andretti went on to win this hard fought race for the new Lotus 78 wing car, which had been in development since around 1975, ahead of Lauda and Scheckter. Andretti won again at Spain but his team mate Gunnar Nilsson took a surprising victory in the rain at Zolder for his first and only Formula One win. Unfortunately Nilsson would succumb to cancer the next year and his true potential was never fully realised.
The Lotus would have been the car to beat had it only been more reliable this season. Other drivers were quick to profit. Jacques Laffite, for example, took the win at Anderstorp when Andretti retired giving Matra their only Formula One win as an engine builder. The British Grand Prix marked several important events: the appearance of Renault and their turbo engine, the return of Michelin to the tyre war, and the debut of a Gilles Villeneuve, who performed so well that he was offered a contract with Ferrari. Shadow was able to pick up a win in the rain in this year's Austrian Grand Prix with Alan Jones at the wheel.
The big shock of the year came when Ferrari and Lauda announced that they were parting ways. Lauda was almost certain to win the Championship, and Ferrari were, in effect, firing him. Lauda did go on to win the Championship at Watkins Glen but at the next race, when Ferrari dismissed his chief mechanic he sat out in protest, repeating his boycott in Japan. Gilles Villeneuve was the big winner from all of this getting a ride at Ferrari though his first two outings for the team were less than stellar.
Lauda finished on top for the second time this season ahead of Scheckter and Andretti. This season closed on a sad note with the disbanding of the BRM team after a long and successful career. The six-wheeled Tyrrell that had look so promising the year before only managed a total of ten finishes with two cars and only had one second place finish to its credit.
The car to beat in 1978 was the Lotus 79. It scored eight wins and twelve poles in the season and four of those wins were one/two finishes. By the end of the season teams were rushing to copy the wing car concept Lotus had perfected. The next most successful car of the year was the Ferrari 312T3, which notched up four wins for Reutemann and one for Villeneuve. Tyrrell was able to pick up one win in a new four-wheeled car, and Brabham returned to the winner's podium with wins at Monza and Anderstorp thanks to their new driver Niki Lauda.
The season started with Lotus wins but by Brazil Ferrari had stolen one on their new Michelin radial tires. Tyrrell then picked up their win in the fifth race of the year at Monaco with Depailler at the wheel. Andretti dominated the next two races at Zolder and Jarama. Brabham's win at Anderstorp was largely due to the attachment of a fan onto the back of their car to create downforce, which in the process also hurled anything the car ran over out behind at high speed. Though movable aerodynamic aids had been banned in 1969 their win was allowed to stand but future designs including fans were banned.
In mid-season, the new Arrows team came under heavy legal fire due to the fact that they were formed of people who had left the Shadow team and in the process had made the FA1 a basic copy of the Shadow DN9. A British judge decided that is was a violation of copyright and the FA1 was never to be raced again. Arrows had expected this and had already designed a new car. Also in the political and legal realm there was a split beginning to form in Formula One. The governing body of Formula One had ruled that skirts (a major part of the wing car design) would be banned from 1979. The FOCA (Formula One Constructor's Association) had met and the teams decided they would not obey this restriction.
Again this year Monza was the scene of a driver's death. Ronnie Peterson, who had won two races for Lotus this year, was killed due to injuries caused by a first lap incident. Some blamed the clerk of the course for how the start was handled, and some blamed Riccardo Patrese for dangerous driving away from the grid. The drivers set up a committee and had him banned from the next race at Watkins Glen. Ferrari won the last two races of the year though Andretti had clinched the title under a black cloud at Monza.
The end of the year saw Alfa Romeo beginning to test new cars to possibly enter Formula One on Pirelli tyres. Matra and Surtees also made their last appearances on the grid this year with both deciding to pull out of Formula One altogether. The next year promised to be one of competition and political intrigue.
The competition during the 1979 season was intense with seven drivers winning races amongst the four teams of Ligier, Ferrari, Renault, and Williams. The big surprise of the year however was the Lotus team. They tried to continue with amazing aerodynamic experimentation but their new car had such problems that they had to return to the old Lotus 79 models.
The old governing body was no longer and was replaced by FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) and still had its fights with FOCA, which was now headed by Bernie Ecclestone. FISA ruled strongly but FOCA was able to force them to give way on the issue of skirts for at least the coming year.
The year started with Ligier winning the first two races with Jacques Laffite at the wheel. Gilles Villeneuve then struck back by winning the next two races until Depailer won again in a Ligier at Jarama. Scheckter then picked up the pace in Ferrari again and won the next two races at Zolder and Monaco respectively. After the Monaco race James Hunt, 1976 world champion suddenly left Wolf racing and retired.
The historic event of the season was Renault's win in their home race. This was the first win for a turbocharged engine. Also in this race was the famous duel between Arnoux and Villeneuve, with both drivers jostling each other for position. After this race, however, the tide turned and the new Williams car took the lead. Winning five of the last seven races including a stretch of four in a row.
The Championship went to Scheckter at Ferrari by three points over his team mate Villeneuve. However, Alan Jones in the Williams had taken four wins and the turbo Renault had taken six poles making this a diverse season. It was the reliability of the Ferrari that had won the title but everybody knew that the Williams team was in the ascendent. The big season ending surprise was when Niki Lauda suddenly retired from racing and went to run an airline he had started. He would return however a few years later to drive for McLaren.
Here are just a few statistics for the 1970s, including race wins, pole positions, fast laps and world champions.
|Driver||Home Country||World Championships|
|Andretti, Mario||United States||1|
|Scheckter, Jody||South Africa||1|
Grand Prix Winners:
|Andretti, Mario||United States||12|
|Scheckter, Jody||South Africa||10|
|Hulme, Denis||New Zealand||3|
|Revson, Peter||United States||2|
|Jobouille, Jean Peirre||France||1|
|Driver||Home Country||Pole Positions|
|Andretti, Mario||United States||16|
|Jabouille, Jean Pierre||France||4|
|Jarrier, Jean Pierre||France||3|
|Scheckter, Jody||South Africa||3|
|Amon, Chris||New Zealand||2|
|Hulme, Denis||New Zealand||1|
|Revson, Peter||United States||1|
|Driver||Home Country||Fastest Laps|
|Andretti, Mario||United States||10|
|Hulme, Denis||New Zealand||6|
|Scheckter, Jody||South Africa||5|
|Amon, Chris||New Zealand||3|
|Jarrier, Jean Pierre||France||3|