82 – 1978 Swedish GP



A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

Click here to buy the lead image.

From the editor Damien Smith

The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

1978 Swedish GP
June 17, Anderstorp

Like most of Gordon Murray’s designs, the Brabham BT46B was a paragon of proportional elegance. It had a feature unlike any other, though, and also holds the distinction of winning every world championship grand prix it started… albeit just the one.

Colin Chapman had recently created an F1 template that endures by using aerodynamics as a performance aid – and for much of 1978 his Lotus 79 was borderline untouchable. In Sweden, however, it came up against Murray’s BT46B, which featured a large fan mounted vertically beneath the rear wing. Brabham argued that its primary function was to cool the car’s Alfa Romeo flat-12: the fact it also sucked air from beneath the chassis, creating a partial vacuum and colossal downforce, was apparently happy coincidence.

Mario Andretti took pole for Lotus, ahead of the Brabhams of John Watson and Niki Lauda… but there was a strong feeling that the latter had both been sandbagging. Andretti took the lead at the start, with Lauda second as Watson dropped swiftly to fifth, behind Riccardo Patrese and Ronnie Peterson. The Ulsterman would retire after 20 laps, when a sticking throttle caused him to spin.

Lauda shadowed Andretti for the first 38 laps, then took the lead and cruised away to win at his leisure, his margin of superiority only slightly amplified when Andretti stopped with piston failure.

The result stood, despite other teams’ unhappiness, but Brabham then voluntarily withdrew the BT46B from service. Was this benevolence or politics? Fact: team chief Bernie Ecclestone had recently taken over as chief executive of the Formula 1 Constructors Association (FOCA)… and might just need his rivals’ support. SA

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