Racing at the Pinnacle
by Sean Rea
If it wasn’t for Niki’s Poor start at the beginning of the race, he probably would be ahead of Hunt right now, but Niki was held up in traffic in the back of the pack. Team Ferrari’s radio transmission to Niki Fitzgerald’s number seventeen car, “Niki, you have to come into the pits. Your tires are done.” “I have three laps left in them. I’m only a few seconds behind Hunt’s Mclaren”, Niki replies. The team, “We know Niki. We’re looking at the telemetry. The gap is 4 seconds to Hunt’s car. His tires are six laps newer than yours. You need to pit to gain an advantage.” Niki, “I’m staying out Otherwise I’ll lose too much time in pit lane. I’m too close in the Championship.” As the team tries to get Niki to bring his car into pit lane to change tires, Niki refuses to listen to any of their orders. James Hunt is leading Niki in the Driver’s Championship by 21 points, the standings are too close for Niki’s liking.
Another lap races by and once more Niki’s team makes an effort to bring him into the pits, however this time Technical Chief Director of Ferrari is giving the orders. “Niki this is Grimes, come into the pits we need you to change tires. Yours are two laps old.” Niki, “Sir…”. Grimes, “This is not your call Niki, we need to bring both cars home for the Constructor’s Championship. Bring your car in, that is a direct order.” Niki is silent in his helmet as he listens to the radio transmission from his team. Niki comes out of turn fifteen, “With all due respect, I need to gain a lead on Hunt before I box. Otherwise he’ll will run away from me.” Grimes, “Hunt is not our immediate concern Niki. We need you to bring the car home with Gerald in the next fifteen laps. Do you understand?”
In the next few corners Niki comes to turn nineteen where the pit lane entrance is. The team of Ferrari and engineers watch Niki’s every move. Inside Niki’s helmet time freezes momentarily as he exits the turn. Niki looks at the entrance to pit lane as he in on line for it, but in a split second he quickly turns away and stays out on track.Coming out of turn nineteen Niki up quickly upshifts into third gear then back down to second gear as he comes to turn one. Coming around turn one Niki sees Hunt’s Mclaren in his sights and floors it. Coming down the hill on the straight away Niki is 0.5 seconds behind Hunt and is in DRS (Drag Reduction System) range, and right on Hunt’s rear. Reaching the bottom of the hill going into turn three, they come into the braking zone. Turn three going into four and five, “Eau Rouge” as it’s called, is regarded as the most dangerous corner in the Formula 1 calendar due to the immense speed and high g-forces.
Hunt sees debris on the track and decides to brake early and go off the racing line to avoid it. Niki in the other seat, sees his shot to overtake the number fourteen car and brakes late. While braking late helps Niki pass Hunt in his Mclaren it also causes him to drive run wide into four then into turn five. Trying to maintain his speed through “Eau Rouge” finally it happens. The twenty lap old Goodyear tire on Niki’s right rear chassis blows. Niki immediately pushes in his clutch and smashes the brake pedal to the floor locking them up. Niki’s Ferrari skids across track and suddenly slams into the guardrail. The impact is so immense it rips off his right front wheel from the chassis and sends it flying into the trees. The crowd and teams of the Formula 1 paddock watch the scene unfold in horror. Flames begin to fill the engine compartment behind the driver’s seat. Immediately the race stewards release the safety car and red flag the race with only thirteen laps to go in the race.