1978 German Grand Prix race report

Mario Andretti (Lotus) competing at the 1978 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim.

Lotus driver Mario Andretti scored a fifth win of '78

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Die kleiner preis

Hockenheimring, July 30th

For reasons best known to the Automobile Club von Deutschland, the Formula One Constructors’ Association, the Formula One drivers and Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, the German GP was once more held in the Hockenheimring concrete stadium. Reasons for not using the Nurburgring provided enormous variety. “It’s too long”, “Too dangerous”, “Too difficult to learn”, “It cannot be marshalld properly”, “Insufficient fire fighting equipment”, ·”Lauda doesn’t like . it”, “The sponsors want their cars to be seen more often than once every seven minutes”, “Too many people get in without paying” and so on, and so on. All very convincing if you believe that sort of thing.

On the face of things the AvD were in charge of things at Hockenheim, and their dignataries certainly filled the credit pages of the rather nice programme, but behind the scenes it was said to be the “Max and Bernie Show”, that Mosley and Ecclestone had more than a finger in the pie. At the Nurburgring you cannot really see the 250,000 spectators spread around the 14-mile mountainous circuit; whereas at Hockenheim the 100,000 that can be crammed into the grandstands overlooking the arena are very visible and the financial profit is clear for all to see. Whether this sight last year persuaded Ecclestone and Mosley to take a keen interest in the German GP, or whether it was for the good of the sport, we’ll never really know.

Qualifying

One thing you can say for the Constructors’ Association, and those aspiring to join, is that when they promise a full entry they keep their promise and everyone turns up well on time and are all ready to go at 10 a.m. on Friday morning, for the first hour-and-a-half of official practice. Many of the teams had already been to the stadium some weeks before, testing cars and tyres and the opportunity was taken to sort out the overflow of “rabbits” so that when official practice began there were twenty-eight selected drivers competing for twenty-four places on the grid.

The basic format for practice is now well established, with Team Lotus setting the pace, the other top runners trying to keep up, the hard-triers in mid-field trying very hard, with good Goodyear tyres as their prize and the odds and ends at the back trying not to be right at the back. There were one or two minor changes in the scene, Jean-Pierre Jarier re-joined the ATS team, as Rosberg was back with Teddy Yip’s Theodore Racing, they having dumped the Theodore TR 1 (Ralt) and bought two cars off the Wolf team, numbers WR3 and WR4. While Derek Daly was dallying about over his future with the Ensign team, Morris Nunn took the Brazilian F3 driver Nelson Piquet onto his strength, to drive MN08; his second car MN06 was hired out to Harald Ertl, the bearded journalist-cum-racing driver from nearby Mannheim. On the mechanical front there were a few changes, but none of a trend-setting nature. Lauda’s Brabham BT 46/6 had a cockpit contrlled rear anti-roll-bar (like a Lotus), Villeneuve’s Ferrari (035) and the spare Ferrari (033) had up and over exhaust pipes gathered into a bunch above the gearbox (like a Lotus), Reutemann’s Ferrari (032) had two exhaust pipes up and two down (not a bit like a Lotus!), the spare Brabham BT 46/3 had side-mounted radiators, one one each side of the forward end of the monocoque, air being fed in at the front and out at the sides (not a bit like a Lotus!), Stuck’s Shadow DN9/1 A had the rear aerofoil mounted on side plates attached to the ends of a large-diameter cross-tube attached to the back of the gearbox (like a – oops! Like a Wolf, Willams, Hesketh from Harvey Postlethwaite). The Williams team had a new cockpit top to try in which a short hump behind the cockpit gathered air for the engine intakes, leaving a flatter and more open space over the engine. The Ligier cars (both JS9 models, a second one having been concocted from the bones of the JS7/03) had new front aerofoils of larger area and a double-layer arrangement. Merzario had made himself another special, but it was not finished. The Arrows team and the Shadow team were diplomatically positioned at opposite ends of the pits in view of the legal action going on even as practice commenced.

It did not take long for Team Lotus to set the pace, shattering the best time made last year by Jody Scheckter in the Wolf. His pole position time was I min. 53.07 sec. and both Peterson and Andretti were soon down in the 1 min. 52 sec. bracket. The only other driver to stay with them was Niki Lauda,- who tried the C-version of the BT 46 and then switched to his normal BT 46/6 and got into the “ace” class with 1 min. 52.73 sec., but by this time Peterson was down to 1 min. 52. 15 sec. and Andretti 1 min 52.70 sec. Drivers apart, it was becoming rather noticeable that there are only two teams in the forefront of Formula One, Lotus and Brabham-Alfa Romeo. When you looked at other people’s lap times and thought” .. . that’s not bad … ” (Jabouille in the Renault at 1 min. 54. 13 sec., for example) you had to realise that it was two seconds down on the Lotus, at an average speed of well over 130 m.p.h. A lap at the Hockenheimring is unusual in that it takes nearly two minutes and is very fast, yet the only bit that most people are allowed to see is the wiggly bit in the arena which is boringly slow.

Niki Lauda (Brabham) driving at the 1978 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim.

Niki Lauda qualified 3rd in the Brabham

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When the cars leave the arena they run out to the East Curve and back again on long, fast, flat stretches punctuated by chicanes. Speeds of over 180 m.p.h. are reached by the faster cars, but few people are permitted to see and only a relative handful can watch on the East Curve. Trapped within the vast concrete stadium, talk of 180-m.p.h. maximum and 130-m.p.h. averages seems very academic and belonging to another event altogether. If any adrenalin flows at Hockenheim, you are not encouraged to see it.

While Lotus were getting on with it, others were not and the Reanault RS01/03 was having engine trouble, piston rings being the bete-noir, and the newly constructed Ligier JS9/02 was having engine trouble, so both teams used their alternative cars. Jarier celebrated his return to the ATS team by demolishing the front end of HS 1/2 and thereafter used the spare car, and while Scheckter was fairly happy with the Wolf WR5, he could not repeat his 1977 time done with WR2. For the first time this year the weather began to get very hot, though no-one believed it until fuel systems started to suffer from vapour lock and tyres began to blister before they had been used in anger. The mechanics certainly knew it was getting warm for they were having to work on the unshaded concrete pit-apron and tools were getting very hot to handle.

In the afternoon session there was consternation in the Lotus pit when Andretti failed to come round. While he was warming up and cruising along the fuel system dried up and 79/3 stopped; acceleration and braking forces are needed to operate the one-way valves from the fuel tank to top up the collector tank from which the injection pump draws while the car is in racing. The newly rebuilt spare car, 79/1, was brought into service but Andretti could not match his morning time; meanwhile, Peterson was equalling his own morning times, improving slightly in spite of spending tirne having the brakes bled on 79/2. The side-radiator Brabham was not being used, and Lauda was in a very determined mood with the normal car, staying with the two Lotus “aces”, but Watson was over two seconds slower. Scheckter had announced that he intended to leave the” Wolf team at the end of the season to join the Ferrari team, and was driving fast and hard as if to demonstrate his worth. He got Wolf WR5 down into the “ace” class with a time of 1 min. 52.68 sec. Hunt and Jones were doing great things, relatively speaking, but they were a second-and-a-half slower than Peterson. As if to confirm Don Nicholls’ allegations that the Arrows team stole the designs of the DN9 in order to set themselves up in such a short time, both teams were suffering from the heat in the form of petrol vapour locks in the injection system.

On the Michelin front all was not well, for Jabouille in the Renault was faster than both the Ferraris, which meant that the Frenchman was out-driving Reutemann and Villeneuve, or the Renault had much more power from its turbocharged 1 1/2-litre V6 than the 3-litre flat- 12 Ferrari, or the Renault was a better car, or the Ferrari team were in a panic. Poor Gilles Villeneuve was far from happy, having heard from the Press world that Scheckter was to replace him next year, and nasty Mr. Ecclestone and Mr. Mosley didn’t want his “motor-home” in the Constructors’ private paddock. In spite of this he was smiling shyly and keeping up with Reutemann on his first visit to the “mighty and inspiring” Hockenheimring.

Saturday morning was the time for experimenting and testing in readiness for the final hour of practice and the weather got hotter and hotter. It was a splendid excuse for being unable to keep up with the Team Lotus cars, blame being put on “vapour-lock” or “fuel system problems”; the odd thing was that neither of the sleek black Lotus 79 cars seemed to be troubled by the heat. Andretti had psyched himself into believing that his car, 79/3, had never been right since its accident in practice for the French GP, even though it had been rebuilt, checked and measured and pronounced to be 100 per cent. He tried 79/1 again with an open mind and convinced himself there was nothing wrong with 79/3, the two cars seeming to be identical in their handling.

The afternoon practice was delayed for nearly half-an-hour while the ravages of some Alfa-Sud racing were made good and the pit-lane was very hot and steamy with everyone ready to go. Once under way the two Lotus drivers were soon in the groove and always a step ahead of the opposition. While Lauda was well into the “ace” category, his team-mate Watson scratched into the 1 min. 52 sec. bracket, only to have Peterson set a new “ace” class with 1 min. 51.99 sec. Next moment there was a huge cloud of dust as the Lotus spun off into the grass on the corner before the pits. The adjustable top link on the left-rear suspension had broken, letting the wheel turn inwards and generating more over-steer than even Super-Swede could cope with. Damage was minimal, being confined to the right-hand sideskirt which was crumpled as the car spun over the kerb, but it was the end of practice for Peterson, as Lotus 79/1 was Andretti’s spare car! Peterson’s old Lotus 78 was in the paddock, but there was little point in using it as the Swede was on pole position with his new “ace” time. While he sat and watched from the pits, Andretti went faster and faster and took pole position with 1 min. 51.90 sec. In the sweltering heat that was enough and Team Lotus packed up before the hour was finished, leaving the signalling boards reading “Mario – 1.59” and “Ronnie – 1.59″.

As light relief to the demoralising sight of the two Lotus cars overwhelming everyone, Hunt and Brambilla had a bit of a fracas, caused it seems by the unfortunate Surtees driver getting in the way when Hunt and Tambay were trying to help each other along. The loudspeakers got all excited over the fact that Hans Stuck just scraped onto the back of the grid at the last moment, after switching to the spare Shadow, but no-one seemed to notice that Harald Ertl was already on the grid with a time he had done on Friday morning. The engine in the Ensign blew up on Saturday morning so he had to miss the crucial last hour altogether. Left behind to drown their sorrows were Regazzoni (Shadow), Jarier (ATS), Keegan (Surtees) and Merzario (Merzario). In the past we have given Alan Jones and the Williams car an ” A-for effort” for his high placing on the grid among the works teams, but now this must stop for he has become part of the established front-runners and his place on the third row alongside Watson’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo occasioned no surprise” it was to be expected.

Race

The 1977 German Grand Prix gets underway as the cars leave the grid, Hockenheim.

The Lotus team leads at the start

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Sunday was as hot as ever and many cars had sprouted scoops and ducts to try and get some air into vital fuel system components, such as fuel pumps, collector tanks, injection units and there was a lot of heat insulation of fuel pipes. The two Ferraris had elaborate, air boxes moulded into the fibre-glass of the left side of the body and these were fed by a sunken duct in the side; this plenum chamber affair fed cold air onto the fuel pump. There was only time to make this modification to 032 and 035. The race was due to start at 2 p.m. after the crowd had been entertained by a Renault 5 saloon car race and a Formula Vee race, and was due to run for 45 laps. As the cars left the pits in the usual straggly disorder, to drive round the circuit to form up on the grid, it was seen that Stuck was using the latest Shadow, Rosberg was in the Wolf WR3 with long wheelbase “spacer” between engine and gearbox, Rebaque was in his LWB Lotus 78/4, Fittipaldi was in F5A/1 , though he had intended to use number 2, Jabouille was in RS01/02 with little confidence that the V6 Renault-Gordini engine would last long in the heat, Laffite was in the first of the Ligier JS9 cars, Jones was in the first of the Williams cars, and all else seemed to be according to plan. As they completed the “parade” lap Scheckter’s Wolf WR5 was popping and, banging with vapour bubbles, in the fuel-injection system and Reutemann was heading for the pits with a trail of smoke issuing from the back of the Ferrari. He was quickly into the spare car, 033, which had not been used during practice and went round to join the grid knowing he would not get far as their was no cooling to the fuel pump on this car. What had gone wrong with 032 was a bit obscure, the driver said it was the distributor, others said it was a fuel leak, some thought it was a seal on the injection unit, but these days the Ferrari team are very twitchy and secretive and few of the team members seem capable of telling the truth!

The waiting on the grid before the field sets off on the pace-lap seems to get longer and longer with each race, or is it that I am getting impatient? Eventually the two sleek, black Lotus cars led the field of 24 away on the pace-lap, carrying no sign of the name John Player Special, for cigarette advertising at sporting events is banned in Germany. The McLarens had the name Marlboro whited out and the Ligier had Gitanes covered up, and all such awful words were blanked out on team personal clothing, transporters and equipment. Very strict are the Germans. During the pace-lap Scheckter’s Wolf was still playing up and when the 24 cars arrived back on the start-line the scene was anything but orderly. It was one of the worst starts in history for the green light came on before the back half of the field had taken up their positions and the tail-enders came round the last corner hard on the throttle to try and catch the departing front half of the grid. Andretti led away with Peterson right behind, followed by Lauda, Jones, Watson and the rest, the spluttering Wolf being passed by almost everybody. In the middle of the grid there was some confusion when Depailler was baulked by Tambay and Stommelen rammed the Tyrrell, which retired on the Spot with a very bent monocoque. Into the first chicane Andretti overdid his braking and while he sorted himself out Peterson went by into the lead. When they reappeared in the stadium the two black cars were nose-to-tail, Peterson leading Andretti, followed by Lauda (Brabham), Jones (Williams), Watson (Brabham), Hunt (McLaren), Laffite (Ligier), Reutemann (Ferrari), Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi), Villeneuve (Ferrari), Pironi (Tyrrell), Patrese (Arrows), Jabouille (Renauh), Tambay (McLaren), Rebaque (Lotus), Rosberg (Wolf), Stuck (Shadow), Mass (ATS), the lone Surtees and the two Ensigns. A long way back came the unfortunate Scheckter, who was ready to be the second retirement, and then came Stommelen taking a short-cut to the pits to have the front of his Arrows kicked straight.

As the two black Lotus “seventy-nines” appeared in the stadium for the second time an audible gasp went up from the spectators, for they had already pulled out a very visible lead over Lauda’s Brabham, and barring trouble the German Formula One race was all over. While people muttered about it all being “bad for the sport”, “not good motor racing” , “unfair to everyone else” and so on, the Lotus fans were smiling like Cheshire cats. Those two beautiful projectiles looked superb running nose-to-tail with little apparent effort, while the rest of the field seemed to be frantic in their efforts to keep up. I think the word to describe the scene is “dominant”, though some people thought it was “arrogant” and others suggested it was “insolent”. Jonesey-boy was nibbling hard at the tail of Lauda’s Brabham, and on lap 3 the Williams was by and in a splendid third place. Not only that but the white-and-green Saudi Arabian-backed car pulled away and almost hung on to the pace of the Team Lotus drivers. If Frank Williams and his little team were showing signs of satisfaction they were well deserved, for Alan Jones was leading the powerful Alfa Romeo backed team, the McLaren team (who often tell us how good they are), the mighty Ferrari team, the once-upon-a-time almighty Tyrrell team and the “wonder-whizz kids” Arrows team, as well as a lot of others, and it wasn’t by luck.

Nelson Piquet (Ensign) driving at the 1978 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim.

Nelson Piquet, making his grand prix debut, retired with engine failure on lap 31

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That then was the scene, with little likelihood of any serious changes. Rosberg arrived at the pits at the end of lap 2 with the nose cowling smashed to pieces and had another one fitted, and Mass and Stuck were missing. The two Germans had collided when the former’s ATS collapsed at the front. Just as Scheckter was deciding that his race was run on the opening lap the Wolfs fuel system cleared itself and the Cosworth V8 came onto full song and the South African really got stuck into the job of making up lost ground. As the Wolf sliced through the field in a most impressive manner the Renault also had a touch of the “get up and go” and Jabouille moved rapidly up from thirteenth place to sixth place by lap 6 and then the engine blew up! Scheckter’s engine did not blow up and he gained places releIitlessly, from last place to midfield by 10 laps and there was more to come. Reutemann called at the pits after four laps to have a chat about the condition of the spare Ferrari, and rejoined the race nearly a lap behind. Peterson led the race for four laps, until he and Andretti were well clear of the rest of the runners (in only four laps, ye gods!) and then moved over and let Andretti by into the lead in accordance with team orders. How nice to see a team working as a team, instead of the usual selfish individual outlook.

At 10 laps the situation was Lotus first and second, Williams third and just holding on, Lauda (Brabham) fourth and on his own, and then Hunt, Laffite, Villeneuve, Pironi, Scheckter, Patrese, Fittipaldi, Tambay, Watson, Ertl, Rebaque, Brambilla and Piquet. While Scheckter was moving up in spirited fashion, Watson was moving back, his gearbox being unable to provide him with fourth gear, so that he was having to change up from third to fifth, and equally to lose time in changing down. Reutemann was all alone at the back, and Stommelen was a lap down, his short-cut to the pits being overlooked by the German officials. On the starting grid Lauda’s Alfa Romeo engine had been showing signs of losing water, so it was no surprise when it blew up on lap 12, conveniently just past the pits. This left a big gap between Jones in third place and Hunt in fourth place, and the McLaren driver had got clear of the Ligier, so there wasn’t much serious racing about to happen. Reutemann disappeared quietly from the scene and Tambay did likewise, but with more flair, for a tyre deflated and spun him into the catch-fences. Then Hunt failed to come round and it began to look like the “Ten Little Nigger Boys”. Scheckter had dealt with Pironi, Villeneuve and Laffite in quick succession, so that when Hunt went missing the Wolf took over fourth place, but still a long way back from the Williams and the two Lotus cars. Three laps later Hunt appeared limping his McLaren along carefully with the left-front tyre in shreds. Like Stommelen had done he took the short-cut across the side of the stadium to get to the pits, and was soon back in the race with a new wheel and tyre fitted. Unfortunately his illegal entry was reported and some fifteen laps later he was given the black-flag and disqualified, but meanwhile the German driver in the German beer factory sponsored Arrows was allowed to continue!

The Lotus duo continued to cruise round and the sheer mechanical poetry of the two black cars running effortlessly nose-to-tail was a joy to watch, unless you were very biased or very “anti-Lotus” (or blind! ). The sight of Alan Jones in the Williams in a strong third place was extremely popular, and Scheckter’s climb from the last to fourth was indeed valiant. Fittipaldi was having a splendid little scrap with Pironi, which looked good but could not be taken too seriously, as the Tyrrell was in trouble with its front brakes and the Frenchman is not exactly a World Champion driver. Young Hector Rebaque was enjoying himself in his brown Lotus 78, racing against Patrese, whose Arrows had a touch of the “vapours”. Unfortunately the little Mexican had a big spin out in the country, which dropped him back three places, but he recovered and later passed Patrese, Watson and Villeneuve, albeit they were having various troubles.

On lap 29 a groan went up as Alan jones headed for the pits, the Williams DFV sounding awfully flat; the fuel system had overheated and vapour bubbles had got into the injection system. Water was poured on vital components and jones tried two more laps, but had to give up as the system could not be sorted out. The two Lotus “seventy-nines” were running beautifully, showing no signs of suffering from the heat. Patrese had a spin off onto the grass when his engine spluttered at the wrong moment, but soon rejoined the race and the F3 driver Nelson Piquet dropped out when the engine in his Ensign showed signs of tightening-up. On lap 34 there was a look of alarm in the Lotus pits, for Peterson had dropped back an uncomfortable amount from his team leader and next time round it was clear that he was in trouble, locked into fourth gear. This was a sure sign that something was breaking up in the final drive, allowing the main gearbox-shaft to move. The Swede nursed it along as best he could but on lap 37 the final drive broke up on the return leg back towards the stadium and another Lotus 1-2 was spoilt. Most people would have liked to have seen Alan jones in the Williams inherit second place, but fate had already struck her blow there, so it was Jody Scheckter who inherited Peterson’s place, and no-one begrudged it, for he had really driven hard against all odds.

With four laps left to run Andretti could almost free-wheel home, Scheckter was in second place, a very consistent Laffite was third with the Ligier, Fittipaldi had scratched past Pironi into fourth place, and Harold Ertl was sixth, having passed Villeneuve’s Ferrari which was suffering from the fashionable “vapours”. Alas, the amiable Ertl’s moment of glory was not to be for a piston collapsed and he free-wheeled into the stadium in a shower of oil from the left bank of inlet trumpets on lap 42, to cheers from the crowd, even though he is an Austrian living in nearby Mannheim.

Andretti cruised across the line to win his fifth Grand Prix of the season and the fourth for the Lotus 79. Everything had gone perfectly, no heroics, no bravado, no boring explanations, “just perfect” he said. Colin Chapman and his team looked very happy.

Mario Andretti (Lotus) celebrates on the podium after winning the 1978 German Grand Prix, Hockenheim.

Andretti is delight with the win

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Most of the members of the Formula One circus then leapt into their hired cars and fled from the stadium behind a police escort, to catch an aeroplane back to England. Those that stayed behind had an Opel Kadett race to contend with and then the exodus from the concrete stadium. As an afterthought someone queried why Hunt was disqualified for taking a short-cut, when Stommelen wasn’t. The Warsteiner Beer sponsored Arrows was the last car running, which was very appropriate as the English Law Courts were about to pronounce that the Arrows team had flagrantly infringed copyrights from the Shadow team in building their cars, and further use of the Arrows FA1 design was prohibited. That Stommelen’s Arrows car was last on its last public appearance was appropriate, but that it should subsequently be disqualified for cheating was ironical.

So that was the “Kleiner Preis von Deutschland” and if that was the “Max and Bernie Show” I think I will stick to motor racing. – D.S.J.

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