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The 1977 US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen was a dramatic and action-packed race that saw Niki Lauda clinch his second World Championship in thrilling fashion. Taking place on October 2nd, the race was held at the popular Watkins Glen circuit in upstate New York, which had hosted Formula One since 1961.

The Championship STATE before the 1977 US Grand Prix

Coming into the 1977 US Grand Prix, Lauda held a comfortable lead in the Championship with 69 points. His only title rival was Jody Scheckter on 42 points. Lauda only needed a single point to secure the title, while Scheckter had to win all three remaining races to have any chance of catching the Austrian.

It had been a long road back for Lauda after his horrific accident at the 1976 German GP at Nurburgring left him with severe burns and injuries. Yet just six weeks later, he was back racing and against all odds took the title fight down to the final race. Now in 1977, he had a chance to complete his incredible comeback story.

Practice and Qualifying

From the very first practice session on Friday, James Hunt set the pace in his McLaren, going half a second clear of the rest of the field. He later set a new lap record of 1:40.863 to take pole position. The Brabhams of Hans-Joachim Stuck and John Watson locked out the second row, ahead of Mario Andretti’s Lotus and Ronnie Peterson’s Tyrrell.

The title contenders Lauda and Scheckter had difficult qualifying sessions. Lauda was hampered by team politics at Ferrari, as his chief mechanic was barred from the garage all weekend after Lauda had announced his move to Brabham for 1978. He qualified 7th, while Scheckter could only manage 9th as he struggled with handling issues on his Wolf.

The Watkins Glen Circuit

The Watkins Glen road course in upstate New York was fast, flowing and picturesque. Situated next to Seneca Lake with the forests and fall foliage of New York state as a backdrop, The Glen was a classic American road course that drivers and fans loved.

Opened in 1956, it hosted the US Grand Prix continuously from 1961 to 1980. At 3.4 miles long and with only a couple of slow corners after the new “Scheckter Chicane” was added in 1975, it was one of the quickest circuits on the calendar. The long straights allowed cars to reach almost 180 mph, making it a real horsepower track.

Notable corners included the high-speed, downhill Esses sequence and the looping 360-degree right-hander at Turn 6, leading onto the back straight called “Big Bend”. These fast corners placed huge loads on car and driver, punishing even small mistakes.

The 1977 US gRAND pRIX

Sunday dawned cold but dry. But as the cars assembled on the grid, rain began to fall. Hunt led the field away while Hans Stuck shot into the lead from second ahead of Hunt and Andretti. Scheckter made an incredible start from 9th to battle Lauda for 4th early on.

Stuck began to pull away as Hunt’s pace slowed. But on lap 14, Stuck’s Brabham jumped out of gear through a corner, sending him crashing out of the lead. Now Hunt led from Andretti by over 10 seconds, with Scheckter up to 3rd but the gap growing steadily.

Lauda only needed to stay in 4th to clinch the title. As Hunt nursed his tyres to the flag, an unbelievable final lap saw Andretti slash the gap from over 2 seconds to just 0.6 at the line. But Hunt held on take an emotional victory at The Glen for the second year running.

Lauda Secures the Title

Lauda crossed the line of the 1977 US Grand Prix in 4th, comfortably ahead of the battling cars behind him. He had done all he needed to do to secure his second World Championship, completing his courageous comeback just 14 months after his near-fatal Nurburgring accident.

In parc ferme, the burn scars from his injuries visible through his helmet, Lauda wept tears of joy. Ferrari mechanics and engineers mobbed his car, celebrating their first Drivers’ crown since 1964. It was an incredible moment at the end of an unforgettable season.

Bitter Break with Ferrari

In an explosive move, Lauda promptly quit Ferrari days after winning the title, even though there were still two races left in the season. Having already signed for Brabham in 1978, Lauda was furious with team boss Enzo Ferrari after being deliberately stymied by Ferrari engineers in qualifying at Watkins Glen.

The relationship had soured further as Ferrari believed Lauda should have been more grateful and obedient after they paid him through his recovery. For his part, Lauda felt deeply bitter at the politics and mind games Ferrari had played throughout the season.

So just like that, F1’s newly crowned World Champion walked out on the mighty Scuderia after delivering their first title in over a decade. Lauda described Enzo Ferrari as “a senile old man”, making their split one of the most acrimonious in F1 history.

More US GP Classics at The Glen

The US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen witnessed several other iconic moments through its history:

  • 1964: John Surtees takes Ferrari’s last win for over a decade, sealing the World Championship
  • 1970: Emerson Fittipaldi’s first F1 win for Lotus after leaders Rindt and Ickx collide
  • 1975: Hunt holds off Regazzoni in a ferocious battle by just 0.75s, Lauda breaks ankle
  • 1979: Villeneuve drives with broken suspension for 40 laps to deny Scheckter title

The Glen’s F1 run ended after 1980 when money issues forced the race to move, eventually leading to its permanent home in Austin since 2012. But Watkins Glen still hosted some all-time classic US Grands Prix from 1961-1980.


What made the 1977 US Grand Prix so memorable?

It was memorable as the race where Lauda overcame huge adversity from his 1976 accident to clinch his second Driver’s Championship after an epic season-long battle with Ferrari. It will also be remembered for Lauda’s bitter fallout with Enzo Ferrari immediately after.

How did the Watkins Glen circuit change over time?

The original 1948 circuit was 8.7 miles long using public roads. Safety upgrades shortened it over time, with the “Scheckter Chicane” added in 1975. But its basic fast and flowing character running through the New York forests remained unchanged.

Did Niki Lauda ever reconcile with Enzo Ferrari?

No. After his bitter 1977 exit, Lauda and Ferrari never officially reconciled. Lauda maintained his season was deliberately sabotaged while Ferrari felt betrayed. When Enzo died years later, Lauda did not attend his funeral.

Who won the 1977 US Grand Prix?

The 1977 US Grand Prix was won by James Hunt, but it was Niki Lauda who won the World Drivers Championship by finishing 4th, just behind Jody Scheckter.

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