After Carlos Reutemann finally quit Williams two races into the Grand Prix season, Mario Andretti temped in an FWO7C at Long Beach. But Frank needed a permanent replacement; Derek Daly it was who got the chance of a lifetime in the new ’08.
His first Grand Prix in a front-running car came at Zolder, where he got as high as fourth before spinning in the closing stages. The next race was far more memorable, for he damn near won it.
“Practice was troubled and I ended up using a fourth chassis that had just arrived from England. I was slower on qualifiers in that car than I had been on race tyres in my original.” So winding up just 0.8sec, and two places behind Rosberg on the grid, was some achievement, but Derek was to be a frustrated man by the end of lap one.
“I remember Mansell got by me somehow into Ste Devote, and I sat behind him for lap after lap, clearly faster, but completely unable to get round him. And his Lotus was throwing out so much oil.”
Derek eased off to clean his visor, and allowed Watson past. Then, with 30 laps to go, Nigel clipped a barrier and had to pit. “Suddenly, with Nigel out of the way, I started to fly, and eventually I caught up to Keke, who hit de Cesaris, right in front of me. Then I caught Alboreto, who clipped a barrier and went out.”
Derek was thus fifth with four laps to go, which is when he passed Main Frost’s erstwhile leading Renault in component form up against the barrier.
“I was pushing really hard,” says Derek, “and as I came into Tabac, I felt the tail step out and hit the guard rail, which straightened the car back out. I could see my rear wing was missing, but didn’t realise the oil cooler was now losing oil at quite a rate. Embarrassingly, afterwards, people criticised Patrese for spinning after he took the lead from Frost — but it was because he hit my oil slick.
“When I next passed the pits, I saw Charlie CrichtonStuart on the pit-wall, waving at me to slow down, and then further round that lap I saw de Cesaris stopped too tout of fuel], and Pironi’s Ferrari parked [electrics] at the entrance to the tunnel.”
Derek’s wingless Williams now led — but he never made it round to start the penultimate lap.
“I hadn’t been aware I was leading. That’s why, when the gearbox finally gave up, I didn’t get out and kick the car. I just calmly walked away, without a backward glance.”
Patrese, meanwhile, had a marshal bump-start his car and pottered home to a strange victory. Daly was classified an unrepresentative sixth.
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