On Sunday 11 September 1977, Scuderia Ferrari claimed its fifth Constructors’ World Championship title in front of the home crowd in Monza. Four days later came the announcement that the Maranello team and Niki Lauda, the driver who had won more races than any other for Ferrari, were going their separate ways. The Austrian said he would be at the wheel of a Brabham for 1978, so that a very important era in the Scuderia’s history was coming to an end. For its part, on 27 September, the Italian team announced it was replacing the Austrian with a young almost unknown Canadian by the name of Gilles Villeneuve. Before ending the relationship with Niki there was still the small matter of the Drivers’ world title, which would be Lauda’s as long as Jody Scheckter didn’t win in the Wolf.
Friday 30 September, dawned crisp and decidedly cool with a constant breeze. In the first qualifying session, James Hunt produced a string of very fast laps, the best in 1’40”863, putting him at the top of the time sheet, three tenths quicker than Hans-Joachim Stuck and John Watson in the Brabhams. As for the Ferraris, the 312 T2 did not seem well suited to the American track nor to the cold conditions which meant the drivers could not get the tyres up to temperature. Carlos Reutemann was sixth in 1’41”952, just ahead of Lauda who could not get under the 1-minute 42 barrier as he stopped the clocks in 1’42”089. Scheckter was ninth in 1’42”315. The following day at the famous track in New York State, it started raining very early in the morning and didn’t stop until the evening, so the grid was set according to Friday’s times.
By Sunday morning, it seemed there was a chance the race could be held in the dry, even though the clouds were building up again over Watkins Glen. But as the cars left the pits to form up on the grid, the rain began to fall and then got much heavier, so the mechanics rushed back to the garage to get the wet tyres. Almost everyone switched to wets with the exception of John Watson, as Brabham decided to split its strategies.
Stuck got a perfect start, better even than Hunt, who had tuck in behind the German Brabham driver. After a short distance it became clear the team had got it wrong with Watson’s tyre choice, as the number 7 car dropped down the field, leaving Andretti in third place. Reutemann made up two places after also passing Ronnie Peterson, while Lauda settled into sixth.
Stuck extended his lead and, in the early stages, it looked like he was heading for a great result. In the other Brabham-Alfa Romeo, Watson was also flying and after having to change tyres he was the quickest man on track. However, on lap 14, because of a gearbox problem, Stuck went off the track, destroying his car, leaving Hunt and Andretti in the lead. Shortly after, Watson’s car also began to have problems and the dream of winning in America was over for Lauda’s future team. Reutemann began to have problems on his 312 T2 and was passed, first by Scheckter, who was charging up the order in the Wolf and then also by Lauda and Clay Regazzoni in the Ensign.
Hunt and Andretti crossed the line separated by just two seconds and they were almost a lap ahead of Scheckter and Lauda. But it was enough for the Austrian to reclaim the number one currently worn by McLaren’s winner of this Grand Prix. Niki Lauda was the first driver since Alberto Ascari to win two championships with Scuderia Ferrari. His time as a driver for the Italian team ended here, given that he did not take part in the final two races of the season in Canada and Japan, with Villeneuve taking his place immediately to make his debut.
Race 270: Watkins Glen - 2 October 1977 DRIVER CAR POSITION Niki Lauda 312 T2 4th Carlos Reutemann 312 T2 6th