THE SEVENTIES by Luca Dal Monte

The 1970s can be divided into two distinct parts. While there is a first part from 1970 to 1974 that sees the continuation of the dominance of English teams that characterized the 1960s, there is a second part in which English teams are, in part, downsized and Ferrari returns to the spotlight. The turning point is indeed the 1974 season, the first without three-time world champion Jackie Stewart, and in which Scuderia Ferrari returns to the top, but still has to bow down to an English team – specifically, McLaren.

In the five years from 1970 to 1974, the World Drivers' Championship title is won twice by a Lotus driver, twice by a Tyrrell driver, and once by a McLaren driver. In all these years except one – 1973 – the same teams also win the Constructors' World Championship title. 1973, as mentioned, is the exception. At the end of the season, the world champion is the Scottish ace Stewart driving for Tyrrell, but the team’s title goes to Lotus, which, due to a questionable management of its two drivers, fails to win the coveted crown but still accumulates enough points to take home the Constructors' title.

The decade opens with a big surprise. In 1970, Jochen Rindt, who until the penultimate race of the previous season had not managed to win a single Grand Prix, wins race after race. He clinches his first victory in Monaco with the old Lotus 49C. But when Colin Chapman puts the jewel-like 72C in his hands, the championship is a foregone conclusion. The Austrian quickly wins in the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, and Germany. Everything suggests that Rindt could win the title at Monza on the first Sunday in September. Instead, he dies that Saturday during practice. At the end of the season, he will be world champion thanks to the points accumulated until his passing, but above all thanks to the awareness-raising efforts of his friend Stewart, who convinces the international federation not to erase the points of a driver who is no longer alive.

The Scotsman wins the title the following year. It is his second – the first at the wheel of Tyrrell, a car and team that did not exist until the summer of the previous year. Stewart is an extraordinary character. And not just on the track. His crusade to make the racing world safer changes Formula 1. In addition to the two titles he wins in 1971 and then again in 1973, and the record of 27 victories he sets, one must add his ability to see beyond and to sense when it is time to quit. Stewart retires at the end of the 1973 season with his third world title in hand. The consensus among insiders is that he is still the best driver around.

When the Scotsman retires, the main character on the scene is probably Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian who in 1972 becomes, at the wheel of Lotus, the youngest world champion up to that point and, in 1974, repeats the feat at the wheel of the McLaren M23. But Fittipaldi and the world of Formula 1 have not reckoned with Niki Lauda, the unknown Austrian who, when he enters the Ferrari orbit and Mauro Forghieri puts in his hands a car like the 312 T with its revolutionary transverse gearbox and the power of the Ferrari 12-cylinder boxer, will quickly come to characterize an era. Lauda is world champion in 1975 and 1977. The Ferrari, of which Lauda is one of two drivers, wins the Constructors' title in 1975, 1976, and 1977 – with Swiss Clay Regazzoni alongside the Austrian in the first two seasons and the Argentine Carlos Reutemann in the third. Lauda leaves Ferrari at the end of 1977, but in '79 the fourth evolution of the T series, the 312 T4, brings another Drivers' and Constructors' World Championship to Maranello. The world champion is South African Jody Scheckter and his teammate, Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, is the runner-up.

What could be seen as a sort of Ferrari hegemony in the second half of the 1970s is interrupted twice. The first time in the incredible and exciting 1976 season, when legal battles in the FIA's courtrooms accompany battles on the track, Lauda suffers the terrifying accident at the Nürburgring circuit, returns against all odds, and engages in a historic duel with his friend James Hunt, a fiery rivalry on the track, characterized by a great sense of mutual respect. The second time in 1978, when Colin Chapman's creative genius brings to sublimation the concept of ground effect, and the Lotus 79 wing car, in the hands of Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson, becomes unbeatable. At the end of the season, Andretti is world champion while Peterson, who dies at Monza on the day his teammate wins the title, is the runner-up for the second time.

But the 1970s have also seen much more: the revolutionary Tyrrell six-wheeler; the return of Alfa Romeo; the arrival of turbocharged engines thanks to Renault's entry into the Circus; the first steps in the career of Alain Prost, one of the great protagonists of the next decade; the disappearance from the scene of historic circuits like the Nürburgring and Montijuich; the questioning of Monza; the consolidation of tobacco sponsors; the definitive abandonment of national colors for the liveries of the cars – except for Ferrari, of course.