Brabham-Alfa: Without doubt, the most aggressive looking Grand Prix cars at Buenos Aires were the Brabham BT45Cs entered for World Champion Niki Lauda and his team-mate John Watson. Although Bernie Ecclestone’s team suffered something of a set-back with the development difficulties surrounding the Brabham BT46, plenty of development had gone on with the C-type BT45 to ensure that both the team’s drivers started the year with the best possible equipment.
Lauda (BT45/7C) and Watson (BT45/8C) had two brand new cars which now have full width front radiators, the air being ducted across to tiny aerofoil surfaces as it exits those radiators ahead of the front wheels. They had a totally new rear wing system with wide supports, while the crossbeam contains an engine fire extinguisher and the air supply for the starter. In addition, the Brabhams have new cockpit sections, tidied-up rear ends as far as oil coolers and rollbars are concerned and a smart new coat of red paint proclaiming their affiliation with Parmalat and Alfa Romeo. The team’s spare car was identical in specification to the two race cars, although it had been built up round the monocoque of the car last used by Watson in japan and was numbered BT45/6C. The Alfa flat-I 2 engines available to the team were much to the same specification as last year.
Tyrrell: The batch of “test tapes”, stemming from Tyrrell’s spell of testing at the Paul Ricard circuit, came up with a revised front suspension arrangement for the new 008/1 cars. The parts were flown out and fitted to the 008 in time for Thursday’s untimed test session and this car was also fitted with the recording equipment monitoring suspension behaviour throughout official practice.
The second Tyrrell (008/2) hadn’t turned a wheel prior to its arrival in South America, so not much was expected from Grand Prix novice Didier Pironi in his first Ft race. The young Frenchman was destined to survive an accident while testing on Thursday, but the car was readily repaired in time for official practice on Friday morning.
Lotus: None of the new Lotus 79s at Buenos Aires, but three of the trustworthy 78s which proved so competitive last season. Andretti’s car was 78/3, Peterson’s 78/2 and the spare 78/4. Peterson’s was fitted with one of the new Lotus/Getrag five-speed gearboxes, although this was changed at the end of Friday’s practice and replaced with a normal Hewland unit as it was causing considerable selection problems for the Swede. Otherwise the 78s were as raced in 1977.
The original 78/1 has been sold to Mexican Hector Rebaque and is now operated by former Lotus mechanic Ian Dawson. Rebaque, who Spent an abortive time attempting to race a Hesketh in 1977, has sponsorship for this project from the Mexican end of the Domecq sherry organisation.
McLaren: Three M26 cars in familiar guise, including the brand new M26/4 for the Marlboro-backed line-up of Hunt and Tambay. The only visual changes for Argentina was to the flaring on the monocoque sides ahead of the rear wheels. Hunt concentrated on M26/4, Tambay on M26/3 and the spare was M26/1. The revised “M26-1/2” seen at Paul Ricard with different wing side plates, and repositioned radiators, wasn’t brought to South America.
Although Emilio Villota decided against making the expensive trip to Buenos Aires with his private McLaren, B & S Fabrications brought their immaculate brace of M23s along for Brett Lunger to drive. Lunger is continuing with B & S under the Liggett & Myers tobacco group banner and hopes to have an ex-works M26 in time for the European season.
ATS-March: The March works F1 team has now ceased to exist as such, but Robin Herd is continuing with the company as well as acting as a “consultant” designer to the German ATS team whose cars he was supervising in Buenos Aires. ATS have now taken over March’s “membership” of the Formula One Constructors Association, by dint of qualifying under some of FICA’s less than specific regulations. The cars for Mass and Jarier were both brand new and distinctively angular in styling, although under the skin they were based on the team’s Penske PC4s which were raced last season. The monocoques, wings, roll hoops, bodywork were all freshly built, but the suspension layout was the same as the Pensko with inboard coil springs at the front operated by fabricated rocker arms and parallel link/top link arrangement at the rear.
Herd is currently completing a design for a brand new ATS Formula One contender and this may be ready in time for the European season. Mass is the team’s number one driver, but moody Jean-Pierre Jarier has been contracted for the first two races. Both cars are turned out in the ATS yellow livery, although only the first car has indication of sponsorship from Sony.
Ferrari: Buoyed up with confidence following some very encouraging times from Carlos Reutemann on his local circuit during pre-race testing, the now-Michelin-shod Ferrari team brought three of its familiar 312.T2 flat-12s to South America. All three machines numbers 027, 029 and 031 were turned out in much the same trim as they’d raced last year in Japan. They advertised their new tyre allegiance pretty boldly as well! More development work is needed on the 312T3 and the new car will not appear until Kyalami testing.
Fittipaldi Automotive: Even Emerson Fittipaldi admitted that he was getting a bit dejected towards the end of last season and it must be said that this dejection showed in his driving. But at Buenos Aires, the former World Champion was in a much more enthusiastic and happy mood than we’ve seen for a long time. “We’ve got a really good team around us now” smiled the Brazilian, “and I think we’re going in the right direction after two years of disappointment.”
The car was very different as well. There were in fact two cars in Buenos Aires, one brand new and one built up round the basic chassis of last year’s design but it showed precious little else to connect it with the original FD05. Now designated F5As, the new cars have totally new rocker arm inboard front suspension, revamped side pods containing water radiators (rather like the Lotus 78), the oil cooler in the nose section and a host of other modifications. Ralph Bellamy is still in charge of the team’s design side, although most of this particular development was done by former Ferrari engineer Caliri of Fly Studio in Italy. No second driver is yet planned for the team.
Shadow: As far as chassis identification was concerned, the Villiger-backed Shadow DN8s were not so clear-cut and straightforward as they looked at first sight. Three of these cars from Don Nichols’s stable were present in Argentina, but sonic chassis re-numbering made it a little difficult to pinpoint their original identities. It seems that Hans Stuck’s machine is DN8/4A (with higher rollover bar for the lanky German) and Regazzoni drives DN8/5A, plus the original DNS/1A as the spare. Apart from an extra water radiator and larger aperture for the nose mounted oil coolers, the DN8s looked much the same as in Japan last October. Don Nichols said that the new DN9 is a matter of weeks away, although no decision has been taken as to where the car will first be raced.
Surtees: A trio of familiar TS19s for Brambilla (06), Keegan (07) plus a spare (02). No major changes; as run in Japan last October although with the addition of new rear wings.
Wolf: A brand new car, WR4, for Jody Scheckter to use plus WR1, updated to the same specification, for use as the team’s spare. Peter Warr explained that although there wasn’t much difference outwardly, the new specification included many alterations, the most immediately obvious being narrower rollover l.00ps on each car. For the first time, Wolf had a Cosworth development DFV on hand for possible use.
Ensign: Nunn’s small team from Walsall brought out two of their three cars for Danny Ongais (MN07) and Lamberto Leoni (MN08). Both cars were turned out in their 1977 trim although there was a slightly revised rear suspension arrangement to be seen.
Hesketh: Two 308Es were brought to Argentina in their new blue Olympus Cameras livery, although Divina Galica damaged 308E/4 beyond immediate repair in a testing accident on Thursday. Thus the British ski-queen was reduced to only having 308E/3 for her use.
Ligier-Matra: The popular French equipc, worried still about the future of their link with Matra, produced their familiar brace of JS7s for Jacques Laffite to choose from. Ostensibly chassis 03 was designated the race car and 02 the spare.
Williams: There have been some minor modifications to the sleek Williams FW06 since it was unveiled before Christmas, most of them stemming from a spell of wind tunnel tests. Minor adjustments had been made to the wings and rollbar positions of this neat Patrick Head design destined for Alan Jones to drive. Surprisingly, business commitments in Saudi Arabia kept team patron Frank from appearing in Buenos Aires.
Theodore: Mutually flung in at the deep end together, Teddy Yip’s new Theodore TR1 and F2 child prodigy Eddie Cheever seemed a very inappropriate alliance. Nothing much was expected from this bulbous machine on its debut outing, although Cheever wasn’t to be daunted by Cosworth DFV power.
Merzario: Arturo Merzario turned up with his home-brewed Merzario A1/01. Not a re-worked March, or the lash-up it first looked, Merzario had contrived to build a completely new car around the “regulation” Cosworth/ Hewland package.
The Mintex International Rally
The first home international rally of the season, the Mintex International, will take place from February 24th-26th. Based in Harrogate, the event will include stages in Yorkshire and Co. Durham. A top-class entry includes Mikkola, Airikkala, Clark, Brookes and five cars from Norway. Works Leyland and Fiat entries are expected too. The start and finish will be at Rudding Park, Harrogate. There are fourteen spectator stages, details to be in the programme published on February 23rd.