• 1976

Hunt takes title despite Lauda's bravery

James Hunt secures the title in appalling conditions in Japan © Getty Images
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Season's results | Drivers' Championship | Constructors' Championship

This season will go down as one of the most dramatic in the history of Formula One. Niki Lauda survived a terrible accident in Germany and was quickly back in harness, but James Hunt beat him to the title in the Japanese finale.

As in 1974, Emerson Fittipaldi was at the centre of the news. After two years he decided to quit McLaren and join his brother's team, Copersucar. McLaren was left stranded without a number one driver, but the timing was perfect. Lord Hesketh had decided to pull the plug on his very competitive team, and Hunt was unemployed. It did not take long for him to find his way to McLaren.

Brabham secured Alfa engines, while Tyrrell stunned everyone by announcing a six-wheeled car, the P34. At Lotus, Chapman designed a new car, the 77. Ickx left for Wolf-Williams, and Peterson was joined at the first race by Andretti, a Lotus driver back in 1968-69. Neither was certain to stay, and matters were not helped when they collided in the first race in Brazil. Lauda started, as he had finished the previous season, with a win. Hunt was on pole in Kyalami, but again Lauda won. An exciting addition to the calendar was a street race at Long Beach, dubbed the US Grand Prix West. Regazzoni led the whole way.

Niki Lauda's Ferrari spews flames after his crash at the Nurburgring © Press Association
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The European season began at Jarama. All the cars were different since new rules banned tall air boxes, and the race saw the debut of the six-wheeler. Hunt beat Lauda, but was disqualified when the car was found to be fractionally too wide. Lauda won in Belgium and Monaco, and at neither race did Hunt score. Sweden saw a fabulous one-two for the six-wheelers, Scheckter heading home Depailler. Hunt's luck turned at Paul Ricard, when the Ferraris broke and he won easily. The same week he was reinstated as Spanish winner, but at Brands Hatch fortune did not favour him. Lauda and Regazzoni collided at the first corner, and the race was stopped. Hunt won the restart in style, but was disqualified because he had not been running at the time of the red flag. It gave Lauda another win.

In Germany disaster struck when Lauda crashed heavily and was badly burned. Hunt won the race, but the world waited for news on Lauda. Somehow he pulled through and began a remarkable recovery. Unbelievably, Lauda was back in Monza, where Peterson won for March and Niki finished fourth. Hunt scored nothing, but struck back with wins at Mosport and Watkins Glen. That put him to within three points of Lauda as the circus moved to Fuji for the first Japanese Grand Prix. The weather was atrocious, and Lauda immediately pulled out. In a thrilling chase, Hunt came storming back from a tyre stop to take the third place he required.

Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books

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