Gone are the sleek black and gold creations from Hethel, they are now green with yellow lining. Gone too is the fatuous title “John Player Special”, they are now “Martini-Lotus” (though Motor Sport has never considered a Lotus anything other than a Lotus). The reason for these changes is the end of the financial support from the John Player tobacco firm, after a long and successful association. Their place has been taken by Martini Racing, the Italian drinks firm owned by the Rossi family. Count Rossi was a Jim Clark enthusiast and told Lotus “here is our financial support, put our name on the car and make it look like a Lotus from the great days of Jim Clark.” All British enthusiasts must applaud this sporting gesture by Count Rossi, and will no doubt drink a Dry Martini to their success.
The three cars in the Argentine were all Type 79 models from last year, little changed apart from improved rear brakes with floating callipers. Andretti had 79/4, Reutemann 79/2 and 79/3 was the spare. The original car 79/1 has been sold to Team Rebaque with a proviso that if Team Lotus were in real trouble they might want to borrow it back.
Ken Tyrrell’s design team, led by Maurice Phillippe, unashamedly looked long and hard at the Lotus 79 and produced the Tyrrell 009 on the same design principles, of air-flow under the side-pods. 009/1 was out testing well before the end of 1978 and the second car was completed in time to join the team in South America. Still with no major sponsor Tyrrell, like Lotus with their green cars, returned to the past with his own name on the side of the cars, though not from choice. Jarier had the original car 009/01, and Pironi had the second car 009/02.
The volume of work done by the combined forces of Eccelstone’s Brabham factory and the Alfa Romeo cometition department is nothing short of prodigious. Whle the Italians, guided by Charlo Chiti evolved a new V12 engine, using much of the cylinder head and valve gear knowledge from the flat-12 engine, Gordon Murray designed an entirely new chassis for it. This is the BT48, and BT48/1 turned its wheels under power just as 1978 drew to a close. A test session on southern France was snowed off, so BT48/1 ran seriously for the first time in Argentina. The missing BT47 is the still-born design that was to follow the controversial BT46 “fan” car that appeared in Sweden last year. A second new car was completed in time for the Argentine race meeting and these two were accompanied by one of last year’s flat-12 engined cars, BT46/7. The two new cars were destined for Niki Lauda and the old car for Ecclestone’s new young recruit Nelson Piquet. Before practice began BT48/2 (which had yet to turn a wheel) had its low-mounted aerofoil raised to a more conventional position at the top of the side-plates. BT48/1 had been tried with this modification the day before official practice began. Lauda was to concentrate on the new design, come what may, while Piquet “played himself in” with the obsolete car.
The new McLaren M28 prototype was running well before the end of last year and got in plenty of testing before arriving for the Argentine GP. Still in the red and white of Marlboro the cars now run on Castrol oil, the old-established British firm being delighted to provide support for a British car and British driver, in the shape of John Watson. Frenchman Patrick Tambay took over the original test-car, M28/1, while Watson had a brand new car, M28/2. The prototype had been completely rebuilt following testing, and minor modifications made to the body work, while the rear anti-roll bar was re-positioned, these changes being incorporated in M28/2. There had been problems with the bonding of magnesium castings to the aluminium Nomex filled honeycomb material of the monocoque, but these had been solved. In case of emergency the team had M26/5, one of last year’s cars, with them.
Built in England the German financed ATS team started on the “ground effects” theory on the middle of 1978. The first car D1/01 appeared briefly at the Dutch GP and was then written-off in a crash while testing at Silverstone. D1/02 was completed in time for the North American races at the end of the 1978 season, and this underwent a major rebuild with many modifications during the winter, with revised front suspension and inboard rear suspension, with new all-enveloping bodywork. The resultant car was D1/03 for Hans-Joachim Stuck to drive.
The Ferrari team have been going the “ground effects” route, but are hampered by the flat-12 engine projecting sideways into the under-car airstream. However, experiments with double-skirts were made and the real results will appear in the T4 model later on. Meanwhile the team are using last year’s T3 cars, “new boy” Scheckter having 312T3/035, Villeneuve 312T3/036 and 033 as the spare. The spare car was fitted with sliding side-skirts as against the flexible ones used normally, and Scheckter tried the car briefly in practice.
For nearly a year now designer Ralph Bellamy, late of Lotus, has been working on the Fittipaldi F6A and though it had been out on test it was not in the Argentine. The team relied on F5A/2 for this race, with F5A/1 as the spare car. The new car may appear in the Brazilian GP and has already been seen to differ from a Lotus 79 in that the slim monocoque has nothing on its side until past the cockpit, when the “ground effects” side-pods begin.
Basically unchanged from last year the Renault RS01 cars are being used until the new RS10 is ready. This new car will have twin-turbo chargers for its V6 engine, in an attempt to improve the low-speed pick-up. Meanwhile they are having to get used to preparing and running a two car team all the time. There were three of the yellow cars in Argentina, RS01/02 as the training car, RS01/03 for Rene Arnoux and RS01/04, a brand new one, for Jabouille.
After the law-courts decided that the Arrows team could no longer use their original Shadow-inspired cars, they were dismantled and most of the parts were passed over to Shadow Cars. For the start of this season interim models have been built which are in effect uprated DN9 models, designated DN9B. They have wider front tracks, modified rear suspension, narrower nose cowlings and body and new side pods fitted with sliding skirts and containing water radiators. Dutch F3 star Jan Lammers had DN9/2B and Italian F3 driver de Angelis had DN9/1B, with DN9/3B as the spare.
A lot of night and day work saw the Wolf team, now supported by Olympus Cameras and Texaco, as well as Walter Wolf’s money, complete their new design just in time to catch the transport flight fom England. It was run around Donnigton Park circuit to make sure everything worked, driven first by Derek Bell and then by its new chauffeur James Hunt, and during some brake experiements it locked-up and slid off into the sand-trap, stopping without damage, but requiring a total dismantle to clean everything out. This new car, WR7, is built round a monocoque of aluminium honey-comb structure, devised and fabricated by the Wolf factory. It is very light, very strong, and very impact resistant, so that the cockpit/monocoque unit satisfies the driver and designer. Aft of the Cosworth engine is an entirely new Wolf casting containing the Hewland-made gears and drive unit, this casting carrying out numerous functions in addition to being a gearbox. It can be said that the whole rear end of the car is centred on this casting, it carrying the brakes, exhaust pipes, rear aerofoil, rear suspension and numerous ancillaries. Last year Harvey Postlewaite was already on the “ground-effect” theme with his WR5 and WR6, so he knew where he was going when he started the design of the WR7.
Limited finances for the Ensign team has meant them starting the season with last year’s cars, but a new design is on the way. To reduce transport costs they took only one car to South America, this being MN06, for Derek Daly to drive. In view of the anticipated heat in Argentina it carried an oil cooler in the nose cowling.
Early last season Engins Matra made it known that 1978 was to be their last year in Formula One, supplying V12 engines to the Ligier team. Guy Ligier and his worker did not sit down and weep salty tears. They got to work, and the new Cosworth V8 powered Ligier JS11 was ready well before the end of the year. Still backed by the Gitanes cigarette firm, with extra support from ELF, the courageously launched out not only with an entirely new car and engine, but also with two top drivers, taking Depailler onto their strength. Three JS11 cars were ready in time for the Argentine race, JS11/01 which had done all the test running at the Paul Ricard circuit was set aside as the team spare and the drivers each had a brand new car, totally untested but built with the knowledge gained on the first car. Laffite had JS11/02 and Depailler JS11/03, the trio of cars looking very striking in their Gitanes blue and white colours, and more important, they didn’t look like Lotus 79 copies, though used “ground effects” air flow.
Frank Williams’ major step forward this season is to field a two-car team, and until their new car is ready the very successful 1978 FW06 models are being used. The car that was badly crashed at Watkins Glen, FW06/002, was completely rebuilt into a new entity FW06/005, and a new car was built from scratch, FW006/004, these for Alan Jones. The original car FW06/001 is now in Saudia Arabia “on show” and another new one FE06/003 has been built for Regazzoni.
The Arrows team have virtually had to start all over again, for the third time. By super-human efforts they got the team into action in time for the Brazilian GP last year, but these super-human efforts turned out to be less than honest in the eyes of the law, so they had to start all over again in mid-season. The Arrows A1 design was hurriedly completed, but at the end of the season all their efforts aimed at qualifying to join the elite of the Formula One Constructors Association came to nought, as their application was turned down. The A1 design has been tidied up on many counts into a Mk. 2 version, and the team now has to go through the motions for another year before they can apply to join the “Eccelstone Club”. Membership is much sought after for it entails the team to cut-price travel and transport deals, and a larger slice of the financial cake. Fortunately for the Arrows team they have a strong backer in the shape of Warsteiner Beer, who should see them through any financial difficulties. They had two cars in Argentina, A1/05 for Patrese, A1/03 for Jochen Mass.
Merzario was once again in his home built car, the first one, and Hector Rebaque had his newly acquired Lotus 79/1 and 78/4 in reserve.