“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Ferrari arrived at Jarama on the ascendance. They had won the first three races of the season, with James Hunt in his McLaren failing to finish two of those races. After qualifying James Hunt and Niki Lauda were on the front row of the grid but they were both distracted. Lauda had rolled his tractor the week before and had broken two ribs and though he was driving with a nerve block and strapping to support them he admitted he could still feel them grinding together when he moved. Hunt’s marriage had reached the point of final destruction with his wife having a very public dalliance with Richard Burton.
The Spanish Grand Prix of 1976 illustrated two of the different approaches that the Formula One teams have to rules. Tyrrell showed up with the attitude that if there wasn’t a rule against it then it was legal. They proceeded to push the envelope of car design with the first six-wheeled car. The McLaren team relied on the fact that ignorance would be counted as innocence when their car was found to be marginally wider than the regulations permitted.
The new six-wheeled Tyrrell was looked at in astonishment as it appeared for the first time, its tiny front wheels almost invisible. There was more amazement when Patrick Depailler managed to get it onto 3rd on the grid. Depailler’s team mate Jody Schechter, driving the conventional four wheeled Tyrrell, was way back in 14th. Although it looked like it was going to manage a podium finish it unfortunately had brake failure and crashed out half way through the race.
Lauda initially took the lead off the start but the pain caused by his broken ribs during cornering and braking eventually exceeded his will to win and Hunt passed him on lap 32 for the lead and an easy victory…resulting in his first win for McLaren. Hunt’s McLaren teammate Jochen Mass also passed Lauda but McLaren were denied a 1-2 victory when Mass’s engine expired ten laps from the end. Lauda managed to hang on to finish second despite the paroxysms of pain occurring in his rib cage.
McLaren were stunned when the measurement of their chassis after the race showed it to be 18 mm larger than the rules allowed. It was rumoured that it was Ferrari who had tipped off the scrutineers which had resulted in the re-measurement of the McLaren chassis. Hunt was promptly disqualified and the win was given to Lauda. The McLaren team immediately appealed as the new rules that had just come into force at Spain for maximum car width had actually been based on their car’s measurements and their car had passed scrutineering prior to the race with no problem.
The ultimate conclusion at the court case two months later was that the extra width was due to tyre expansion of the new soft-walled Goodyear tyres which was greater than expected due to the heat in Spain and James Hunt was given back his win while McLaren were fined 3000 pounds. McLaren rapidly re-designed their suspension so their car would have no difficulty passing the new regulations with the new tyres. Ferrari were livid as they thought McLaren had got away with no penalty for breaking the rules and this would only be the first of many confrontations that would occur between Ferrari and McLaren, not only in 1976, but in the years to come.