Renault all the way
Knittelfeld, August 17th
Following one week after the German GP most teams arrived at Osterreichring with the same cars they had used at Hockenheimring, but Ferrari went home to Maranello and returned with two different cars, 044 (Scheckter) and 043 (Villeneuve) but retaining the same spare car (045). Tyrrell had a shuffle and put Jarier in their new one (010/5) which had been built in the paddock at Hockenheimring, Daly back into his usual car (010/2) and the original car (010/1) was back to being the T-car. Brabham, McLaren and ATS were unchanged, but Lotus added to their work-programme by entering Nigel Mansell, the F3 driver, in the 81/B that was built-up in Germany, in addition to Andretti and de Angelis. The Renault team had spent the brief intervening time investigating their valve-spring breakages, and Emerson Fittipaldi swapped cars with his Finnish team-mate. In the entry list there was a second Alfa Romeo listed for Brambilla, but neither driver nor car materialised; the Ligier team came direct from Germany, feeling more confident as they had done some worthwhile testing on the Osterreichring and the Williams team had given Reutemann the spare car, which just failed to start in Germany and the one he was disenchanted with became the spare for Alan Jones. Otherwise all was fairly orderly when testing on Friday morning under clear blue skies on the fast and spectacular Osterreichring, except that Laffite was still messing about film making with a camera on the spare Ligier.
The hour and a half from 10 am to 11.30 am was supposed to be testing-time, preparatory to the one hour of qualifying time in the afternoon, but by midday the paddock looked like a battlefield and you would have thought the most cut-throat Grand Prix had just finished. It all started just after 10.30 am when Andretti’s Lotus ran out of fuel and came to rest in the chicane at the top of the hill after the pits. The idea of the organisers was to stop practice briefly while the Lotus 81/1 was retrieved, but they held out a black flag and a red flag, and nobody knew what it meant, so they all went pounding on. Then the race director held out the red flag, and still some of the drivers went flashing past. Eventually practice was stopped and the miscreants Patrese, Cheever, Rebaque, Pironi, Fittipaldi and Arnoux were all fined 5,000 Austrian Schillings for failing to stop on the red flag.
We got going again only for Daly’s engine in his Tyrrell to go bang in a big way, and already Jabouille’s Renault engine had gone sick and he had gone out in the T-car. Then Piquet went off in the Bosch curve and really crumpled BT49/8 so practice stopped once more while the wreckage was cleared up, no-one being hurt. In addition de Angelis had been off the track in Lotus 81/3 and ripped all the skirts, and hardly had practice begun again, for the third time, than Prost went off on a patch of oil and disappeared in the mud and grass. While he was doing this Mass was forced to dodge and also went off into the mud and grass and the Arrows turned upside down. The burly German was unscathed, but had tweaked his neck. Testing now finished! But the paddock was a hive of activity as cars were repaired or dismantled.
Such is the fortitude and devotion to duty of the racing mechanic that come 2 pm everyone was more or less ready to start again, except that Mass was away having a check-over and an X-ray. The sun was beating down and the heat was beginning to become oppressive and for the teams working out on the concrete pit road it was no fun at all. Drivers and timekeepers were being sheltered by umbrellas and tyres, engines, gearboxes and brakes were running very hot. Almost at once a pattern took shape, with the two Renaults of Arnoux and Jabouille so much faster than everyone else that the competition among the Cosworth-powered brigade was to see who could be third overall, and as usual it was a battle between the Ligier drivers, Pironi and Laffite, the Williams drivers Jones and Reutemann and Nelson Piquet in the leading Brabham. It was not long before practice was stopped. Villeneuve’s Ferrari engine had blown up and Andretti had gone off the road and had to be retrieved by the breakdown gang, the only damage being to the sliding skirts which were replaced when the car was brought back to the pits.
Arnoux lapped in 1 min 30.39 sec (average 146.9 mph) and could almost repeat it to order. while Jabouille was nearly a second slower on his best lap, but it had included passing four cars in the process. Alan Jones was the fastest of the Cosworth brigade, with 1 min 33.08 sec, nearly two and a half seconds slower than Arnoux and at an average speed of over 146 mph that represented a very long distance on one lap. Alain Prost was “best of the rest” and for a moment it looked as though the McLarens were improving until you realised he was over four seconds slower than Arnoux. Down at the back of the list were Lammers (Ensign), Cheever (Osella), Mansell (Lotus), Keegan (Williams), Andretti (Lotus) and Scheckter (Ferrari), some for want of experience, some for an uncompetitive car, and some for want of trying! Late into Friday night the paddock was as busy as ever as the Brabham mechanics built up another car around monocoque number 3, using the engine/gearbox unit off number 7, which in turn was rebuilt with a new engine/gearbox unit. The Arrows mechanics did a total rebuild on the car that Mass crashed and all along the line the ravages of the day were being put right.
On Saturday morning testing and preparation began again with everything more or less in order, Villeneuve and Daly being back in their own cars, Piquet using number 7, with the newly built number 3 Brabham as spare, Rebaque was still using the Weismann gearbox Brabham, and Jones was in Williams number 5, which Reutemann had discarded as useless! On the previous day Jones had made his best time with the car and was very happy with it. Mansell was far from happy with the Lotus 81/B, which had a longer wheelbase than the other three Team Lotus cars and incorporated all the development improvement, tried out on the previous Lotus 81 cars. As it was the Midlander’s first attempt at Formula One, and the daunting Osterreichring, it was difficult to say whether the car or the driver was the limitation. The courageous and tough Jochen Mass did a couple of laps in the spare Arrows car, but decided that the pains in his neck and back were too much, and officially withdrew from the event. If Jochen Mass could not stand the pains they must have been bad. Cosworth engines were still failing under the strain of the high speed and both Pironi and Cheever suffered failures, their mechanics immediately getting stuck in to complete engine changes before the afternoon session began.
At 1 pm the heat was beginning to get oppressive again, but not as bad as the day before, and once again it was Arnoux who set the pace, going even faster than before with a lap at over 147 mph. jabouille’s engine went wrong and he had to take the spare Renault and was not so fast, but his Friday time still stood him in good stead for second place on the grid. Those “hard-chargers” Jones, Pironi, Laffite, Reutemann and Piquet were all desperately trying to get a lap in at under 1 min 33.00 sec, not that it would make them competitive with the Renaults, but it would boost their morale. Reutemann was closest with 1 min 33.07 sec and Jones was not far away still driving the T-car. Both Ligier drivers were right there with the Williams drivers, as was Piquet, but Laffite was unhappy with his rear suspension. In Team Lotus Andretti was mediocre, but de Angelis had changed over to the T-car, number 81/2 and found it handled much better than his own car 81/3. He promptly got in among the upper-echelon along with Giacomelli who was quietly and effectively getting on with things in the Alfa Romeo V12, these two new young men being at the back of the “hard-charger” group and well ahead of the “mid-field greyness”. At this point Mansell looked as if he was going so be the odd man out, for with Mass withdrawing it left 25 drivers for 24 places on the grid. In desperation Team Lotus put the British driver into Lotus 81/3, which de Angelis had abandoned, and he promptly scraped onto the end with a time of 1 min 35.71 sec relegating Lammers with the Ensign to odd-man-out. In the closing minutes of practice Jones had brake failure on Williams FW07B/5 and went straight on at the chicane at the top of the hill and thumped the tyre barrier, bending the front end. He returned to the pits, a bit “wound-up”, got into his first-line car, number 9, and promply recorded 1 min 32.95 sec, the only non-Renault driver to break 1 min 33 sec.
While everyone had been playing “chase the Renaults” the Michelin people had quietly announced that they had supplied the French team with some special new construction tyres which were not intended for the race. They emphasised that they were not “short-life” qualifying tyres and that they would be used for races, but not just yet. There was no mention of the Ferrari marn having been supplied with them! Before the end of the day the oppressive heat disappeared and heavy clouds took over and “donner und blitz.” thundered around the mountains as the rain poured down.
Sunday morning was heavy and sticky with a great chance of more rain, and this, added to a lack of an Austrian driver in the race, probably was the main reason for the crowd being comparatively small; 55,000 instead of the usual 100,000 plus. The warm-up half-hour was pretty uneventful, but most drivers settled on which car they intended to race. There was then a two-hour break for final preparation and at 2.30 pm the pit lane began to stir in readiness for the 54-lap race scheduled to start at 3 pm. One by one the cars left the pit lane and were driven round to the assembly grid in front of the pits, and all 24 cars were ready. The weather was cool and grey and the sun was fighting a winning battle with the gloom. Arnoux led them all round on the parade lap and they lined up on the grid in alternate positions. Arnoux had had new turbo chargers fitted to his Renault engine during the lunch break, Jones was in the latest Williams, Piquet was in the Brabham number 7 which had started out as the spare, the Lotus drivers had all reverted to their original cars, Watson had switched to the spare McLaren and Giacomelli was driving the Alfa Romeo with the smaller and lower engine.
Thc red light glowed, cars began to creep forward, the green light glowed and the field roared off past the pits and up the hill to the chicane. Alan Jones had his Williams between the Renaults and he sat it out with Arnoux wheel-to-wheel and took the lead. He knew full well that both Renaults could power past him on the straight, but Jones is a racer and be was out to make the frogs work. For two glorious laps he led, but than Arnoux powered past and then Jabouille did the same. Renaults were a comfortable 1-2, but Jones was not giving up and the three of them left the rest of the field behind. When the rest were sorted out it was seen that Giacomelli was leading Reutemann and Piquet, followed by Pironi and de Angelis, but Laffite had made a poor start and was engulfed in mid-field. Cheever had come to rest at the end of the pits after the start and had got going again long after everyone else was well away on the opening lap.
At five laps the two Renaults and Jones were well away on their own, and the Renault plan had been to sacrifice Jabouille for the benefit of Arnoux, had Jones been troublesome. Jabouille’s car had been set-up on soft tyres to enable him to play the hare, while Arnoux was on harder tyres to settle in and consolidate the Renault position. It was soon clear that these tactics were unnecessary for though Jones was hanging on he could not challenge the Renaults so they set the pace. The rest were pounding along in their wake and everyone was still going. The first casualty was Andretti who dropped out from an inconspicuous 17th place and then Scheckter dived into the pits from an equally obscure 15th place to change his tyres, though quite why he bothered was not clear.
At 10 laps the two Renaults were pulling away and try as he might Jones could no longer stay with them, but he was so far ahead of the rest of the field that he was in a different race. Giacomelli was doing a courageous drive with the Alfa Romeo, holding on to fourth place, but he was overstressing his tyres too early in the race. As they deteriorated he was forced to let Piquet by and then Reutemann. In seventh place came de Angelis ahead of the two Ligiers and Villeneuve, but down the field trouble was beginning; Daly had a front brake disc shear off the hub as he braked for a left-hander and the other front brake which worked pulled him off the road and away into the fields. Cheever had his left-rear tyre fail and limped back to the pits, but though the Osella set off again it was not for long as a hub-bearing was breaking up. Pironi was never in the picture from the start as his Ligier was handling in a peculiar manner and though he tried a different set of tyres it made no difference and he was forced to give up with something not right in the rear suspension.
It had looked as though the Renaults were going to cruise away to a convincing 1-2 sweep, but on lap 21 Jabouille went by into the lead and Arnoux slowed right down with a front tyre deflating. Jones went by before the ailing Renault got to the pits and when Arnoux rejoined the race with four new tyres he was down in tenth place, but proceeded to go like a bat out of hell. The engine in Jarier’s Tyrrell went sick as he passed the pits and we didn’t see him again, and then Giacomelli brought the lone Alfa Romeo in for a tyre charge from his brave sixth place. In his excitement he shot out of the pits before one of the rear wheel nuts was tightened and hadn’t gone many yards before the wheel fell off! (Remember Alan Jones and the Williams team in Watkins Glen last year?, While Arnoux was making up time Jabouille was firmly in the lead and Jones had eased off slightly, secure in second place. Reutemann had passed Piquet so now the Williams team were second and third and Laffite had worked his way past de Angelis to take sixth place.
While Jabouille was cruising along in the lead at an average speed of nearly 140 mph Arnoux was setting up new lap records but his Michelins were not up to the strain and after passing the two McLarens and moving up to eighth place he was forced to stop again for a change of rear tyres. He was soon back in the race going as fast as ever, but now a lap behind his team-leader who was conscious of his own tyres being doubtful of lasting the race. In consequence Jabouille was altering his driving technique and conserving his tyres, especially the front left one which does the majority of the work round the Osterreichring. His plan was to nurse things along and still keep a comfortable distance ahead of Jones, but saving something in reserve in case the Williams driver put the pressure on in the closing stagos of the race. As Jabouille was playing it remarkably cool out in front Arnoux was flashing past the tail enders, but to no avail for he was driving harder than the Michelins could stand and on lap 38 he was in again for another set of tyres, but still he didn’t give up.
In the closing stages of the race, as Jabouille had anticipated, Jones began to pile on the pressure, but the wily Frenchman had the situation well in hand and let Jones close the gap dramatically without getting flustered. After such a long time in the doldrums with retirement after retirement Jabouille was not going to throw this one away and he carefully and skilfully matched the pace of the Williams, always with something in reserve, providing his left-front tyre held out. His pit staff were keeping him fully informed and you could see him searching in his mirror for a sight of the Williams as he went down the pits straight. Driving with beautiful precision and judgement he matched Jones’ pace to a nicety and they both recorded their fastest laps on the last lap of the race and a jubilant Jabouille crossed the line three-quarters of a second ahead of the Williams. Reutemann cruised home a comfortable third, followed by Laffite, Piquet, de Angelis and Prost all on the same lap as the leader. The courageous Arnoux finished ninth and set yet another lap record on his 50th lap and the finishers list was very good, only Watson and Mansell joining the retirements list in the closing stages, both with Cosworth engine failure. Rebaque finished in tenth place with the Weismann gearbox Brabham after a non-stop run and would have been higher up had he not had an almighty spin in the early part of the race; the new gearbox had performed perfectly. Patrese was lucky to finish as he engine in his Arrows was sounding very rough and Scheekter actually passed him on his last lap. Delighted as they were with Jabouille’s long overdue victory and with Arnoux’s new lap record, the Renault team’s real satisfaction lay in the way the V6 turbocharged engines had performed. After a bad bout of engine troubles the powerful little 11/2-litres had performed faultlessly . — DSJ