Today marks 38 years since James Hunt became a Formula 1 World Champion under very dramatic circumstances.
The 1976 Formula One season was the 27th season of FIA Formula One motor racing. It featured the 1976 World Championship of F1 Drivers and the 1976 International Cup for F1 Manufacturers which were contested concurrently over a sixteen race series which commenced on 25 January and ended on 24 October. The season also included two non-championship races for Formula One cars.
In an extraordinarily political season the World Championship went to McLaren driver James Hunt by one point from Ferrari’s defending champion Niki Lauda, although Ferrari took the International Cup for F1 Manufacturers. Hunt had moved from the Hesketh team to McLaren, taking the place of dual World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi who had moved to drive for his brother Wilson’s Fittipaldi Automotive team for the season.
The controversy began in Spain where Hunt was initially disqualified from first place, giving the race to Lauda, only for the decision to be overturned on appeal months later. The six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 confounded the skeptics by winning in Sweden, with Lauda third and Hunt fifth.
Hunt won in France and, it seemed, in Britain, but the race had been restarted after a first lap pile-up and Hunt drove on an access road returning to the pits, which was against the rules. He was eventually disqualified after an appeal from Ferrari. Lauda became the official race winner.
Lauda then crashed heavily in West Germany and appeared likely to die from his injuries. Hunt won the race and finished fourth to John Watson’s Penske (the team’s only win) in Austria. Miraculously, Lauda returned to finish fourth in Italy, where Hunt, Jochen Mass and Watson were relegated to the back of the grid for infringements of the regulations.
Hunt won in Canada and in the US but Lauda took third to lead Hunt by three points going into the final race in Japan. In appalling weather conditions Mario Andretti won, Lauda gave up because of the hazardous conditions, and Hunt eventually finished third to take the title.
The 2013 film Rush is based on this season, focusing on the rivalry and friendship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.