The Spanish Grand Prix

 Lotus annihilate the opposition

Jarama, June 4th

Just as the Belgian GP I reported elsewhere in this issue has sunk to a steady low at the Zolder circuit, the Spanish GP has done a similar thing at the twisty little Jarama circuit, out in the country to the north of Madrid. It is not the sort of circuit on which memorable high-speed driving can be seen, nor much in the way of wheel-to-wheel dicing, but as a simple safe circuit for today's Formula One, it is adequate. In its favour it does have a couple of downhill bends,: and a reasonable length of straight, while the pits and paddock are good and conducive to a nice atmosphere around the workshops and garages. By the day before practice was due to begin all the giant Volvo, Ford, Scania-Vabis and Fiat articulated tranSporters had arrived and packed themselves into the garage area. They are giant transporters-, as was shown by that of Team Lotus, when four racing cars were unloaded from its interior, the two regular Team Lotus 78 cars, numbers 2 and 3, the Belgian GP-winning Lotus 79/2 and a brand new car, 79/3. This new one was destined for Andretti, while Peterson took over the Belgian-winning car, and both drivers had their usual Lotus 78 as stand by in case of emergency. Team Lotus really did look strong.

Before the official practice began at 10 a.m. on Friday, for the regulation hour and a half, there was a little preliminary skirmish among the "rabbits" from which the four best would be let into the to a.m. practice. As Arnow: did not appear with the Martini car, and Ongais did not appear with the American-owned Shadow DN9, it left five contestants for the four places, so it was not so much which four would qualify for practice, but which one would fail. It proved to be Rosberg with the Ralt-based Theodore car. That business sorted out it meant there were 18 drivers ready for the two days of official practice, from which four were going to be disappointed (or frustrated) by the end of Saturday afternoon. As things turned out there were 26 frustrated drivers by the end of Friday afternoon, for the two Lotus 79 drivers not only dominated practice, they demoralised it. Within the overall practice Scene there was another fierce competition going on among the mid-field runners to qualify for the special attention of Goodyear. The tyre firm had named their chosen drivers who would get the best tyres possible, and the two best of the rest at the end of the first day of practice would get special tyres for the second day. In consequence practice was full of interest, with three major competitions taking place, the first for the front row of the grid, the second to be the two best runners on "standard" Goodyear tyres, and the third to scrape into the top 24 in order to take part in the race.

As far as the fast end of the entry was concerned tyres were of little consequence, the game was "catch the Lotus". When Lotus were recording laps around the 1 min. 19 sec. mark, the others were at 1 min. 20 sec., when they got down into the 1 min. 19 sec., the Lotus pit were showing 1 min. 18 sec., when the others scratched into 1 min. 18 sec., Lotus were down to 1 min. 17 sec. and so it went on. To make matters worse it was not just one Lotus, but two. Andretti was driving the brand new Lotus 79 and Peterson was in 79/2, and making very good use of it. Traffic on the “mickey-mouse” circuit was very heavy and both Lotus drivers were finding it difficult to get a completely clear lap while doing 1 min. 17 sec., the circuit seemed to be full of famous names in famous cars lapping a whole second or more slower, while the lesser lights and the “rabbits” were four and five seconds off the pace. In such a brief lap time this was not only remarkable, it was almost unbelievable, and made the job of the Lotus drivers very difficult. At one point Andretti was down below 1 min. 17 sec. and all set for an all-out effort, with the best tyre combination fitted and a minimum of fuel, anticipating a lap approaching 1 min. 15 sec., in a three-lap burst, when he got badly baulked and had to go on for five laps, and ran out of fuel just as he was well wound up! This took the pressure off the other teams, some of whom were actually within a second of Andretti’s times, but then they nearly gave up, for while the Lotus mechanics were rescuing their number one driver, the Lotus number two driver was on terrific form and leapt into the overall lead with 1 min. 16.68 sec. The Lotus 79 had made its point in no uncertain terms, with Peterson on pole position, Andretti alongside, and both drivers convinced that the cars could get into the 1 min. 15 sec. bracket on a
less crowded track. The whole effort was quite breathtaking.

Reutemann, Hunt and Watson had been making heroic efforts, but were not really in sight of the two Lotus cars, while Scheckter, Lauda and Villeneuve were looking like good mid-field runners. In the Goodyear race Laffite and Patrese had come out on top by a pretty wide margin, and right down the bottom were Colombo, Keegan, Villota and Merzario. There had been various troubles, but none that were going to affect the overall scene, Stuck had his engine break quite early on, Jones was bothered by gearbox trouble and Tambay was playing carefully in view of his painful left ankle. Laffite had been using the new Ligier JS9, but without its vast rear aerofoil that merged into the bodywork, a normal JS7 type aerofoil being used.

By the time the afternoon session began at 1 p.m. it was very hot indeed, and the most important piece of equipment being used by the mechanics was an umbrella to shade the driver while waiting in the pit lane. The McLaren team were trying a double front aerofoil arrangement on Hunt’s car, using the normal chisel-nose and fins, with the extra aerofoil above the nose, mounted on struts attached to the front bulkhead. For the brief hour of practice the air and track temperature was too high, compared to the morning, so there was little hope of anyone approaching the Lotus times. Even though the whole pace was nearly a second slower, Andretti was still in front, but not without his troubles. At one point he was getting through experiments with different tyre combinations quicker than the Goodyear people could mount the tyres on the spare Lotus wheels, and while waiting the injection system on the Cosworth engine developed vapour lock and just refused to work. Cold water was poured over the fuel pump and the injection unit, air bottles were exhausted on the starter motor, the sweating mechanics pushed the car, but still it would not fire. Precious practice time was slipping by, and outwardly completely unmoved Andretti sat in the car waiting patiently while his mechanics did all they knew to get the engine started. On the Lotus 79 everything is so tightly packed in and so totally enclosed, that when the car stops the heat in the engine bay cannot escape. Eventually the, vapour bubbles were dispersed and the engine ran as well as ever, and Andretti rejoined the practice, but the whole rhythm of experimenting and adjusting had been broken. Although Peterson was only fourth fastest in the afternoon, with Reutemann’s Ferrari and Lauda’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo between the two Lotus cars, the overall scene was still one of Lotus domination. Laffite was going really well in the new Ligier, being fifth fastest in the afternoon, ahead of Scheckter with the Wolf WR5 and the number two drivers of the Brabham and Ferrari teams. The Shadow mechanics had failed to change the engine in Stuck’s car in time, so the lanky German missed the afternoon session completely, and Alan Jones was frustrated when the injection unit on the spare Williams car played up and he could not use it to make a comparative test with 002 which he had used in the morning.

As practice was coming to an end, the Spanish driver Villota lost control of his McLaren on the fast downhill bend leading on to the pit straight, and as he spun wildly Regazzoni missed him by a hair`s-breadth, but the next car along caught it fair and square. It was Hunt in McLaren M26/4, and the right front corner was pushed back into the monocoque, the suspension members twisted and torn and it was the end of its useful life as far as the Spanish GP was concerned. Hunt got away with a bruised right hand and Villota was unhurt. Such is the affluence of Formula One of these days that both men had spare cars ready for them next morning. Hunt taking the spare works McLaren M26/3 and Villota his earlier McLaren M23/6.

Saturday morning was testing time; for checking fuel consumption, tyre wear, handling in racing conditions of weight and balance, and a general fact-finding and confirmation session before the final hour of timed practice in which there was the last chance to claim a good grid position or merely to scrape on to the back of the grid. During the morning session some teams checked that their spare cars were race-worthy, others still tried to get good lap times, while some like McLaren continued to have trouble. The engine in Tambay’s McLaren M26/5 broke so there was some feverish work by the Colnbrook chaps to change the engine in time for the afternoon session. This panic was caused by Hunt already needing the spare car, there only being one between the two drivers. Team Lotus were so confident in their pair of Lotus 79 cars that they didn’t bother to run the old Lotus 78 cars, and Wolf were equally happy with their WR5, so that WR1 was not used. Ligier, however, ran their interim car JS7/JS9/01 and convinced themselves that the new JS9 was all right. Even on tyres that would last the 75 laps and carrying a full load of petrol the two Lotus drivers were lapping in times that many of the other competitors would have liked to be able to record with near empty tanks and super-sticky qualifying tyres. The only ray of sunshine that filtered through to the other teams from the Lotus pit, apart from the hot Spanish sun, was the sight of boiling water bubbling out of the overflow pipes on the Lotus 79 cars, and mechanics pouring cold water on the mechanical fuel pumps, the injection pumps and the radiators. While out on the track and running fast the cooling system of the Lotus was working perfectly, but a slow run down the pit-lane and standing still in the hot sunshine was causing overheating and vapour-locking. Team Lotus were not unduly worried as they did not intend their drivers to spend much time in the pits, nor to run slowly. This slight problem was indicative of the efficiency of the Lotus 79 when in its normal habitat, which is out on the track and running fast. Some designers think that Colin Chapman runs things a bit too close to the limit for comfort, but he always did, and if you don’t you’ll never get an advantage over your rivals.

The last hour looked as though it was going to build up into a glorious thrash with all the stops pulled out and everyone throwing caution to the winds. It turned out the complete opposite, principally due to Andretti going out for a brief handful of laps and recording 1 min. 16.8 sec., while everyone else was trying to get below 1 min. 18 sec. He then tried a different set of tyres and recorded 1 min. 16.39 sec., which deflated everyone, even his team-mate. He gave up at that point and sat on the pit-wall to watch the others, not from complacency, but because the static overheating trouble was becoming a nuisance every time he stopped at the pits. While Team Lotus were spreading alarm and despondency among the other top teams, and finding nothing wrong with Goodyear’s latest tyres, or being frightened by Ferrari and Michelin, there was gloom at the other end of the field as certain drivers realised they were going to be in the last four. Lunger put paid to his chances of escaping relegation by spinning off into the sand in his McLaren M26/6. Although he resumed practice in McLaren M23/11 he had little hope of qualifying. The Williams team were not as happy as usual, as their disastrous first day of practice had ruled them out of the Goodyear short-list- for-special-attention, and all Alan Jones could do was to fumble about among the also-rans, while Patrese on the best Goodyears was making the best use of them and was up near the front.

With Andretti’s shattering 1 min. 16.39 sec. from Saturday and Peterson’s 1 min. 16.68 sec. from Friday the two Lotus 79s occupied the front of the grid in a class of their own, regardless of 12-cylinder power, Michelin tyres or brilliant new young drivers. There would appear to be times when experience counts, and this seemed to be one of them. Among the “usual faces in the usual places” at the front of the grid, that of Villeneuve in the second Ferrari is becoming a regular and consistent occurrence, and Patrese with the first of the Arrows is beginning to make a consistent impression. In spite of what a lot of people say and think, Hunt is seldom far away from the front, and this time was fourth fastest, and in the second row with Reutemann.

On Sunday the skies were not quite as clear as they had been, but it was still more than warm enough and the race was due to start at the very late hour of 4 p.m. Just before midday there was a 30-minute “final-test-session” for the fortunate 24 who were going to take part in the 75-lap race, though few of them could see it being much of a race with Andretti and Peterson on the front row in the 1978 Lotus cars. Those who were left out were Merzario, Lunger, Villota and Colombo, while Rebaque and Keegan were delighted to have qualified.

As this was the 75th anniversary of the Royal Automobile Club of Spain, the arrival of the reigning King and Queen by royal helicopter was a special occasion. After the drivers had driven their cars from the pit lane, round the circuit to the “dummy grid” in front of the main grandstand, they all removed their helmets and were presented to the King at the foot of the tontrol tower. He wished all the participants “Good Luck” and most of them thought to themselves “we’ll need more than that,” with those two sleek black Lotus cars on the front row of the grid. Andretti was a whole second better than the best of the rest, which seemed impossible on such a short “mickey-mouse” circuit. When averaging 100 m.p.h., a full second was a lot of distance. One driver who did not intend to give up and whimper, was James Hunt. As always, he was out to stir things up, and his McLaren was mounted on unsuitable tyres for the full 75 laps, but very good ones for a dynamic sprint for as long as they would last. His teammate Tambay was set for the full distance. Hunt’s attitude was that if he couldn’t win he might as well enjoy himself, rather than trail along dejectedly, hoping trouble would strike the Lotus lads.

As 4 p.m. approached, engines were started, the grid and the pits were cleared and the two black cars, with their gold advertising lettering, led the field away on the warm-up lap. The 12 pairs of cars paused on the grid, at the foot of the giant control tower, the red light changed to green quicker than some drivers expected and the race was on. Andretti made a good start and so did Reutemann, behind him, but Peterson had not been paying attention and fumbled his getaway. In a start that would have made the drag-racing fans cheer, Hunt took his McLaren off the line and shot between Peterson and Reutemann. Before the end of the pits he swooped past Andretti on the left and then dived across to the right and aimed for the first corner with the brakes hard on, knowing that if anyone (particularly Andretti) was going to get by he would have to take the long way round the outside. The whole manoeuvre was “racer” Hunt at his brilliant best, and he must have had an evil grin on his face as he led the field through the tight corners on the back leg of the circuit.

For five glorious laps Hunt drove his heart out, using every inch of the road, and more, as the McLaren slid over the kerbs in a superb all-or- nothing display. A slightly ruffled Andretti sat back and watched this display of sheer enthusiasm and joy, and then as they started lap six the Lotus closed up, went by, and it was all over. Hunt had had his moment of glory and now the serious motor-race began and Andretti just drove away into the distance. Those opening laps stood Hunt in good stead, for though Andretti passed him with ease, it meant he was in a sound second place, with only Reutemann’s Ferrari in sight behind him, in third place. Then came Watson, Villeneuve, Patrese, and Laffite with a gap to the next group that consisted of Scheckter, Peterson and Lauda, followed by Pironi and Tambay. Right at the back of the field came the yellow Renault, for Jabouille had been elbowed out of the pack on the first corner, and had spun. This solved all the problems of the turbo-car holding people up, but unfortunately Depailler got baulked by the spinning Renault and got a bit left behind.

At 10 laps the scene settled down, with Andretti and Hunt well away, Reutemann in a lonely third place, then Watson with Villeneuve, Patrese, Laffite and Peterson lined up behind him and pushing hard. Lauda had got clear of Scheckter and was aiming to join the group ahead, but in ninth place the World Champion was going to need more than skill to ever see the leader. Pironi and Tambay were behind Scheckter and then came Mass, Brambilla, Depailler, Regazzoni, Fittipaldi and Jones all fairly close, with Stuck dropping back from them as his Shadow was not handling too well. Keegan, Rebaque, Jabouille and Stommelen brought up the rear, as Ickx was in the pits having the throttle linkage on the Ensign looked at. The Renault was giving a good display of its claimed 500 b.h.p. as it wafted past Rebaque along the main straight, and shortly afterwards did the same with Keegan’s Surtees.

It was clear that Ferrari and Michelin had made a mistake over the tyres fitted to the two red cars from Maranello, for Reutemann was losing all contact with the leaders and Villeneuve had dropped to the back of his group, and was passed by Lauda on lap 16. Whereas Hunt had made a deliberate choice of unsuitable tyre, and was holding on to second place as long as he could, and enjoying it, the Ferrari drivers were very frustrated. Fittipaldi decided his tyres were not right and stopped to change them, and Tambay had gone missing, the McLaren stuck in the sand and unable to restart. The Frenchman had been driving without using the clutch for gear-changing, in order to rest his left ankle which was sore, and he muffed a change down and spun off the track. Although he restarted the engine he could not get any grip and had to abandon a perfectly healthy car. On lap 20 Rebaque’s Lotus 78 was making an awful noise as it went by the pits and he stopped next time round. A complete exhaust pipe had broken off, from the cylinder head to the junction for the tail pipe, due to grounding over the bevelled kerbs, the young Mexican not being experienced enough to know where you can run over kerbs and where you shouldn’t. On lap 22 Patrese disappeared from a good fifth position when the Cosworth engine in his Arrows broke, and Reutemann was visibly dropping back from Hunt into Watson’s sight. Andretti was now beginning to lap the tail enders, not that it caused him any trouble, and he even went by the Renault as if it was not there. His complete command of the race was exactly as expected, but Peterson stuck in sixth place was all wrong, though it was difficult to see what the Swede was going to do about it, with Laffite and Watson in front of him and Lauda close behind. Not an easy bunch to deal with, even for an inspired Peterson, and after his bad start he was not looking all that inspired, but he was thinking about it.

With Villeneuve now down in eighth place and being worried by Scheckter and Pironi, and Reutemann holding a tenuous third place, the Ferrari/Michelin combo decided it was time for a change, so both drivers were signalled in. At the end of lap 28 Reutemann headed down the pit lane to where new wheels and tyres were laid out ready, and the mechanics changed all four very rapidly. They had just finished when Villeneuve appeared down the pit lane and there was a bit of a scramble to let Reutemann’s car off the jacks and send him on his way as the second Ferrari pulled up. Even though the next set of wheels and tyres were still in the pit, the Ferrari boys did a pretty quick job and as Villeneuve drove off down the pit lane, Andretti went by to complete his 29th lap, so the young French-Canadian was now a full lap behind. Reutemann had resumed in tenth place, behind the two Tyrrells of Pironi and Depailler. All this left Watson in third place, a long way behind Hunt, while Andretti had a very comfortable and relaxed 12-second lead. The foursome of Watson, Laffite, Peterson and Lauda looked as though it had reached a stale-mate situation, except that the Lotus driver could see an opportunity just ahead. They were coming up to lap a group of tail enders and in the ensuing melee Watson went from third place on lap 36 to sixth place on lap 38, and Peterson was leading the bunch when the pushing and shoving and dust had died down. Watson’s excuse for this and the fact that he began to drop back, was that he was having trouble with his gearbox. Be that as it may, the fact was that Peterson, Laffite and Lauda began to close up on Hunt, with Peterson looking as though he wanted second place.

The Tyrrell team were having a mixed race in eighth and ninth places, for just as Depailler overtook Scheckter, Reutemann overtook Pironi, so it was a case of win one, lose one, but it was all mid-field stuff and of little consequence. Andretti was now 20 seconds ahead and cruising along comfortably, while Hunt was still in second place, even though his tyres were wearing thin. Peterson was still a long way back, but was closing steadily and Laffite and Lauda were staying with him. While Reutemann was picking up the odd place here and there, Villeneuve was not making much progress, so he was called in again and another set of tyres were fitted. As Peterson got his sights on Hunt’s McLaren on lap 50, Depailler was into the pits with a misfiring engine. The ignition unit was changed but before this was done the second Tyrrell was also into the pits with an equally erratic engine. Depailler did another lap, with no improvement so the plugs were removed and one of them had bits of metal on it, from something nasty inside the engine, so that was the end. Pironi’s trouble was simply a loose lead in the h.t. system and it was soon rectified and he was back on full song.

As they started lap 53 Peterson wafted by Hunt’s McLaren and into second place and three laps later Laffite went by the McLaren and then Lauda went by. Hunt’s tyres were used up and he should have stopped by now, but the decision was being left to him, and it was not until lap 60 that he finally headed down the pit lane to have all four wheels and tyres changed, but he had let the others get too far ahead. What had delayed his decision was the sight of Lauda’s Brabham by the side of the track on lap 57, with a broken Alfa Romeo engine, which meant that Hunt was back in fourth place, and then a lot of excitement and confusion on lap 58 when Reutemann’s Ferrari went off the track in a big way, bounced over the guard-rails and was caught by the debris nets protecting the back of the paddock. The swarthy Argentinian climbed out with bruises on his chest, leaving the Ferrari hanging in the nets like a fly in a spider’s web.

By the time Hunt had changed tyres and got back into the race he was a lap down and in sixth place, with no hope of improvement, unless someone dropped out. There were only 15 laps to go and Lotus were once again in first and second places, this time with two Type 79 cars, and one felt they could probably have done the same thing with last year’s cars! With just over 20 seconds between them the two sleek black cars toured on to victory, having completely annihilated all opposition for the second race in succession. Laffite brought the new Ligier home to a good sporting third, followed by Scheckter in a distant fourth place and Watson fifth. An exhausted Hunt was sixth, one lap down, having driven as hard as he knew how, and the rest followed at varying intervals, not at all happy for their future as Team Lotus seem to be on a winning streak with the bit between their teeth. The remaining Ferrari was tenth, running the last third of the race with a split exhaust pipe and sounding awful. John Surtees could see a ray of hope on the horizon as both his cars had run non-stop throughout the race, Brambilla being seventh, one lap down, and Keegan eleventh, two laps down. — D.S.J.