1976 Japanese Grand Prix
The 1976 World Championship was to be decided at the Mount Fuji circuit, with Niki Lauda just three points ahead of James Hunt after a season full of incidents including Lauda's near-fatal crash at the Nürburgring and subsequent missed races.
The field was almost unchanged from the previous race, but Noritake Takahara 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 Formula One car for Tony Trimmer while Heros Racing entered an old Tyrrell for Kazuyoshi Hoshino. Kojima Engineering entered a locally-built chassis for Masahiro Hasemi (on Dunlop tyres).
Mario Andretti took pole position in the Lotus 77 with Hunt on second place and Lauda third. Then came John Watson's Penske, Jody Scheckter, Carlos Pace, Clay Regazzoni and Vittorio Brambilla. The top 10 was completed by Ronnie Peterson and Hasemi. The Maki failed to qualify.
On race day the weather was very wet with fog and running water at several places on the track. There were intense debates as to whether the race should be started; in the end the organisers decided to go ahead and a majority of drivers did not disagree. Some drivers, including Niki Lauda, were not happy with the decision.
James Hunt took the lead from the start with John Watson and Mario Andretti behind. In the second lap Watson slid down an escape road and Lauda drove into the pits to withdraw, as he believed the weather conditions made the track too dangerous. He later said "my life is worth more than a title". Larry Perkins made a similar decision after one lap as did Carlos Pace and Emerson Fittipaldi later in the race.
Hunt continued to lead, behind him second place passed between Andretti and Brambilla. On lap 22 Brambilla challenged for the lead but spun off. Jochen Mass assumed second place promising a McLaren 1-2 but he crashed on the 36th lap and so Patrick Depailler moved into second place with Andretti third.
It seemed Hunt was on for an easy win, but as the track began to dry he started to lose positions. He only needed a fourth place to win the title, because of Lauda's retirement. On lap 62 Hunt fell behind Depailler and Andretti, but two laps later Depailler's left rear tyre started to deflate and he had to pit. Andretti took the lead, but then Hunt had a similar tyre problem. Hunt pitted, dropped to fifth and set off after Depailler, Alan Jones and Regazzoni. Depailler overtook both drivers on lap 70 and on the next lap Hunt did the same and won the World Drivers' Championship, to his surprise.
- ^ In Japan, the formal name of this Formula One event is not "Japanese Grand Prix" but is "Formula One World Championship in Japan" (F1世界選手権・イン・ジャパン), because an event of the Japanese Formula 2000 championship had been named "Japanese Grand Prix" in 1976.
- ^ It was announced that the fastest lap was set by Masahiro Hasemi on lap 25, but this was a measurement mistake, and, several days later, the circuit issued a press release to correct the fastest lap holder of the race to Jacques Laffite with a time of 1:19.97 on lap 70. This release was promptly known in Japan, and the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) and Japanese media correct the record. But, this correction was not known well outside Japan, thus, Hasemi has been treated as the fastest lap record holder of the race in many record books including the Formula One official website.
- Niki Lauda and James Hunt went into this race with a chance of winning the title.
- Lauda (68 pts) needed either:
- to finish ahead of Hunt
- 3rd with Hunt 2nd or lower
- 4th or 5th with Hunt 3rd or lower
- 6th with Hunt 4th or lower
- Hunt 5th or lower
- Hunt (65 pts) needed either:
- 2nd with Lauda 4th or lower
- 3rd with Lauda 6th or lower
- 4th with Lauda 7th or lower
- Lauda (68 pts) needed either:
In the case of a tie in points, Hunt had the advantage in number of wins (6 vs 5). So, after Lauda's retirement, Hunt only needed the three points of 4th place to win the title.
Standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings. Only the best 7 results from the first 8 races and the best 7 results from the last 8 races counted towards the Championship. Numbers without parentheses are Championship points; numbers in parentheses are total points scored.
- i-dea archives (14 January 2006), <span />'76 F1イン・ジャパン (1976 F1 World Championship in Japan), Auto Sport Archives 日本の名レース100選 (The 100 Best races in Japan) (in Japanese), Vol. 001, San-eishobo Publishing Co.,Ltd., p. 77, ISBN 978-4-7796-0007-4, archived from the original on 13 December 2010, retrieved 16 December 2010
- "Motorsport competition results: 1976 F1 World Championship in Japan" (in Japanese). Japan Automobile Federation. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- "Archive: 1976 F1 World Championship in Japan" (in Japanese). Nikkan Sports News. 1976-10-25. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- "1976 Japanese Grand Prix". Formula One Administration Ltd. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
1976 United States Grand Prix
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1977 Argentine Grand Prix
1975 Japanese Grand Prix
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1977 Japanese Grand Prix