• British Grand Prix

Fittipaldi emerges victorious from the rain

ESPNF1 Staff
July 19, 1975
Emerson Fittipaldi on track before a heavy rain shower curtailed the race © Sutton Images

Emerson Fittipaldi, who had led the championship in the early stages of the season, reminded Niki Lauda he was not about to relinquish his title without a fight with a gutsy victory at a sodden British Grand Prix which ended in chaos. Fittipaldi cut Lauda's championship lead to 14 points with five races remaining.

Much of the media attention centred on the dashing James Hunt, winner a month earlier at Zandvoort and always good for a quote. But while Hunt languished back on the fifth row, it was a much more reserved Briton, Tom Pryce from Wales, who stunned the experts to take pole position. Pryce had raced extensively at Silverstone on his way up and used his local knowledge to great effect.

With the Ferraris of Lauda and Clay Regazzoni breathing down his neck, Pryce was under pressure from the start but he took an early lead, lost it, and then regained it again after the first round of pits stops as the rain started to fall. Then, on the 20th lap, he became the first casualty of the day when he skidded off and suffered concussion.

But as the rain grew heavier, soaking the 100,000 crowd to the skin, the race slowly descended into near farce as a succession of cars found their dry-weather tyres totally useless on a track with standing water. By the end five drivers and a spectator were nursing minor injuries while a marshal sustained more serious fractures.

Jean-Pierre Jarier's Shadow ploughed through five layers of catch fencing leaving him with cuts and concussion; Carlos Pace, Jody Scheckter and Tony Brise all came to grief at Stowe Corner, taking a marshal with them. Brise fared worse with cuts and a precautionary visit to hospital for his pains.

"I aquaplaned like I was driving across a frozen pond," said Scheckter. "With the wet-weather tyres I had been using I had a chance, but with the slicks it was hopeless."

By the time Patrick Depailler spun his car while easing back to the pits at 10mph after a higher-speed incident, the stewards decided they had seen enough and red flagged the race. With the rain still lashing down, utter confusion followed.

With more than 60% of the 196 miles completed, the rules permitted a result to be declared. Fittpaldi, who had led from the 44th lap to the 56th but was in the pit lane when the race was halted, was declared the winner but for some time there was uncertainty about the other places. Eventually, Pace, who was nursing a ricked neck, was awarded second with Scheckter third - like the fourth and fifth-placed finishers, they were entangled in the fencing at Stowe.

Arguments raged for days, mainly over the exact point the race ended. Stewards claimed it was at the end of the lap before the red flag was shown, but several teams countered it should have been at the end of that lap. Lauda, who was placed eighth, maintained he should have been third. Ferrari also complained the race should have subsequently been restarted when conditions improved.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
ESPN Staff Close