The 1977 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama on the 8th of May saw the Formula 1 circus arrive back in Europe after the opening four Grand Prix of the season in Argentina, Brazil South Africa and the US.
Jarama, just north of Madrid, wasn’t a popular venue for a Grand Prix – the temporary circuit was narrow, twisty and slow (an average speed over a lap of just 95mph) with overtaking incredibly difficult as Gilles Villeneuve et-al would demonstrate five years later.
Nor was it the intended venue for the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix. The obscenely beautiful Montjuic Park circuit in Barcelona was due to host that year’s race, but following the events of 1975 when Rolf Stommelen’s Embassy Hill’s rear wing failed and ploughed into the crowd causing a number of fatalities, it was deemed unsuitable for Formula 1.
Frank Williams, having acrimoniously parted ways with Walter Wolf – co-owner of Wolf-Williams the previous season saw the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix as the perfect opportunity to launch his new team, and a Williams Grand Prix Engineering car (a March 761), with Belgian driver Patrick Neve at the wheel, took to the track at a Grand Prix for the first time.
Lotus driver Mario Andretti, on the back of a win in the USGP a month before, qualified in pole position, seven tenths ahead of Ligier driver Jacques Laffite with Ferrari’s Niki Lauda third.
In Sunday morning’s warm-up, it was discovered that joint-championship leader Lauda had cracked a rib (it’s thought as a result of the pressure he’d put on his body, still convalescing after his horrific accident at Nurburgring less than 12 months before) and he was rushed to hospital, clearly unable to take part in the race.
Williams’ Neve would start his and Williams’ first ever Grand Prix 22nd of the 25 starters (six cars would fail to qualify) with two McLarens behind him.
Andretti darted off into a handsome lead at the start as those behind him – Laffite, Reutemann, Hunt, Watson, Scheckter, Regazzoni and Brambilla – squabbled over second place.
Hunt retired with engine failure, Laffite dropped back after tyre dramas and Brambilla and Regazzoni tangled with one another taking both of them out, all of which provided at least some entertainment in a race that Motorsport Magazine’s race report would call a ‘professional procession‘.
Meanwhile, Williams’ Neve was steadily making his way up to 12th position – albeit thanks to the high rate of attrition – ten cars, or two fifths of the field would fail to make the finish.
It was an easy win for Andretti in the end, and a portent of what was to come in 1978 when he and Lotus would sweep all before them.
For Williams, it was a solid start to their F1 efforts.
But plans for bigger were gathering pace behind the scenes. By the end of the year, Williams’ first self-designed and built car – the FW06 – had taken to the track, and Sir Frank and Sir Patrick Head found themselves in charge of a team capable of challenging Lotus and Ferrari at the very top.