For most of the teams it was a case of carrying on where they left off at the end of 1976, with time for a few modifications and improvements; however, Lotus, Wolf (nee Williams), Ensign and Ligier all had brand new cars in South America. On the face of things the impression at the end of last season was that McLaren had ended the year on a crest of a wave, but in fact they did not win the last race of the year, nor did they win the Manufacturers Championship. It was Lotus who won the last race and Ferrari won the Championship, but nonetheless the McLaren team were the undisputed pace-setters and they played safe by sending their three 1976 cars to South America, Hunt driving his usual M23/8. Mass his usual M23/9, repaired after its crash in Japan, and M23/6 as the team spare. No changes were made to the specification of the cars, though all three have been rebuilt and renewed “as new”. The Tyrrell team modified their six-wheelers extensively during the winter with wider tracks at the front and longer wheelbase, the latter achieved by the insertion of a spacer between the Cosworth engine and Hewiand gearbox. An entirely new fibreglass body was developed over the winter, the moulding being in one piece covering the whole chassis and the engine and rear suspension. With a full-width nose-cowling the new Tyrrell is one of the smoothest cars ‘seen for a long time. Engine air-intakes are sunk into the cockpit sides (like Ferrari) and there is an unbroken air-flow all the way back to the rear aerofoil, with deflectors rising up in front of the rear wheels. “Slippery” is the only word to describe the new Tyrrell bodyshape. The new-boy of the team. Peterson, drove P34/4 last driven by Scheckter. and Depaiiler drove P34/3.
Entirely new in concept is the JPS Mark III. or Lotus 78 as it will be known, and whereas the 1976 cars were pencil slim the 1977 cars are “full-width”, with radiators in the leading edges of the sponsons just behind the front wheels. The hot air from these radiators exists on top of the sponsons by the cockpit and under the sponsons the shape is that of an inverted aerofoil, to create a suction or down-force. To guide the air and keep it on the straight and narrow path the sides of the sponsons have plastic skins reaching almost to the ground covered by brushes that do actually sweep the ground. These ensure that any air under the car stays there until it escapes out the back and prevent any air going under the car from the sides. In the interest of a long wheelbase layout the casting separating the Cosworth engine from the Hewland gearbox is the oil tank, with a hole through the centre for the clutch shaft, the clutch being operated axially through this shaft. Although the body of the car is to maximum permissible width the cockpit itself it incredibly narrow, tapering forwards almost to a point. Engine air is taken in through “ears” protruding on each aide of the cockpit crash bar and compared to the Tyrrell the upper surface of the new Lotus is very “craggy” and far from smooth. Two of these new cars have been built at this time, and both were shown to the Press in December, ready to race. Andretti drove 78/2 and Nilsson drove 78/1 in practice, the American taking over 78/1 for the race.
On the Ecclestone front a lot of development work has been going on at Alfa Romeo the flat.12-cylinder engines having new cylinder heads. using Lucas fuel-injection instead of the Italian system and great improvements have been made with the’ torque curve. The cars themselves are basically the 1976 models, with improvements to the aerodynamics and the odd bit of weight saving, for the Alfa Romeo engine is still heavier than a Ferrari or Cosworth engine. Newcomer to the Brabham-Alfa Romeo, John Watson. drove BT45/3, while the faithful Carlos Pace drove BT45/5 and they had a spare car in the form of BT45/1.
After struggling to run two separate teams last year, March Engineering put all their bits and pieces into a box, threw away anything to do with their 1976 sponsors, and assembled two new cars for two new drivers. What was basically Brambilla’s car last year, 761/1, re-emerged as 761B/2 for Alex Ribeiro who arrived from F3 and F2 with enough money to keep March Engineering in Formala One. Also from the box of tits came the bones of 761/ 6 with which Peterson had won the Italian GP in 1976 now numbered 761B/1 and Ian Scheckter organised himself with someone else’s money to get in the cock-pit. During the rebuilding the cars were fitted twin-caliper brakes on the front, like last year’s Ensign, and adjustable from the cockpit rear anti-roll bars like the 1976 Lotus 77.
On the Ferrari front there were only small detail changes to the suspension and the bodywork, the cars still being T2 models and while Lauda drove his old faithful 026, newcomer Carlo Reutemann had a brand new car, number 029. As the team “muletto” was 027. The cars carried advertising for Fiat for the first time. The Shadow team were unchanged from last year, apart from a narrowing of the rear track on the DN8 driven by Tom Pryce, while a financial arrangement found Renzo Zorzi in the second car, which was Pryce’s old DN5, while lazier’s old car was taken along as the spare car, the Frenchman no longer being in the team. The Surtees team were using their 1976 cars modified with twin-caliper front brakes (Morris Nunn started something last year, or was it Lotus who started the fashion?) and some bodywork changes, but they had a complete change of drivers. Austrian Hans Binder took over Brett Lunger’s car, TS19/02 and Brambilla took over Alan Jones car TS19/04, both changes involving the necessary finance to keep Team Surtees in Formula One. As a spare there was TS19/01 still to 1976 specification.
The Argentine race was the first outing for the revamped and reconstituted Frank Williams team, now called Wolf Racing, with Jody Scheckter the driver and Peter Warr the team-manager. Design is still from the pencil of Harvey Postlethwaite and Austro-Canadian Walter Wolf is paying for it all. Their brand new car, shown to the Press at the end of last year, was making its debut, officially called a Wolf-Ford and numbered WR1/01, being a logical development of the Postlethwaite design philosophy that germinated when he was at March Engineering, developed with the Hesketh Motor Company in the 308 and 308C, floundered a bit with the Williams FIT/05 which was a development of the 308C, but now seems to have taken a step forward with the WR1; or it could all be in the cockpit!
Quietly getting on with things in his own way Morris Nunn stirred things up a bit last year with his Ensign MN05, especially when driven by Chris Amon, and over the brief winter the lads in Walsall made a new car, MN06 which is a development of last year’s car that came to an untimely end when Ickx crashed it at Watkins Glen. By devious Swiss routes Nunn acquired the one and only Regazzoni to drive the new car, this being his first taste of Cosworth V8 power and Hewland transmission. Another new car making its debut was the Ligier JS7, still powered by the Matra V12, and driven by Jacques Laffite. This model follows the pattern set by the 1976 Ligier, but with improved construction details in the monocoque, a lower engine mounting and different bodyshape with Ferrari-like front aerofoil. Completing the field were two Fittipaldi cars, ostensibly the 1976 cars, but with numerous modifications including rear hub carriers fabricated from sheet steel, instead of cast alloy ones, an entirely new oil system and tank layout, a four inch wider front track, two inch wider rear track and with two inches added to its wheelbase. The team was unchanged, with Emerson Fittipaidi in FD04/3 and Ingo Hoffman in FD04/1.—D.S.J.