Normally by now the Formula One scene for the forthcoming season is signed and sealed, but this year there are still a lot of loose ends yet to be tied up, in particular with Team Lotus, Frank Williams and the Brabham team. Ferrari have no problems and their two drivers, Scheckter and Villeneuve, have been pounding round the Fiorano test-track, with the young French-Canadian consistently the faster of the two and the South African having a big “off” into the bushes at one point, but without any damage. Already they have been testing a modified T4, virtually to T5 specifications and it looks as if the team might be starting the season in South America with brand new cars. The T5 is a logical development of this year’s car, with improvements to suspension and air-flow in and around the car. The much-talked about turbo-charged 1 1/2-litre V6-engined car has yet to be seen, though the engine has done a lot of test-bed running and is giving better power figures than the existing 3-litre flat-12 unsupercharged engine.
Renault are quietly getting on with development work on their turbo-charged V6-engined car, though Francois Castang, the chief engineer on the Formula One Renault programme has left the team. Not a great one for publicity and ballyhoo, Castang was much respected by other engineers in Formula One and at least one British engineer breathed a sigh of relief when he heard that Castang had left the Formula One scene. The Frenchman has not left the Regie Renault, but has moved on to “more important matters” as Renault publicity put it. One wonders what is more important than Formula One within the Regie Renault? It could be a totally new form of automobile engine to combat the oil supply problems, it could be a totally new form of human land transport to supersede the motor vehicle. Francois Castang is an engineer, not a Formula One car designer, so Renault could have moved him to any branch of their vast empire. He is also reputed to have admitted that he was tired of the continual travelling that Formula One involves, and needed a rest, and in that I am sure a lot of other engineers agree with him. When you are working in a design office on future projects it interrupts the flow of thought, ideas and experimentation, to have to keep dashing off to races. The Renault-Sport team have no problems with drivers, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Rene Arnoux remaining with the team. There are a lot of drivers who would have liked to join the team, but Gerard Larrouse, the team-manager, is happy with the two he has got. In summing up the 1979 season he said he was happy enough. They had achieved a victory and had established themselves in the fore-front of the Formula. now they looked forward to having a really serious stab at winning the World Championships, the Drivers’ Championship for one of their men and the Manufacturers’ Championship for the Regie Renault.
While the two French drivers in the Renault team are settled, there has been some moving around among other French drivers. Patrick Depallier came out of hospital, following his hang-gliding accident, too late to rejoin the Ligier team and did not renew his contract for 1980. Something of a deadlock has been arrived at between him and Jacques Laffite, for the idea of “equal number one” just doesn’t work, and there was no way Guy Ligier was going to demote Laffite from his position at the head of the team. Depailler solved the problem by signing up with Carlo Chiti and the Auto-Delta Alfa-Romeo team as number one driver with the Italian team. His place in the Ligier team was quickly snapped up by Didier Pironi, who was happy to join Laffite, either alongside him or just behind him. That Pironi left the Tyrrell team without a murmur was no surprise, for though he has had some good races with the Tyrrell 009 cars, he has had some horrifying accidents caused by structural failures on the cars; in short, vital parts have broken, causing him to crash. This move left a vacancy in the Tyrrell team, but Ken Tyrrell already had his programme under way, having entered Derek Daly in a third car for the last two races of the 1979 season, and he didn’t do that for fun. Irishman Daly is now number two in the Tyrrell team for 1980, and Jean-Pierre Jarier has taken over the number one position. If Daly is going to climb up the ladder of Grand Prix fame then 1980 is his big opportunity, while Jarier continues to be something of an enigma. He arrived with a great flourish a few years ago, fizzled out and disappeared from the scene and then was given a second chance and made the most of it, which is rare in Formula One racing.
At the time of writing (mid-November) the Williams team is still unsettled as regards a second driver, as are Lotus and Brabham, and all three are closely connected with Carlos Reutemann as the central figure. Frank Williams has been more than satisfied with Gianclaudio Regazzoni this season, as number two driver to Alan Jones, but the contract was only for one season and purely as a stop-gap to get the team under way with two entries. Now he looks forward to their next step forward, which is to dominate the scene with both cars. He can rely on Alan Jones being on the front of the grid and in 1980 wants to see his second car alongside the Australian. With the best will in the world dear old Regga is not going to do that. If there are any signs of weakness among the opposition then Regazzoni will be up near the front, but while the other teams are running strongly then the Swiss gets elbowed back to fourth, fifth or sixth place, as we saw a number of times this year; which isn’t bad for someone who James Hunt (who?) said was “over the hill” some years ago, but what the Williams team wants is a number two driver who can fight the opposition (especially a small French-Canadian and a quiet young Brazilian) on equal terms. In this they see the swarthy Reutemann as the man for the job, for without doubt the Argentinian can be a hard driver and fast, but he is a temperamental beggar and one day will drive brilliantly and the next day drive like an old Irish washer-woman. Frank Williams is prepared to take his chance with Reuternann’s temperament.
As number two to Mario Andretti in Team Lotus this season Reutemann has been a disaster. He started off well but deteriorated as the team got in a muddle until in the Austrian GP they told him to “turn it in” and stop wasting everyone’s time. Reutemann is more than happy to leave Team Lotus, having nothing in common with Andretti and little or no relationship with Colin Chapman. Unfortunately he signed a two-year contract to drive for Lotus and Chapman would not release him from his contract, knowing that there was a place for him at Williams. Reutemann made it clear that he was not going to drive a Lotus again and that if Chapman would not release him he’d retire from Formula One. Fizzing about in the background of this affair was little Bernie Ecclestone, who would like Reutemann to join Nelson Piquet with the promising Cosworth powered Brabham BT49, yet another reason for Chapman not releasing the Argentinian. Add to this the question of who joins Team Lotus as number two driver, whether Reutemann is released or not, and we have a fair-sized problem with the first race of 1980 only six weeks away. As I have said, this was the situation at mid-November, possibly it will have been resolved by the time these words are being read (hopefully on December 1st). If not, then your guess is as good as mine. Team Lotus held a test-session in November and Stephen South, Elio de Angelis, Jan Lammers and Nigel Mansell were all given a run in the latest version of the Lotus 79. Colin Chapman’s choice seemed to fall on the young Italian de Angelis, who has had a year’s experience with the Shadow team, but he had signed a two-year contract with Don Nicholls and his AVS-Shadow team, and Nicholls will not release him (at the moment).
While all this was going on Regazzoni wisely signed himself up with Morris Nunn and his Ensign team, for he could see that if he hung about the Williams team in hopes of renewing his contract he could end up with no contract and nowhere to go. Regga strikes me as a chap who has his priorities about right. This year Morris Nunn has been struggling along with limited finance, deteriorating from bad to awful, but for 1980 he is being sponsored by Unipart and on the strength of this has obtained the services of Nigel Bennett, who has been looking after the second car at Team Lotus.
When Walter Wolf took over the racing team that Frank Williams had got together from the remnants of his own efforts and those of the Hesketh Racing Team, the Austro-Canadian oil-equipment man made it clear that he was into Formula One for three years. 1979 was his third year, so at the end of the season all the assets of Walter Wolf Racing were for sale and they have been bought lock-stock-and-barrel by Fittipaldi Automotive. The assets were the factory at Reading, the WR series of cars, all the spares, material and equipment, the management, the design staff and the work force. Walter Wolf Racing still exists as a company, but it does not own anything as regards Formula One. Fittipaldi Automotive is the firm owned by the Fittipaldi brothers, Wilson and Emerson, who have been racing with the backing of Copersucar, the Brazilian national sugar corporation. This contract has now terminated and the brothers have closed their factory in Slough and moved into the ex-Wolf factory in Reading, amalgamating the concerns under the one roof. The cars for 1980 will be more Wolf than Fittipaldi, as Harvey Postlethwaite stays on as chief designer, but what they will be called we shall have to wait and see. The Reading cars were called Wolf and the Slough cars were called Copersucar, but now neither of those names can be used. Emerson Fittipaldi will be the number one driver, but there was some discussion about number two. The Reading faction were all for retaining the Finn Keijo Rosberg, while the Slough faction wanted another Brazilian, such as Ribeiro or Hoffman. At the moment the Reading factory is bulging at the seams with personnel and equipment, but no doubt will get sorted out in due course.
Every time you turn your back the German-owned, but British-based, ATS team seems to undergo changes. During the past season Vic Elford joined the team as manager, and seemed to have a good effect, but he has now left. Hans Joachim Stuck has not renewed his contract to drive for the team and his place has been taken by the young Swiss Marc Surer. The McLaren team are still groping about in the wilderness, with John Watson staying with them, but there are changes in the second driver, Patrick Tambay leaving and French Formula Three driver Alain Frost having an opportunity to take a big step up the ladder. A B-version of the McLaren M29 has already been on test and shows promise.
At the tail-end of the Grand Prix field has been the smart chocolate brown Lotus 79 of Hector Rebaque, and in the latter part of the 1979 season he drove a brand new car which was in effect a 79 plus, which his small team built themselves. His father provides the main finance for the team, and has spent a fortune on doing all the races. They get little or no help from the Formula One Constructors Association closed-shop, and the decision to build their own car was forced on them by FOCA as the rules do not permit membership with a “bought-out” car. The financial advantages of FOCA membership are enormous, which is why qualification is a closely guarded secret and there is a touch of the “secret-society” about the financial workings of the association. At the end of the season Mr. Rebaque surveyed the situation and decided he had had enough, so the team has been wound up.
On the financial front overall, in respect of firms putting money into racing teams the Martini & Rossi drinks firm have pulled out of Team Lotus. They were the main sponsors at the beginning of 1979 and the 1978 cars had their colours changed from the black and gold of John Player to green with multi-coloured stripes of Martini Racing. The name of the cars (officially) were changed from John Player Specials, or JPS, to Martini-Lotus and the chassis plates were changed from JPS 22, for example, to ML 22. During the season the oil handling firm of ESSEX, who have a pied-a-terre in Monte Carlo, put money into the team and rather overshadowed Martini on the publicity stakes. The brothers Rossi who own Martini have never been keen on brash publicity, quite the opposite in fact, and they are Italian gentlemen of impeccable taste. Not wishing to share Lotus fame and fortune, or lack of it at the moment, they have withdrawn, leaving ESSEX in control.
Martini is one of the better firms to be involved with Formula One, with nice people in charge, good taste, and a wholesome business attitude, rather like Yardley of fond memory. It is a pity they have never reaped the success they deserve in Formula One; from patriotic motives they got involved with the Tecno debacle, then they backed Brabham without too much success, and have now had a disastrous year with Lotus. Over the years they have been involved with Porsche in long-distance racing and have had a very happy and satisfactory association, quite the opposite to Formula One. One of the brothers, Count Gregorio, actually owns a road-equipped Porsche 917, which must be the ultimate road car, if you can find space on the road to use it.
Aside from all the foregoing, the key matter as the 1980 season approaches is the question of tyres. Not the size, the compound, the type, the construction, or even the make, but the supply. At the moment there are two firms involved in Formula One, Goodyear and Michelin and neither concern is in racing “for the good of the sport”. They are in racing for hard commercial and engineering reasons and the battle between these two firms is not “show-bizz”, it is deadly serious. Going back a few years Dunlop, Englebert, Continental, Avon and Pirelli were all involved in Grand Prix racing at the same time, but one by one and for various reasons they pulled out, leaving Dunlop with a monopoly. Then Goodyear and Firestone from America turned their attention to European racing and forced Dunlop to withdraw. Then Firestone withdrew leaving Goodyear with the monopoly that Dunlop used to have. Michelin then appeared on the scene, making small inroads at first, but gradually becoming more powerful. Last year Ferrari left Goodyear and joined Michelin alongside Renault and this year the tally of wins has been Goodyear 8, Michelin 7, and that has got the Goodyear management ruffled. If Michelin were to attract another top team, such as Williams or Ligier, away from Goodyear it would spell real trouble for the American firm. However, Michelin say they are quite happy with Renault and Ferrari, as well they might be, and certainly do not want any of the lesser teams who are never going to win any races.
From their monopoly Goodyear are left with some of the top teams, and all the also rans, and this is causing them a big headache for it is straining their resources more than they want. With very serious problems up at the front they need to apply all their concentration to the job in hand, which is winning Formula One races and the Championships. At one time the Goodyear slogan was “The Choice of Champions”, but with Ferrari winning the World Championship they can no longer say this in Formula One. Although the whole racing policy of Goodyear emanated from Akron, Ohio in the United States of America, where the chairman said quite simply. “We race and we’ve got to win,” the European involvement was operated from the Goodyear factory in Wolverhampton. Goodyear have not exactly got their backs to the wall, but they are not winning all the time, and that does not go down well with the management.
Since Michelin appeared on the scene Goodyear have tried to keep everyone happy, from a potential winning team to a new and untried team, but it has been a struggle both technically and materially. If you are out to win pole position in practice you give the best tyres you have got to the driver most likely to succeed. There is little point in giving them to a new recruit, yet everyone wanted (and in some cases demanded!) the same tyres as the man in pole position. This became a physical impossibility and Goodyear tried to be reasonable and logical about the supply of special tyres, but they still fell foul of some lesser teams. They honoured business contracts and kept faith with “old friends”, but Michelin kept beating them, so the crunch finally came at the end of the past season. The racing department at Wolverhampton has been closed down and all racing operations are now based at Akron, sentiment and good fellowship have been put to one side. Winning really is the name of the game now, even if it means being ruthless with old friends or unhelpful to newcomers. The Goodyear management know they are going to make some enemies in 1980, but they accept that. Michelin have got them on the run and there is only one answer to that: “bring out the big guns,” and the big guns operate from Akron, not Wolverhampton. It may seem strange operating a European race programme from America, but we must bear in mind that there could be seven races on the American continents, one in South Africa and one in Scandinavia and nine in Europe, so Akron is not so far off centre as it would seem. Also, Goodyear have a giant research centre in Luxembourg which could be used as a European base, and there is also a good test-track there.
I think we can assume that 1980 will see the Williams team, the Ligier team and the Lotus team in favour with Goodyear but a big question-mark hangs over the rest. If they do not get support from Goodyear who knows what will happen. Maybe they will just get “basic” tyres suitable for racing, and no more than that, or they might find that Pirelli are interested, while it is not beyond possibility that Dunlop might get interested again. Whatever happens the tyre supply question in 1980 is far more important than sponsorship money, driver contracts or even design teams. There is a definite crisis at hand for some teams, paralleled only by the crisis that would occur if Keith Duckworth said that Cosworth Engineering were not going to produce any more DFV engines. Thankfully there is no sign of that. During December Goodyear are holding tyre-testing sessions in Argentina, and I feel that any team not asked to attend can take it as the writing on the wall.
I cannot understand how some people find Formula One dull and uninteresting, even when they are closely involved. At times there is almost too much happening, and the action really begins on January 13th when the green light goes on for the Argentina GP on the Autodromo Almirante Brown in Buenos Aires. — D.S.J.