The Scuderia Ferrari produced a brand new Tipo 312T2 for Lauda, number 031 in the series, and the previous car 030 became the “muletto”. It was unchanged in layout and design, apart from slightly different radiator air exits, there being nothing new on the suspension front, in spite of numerous experiments being made at the Maranello test-track. Reutemann retained 312T2/029 as usual. In the Tyrrell team, designer Derek Gardner took something of a sideways step by producing a wide-track version of the twin-axle front layout. Shortly before the Dijon meeting it was announced officially that Gardner would be leaving the Tyrrell team at the end of the year. His place is being taken by Maurice Phillippe (ex-Lotus, ex-Parnelli-Jones, ex-everyone) and he is taking-over the design office during the remainder of the season. It was Depailler’s six-wheeler P34/7 that had been modified, with a fabricated sheet-steel structure bolting on to the monocoque on each side at the front end, the normal double-axle suspension arms pivoting from these structures. This modification gave an increase of 5 in. on each side, so that the little front wheels no longer hid within the nose cowling and body structure, but stuck out in the air stream. The whole affair was a complete reversal of the original design story behind the Tyrrell six-wheeler! In addition P34/7 had oil radiators mounted in the nose, with a new full-width nose cowling with large openings for the cooling air to enter the radiators. All these modifications involved a lot of detail work, for batteries, fire extinguisher bottle and so on had to be located along the sides of the car, instead of in the note as before. Peterson retained P34/5, unmodified, as was the spare car P34/6, while all three were back to the fully enveloping 1977 body style. As a design study the P34 Tyrrell seems to be in a vicious spiral; already very much over-weight in standard and original trim, any improvements to handling and speed seem to be at the expense of more weight, unlike the Lotus 78 which appears to lose weight every time a modification is made. With Goodyear getting prepared for a “tyre-war” with Michelin and producing a big variety of tyres for Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren and Wolf, it looks as if development of new tyres for the little wheels on Project 34 Tyrrell is lagging behind a bit, which is one important reason why the Tyrrell cars have lost the edge.
The Copersucar sponsored Fittipaldi team with their new Ensign-inspired car, designed by Dave Baldwin, have come to a stop again, having shown signs of advancing. Baldwin has left which makes the whole project a bit unstable. The Ensign team arrived with MN06 heavily modified in many directions. The front suspension wishbones were 2 in. longer each side, increasing the track by 4 in. Larger diameter discs were fitted to the rear brakes, the oil coolers were moved from their side positions, to lie near to the horizontal on top of the gearbox and under the rear aerofoil, while the body sides now ducted water radiator air only and had deflectors on top in front of the rear wheels. The spare car, MN07 was unchanged in any way, to give Regazzoni a chance to make direct comparisons, mostly as regards the wider front track and larger rear brakes. A third Ensign is nearing completion for Sid Taylor and Teddy Yip to run for Patrick Tambay, and should have been ready for Dijon, but staff shortage in the workshops prevented this. It was not possible to let Tambay drive MN07, as it would have interfered with Morris Nunn’s development programme. By the end of practice Regazzoni had decided that the larger rear brake discs were not the way to go, nor was the wider front track, it making the car less stable in a straight line. In consequence MN06 was put back to standard track and small rear brakes for the race; however, the re-positioned oil coolers made a huge improvement in lowering the oil temperature, even in the Dijon temperatures. In their original side position they worked perfectly well, but the oil temperature ran just that bit higher than one would like, “a bit near the bone”.
Everybody else in the entry list was using the cars they are normally associated with, now that the season is well under way, apart from BRM who produced a second P207. The works March of Ian Scheckter, sponsored by Rothman’s International, was still the 761B, the new 771 not being really race-worthy yet, while the feared sixwheeler from Robin Herd seems to have gone to ground. Young brother Jody Scheckter was using Wolf WR3 with WR1 as the spare, the team ringing the changes on their “three cars for one driver scheme”. -D.S.J.