The paddock was very full of interest, with new designs and new cars in profusion. Ferrari and Brabham-Alfa Romeo had completely new designs, Renato Martini appeared with his first Formula One car, Tyrrell, McLaren, Renault, Hesketh, Williams and Arrows had brand new cars to their established designs, while Ligier had an “interim” car.
The long-awaited Ferrari 312 T3, successor to the successful T2, made its appearance and proved to be an entirely new design, the only similarity to the previous car being the flat 12-cylinder engine and transverse gearbox. The chassis monocoque is of new layout, to tie in with new suspension, new radiator layout and new air-ducting. The front suspension is changed from the long forward-biased, square-section, rocker arms operating short spring units hidden away down in the nose, to tubular wishbones at right angles to the centre-line of the car, operating much longer spring units mounted vertically, by short rocker extensions from the upper wishbone. At the rear the suspension follows accepted principles of transverse links and radius rods, but everything has been re-designed, with new hub carriers, new links, new mountings, and the gearbox casing is all new, as are the castings to take the suspension components. In fact, very little would appear to be interchangeable with the T2. The whole new conception of wheel movement, steering geometry and travel would appear to have been designed around the characteristics of the Michelin radial-construction tyre, as against the Goodyear cross-ply construction. This ties in with what Enzo Ferrari has been saying for the last two years, that he was discontented at having to design his cars around a tyre-characteristic developed from McLaren and Lotus knowledge. The bodywork, which covers all the mechanical components, provides new thought in that it presents a fiat surface with quite high edges to keep the air on top of the body and stop it “spilling” over the sides.
At a casual glance you could mistakenly think that the T3 was merely a modified T2, but you would be entirely wrong. There were two of these new cars, their numbering following on from the T2 series, with Reutemann driving number 312T3,/033 and young Villeneuve driving 032. They had a T2 in reserve, in case of emergencies, but it was never used.
The Brabham-Alfa Romeo team had their new design, the BT46, to replace the well-tried but unsuccessful BT45. The basic car was out on test an year, but never appeared in public and since to has undergone numerous changes; not as radical as the Ferrari design, as they are still on Goodyear tyres, but nonetheless having little or no interchangeability with the BT45. The chassis “monocoque” follows the triangular-section principle of the BT44, with the scuttle structure forming a very strong pyramid over the driver’s knees. The double-wishbone “rising-rate” front suspension is a development of the previous layout, but with wider track, and the rear suspension is from the BT45B. Carbon-fibre brake discs developed with Dunlop are now an integral part of the design, being used outboard at the front and inboard at the rear, with a lot of attention to cooling in view af the higher temperatures at which they operate. The brake disc is built up from a steel spider machined from the solid, into which fits a circle of carbon-fibre segments, fitted in a special sequence so that the last one locks the whole assembly into a single unit. One-piece carbon-fibre pads are operated by twin-pot caliper units on each side of the disc, the retardation being by reason of the coefficient of friction between the rotating carbon-fibre and the stationary carbon-fibre. The whole assembly can run at much higher temperatures than conventional disc brakes, and the white heat generated under heavy braking caused concern to some observers but not to Murray and his drivers who knew that readings of 1,000 F were the norm. These brakes call for a different technique by the driver, wherein he presses the pedal hard to start with and then eases off the pressure as the braking efficiency rises. The whole technique of carbon-fibre braking stems from work done for Concorde.
The surface-radiator cooling system has been dropped and replaced by a very wide, shallow radiator built into the aerodynamics of the nose cowling, while oil temperature is looked after by horizontally-mounted elements each side of the flat-12 Alfa Romeo engine, with a third in the middle on top of the engine. The bodywork covers the power unit completely with flush-fitted air cleaners leading straight down into the intakes on each side. This new Brabham is really the car that Gordon Murray would have liked to have designed for the first Alfa Romeo-powered Brabham, following the triangular-section monocoque design of the BT44 series. However, with the Brabham-Alfa Romeo alliance being something of an unknown quantity, it was decided to design the BT45 as a fairly simple and easily workable car, to avoid too many problems during the gestation period. The revised and reworked rear suspension and six-speed Alfa Romeo gearbox which appeared this time last year on the BT45B, always were intended for the BT46. With the Brabham-Alfa alliance once assured, Murray was able to design the BT46 along the fundamental principles originally intended. The characteristics of the new front suspension are planned to make full use of any future moves forward in Goodyear tyre technology, especially in the sphere of much softer rubber. Development work on the engine by the Alfa Romeo technicians continues unabated, with a continual search for more power and reliability. An indication that the power search is succeeding is instanced by the fact that the BT46 can carry the luxury of a built-in pneumatically-operated jacking system. There is one tubular jack in the nose of the car, mounted on the front bulkhead in the centre, and one each side at the rear, on the ends of the monocoque extensions where they run on each side of the engine. On the outside of the bodywork, on the right of the cockpit, is a bayonet fitting into which an air-line is plugged in order to raise the car off the ground. Apart from the usefulness and speed of the system for use in an emergency pit-stop, it is also very useful during practice when time is short and there are various tyres to try.
The first two BT46 cars were in the nature of prototypes for test purposes and numbers 3 and 4 were built up new in readiness for the South African race. Lauda had BT46/4 and Watson BT46/3, while the car that Lauda raced in South America, BT45/7C, was on hand as a spare for the two drivers.
The Team Lotus cars were as used in South America, with Andretti in 78/3 and Peterson in 78/2, the Swede having the Lotus gearbox on test during the first practice, but thereafter using a normal Hewland transmission, which was retained for the race. Lotus 78/4 (or John Player Special number 18 as some people would have us believe) was the spare car as usual. The Tyrrell team produced a brand new car in the oo8 series, this being number 3 and was set-up for Depailler and fitted with all the electronic recording apparatus previously mounted on 008/1. Likewise, McLaren had a new car in their M26 series, number 5, which was unchanged in specification; this was for Patrick Tambay, while Hunt retained M26/4 and M26/3 was the spare car. All three carried a major modification to the rear anti-roll bar layout, for whereas previously it had been mounted on a tubular structure behind the rear axle centre-line, it was now mounted in front and is somewhat unusual in that it runs through the alloy spacer-housing between the engine and gearbox, The remote control adjustment for the stiffness of the bar, operated from the cockpit, has been done away, being considered an unnecessary complication and variable that was not earning its keep. The cars all had the external oil pipe along the left side, carrying oil to the nosemounted radiator, the surface cooling provided by this layout being quite substantial.
Renault had a brand new car, RS/03. making the team’s first appearance for 1978, and this had revised bodywork along the lines of the T3 Ferrari in that it had vertical edges to the panelling to keep the air on top of the bodywork. A thin horizontal slot on each side, just behind the cockpit, feeds air to the inter-cooler of the turbo-charger layout, while a NACA duct on the right feeds air to the inlet compressor and a smaller one on the left feeds air to the exhaust-driven turbine. The 1977 car RS/02 was intended as the spare, but after testing it was decided to run this car with the bodywork off the new car.
A brand new make on the Formula One scene was the Martini to be driven by Frenchman Rene Arnoux. This car, MK24/1, was designed and built along conventional lines around the Cosworth V8/Hewland package, by Renato (Tico) Martini in his factory at Magny-Cours in central France. There was nothing outstanding about the design as it followed all the “kit-car” conventions, but was neat and compact in comparison to the Merzario car or the Theodore car. The Teddy Yip team had suffered a bit of a set-back in pre-race testing when their new driver Keijo Kosberg from Finland crashed the TR1 and damaged the monocoque. The monocoque destined for TR2 back in the Woking works was flown out to Africa and a second-generation car was built up, now being TR1-2. A somewhat similar situation had arisen at the new Arrows team factory in Milton Keynes before their cars were flown out to Africa. The car that made its debut in Brazil was stripped right down as the monocoque chassis needed attention, and as time was short all the mechanical components were fitted to the second monocoque chassis FA 1/2, which had been completed while the team were away. The new suspension and running gear components destined for the second car were fitted to the original chassis FA 1/1, so that they were able to field two cars in a short space of time. Patrese drove FA 1/1 and Rolf Stommelen drove FA1/2. These Arrows, designed by Tony Southgate have an interesting “wing” formation under the side-pods which deflects the air in a horizontal S direction, spillage sideways being prevented by deep side-skirts with plastic edges rubbing on the ground.
The yellow Fittipaldi cars and the yellow ATS cars were as used in Brazil, except that Mass and Jarier changed cars in the German team, while Fittipaldi once again set out with every intention of racing F5/2A, simply because it is the newts car, but ended up racing F5/1 A. The Frank Williams team had completed their second car, FW06/2, an absolute twin of the first car, but It was only used briefly in the untimed practice on Thursday morning. The Hesketh team had new car in their 308E series, which was number 5, and during pre-race testing young Cheever proved faster than Divina Galica, so he got the entry for the race. In the Surtees team TS19/5 had been rebuilt after Keegan crashed it Brazil, and Brambilla was still driving TS19/06. The Ligier team had JS7/03 as used previosly and an “interim” car in the form of JS7/01 fitted with lots of components from the next design in the series, which will be JS9, these being principally suspension components which alter the wheel movement geometry in order to utilise the latest Goodyear tyres to the maximum. This car being called JS7/JS9/01.
Of the thirty cars entered for the South African GP, ten were making their first appearance, while two of the spare cars were brand new, so the Formula One scene is looking very healthy. – D.S.J.