- Austrian Grand Prix
Brambilla takes maiden win in appalling conditions
The 37-year-old Italian Vittorio Brambilla, who had more than once threatened to record his maiden victory earlier in the season, finally did so at the Austrian Grand Prix. Brambilla was so overjoyed on crossing the line that he lost control of his March as he waved to spectators and crashed into barriers.
Like the British Grand Prix four weeks earlier, the race was stopped early because of heavy rain, but because less than 60% of the distance had been completed, only half points were awarded. Thirty drivers, including a smattering of local entrants, entered the race but only 26 started. Surtees and Williams each allotted a seat to an Austrian driver, while Harald Ertl entered in an independently-run Hesketh.
James Hunt had a new team-mate at cash-strapped Hesketh, former US marine Brett Lunger bringing much-needed sponsorship with him. Rolf Stommelen returned for Embassy after injuries sustained at the ill-fated Spanish Grand Prix, although Alan Jones was on standby in case his comeback was premature. In the event, he was able to race.
Championship leader Niki Lauda and Hunt, who was suffering from flu, went head to head in practice. On his last lap Hunt bettered Lauda by 0.17 seconds but with the chequered flag shown, Lauda regained pole and broke the lap record as well.
Wilson Fittipaldi, who had crashed heavily on the first outing of the Copersucar in Argentina, wrote off another car in practice, again escaping with minor injuries which were nevertheless enough to keep him out of the race.
But the weekend was overshadowed by tragedy when US driver Mark Donohue's March ploughed through a crash barrier during final Sunday-morning practice at 120mph, injuring two track officials. Donohue suffered head injuries and a clot was discovered on his arrival at hospital. He was operated on but complications set in and he died two days later.
Conditions for the race, which was delayed because of Donohue's accident, were appalling throughout, with drivers almost blinded by spray.
Lauda led off the line and was harried for 14 laps by Hunt who eventually passed, but he in turn was overtaken by Brambilla five laps later. Hunt kept in touch but lost vital seconds when he baulked as he tried to lap his new team-mate.
Shortly after the halfway mark the stewards decided conditions were unsafe and called time with Hunt second and Tom Pryce, who once again impressed, taking third after working his way through the field.
Only with the drivers out of their cars did the stewards realise they had stopped the race too early for full points to be awarded, and so they announced the race would be restarted. But that proved impossible.
Lauda was back in sixth but with his closest championship rival, Carlos Reutemann, back in 14th, he left the Österreichring with a 17-point lead. With two grands prix remaining, he only needed a point to secure his first title.