Heading the 1979 list, naturally enough, is Team Lotus, no longer supported by John Player, the cigarette firm, while the cars will not be called John Player Specials (not that we at Motor Sport did call them by that name to us a Lotus is a Lotus). Olympus Cameras joined Team Lotus for part of last season, but they too have left the Norfolk team. The place of these two sponsors has been taken by Martini. Last August Colin Chapman told everyone that they would not see a new Lotus Formula One car until the South African GP at the earliest, which is next March. Meanwhile everyone is trying to copy the Lotus 79 or get one jump ahead of it before the Lotus 80 appears. From being flat on their back on the floor at the back of the Formula One grid, Team Lotus has soared back up to the forefront and while everyone at Bethel can be proud of their efforts over the past three years, no one will deny that it has all been due to the dynamic leadership and inspiration of Colin Chapman. When asked what he thought about all the other teams trying to copy the Lotus 79, Chapman replied “What else could they do?”
A lot of people think that all you have to do to design a “wonder car” is to copy the aerodynamic “ground-effect” layout of the Lotus 79. I hope they are also copying the weight distribution, the centre of gravity, the roll-centres, the tyre camber angles, the steering geometry, the friction-free suspension, the roll-stiffness, the monocoque rigidity, the limited-slip differential adjustments, the brakes, the ride-height settings, the driveshafts, the frontal area, the drag-coefficient, the aerodynamic downforce created by the upper surface of the car, the spring-rates, the shock-absorber settings, and a few other minor details, for believe me the “ground effects” of the Louts 79 is only half the story of its success. I can’t help feeling that a lot of drivers who have been demanding “wing” cars from their designers are going to be disappointed when they can’t match the Lotus 79.
Team Lotus are in an enviable situation to start the season for their new car is about two months away, nobody has really caught up with last year’s car, and for the opening races of 1979 and during testing sessions they can see exactly how much progress all the opposition is making, as they all measure up to the Lotus 79. On the driver front the team is as strong as ever, with World Champion Mario Andretti in number one spot again. Before his untimely death Ronnie Peterson had announced that he was leaving the Lotus team as he was not prepared to play number two to Andretti for another year. His place has been taken by Carlos Reutemann who does not seem bothered about the details of who is number one and who is number two. Reutemann is one of those rare drivers who just gets on with the racing, and providing conditions are right and he is in the mood, he is a hard man to beat. Do not overlook the fact that he won four Grand Prix races last year and is a natural candidate for the winner’s rostrum. There are some drivers who, when they appear on the rostrum, you find yourself asking “What happened to everyone else?” You don’t ask that when Reutemann is up there. When he was asked whether he was going to do an intensive winter test-programme with the Lotus 79 before the Argentine GP he replied that if he drove the 79 a couple of days before the GP, that would be sufficient. He felt that there couldn’t be much wrong with it, judging by the way Andretti and Peterson had gone with it, to say nothing of Jean-Pierre Jarier in the North American races. Reutemann is one of those natural drivers who doesn’t need to be continually fiddling and messing about, hoping to find a magic formula for success. The coming season looks like being another interesting one for Team Lotus.
Ferrari fortunes ended 1978 on a pretty high note with wins at Watkins Glen and in Canada. Mauro Forghieri and his engineers have been putting a lot of thought into the airflow under the car, though the wide flat-12-cylinder engine is not conducive to a good Lotus copy. They certainly have all the facilities for doing some thorough testing before they appear with a replacement for the successful T2 model. If they are going to have any problems this season they will probably be in the cockpit for they have taken on Jody Scheckter as number one driver, replacing Carlos Reutemann. Anyone who has seen the latest Camel film will appreciate that Scheckter is not the most affable of drivers. He can drive hard, and he can race against anyone, but out of the cockpit he can be very difficult and the Ferrari team has never been the best of happy families, even when all is going well. Still at number two position is the French-Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, who did some good things in his first full season of Grand Prix racing in 1978. He led convincingly at Long Beach, until he made an error, he was always up at the front end of the starting grids, he sat it out wheel-to-wheel with Andretti at Monza, and he won the Canadian GP. He will be watched by everyone during 1979, not the least by Jody Scheckter.
Ferrari’s switch from Goodyear tyres to Michelin tyres at the beginning of last season can only be regarded as successful. There were some bad times admittedly, but five wins in the first season can’t be bad. Nobody has ever underestimated the Michelin tyre firm, and anyone who under-estimates Ferrari is a fool.
Bernie Ecclestone’s continued use of the name Brabham for his cars wrankles a bit with some people, especially those who remember Jack Brabham well. The letters, in front of a Brabham type number meant Brabham (Jack) and Tauranac (Ron). Now the letters mean nothing, for Ecclestone owns the team and Murray (Gordon) designs the cars so they should be designated EM. A large question mark has hung over the team for a long time, and still does. The use of Alfa Romeo fiat-12-cylinder engines in the Ecclestone cars was a brave move and an interesting one for everybody, particularly for Gordon Murray, but outright success still eludes the team. They finished first in two races in 1978, but in my opinion did not win either of them. In Sweden they won with the controversial “sucker-fan” car and at Monza they were awarded first place when Andretti and Villeneuve were penalised a minute for jumping the start. They have yet to win a race properly. The “sucker-fan” car was a brilliant concept by Murray and it is a shame that Formula One is so hide-bound by pettifogging rules, mostly paying lip-service to the great god safety, that outlawed the fan car.
In 1977 John Watson showed the potential of the Brabham-Alfa and last year Niki Lauda joined him in the team and they were invariably at the forefront, but real success kept eluding them. For this season Watson has moved on, a bit disillusioned and slightly sour about Eccelstone and Lauda and the Austrian ex-World Champion now has the quiet Brazilian Nelson Piquet as his number two. This young man made a name for himself in British Formula Three racing, but more important made the most of some drives in an obsolete Formula One McLaren M23 in a few GP races. It wasn’t that he did anything outstanding, but what he did do was good. When you looked at a starting grid or at a race in the opening stages while everyone was running well, you couldn’t help thinking “that McLaren M23 shouldn’t really be that far up the field”. A lot of people keep hailing Bruno Giacomelli as the “coming-man” but Nelson Piquet was more than a match for him. Giacomelli was driving the latest works M26 McLaren and Piquet was in an old M23. The scene spoke for itself.
Exactly what the next moves are on the design front have not yet been revealed by Murray, but he is a chap who does a lot of deep and quiet thinking. I am not convinced that we have seen the last of the fan idea, but the ruling by the CSI to ban “lateral” (i.e. transverse) skirts has stopped any further progress along the original fan lines. All along Murray’s biggest headache on the Brabham-Alfa has been the water radiators. If the Alfa engine had been air-cooled life would have been a lot easier. The radiators have been tried at the front, middle, side and top and no satisfactory answer came up. They ended up at the front, as being the most expedient result, but no more than that. Experiments with carbonfibre brake discs also blew hot and cold, quite literally, and were never convincing enough to equip the whole team with them.
Alfa Romeo are said to be working hard on a new V12 engine, to fit in with the Lotus 79 “ground effects” concept, and Murray will scheme it into a new Brabham in time. If it takes Alfa Romeo as long to make a V12 work property as it did for them to make a fiat-12 work properly, then there is no immediate hurry!
The prospects for Team Tyrrell are not the best they have known, for it is mostly a shortage of everything. The 008 series of cars used last year notched up one good win, at Monaco, but like swallows in summer, one good win doesn’t make a top team. The new 009 series car will appear in the Argentina, but the team lacks top drivers. Patrick Depailler has left to join the Ligier team and his place has been taken by Jean-Pierre Jarier, making a full-time come-back to Formula One. Jarier was always a fast driver but never a natural winner, and though he shone in his drives in the Lotus 79 at the end of last season, nobody was very convinced about his ability. Plodding on quietly in number two position is Didier Pironi, whose only real claim to fame has been winning Le Mans, but as far as Formula One is concerned winning Le Mans is no recommendation. Ken Tyrrell’s biggest shortage at the moment must be money, for first of all First National City Travellers Cheques did not renew their sponsorship money and then ELF ended their long association with the team. One can only hope that Tyrrell salted away sufficient money from his past dealings to bide them over the lean times that look to be lying ahead.
From all accounts 1979 might be the last season for Walter Wolf Racing, for the Austro-Canadian businessman gave the team a three-year contract when he set it up. It looks like being an all-or-nothing season for them, with James Hunt replacing Jody Scheckter at the wheel. Their first problem arose when they found that Hunt could not get into WR5 or WR6, the cars that Scheckter drove in 1978. Not only did this prevent any testing and acclimatisation between the new driver and the team, but it has meant flat-out work for everyone at the Reading factory to design and build the 1979 car and have it ready to race in Argentina. Hunt is one of those drivers who, given a race-worthy car will race hard and against anyone, but given a car that needs work and development he will quickly lose interest. The new Wolf embodies all sorts of ideas from Harvey Postlethwaite that he has wanted to try for past two seasons, but circumstances have prevented. He describes racing car design as “solid” or “candy floss” and considers the previous Wolf cars to have been “solid”, the new one is “candy floss”.
Guy Ligier and his team are starting out on an entirely new phase in their Formula One scene, for Engins Matra have decided that they can no longer support the engine programme, so the screaming V12 has been withdrawn. In its place the Ligier team have opted for the ubiquitous Cosworth V8 and the new JS11 model has been designed around this power unit. The new car was designed and built in a commendably short time and the first one was ready well before the end of the year. For 1979 they are running two cars with Patrick Depailler joining Jacques Laffite, not as number one or number two, they are both Ligier team drivers, and that is that. The JS11 naturally pays attention to the air going under the car, but like the Wolf team the Frenchmen have to plunge straight into the new season, ready to go, for they have no “last year’s cars” to fall back on. They are still well supported by Gitanes, the other French cigarette firm, and also have help from ELF.
During 1978 the Fittipaldi team made some big strides forward, using the basis of their old car extensively modified by Ralph Bellamy, who left Team Lotus to join the Brazilian team. Not surprisingly a lot of the ideas that appeared on the 1978 Copersucar-financed Fittipaldi F5A were of Lotus origin. After the Long Beach GP Bellamy moved down to Brazil to work on the design of the 1979 car and apart from an oblique note which said that “…the Lotus 79 beater is coming along nicely….” little has been heard of him. There were times during 1978 when Emerson Fittipaldi showed that he had not forgotten how to drive fast, so the yellow car from Brazil must not be discounted from the scene.
All the top teams go through bad patches, remember Team Lotus in 1975, Ferrari about every ten years, Tyrrell at the present time, well 1978 was the bad patch for McLaren Racing. The M26 had not really taken over where the M23 left off, the likely-looking new driver Patrick Tambay had a succession of misfortunes and never got into the stride expected of him, and James in turn lost interest. A new “ground effect” car was ready by the end of the season and all was set for Ronnie Peterson to join the team in place of Hunt. His death threw everyone off balance, but McLaren Racing recovered their composure and signed up John Watson. The new M28 naturally follows the Lotus 79 lead and sets new standards of size, for it has a very long wheelbase, a very wide track and is a big car, all part of getting the maximum airflow under the car; but it may well have gone too far in this direction. Watson and Tambay make a very compatible pair of drivers but they lack the ruthless “killer” instinct that makes a really top driver.
If any team deserved a special award in 1978 for hard-trying it was Frank Williams’ closely-knit little team, with designer Patrick Head and driver Alan Jones. A lot of teams try hard and achieve little, but the Williams team achieved much, though not in tangible form like victories or championship points. Anyone who watched the 1978 races must have been very conscious of the neat and tidy Williams FW06 sponsored by Saudi Airlines and other Saudi Arabian business interests. There was never intended to he anything revolutionary about the design of the FW06, it was meant to be functional and workable, and so it proved to be. The basic concept is being uprated for the start of 1979 as a B-version of the original design to be used until such time as the FW07 can be completed, which will be much more exciting and giving way to pent-up ideas in the clear and logical brain of designer Patrick Head. In the meantime Frank Williams has expanded his team to run two cars, the second driver being everyone’s friend Gianclaudio (Clay) Regazzoni, the archetypal “foreign racing driver”. The ability of Alan Jones has been shown too many times to need enlarging upon. All he needs for confirmation is a Grand Prix win in the Williams for he came very close a number of times during 1978.
The Arrows team was formed at the end of 1977 and appeared on the circuits in 1978. It grew from dissatisfaction within the Shadow team, Jack Oliver, Alan Rees, Tony Southgate and David Wass defecting from Don Nicholls team and taking most of the mechanics with them to start afresh. Unfortunately they also took the Shadow drawings with them and Shadow launched a High Court action against them, and won. The original Arrows cars, designated FA1 models were withdrawn by order of the court and this new team had to start all over again with the A1 design from Southgate and Wass. In the original formation of Arrows an Italian businessman Franco Ambrosio was involved financially, but he got into difficulties with the Italian law and, luckily for the team, the German Warsteiner beer company came to their rescue. 1979 will see the German beer company remaining with the Arrows team and the A1 model that was designed and built in a hurry has been tidied up and will form the mainstay of the team. Riccardo Patrese remains as number one driver, a fast driver undoubtedly, but one who is lacking in perception, but time and experience may improve this, last year Rolf Stommelen was the second driver, but was not very successful, and this year he has been replaced by Herrman-the-German, alias Jochen Mass.
Last year, if there was any intrigue or trouble floating over the paddock looking for a home, it invariably landed on the Arrows team. Let’s hope it finds somewhere else to land this year. Repetition becomes boring.
With all the intrigue involving the Arrows team it was not surprising that the Shadow team had a bad season last year. Their two drivers, Hans Joachim Stuck and Regazzoni seemed a bit bewildered by the whole affair and it was no surprise when they both left at the end of the year. It looks as though Shadow are starting all over again, with new driver blood in the form of the Dutch F3 ace Jan Lammers, but the Shadow team has never been one of which very much was expected.
Having finally won Le Mans the sporting side of Regie-Renault which goes under the title of Renault Sport, can now look ahead in Formula One with a clear vision. In the past the spectre of having to win the 24-hour endurance “for the glory of France” has weighed heavily on the Formula One effort. The turbocharged 1½-litre V6 Renault has frequently showed encouraging signs, and throughout 1978 the other teams kept a wary eye on Jean-Pierre Jabouille and the black and yellow car. An all-out effort is being launched for 1979 with Jabouille being backed up by a second car driven by the young Rene Arnoux. To start with they will use the RS01 models as raced last year, but these will be replaced later by the RS10 model, which will have twin turbochargers, one for each bank of the V6 engine.
1978 was a troubled year for Morris Nunn and his little team from Chaseside in the West Midlands, most of the problems affecting the stability of the team as a unit. They seemed to find their feet with the Irish driver Derek Daly and this year should see them in a better situation.
Supported by Dieter Schmid’s alloy road wheel business in Germany the ATS team is a bit of a hotch-potch that grew up around the remains of the Penske Formula One cars and the March Engineering Formula One team. It survived last year mainly by reason of taking over the March assets in the Constructors’ Association, but whether this will continue is debatable. They produced their own car after mid-season, that was clearly inspired by the Lotus 79 and this will be their mainstay for 1979. Hans Joachim Stuck has joined them as number one driver.
The Rebaque family from Mexico are true private-owners, father financing the team and his son Hector doing the driving. They purchased three Lotus 78 cars and had Lotus 79 models on order long before the 1978 season was over. With a group of ex-Lotus mechanics, based at a headquarters in Leamington Spa, Team Rebaque gets quietly on with the job and Hector occasionally has had some good races.
As suppliers of fabricated parts in steel and aluminium the firm of B&S run by Bob Sparshott and John Woodington are more closely involved with the major British teams than anyone. Almost as a relaxation from the manufacturing business they have race-prepared and run McLaren cars for Brett Lunger in the past. Now they have made arrangements to run a Lotus 79 for Rupert Keegan, with the close cooperation of the Lotus factory. As Sparshott used to work at Lotus and his firm make all manner of parts for Team Lotus the latest arrangement is as close to a works team as any private runner is likely to get.
Arturo Merzario must know something about Formula One and have some ability for he qualified for most races last year in his home-built car. He almost reached the point of having two race-worthy cars at one point, with the idea of renting out the second one. No doubt he will try and continue in the same vein in 1979, always assuming that Ecclestone and the CSI will allow him to.
Before the 1978 season was over the Tico Martini Formula One Team withdrew from the scene with burnt fingers. This French racing car constructor had done well in Formula Renault, Formula Three and Formula Two and bravely set out into the big league of Formula One with a simple and straightforward car designed around a Cosworth V8 engine. Rene Arnoux was the driver and they found F1 was a much tougher proposition than they had imagined. After struggling gamely they wisely withdrew before the whole business was ruined.
After struggling along for many years Team Surtees has withdrawn from the Formula One Grand Prix game. Their only claim to fame must surely be that a Surtees car never won a Grand Prix in all the years they have been racing. The Surtees cars will not disappear altogether as some might be run in the British Aurora F1 series.
A rather misguided attempt to get into the closed-shop of Formula One was made by Teddy Yip and Sid Taylor with the construction of a car around Ralt components, called a Theodore, after Yip’s racing team. It soon floundered and the team tried to revive with second-hand Wolf cars, but that idea didn’t prove too successful.
For a long time the existence of an Alfa Romeo Formula One car, entirely divorced from the Brabham-Alfa project, was kept secret until someone “spied” on a test-session on the factory’s private test-track and released photographs to the world press. Then Alfa Romeo came out into the open and released some details of the car. Naturally Ecclestone was a bit tight-lipped about it as it was in direct opposition to his Alfa Romeo-powered cars. The factory say it will race when it’s ready, but don’t say when that will be. Latest news is that it is undergoing a complete redesign to utilise the new V12 Alfa Romeo engine. Some people tend to say “what V12 engine?” but Carlo Chiti the designer assures people that its construction is well advanced. During the secret testing of the Alfa-Alfa, on Pirelli tyres by the way, Vittorio Brambilla did the driving. Although he has recovered from his Monza accident there is no suggestion yet of him resuming racing.
From Germany comes news of what can only be described as a strange car. Designed around the Cosworth V8/Hewland transmission layout, with Lotus airflow, this car has been commissioned by Wili Kauhsen, who is well known as a long-distance Porsche racing driver and the owner of a racing team that ran works Alfa Romeos in sports car racing. The future for the Kauhsen Formula One car is anyone’s guess at the moment. Progress will be reported as time goes by. – D. S. J.