"The skin on his scalp was charred" - John Watson remembers Niki Lauda's F1 crash in 1976

He reviewed the 1976 Formula 1 season on Off the Ball on Tuesday night

John Watson joined Off the Ball to discuss the 1976 Formula 1 season and the dramatic climax between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Lauda had stormed into an early championship lead winning four of the first six races. 

Watson, who was driving for Penske-Ford at the time, described Lauda and his rival Hunt, saying: "Fundamentally, Niki was called "the computer" if there were ever such things in those days.

"Very much a driver who focused on the technology, the team, developing the car and understanding more about the engineering whereas James had come into McLaren almost by good fortune. 

"And the team recognised in James that he mightn't be "the Lauda" in terms of the ability to engineer a car but give him a new set of tyres, give him a well-balanced car and he'll drive the wheels off it."

Formula One 1975
Portrait of Ferrari driver Niki Lauda
©INPHO/Getty Images

Looking back at the 1976 season, Watson said: "The season in '76 really was a championship of two halves: the first half Niki dominated and by the time we were getting to the German Grand Prix in August, he'd all but won the World Championship.

"And then after the accident, James went on a winning spree and won almost everything with the exception of the Austrian Grand Prix in 1976 which I won!

"Lauda was delighted I'd won that race because it took points off James," he added. 

The season turned at the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring when championship leader Niki Lauda crashed and was engulfed in flames for almost 40 seconds. 

As Watson pulled over to help at the crash scene, he saw Lauda and described what he saw: "The skin on his scalp was charred - that was the most unpleasant aspect of it. The skin on his forehead was extremely shiney...he had suffered probably second degree burns to his forehead."

Lauda's injuries meant he was unable to compete in the next two races but made an astonishing return at the Italian Grand Prix. 

The World Championship eventually went down to the final race of the season in Japan. Lauda was forced to retire early and needed Hunt to finish outside the top three to win the title. Hunt finished in third place and won the world title by a point.

Watson though, was full of admiration for Lauda on his return at Italy, saying: "I've always said - what Niki did at Monza that weekend was the most couregous thing I have ever seen any racing driver I've known ever do because that took guts of a magnitude which is probably beyond most people's imagination."