Classic season opener: 1979 Argentine GP


By 1979, ground effects had become essential in Formula 1 design, thanks to Colin Chapman. But Lotus, having won 13 Grands Prix over the last two seasons, were on the back foot. Chapman was looking forward again with the 80, attempting to effectively turn the entire car into a wing. However, the car wasn’t ready for the start of the season; reigning champion Andretti and new recruit Carlos Reutemann would be in last year’s dominant 79.

The other teams, though, had caught up. Ligier had locked out the front row with Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depailler. Reutemann managed to qualify third for his home race with Tyrrell’s Jean-Pierre Jarier fourth, Jody Scheckter fifth in the Ferrari and John Watson rounding out the top six for McLaren.

On the first lap, Scheckter and Didier Pironi collided, triggering a crash which took out another three cars. After the restart, Depailler pulled away to a commanding lead, followed by Jarier, Watson, Laffite, Andretti and Reutemann. As the field became strung out, Reutemann started his charge.

Known affectionately as Lole by the home fans, he had often managed to pull out strong performances at Buenos Aires. He took pole there on his Grand Prix debut in 1972 in an uncompetitive Brabham, was leading in ’74 when he ran out of fuel, finished on the podium in ’75 and ’77 and qualified second in ’78. But he had never won there.

Passing his team-mate, he set off after the leading trio, Jarier having dropped back with engine trouble, Laffite taking second from Watson. As the Ligiers diced for the lead, Watson – in a car he once told Motor Sport was the worst he’d ever driven – fell back into the clutches of Reutemann. After dispatching Watson, Lole closed in on Depailler, biding his time in traffic before pouncing, but it may have been that traffic which eventually cost him the win. As Laffite cruised away on his victory lap, Reutemann crossed the line. He may not have won – in fact he never would win in Argentina – but his drive is an underrated classic.

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