The 1978 Season

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At the time of writing the first race in the 1978 formula One season is only five weeks away, and by the time these words are being read it will be a mere ten days before the Argentine GP takes place. All of which makes you realise that the Formula One season of seventeen races is virtually an all-the-year-round affair and everyone wants to get on the band-wagon and share in the motor racing money-spinner that the Formula One constructors have made for themselves. Those people who went to the Japanese Grand Prix on October 23rd last year returned to base a bit jaundiced, looking forward to a week’s holiday (if they were lucky) before starting all over again preparing for the first of the 1978 races. World Champion Niki Lauda has gone on record as saying that he thinks seventeen races in the year are too many and suggested dropping the Swedish GP and the Canadian GP. He didn’t think enough spectators went to the Swedish GP to justify its existence and the Canadian GP was lagging behind in safety requirements. I shall be interested to hear what our Swedish readers think about the selfish pronouncement from the World Champion, while the organisers at Mosport are no doubt already replying to a World Champion who walked out on their race due to personal pique. It is worth recalling that Lauda was driving like an old woman at the last Swedish GP, blaming everything he could when it was a clear case of “finger-trouble” in the cockpit, as Reutemann will tell you. At the Canadian GP he had a personality clash with the Ferrari management and opted out of his contract to drive a Ferrari in the Mosport race. No wonder he wants to drop those two races from the calendar.

Any readers who are reaching for pen and paper to write and tell me to “stop being unfair to the brave Niki Lauda who fought back so bravely from death’s door after his German GP accident etc. . . .” can save their efforts. I know all about that and I am adequately impressed, but while Lauda goes on making selfish and silly statements to the media I shall continue to attack him, because I don’t think he is going the sport any good. I would prefer him to shut-up. In passing, and recalling 1977, those who keep prattling on about Lauda’s remarkable recovery should spare a thought for Tom Pryce and Carlos Pace, for they never got the chance to fight for their lives, and there were many more last season, unfortunately.

To return to the 1978 season. Already the Japanese Grand Prix has been cancelled, after the organisers had requested a change of date from April 16th to October 22nd. The same thing happened last year, of course, but the race was reinstated at the end of the season. No reason has been given for the decision. Apart form that the list of Formula One Grand Prix races shown below seems reasonable enough. The Brazilian GP is due to be run on a new Autodrome at Rio de Janeiro, if it is completed in time. From photographs and descriptions it appears to be a typical “modern Formula One facility”, boringly flat and unimaginative, clinically safe and pretty unspectacular.  There are times when I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off to build pure Super Speedways like Ontario or Talladega in the USA ad just have an orgy of pure flat-out speed, rather than symmetrical radius corners round which all the cars can go at the same speed, providing the team has made the right choice of rubber compound for their tyres.

Our own Grand Prix will be at Brands Hatch this year, on Sunday July 16th and as compensation the Formula One “circus” has disdained to support the International Trophy at Silverstone on Sunday March 19th (no doubt mid snow and ice!). it is refreshing that in England there are no problems over our Grand Prix, at the moment; one year at Silverstone, one year at Brands Hatch, and there is never any doubt. There may be problems approaching, however, if Donington Park is lengthened and made suitable for a Grand Prix. The German GP has settled into a second-rate affair, like the Belgian and French GPs, and is again at the Hockenheimring, though the French GP may be in doubt as far as venue is concerned. It is due to be held at the Paul Ricard Autodrome on July 2nd, but Mr. Ricard has been reported as saying that he is not going to continue with this financial support of the great white elephant of the south, as it has lost too much money over the years, so the little French GP may shuffle back to the little Dijon Autodrome.

Reading “Porsche-Double World Champions 1900-1977” by Michael Cotton, which is an updating of the complete Porsche history started by the late Richard von Frankenberg and recently published by Haynes, I found it hard to believe how much we enjoyed the days of Long Distance racing, when the Porsche 917s battled with Ferrari 512 and before that the Ford GT40 set the scene. The point being that those were 1,000-kilometre races that involved a team and meant something. Last year the so-called sports car Long Distance races were a poor joke, some of them being as short as 400 kilometres and completed by a single driver in the car. The FIA tried to bring long-distance racing back to some form of reality and connection with everyday motoring by introducing Group 5 for the Long Distance events, which produced racing for cars like the Porsche Carrera Turbo and the BMW 320i, which was commendable. Their big mistake was to retain Group 6 sports cars (two-seater racing cars) and some of the races had a mere handful of competitors. They obviously thought that sports cars (like the 312P Ferrrari and Matra-Simca V12) had lost their sense of direction and purpose, but instead of stamping them out they let them drag on in a half-heated Sports Car Championship. In fact, Ferrari and Matra didn’t continue, but Alfa Romeo did in a series of very hollow victories. This year the FIA have gone one worse, if that is possible, for they have restricted sports car activity to European venues, and most of them second-rate ones at that. Group 5 is intended to be the major activity for Long Distance racing, though it would appear much healthier if it was the only activity.

For those who lament the passing of the “prima-donnas” from the Nurburgring, it should be pointed out that this does not mean the Nürburgring is not being used. There are four major International dates, with many more German national fixtures. On April 2nd there is a Group 6 sports car meeting, with a Formula Three event in support; on April 30th there is the Eifelrennen for Formula Two; on May 28th is the classic ADAC 1,000 kilometres over 44 laps for Group 5 Porsche Turbo-type cars, as well as a supporting Formula Three event and on July 9th is the 6-hourr race for Touring Saloons. It’s just that there is no more Formula One at the Nürburgring. Similarly there is not Formula One at Spa-Francorchamps, but it doesn’t mean the Belgian National circuit is unused, for there is the 1,000 kilometres for Group 5 on May 7th and the 34-hour saloon car race on July 22nd/23rd.

Standing on its own merit as always is the Le Mans 24-hour race on June 10th/11th, open to almost anything with more than one seat and with enclosed wheels.

In the list of special events that are outside FIA Championships, and none the worse for it, are two proposed events for American turbo-charged track cars to the USAC-Indianapolis Formula. These are planned for Silverstone and Brands Hatch at the end of the summer and should provide some interesting light relief to a season of club racing, with the likes of A. J. Foyt, coming over. I don’t imagine they will be super-spectacular on our circuits and certainly not as “sharp” as Formula One, but they will be interesting. It would be fascinating to hold a mid-week session on the MIRA proving-ground outer-circuit banked track, running the cars one at a time to set speed standards.–D.S.J.

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