It was the sort of summer that comes along only once in a generation, if that. Days of endless sunshine, record breaking temperatures, long balmy evenings spent outdoors and the usually green British countryside dusty and parched yellow, looking more like a scene from Australia.
By summer’s height, the Formula One World Championship had developed into its own simmering battle. A two-way fight between the British driver who polarised the sport’s followers owing to his off-track lifestyle as much as his brilliance on it, and his Germanic adversary driving for the mighty Ferrari team who were seen by some as not averse to applying a little underhand skulduggery in their quest to gain an advantage.
There had already been a few headline-grabbing incidents between the pair and their respective teams by the time a huge British crowd turned up for their home Grand Prix on a sweltering hot Sunday in July to see them go head to head. And it was all set for an epic contest as the two lined up side by side on the front row of the grid.
But within seconds of the start it all went horribly wrong when Britain’s hero as was hit by the second Ferrari driven by a veteran now in the twilight of his Formula One career clinging on to his seat in the sport’s most famous team. A move that was considered ‘suspect’ by some including the victim.
And then a couple of weeks later Niki Lauda was fighting for his life with serious damage to his lungs.
Yes 1976 was a dramatic season. But I’m actually referring to the present, the current 2018 season which is mirroring that of the former in many ways – not just the weather. Although back then there was no ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ to make us feel guilty, neither did we follow the path of the jetsream in great detail. But a ‘Minister of Drought’ was appointed, surely one of history’s most under-employed government postions.
Substitute the names Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen for James Hunt, Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni and we could almost be re-living the past.
And by coincidence, Niki Lauda who was that Ferrari driver in 1976 is today the non-executive Chairman at their current arch-rivals, Mercedes, overseeing their fight against the very team he once lead. Forty-two years ago he nearly gave his life for his team sustaining lung-damaging injuries after his fiery Nürburgring accident. Could it be the stress of trying to beat his former team that has caused the lung disease threatening his life again four decades later? Now, like then it would seem he is making good recovery – let’s hope complete.
In 1976 it would be James Hunt who clinched the title by the smallest of margins doing so at the very last race. He had overcome what at one stage had been a forty-seven point deficit, when only nine poinrs were awarded for a win.
Today’s protaganists, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both have four World Championships to their name, and this year one of them will make it five. Until mid-season they had been running neck and neck, nothing to choose between them.
Now Sebastian Vettel trails by fifty point but with five races still to go and twenty-five points for a win, is a 1976-style last gasp turnaround possible?
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.