The Italian Grand Prix
Monza, September 9th
On arrival at Monza the most noteworthy thing to see was the first-class job the Automobile Club of Italy had made of the pits and paddock facilities. By very clever pruning of the existing pits and the wall between the pit road and the track they had effectively made the pit road three cars width in place of the previous two. Openings had been cut in the pit counters to facilitate the passage through the pits into the paddock behind, and the area behind the pits had been totally transformed. A vast clearing out of existing buildings and fences had been replaced by an enormous tarmaced area big enough to house all the team transporters, motor homes, caravans, tents and all the paraphernalia that seventeen teams bring with them to a Grand Prix. Everyone working within the pit area was delighted with the improvements. while out on the circuit the drivers were all delighted with the tree clearing carried out around the Lesmo corners and the run-off areas provided. Until this moment there was a strong undercurrent of opinion to move the Italian Grand Prix to the Imola circuit, near Bologna, but throughout the three days of the Grand Prix this undercurrent subsided and everyone seemed to be saying ''why do we want to go to Imola?".
The Italian weather man was in good form and blue skies and bright sunshine was the order of the day, though long-distance visibility was restricted by a heat-haze and you would never have known there were rugged mountain peaks some 60 miles north of Monza. On the driver front there was one change and one return: the Ensign team were giving the Formula Two champion Marc Surer, from Switzerland. a try in MN09 in place of Patrick Gaillard. There were works Alfa Romeos entered and the second one was driven by Vittorio Brambilla, making a most welcome return after exactly one year away. It will be recalled that he was involved in the big accident that killed Ronnie Peterson last year. Poor Brambilla was involved through no fault of his own and was a completely innocent party, suffering severe head injuries, while some of those responsible for the multiple pile-up got away scot-free. Brambilla took a long while to recover from the crash and did not test-drive a racing car until a few weeks ago, but was now fit enough to tackle a complete Grand Prix. Carlo Chiti's Autodelta department of Alfa Romeo had completed a brand new car with the latest V12-cylinder engine, which Bruno Giacomelli was to drive, so they entered Brambilla with the earlier car with the flat-12 engine.
All the regular teams were little changed, only detail differences being noticeable, such as fins and aerofoils as small as possible in the interests of straight-line speed, brake cooling ducts and different caliper and disc arrangement for some, as brakes are vital at Monza, and the best engines possible, for power is all important. The Team Lotus drivers were still with Type 79 cars, though by now so altered from last year that they would have become Type 80 if that number had not already been delegated to the 1979 car which unfortunately did not work as intended. Team Tyrrell had centrally mounted rear aerofoils on both their race cars, and the old style of end-plate mounting on the spare car. The Ferrari drivers each had a pair of cars at their disposal, one a normal T4 and the other a T4B, with twin-caliper brakes in place of the normal single-caliper layout, and with the rear brakes now mounted outboard which entailed a redesigned top to the bodywork to scoop air into ducts leading to the outboard brakes.
Emerson Fittipaldi had three cars with him, his old faithful F5A/I, the rather disappointing revised F6A/I and a brand new F6A-1/2, which was being finished off in the paddock. Two of the Shadows had the latest suspension fore and aft, with the outboard rear brake layout, and the spare car had the inboard rear brake set-up. Rosberg was all set to use Wolf WR8, with lower-drag aerodynamic devices, with WR9 as a back-up car, and the Rebaque team were about to run their new car for the first time.
A nice touch by the organisers was to let Vittorio Brambilla be the first to leave the pit lane when testing began at 10 a.m. on Friday morning. Already a largish crowd was in the Autodromo and he got a good send off. The Ferrari drivers were divided in their opinion about their cars, Scheckter trying both his and remaining undecided, while Villeneuve had already settled for the 4B in pre-practice testing, but ran his T4 for the morning session. It did not take long for the faster drivers to find that brakes were still a problem at Monza, not due to the way they functioned but the temperatures they were running, which made for inconsistency. Renault were trying a new disc arrangement and new calipers on the front of Jabouille's car, and Ligier were keeping a close eye on their own brakes. Each lap the brakes are applied four times and really hard, knocking speed down from maximum, or near maximum, to second gear speeds. This meant that pad and disc temperatures were pretty high, so as much ducting of cold air as possible seemed necessary. However, the straight bits between the four brake applications were all long enough to reach high speeds and cool the brakes down too much, so that the next application found a slight time lag while the pads rose to their working temperature again. It hardly seems possible that brakes can get too cool, but that is what was happening, so there was some blanking off of air ducts and a close watch kept on temperatures, because just as you can have the brakes too cool for maximum efficiency, you can also have them too hot. A temperature controlled for a few laps fast practice would not necessarily be good for an entire race, so there was quite a bit of "tuning" to find the optimum. Scheckter was interested in a short-life qualifying set-up, preferring the brakes to be there the instant he touched the pedal, even if they would not last out 50 laps like that.
Engines are equally important at Monza, for like the use of brakes where there are no half-measures, the accelerator pedal is either hard down or right up, there is no feathering or part-throttle running at Monza. Regazzoni's engine in his Williams FW07/1 was feeling a bit down on power so it was arranged for him to use the spare car in the afternoon timed session. Jabouille was happy enough with the engine in his car RS11, but not so happy with the handling, for it did not respond to small changes of adjustment as the other two cars did, yet nothing could be found to be wrong. He more or less decided to abandon it and use the spare car, RS10, which was the original twin-turbo car.
During the afternoon timed session of one and a half hours it was no time at all before Arnoux (Renault) and Jones (Williams) were setting the pace, with Laffite (Ligier) and the two Ferrari drivers well in there. Already a time below 1 min. 35 sec. was needed for the front row of the grid, and the existing lap record stood at 1 min. 38.23 sec., while the fastest practice time last year was 1 min. 37.52 sec. Improvements were expected, but not so much. It has been obvious all season that the pace being set by Renault, Williams, Ferrari and Ligier is a furious one and the continual improvements we keep getting in lap times indicates just how hard they are all trying, but it does mean that anyone not on the pace is getting left embarrassingly far behind. Rosberg was set back when the water pump on WR8 cracked, and he had to use the slower WR9, and Laffite tried the spare Ligier which had a different spring-rate set-up. Newcomer Surer ended practice abruptly when the engine in the Ensign seized up and there was no spare car. Jabouille was out in the spare Renault, but lapping a second slower than Arnoux, though Regazzoni was not too tar behind Jones. Picquet tried the spare Brabham BT48 and then Tambay moved across too soon and collided with Jones who was just overtaking him. The Williams had been obscured by Fittipaldi's car, for which Tambay had moved out of the way. A rear wheel of the McLaren hit the side-pod of the Williams which bounced if off into the rough, leaving it there slightly damaged, while the McLaren carried on. With Regazzoni using the spare car, and going well, there was nothing for Jones to do except stand around and watch the others. Both the Ligier and the Wolf teams were having trouble with their cars behaving like porpoises at maximum speed, which was very unnerving for the drivers, and Laffite was getting very short-tempered with the situation. In spite of having to miss the last part of the timed session Alan Jones was still second to Arnoux, but only a fraction ahead of Villeneuve, these three being the only drivers to get below the 1 min. 35 sec. barrier. Some were not even below 1 min. 40 sec. and quite a lot were nowhere near to last year's fastest practice time. Once again Renault, Williams and Ferrari were in a class on their own.
The damage to Jones' Williams was not very extensive and was soon put right after practice, but on Saturday morning when the car was being warmed up the mechanics found that the fuel bag had sprung a leak. While a new one was installed Jones used the spare car for the morning test-session, Regazzoni being back in his own car with a new engine fitted. Replacing a rubber fuel bag within the monocoque is a long and tedious business, it having to be done through a relatively small cover plate on the top of the tank space. Having squeezed the rubber bag through the hole it then has to be spread out in the tank space and then filled with special sponge foam, all in the interests of safety. The days of fuel tanks being aluminium containers sitting on rubber mountings, in which 40 or 50 gallons sloshes about inside are long gone, today's fuel cells are integral parts of the monocoque and the liquid is contained in a special rubber bag, surrounded by anti-leak and anti-fire devices.
Jabouille had decided to use the older of his two Renaults, so RS11 had been abandoned, partly dismantled, and RS10 had been built up as the number one race car. Villeneuve had settled to use his T4B Ferrari, but Scheckter was still dodging from his T4 to his T4B. Likewise Laffite was still undecided about which Ligier to use and was alternating between 02 and 03, while Ickx was getting on with just the one car. Jones stayed with the spare Williams for the afternoon session as it was going perfectly, and his other car was due to have a brand new engine installed ready for the race. Team Lotus were feeling a lot more confident and felt that they were beginning to make headway, after a lot of alterations to this and that, but their times were still way off the pace. Renault began to show their hand as Jabouille first of all equalled Arnoux's time of yesterday and then improved on it, getting down to 1 min. 34.580 sec. as they got into the swing of things with the best Michelin tyres. Arnoux had only done a handful of laps when his engine showed signs of sickness and before it actually blew up he stopped and the car was wheeled away. This meant no more practice for Arnoux as there was no spare car for him, but his time from Friday still kept him on the front row of the grid, alongside his team-mate. Jones was below 1 min. 35 sec. as was Scheckter, but Villeneuve could not repeat his Friday time, and eventually decided that the engine in his T4B was getting tired, so he switched to his T4. Scheckter was doing his fast laps in his T4, so the Ferrari engineers were a bit confused, though satisfied with the results.
After a tyre change Jabouille set off again, did a lap at 1 min. 35 sec. and then promptly went off the track at the first "chicane" and bent the front of RS10. With RS11 all in bits, and RS12 with a sick engine, the Renault practice came to a complete stop. They were both on the front row of the grid, Jabouille with 1 min. 34.580 sec. and Arnoux with 1 min. 34.704 sec. and there they stayed, without doing anything. While everyone else tried all they knew, and Goodyear and Michelin fed their top runners with the best tyres available, the two Renault drivers stood around aimlessly.
The engine in Watson's McLaren M29 blew up, so after sitting patiently on the pit counter for a time, he took over Tambay's car, as the team spare was an M28 and really destined for the forthcoming race at Imola, rather than for serious practice. Right at the back of the field there was drama, for of the twenty-eight drivers out practising only twenty-four were to be allowed to start. Both Merzario and Surer were out of the running due to mechanical bothers, and the Rebaque team were still sorting out their new car, unable to get many consecutive laps in, and last place was being fought for by the two Shadow drivers, with Lammers proving to be the faster. This was not very popular for the organisers wanted the Italian driver de Angelis to qualify in preference to the young Dutch boy. After a hub bearing broke upon his own car, de Angelis tried the spare car, but the engine was poor, so then there was a flap to alter everything on Lammers' car so that the Italian could drive it, which was not at all popular with the Dutchman and his friends. Eventually de Angelis did a time in Lammers' car, but at first it was not fast enough to qualify, but then the time-keepers shuffled through their times and "discovered" that Lammers' time was not as good as they had announced, and gave him a slower time, which just put him out and de Angelis in.
Quietly getting on with things at one end of the pits was the Alfa Romeo team, and both Giacomelli and Brambilla qualified comfortably. Brambilla's effort with the old car being particularly praiseworthy after a year lay-off, Laffite's number one car JS11/02 broke a drive-shaft so he spent most of the practice in the spare car, while Jones in the spare Williams felt he had never really got with it, and that he should have gone faster. There was nothing wrong with the car, he just felt dissatisfied with his afternoon's work, even though he had put in a best lap of 1 min. 34.914 sec. which put him on the second row of the grid. The thing that hurt most people was the fact of the two Renaults being on the front row of the grid, even alter missing the best part of the last practice session. In the end five drivers got below the 1 rnin. 35 sec. barrier, these being Jabouille, Arnoux. Scheckter, Jones and Villeneuve; good runners all.
No matter what anyone says Monza is still popular with the Italian public, and the Autodromo was very full on Sunday morning when preparations were being made for the 30-minute warm-up period. Renault had reassembled RS11 for Jabouille and abandoned RS10, the spare car. Williams had FW07/4 ready for Jones, Ferrari had prepared Scheckter's T4 and Villeneuve's T4B, as they requested. Laffite had settled for JS11/02 and de Angelis was in his own car once more. The warm-up was from 10-10.30 am and the race did not start until 3.30 p.m. so everyone had more than enough time, and apart from publicity races for Alfasuds and Renault 5s, which seemed interminable, there was also a splendid parade of Grand Prix cars through the ages to celebrate the fiftieth running of the Italian GP. Not only was there a grand gathering of historic vehicles but there was a galaxy of stars from the past, all of which passed the time nicely until the Formula One cars were let out of the pit lane to go round the circuit to the assembly grid. Both Ferraris went back through the pit lane for a final adjustment and then all 24 cars were assembled in pairs, led by the two Renaults. It was getting very warm as everyone waited for nearly half-an-hour on the blazing track with no shade from the sun other than umbrellas. The race distance had been reduced from 52 laps to 50 laps in the cause of something or other, though no-one seemed to know what.
Scheckter and Jones, from the second row of the grid, had been to talk to the Renault drivers and it was agreed that the two Frenchmen would concentrate on keeping in a straight line away from the start. If either of them "bogged" down off the line they were to concentrate on not trying to get out of the way, thus the Ferrari and the Williams could accelerate by without having to dodge about. Arnoux and Jabouille were in full agreement, but failed to ask the Ferrari and Williams drivers to keep well over down the back straight so that the Renaults could blast past! Normally one would have brought Villeneuve into this private start-line discussion, but he had strict orders to stay behind Scheckter and help him to win the race, and thus clinch the Drivers' World Championship. This amicable discussion among the drivers was so much better than the bleatings of John Watson in Motor where he said that he thought turbo-charged engines and normally aspirated ones should not be mixed together in the same race! He might as well have said we should not mix Irish and Italian drivers in the same race.
The two Renaults led them all away on the parade lap and they all returned to the grid in an orderly manner, lining up in pairs by the marker boards. The red light came on, the noise rose to fantastic heights, accentuated by the huge concrete grandstand, and then on came the green and Scheckter made a copybook start round the outside of Jabouille, with Villeneuve hard up behind him. Arnoux made a good getaway but Jones was slow off the mark and was passed by all sorts of people before he was out of sight. It looked as though he had cooked his clutch, but in fact the engine had gone all woolly and it would not pick up cleanly, though it had been perfect on the warm-up lap. There was no need to ask who was leading as the cars appeared out of the Parabolica curve to stream up the straight past the pits, the noise from the crowded grandstands told us it was a Ferrari, and Scheckter was leading Arnoux, but then there was consternation among the public for the Renault puffed out and powered past the Ferrari as they started lap 2. Later Arnoux explained that he could have gone past down the back-straight, but there was no need to hurry about taking the lead! Behind them came Villeneuve, Laffite, Jabouille, Regazzoni, Piquet and Andretti; a pleasant sight to see a green Lotus somewhere near the front once again. While Mass brought his Arrows into the pits Alan Jones went by near the back of the field, still going slowly. He had hoped that his trouble was vapour-lock in the injection system, or an over-rich mixture and that it would clear itself and come on song, but it was obviously something more serious. Even though he picked off Patrese, Stuck and Ickx his car was not going properly and at the end of lap 5 he pulled into the pit lane. Meanwhile the scene at the front of the race had settled down with Arnoux looking indecently comfortable out in front, followed by the Ferraris of Scheckter and Villeneuve, with Laffite doing a great job hanging on to them, while Jabouille was just about keeping up. Then came a gap before Regazzoni appeared, running on his own, for Piquet had tried to go round the outside of the Williams on the Curva Grande and had been forced off line, getting onto the loose edge and spinning into the guard rail. The impact ripped the entire back end off the Brabham, the Alfa Romeo V12 engine, the gearbox and all the rear suspension smashed itself into a ball, while the monocoque and the front suspension skated down the road and stopped. Piquet stepped out totally unharmed and walked back to the pits. Andretti was leading the rest of the field, in which Giacomelli was going well with the new works Alfa Romeo.
While the leaders were on their seventh lap Jabouille began to lose contact with them, and Alan Jones took off from the pit lane like a scalded cat. His mechanics had changed the battery and the ignition unit and the engine was on full song once again. It later transpired that the battery, which was brand new that morning, had developed a dud cell while it was sitting on the starting grid. Just as a precaution they also richened the fuel mixture a fraction before he took off. Jones is not one of those drivers who sits around whining if things go wrong, or withdraws behind the darkened windows of a motor-home, he believes in getting on with it, and this is what he did even though he was a lap and a half behind the leaders.
Lauda had found himself running in company with Giacomelli in the opening laps and his pride came to the fore and he pulled his finger out and passed Watson, the two Tyrrell drivers and Andretti, to put himself at the head of the second part of the race. Although Jabouille had lost contact with the leaders he was still managing to stay ahead of Regazzoni and at lap 12 everything seemed to have settled down. But not for long. On lap 13 the leading Renault's engine suddenly gave a great hiccough and all the power died away and Arnoux waved the Ferraris and the Ligier by, but then the power came back in again and he finished the lap in fourth place and apparently going well. On lap 14 it happened again and this time did not pick up and he coasted into the pits to retire with something very obscure having happened to either the injection system or the ignition system. While he had been out in the lead the bright-eyed little Rene Arnoux had looked remarkably secure, obviously well able to deal with the Ferrari team without getting flustered. Down in midfield Watson had stormed past Jarier's Tyrrell and then gone off into the sand. After a slow start Fittipaldi had gathered himself up and passed Rosberg in the Wolf, Brambilla in the flat-12 Alfa, and de Angelis in the lone Shadow, and now had his sights on the ATS of Stuck, which was sounding awful with a broken exhaust manifold pipe, but still going well. Way down the back Jones was setting up new lap records and lapping about one second quicker than the Ferraris, which he was finding some consolation from on his lonely drive.
As a race it was now all over, for Scheckter knew he was safe out in front, with Villeneuve dutifully keeping station behind him. Though Jacques Laffite was driving his heart out all he could do was stay with the Ferraris, he could not challenge them. These three were way out on their own and pulling away from the rest all the time. Jabouille was holding fourth place but it was only a matter of time before Regazzoni caught him, which he did on lap 24 much to the joy of the populace, for Regga is popular no matter what he is driving. In the midfield Giacomelli was going great guns with the new Alfa Romeo and after passing Jarier and then Andretti, he began to close up on Lauda, the Alfa clearly being as good as the Brabham, but glory was not to be for the little podgy Italian and before he could get to grips with Lauda he had spun off into the loose stuff at the Ascari chicane and broken the rear suspension. Meanwhile Brambilla was soldiering on with the old Alfa Romeo, and keeping just ahead of Rosberg in the penultimate position of those who had not stopped, for Pironi and Jones were still behind after pit stops.
Laffite was having cockpit trouble, which caused him to lose contact with the two Ferraris. His rear brakes were fading so he wound the knob that adjusts the brake balance bar, to put more braking on the front wheels. Unfortunately the mechanism fouled the clutch pedal so that when he put the brakes on the clutch pedal went down as well. It did not take the engine long to object to this treatment and on lap 41 it sounded awful as he passed the pits, and next time round he was in to retire with severe internal engine trouble. This let Regazzoni up into third place, while Jabouille now inherited fourth place and Lauda found himself fifth and Andretti was sixth.
There were now only eight laps to go in this minuscule Grand Prix, and Scheckter had virtually used up all his brakes, though Villeneuve was very comfortable in his dutiful position behind the South African, but Regazzoni was getting wound up and responding to pit signals. Until this point Alan Jones had been the fastest man on the track, with a string of new lap records, but now Regazzoni began to equal them as he closed on the Ferraris. It looked as though the Maranello cars were easing off to coast home a convincing 1-2, but it was not as simple as that, for though they were running at the same pace as Fiittipaldi, whom they had just lapped, they could not go much faster, or at least Scheckter could not. On lap 46 Regazzoni set a new lap record in 1 min. 35.60 sec, which was remarkable compared with Jones' best of 1 min. 36.21 sec., and with two laps to go he was a mere 2.1 seconds behind the Ferraris and still gaining. Then his engine coughed, cut out, cut in again, and his lap time dropped to 1 min. 38 sec. and it was all over. The Williams was running low on fuel and the triumphant pair of Ferraris crossed the line with nearly 5 seconds in hand. On the slowing-down lap Regazzoni ran right out of petrol and stopped, and as Alan Jones crossed the line in ninth place after a really hard drive his car also ran out of petrol. It picked up again briefly and he stopped to give Regazzoni a lift, but then it stopped altogether and the two Williams boys hijacked a course marshal's car and drove back to the pits.
To say that the crowd of 100,000 or more were happy would be to put it very mildly. With Ferrari first and second, Scheckter now unable to be beaten on points for the World Championship, and Regazzoni in third place and the holder of the outright lap record, there was not a sad Italian in sight. As with so many races the end result was full of ifs and buts, like "if Arnoux's Renault hadn't failed" or "if Jones' battery hadn't failed at the start" or "if Regazzoni hadn't run short of fuel at the end". There was plenty to talk about afterwards, but then there usually is after a Grand Prix, which is a big part of the fun. — D.S.J.