The value of hard work. Niki Lauda grafted to make the 312T GREAT. His reward, a first F1 title. Words Chris Bietzk. Photography Gooding & Co / Mike Maez.
MARKET NEWS / Bulletin
The man born Andreas Nikolaus Lauda would have been perfectly content to go through life as ‘Niki’, but for much of his Formula 1 career he had to put up with ‘The Rat’ (‘A marketing guy thought of it because of my teeth,’ he recalled, wearily) or ‘The Computer’.
If anything, the latter was more insulting than the former, implying a certain imperturbability, yes, but also painting him as a bloodless data-processor lacking the instinct of other racers on the grid.
This was bunk, but his talent seemed to be diminished in the eyes of some by his unfashionable professionalism. Unlike many other gifted drivers, Lauda was prepared to work at the business of going fast – in the garage, on the test track, and with whichever team gave him the best opportunity to contend, as evidenced by the story of the car pictured here.
Lauda joined Ferrari late in 1973, reneging on the contract he had just signed with BRM. He had fewer than three full seasons of F1 experience under his belt and had finished no better than fifth in a GP, but, ever sure of himself, he demanded a salary of a million Austrian schillings and wasted no time in pointing out to Enzo and Co all the things wrong with the uncompetitive 312 B3.
‘I told them the car was shit,’ he remembered in an interview with Motor Sport. Enzo was no longer quite the same man who had told Paul Frere that ‘aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines’ and, though affronted by Lauda’s assessment, he gave his new driver the opportunity to refine the car with engineer Mauro Forghieri.
The tweaked 312 B3 was substantially quicker around the Fiorano test track – by anywhere from half a second to eight- tenths depending on the day you asked Lauda to recount the tale. It was still far from perfect, but it was improved sufficiently to win two races in 1974.
Ahead of the ’1975 season, and with more time to devote to development and testing, Forghieri and Lauda grafted away to produce this magnificent machine, the 312T. In aesthetic terms it was not a radical departure from the 312 B3, but it was a very different car to drive. With the gearbox mounted transversely (hence ‘T’) and forward of the rear axle, the new Ferrari exhibited none of the understeer that had plagued its predecessor.
The handling was ‘totally neutral’, allowing Lauda to make the most of the 510bhp 3.0-litre flat-12 engine, and the car’s potential soon became abundantly clear: chassis 022, one of five 312Ts eventually built, made its debut at the BRDC International Trophy, a curtain-raiser held at Silverstone prior to the European leg of the F1 season, and finished first, with Lauda holding off Emerson Fittipaldi to win by a tenth of a second.
Lauda drove 022 in five championship races in 1975, and the pair made a formidable team. With typical precision and economy of effort, he put the car on pole each time out, and he climbed from its cockpit to taste Champagne three times, taking third place in the German GP, second in the Dutch GP, and first in the French GP, which he led throughout.
Those mid-season podium finishes went a long way to securing Lauda’s first driver’s title, and he spoke about the car that delivered them in glowing terms, calling it ‘a gem’, usually without acknowledging his role in polishing it.
Chassis 022’s post-Scuderia owners have, unsurprisingly, treated it with similar reverence. The current custodian gave it a full restoration prior to its appearance at the 2017 Pebble Beach concours, and it will return to Pebble Beach in August to be auctioned by Gooding & Co, at which sale it’s expected to fetch $6-8 million.
Left and below: The 312T was a key car for Lauda, and chassis 022 took him to three podium finishes in 1975, the year he won his first FI driver’s title. Now it’s going under the hammer.