As announced, on Wednesday 30th August 1978 Ferrari return to Monza to complete preparation in view of the Italian Grand Prix that will compete on Lombardo circuit on Sunday 10th September 1978. Carlos Reutemann in this occasion will be joined by Gilles Villeneuve that will have possibility to know this track. Practice will serve over all to find the best compound for this track, which road surface has been recently renewed. Reutemann, in occasion of practice done before the Dutch Grand Prix, he was significantly faster than Andretti, Peterson, Watson, Scheckter and Patrese, who run few days before. The Argentine, with a time of 1’38’’08. Meanwhile, Niki Lauda attended in Rome, on Tuesday 29th August 1978, to premier of Welcome to Grand Prix film, an amazing history in races world in which he is one of the protagonists with the American actress Sydne Rome. Lauda in an interview says to be satisfied of setting aside of project of produce for Formula 1 Grand Prix a full Alfa Romeo machine, at least for the moment.
"So we can fully concentrate on Brabham-Alfa Romeo and serve us not only all Brabham team, but even employee and equipment of a big industry as Alfa Romeo".
Lauda would be glad to race another season with the same partner in Scuderia, the north-Irish John Watson, a nice friend, with whom he works well. But, he adds, last word it is up to Italian company, because associate of Scuderia, and it would give the preference to an Italian. For what concern projects of immediate future, Lauda aims only to defend at least third position in World Championship classification and to precede in final classification Ferrari drivers. On Wednesday 30th August 1978 a violent downpour ends in advance first day of practice of Ferrari, that in Monza prepares the Italian Grand Prix. During morning runs only Villeneuve (25 laps) with specific purpose to understand the track since the young Canadian never raced on Lombardo track. Practice would continue more intensively in afternoon, but after few laps Gilles desists for failure of the engine caused, seems, by malfunctioning of oil pump. Many fans rushed to see Maranello cars have to wait until evening, when from Modena arrives another 312 T3 still not fully finished but that has interesting changes. The pace of this last singleseater is in fact shorter, position of the driver more advanced, nose of new design, while steering box has been positioned behind pedals. Reutemann can however make only few laps before hail forced him to postpone to today real tests. During the forced break of the afternoon, journalists ask to Villeneuve some questions on this championship. It is almost an year that he races with Ferrari. What is your report about this experience?
"It was an important year, I could day basic for my driver career because at beginning of the season I was a new one in Formula 1 Circus. With Ferrari I could fit in in the best way, I learnt a lot, I could understand different tracks and this is already a positive side. Then, in a team as the Italian one, that does countless tests, I had the possibility to gain experience both with tyres and set up. In short, I became more driver respect to last year".
How do you judge the Italian team?
"With no doubt the best team. Disposes of all means to allow to cars and its drivers to come through. Mechanics are great and work with great passion. The car this year has not lived up to Lotus, anyway disposes always of a great engine".
By analysing your season, do you think you could have obtained any more result?
"It is hard to say, because many factors influence races, some of them are independent from your will, that can change the final result. In Zolder, in Monaco, in Zeltweg, for example, with less problems and with bit more of luck I could have ended better".
In your opinion which are decisive mistakes that you made?
"Everyone does mistakes. The best driver is who mistakes less. I do not think to have many of them on my conscience. For me you are wrong only when brake at fifty meters instead of a hundred, or when you are not able to insert a gear".
But, in Long Beach...
"That in Long Beach I do not consider it a mistake because if I was alone I would not go out of track. I only tried to surpass Regazzoni and I could have done if Clay had left me a bit of space. We say that it was a risk that has not been successful".
Ferrari for next season has already hired Scheckter and now has to choose the other driver between Reutemann and you. Would you like to remain and which possibility do you think to have to drive Maranello cars yet?
"I am very well in Italian team and thus I would like to stay. It is anything defined yet, and hence it is not said I am not the second driver".
If you should leave Ferrari in which team would you go?
"Now everyone is saying Lotus because is the winning team. For me the important thing is to end in a good team. In last weeks I was contacted by different people but I can make a choice only when I will know what Ferrari decided".
It took a whole day of work, but at the end the significant result has arrived punctually, just in last laps, as a right reward for who does not saved neither means nor energy to obtain it. In this way ended with unofficial record of the track, Ferrari practice in sight of the Italian Grand Prix. To obtain it is Gilles Villeneuve, that in last laps of Thursday 31st August 1978, during which he done 156 laps, stops chronometers, for two times in a row, on great time of 1'37"98 that represents the best absolute performance on track of Monza. When he returns to box, Gilles was celebrated. Climatic conditions particularly favourable for sure advantage the Canadian in his exploit, anyway his performance of today is an additional demonstration of his capacity. Carlos Reutemann instead already left track a few minutes ago when is young teammate made the new record. Even the Argentine, for all the day, does a big amount of work (130 laps) to set up the new version of 312 T3. His fastest lap is of 1'38"13.
"It is a good car, but it needs still much work to take it to a satisfying level. Next week in Maranello we will decide if run or not the Italian Grand Prix with this last singleseater. If it depended on me I would prefer to race with traditional one because it is more reliable".
On Wednesday 6th September 1978, at building present inside Fiorano circuit, Carlos Reutemann, Enzo Ferrari and Franco Gozzi find themselves in living room at ground floor, to sign contract of renewal for 1979 season, while Piero Lardi and Marco Piccinini are with Gilles Villeneuve at first floor, intent on explaining to Canadian driver that for next season would not be a place in Ferrari for him. Piccinini starts to talk with Villeneuve, but when he is halfway through his speech is interrupted by Franco Gozzi, that breathless goes upstairs and exclaims:
"A moment, hold on. Marco, Piero, can you come a moment?"
Piero Lardi and Marco Piccinini follow Franco Gozzi, that warns them that Carlos Reutemann signed for Lotus Team. Piccinini return in the room where Gilles Villeneuve was waiting for, and reconnecting the speech to the introduction that had to take to departure of Canadian driver, at the end communicates the renewal for 1979 season. Carlos Reutemann leaves Ferrari. The Argentine driver signs contract that binds him to Lotus for 1979 World Championship. Naturally, Carlos will end actual season behind the wheel of Maranello’s cars. Gilles Villeneuve will join so Jody Scheckter in next season. Reutemann, how made clear in Netherlands, was left very perplexed after conditions done from Ferrari to Scheckter. The south-African lamented a treatment very different: to Jody a contract of 800.000 dollars, for him less than half.
"Money aside, they informed me that Scheckter will be first drive of Ferrari in 1979 and I do not feel to do wingman in this team where I was number one, after Lauda divorce".
Argentine driver has thus looked for an alternative solution, finding it indeed in Lotus that had problems in replace Ronnie Peterson, moved to McLaren. Reutemann will have to do second to Mario Andretti, who is now a step away from achievement of world title, but the fact perhaps weighs less to him, even because, if nothing else, he has certainty to race a winning car, car that this year allowed Peterson a big revival in Formula 1. Reutemann entered in Ferrari in 1976. In current championship he won three Grand Prix (Brazil, USA West and Great Britain) confirming his skills of expert, mature and regular driver. Anyway Argentine was not exempt from criticism: team of Maranello (even if not officially) reprimanded him some errors and a certain fragility of character. Villeneuve, a young Canadian driver which launch in Ferrari costed destruction of several cars, but he showed an undoubted talent and that he is still growing up from race to race, would be a valid teammate for Scheckter. Already on Friday 1st September 1978 the south-African visited Ferrari in Maranello, where he stayed all day long. The driver spent few hours in racing department that he met engineer Enzo Ferrari and lawyer Luca Montezemolo, arrived from Torino. Later Scheckter spoke with some executives. He did not try any car because the contract that bind him to Wolf forbids him to go on other cars until 31th December 1978.
"Joining press needs, Ferrari considered to communicate today, instead after the Italian Grand Prix, how it was expected, driver team of 1979 season, that will be composed by Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve".
Tradition, established by Enzo Ferrari, according to which the Modenese constructor announced his intensions only after Monza race every year, has been interrupted because of many rumours published in this occasion much earlier on official communications. And even because, presence of Reutemann in Maranello first and in Fiorano then, recalled many journalists in place that witnessed to have precise information about conversation had by Enzo Ferrari with Argentine driver. In the statement released by Maranello team, though, there is no mention to Reutemann, neither on what constructor and driver said each other. Says Mauro Forghieri, technical manager of Ferrari, about renewal of partnership with Gilles Villeneuve:
"Villeneuve is a boy with his head straight, very serious, authentic professional. Another would be discouraged against some results, in front of many critics. During these months our driver had to get over difficulties that would have broken down many others, even more expert than him. Some kind of press did nothing but ask because Ferrari hired him. Someone defined him the aviator. To each opposition Gilles answered with increasing of effort, willpower, learning everything that was possible to learn".
An office defence that Forghieri could not avoid doing. Next year, at the side of Scheckter, with a better knowledge of environment and tracks, Gilles Villeneuve will be able to dispute a good championship. When the Canadian, after all, spoke of his possible divorce from Ferrari, precisely for what he made to see in some races, interested other teams too. On Wednesday 6th September 1978, at Monza, Renault technical director, Jean Sago, says that in sight of utilization of another turbo car in 1979, French industry thought to hire the Canadian. Now though confirmation of Gilles in Italian team, close the discourse. Renault will orient on French driver, on Pironi if this last will be free from contract that bind him to Tyrell for next year too, or on Arnoux that is on foot after resignation of Martini to continue Formula 1 activity. French car is, meanwhile, unique to run on Monza track. Jean Pierre Jabouille undertakes car in a very hard test, simulating whole race. Renault does 56 laps in a row (until when he runs out of fuel), four more than what is scheduled for the Italian Grand Prix. The best time is obtained from Jabouille on the passage of 1'39"1.
"But we mounted race tyres. With softer ones, for make time, we can go even under 1’38’’0 and start in first positions. Car is just fine, sticks to the road well and about velocity has no fear of comparisons. In Netherlands showed to go faster than Ferrari on straight and even other cars have many problems to overtake us. Now is a matter to arrive at the end of the race, because until now we always had to rebuild before the end, even when we placed very well. A positive result could take a wind of trust in out team. Even if, is a thing that everyone has to admit, we always believed in our engine and construction of this car that runs on highest standards".
For the much-discussed circuit of Monza starts, with first qualifying for drivers who are not part of constructor association, week leading to the Italian Grand Prix. Are enough seven Formula 1 car to bring running to border of Lombardian track over than 20.000 people. Few days before, exactly on Sunday 3rd September 1978, atmosphere in Monza is already that of Grand Prix, with streets full of people, vendors that show badges of Andretti and Lotus, and with unmissable platforms already placed from fans in best place of track in sight of the race on Sunday 10th September 1978. The mini–Grand Prix of pre-practice sees prevail Hector Rebaque, with his Lotus 78 and the only to go under the wall of 1'40"0. The young Mexican, that has at disposal massive equipment, financial, does not find any difficulty to prevail over others given the supremacy of the car that he drives. Rebaque, that for the next year has already bought Lotus 79 that currently use Andretti and Peterson, declares to have even an option to obtain until 1981 Chapman cars. For other two available seats for actual practice, is a closer fight and at the end prevail Brazilian Nelson Piquet and American Brett Lunger, both on McLaren. Remain excluded Herald Ertl, for 0.032 seconds, so Rosberg, Stommelen and Colombo. The engine failure, after ten minutes from practice start, forces Rosberg to an actual foot race to come back to box and restarts with backup car. This mechanical failure highlights another time injustice of these pre-practice that are disputed in order to overcome even most banal failure. Stommelen exclusion raises a certain surprise, because German driver drives an Arrows equal to that of Patrese.
"The car did not stand in the street, and more than that I could not do. We were not able to find downforce. It is a car that we are not able to improve quickly".
Even Alberto Colombo is unable to obtain a seat in practice of the Italian Grand Prix. The popular big hair of Varedo, with Merzario A1, can not do better than 1'42"55, and obtains only the last time.
"Problems of insertion of gears did not allow me to go faster. I am sorry because naturally I wanted particularly to participate to Grand Prix of our home. Anyway, it has been an interesting experience and I have to say that the car build by Arturo is far better than ATS that I had the occasion to try before".
To this practice had to participate even the French René Arnoux, but Tico Martini, car constructor, announced right in these days his retire from greatest formula. Lack of adequate financial means and hard insertion in Formula 1 Circus have led famous Sanremo constructor (now naturalized French) to fall back on minor formulas, in which he obtained in the past important laurels. Martini, for next season, will build a new Formula 2 car that will use a Bmw four cylinders and will attempt with his own official team to European championship. On Sunday 10th September 1978, in the old and contested Autodromo risen to propagandize automotive and help emerging national industry, will take place Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix. Could be last scheduled in Monza, battle between enemy of races and who love it is lit. On one side is sustained that motor system contributes to park degradation, on the other side is affirmed that can not be abandoned this Autodromo, source of many activities. The fate of the challenge is not decided yet, it is fought at sound of communicates and declarations. The argument is important, but perhaps - at least for the moment - quite affects who is going to dive into the Italian Grand Prix atmosphere. An atmosphere made of many elements, in which merge curiosity, technical and sportive passion, taste of thrill. A modern kermis, an engine festival, a celebration to anchored in so called automotive civility. There is, mainly in young ones, a genuine passion for Formula 1 Circus, in which negative aspects (excessive profiteering, stardom, extreme monetization of own ability) are vailed by roaring show that repeats every fifteen days track by track. Singleseaters of Grand Prix make the highest expression of automotive: simple and refined technique at same time, wide utilizing of light alloy, aerodynamic studies. For who builds and develops during the year is an incomparable school. A driver, a car, a team impose rapid decisions, alert mind, improvisation capability. At Monza this week there is possibility to observe close the Circus, perhaps until now only seen through screen of televisions.
Cars, big truck that carry them, mechanics, drivers. I do not think there is another sport that brings together many protagonists in the same place every two weeks. It goes in old Autodromo without many hopes to see a victory of much-loved Ferrari. In 1975, in 1976, in 1977 there was a driver of Maranello - Niki Lauda - that could conquer world title. That happened in 1975 (and Monza dedicated the triumph to the Austrian and Scuderia Ferrari), that repeated in 1977 (but with less joy, because was already known that Niki would leave Ferrari) while in 1976 crowd suffered return of Lauda to races after Nürburgring incident. This time Carlos Reutemann, successor of Lauda, was not able to insert himself in fight with the new 312 T3. Too strong Lotus with its Andretti and Peterson, matadors of the season with a incredible streak of successes. And superiority of British singleseaters would continue even in Monza, unless unexpected failures or sensational return of Ferrari, Monza will be able to celebrate Mario Andretti, that finds himself a step away of world title. A victory, a retirement or a modest placement of Peterson, the wingman, and the game could be done for the Italian-American. A very strong driver, a nice and genuine man, that has to stay strong to restrain the enthusiasm, determination, will win. For him, despite USA passport took because of obvious reason of work he feels Italian, to obtain his first championship at Lombardo Autodromo, that is at home, would mean make an ancient dream. Even for this the fans have to follow him with love. Waiting for the Italian Grand Prix raises hour by hour. Thousands of fans camp in Autodromo: although ban of introducing into the circuit any kind of material to build makeshift platforms, in key areas of track were build tens of stands, supervised day and night to avoid any abusive dismantling or settlements. The argument of the day is naturally transition of Carlos Reutemann from Ferrari to Lotus. On new teammate, this is Andretti opinion:
"For me is okay, as it would be good Giacomelli or Regazzoni, that were other two driver in the running to drive the second car in the team. I left final decision to Colin Chapman to not have any responsibility in case the driver chosen would do in future anything wrong".
Do you think Reutemann has been hired for the eventual technical contribution he will take to Lotus and Goodyear, because for a year he raced with radial tyres?
"I do not think that has been this the key reason. Tyre changes too often to say he is an expert. In any case, under this aspect, I think it has been an equivalent exchange because Scheckter, moved to Ferrari, can bring his backpack of experience made with Goodyear, while Carlos will give same for how much he learnt with Michelin radials".
Colin Chapman affirms:
"I hired Reutemann because he showed to be a winning driver compared to others driver that I had on hand. I wanted to hear the opinion of Mario, but on his hand there have not been oppositions. Actual signature of the contract was made by Reutemann yesterday second-hand. Mario instead had already renewed his before Zandvoort race".
According to sources very reliable the connecting ring between English designer and Argentine in this negotiation was the former Spanish Alex Soler Roig. Reutemann did not show up in Monza, remaining in hotel of Arcore that hosts him. Instead to Ferrari mechanics that work around cars is visiting Gilles Villeneuve, that looks particularly calm after confirms of Ferrari.
"I heard the official decision only on Wednesday and naturally I am very glad. Scheckter and I will do many tests, but I have no fear of work".
Before this confirm from who you were contacted?
"Several teams, of which now is useless to say names, they made me good proposals. I hope, possibly, they will repeat to me them at end of next year, if I will have to leave team of Maranello".
Did you talk to Reutemann after this event?
"No, I did not. Because we had no time. We met in Fiorano when we took turns on T3 we were testing, but could not talk".
What results do you hope in Monza?
"I do not know, but a would like to win. Many times, in this season, I had good possibilities in practice, but then during race all went wrong. During tests I did last week I obtained unofficial record of track".
Know all knows, non-experts too, that Lotus is the strongest car thanks to the best aerodynamic understanding. And it is curious to notice racing car evolution went before through engines improvement, then chassis, thus tyres, and lastly aerodynamic. For many years it was though that for singleseaters there was not much to do, in aerodynamic field, given that open wheel and practical needs did not give many spaces to improvements in this field. For about ten years has been started a parallel research, aim not much to decrease rolling resistance and thus to increase speed on the straight (thing that anyway is always tried to obtain) but rather to increase downforce, that is a downward push, in order to increase grip and being able thus to face curves faster. Now that it is made by anyone, it can even be said that will to find more curve velocity it is obvious, considering that circuits are made of curve series, and have generally only one straight, neither so long. Ferrari technicians were first to put wings on singleseater, followed by others: that it was thought to shape as a wing even car sides, as on the first March. At the end came Lotus 79 with its ground effect or Venturi system. At first sight even Lotus model 79 exploit upside down wing principle, to obtain a downward push: thanks to this push tyres attach themselves better to ground and the car goes in curve as following rails. Actually applied principle on Lotus is a bit different and is based on fact that all upper part of the car is built with a Venturi tube, with variable section, with tighter point toward centre of the car, to get wide toward rear end. Basically happens that air gets into the front, goes under lowest part increasing speed, and gets out rear causing a strong depression, that is a downward force. To obtain maximum effect there are then famous side skirts, that is mobile sides partitions that touch ground and maintain channelled air under the car. It is evident that air could escape sideways, it would make a significant reduction of the effect, but a part would remain anyway because the internal shape of conduit is still a upside down wing.
What surprised all opponents, even who in some way were aware of Lotus experiments, has been the fact this solution not only creates a great grip in curves, but does not slow down the car on straight, thing that instead happens if usual wings are used. This means that specialists that have developed aerodynamic design of Lotus model 79 have been able to optimize the result. Thanks to this particularity techniques, Lotus dominates until to boredom. At this point, no one can worry Mario Andretti. The only one that, in theory, could still take away world title to Italian-American driver is his team mate Ronnie Peterson, but it is only a theoretical possibility. With 12 points of vantage and a maximum of 27 points to assign in three races that are still scheduled (Italy, United States and Canada), final mathematical victory of Mario is only a formality. On Friday 8th September 1978, although Monza autodromo risks to disappear (perhaps the Italian Grand Prix will be taken elsewhere, and circuit will be demolished), people rush, growing and ever more compact. There is no explanation that is good enough: even though the championship is practically ended, during first day of practice this Italian appointment for Formula 1, seems to be in race day, big crowds, overflowing grandstands and park invaded by fans alongside the track. A torrid heat, an unexpected comeback of summer, naked torsos and drinks consumed as river. Even in Monza repeats the mantra of the whole season: two hour and half of official practice, split in a session of 90 minutes in the morning and 60 in the afternoon. Practice begins on Friday morning under warm and sunny skies and 28 contestants are ready to qualify for the 24 places on the starting grid. To support the idea that nobody in the Formula One world can get it right there are the usual anomalies created by the constructors’ union. The ATS team lost the services of Jochen Mass, who is in hospital in Northampton following a bad accident at Silverstone while testing the new D1 ATS, which appeared briefly at Zandvoort previously.
"No, I will take pole position tomorrow".
Answers with a smile quite uncertain. Nevertheless, guys of Lotus pushed the 78 on box lane at the start of second session, but Peterson remained behind the wheel for a short time.
"Give him a taste of how you will drive next year".
Sais joking one of the Lotus mechanics to Ronnie Peterson, followed by mechanics laughs. Practice for Swedish driver, on new McLaren M28, are scheduled for next week in Watkins Glen, and no one doubts he would be one of the strongest drivers to measure in 1979. Even Rex and Bobby, during practice, have leaf through pages of sports magazines, asking with a worried face:
"Will Reutemann really come to us?"
"Track seemed to me more dirty, and there was even a bit of oil. Maybe, we continue to have problems collecting with our tyres residue left on asphalt from Goodyear ones. I hope anyway to improve and above all to make a good race".
Even Villeneuve could not go to full speed: in first turn of practice the Canadian had to stop for breaking of engine of his 312 T3 and he was forced to use the T-Car, set up precariously. The sudden heat, indeed, has caused failure of several engines. With Peterson and Villeneuve there are Jones, Lauda and presumably Watson too. Engineer Carlo Chiti, manager of Autodelta, says that the Irish broke the oil pan hitting against a kerb and that Lauda wanted to change the engine because was not satisfied of the one he had (for defective operation of injection), but Lauda himself then contradicted the technician saying:
The prove of Carlos Reutemann has been in crescendo. After been relegated for a while in the back, the Argentine climbed up to sixth place:
"I had problems with chassis, because I could not press the throttle pedal to the floor in fourth gear in fast curves. I hope the defects will be found and I will set up the car".
Carlos does not look particularly cheerful. The Argentine driver let known he was contacted by Chapman to move to Lotus when he was in Zandvoort:
"I had however some possibilities even with other two teams. My decision to leave Ferrari matured little by little. When I went to commentator was all decided yet and he only asked to me why I was leaving".
Reutemann does not clarify exactly the situation. It is not clear, from his words, which are real motifs of divorce with Maranello team. In Lotus, anyway, he will see with World Champion Mario Andretti. Still about drivers market it is arrived to ending phases. Between more important steps could be the one of Tambay to Williams. In this case, Bruno Giacomelli would be official driver of McLaren on the side of Peterson. Mario Andretti starts in best way this Gran Prix of Italy that would be bring him to world title. The best time of the first day of practice and new unofficial record of track are the first loot of the Italian-American driver, that even in this occasion showed to be the strongest.
"It was quite easy to obtain the best time, because we were soon able to find a good set up for the car. The track, respect to some weeks ago when I did some tests, changed a lot. The tyre that remains on road surface makes it faster and hence I think that times will still reduce significantly".
"It is a question to which I prefer to not answer to not offer other advantages to my opponents. They copy all our move, and it is not the case to teach them what they do not understand yet".
"The engine was quite weak, I can not make comparisons with 79 model. Anyway, greater advantages I think can be felt in fast part".
"Fault for all what happened in Zandvoort is of tyres. Today, with better tyres, we are back to occupy our traditional position".
Jody Scheckter never fails to surprise. After hiring from Ferrari he became talkative and always available for a talk. In addition, surprise everyone when he asks that questions may be asked to him in Italian.
"I have to learn your language, because in a few months I will have to deal with mechanics of Maranello. For this, every day, in Monaco I take lessons from a teacher".
Conditions remain stable for the untimed practice session on Saturday morning, though trouble is rife. Reutemann is in the spare Ferrari but is disgruntled as he does not like it compared to his usual car (036), and the management wants him to race it. Andretti tries the spare Lotus 79 briefly, and Jones is out in the spare Williams. Peterson is in trouble with overheating rear brakes on his Lotus 79 and then suffers clutch slip as the main gearbox oil seal leaks and lets oil seep along the primary shaft. Lauda’s Brabham breaks another Alfa Romeo engine and a new one is installed in a fantastically quick time, while Regazzoni’s Shadow breaks its engine as did Tambay’s McLaren. Laffite is trying the spare Ligier when its Matra V12 breaks and altogether there is a scene of mechanical chaos after what is supposed to be a period for setting-up the cars for handling on full petrol tanks and race worthy tyres. Another hard lunch break follows for the mechanics, Brabhams’ are working feverishly on Lauda’s car (BT46/7), Lotus are flat-out on Peterson’s car (79/2), Shadow are in the same state with Regazzoni’s car (DN9/4A-3)) while McLaren covered over Tambay’s car (M26/3) and is fitting him into M26/1. The final hour sees Lauda start off with the spare Brabham, now running on normal Lucas fuel-injection, until his own car is finished. Peterson has to sit around and wait for his car to be finished, but Regazzoni is out in the spare Shadow. Reutemann starts off in the spare Ferrari (035) but very soon abandons it with no fuel pressure and is back into his own car. Villeneuve is really getting on with the job and being most impressive on his first visit to Monza.
"I could gnaw few more hundredth, but at Ascari variant the car became very oversteering. It is strange, because in other parts of the track the car is perfect. I am glad to have found again times I marked during tests last week and in addition in a hot and moggy day and hence unfavourable to exploit".
"Everything will depend on starting, because passing good the first chicane is very important".
With Villeneuve, lined up in first row, will start Mario Andretti, that even in Monza obtained pole position.
"I focused the work on tyres of hard kind, because I noticed that performed better than that for times. Soft tyres, in fact, slipped too much and did not guarantee the necessary trust. The car now is perfect".
To win the championship misses a little step. Will you do it in Monza?
"To the title is needed to think little by little. Before is needed to set up in the best way the car to have more chances during race".
Which is your prediction for the race?
"I do not hide that I have good possibilities of victories. The crucial moment will be the start. If I will be able to take the lead even better, if not, I will go slow to gain some points".
On your side this time will not have your teammate Peterson, that in Zandvoort protected you. Did you consider it an advantage or a disadvantage?
"Ronnie in this season has always been very useful, but is always a fearful opponent, I controlled him from the start of the season to not have unpleasant surprises. When the flag goes down is important to jump ahead of everyone and remaining there until the end".
During the night, on Ronnie Peterson car has been mounted a new engine for not timed practice of Saturday morning, but things do not get better. After few laps, the Swedish driver is returned back to box lane, quiet but furious, behind an impassive expression, and Bobby crouched under back of the car to examine brakes.
"Pads do not come off well from discs. There has to be some anomaly in the system".
At the end of the session are shown other problems. Nigel approaches Chapman and whispers him something the ear. The head of Lotus makes a face:
"I thought that we were over this kind of things".
Commented Peterson with a shrug. An oil seal of gearbox loses, and lubricant leaks over clutch. The 79 is pushed again out of box, but this time Ronnie is back behind the wheel of 78 in afternoon session. At 10 minutes at end of practice, the 79 is again pushed on box lane, Peterson has been prepared to driving seat and gone. Five laps later, the checkered flag waves for end of practice. Peterson did not have time to improve the time made on Friday: hence, he will start on the inside of third row of the grid, with fifth time in qualifying. Before him there are his teammate Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari, Jabouille’s Renault and his old friend Niki Lauda’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo. Next to him, in third row, a fraction of second slower than his Lotus, will be Alan Jones on Frank Williams’ car. With Peterson in difficulty, in Renault team hope to obtain the first row. Before them, though, inserted Villeneuve. Declares Jean Sage, technical director of French team:
"Ferrari is always strong, and even his young man grows race by race. We are however satisfied of third time because the Monza one is not a track particularly favourable to our car because in chicanes turbo does not make good".
"I could not do more, even because in this occasion Goodyear did not provide me time tyres. After all, though, I am satisfied, because in race I will repeat performance of practice. For the race they will mount to me the engine I had in South Africa and I consider this an advantage, since is the best in the team".
On Sunday 10th September 1978, the day is muggy and the sky is too dull to highlight acrobatics of air patrol that speed over heads of hundred thirty, may be 150.000 people. It is the eve of all time, decanted the angry of the Saturday that provoked many incidents and an incredible stress to any level. Accessories and mock-ups shops are crowded and noisy, and the most sold object is the scale replica of Lotus 79, with his livery John Player-Olympus. The drivers try to stay calm and cool in their motorhome, until the moment to exit for half hour warm-up. After few laps, Ronnie Peterson does not appear in front of box, since his 79 goes between layers of protection net, stopping directly against the barrier of the second chicane. Ronnie, with some bruises on legs, comes back to box and declares:
"Those cursed brakes still not hold".
At the end of warm-up, the 79 damaged is taken to the paddock by one of the vans. There is no possibility to repair it in time for the race start, thus mechanics resign themselves to prepare 78/3. Ronnie Peterson comes back in Lotus motorhome thoughtfully and talks to Andretti. Few hours later, first line up of cars on starting grid is long and cloying, with advertising exhibitions mixed to real needs of different teams. The Italian Grand Prix takes - in its first edition - exactly four hundred meters, as many as just trigger a dramatic incident that involves 10 cars, reducing in grave conditions two skilled and popular as Ronnie Peterson and Vittoria Brambilla. The Swedish risks to lose a leg and the Monzese a very serious head trauma. It had to happen, say more or less all the drivers interviewed in the break, before the second start. The problem of the start is such from a long time but it wanted the serious incident (and more serious would have been if emergency services would not have worked at perfection) because it is arrived at least to a disciplinary action, in waiting that it is found a better technical solution for a regular start. There is a limited tension, in the hour that precede the start, almost an atmosphere of an end season race. It is difficult to explain because, but after polemics evil polemics of past days everything was softened and not only drivers but even their clan that are often a mirror of latent tension. The alignment is long because there are advertising needs to satisfy, the finally engines start and it goes for formation lap that drivers do in slow pace, at most waving to warm up more tyres. When they return on starting line everyone has to place in position provided, two for each row and layered on four longitudinal lines, in order to allow the easiest possible starting. Between first and last row there are thus 200 meters but a serious mistake of race director actually reduces this space to much less. When Andretti and Villeneuve paired on first row put tyres on starting line who is following them is still definitely moving, faster who is farther. Restelli, autodromo and race director, awaits two seconds and then turn on green light of start. Immediately goes Villeneuve, a bit surprised Andretti, and with him who is in first three rows that are just stopped. That are moments and from back who has still tyres moving tries to take advantage.
The straight is thus faced from a cloud of cars grouped and if there is space for everyone in first part, when double track is left to take road track, the bottleneck fatally selects. From right toward center of track who went to widely, taking advantage of banked entrance, that this year is not delimited by road cones, and a car (such as Arrows of Patrese), closing toward center, he touches McLaren of Hunt that flies sideway, to the left, nailing against opposite guardrail (at the right) Lotus of Peterson, that lost few meters because of gearbox failure. From this moment the piled up is incredible. With sequence of crashes more or less violent that involve Reutemann, Regazzoni, Stuck, Depailler, Lunger, Pironi, Daly and Brambilla. The deadliest collision is the one that involves Brambilla and Peterson. The car of the Italian splits in two the Lotus of Peterson, from few seconds stopped against the guardrail on right side of the circuit, hitting the body of the Swedish. Someone has then started rolling against the Surtees of Brambilla, Lotus catches fire. Hunt, the first protagonist of the incident, meanwhile is out of his car, run together with one of rescue workers, the Mr Marmugi, to extract Peterson from cockpit. Without thinking, Hunt kicks the button for releasing seat belt and, helped by Clay Regazzoni, carries out the Swedish, conscious but pale from pain for serious fractures of legs. These two do just in time because the car is already covered by foaming, catches fire again more violent than the first. Near there, meanwhile, is assisted Brambilla and witnesses ensure that occur a big mistake from police on duty that, panicked, try to remove the helmet (indeed already broken in the impact) without so many precautions. The race is suspended at passing of survived racers, fourteen in total, and from this moment the Monzese management enters in total breakdown. No one can maintain calm and this crumbling implant directed with philosophy of day after day, shows his difficulties. And on finish line is took the foolish exhibition of police and carabiniers entered on track after and in respect of the usual rivalry, beating up mechanics and team managers, journalists and photographers for no reason if not to impede to professionals to go on incident place after fifteen-twenty minutes, thus only to help or understand, certainly not for impede rescuers now depleted. They are the same that will disappear at the end of the race leaving at the mercy of the exhausted crowd and thus more overexcited, protagonists and co-protagonists and the race.
"I had problem with brakes, but then everything went well. I am exhausted, and I desire only to go home. I am sick of Monza. I do not want to hear any more about it and I do not care nothing about this victory".
Crossing barred gates, wolfdogs, guards that lose their mind, journalists are able to get close to Andretti. Around him, mothers, brothers, cousins, friends of friends of service personnel of autodromo. Everyone, unless workers. Andretti shows himself friendliest, but on his face miss the smile of victory. A dark face, with dull eyes. For first thing he informs about conditions of Peterson and Brambilla.
"I am so sorry, the day did not have to do like this. I do not even know what to say. I do not want to talk about world title in this moment. May be another time, in few days".
Someone insists, asking him to who dedicate the success. Mario thinks little. Then answer:
"At this point I have to dedicate it to myself: it was so hard, and the ending really exhausting. I never thought that it could close in this way, with Ronnie and Vittorio in hospital. It was long that did not happen something, and I hoped to close the season with only joy in my heart".
Andretti then move to talking about the race. About the incident he did not saw anything, as all the other drivers that were in front of the group. About the starting he says very little:
"In first one we were taken by surprise by green light. In second one was more confusion, everyone was moving. It would be a practical solution to this problem: a professional starter that will give start in all races of World Championship. We know him, his systems, and him ours. Each one could adjust regulate".
For what concerns circuit security, the thought of Andretti is clear:
"Until there will be automotive races it will not be possible to totally eliminate incidents. Cars and tracks will always have defects. This is sure. We can do little steps ahead, but little by little, without arriving to absolute security. Thus, I do not feel to condemn either Monza or another track. Sure is that chicane soon after starting is very dangerous: the track, very wide, invites the group, at the start, to fan, and then close everyone as a bottleneck. Would be a thing to avoid, as well as guardrails, that would not be badly put at right angle on possible direction of off-track of a car, but in horizontal sense, in a way that the car, in case of off-track, bounces off only glancing".
Andretti has dull voice, he can hardly talk. It is clear that his mind is elsewhere. On Monday he will leave for Toscana, where he will go see his uncle.
"I will try to rest a bit, and then to think to this world title. I do not know yet how I will celebrate this success, that I waited for too long. I will wait, however, to know how Peterson and Brambilla are: I do not want to do anything before having the certainty that are improving".
"No one from box informed me, and I regulated looking the bright board where appeared, in last laps, at first place. Pity, because I would have liked, despite everything, a success at Monza".
In a crazy, incredible, dramatic Grand Prix, one of the key points has been the splendid race of Gilles Villeneuve. The Canadian driver for many laps did dream thousands of people that all day awaited to start of the Grand Prix. Villeneuve did not make to win. On track he arrived second then downgraded to seventh position because of the minute of penalization inflicted to him together with Andretti. But his race is still one of the best things of this Grand Prix.
"Go and go, before the end a victory will come even for me. It is not real that I started early. The car at the start had a lot of grip and went as a light ball. Maybe has been this perfect start to mislead stewards and to make believe them that I started before the semaphore turn green".
After having gained lot of ground, in last part of the race you were taken up by Andretti. For what reason?
"The car with passing of laps has suffered understeering and I had to slow down".
In the caravan of Ferrari there is Carlos Reutemann too. The third-place finish does not satisfy him.
"I am not happy with this bad day, that upsets me. I did not like the race too. The car started to suffer a lot of understeering and I could not hold on to Watson. In the incident then I had terrible moments, I was all left in a good position, but when the track gathered I received a big hit on right and with closed eyes I scratched for over 300 meters against the guardrail. When I stopped my right tyres were completely cut".
Why did you take so much time to decide to resume again the race?
"It was a manner of safety, on which I had to respect. Scheckter in second Lesmo curve hit, at over 200 km/h, and he curved the guardrail for 15 meters. Starting with a so dangerous place without the necessary protection meant to say another incident, maybe more serious".
The win ended to Niki Lauda who in this occasion too showed to be unsporting. The Austrian, to not delay the return to Saltsburg, does not even show up on podium and consequently thousands of fans invaded track to see him, remained with nose up. The gesture of the Austrian was not accepted and crowd lashed out calling him: fool… fool… fool. To party, at Brabham-Alfa team, remained only John Watson and engineer Carlo Chiti. The Irish driver, very glad for second position obtained, declares:
"All went well, only at start I got off to a bad start because I had low traction and tyres skidded".
Partially happy of victory engineer Chiti:
"All went in best of ways, but this success is covered by the serious incident of which have fallen victim Brambilla and Peterson. Vittorio is particularly bind to our House and thus his conditions leave us apprehensive".
"I do not know, I did not see the start. If race stewards decided in this sense it is a sign that is right in this way".
One of the protagonists of the race was Emerson Fittipaldi. The Brazilian, with prodigious comeback, took him from last position to the eighth overall:
"All because of friction; it broke at starting. Pity, because seen how things went today I could go up on podium".
Even Jody Scheckter was able to end the race. His Monzese adventure was not of the happiest.
"Of the incident in which I went I have no fault. In facing the second Lesmo curve I found myself without brake and the out of track was inevitable. Then I went to Wolf and I explained that in those conditions was crazy to go out on track".
The only Italian to end the race was Bruno Giacomelli. The Bresciano ended in fourteenth position because of the spin few laps before the end that make him loose precious seconds.
"In first race I started very well and I nearly thought to sneak between Daly and Stuck. Then I said to me that was not worth to risk to gain a position and I saved myself. When was held the real race, the front of my car was not very good. I tried to regain Piquet but I touched by flat the guardrail at second Lesmo curve and in that moment my brakes blown. To end the race I had to make last four lap without brakes".
Meanwhile is known that are serious conditions of Ronnie Peterson and Vittorio Brambilla. The doctor Bezza, deputy chief of emergency department, and professor Bizzozzero, neurosurgeon of Niguarda hospital, say that Ronnie Peterson suffered first and second level of burns on upper left limb, and several fractures at right femur neck, at right femur, at right rotula, compound fracture at left leg. What about Vittorio Brambilla there are not fractures at limb but a left lateral external fracture at cranial vault with encephalic head trauma. The professor Bezza declares that at the moment seems serious the condition of Brambilla because the encephalic head trauma could present severe courses in the immediate. However the possibility of healing for him are better. Very long would be instead recovery of Ronnie Peterson, who will be operated as soon as possible by primary orthopaedic. It had to be a day of joy and enthusiasm, two hours in Monza to admire risk knights in the biggest show of the world. Will Villeneuve defeat Andretti? Will Andretti become the new Formula 1 king? And what will do Peterson? Technical and sportive questions of every day before, in a moment shocked by scary collision at start. Then, minutes of anxiety, of tension, endless waiting, the new start after thousands of uncertainties, with worthless fight of Villeneuve and Andretti and the Lauda victory. The biggest show of the world showed the other side of the medal: the incident, the fear, the risk that becomes dramatic reality. And with that uncertainties that follow Formula 1 circus, excessive agonism, disorganization, meanness, necessity do not throw away business, affair, whatever happens. Once again the start showed to be the weakest point in the delicate mechanism of a Grand Prix, of Italy in the occasion. Too many near car, too many drivers steal at start taking advantage of the chaos, maybe in the uncertain of who presides over this always frenetic phase of the race. It is a problem which already showed many times this year: in Monte-Carlo, for instance, in Zolder lately, so much that in Spain mounted on box’s roof a camera to spy the start of the race. But no action was taken. Then arrived collision of Zeltweg and Zandvoort, to confirm that need to change something in the system.
"At 2:13 p.m. stewards of Italian Grand Prix made official penalty inflicted to Andretti and Villeneuve. From 9:20 p.m. to 10:20 p.m. competitors that have a reason to present a complaint can do on appeal. The examination of the appeal takes places within twenty-four hours".
The second statement says:
"Ferrari has appealed against the stewards’ decision. To Lotus, not being present any delegate, stewards’ decision will be communicated as soon as possible".
No one knows anything. Or at least says nothing. If there is any chance, among drivers, will be hard to discover it. Everyone talk about the incident as it was a scary thing, but there is not one among protagonists who can exactly explain what happened. They simply say to have seen Hunt going on Peterson after having made a couple of spin on track. Maybe it is omerta, maybe they do not want to unbalance too much. The only one to open a little bit is Emerson Fittipaldi, who was lucky, together with few others, to not touch from anywhere.
"I saw a big crush and Hunt fly away. Then the big flame".
Arrives Bruno Giacomelli, white-faced, who is usually very colourful.
"I got the biggest scare of my life, and I will remember it until I die. Assuming that in this way you can live long. I was almost behind everyone, but I had a great start, when I realized there has been a general piled up. I passed through a mountain of flames and then a I stopped on the right, luckily without anyone went over me".
"I was on left and I was able to avoid almost all those were turned in the middle of the track. Then though I heard a big hit on left side, the car cut for the tangent and went on guardrail. I barely got away with it too".
The toughest and most controversial, as always, is Clay Regazzoni, who though blames with security services, and precisely with Formula 1 doctor, with English neurologist and surgeon Sid Watkins, that in the opinion of the Swiss driver is paid by Ecclestone to follow race events.
"That man stood at bar drinking. Instead of to come to rescue you. It is one of the most incredible things that I have ever seen".
Regazzoni was nevertheless in the middle of a violent controversy with Bernie Ecclestone. This last accused Clay to have been one of the protagonists of the incident, and the drivers has violently replicated, saying he was prepared to go even to court. Later, moved away Ecclestone, Regazzoni expresses hard word toward the English manager:
"It is useless he comes here to arrange his dirty business. Then they blame drivers. The today incident has been caused mainly also by a wrong starting given by the race director Restelli. When it turned green there were still many drivers that did not complete the alignment, and thus they did a rolling start. A man like him should know that in few hundred meters we arrive at chicane at over 200 km/h".
Regazzoni, in addition to the controversy with Bernie Ecclestone and his accusations against rolling start, says about the incident:
"Two, I do not know who, touched. I saw what happened, I braked, I was passing when they touched me from behind and hence I got involved".
Riccardo Patrese, who is one of the drivers incriminated, denies any responsibility:
"I did not do anything. Look at my car, not a scratch on it".
The road police, that does the expertise, is unable to establish the actual cause of the incident. The marshal Emiliano Spineglio, of the detachment of Arcore, in charge of the investigations, says for the moment is to be attributed the scary starting multi-car incident of the Italian Grand Prix to a collision. But everyone knows this. Soon after the incident mechanics of Lotus load the car on truck, very quickly, to get it out of Italy as fast as possible. Before leaving the track, Colin Chapman grabs by neck Bobbly Clark and says to him:
"Promise that you will not stop before you will arrive in France".
"No, Colin, this is what we are going to do".
And calms him saying they would park in France coming down from Mont Blanc. In France there is a place called Annecy, where there is a big lake: mechanics of Team Lotus stop there to drink a cup of tea and to eat a sandwich, because is lunch time. After that they do a walk along the lake, where it is present a woman in topless pose: obviously mechanics stop to look, because it is a thing they do not see every day: indeed, is the first time they see it. It seems a magic day for mechanics of Lotus, the trip toward England, until when a newscast on Radio Luxemburg announces that the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson died because of injuries sustained. Only in this moment, mechanics of Team Lotus are aware of what happened. Bobby Clark, who would drive the truck, obviously is shocked, and says to John Moses, who is a wheelman too:
"John, you have to came take control, because I can not see where the hell we are going".
"Hardly he will survive for more than three or four hours, we have come to final phase. The human machine works globally, it can not be half destroyed and think the other part can continue to live regularly without problems".
The Swedish falls to respiratory coma, to which adds even a serious kidney complication. Progressively his condition worsens, and at 9:50 a.m. it unofficially turns out the poor Ronnie passed away: the manager of Peterson, Stefan Svenbby followed alone the friend while no representative from Lotus stopped at Niguarda to see in person the driver conditions. Colin Chapman, the manager of the English team, that obtained with Andretti the world title, seems is still in Milan, but he does not show up in the hospital (he showed the previous night). On this matter, Svenbby expresses in very harsh terms against Chapman and by the way of all racing automotive environment. The wife of Peterson, Barbro, warned by phone Sunday night, is able to leave from Stockholm only during the morning in first hours, but out of bad luck, her plane can not land at Linate for the first closure of the season because of fog. At 10:30 a.m. she is still not able to reach the hospital, where instead is present Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian champion who is the only between big drivers of Formula 1 to have stopped in Milan specially to follow these sad first hours of his friends and to examine, together with organizers, the situation of Monza, that in his opinion is now unsustainable. Fittipaldi shows up with his wife Elena. The Brazilian driver is very saddened and he do not want to express official opinions, saying:
"You know well what I think, no longer had to run on this old and dangerous implant, upgraded in a stupid way, such as to make it even more dangerous, and you perfectly know sooner or later here in Monza had to happen. The fact is it is always waited a tragedy before acting. We are privileged men that earn a lot but whose life is worth a button".
"For ACI there are no doubts: the next Italian Grand Prix will be raced in Monza, in the name of tradition, of history".
And others rhetoric banality even worse. Fittipaldi does not spare barbs against Colin Chapman too, manager of Lotus, that has more celebrated the victory of the world championship with Andretti, than not followed the tragic end of Peterson. It is hard even the contestation to the director of the autodromo Restelli, who was wrong in giving the start, to insufficient services on autodromo, to an irresponsible speaker who triggered polemics from public, and to who dared to give the start a second time, with a implant still crippled in his initial structures already deficient. Meanwhile at Niguarda, at first floor, remains Vittorio Brambilla, modest and good Monzese driver, who fight against death, in a dramatic waiting for other twenty-four hours which prevent any risk. His wife Daria assists him with love, with a desperate faith in healing. Another wife, Barbro Peterson, and a child of five years, have no more hope. That beautiful Swedish girl that in recent years we were used to see at each race, remained one hour and a half between the arrival of the passenger plane from Nice and the departure on a private jet directed to Lugano, arrives too late to meet his man still alive, and she can not take the thought to see a body. Simultaneously, Vittorio Brambilla conditions appear much more critical around 8:00 p.m., when his body has to face a collapse and from first recovery he remains unconscious. Luckily interventions of doctors are sufficient to get him back and already at late night concerns about his general state will significantly fade away, enough to allow doctors to send at home, few kilometers away, in Monza, his wife and his brother Tino. During the morning of Tuesday 12th September 1978 Vittorio Brambilla, after artificial sleep, wakes up in discrete conditions, exchanges a few words with family who came back at hospital and answers in English to a television journalist, trying to express in the best way possible, this also sign of a better psychic condition found. For him now is a matter of pass next twenty-four hours since head injuries, is known, can lead to consequences over long periods too. For Peterson was planned a transfer at orthopaedic centre Galeazzi, directed by professor Zerbi, but logically the tragic evolution of the situation did not allow this second phase, no more aimed to save a live but to allow a full recovery of the man.
During the morning of Monday 11th September 1978, ACI sports committee meets at Automobile Club, which has to examine problems related to the building of new autodromo of Monza 2. The meeting takes place in an obviously quite tense atmosphere and it is probable Fittipaldi will participate in second part of works, in the afternoon, to expose his point of view that now looks quite clear: should no longer race in Monza. If they want to do Monza 2, so be it, but meanwhile move on a more safe circuit. It is too alive inside everyone the memory of tragedy happened on this path, now out of time and technically passed. International motorcycling has already banned from its tracks the Monzese track after the double drama of 1973, even if is needed to underline that technical problems are clearly different: then was an incident due to excessive speed with which is faced the big curve, now the dynamic of a difficult start made precisely by the attempt to modify in some way the entrance of the big curve. Motorsports intrinsically dangerous do not allow improvisation either certainly not patched solution and not long studied. Trajectory of a motorbike or of a car pushed at maximum speed does not allow risks; in Monza they wanted to remedy creating only other occasion of danger. The bad luck rages against Swedish driver. Last year, Gunnar Nilsson, hit by a terrible disease, had to leave his seat at Lotus to Ronnie Peterson. Now is the blonde driver of Orebro to be victim of a very serious incident that has afflicted the start of the Italian Grand Prix. Right on track that graduated him champion after three successes obtained, by putting him on par with Ascari, Fangio, Moss and Nuvolari, Peterson found the fatal interruption of a brilliant career, of an activity that took him to the top of worldwide motorsport. Polite, kind, provided of a fine English sense of humour, and at same time full of courage, of determination, of desire to win, to rise, Ronnie was for years a big protagonist on Formula 1 tracks, after being revealed in lower categories. Swedish, born in Orebro on 14th February 1944, married with Barbro, a little child, houses in Monte-Carlo and in London, Peterson always had a passion for motors.
"I hear with emotion the news of tragic end of Italian Grand Prix. And I decided to not follow up to the appeal procedure. The true classification has been indeed ratified by the public of Monza and by all sportspeople. We remember with emotion the brave Peterson and make to the dear Brambilla our warmest wish".
Now the condolence is unanimous, but remain problems to solve. It is not forgotten of incidents, to talk about only of current season, at starting in Monte-Carlo, Zolder and Zandvoort, at second start on wet track of Zeltweg and last in Monza. Is it possible that could not do anything to still reduce risks in the most delicate moment of the race? Says Cesare Fiorio, member of CSI:
"Motorsport risks are intrinsic and thus inevitable. It can only tempt to reduce them. Current starting procedures of Formula 1 are product of past experiences, of careful study to eliminate the most problems. However not always are applied at perfection, as in Monza case. And even the behaviour of the drivers often is out of safe limit. In this situation and considering that in many cases even circuits are inadequate and would be necessary careful study to change position of starting lines, it can be searched safer system to avoid at most incidents. A first solution, the easiest, would be the one to adopt a mobile grid, thus more distancing cars, following track features. Another system, more sophisticated, would be the one to install an electronic warning, a kind of sensor on each line of the track, in order to have, with a help of a computer, an exact control of car movement. With a threat of serious penalties, would be more attention by drivers in avoiding early departure".
"What I find, I find. Cars of Peterson and Brambilla are already under sequestration in Monza, for others we will see. I precise that for cars involved I mean all those which were not able to return to box with their means. It is obvious that an inquiry of this kind requires long time and collecting of many testimonies".
The sport inquiry follows parallel tracks, managed by engineer Giuseppe Bacciagaluppi, director of Monza autodromo. The international sports committee, in addition to wait results of this investigation, states that his inspector, the English Robert Langford, finds out if in the Italian Grand Prix were met all necessary conditions of safeness for a Formula 1 race.
"We can now only observe that in the antecedent area the variant formed a negative densification of cars".
But why this densification was created? What happened in those first 400 meters of race? On the base of declarations of some drivers, of what was seen from television and of some testimony particularly reliable, it is possible to try with calm a reconstruction of the incident, by isolating elements which took to disaster. Wrong starting: the starting mechanism of a Grand Prix is known, lined up cars following qualifying times, row of two, separated by ten meters. Formation lap, return on finish line. When all single seaters are stopped, the race director gives the green, once lowering the national flag, now pushing the button that triggers the semaphore from red to green. By rules, the stop waiting for the shot has to last 10 seconds, from sixth to tenth the starter can give the signal when he wants. Lauda, Regazzoni, Reutemann and others blame Gianni Restelli, responsible of this operation in Monza, to have pressed the button too early, when cars in last rows were still moving. On the momentum these cars arrived near to the firsts, widening to find the overtake. The agonism: the start is delicate moment: drivers are tense and focused, foots play with clutch and throttle, the engine increase in revs. A good start can mean gaining many positions, taking into the lead or among the firsts. When the red turns green triggers the spring of agonism too, no one wants to give. Those ahead go slow, why not slip them, how it is said in slang, on right or on left, everywhere there is an available space? Thus happened in Monza, so it happens. The trap: but in the old autodromo there is a trap. The start straight is 22 meters wide in starting part, because combines street track and that, no longer in use, of high velocity ring. Where this detaches from the actual circuit, the roadway has a shrinkage, it reduces to eleven meters. Still 200 meters and then it opens the variant or chicane built to reduce the drivers boost. On Sunday, drivers that in overtake phase widened in right side of the track, ended in a bottleneck and they tried to move toward the center of the track. And here are chain collisions, James Hunt, former World Champion, says that fault of what happened is of Riccardo Patrese, but
the Italian driver denies any responsibilities. Francesco Solimena and Alberto Librizzi, members of commissione sportiva automobilistica italiana (CSAI, which is the commission that takes care of the sporting aspect of Italian motorsport), were on trampoline of Fiat tower. This one of their written declarations:
"In the bottleneck the cars that were trying to overtake in the right sector of track, they were trying to return and in that moment was occurring a slight collision among two or three cars. The last car hit, a McLaren, placed sideways in roadway, touching Lotus of Peterson in rear part".
"The Arrows of Patrese was on the outside, then Ensign of Derek Daly; is Daly, pressed by Patrese, who was close to Hunt".
A testimony nothing prevents to substance of facts, but which brings a new element, as long as Librizzi got a good look. Remains a question. No one in Monza ignores the danger of the bottleneck-trap: why no prevision was made to delimit with cones the start straight in order to prevent that drivers trespass in the portion of additional space? Results that some team, on the eve of the race, asked a measure of this kind. Leaves shocked even another episode. In pre-race reunion that is taken by custom between race director and drivers, has been asked to Restelli if would be a fast or slow starting. The answer was…
"Look at rules".
Now, it is normal among professionals or pseudo-professionals that a question of this kind has a more precise welcoming. A fact is sure: according to the opinion of drivers of Italian Grand Prix, Restelli should resign and not more show up at start of a race. But obviously Restelli defends himself, if one can say, saying that stewards involved to different lines of the starting grid reported to him with their paddle that all cars were stopped. The collision of Sunday saddened but unshaken managers of CSI, rulers of motorsport and Formula 1.
"We are sorry, but these are inconvenience of races. An incident of this kind could happen everywhere. For now we can not say anything on the dynamic of the incident itself".
Everyone, on the other hand, kept underlining the rapidity of emergency services, and on fact, actually, their story is real. The Mr Alfonso Castelli, responsible for the loading service of fire-fighting vehicles on Monza track, was one of the first to intervene on place of incident and wanted to do this declaration:
"Our emergency services, although rapid, have been delayed by the intervention of French paramilitary had come inside the track with their dogs. Animals, made crazy by noise, by flame and by smoke, started to bite anyone was in range of long leashes. I saw a businessman with the arm shredded after a ferocious bite. Ours workers have been ahead anyway, but fireproof suits that are very resistant have been ripped in several points by dogs’ bites, even while men operated fire extinguishers on Peterson car".
Incidents happened in Monza between law enforcement and sector operators (journalists and photographers, mechanics, technicians, managers and fire-fighting workers) have provoked many critics towards police. The second lieutenant De Nardia, chief of the group of students of public safeness destined to service order, justify like that the work of his men:
"I admit that the boys have gone too far, but you have to understand them, they are boys of eighteen-twenty years old that have even not completed the training. They got caught by panic and then were already very tired at that point".
Coming back on discussion related to the incident which cost Ronnie Peterson life, Ecclestone accuse openly drivers to be major responsible having committed an error of judgement: subsequently, British manager adds that in next season will be a professional starter, by implicitly giving his portion of serious fault to race director. Even his future in Italian Grand Prix, at Monza autodromo, opinions are cautious, generically in solidarity with AC of Milan. Only drivers do not want to know anymore and they put pressure on Ecclestone because the race will be moved to Imola or to Mugello, but just the boss of constructors declares, at the end of the meeting of CSI, his availability to continue to race in Monza. Ecclestone asks though safer variants that is already know that are not possible since no one can touch a single tree in the park. It is a crystallized circuit, sacred, a circuit meant to disappear. The drama of Peterson and Brambilla triggered a chain reaction much stricter than protests of ecologists and disputes of politicians. Meanwhile, in Austria, Niki Lauda severely comments on tragic event which cost the life of Peterson. Lauda, returned to Salzburger on Sunday, on Monday morning talks on radio, and says:
"A victory such as the Sunday one makes me just so sad. We are as usual, always the same story, is it possible that these idiots do not realize? The starter did turn the semaphore red when racers in last positions were still running after a warming up lap, and this provoked an obstruction. With a correct start, nothing would have happened. That starter is an idiot that does not understand anything".
"Patrese, on the right was trying to overtake. When he realized that the track was tightened, he sharply closed toward the inside forcing me to hit Ronnie".
Patrese reached by phone, the Italian driver answers:
"I have no fault. I did not touch anyone and thus newspaper and people can say whatever they believe. My conscience is clear. Then, I overtook Hunt after 150 meters and thus I can not have hit him. Now everyone is looking for a responsible and almost forgets the most important thing, and precisely that we lost a friend".
In television they showed the incident in slow motion. Did you see it?
"Yes, I did, and effectively there was a car to impede Hunt, but it was not mine. Someone said that after the incident my mechanics fixed my Arrow, they changed tyres and even that I started with T-Car. That are all lies. During the race I run with the usual car on which there was not the smallest scratch".
Who is the fault then?
"Mainly the race director was wrong in giving starting. When the semaphore turned green, the car was still moving. The consequence has been to find us then massed where the track shrinks. Even last year they were wrong in giving the start because the semaphore suddenly became green, and then turn red before the definitive green".
Raises deep impression the death of Ronnie Peterson in Sweden, announced by radio right after 10:00 a.m., interrupting the current programs. Together with Borg and Stenmark, Peterson was one of the big of the Swedish sport and it was just for him that television, contrary on principle to speed car racing, had allowed to broadcast live races of Formula 1 from Netherlands and Italy. On Sunday afternoon, a couple of hours before the starting of the fatal Grand Prix, Ronnie was interviewed in Monza by reporters of Swedish television. The champion, protagonist in the morning of a dreadful incident, to the reporter who was asking if he did not feel fear to go back behind the wheel he answered:
"It is a question that many asked me in the years. Well you can not think to fear, to risks, to possibility to remain disabled or to simply die because it would be impossible to go on track with some ideas in the head. Even today happen incidents of different kind on tracks, but season after season the safety on cars has been hugely improved and it is very difficult that they still happen event with very serious consequences".
On Monday, afternoon newspapers come out taking in large letters on whole first page the news of the champion death. Comments are set to bitterness and desperation. On Saturday, Svenska Dagbladet, one of the most widespread Swedish newspapers, reported from Monza the following interview: Why you signed for another team? Do not you have enough of glory and money?
"I have an aspiration, to become World Champion. I will not become at Lotus so I try somewhere else".
"At the end he has been an unlucky driver who always fought with wrong car. In any case we kneel in front of his memory".
The Aftonbladet, afternoon newspaper (seven pages on Peterson), writes:
"Ronnie did not deserve a so tragic destiny. He often accused of impetuousness was killed by consequences of an incident of which he did not have any fault".
How can you die, in deep coma and in acute renal failure, just a few hours from a very serious incident, when multiple fractures (femoral neck, tibia, rotula, big toe, calcaneus) and complicated injuries (localized first and second degree burns, arterial traumatic injuries) have been surgically reduced or treated soon? When is massive and brutal, the fat thromboembolism from multiple bone narrow fragments (ripped off the medullar channel of long fractured bones and directly researched in circulation), it is a complication that does not forgive: because the result is the occluding infusion of infinite distant blood vessels (brain, lung, renal, intestinal, etc.). One dies, that is, not of fractures but of multiple emboli that from fractures had immediate point of detachment. Soon after, it is clear, every single obstruction escapes to the operational control of the doctor: especially when the sum (number, localization, coagulation, deficit effects of circulation and of oxygenation, etc) to lead then to irreversible evolution. Traumatic shock, eventual acute respiratory failure by hot gas aspiration are extra complications, to speed up the tragic chain of insurmountable events. Nevertheless on Swedish afternoon newspapers appear critics on the work of Italian doctors. The doctor Varolo release the following declaration:
"I criticize the manner in which was cured Peterson in the hospital. In Sweden a patient in so much serious conditions would never have been operated".
Then is reported the declaration of Doctor Ernesto Zerbi, that says:
"If Ronnie had been carried in my clinic, I would never operate him. Having done the surgery can have meant the dead".
From 10:00 a.m. of the previous morning, on Wednesday 13th September 1978 the body of Ronnie Peterson is locked up in a mortuary cold room. Since then no one remembered the blond driver that for eight years has been one of the protagonists of the Formula 1 circus. Only a beautiful Swedish girl shows up in the afternoon with a bouquet of roses, but they do not allow to her to see him. In a room of Niguarda the other protagonist of the tragic multi-car accident of Monza, Vittorio Brambilla, ends victoriously his most important battle, being in the process of improvement. On Tuesday evening, the Italian driver even takes a sip of coffee and milk, and eats some cookies. According to the doctors of intensive care unit in which is recovered, there are good hopes.
"He is quicker in answers, even if continues the confusion. He does not remember anything of the incident, but it is a normal situation".
According to the doctors, the situation of relative peace is due to the fact that have not formed bruises of driver’s brain. If it continues like this, in next days can be dissolve the prognosis. Already on Thursday, hopefully, Brambilla could be moved from intensive care to neurosurgery. Vittorio Brambilla, although for few instances, can even see his wife Daria. At first the lady awaits that came out the mother of a young boy fallen by the bicycle (the child lies on the bed next to the driver), he wears a shirt and later she come closer to Vittorio for a few minutes. She talks, and Vittorio answers. When she comes out, the lady appears relieved. The inquiry to make light on responsibilities of the tragic incident of Sunday meanwhile develops. It is now sure that the deputy prosecutor of Republic, Armando Spalarci sent judicial documents. One arrives to Padua, in the house of Riccardo Patrese, the young driver that some of his colleagues have openly accused to have caused the collision, and a second was delivered to the starter of Italian Grand Prix, Gianni Restelli, while a third is for the autodromo director, the engineer Giuseppe Bacciagaluppi. But would not be the only. The silence on the subject to Republic prosecutor is so total. Dr Spataro explains that does not intend to give any details, even because too often the public exchange the court communication for an incrimination. To collect data on the incident, the magistrate already ordered the confiscation of all the cars that could not return to box by own means and even all that show evidence of collision.
"It being a sportive manifestation the fault will not be evaluated on normal canons, for example those provided for traffic rules, but on eventual violation of race rules".
If and which violation have been committed will be found, but meanwhile in Padova the young Patrese feels himself accused. He does not want to talk to journalists, is his mother to do it for him. She is shocked and sometimes she starts to cry on the phone:
"I do not know if my son will race. He is beside himself for what happened, and even more for the unjustified accusations which are raised toward him. Anyway for me they could even abolish races, it would be better".
Even the minister of Tourism, Sport and Spectacle, the senator Pastorino, provides an administrative investigation on tragic incidents that have ravaged the Italian Grand Prix. The inquiry will be entrusted to a commission headed by an administrative magistrate and composed by officials of administrations concerned as well as experts nominated by CONI and ACI. The investigation has to clarify in short times in particular objective responsibilities of the incident; the promptness of emergency services and later way regard the given hospital care too; and issues related to the Autodromo of Monza. Even the English world of Formula 1 was shocked by the drama of Monza, and reactions vary between hysteria and equanimity. With a sensational title two pages big, the Sun proclaims:
"The circuit assassin should be forgotten".
The weekly Autocar is preceded his article of five pages on Italian Grand Prix by the title:
"If there is chaos, it has to be in Monza".
The Guardian is very critical:
"It is about the circuit built for cars that run at 100 km/h, while today they run at 280 km/h".
And reports the comment of Hunt:
"When we complained, in the past, about the safety measures in Monza, was answered to us that we did that to obtain more money or because we lacked of courage. After what happened last Sunday Italian authorities ask themselves what did not work. The true is that can not be race on a track where, right after the start, we have to face the guillotine".
"Monza is one of the five safest circuits in the world".
Even the weekly Autosport affirms that the Monzese track has not to be blamed for what happened last Sunday, and that responsibility has to be found elsewhere. Bernie Ecclestone, says in an interview at Daily Mail:
"Incidents in Monza have been caused by a mistake of a driver, and not by the circuit. It is an unlucky track, and I think that people critics it is looking to the wrong side. If the driver does a serious mistake should have to be penalized for many races".
Steward thinks differently though.
"Assisting now to a race, I feel a big admiration for drivers. Races seem to me today three time more dangerous than when I was behind the wheel too. The most part of the drivers are men very smart, who know to race with a cold and precise mind".
The Times and others daily agree to define the starting as the biggest problem, as for example the Guardian:
"Fatal incidents during Grand Prix are today rare than a time. Twenty years ago, when the World Championship included only half of the races, misfortune mortals were almost the double. From then big progresses have been technically done in safety measures, still now is tolerated a race director gives the starting signal as if the semaphores aimed to traffic have not anymore the yellow light".
This while Swedish mass media start the classic witch hunting. This way can be defined the approach of newspaper, of radio and of television that on Tuesday 12th September 1978, passed over the emotional shock, having themselves almost unanimous against motor sport and the whole Formula 1. Are highlighted commercials aspects of these races and it arrives to declare that they are absolutely useless. It is asked to FIA to propose to all the world the abolition of Grand Prix and it is wanted to flatten the Anderstorp circuit turning it into an industrial zone (Dagens Nyheter of Stockholm). And, naturally, are accused everyone and everything for the death of Peterson: from the started to colleagues on track, from unsafe Lotus to Italian doctors that were not able to save the life of the driver (Expressen of Stockholm). Though there is even who reflects differently and remembers that Peterson was involved in 31 incidents in last eleven years of career, this would let think - apart from Monza - to too risky game with the death on its side. Three of this incidents have been very serious, in addition to the mortal one of Sunday. At radio the commentator very quiet asks what would be written today in Sweden if Peterson would have won the Italian Grand Prix and another competitor (why not Andretti?) was involved in the mortal incident.
"There will surely be photos of Ronnie with in the hand the champagne bottle and of who lost his life would be written very little".
The speaker admits asking a bit of objectivity.
"We do not have to get too much from emotions, only because who died is a Swedish".
While from Sweden bounce off accusation thrown by Swedish doctors towards Milanese doctors who, according to them, killed Ronnie Peterson, the world of Formula 1 accuses Riccardo Patrese. The Paduan driver, to who the Milanese magistrate sent the legal obligation, is attacked violently from different part. One of the hardest accusers is Emerson Fittipaldi.
"I decided to talk only after having seen videos of the incident, which showed without any doubt the incorrect manoeuvre of Riccardo. In these cases the CSI should intervene taking away the licence. Perhaps would be enough even the suspension to calm down some hot spirits".
"Patrese is a good driver but too often does incredible errors. His team should help him more to be part of the environment. A driver can choose by himself his destiny, but he can not involve other colleagues. He has to be stopped on time".
"It was a long time that Patrese was driving at limit. In last races has been protagonist of four incidents. He can not afford to involve his colleagues each time. Ronnie is an innocent victim".
Meanwhile, luckily, are continuous improvement Vittorio Brambilla conditions. The Monzese driver seems now out of danger.
"I was on his side practically every race of his life. On Sunday I remained at home because ill and right on Sunday happened the disaster".
The wife of Ronnie Peterson sobbed, Barbro, when she arrived in Sweden. Awaiting the private jet of Walter Wolf which took her from Milan to Jönköping (it was avoided to land it in Stockholm to avoid at least to part of photographers and journalists) was Ronnie’s mother, madam Maj-Britt, even her shocked by the pain. The father Bengt remained at home. Since Monday morning, when he heard the news of the death of his son, did not moved from his room. On Wednesday 13th September 1978 Madam Peterson returned to Sweden alone this time. Alone without his Ronnie even if she had in her arms the baby Nina, 3 years old, who takes the name of the widow of Jochen Rindt, dear family friend, even him dead in Monza. From airport Barbro and her mother-in-law moved by car to Orebro, the small town of west Sweden where were born both her, Barbro, and Ronnie and where will took place funerals. Barbro Edvardson and Ronnie Peterson practically knew each other lifelong: they lived in the same street, they played together and went to the same school. They continued to see each other as young, then she moved to Stockholm becoming secretary of a doctor of Karolinska, expert of burns. It was to cure of this doctor that Ronnie was entrusted in 1969 after a scary incident. During the convalescence Barbro and Ronnie decided to get engaged. From season 1970, when Ronnie started to attempt to Formula 1 races, Barbro began to frequent by his side circuits from all the world becoming soon a well-known figure among who is busy in the Grand Prix world. A woman very beautiful, kind, a bit shy and reserved was approached in 1972 by an American monthly that offered to her a mind-boggling sum to photograph her naked behind the wheel of a race car. After a heartfelt exchange of idea with the boyfriend as is used in Sweden, Barbro dropped the offer. Is of that time the moving of Ronnie to England to avoid Sweden heavy taxes. Naturally, Barbro followed him and she furnished the magnificent building of Maidenhead ( the festival of the Virgin) some mile at west from London where then they had their tax residence. In 1975 Barbro and Ronnie got married and the following year was born Nina.
The couple bought then an apartment in Monte-Carlo where they spent summer months and here Barbro was found by the news of the incident happened to her husband. Barbro Edvardson, today thirty-one years old, remained a typical Swedish girl, unpretentious and without ostentation. Cordial with journalists (sometimes she was the one who to organize an interview after that Ronnie, maybe in a bad mood because the car went wrong, said no), courteous by of few words, she regularly took place at box to record her husband's times. When Ronnie returned after practice he consulted in any case only reports she compiled. Barbro, differently to other women that gravitate around Formula 1, never showed off jewels, wore super elegant dresses. Was asked to her what she think will do. She does not know yet, she said, even if is probable she moves again back to Orebro, the city of dearest memories. On Sunday 10th September 1978 would have been the most beautiful day for thousands of Monzese fan that from one year wait the return of Formula 1 car on home track. To increase the expectation there was the possible debut of their favourite, Vittorio Brambilla, on Alfa Romeo. The withdrawal from Arese house was another bitter pill that added to the one for the polemic of permanence of the autodromo in the park. They would have not finally seen Vittorio behind the wheel of an Italian car, but always remained the Gran Prix a favourable opportunity to follow closely protagonists of four-wheel circus. In a few moments, incident, fire, tragic death of Peterson and uncertainty of conditions of Brambilla transformed dreams of fan in a deep fear on the fate of their driver. In a superficial, divine environment as the current one of races, Vittorio Brambilla remained almost the only man uncontaminated by this fever of success. He is still the friend that you can meet at bar to have a chat. For this his simplicity Brambilla is very popular and loved by fans of the area. When he does not race is easy to find him just at the Bar. It is a modest street, frequented by motor fans. The name comes from discussions or gambling, sometimes absurd, that come between fans and that often involve Vittorio and his brother Tino. A feud of Vittorio is the Ferrari Club of Vedano al Lambro, the small town just at entrance of autodromo.
"Our name recalls Ferrari because Maranello house is the symbol of our sport".
"But if we can consider Ferrari our mum, Vittorio is our favourite son. From years we follow his actions and we fight for his permanence in the autodromo. Our is an active participation, spontaneous, and even on Sunday many of us were free serving in responsible for the supervision of spectators teams. The incident has been a real cold shower. Among the first to help Vittorio were our associates and is understandable with which state of mind we faced the drama".
The discussion frenetic widens, everyone has something to add. From Niguarda, meanwhile, news is encouraging on health of Vittorio:
"You will see that in few days he will be again among us".
On Friday 15th September 1978 the body of Ronnie Peterson is buried in Orebro, his hometown. Since morning in the square in front of the San Nikolai church, a magnificent building of 1300 where would took place the funeral ceremony, starts to assemble a considerable crowd that at 2:30 p.m., when the family of the driver arrives, amounts at over 2500. The coffin is already arranged in the church, in a sea of flowers, since the day before. Stand out an enormous wreath with a tape that says: The manager and personnel of Lotus; a suit of roses of Ronnie’s mechanics, one with the words Mario and Dee Ann Andretti, and one by royals of Sweden. At Orebro airport arrives in early afternoon Colin Chapman with his wife and all mechanics of Lotus. Ken Tyrrell, with his wife, Patrick Tambay, Niki Lauda with his personal airplane and Bernie Ecclestone, the manager of Brabham. Few hours before, during the morning arrived in the town, with different means, James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi, John Watson and Gunnar Nilsson, the Swedish driver absent since a year from races because hit by a terrible disease. During the short religious ceremony, Niki Lauda, John Watson, James Hunt, Jody Scheckter, Emerson Fittipaldi, Gunnar Nilsson, Tim Schenken, Teddy Mayer, Colin Chapman, Ken Tyrell, Frank Williams, Dave Brodie, Alan Rees, Bernie Ecclestone, managers and mechanics take a seat on the right of the coffin, in front of the family. The wife of Ronnie, Barbro, in a black suit and with long blond hair spread on shoulders, is now without tears. The protestant pastor that officiates the ceremony, directing a last goodbye to Peterson, says:
"Up there where are you now, dear Ronnie, there are for sure huge tracks, without danger, where you can drive your car just like you always liked".
At the end of the ceremony, Formula 1 drivers carry the coffin, grabbing it by the handles, to the funeral van that is moving towards the cemetery where happened the burying at presence of only the family. Before leaving, Chapman allows to exchange some words with journalists. The British constructor declares once again saddened for the death of his good driver, but he does not talk about the incident. To whom asks to him why the car of the unlucky driver has been made disappear from Monza, he sharply replies:
"It is not gone at all. It has been taken to England already on Sunday night following the routine of every Grand Prix. After each race, it is packed up and returned at home. I do not see why this time would have done an exception".
Between drivers, the most hurt during the ceremony are Fittipaldi, crying and Lauda, arrived in Sweden to render homage to the friend nevertheless his father lost. Just Fittipaldi, before enter in the church, murmured:
"Terrible things, that do not seem real. In a moment you are full of life and then, suddenly, the death attacks you".
"The exclusion of Patrese from United States Grand Prix forms a disturbing precedent. Although American authorities do not have until now officially revealed the reason of such an exclusion, the reputation that Patrese has of aggressive driver and in particular by the part he had in the fatal incident of Peterson are among the probable explanations. But the dividing line between dangerous driving and only resolute one on track is not a manner that can be judged by organizers of United States Grand Prix. The Peterson death is a tragic and terrible event in which all the Grand Prix world is accused. Pass each responsibility on the unfortunate Patrese to us seem an evil way to find a scapegoat".
"The disqualification decreed against Patrese is entirely due to the action of four or five Formula 1 drivers, that are Lauda, Watson, Fittipaldi and Hunt, who took the law in their hand and have created a process against Patrese without letting him the slightest possibility to defend himself. Without even consult other drivers then they put the managers of Watkins Glen race backed into a corner. The action of these driver is unspeakable even because has been decided without knowing all facts and, even more seriously, even earlier than the Italian magistracy pronounce its verdict. I am sick both as constructor and as driver and I am ashamed for what happened to Patrese, I am determined to fight until the end against the decision taken by managers of the American race. At Watkins Glen, before practice, I will summon all the drivers as well as organizers to a conference where will attend Patrese in person. I hope that justice can prevail and that Riccardo will be readmitted to the race".
However Jackie Oliver confirmed to have, for the occurrence, a reserve driver, the Finnish Rosberg. The Brabham-Alfa Romeo will have three cars in the race since dispose of the Brazilian Piquet too, probably meant to replace Watson in the next season. Lotus will go to Watkins Glen with two cars, but available both to Mario Andretti. While conditions of Vittorio Brambilla, that is always sick in Niguarda hospital under observation, continue to improve, on Wednesday 20th September 1978 the Formula 1 world has still absorb the tragic death of Ronnie Peterson. For places left free by Swedish (at Lotus in next two North American races and at McLaren for next season) recommenced by different manager contacts with drivers that would substitute the unfortunate Ronnie Peterson. According to rumours, to drive the second Lotus in Canada and in United Stated, are in runoff the Finnish Keke Rosberg and the Brazilian Nelson Piquet. At McLaren, instead, searches to engage a top-level driver able to carry on the development of the new M28 model, now completed. Missed the nomination of John Watson, because unwelcome (the Irish will probably remain at Brabham), insistent has become the voice of an interest by the English team towards Jacques Laffite. The French, that in the last seasons drove at Ligier-Matra, in addition to being a very fast driver, he is considered a valid tester. Meanwhile, Carlos Reutemann ends his job in Fiorano, after two years, trying the three Ferraris 312 T3 that will start in next days toward United States. The best time of the Argentine driver is 1'11"08.
"If Riccardo Patrese shows up at Watkins Glen with a less arrogant attitude and if all other drivers agree, he will participate in the United States Grand Prix".
Who talks is Niki Lauda, speaking of the Patrese case, resulting from the incident in Monza in the following of a game of responsibilities, in which the Paduan driver - according to the opinion of the drivers - had the protagonist part. Patrese ended under accusation and, while the judicial and the sports inquiry are continuing, has been already found guilty by security commission in Formula 1, composed by Lauda himself, James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jody Scheckter. The commission sent a telex to Malcom Currie, organizers of the United States race, putting pressure to not admit Patrese in the race. Currie has bowed to the veto, but is not absolute. Explains Lauda, that is in the beautiful villa of Hof, the small town in the green of the heights of Salzburger.
"No, we do not intend to drastically exclude Patrese from United States Grand Prix. In fact, we will meet on next Wednesday at Watkins Glen, where Riccardo will be able to expose his reasons. Above all we wanted to create a sensational case, put to the attention of everyone a fact that we think is very serious: the lack of law that rule the behaviour of drivers and the delay of who, as CSI, should punish authors of most serious irregularity quickly and with efficiency, of which, although with many deficiencies, the actual sporting code handles. It is unacceptable that two weeks from the Monza tragedy and on the eve of the race in America, it has not been an official decision. Many blah-blah, much talk. No longer enough is Lauda, who also does not love football, that uses the example of football to explain better his ideas on this topic that he feels in a deep way, as man and as professional driver two times World Champion with Ferrari. In football there is an arbiter: the game is ruled, who is incorrect is admonished or expelled. The arbiter shows him the yellow card of the red one, the situation is soon clarified. Then, that player will skip one or two Sundays. This mechanism does not exist in our sport. Why do not suspend the licence for one or two Grand Prix to whom behave in irresponsible way? We of the driver commission want that we arrive in the motorsport to something of similar to the system adopted by football. We do not desire to substitute us to CSI, we do not intend to be judges of no one. On the contrary, we press on CSI because it does his duty. I heard that in Italy they accused us to be mafia for our politics on Patrese case. But what mafia? We only want clearness. Tragedies as Monza ones, in addition to make us lose a colleague and a friend as Ronnie, tremble for Vittorio Brambilla and worry about our future, that are catastrophes for Formula 1 images. Drama that gives birth to polemics, that end up putting all drivers in a bad light. No, we are not reckless fools, irresponsible that the craving for profit or desire to win push to do crazy things. We are only professionals that do a job a bit particular".
"The start was given in the wrong way. This seems to me pacific. It would not happen anything if all drivers would have behaved in the right way. I saw and reviewed here at home the video recording of the incident. I did go the tape up and down and at the end I convinced myself, and I am sorry, that a big part of the fault of what happened depends on Patrese. Riccardo was able to start with more momentum than others because of the mistake of the Monza starter. It is normal. But then he widened on the right, over the with line that delimits on the asphalts the track of the Gran Prix from high velocity ring, and he continued to press on the accelerator, until he sharply returned, pushing Hunt against Peterson. Hunt has not the slightest fault. How could he expect a move like this? It is true that Patrese was ahead of James’s McLaren by 20-30 centimeters, but this did not give him any right. It was not a situation comparable to the entrance into the curve: Riccardo in that moment was joining the track, from outside. This is his fundamental very serious mistake has been to not raise the foot early, to not brake. But why do that? The race is long, if his Arrows would have been more competitive than other cars, he would have had all the time to take himself in first positions. And if it would not be, in few laps, after having risked so much, it would retroceded".
Lauda, at this point, touches a button that refers to Patrese character and that confirms how the Italian driver was under observation by his colleagues.
"I do not know Riccardo, neither on track I was for a long beside him in many occasions. But, many had complained of his behaviour, starting from Peterson himself in Sweden. He does not give space on the straight, he closes you in curve. Then he says fault is of others, that he is a phenomenon and that us, all of us, are stupid. He never fails. It is a way to do presumptuous, incredible. We are men, we do mistakes, but we try to understand us, to help us, we do the same job. Patrese will have good qualities but he does not have the right temperament to be a professional driver. At least for now".
A hard judgement. Lauda has the cult of professionalism, in every aspect. He is accurate, picky, hard with himself. A severe professor for the Patrese student. A professor that, above all, would a bit more of humility in whom does first steps in one of the most dangerous and hardest job of the world. On Monday 25th September 1978 Riccardo Patrese goes on the road to get to United States, where in a few hours he will meet in Watkins Glen the drivers committee for safety in Formula 1, from who he is accused of dangerous driving. Intercepted by journalists in the Linate airport, where the plane arriving from Venice makes a stop before taking off to London (from English capital, the Italian driver will leave to United States), answers to accuses arrived in particular way from Niki Lauda. The Austrian driver declared that the drivers committee wanted to create around the Patrese case much fanfare to determine a reaction by CSI, with the aim to establish an appropriate body that judges the drivers’ behaviour on track. What does Patrese thinks about it?
"I think that those of the committee have chosen the wrong way to make heard their reasons to CSI. To execute their proposals they involved a driver that, at the end, have to be judged by magistracy. It had to be a matter between me and them and instead the story is transcended until to become worldwide. It was not a very correct behaviour towards me. Can be they were able to move CSI but my image took a hit for sure".
Lauda affirms that in Watkins Glen they want to hear his opinion and that they will not oppose to his participation to the race, if Patrese will not show up with a tone that the Austrian judges arrogant and that he gives to the Italian driver as usual. In addition, the former World Champion says that Patrese never wants to recognize mistakes made. What you answer?
"When Lauda talks about arrogant behaviour, he does not refer to episodes happened this year. Many judges me arrogant because I do not talk with them or because I do not live in their circle. But, in reality, are they never accepted me: after all, I consider it a natural thing, I am new in the environment, they are along well, they know each other from years and make a closed clan, I never saw an opening toward me. It must be said that I am shy, a bit introvert and I prefer to keep myself to myself. Maybe could this my way of doing do judge me arrogant".
"Well, in Sweden, I can admit having made an obstructive defensive tactic in last laps of the Grand Prix, when I was fighting to defend the second place from attacks of Peterson. But I do not think to have infringed the rules: I recognize this kind of manoeuvres is not adopted, generally, in Formula 1, even if to tell the truth not everyone always behaves irreproachably. On this point I can discuss and reconsider my position. As regards of incidents at the start, first of all the Monza one, I decline again all responsibilities. I agree that I moved on the right, but it was a natural reaction, since Hunt started before me and I risked to hit him. To avoid him, thus, I moved and in accelerating I was faster than him, until I found myself in that bottleneck. I want to clarify, though, I returned not because there was the guardrail, but because I saw that on my left there was no one. If we watch objectively footage, since the moment I returned to the moment in which Hunt touched the Peterson car, have gone 18' meters and I think that reflex of a Formula 1 driver are such to allow him to judge how to behave in a situation like that. I was in front and so it was up to him to predict my move".
In Monza, therefore, did you not do any mistakes?
"My only fault was to be at the start of the Italian Grand Prix and to have found myself involved in a series of negative situations. After a not too regular starting, I only tried to do what every driver does and thus to go faster than rivals".
Did you believe to can participate to United Stated Grand Prix?
"This is to be seen. Everything will depend on the meeting that I will have with drivers. In the discussion I hope to clarify many things. I will be happy to hear their advice because they have more experience than me, but I think that even them on certain things have to open their eyes and judge with more objectivity".
Right, drivers. Well, on Tuesday 26th September 1978 the World Champion Mario Andretti declares during press conference that the decision to exclude the Italian driver Riccardo Patrese from United States Grand Prix is very controversial and it was not taken lightly. Patrese has been excluded from the race after that the director of the Grand Prix, Malcolm Currie, received a protest by other drivers towards the Italian related to the tragic incident of Monza in which lost his life the Swedish ace Ronnie Peterson. Andretti points out that the decision could lead to a misunderstanding if it was interpreted only as a punishment for what Patrese did in Monza. In other words, everyone is against Riccardo Patrese. The Italian driver is on trial and only on Thursday 28th September 1978 will be known if he can participate to United Stated Grand Prix. The meeting scheduled on Tuesday was postponed to wait the arrival of Mario Andretti, just expected in a few hours. Meanwhile though the position of the Padua driver worsened.
"All his colleagues expressed themselves against the behaviour of Patrese during the whole season".
Very hard words have been said by the French Laffite:
"There are only six or seven drives, in the Formula 1 circle, that can be considered extremely incorrect. Patrese is surely one of the worst of all. I do not refer to the Monza incident, but to all the races that he took part until now. He should have already understood that one should behave in another way on track and instead he insists with much arrogance".
Only Clay Regazzoni defends the Italian, saying that it is crazy to accuse this last-mentioned to what happened to the poor Peterson and other previous incidents. Anyway Riccardo looks quite content, even if for sure is not the best mood.
"I am ready to appear before this tribunal. I will make my reasons known, I will try to explain myself and I will assume my responsibilities. I can accept some critics. In certain occasions perhaps I behaved too hard, but not all accuses that they address to me are well-founded. In Zandvoort, when I had the incident with Pironi, it was said that I had to brake to let him pass. Why did not the same to me in Monza? It is okay that to judge me are men as Lauda, Andretti and Fittipaldi. But I definitely can not accept that at judges’ bench seats right James Hunt, who did many of that, as well as Scheckter".
"Otherwise thinks may get freaky. If they do not let me race, also then I can take legal action and maybe to cancel the race. Because if Italian magistracy does not found me guilty in the Monza incident, the action here in the United States aimed to punish me will not be absolutely justified. Anyway I reserve the right to consult my lawyers. In any case this lynching to which I was subject hurt me very much. I will be forced to start again, to try to make a new image. I can assure that I always behaved thinking to others too and trying to not make myself dangerous. It can be in some occasions I made mistakes because too much will to arrive, but I am sure to not have done worse than many others driver are accusing me currently".
Thus Patrese is in Watkins Glen, with the hope to race. It only remains to wait the judgment on Thursday evening. If Patrese will be excluded, in any case, this decision of the drivers will create a very dangerous precedent for everyone. And, however, is incredible how the CSI has not intervened at all to resolve the situation and eventually to take responsibility of any decision.
"I have no fear because I am innocent".
It will end in a process the tragic event of 1978 Italian Grand Prix. Almost two years later, on Friday 20th February 1981 the Paduan driver will be surprised and saddened after the decision of the deputy public prosecutor Armando Spataro of Milan to sue him, together with the director of the autodromo of Monza, Gianni Restelli, for manslaughter towards the Swedish driver. But he will continue to support to not have had any responsibility in the incident which caused the death of Peterson:
"I am calm, I am since the beginning, since that cursed September in Monza. Above all I feel strong because I have clear conscience. I did not cause the tragic incident which provoked the death of the poor Ronnie Peterson. If I did something, if I had any responsibility, I could not live normally, without bad thoughts, how I did in this last two years".
The Paduan thought that results of the inquiry conducted by magistracy and in particular conclusions of the expertise committee on what happened would have cleared him completely.
"Instead, evidently some factor took over that convinced the prosecutor Spataro to act in this way. I have, in any case, trust in the justice and thus I prepare myself to face the process aware of my innocence. I saw countless time footage and photographs, that is all available document, on the incident. And, but it was not necessary, I further convinced myself to not have provoked with my behaviour at the start the incredible multi-car incident that afflicted the start of the Italian Grand Prix".
The driver of Arrows instructs his lawyers to follow with the maximum care the paperwork before the process. Patrese fears in some way the indictment will hurt him in the driver activity.
"I am ruined if they will retire my passport or suspend my driving licence. Anyway I am at disposal of the magistracy that, in addition to knowing my contact details, own the address of my lawyers that are instructed to represent me in any case. I hope that at the end my absolute strangeness to the incident will be demonstrated and this sad story could finally have a positive end, at least in my case. If then during the process it will be possible to clarify in unequivocal way what happened in Monza on 10th September 1978, will be better for anyone".
"The incrimination of Patrese seems to me unfair. In Formula 1 races sometimes happen episodes that are not easily explainable, because determined by fatality too. And in this case, in my opinion, can not be said that responsibility was of the Paduan driver".
According to what has been learned the Paduan driver would have to answer to manslaughter because of no-compliance with rules. Basically, at the magistrate would have found credit the version of the fact already advocated by former World Championship James Hunt, according to which Patrese returning on track after coming out on the right to do the overtake, would have closed his car forcing to converge toward the Peterson’s Lotus to avoid it. But the contemporary indictment of Gianni Restelli, responsible of the moment of the start, should be to support of the thesis of Lauda, Regazzoni, Reutemann and Patrese himself according to which the green light of the all clear would have been turn on precipitously (thus earlier than the regulatory minimum of six seconds), and anyway when first rows of the starting grid were stopped, but lasts were moving on momentum of formation lap. The inquiry has been long (two years and half) and very complicated. By the way have been accomplished two technical expertise which have committed for months a massive équipe of experts. At the time was said that results were favourable to Patrese. Then why the decision of the indictment has been taken to manslaughter? The key could be in a report of the road police of Arcore that the magistrate called for two years and that finally would have arrived on the table recently. For what concern consequences of this case could have on the Patrese career are limited. Above all the driver, in accordance with the criminal code, would risk in purely theoretical terms a sentence from one to five years of imprisonment, but without consider extenuating circumstances entitled to him both as uncensored and for the particular moment connatural with a sport competition. Secondly, Patrese does not risk neither the withdrawal of the passport nor any other restriction of the freedom. Eight months with conditional (for manslaughter) and absolution for not having committed the fact is the requested sentence for the driver and for the starter Giovanni Restelli to the process for the death of Ronnie Peterson. But on one hand the Paduan driver is sustained by a series of court and parties experts, in addition to some testimonies; on the other hand accuses collected three years before, investigating, from the voice of the former Formula 1 World Champion James Hunt, repeated clearly by Arturo Merzario and supported by the opinion of one of the experts. Riccardo Patrese continues to say insistently:
"The car was nearly stationary at starting moment; I do not know anything about others, because in that moment you are too focused on what you have to do. I did a good start, while Hunt, that was in front of me in the grid being in the fifth row, was slower. To avoid to go on him, to not slow down risking to have others come on to me, I excessively steered to the right, I crossed the white line entering the sector of the track that lead to the old circuit of high velocity, I overtook Hunt and thus I returned. It was my right to choose any trajectory because then I was in front of him, rules agree with me: is up to who follows to pay attention".
The problem of this process is all condensed in these few lines. Was really Patrese ahead of Hunt? That Patrese was in front of Hunt is said, in accordance with complicated calculations, by four of five experts, and his version of sweet returning and thus not dangerous has been hardly debated during all the day of Friday 20th February 1981: in addition Merzario comes in court to contradict him. Hunt says in the deposition even to have steered on his left (and doing this ran over Peterson) because Patrese was on him. But Patrese committed an offence override the line? In 1978 there was any signal to indicate bans, the year before yes: there were plastic cones, the year later too. There is still a particular to be ascertained: did Patrese touched Hunt, maybe with a tyre? The Paduan driver says no. And then, says the prosecution, why right after he returned to box he made change four tyres before the second start? Maybe, suggests, to cancel any contact signs?
"During the first lap I noticed that the car in the right curves behaved in a different way of left curves. I asked a check to the tyre’s operator. I do not know if he changed it".
"Since the first moment of the process I was calm and I had a clear conscience. The penal law showed to accept what the sport law already decided".
The director Restelli, instead, is excited, and with tears in his eyes says:
"I could say I am satisfied. Not happy, I will never be until sport pass through these courtrooms".
Ends like this the process for the tragedy of Italian Grand Prix, which called on witness stand the Italian driver Riccardo Patrese, accused of doing an irregular manoeuvre which would have caused the incident, later revealed fatal for Peterson, and the race judge Restelli. For him the accuse is to have started in irregular way the 22 cars on track. The prosecutor Spataro says:
"It is not up to me to judge the morality of a world that goes on even though tragedy as the Monza one and live following its particular rules; but this rules, as for all sports, are there and still must be respected".
Starting from this argument was born this process which, in fact, calls into question all the Formula 1.
"Anyway from that rules you have to start if someone, by breaking them, cause damage to others. It is the case of what happened in Monza, the prosecution supports. Patrese moved breaking some rules known in the race world and for this has been requested the sentence to eight months, even with conditional, while is requested absolution for Restelli".
Terrible moments of that 10th September 1978 are reconstructed in the court room by some direct protagonists. First Patrese talks:
"After the formation lap I was coming to my starting position, I was not completely firm, passed very few seconds and the semaphore turned green. I did a good start, I had Hunt ahead of me who instead started bad and for me became an obstacle. I went on the right, I passed the white line. If I braked I would cause a rear-end collision. Thus I flanked Hunt, then after having overtook him I returned to the centre. On my left I had no more obstacles. Mine was a quite manoeuvre".
The debate revolves around his deposition characterized by depositions of Merzario and Hunt (who is not in the court room, thus his deposition is read), clearly against the story of Patrese. Hunt, in fact, said to the judge:
"I hit Peterson because I was squeezed by Patrese. We were going at 200/220 km/h. All has been caused by Patrese".
"I saw the Arrows on this side of the white line, on the right, that I saw him suddenly diving to left among other cars".
Giacomelli, who was ahead of Merzario at starting moment, did no see instead those movements but even him specify that the starting was given with cars still moving. Thus a thing is sure: the start was not regular. But this is not enough. In which safety conditions were drivers running that day? Thus what security was the track giving? Actually in the court room is missing just this defendant. The track. Today in Monza there is more safety, they say, but changes have been done right after polemics that triggered following the Peterson death. That day was put under light the hard compatibility between a track for Formula 1 cars and the park. Doing a safe track does not mean in fact having guardrail as far as possible from track, for doing this is needed space while in Monza trees are very close. Actually it was clear in that tragic circumstance - as claimed by public prosecutor - not only the incompatibility between trach and Monza park but even the incompatibility between that structure and levels to which technological evolution led Formula 1 cars. In short, what really happened? Are 3:30 p.m. of Sunday 10th September 1978 when, on Monza track, the race director Giovanni Restelli gives the start to the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix. In the circuit there is much tension: the world title is on the line. In previous days, during practice, there have been several incidents, one of which had as protagonist Ronnie Peterson that destroyed his Lotus. The staring grid is done as usual: cars come out of box, they do a lap of the track and they have to stop on the grid in the pre-determined order by qualifying, behind the finish line. In first row, paired there are Andretti and Villeneuve. When cars arrive in front of standings are not perfectly in line, someone is ahead, others are behind. From his point of view eventually Restelli do not realize of the confusion, he waits a couple of seconds and then triggers the green light. Some cars are not firm yet and the driver takes advantage for a flying start. Thus the group goes off chaotic, heaped up. From box are seen cars enter the first chicane, put right after the straight. A scary crash, the sound of sheets metal twitch covers anything. Then flames, a cloud of acrid black smoke. Here is, what happen now? The Lotus of Peterson turned around on track, hit by McLaren of Hunt which then crushes against guardrail. The black car of the Swedish is directly hit and practically broken in two parts by Surtees of Vittorio Brambilla. The cars were ahead go untouched, others are involved in a giant multi-car incident. Someone is able to miraculously pass, others suffer the collision. The race is stopped, emergency services are solicitous. Peterson is laid on the ground, he has both legs broken and he is intoxicated by smoke; Brambilla is lifeless, but he will recover, while the poor Swedish will die the next day in the hospital. But, meanwhile, remains an open question: was Riccardo Patrese able to participate in the United States Grand Prix, on Sunday 1st October 1978?