The 1976 championship without misfortune

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    The 1976 championship without misfortune

    The 1976 Formula One world championship was so epic that it inspired a Hollywood movie and several documentaries. The methodical reigning champion Nikia Lauda vs. the hard partying playboy James Hunt. The controversy surrounding Hunt’s post-race disqualifications and the inspiring fight of Lauda for his life and to come back after just 6 weeks.

    In the end, Niki Lauda was only one point short of James Hunt. With as much as has happened that year, I decided to see how things would have turned out if not if for misfortune. Of course, it would be impossible to eliminate the biggest misfortune of the year, Niki Lauda’s near-fatal crash at the Nürbürgring, but let’s see how things go.

    What counts as misfortune: mechanical failure, being crashed in to by another driver, undeserved penalties
    What does not count as misfortune: wrong tactical choices, crashing their own car, penalty by the driver’s own doing

    note: In the 1976 championship, only the best 7 results of the first 8 races, and the best 7 results of the last 8 races counted towards the championship. This will be reflected in the championship standings following the French Grand Prix and the Japanese Grand Prix.

    note 2: The championship standings after each race reflect the final season results, any later disqualifications already take into account.

    Brazilian Grand Prix
    Lauda benefitted when Regazzoni had a slow puncture early on in the race, however, Regazzoni’s later race pace did not seem to indicate he would have otherwise fought for the podium. Although James Hunt’s race came to an early end when his throttle stuck, a problem which had caused him to drop from second back to seventh. Considering Jean-Pierre Jarier’s pace though, it is unlikely Hunt would have helt on to second place, so a third place would have been likely.

    1976 standings: Lauda 9pts; Hunt 0pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 9pts; Hunt 4pts

    South African Grand Prix
    Lauda took his second victory of the season, in front of Hunt. No changes in the context of this article.

    1976 standings: Lauda 18pts; Hunt 6pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 18pts; Hunt 10pts

    United States Grand Prix West
    James Hunt retired from 3rd place in lap 3 when Patrick Depailler turned into the Brit trying to overtake him. Although it was too early to consider Hunt for the victory, this definitely cost him 2nd place, which also moved Lauda up one place on the podium. Thus, I reïnstate Hunt in 2nd, with Lauda in 3rd.

    1976 standings: Lauda 24pts; Hunt 6pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 22pts; Hunt 16pts

    Spanish Grand Prix
    Controversy when race winnner James Hunt was initially disqualified when his car was found to be 18mm too wide. McLaren appealed this decission and won, argueing that the car was found legal before the race and the hot tires had expanded. The FIA approved the appeal and reïnstated the original results, with Hunt winning in front of Lauda.

    1976 standings: Lauda 30pts; Hunt 15pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 28pts; Hunt 25pts

    Belgian Grand Prix
    While Niki Lauda took his third victory of the season, gearbox problems cost James Hunt a third place podium finish.

    1976 standings: Lauda 39pts; Hunt 15pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 37pts; Hunt 31pts

    Monaco Grand Prix
    James Hunt was having a horrible weekend in Monaco, qualifying only in 14th place, spinning before finally retiring with an engine problem. As Hunt was nowhere near the points when he retired, it doesn’t affect the championships standings.

    1976 standings: Lauda 48pts; Hunt 15pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 46pts; Hunt 31pts

    Swedish Grand Prix
    Both Ferrari and McLaren were struggling for speed in Anderstorp, but Mario Andretti’s retirement from the lead, as well as Chris Amon’s suspension failure moved up both Niki Lauda and James Hunt two spots.

    1976 standings: Lauda 52pts; Hunt 17pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 48pts; Hunt 31pts

    French Grand Prix
    When Lauda suffered his first mechanical retirement of the season, James Hunt took victory. In the context of this article, this means Niki Lauda gets first place back, with James Hunt finishing second.

    1976 standings: Lauda 52pts; Hunt 26pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 55pts; Hunt 37pts

    British Grand Prix
    The British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch was cause for more controversy, when James Hunt was stripped of his win after illegally restarting the race in the spare car. As this was brought on only because of an accident out of his control, I’ll let him take part in the race, but note that it were gearbox problems that helped James Hunt take the lead from Lauda. As such, I give Lauda 1st, and Hunt 2nd.

    1976 standings: Lauda 61pts; Hunt 26pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 64pts; Hunt 43pts

    German Grand Prix
    Every Formula One fan at the time knows where he was at the time of the German Grand Prix, the race that almost cost Niki Lauda his life. For the purpose of this article however, it is undoable to ‘undo’ this horrific crash, so Hunt wins, with a heavy heart, the German Grand Prix.

    1976 standings: Lauda 61pts; Hunt 35pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 64pts; Hunt 52pts

    Austrian Grand Prix
    The McLaren was struggling around the Östenreichring, with James Hunt taking only 4th place.

    1976 standings: Lauda 61pts; Hunt 38pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 64pts; Hunt 55pts

    Dutch Grand Prix
    Although Hunt was hot on the Swedes tail, it was oil pressure problems that made pole sitter Ronnie Peterson drop back from the lead, into eventual retirement. We’ll have to give this one back to Peterson than, setting James Hunt back to second place.

    1976 standings: Lauda 61pts; Hunt 47pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 64pts; Hunt 58pts

    Italian Grand Prix
    James Hunt was sent to the back of the grid because of ‘fuel irregularities’, which they were cleared of one week later. As such, in this article James Hunt is given back his 9th place on the grid. Starting near the front, Hunt would not have had his race-ending collision with Tom Pryce, but as he wasn’t setting the track on fire either, it’s hard to place him. All things considering, I’m giving Hunt 6th place, behind Lauda and Scheckter.

    1976 standings: Lauda 64pts; Hunt 47pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 67pts; Hunt 59pts

    Canadian Grand Prix
    James Hunt took victory from pole position while Lauda was struggling for speed. He also developed fuel problems while in 5th place, which we will return to him.

    1976 standings: Lauda 64pts; Hunt 56pts
    Alternative standings: Lauda 69pts; Hunt 68pts

    United States Grand Prix
    James Hunt took the second victory in a row in North America, while Lauda finished in 3rd. Nothing happened to either of them in the contex of this article though.

    1976 standings: Lauda 68pts; Hunt 65pts
    Alternative standings: Hunt 77pts; Lauda 73pts

    Japanese Grand Prix
    Having only just survived his horrific crash at the Nürbürgring, the appauling conditions at Fuji were reason enough for Niki Lauda to retire from the race, which meant that James Hunt only needed 4th place to win the world championship. Both Hunt and Depailler lost a lot of time when their tires deflated, it made no difference to the race result in the end.

    1976 standings: Hunt 69pts; Lauda 68pts
    Alternative standings: Hunt 81pts; Lauda 73pts

    There is little doubt that had it not been for his horror crash in Germany, Niki Lauda would have been the 1976 world champion. Taking some other things into account as I’ve done here though, gives a little more context to the 1976 season and the 1 point difference James Hunt had over Lauda in the end.


    I would argue that mechanical maladies are part of the sport and should therefore be taken into account, but as it doesn’t affect the result in your alternate version of history, I’ll let it slide. I think it was pretty clear that Lauda was well on his way to his second title when he had his accident. I don’t see how the title could have gone to anyone else if you take that accident out of the equation.

    Iestyn Davies

    I do like this series, @mnmracer!


    Interesting. It is certainly worth noting that Hunt would have won the WDC more comfortably if not for his bad luck. That doesn’t make his WDC as “undeserved” as it may seem.

    Are you ever going to do the Schumi-Mika years (1998-2000) @mnmracer?


    Good idea! I’ll do those next.

    Iestyn Davies

    Yes! I was just looking at 1999 and 2000 – 2000 looks close (and I remember it so. Maybe Schumi’s greatest WDC from his point of view). 1999 could have been so different, but also ended up very close.. Has anyone seen the documentary on Irvine’s 1999 season? It throws up some reasons for e.g. a poor performance in Germany 1999 (in the end decisive for the title).

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