Japanese GP 1976

Japanese GP, 1976

The World Championship showdown was scheduled to take place at Mount Fuji with Niki Lauda just three points ahead of James Hunt after an incident-packed and controversial season. The field was much the same as usual although Noritake Takahara had rented the second Surtees (replacing Brett Lunger) and Hans Binder was back in the second Wolf Williams after Masami Kuwashima's money failed to materialize. Maki resurrected its old F1 car for Tony Trimmer while Heroes Racing entered an old Tyrrell for Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Kojima Engineering entered a locally-built chassis for Masahiro Hasemi (on Dunlop tires).

In qualifying Mario Andretti took pole position in the Lotus 77 with Hunt alongside him on the front row and Lauda third. Then came John Watson's Penske, Jody Scheckter (Tyrrell), Carlos Pace (Brabham-Alfa), Clay Regazzoni (Ferrari) and Vittorio Brambilla (March). The top 10 was completed by Ronnie Peterson (March and Hasemi in the Kojima. The Maki failed to qualify.

On race day the weather was dreadful with streams running across the track and fog. There were intense debates as to whether the race should be started but the organizers decided to go ahead and the drivers all agreed (although some were not happy). At the start Hunt went into the lead with Watson behind him and Andretti leading the rest of the field. Lauda was in the midfield but in the course of the second lap (during which Watson went down an escape road) Lauda pulled into the pits and withdrew. In the laps that followed Pace and Fittipaldi also pulled out, joining Perkins who had decided against racing at the end of the first lap.

Out on the race track Hunt continued to lead while the situation behind him was rather more confused as second place passed between Andretti and Brambilla. On lap 22 Brambilla even challenged for the lead but then spun. Jochen Mass made it a McLaren 1-2 but on the 36th lap he crashed and so Depailler moved to second place with Andretti third.

It looked as though Hunt was on course for the title but the track was drying and Hunt was fading. On lap 62 he fell behind Depailler and Andretti. Hunt knew he had only to finish fourth to win the title. Two laps later Depailler's left rear started to deflate and he had to pit. Andretti took the lead. Then Hunt had a similar problem. Distraught, he headed for the pits. He dropped to fifth and set off after Depailler, Alan Jones (Surtees) and Regazzoni. Depailler overtook both men on lap 70 and on the next lap Hunt did the same, although he finished thinking that he had lost the World title.

Ferrari had won the Constructors' Championship - but it was little consolation.

Mario Andretti Lotus-Cosworth 77 73 1h43m58.860s  
Patrick Depailler Tyrrell-Cosworth P34 72  13 
11 James Hunt McLaren-Cosworth M23 72  
19 Alan Jones Surtees-Cosworth TS19 72  20 
Clay Regazzoni Ferrari 312T2 72  
Gunnar Nilsson Lotus-Cosworth 77 72  16 
26 Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra JS5 72  11 
24 Harald Ertl Hesketh-Cosworth 308D 72  22 
18 Noritake Takahara Surtees-Cosworth TS19 70  24 
10 17 Jean-Pierre Jarier Shadow-Cosworth DN5B 69  15 
11 51 Masahiro Hasemi Kojima-Cosworth KE007 66  10 
Jody Scheckter Tyrrell-Cosworth P34 58 Overheating 
21 Hans Binder Wolf Williams-Cosworth FW05 49 Mechanical 25 
16 Tom Pryce Shadow-Cosworth DN8 46 Engine 14 
Vittorio Brambilla March-Cosworth 761 38 Engine 
34 Hans-Joachim Stuck March-Cosworth 761 37 Electrics 18 
12 Jochen Mass McLaren-Cosworth M23 35 Accident 12 
28 John Watson Penske-Cosworth PC4 33 Engine 
52 Kazuyoshi Hoshino Tyrrell-Cosworth 007 27 Tires 21 
20 Arturo Merzario Wolf Williams-Cosworth FW05 23 Gearbox 19 
30 Emerson Fittipaldi Copersucar-Cosworth FD04 Withdrew 23 
Carlos Pace Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT45 Withdrew 
Niki Lauda Ferrari 312T2 Withdrew 
Larry Perkins Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT45 Withdrew 17 
10 Ronnie Peterson March-Cosworth 761 Engine 
ns 21 Masami Kuwashima Wolf Williams-Cosworth FW05  Sponsors Withdrew 26 
nq 54 Tony Trimmer Maki-Cosworth F102A   27