The first championship event to be held in Japan was in 1976 which is also the first in the feature. Despite being currently held at Suzuka, which has hosted the most Japanese Grand Prix’s, the first race was held in Fuji where it was all about Briton’s James Hunt and Austria’s Niki Lauda.
The 1976 season has gone down in history as a battle between Lauda and Hunt for the title, which some see as the rise of the commercial side of the sport as television began to play a bigger part in the sport from this season onwards. It is also famous for Lauda’s horrific accident at the Nordschleife, his survival and subsequent return just over a month later at the Italian Grand Prix.
Going into the event
Niki Lauda was three points ahead Hunt going into the event after the Briton had won the previous round, the United States Grand Prix, which Lauda himself had finished third in.
The race started in very wet conditions and there was much debate as to whether the event would go ahead. It eventually did as it was being televised live.
Hunt took the lead going into the first corner ahead of John Watson and Mario Andretti. Eventually on lap three, Niki Lauda retired his car, unhappy with the conditions. Despite this, Hunt still needed to finish fourth or higher in order to claim his first championship.
Hunt continued to lead as the race went on, but had to cope with Italian Vittorio Brambilla who was challenging for the lead. However a spin eventually took him out of contention, relieving the pressure on Hunt.
As the race went on and eventually reached half distance, it was a McLaren 1-2 upfront with Jochen Mass behind his teammate, but he soon lost control of his car, taking himself out of the race.
With ten laps remaining, Patrick Depailler in a Tyrrell overtook Hunt for the lead of the race. Mario Andretti then overtook Hunt on the main straight, demoting the Briton down to third. Andretti continued his charge and soon took the lead from Depailler.
Eventually Hunt took back second from Depailler when he hit trouble and was forced to pit, the Tyrrell driver however soon resumed. Hunt himself soon pitted, exiting down in fifth. He however managed to pass Alan Jones, and with Clay Regazzoni out of the race, Hunt was now in third place, where he stayed to claim the World Championship of 1976. He was joined on the podium by race winner, Andretti and second placed, Depailler.
After the event
The race was the final round of the 1976 season and therefore the next race was the 1977 season opener in Argentina. Both James Hunt and Niki Lauda remained with their respective teams for the ’77 season.