Here we go again! On January 21st the 1979 Formula One season is due to start with the Argentine GP on the Buenos Aires Autodrorne, followed two weeks later by the Brazilian GP, this year back at Interlagos after a brief flirtation with the new Autodrome at Rio de Janeiro, which did not excite the Formula One followers as much as it excited the “holiday makers”. After that it is the usual round of continents and countries, with no major changes to the scene during the sixteen races that make up the Formula One Grand Prix calendar. There are a few alarms and excursions, some expected, some not, but by and large the scene looks stable. The French GP takes its turn at the funny little Dijon-Prenois track, which at least has ups and downs along its route, unlike the flat and dull Paul Ricard circuit, while the British GP leaves the ups and downs of Brands Hatch for the flat, wide open spaces of Silverstone. The Buckinghamshire airfield circuit at least makes up for its deficiencies by being very fast, and friendly, so we look forward to the 1979 British Grand Prix. It is due to be held on Saturday July 14th, so don’t turn up a day late; book your annual day away from work for Grandma’s funeral for Friday the 13th. Another race that will be held on a Saturday is the Swedish GP at the friendly Scandinavian Raceway out in the Swedish sticks, near Anderstorp. 1978 was a bad year for Swedish motor racing, with Ronnie Peterson dying after his accident at Monza, and Gunnar Nilsson dying from the long effects of cancer. In spite of losing their top two racing drivers the Swedes intend to carry on with their Grand Prix and are hopefully negotiating to allow their two successful Formula Three drivers, Anders Olofsson and Eje Elgh, to take part, even though the “Ecclestone Rules” don’t allow this sort of thing, Niki Lauda thinks the Swedish GP should be dropped from the calendar because not enough people go to watch it, even though 20,000 is a big crowd for any sort of event in Sweden. Last year the race was televised by satellite to 20 countries throughout the world, and this year they are hoping there will be 22 countries taking the transmission. So, in spite of their sad losses and opposition from Niki Lauda, the Swedes are going ahead with their 1979 Grand Prix.
The German GP looks like being another “Max and Bernie Show” at the Hockenheim Stadium, with all its attendant excitement, though there won’t be much adrenalin flowing. The Italian GP in September is its usual centre of controversy for Ecclestone says the Constructors’ Association has done a deal to hold the Italian GP at Imola and the Italian Federation and the CSI say that Monza still holds the permit for the 1979 Grand Prix. It will presumably become clearer as time goes by, but at the moment everyone is confused, or just simply not telling the truth.
There may be an apparent shortage of oil, money, security and safety in the world, but there is certainly no shortage of motor racing. The 1979 list of events for the various categories printed below is only for Full International Events; there are as many Limited International Events and more National Events than one can visualise or list, not only British National Events, but equally in France, Germany and Italy. Presumably they will all happen and be well supported by competitors and spectators, but one cannot help wondering when the saturation point will be reached.
The International Calendar is drawn up with the co-operation of all countries concerned, but this year the Formula Two racing looks to be starting off with an abysmal lack of planning. In quick succession the Formula Two scene moves from England to Germany, back to England and immediately back to Germany. The order of things has been listed as Silverstone, Hockenheim, Thruxton, Nurburgring, so pity the poor Formula Two learns who will have to cross the English Channel, with its enormous costs, four times in six weeks. However, they get a respite in May when successive weekends sees them first at Vallelunga and then at Mugello, the two Italian Autodromes being only a few hours apart.
Group 5 racing has a full list of events, but whether anyone has a go at challenging the turbo-Porsches seems unlikely, and the long-distance scene should see all the regular professional-private Porsche teams in operation, even though the factory itself does not intend to race. The Le Mans 24-hour race is standing firmly on its own as a “free-for-all”, a format that has proved very successful in spite of (or because of) having no Championship status. The Racing/Sports Car would appear to be dead and buried, the few events held in 1978 being of a very low standard. So much so, that the proposed European Championship for Group 6 Sports Cars died on its feet. Looking back through history it seems that International motor racing is unable to support a strong Grand Prix scene and a strong sports car scene. In the late nineteen thirties when Mercedes-Benz, Auto-Union, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Delahaye were very active in Grand Prix racing, the sports car scene was very weak. (Who remembers, or knows, who won the 1938 Le Mans 24-hour race?) In 1952/3/4 when Grand Prix racing was at a low ebb, sports car racing was strong with Jaguar, Mercedes. Benz, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari and Gordini all at Le Mans. At the end of the nineteen-fifties Grand Prix racing was strong and sports car racing dwindled, only to revive in the sixties when Grand Prix racing was suffering from the 1½-litre Formula. It stayed strong while the 3-litre Formula was getting under way, but then dwindled again as Formula One became stronger. Today Grand Prix racing is as strong as it has ever been, if not stronger, and sports car racing has died. If this theory is correct there is no immediate future for International Sports Car racing, for Grand Prix racing looks set to stay strong for a long time.
D. S. J.