British Grand Prix
(Our centre spread this month depicts the event in colour)
Brands Hatch, July 16th.
Variety is something which the British Grand Prix always provides, fluctuating as it does from the pleasant garden-party atmosphere of the Silverstone airfield cicuit to the wire-mesh fence confines of the cramped and over-crowded stadium at Brands Hatch. Anyone who was at the British Grand Prix this year will know that you can get a quart into a pint pot. The fairly spacious pit-lane, overlooked by a new timekeepers bridge was well filled on Friday morning, when practice began. There were thirty aspirants for the twenty-six places on the grid and their cars together with twenty-one spare cars provided a very full and busy scene. More remarkable was the paying spectator crowd that poured into the circuit from early morning, for it was a crowd that any Formula Two organiser would have loved to have seen on race day, and this was only the first day of Grand Prix practice.
While the "big boys" disputed pole-position at the front end of the grid, the "rabbits" were vying for the back of the grid or in the unlucky four who were not going to race. In the solid block of mid-field runners there was equally keen competition among those running on standard Goodyear tyres to qualify for assistance with special tyres.
We have become used to Team Lotus setting the pace in practice, and even dominating it, but Friday's practice bordered on the verge of being silly, unless you are a Lotus fan in which case it could not have been better. Peterson's car, number 79/2, went to the Osterreichring direct from the French Grand Prix and Andretti used it during the Goodyear tyre testing session (and made fastest lap!). It returned to the factory for a quick look-over and it was down to Brands Hatch for Peterson to use in the morning session prior to being taken apart and refurbished ready for the second day of practice. After winning at Paul Ricard, Andretti's car, number 79/3, was returned to the factory to be straightened out after its crash during practice at the French GP. This involved fitting a new front bulk-head to the monocoque and skilfully knocking out the dent and ripples in the skin in front of the cockpit. The Cosworth Development engine which won the French race was left in the car, the plan being to use it for the Friday practice at Brands Hatch and then install a new engine for the second day of practice and the race. While in Austria the oil tank on 79/2 developed a leak and was welded-up temporarily, as it is a cast-alloy tank that forms the spacer between the engine and gearbox. It is no surprise to find this arrangement on some other cars, such as the Williams and the Fittipaldi.
Peterson had made fastest lap round Brands Hatch a week or two earlier, during a tyre-test session, driving his old Lotus 78/2, so on Friday July 14th he got into the groove very quickly Indeed with 79/2, even though it was a bit tired. With some inspired driving the Swede was well Into the 1 min. 17 sec. bracket, reeling off a number of laps in this order when others were being hard put to get below 1 min. 20 sec. Meanwhile Andretti was doing his usual methodical juggling with the variables and wis also into the 1 min. 17 sec. bracket, but not as fast as the Swede. The morning session ended with Peterson best at 1 min. 17.16 sec. and Andretti second with 1 min. 17.83 sec. In third place, an unbelievably long way back, came Scheckter with the Wolf WR5 with 1 min. 18.76 sec. over a second and a half behind Peterson. The times of the rest of the "Big boys" such as Lauda, Hunt, Reutemann, Watson etc. were almost embarrassing to view, and what made it all much worse was that the two Lotus 79 cars did not look to be going fast. A number of observers remarked that the Lotus 79 made it all look too easy, which is not far from the truth, for as with most things once you get it right it is easy. The hard bit is getting it right.
Behind the chosen Goodyear runners, and in front of some of them, there was some good driving going on by those in the running for some special favours. Jacques Laffite in the Ligier JS9/01, unchanged since its good run at Paul Ricard, was going so well and was so much ahead of the others with a best lap in 1 min. 19.55 sec. that the Ligier team were given the very best practice tyres for the afternoon session. After him the two Shadow drivers Stuck and Regazzoni were getting their cars going well, and Derek Daly was getting to grips with the Ensign. Alan Jones in the Williams figured high as always, as did Patrese in his Arrows, so they were all given encouragement and support in the form of better front tyres.
As soon as the morning practice ended Peterson's mechanics started to dismantle his Lotus 79 and his old Lotus 78 was got out for him to use. Meanwhile, Andretti carried on where he'd left off before lunch with a handful of laps, during which he clocked 1 min. 17.81 sec. but when his Hewland gearbox jumped out of fourth gear he thought it best to have the back off and have a look inside. With only an hour of practice there wasn't really time for a gearbox overhaul, but the Lotus mechanics got stuck into it and had the gearbox internals out. It was all back together again with only a few minutes of practice left, but then the Cosworth V8 would not start, due to vaporisation in the fuel system while it had been stationary. A push-start got it going, Andretti heading down the pits slip-road while so doing, but he ran over a man-hole cover which ripped one of the floating side-skirts to pieces. End of Lotus practice and a good try for the Team Shambles award, if it could ever be got back from BRM.
Peterson did not do very much practice with the old Lotus 78, a mere 13 laps, against some drivers who did 30 laps in the hour long session, and he never got below 1 min. 20 sec. With neither Lotus out on the track you would have expected the rest of the "heavy-brigade" to have forced their way to the front, but it was not like that. Watson and Lauda vied with Scheckter for "best of the rest", the Austrian World Champion using the spare Brabham BT46/5 while his own BT46/6 went back to the factory to have its suspension repaired. For a time Watson in BT46/3 took third fastest place overall, with 1 min. 18.57 sec. but before the end of the hour both Lauda and Scheckter passed him. The lap record still stands from the 1977 Race of Champions, when Hunt did 1 min. 19.48 sec. the fastest for practice for that race was Watson in 1 min. 19.05 sec., times which a year and a half later are of little interest.
When it was all over Peterson still held FTD with his morning time of 1 min. 17.16 sec. Andretti was second with 1 min. 17.81 sec., and then came Lauda with 1 min. 18.03 sec., with Scheckter, Watson, Jabouille and Villeneuve also in the 1 min. 18 sec. bracket. Alan Jones was easily the best of the smaller teams, ahead of Hunt, both Ferraris and Depailler. The Lotus drivers were in a class of their own as their cars were torn apart to be made ready with new engines and components for the second day of practice.
At the back of the field Geoff Lees (Ensign), Lunger (McLaren), Trimmer (McLaren) and Keegan (Surtees) were the non-qualifiers, the Southend-on-Sea driver in the Surtees having had a miserable day. The engine in his TS20 blew up in the morning so he transferred to the old TS19 only to find the gear ratios were all wrong, and a lot of time was lost just messing about.
It had been a warm, dry day on Friday, and similar conditions prevailed on Saturday when the untimed test session took place in the morning prior to the "death or glory" one hour of timed practice in the afternoon. The two Lotus 79 cars were back together again and ready to go, Peterson's car having had a new oil tank installed, and there was a third Lotus 79 in the pits as a stand-by. This was 79/1, the prototype car, now completely rebuilt and up-dated with the eliptical section rear wishbones as on 79/3, and a new design of brake caliper on the front. It had been fitted with a Hewland gearbox as its role of test-vehicle for the Lotus-Getrag gearbox has been shelved for a time. Lauda was back in his original Brabham, and Hunt was trying an experimental McLaren M26/4E. This was the car that Hunt crashed in practice in Spain and it had had the sides of the monocoque sawn off, leaving only the cockpit tub, and a complete redesign had been carried out around it, on the lines of a cross between a Lotus 78 and Lotus 79. The water radiators were moved from the rear, forwards on each side of the cockpit, with front entry for the air and top exits, the rear suspension was all new, with box-section fabricated rocker arms at the top to operate inboard spring units, the exhaust pipes were tucked in close to the engine, long side skirts were fitted and the rear of the car was decked in.
Suddenly, everyone now wants air to flow under their cars, after struggling to keep it out for so long. Lotus really have started something yet again.
Peterson was in unbeatable form round the twisty undulating Brands Hatch circuit and after setting off in the 1 min. 17 sec. bracket, while a lot of drivers were still hopefully aiming for 1 min. 19 sec. , he then did an electrifying 1 min. 16.80 sec. and decided that was enough. Even Andretti could not match this, for all his careful and calculated technical approach, and his best was 1 min 17.06 sec. There are people who say that Peterson is "over the hill" as a driver, and others who say it is all down to the Lotus 79 and others say that the idea of a return of the "vintage" Peterson magic is a myth. Whatever it is, the Swede was in a class of his own on Saturday afternoon and sat and watched the others struggle during the closing stages of the final hour.
The Wolf WR5 was performing well, or Scheckter was making it perform well, depending on how you view these things, and he was a comfortable third overall. Compared to the smooth running of the Lotus the Wolf looked wild and woolly, but at least it was giving results.
As a result of their efforts on Friday Laffite, Patrese and Jones were getting all the help possible from Goodyear, and Daly, Regazzoni and Stuck were getting some help in the form of better front tyres. However, the super-Goodyear tyres are not "instant-magic" in that you just put them on your car and improve your lap time by a second or more. You have to know how to readjust your suspension settings and how to readjust your driving technique; for example with the sticky rubber you can brake much later into a corner, but unless you are brave enough and skilful enough to judge how late, the sticky tyres will not be much help. Both Patrese and Jones were really making good use of their Goodyear help, and the Arrows driver was fifth fastest overall and the Williams driver sixth, which put them on the third row of the grid, ahead of such "heavies" as Reutemann, Watson, Depailler, and Hunt. Goodyear were very pleased, for it pushed their Michelin rival back a row.
The Lotus performance almost over-shadowed such efforts as it did of other good efforts by Fittipaldi in getting alongside the turbocharged Renault, and Derek Daly who got the Ensign well up the grid, alongside little Bruno Giacomelli. The McLaren team never seemed to get into the Brands Hatch groove, with a time he recorded in the first session and he subsequently went slowet and slower. A remarkable feature of practice was the number of drivers who had spins, most a them quite harmless, but it was an indication a just how hard everyone was trying, right through the field.
There have been races where grid-positions were decided by hundredths of a second, even thousandths, but this did not apply to the 1978 British GP, it was much more clear-cut than we have seen for some time. Looking at the starting grid it was a question of what the Team Lotus tactics would be, what would happen if Peterson took the lead from the start, when would he have to let Andretti go by, or would they conceivably organise a dead-heat. For the rest of the field it was a question of who was going to finish third. Already the question of who was not going to race had been settled, with Stommelen (Arrows), Lees (Ensign), Keegan (Surtees) and Trimmer (McLaren) listed as the non-qualifiers.
The crowds that poured into the Kentish stadium on Sunday, to supplement those already entrenched overnight, were of record proportions and the day was sunny and warm. All manner of side-shows and diversions were provided to keep the customers amused, from acrobatic displays, saloon car racing, Royal visitors, ex-racing drivers and Team Managers in a saloon car race, an enormous parade of Ford products covering their 75 years of "bunk" (or history as we call it), food and drink in profusion and ice-cream and hamburgers. There was never a dull moment.
During the morning the 26 contestants for the Grand Prix had a final test-session, during which John Watson tried the spare Brabham, BT46/5, and decided to race it in place of BT46/3 which he had been using in practice. Renault decided to use RS01/03 and this time did not lend the spare car to a film company. Fittipaldi was feeling very confident in his lightened (by some 20 kgs) original car F5A/1, Alan Jones was conscious that it was all down to hint after watching Frank Williams win the ex-drivers saloon car race and Hunt and Villeneuve were wondering what had gone wrong, to put them so far back on the grid. Peterson had chosen the left-hand side of the grid, to avoid the pitfall of the steep camber by the starting area and everything was shaping up to the 1978 British GP over 76 laps being a good race.
At 2.40 p.m. the cars left the pit lane and weal round the circuit to line up on the starting grid and everyone was present and correct, but the waiting until the 3 p.m. start seemed interminable. Eventually the grid was cleared and Peterson led the field away on their pace-lap with Andretti close by. Back on to the grid, everyone in line, engine revs rose and a fantastic roar of power filled the Brands Hatch valley when the starting signal came on and the 26 can surged forward. Andretti had positioned his car up the camber, quite close to Peterson's and at the two sleek black cars, devoid of any John Player cigarette advertising, went into Paddock Bend it was number 5 in the lead followed by number 6. They led the field on the opening lap, with Scheckter, Jones, Lauda, Patrese, Reutemann, Depailler, Watson, Hunt and the rest following. On the climbing left-hand bend out of the arena, entering the back part of the circuit, Brambilla lost control of his orange Surtees and slid all over the place without hitting anything, rejoining the scene after everyone had disappeared from sight. The two Lotus cars ran nose-to-tail in beautiful formation looking absolutely terrific and within three laps had opened up a gap on Scheckter, Jones and the rest that was almost insolent. The more so as the cars from Norfolk looked so smooth and stable, while the rest seemed to be scrabbling and wallowing about almost uncontrollably in their efforts to keep up. It is not simply the aerodynamics of the Lotus 79 which makes it so superior, it is not as simple as that, but the combination of wheelbase, track, weight distribution, balance, suspension, springs, shock-absorbers and all the other parts of the equation that go to make up a Formula One car.
All problems of Team order or control were solved by Andretti taking the lead on the first corner and one felt that all they had to do now Was to cruise round for the rest of the 76 laps and if. necessary, finish side-by-side in a dead-heat, without the drivers straining themselves or their cars. The whole scene being presented by Team Lotus was one of cool domination, without any strain. All this may seem boring and dull to those who are not Lotus fans, but to anyone who was on their side the scene was perfection. First and second from start, in team order, and pulling away from all their rivals without driving near the limit, and using identical Cosworth V8 engines to many of their rivals and reputedly less powerful than Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Matra or Renault. Six laps were reeled off and one was wondering what the rest were doing, when suddenly there was no Peterson in Andretti's wake. Lotus number 6 had come to a stop on its way down from Druid's Hairpin. The other 24 competitors must have taken heart as they passed Peterson climbing out of 79/2; the engine-driven fuel pump had failed.
Well out in front on his own Andretti looked secure and serene, but behind him, now fighting for second place there was a truly great motor race going on. Scheckter was really driving hard in the Wolf WR5, with Jones (Williams), Lauda (Brabham), Patrese (Arrows), Reutemann (Ferrari), Watson (Brabham) and Depailler (Tyrrell) hot on his heels. Then came Fittipaldi and Daly, both running very nicely and actually closing up on the crowd in front. Hunt's McLaren had subsided onto the grass on the bottom straight two laps after Peterson came to rest, the right front suspension and brake disc being broken and mangled. Villeneuve was getting nowhere and was down among the tailenders so he stopped for a complete change of tyres and rejoined the race in last place but he didn't run for long before a drive-shaft broke. The Renault also stopped for a change of Michelins, but Reutemann was looking all right in sixth place. On lap 19 Andretti had an enormous lead, but significantly it suddenly did not increase any more, and it looked as though he might be easing back, confident that no-one could catch him, but it wasn't confidence at all for as he came round Clearways to complete lap 23 he was seen to be heading for the pit road, with a deflated rear tyre! Scheckter led the hard-driving motley lot across the line, to take over the lead of the race and their efforts were renewed for now first place was at stake, not second place, which put a different complexion on things. The Lotus mechanics had a new wheel and tyre on the 79 in an unbelievably quick time and Andretti was back on the track in twelth place, behind Pironi's Tyrrell. Almost immediately he moved up to eleventh as Laffite took the Ligier into the pits for a tyre change, and another lap sufficed to pass Pironi and take tenth place.
Alan Jones was really putting on the pressure now, with a chance of actually leading the British GP, and Frank Williams' team would have got a great cheer for doing so, but it was not to be. After two or three stabs at getting by the Wolf, the Williams suddenly swooped about as it accelerated up the hill out of the arena. Jones stirred about on the gearlever as it felt as though it had jumped out of gear or broken the gearbox, but nothing happened and the white and green car came to rest, out of the race with the righthand drive-shaft sheared as clean as a carrot inside the rubber gaiter over the inboard universal joint. Car number 27 was out on lap 27! This gave Scheckter a slight respite, but he could not relax for Lauda could now clearly see first place, which interested him a lot. Fittipaldi had caught up on to the tail end of this leading bunch and Daly was doing an impressive drive in the Ensign and keeping the yellow Brazilian car in sight, though he now had Andretti right behind him. Without any visible strain or excitement the black Lotus was pulling back the lost time with impressive regularity and speed, and with only 28 laps run there looked to be ample time for Andretti to get back into the lead, barring accidents and baulking. Just as Peterson's Lotus 79 had disappeared without any warning so did Andretti's. The Cosworth engine broke and that was that. Grim-faced, Team Lotus could only pack their tools and equipment and look forward to the next race; it was all over for them on their home-ground, after starting off so well, and the race wasn't half-way through.
It was now pretty obvious that any one of the motley lot at the head of the field could now end up the winner, but there was no guarantee who it would be, for Scheckter, Lauda, Patrese, Reutemann, Watson, Depailler and Fittipaldi were all running nose-to-tail and seemed pretty equal. Daly's good debut in the Ensign ended when a wheel broke off, and Fittipaldi's hopes were dashed when his Cosworth engine blew up. On lap 34 Lauda took the lead from Scheckter so easily that the Wolf just had to be in trouble, and two laps later the South African was heading for the pits; the Hewland gearbox had broken. A lap more and Depailler was in the pits with a flat left rear tyre and the whole race was really open with half-distance just coming up.
At the halfway mark, which was lap 38, Lauda led from Patrese, Reutemann and Watson and providing the Alfa Romeo engine kept going it looked as though he must win. Behind these four there was a long gap to what is normally the tail end of the field, but which now held fifth, sixth and seventh places, down to twelfth and this lot were in the order Pironi, Rosberg, Depailler (making up time after his pit-stop), Mass, Tambay, Giacomelli, Lunger and Stuck. Already a lap behind was Brambilla, though he was still having a trouble free run, and well back due to pit stops were Laffite, Jabouille and Regazzoni, the Ligier with deflated tyres, the Renault for changing tyres and the Shadow for tyres and exhaust pipe troubles. As the four cars that were in a position to win left Clearways for the run along the top straight to complete lap 39, the gold painted Arrows was slowing as the left-rear tyre deflated, and Reutemann's Ferrari was by into second place. It was too late for Patrese to get into the pit lane and he had to go on with the tyre down on the rim. He completed the whole lap, but going much too fast, and by the time he got to the pits the tyre was in shreds and the flailing rubber had wrecked the left rear corner of the car and the lower members had graunched along the ground, so it was all over for the young Italian. As he limped into the pits Pironi's Tyrrell was just ahead of him, also in trouble, for the top bolts holding the engine and gearbox together had broken and the car was trying to break in half.
Here we were on lap 41 with the scene looking completely unreal relative to practice and the way the race had started. Lauda was firmly in the lead, followed by Reutemann and Watson, all with Italian 12-cylinder engines, the Michelin-shod car sandwiched between the two Goodyear runners. Almost unbelievably in fourth place was Rosberg with the yellow ATS, having out-driven all the other tail-enders, though amongst them Depailler was making up ground. With the smell of first place in his• nostrils, and Lauda and a Brabham ahead Reutemann began to press hard, and slowly but surely he pulled up on the Brabham-Alfa. Meanwhile Depailler got into fourth place, but even so Rosberg was holding a creditable fifth. Stuck was sixth, which was a fine effort after spinning on the opening lap and dropping to last place, until Brambilla spun further round that fateful lap. The lanky German had worked his way in amongst the Lungers and Giacomellis at the back of the race, and then worked on past them, and now, because of the unreal nature of retirements and troubles, he was up in sixth position, showing that it pays to keep trying. For ten laps the Ferrari closed on the Brabham-Alfa and it then seemed that stalemate had set in. Lauda was not going to give in or relax, and he certainly was not going to be pressured into making mistakes, of that you could be certain. During this time the Renault retired in a spectacular cloud of smoke as oil poured into the exhaust-turbo through a broken seal. The outcome seemed to be settled and for another ten laps the two Italian 12-cylinders powered round a small distance apart, with Reutemann wondering what he could do about the ice-cool, automaton in front of him. By this time Watson had fallen back and was no threat to the Ferrari, not that he ever had been. Lauda was coming up to lap the Rosberg, Stuck, Tambay, Giacomelli group when the ATS expired out on the circuit with a broki drive-shaft on lap 59. As Lauda enter Clearways at the end of lap 60 he was shaping-up to lap Giacomelli, and Reutemann was right behind the Brabham. Lauda completely misjudged what Giacomelli intended to do as went to pass on the right just as the McLaren driver moved that way, expecting the world Champion to overtake on the left. Lauda lifted off to dodge to the other side but as he did Reutemann shot past both of them in a brilliat "instant-decision" manoeuvre and was gone away into the lead. As the swarthy Argentinia said afterwards "I saw a gap and I filled it." Many drivers would have missed the opportunity it was so brief and sudden, but undoubtedly Reutemann was on 100% concentration, anticipation, and action.
After so many changes of fortune it now looked as though the race was settled for a rather rattle Lauda took an awful long time to get past Stuck even though Reutemann had managed it in two laps. There were only four cars on the same lap driven by Reutemann, Lauda, Watson ant Depailler. A lap behind were Stuck, Tambay Giacomelli, Lunger and Brambilla, while Laffite was three laps down due to tyre trouble, but nonetheless lapping as quick as Watson, actually sitting just behind him on the road. The three 12 cylindered cars ended in a triumphal song, the Alfa Romeo having the Ferrari in sight but not close enough to cause worry, and Reutemann received an enormous cheer and applause for his victory, especially from the thousands of spectators in the Clearways area who had witnessed his brilliant demonstration of opportunism.
The Grand Prix ended the busy day, there being no supporting races afterwards and the crowds flooded on to the circuit and around the pits to soak up the atmosphere of a remarkable British GP that had gone off smoothly and without a hitch. All the spectators had to do was find their cars in the parks and try and head for home, but that was another matter altogether. - D.S.J.