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#329 1980 Argentine Grand Prix

2022-08-28 00:00

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#1980, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Monica Bessi, Translated by Margherita Urpi,

#329 1980 Argentine Grand Prix

Enzo Ferrari has a precise idea of how business can affect the life and career of a champion, the constructor of Modena obviously refers to his experi

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Enzo Ferrari has a precise idea of how business can affect the life and career of a champion, the constructor of Modena obviously refers to his experience in the world that is congenial to him, that of racing, in which he has been working for over sixty years. Ferrari in ‘Ferrari 80’, the last edition of the book in which he tells the most important moments of his life, exposes his theory in this regard. He calls it the ‘Champion’s parabola’. What does Ferrari say, hoping that his conviction is proved wrong by Jody Scheckter, the 1979 World Champion?

 

"The champion is born, is educated and grows until the anxiety of human success prevents him from fully evaluating the risks and economic benefits associated with the chosen profession. He is concentrated, determined to win, to the point of making up for any mechanical deficiencies and possible contingent contradictions with his total contribution. The only thing that counts for him is the victory. The applause of the crowd is the most beautiful prize. When he reaches the apex of his career, the champion meets new needs of life, environments, and interests. The metamorphosis is complete: the body of the man of public relations takes shape, as well as the one of the owner of non-sporting businesses, and the guest of honour of many worldly commitments. The champion can no longer win on track as he used to and tends to blame different people and situations, absolving himself, sometimes justifiably, but more often a priori. In reality, the prominent cause of this confusion is in him: the fighter has ceased to be. The champion is now a supporting actor, more and more agonising, and only his intelligence can spare him pathetic lines".

 

We don’t know if these words will suit the behaviour of Jody Scheckter, but certainly Scuderia Ferrari will try to defend itself in the first part of the season to attack later when it has the turbo car available. This, in summary, is the program of the Formula 1 World Champion team. This is not, of course, an official statement of the team leaders, as it is impossible to make predictions, but of the indications that emerge from a speech with engineer Mauro Forghieri, technical manager of Ferrari, on the eve of the departure for South America.

 

"The cars are already on their way. They are two T5 models, plus two T-cars. Compared to the car presented in December at Fiorano, the race cars have not undergone major changes, only small changes in some details. We haven’t had much time to work. A test on the track of Paul Ricard, many laps on our small home circuit and a useless trip always to Le Castellet before Christmas, where we could not run any test due to bad weather".

 

The race in Argentina is therefore full of unknowns.

 

"Let’s say that there shouldn’t be any big bad surprises. We have worked as always with great seriousness and we believe we have maintained a certain level of performance. Unfortunately, we are convinced that many other teams have made considerable progress. So it will be very difficult to maintain the supremacy demonstrated last year".

 

Can he make a prediction?

 

"As far as I’ve seen, I think we will have to fight with a very strong Brabham. The new car seems very beautiful and well built. McLaren should also have improved its car. Then there are the usual teams: Williams and Ligier, in addition to Lotus that will certainly have recovered ground".

 

The lap times set at Paul Ricard speak of a Williams clearly faster than everyone else and a Brabham that is not far away.

 

"Jones' time of 1'04"72 and Piquet’s time of 1'04"90 were exceptional. Many, however, did better than us, since Villeneuve, the fastest of our drivers in those days, ran in 1'05"70. However, that is not what worries me. In the cold season and when there is bad weather the track conditions do not only change from day to day but from hour to hour. And then it would be necessary to know with which tyres our rivals ran".

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As a result, can he think of a championship start without trauma or in any case without heavy negatives?

 

"This cannot be said. However, we are confident, we hope to defend ourselves well. Although every race is a question and you never know what you can go through".

 

Why Scuderia Ferrari, unlike the other teams, has made only a few tests with the new cars?

 

"Because we didn’t have time. We had to work at the factory. In the ten days of holidays at the end of the year we were the only ones who were always there. We didn’t waste a minute".

 

Forghieri does not say anything more, but this statement is clear. Since the T5 has hardly undergone major changes, this means that work has been done for other reasons. This may be the new turbo car with a six-cylinder engine, the development of which is at an extremely advanced stage. It is not excluded that the new and revolutionary model (for Ferrari) will be ready in a shorter time than previously announced. It may also be that the car will make its debut in Kyalami on March 1, 1980. The engineer jokingly mentions (because he will hardly give up being there) that he could miss the trip to Argentina. This means that at the moment his engagement at the factory is very tight.

 

"There are many young engineers that I am teaching and who will soon be able to replace me on track. After many years of racing I have the right to rest too. And then we have a man of the value of Antonio Tomaini who can lead the team alone".

 

Although busy, Mauro Forghieri will go to Buenos Aires anyway. The passion is too strong, he will rather make sacrifices on the return to Maranello. The last question that can be asked, even if the topic is up to Marco Piccinini, the team’s sports director, is that concerning the drivers. Will there be some problems between Scheckter and Villeneuve? In some interviews published these days, the Canadian said that he will think only of himself and not the team.

 

"It is right for a driver to think about his career and his interests. But I don’t think Villeneuve said he won’t respect his team. As usual, the relationship between Jody and Gilles will develop gradually as the races pass. They’ll start even and then the best driver will try to take an advantage. Scheckter will try to reconfirm the title, Villeneuve will try to take it from him. But they will have to deal with many rivals and then they will have to use their brain".

 

Waiting to see how the new World Championship will open, Saturday, January 5, 1980, Goodyear, which provides tyres to the majority of Formula 1 teams, declares that it has suddenly decided not to produce the famous qualifying tyres anymore, those that - thanks to a very soft compound - allowed to obtain exceptional lap times. This decision was taken for organisational and economic reasons. The cost of this production was considered too high. The Anglo-American company has also asked the international federation to draw up as soon as possible a regulation to prohibit other companies (Michelin) from using qualifying tyres, otherwise it even threatens to retire from Formula 1. In any case, whether Goodyear’s decision will be confirmed, as regards the supply of qualifying tyres, and whether any specific rules will be drawn up as a matter of urgency, Michelin will have great advantages in the first race of the World Championship scheduled in Argentina on Sunday, January 13, 1980. The two Ferraris and the two Renaults, which have the French tyres, could get great advantages and occupy the first four places in the starting grid. From Buenos Aires, meanwhile, there is the news that the tarmac of the municipal circuit track has been completely redone. This should therefore allow for a smooth running of the race. 

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It opens in Buenos Aires, with the Argentine Grand Prix, the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship, the ultimate expression of motorsport. This is the 31st edition of this championship, which started in 1950 with just a few races that were all in a Europe that was recovering from the disasters of the war. The cars had front engines, the tyres were narrow, the aerodynamics approximate, the drivers drove sitting, the Grand Prix lasted hours and were 500 kilometres long or more. It was an environment of amateur gentlemen. In 31 years the Circus has completely transformed: cars, men, tracks, motivations. We are, for better or worse, in the '80s, single-seaters have rear-engine, monstrous tyres, aerodynamics studied in the wind tunnels, drivers are semi-lying down, races are consumed in two hours and in 300 kilometres. It is a world of professionals, in which talent, sport, technology are combined with economic and commercial interests. The races of the 1980 season are sixteen, really scattered around the world: Africa, South and North America, Europe. The Circus - and this is its remarkable limit - tends, however, to isolate itself, to lock itself like a microcosm, only the internal facts count. But today this attitude is no longer possible and the spectre of the energy crisis confirms this. In what way and in what terms will this end up affecting the sport of the steering wheel, if not this year in the coming years? A question that for now does not seem to raise particular concerns in Formula 1, where teams and drivers think only about winning. Which, in fact, is never easy. Today, more than ever, to impose oneself in a Grand Prix or, even more so, in a championship means mixing computer and improvisation, experience and luck. This, in recent years, was achieved above all by Ferrari: in five years, Maranello won three titles thanks to Niki Lauda (1975 and 1977) and Jody Scheckter (1979) and missed another title in 1976 only for the drama of Lauda. The statistical reference means, quite simply, that Ferrari is the team to beat for all the other teams. The strength of Scuderia Ferrari lies in the organisation, in the continuity of performance of its men and its cars, in the technical, technological and moral resources, in the ability, despite ups and downs, to remain at the top. In this context it is clear that only a team which is very strong or equipped with an extremely competitive and reliable car can succeed: Renault, Williams, or the new Lotus? 

 

Predictions, on the eve of the Argentine Grand Prix, whose first practices will take place on Friday, are uncertain. Every team, although with some caution, swear to have improved its cars and to have valid cards to play. Chatter, while in the background there are controversies, or pseudo-controversies, concerning the safety of the circuits, and the usual contrasts emerge between drivers, constructors and sports managers. The power is fragmented, the cake is rich, new tens of millions of dollars between sign-on bonuses and sponsorship grants. A business, a real business for many. However, Formula 1 is a sporting spectacle of great appeal, a show that from Sunday to Sunday attracts millions of spectators and new actors from year to year. For example, in 1981 Ferrari, Renault, Alfa Romeo will be joined by another true car constructor, the Talbot-Simca, which is part of the French group Peugeot-Citroen. On Tuesday, January 8, 1980 the company officially announces its intention to participate in the 1981 championship with its own car (probably powered by a supercharged Peugeot engine). The reason is to characterise their image and refer to the sports tradition of the Talbot brand. A technical-advertising operation that, once again, seeks the main support, precisely that of the queen of formulas. The car is going through difficult times, but in Formula 1 there is no air of crisis. The World Championship, which opens in Argentina, attracts drivers, cars, technicians, sponsors, sports managers who form a Circus that makes a show and that constitutes a business worth millions of dollars. This is confirmed by the imminent arrival on the Grand Prix scene of another true car constructor, the Talbot. The French brand is part of the Peugeot-Citroen group, has an excellent competitive tradition and, above all, the need to revive its name, which took over the production Chrysler France-Simca. In 1979 Talbot launched a huge advertising campaign in Europe to make itself known. The results were good, but Perrin-Pelletler, president of the French car manufacturer, decided to try the great adventure of Formula 1 in 1981, believing that from the Grand Prix Talbot can have, so to speak, an official consecration. The entry into the Circus is therefore based on a precise commercial-advertising motivation, the same that drives Renault, Alfa Romeo and, albeit with different nuances, Ferrari. Once the teams raced mainly for technical reasons, today the cars are born in research centres. Only from the rally, in reality, it is still possible to draw useful indications for the series production. 

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There has been much talk about Ferrari and other Formula 1 teams. It is now the turn, in the run-up to the start of the championship, of four teams that should play an important role in the 1980 season. Here are the hopes and ambitions of Alfa Romeo, Lotus, Renault and Williams. Alfa Romeo, apprentices but with some ambition. Despite the uncertainty represented by the physical conditions of Patrick Depailler in Argentina (in any case Vittorio Brambilla is always ready), Alfa Romeo faces this great return to Formula 1 with optimism. The car, tried and tested several times recently, has given satisfactory results and should be able to fight in the midfield. Engineer Carlo Chiti says:

 

"Our 179 is no longer a laboratory car. However, we lack the experience of other teams on wing-cars. The collection of data and the set up in these types of single-seaters are difficult. For this reason, too, we took a driver of the value of Depailler who has always proved to be an excellent test driver as well as one of the fastest drivers of Formula 1, better than his teammate Laffite in Ligier".

 

Nobody talks about Giacomelli, but also the trust placed in him is remarkable. Speaking of Team Lotus, Colin Chapman exclaims:

 

"Everyone copied my Lotus 79 and beat me with the wing-cars in the past season. But this did not demoralise me. On the contrary, it convinced me that I am on the right path".

 

Colin Chapman, patron of Lotus, considered the English Ferrari, hopes for a great revival in the championship that is about to begin.

 

"I have great confidence in Mario Andretti and I paired him with the young Italian Elio De Angelis, because I think he is a potential champion. With this team I will be able to reach the top positions I obtained in 1978".

 

Chapman in preparing the 81 certainly took into account the mistakes he had made with the revolutionary but sterile 80. The new car, therefore, will be a compendium of the previous models, more reliable thanks to the much work done at the factory and in the wind tunnel.

 

"When you look for new technical solutions you pay for inexperience. I am sure, however, that the results will begin to arrive soon".

 

Young, rich, handsome, Formula 1 driver. At twenty-two, Elio De Angelis can consider himself a lucky guy. But it can’t be said that the door to the difficult world of Grands Prix has opened in front of him with the only help of luck. Since he began to race, things have always been difficult for him. After the parenthesis of go-karts, from 14 to 17 years, the time it took him to become the Italian champion. When in Formula 3, he found himself fighting with the whole new generation of Italian drivers, angry drivers, people who never spared him anything. His duels with Patrese and Giacomelli were epic. Then, in 1978, the qualitative leap, with the transition to the semi-official Ferrari team, with the cars powered by Dino engines. A season that the Roman dreamed of full of triumphs and that instead turned out to be full of disappointments, bitterness. Last year there was the quarrel with Tyrrell. A signed contract that the English team did not want to respect. And De Angelis, who was already hoping to be part of a first-class team, abruptly fell back. He had to put himself in the hands of lawyers, appear in court but in the end Tyrrell won the game and held the French Jarier and Pironi. De Angelis, in extremis, found a seat at Shadow, a team with no means and no sponsors. A season, the past one, that saw him fight and drive, sometimes, cars that struggled to stay together. And yet he fought, battling for positions that allowed him to show himself, until the magnificent fourth place at Watkins Glen in the East US Grand Prix, in the last race of the year. His tenacity, temperament, and undoubted skills as a class driver have made him known to several teams. And Colin Chapman, a great talent-scout, did not miss the opportunity: he hired him for 1980. 

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Everything seemed done, resolved: Elio De Angelis was finally in a competitive team, he would prove his worth. But once again Don Nichols, the American owner of Shadow, saw a chance to make a big deal. To let the Roman go away, he asked for a large redemption, it seems 300.000 dollars. And Elio found himself in trouble again. He had to call in his lawyers in London, claiming that Shadow did not respect the contract during the season as it did not provide him with the means to compete regularly. The judge of the London High Court in the first instance agreed with the young Italian but Nichols appealed and the case is back in court. The matter will probably end in these days and it is to be hoped that the driver will finally have the chance to race with Lotus. If all goes well, Colin Chapman’s team will be this year, as far as drivers are concerned, all Italian. The very young De Angelis (who was born in Rome on March 26, 1958 and is the son of the off-shore champion) will be alongside Mario Andretti. It is the first time that a prestigious team like the English one relies completely on Italian drivers. For De Angelis this time the road to a possible great affirmation is really open. Continuing with the analysis of the teams that this year aspire to triumph over their rivals, the official statement released by Renault leaves no doubt:

 

"This year we aim to win the World Championship".

 

The results of 1979, the victory at Dijon, the numerous pole positions obtained on many tracks, the fastest laps, convinced the French team’s technicians to say it clearly, after two years of experience. Gerard Larrousse, director of the French team, says:

 

"With great means available, certainly Jabouille and Arnoux will attempt to win the title. Someone criticised us, because we wanted to maintain a completely French team. This, however, is not a defect, but only confidence in the men who have developed and built the car".

 

The truth is that Renault really believes in its turbo engine and in an all-national car in which only the Italian Magneti Marelli managed to add something foreign. The new car, called Elf 20, should be even faster, because it is lighter, and more ready in the start, thanks to the lower weight.

 

"Last year we just missed a resounding victory. I hope to have maintained the supremacy demonstrated at the end of last season".

 

This is the statement made by Frank Williams. The team principal of the British team of the same name is very confident about the chances of success of his cars. So much so that Alan Jones has joined another very fast driver, the Argentine Carlos Reutemann, in place of Clay Regazzoni who evidently considered uncompetitive.

 

"Having two great drivers in the team will not be a disadvantage. Indeed, we will have more chances in each race".

 

Williams also responds to those who have accused him of being full of himself.

 

"When we tested the cars at Le Castellet, we didn’t want spectators because we had new solutions to test. Starting with a little technical advantage will give us a few months of breathing space. I don’t want to be mysterious, but it is my engineer, Patrick Head, who is jealous of his projects".

 

As the 1979 season ended there were some indecisions about who joined which team, but everything was eventually sorted out and while the businessmen shuffled their paper-work and talked money the designers drew new cars or modified the old ones and the workers applied themselves to the tools of their trades and made the new cars or rebuilt the old ones. 

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Strikes, absenteeism, industrial strife and unrest are things unknown in the world of motor racing, everyone gets stuck in and an impressive collection of machinery is assembled in the Buenos Aires Autodrome to start practice. There has been some slight reshuffling of racing numbers, with Ferrari taking 1 and 2, for World Champion Jody Scheckter and his eager teammate Gilles Villeneuve, both having new T5 Ferraris to race. Lotus has dropped from the head of the list to take the old Ferrari numbers of 11 and 12, with Mario Andretti leading the team. After a certain amount of legal fuss the young Italian Elio de Angelis has bought himself out of his contract with the Shadow team and joined Lotus as number two. After the disastrous 1979 season when the promising new Lotus 80 failed to work properly and the team seemed to forget how to make the Lotus 79 work, the winter break has allowed them to come up with the Lotus 81, which can best be described as a cross between the last two models. Last year Carlos Reutemann started the season well with Team Lotus, but gradually became disenchanted with the situation, as they did with him, and he left the team at the end of the year to eventually join the Williams team as number two to Alan Jones, the aim being to have the Williams cars in a strong 1-2 position at all times. There did not appear to be any necessity to drop the successful FW07 design and Patrick Head’s winter work has involved designing a B-version which has incorporated all the detail improvements that were experimented with and thought up during 1979. Little of the original cars is being used to form the basis of the B-version though no radical changes have been made to the basic design. Regazzoni did not linger around the Williams team once he knew that Reutemann was being sought, and he has joined the Ensign team which has been re-constituted and financially backed by Unipart. A lot of overtime by Morris Nunn’s team has got their new design finished in time for a brief run before being flown out to South America where it has made its debut in red, white and blue colours. The Tyrrell team has lost their promising young Frenchman Didier Pironi to the Ligier team, but is not too worried as they have been signing the Irishman Derek Daly who has shown good promise last year. 

 

Having blatantly copied the Lotus 79 to build the Tyrrell 009, the next step was a problem, for the Lotus 80 was not a design to copy and to step sideways and build a Williams-copy was not practical, so the 009 series cars were altered and modified in the light of 1979 experience, but the light was not very strong. Jean-Pierre Jarier, who has promised so much and achieved so little, has retained his place in the team. The space in the Ligier team for Pironi has been provided by the departure of Patrick Depailler, who could not see much future as joint number one with Jacques Laffite and has left to join the Alfa Romeo team with young Bruno Giacomelli as his partner. At the end of the 1978 season the way ahead for aspiring designers was simple, for Colin Chapman had proven the ground-effects principle and it was a simple matter to follow it, and the Ligier team were one of the most successful. When the Williams FW07 proved to be more effective than most it was not easy to see why, so that teams that lacked an original thinker on the design staff were unsure of their next move and could only uprate their 1979 cars as best they could, the Ligier cars for Argentina being modified JS11 models, heading towards the next completely new design, the JS15. McLaren has found themselves in a similar situation and has altered the M29 design where they could, to produce the M29B. John Watson has retained his position as team leader, but Patrick Tambay has been replaced by Alain Prost, the 1979 European F3 champion. This is unfortunate for Tambay, who seems to be a driver who needs a good leader. When James Hunt was leading the McLaren team, Tambay showed good promise in his style and ability to match the pace of his leader, but last year with Watson at the front there was little to inspire Tambay and he faded away. The Renault team has spent the short winter break with no problems, the RS10 to RS14 twin-turbo-charged cars have taken apart to form the basis for a new set of cars incorporating a great number of detail changes, but no radical departure from the basic design. There are no driver problems, for like the Ferrari team, the drivers have liked the team and the team have liked the drivers, so Jabouille and Arnoux have stayed with the turbo-charged 1 1/2-litres. As already reported the Fittipaldi team has bought the assets of the Wolf team, including the cars, designers, management and driver and the newly constituted Fittipaldi team, no longer backed by Copersucar, has doubled its size overnight. The basis of the WR Wolf cars have formed the new Fittipaldi F7, as an interim design to get Emerson Fittipaldi and Keijo Rosberg to this first race. 

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The constitution of the Arrows team has been unchanged over the winter, but a simpler car has been built, known as the A3, utilising some of the good points of the unusual and unsuccessful A2 design. Drivers Patrese and Mass have retained their positions in the team. The two back-markers from last year, ATS and Shadow, have just scraped onto the FOCA list of members, the German-financed team expanding to run two cars, for Marc Surer and Jan Lammers, and the Shadow team regrouping itself with a new design, the DN11, and with drivers David Kennedy, the forceful Irishman from Aurora racing, and Swedish F3 driver Stefan Johansson. Last, but by no means least, the Ecclestone team of Brabham cars were as seen at the end of last season. With Alfa Romeo running their own cars there was little future in using the Alfa Romeo engines so Ecclestone has made an instant and complete break and has returned to the Cosworth fold, and concurrently Niki Lauda has given up racing and has disappeared from the scene. In a situation that would have destroyed some teams, Ecclestone’s Brabham team has burst through with a new lease of life. Gordon Murray has designed the BT49, using Cosworth DFV power and it was very competitive from the word go, while Nelson Piquet’s undoubted ability has been given a free rein as he has taken over the number one position in the team. He is joined by Ricardo Zunino, from Argentina, who has shown good promise from the word go. Everyone has arrived early, thanks to the efficient transport organisation of the FOCA and there has been an unofficial test-session on Thursday before official practice has begun on Friday morning. 

 

During this three-hour session there have been three major factors that arose, firstly the Goodyear Racing Division has told everyone loud and clear that there were no special, super-sticky, soft qualifying tyres for anyone. As far as Goodyear is concerned, qualifying tyres are finished. They have found it a wasteful and expensive avenue of development that has not taught them anything and have tried to get the FISA and FOCA organisations to do something about eliminating them. Michelin have agreed in principle that qualifying tyres have best abandoned, but nobody has done anything so Goodyear’s Leo Mehl has taken the initiative and has stopped any further production of special short-life qualifying tyres. There have been three types of tyre available for the Goodyear runners, all of which would go the race distance, but with varying degrees of hardness to cater for different cars and drivers. This has been a hard and ruthless decision, but it has been necessary in the face of the lethargy of the FISA and FOCA and generally speaking it has been applauded by everyone. The feeling is that Michelin will be shamed into following suit. Goodyear also has made it clear that if their decision has been unpopular they might be forced to fade quietly away from Formula One. The second thing that has come to light on Thursday has been the fact that parts of the track have been resurfaced too recently and the heat and the tyre adhesion of today’s car has been tearing the surface to pieces, as happened in Zolder in 1973. While one faction has been talking about not racing, leaded by a rather vociferous Jody Scheckter in his new role as President of the re-formed GPDA, another group headed by Alan Jones has been saying:

 

"We’ve come, we’re committed, we’ll have to get on with it as best as we can, but in all honesty there shouldn’t be a race on the track as it is".

 

Scheckter has been also busy trying to whip up support for boycotting the forthcoming race at Interlagos in Brazil, in view of the roughness of the track. The Brazilian race was due to be held at the new Rio de Janeiro circuit, but at the last minute it was discovered that that track was sinking into the sand-bed on which it was built so a hurried switch back to Interlagos was made. Advancement in chassis technology is one of the factors in this bumpy circuit problem, for with increased down-force of 400-500 lb being gained from aerodynamic studies, suspension spring-rates have had to be doubled or even trebled in order to retain control of suspension movements so that a bump of two years ago that could be ridden over with a soft spring, has now become a major obstacle that bounces the car into the air rather than making the suspension work. If softer springs are used the good cars will bottom-out at high speed. It is an engineering problem more than a surface problem, but some drivers cannot see this and blame the surface. The third thing has been the decision to stagger the two-by-two grid, as has been done in Monaco in recent years, to form a one-by-one line of cars for the start, offset alternately. 

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The result of this decision has meant that practice times and grid positions have been more important than ever, for second fastest would no longer put you on the front row, you would be some 10 yards behind the pole-position car. Drivers at the back of the 24-car grid are going to need very good eyesight to see the green light. The hot South American summer makes Formula 1 exciting. Under a sun that is the envy of the Sahara’s one, on Friday, January 11, 1980 begins in Buenos Aires the new World Championship with the dispute of the first round of timed practices for the Argentine Grand Prix. Apart from these three major factors arising before practice began, there are personal troubles as well, especially in the Williams team for Alan Jones who finds the old FW07/4 to be much better in terms of speed, balance, and adhesion than the B-series car, with its different rear suspension and different aerodynamics. Friday practice has seen more tests carried out and that night the decision was made to convert both B-series cars back to 1979 specification as far as possible, and this meant a lot of all-night work, ending at 3 a.m. Saturday morning and starting again at 6:00 a.m.. Racing mechanics really earn their money. Jones uses the T-car to make fastest time on Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon while Reutemann is troubled by ignition trouble and only does a few laps. By the time his car is rebuilt the track surface deteriorates so badly that he has little chance of recording a good time. Despite this trouble, in his home Grand Prix with a new team, he seems relaxed and content; disappointed, perhaps, but much more philosophical than expected. The Ligier team is fairly happy. Laffite making second fastest time on Friday, which has been just as well as his car had to have a last-minute engine change before the final session on Saturday, due to a persistent oil leak, and then he has trouble with the fuel pressure so that he only manages one lap on Saturday afternoon and that takes him 13'02"48, an average of 27.45 kph. Whether this jaundices his view or not, he has been one of the vociferous ones wanting to have the race cancelled due to the deteriorating surface, which is a measure of how serious the situation has become, for he is normally pretty even tempered. Pironi is very happy with his new team and new car and when asked if it is better than the Tyrrell 009 he remarks that it has better brakes, better steering, better handling, better traction... clearly better. 

 

The Brabham team is not as happy as they feel they ought to be for Piquet, who is as brave as they come, is feeling a bit unnerved by his cars’ inability through the very high speed corners. And cannot match the times of the front runners. In the untimed session on Saturday morning he is out in the T-car, trying softer front springs when he has a high-speed spin and crashes backwards, through the catch-fencing on the left-right before the pits hairpin. Earlier Rosberg had done the same thing in the spare Fittipaldi car, but luckily, it had been moved before Piquet arrived on the scene. The Brabham is extensively damaged about the rear end so in the final timed session, both team drivers have to be a bit cautious, knowing there is no spare car available. Even so, Piquet manages a courageous 1'45"02, which puts him into fourth place. Zunino is content to qualify in sixteenth place with 1'47"41. In the Lotus camp there is a great deal of optimism by the end of practice, even though De Angelis has made a dramatic start to his career with Team Lotus by having a major spin, followed by a high-speed trip backwards into the catch-fencing during Thursday’s test-session. The Lotus lads had a lot of work to do repairing the damage, but the young Italian makes up for it by eventually turning a lap in 1'45"46, which gives him fifth place on the grid, one place ahead of his team-leader. Andretti is not dismayed for the Lotus 81 is feeling very much to his liking, particularly with a full fuel tank, and he could have gone faster than the 1'45"78 he has recorded on Friday, if some trouble had not intervened in the final practice session. He was just getting into the groove when he suffered brake failure, and as the pedal dropped limply down to the bulkhead his foot caught the throttle pedal and the Lotus careered off the track, scattering marshals and photographers. He limped round to the pits and called it a day. On the basis that what looks right usually is right, the new Arrows A3 scores highly. If it hadn’t been for some unfortunate mechanical problems there is little doubt that both Patrese and Mass would have qualified higher up the grid than they did. Just as Patrese looked like getting up among the front runners a drive-shaft broke and though the damaged corner was replaced in double-quick time by the Arrows mechanics, the track surface had deteriorated so badly that fast times were out of the question. 

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The A3 Arrows appear to have quite an advantage on sheer speed over some other cars, and when Mass rockets past Villeneuve’s Ferrari on the fastest straight he waves cheerily, to which the Ferrari driver responds by clasping a hand to his head in mock (or genuine?) frustration. The Ferraris prove to be quick through the twists infield but slow on the fast straights, and though they have plenty of Michelins to choose from they have difficulty in making a choice because the track surface is changing from corner to corner, lap by lap. Neither driver can get into the first half-dozen, which does not augur well for a Ferrari victory. The other Michelin runners, the Renaults, are no better off, worse in fact, for they are continually in engine trouble, both Jabouille and Arnoux getting through two engines each during practice. Troubles range from oil pump failure, through leaking water gaskets to fuel injection trouble and a broken valve. Altogether a despairing time for the French team. At McLaren’s there is satisfaction with the new boy Alain Prost, who is looking remarkably cool and confident, lapping faster than his team leader, earning 12th place on the grid against Watson’s 17th place. The yellow Fittipaldis, financed by Skol Lager, are not going as well as all the hard work really justifies. Fittipaldi is very unhappy with the handling of his car until a loose nut in the rear suspension is discovered which allows one rear wheel to contribute to the overall steering effort! An engine failure then loses him a lot of time and by the time everything is sorted out the track deterioration is against him and he only just scrapes onto the grid. Rosberg qualifies and his car seems generally better than Fittipaldi’s, but even so 13th position on the grid is not exactly a winning position.

 

However, it is much better than the Shadow can do, for neither of their new recruits qualifies in the top 24. With new cars and new drivers the Shadow team have not got much hope of success, but they have to start somewhere and there is always the consolation that things can only get better. The Ensign-Unipart team are in a somewhat similar position, though Regazzoni’s experience is obviously a great help and he qualifies the new car quite well in spite of various troubles, among them a sticking throttle that sends him career over a herb which cracks a water pipe. The Tyrrell 009 cars, only a year old, are already looking dated and the drivers are having trouble coming off the 180-degree turn at the end of the circuit anything like flat out, as the front runners are doing. Daly has had a major engine failure on Friday morning so has had to use the spare car, and that would not run properly with the fuel tank less than three-quarters full. He is back in his own car for Saturday afternoon but has to take to the rough to avoid an incident that Prost looks as though he is going to have, but doesn’t. This damages the nose cowl, the side pods and the skirts so he has to go back to the spare car again. Both cars qualify, but in the grey mish-mash in the lower part of the grid. Down at the Alfa Romeo pits, Giacomelli is doing his best in the role of temporary team leader, for though Depailler is driving he is far from fit. The team has brought Vittorio Brambilla along just in case, but the gritty little Frenchman is not going to give up. He has set himself the target of being back on form by the South African Grand Prix and said:

 

"I won’t be unless I force myself hard now".

 

Both Alfa Romeo drivers qualify in spite of various troubles, such as a big high-speed spin by Giacomelli on Friday which has damaged skirts and suspension and an engine failure on Saturday morning which forced him to use the spare car in the final session, and he has crashed that and damaged the suspension. In summary, one wild Alan Jones set the record lap time in 1'44"17 (average 206.255 km/h), but behind the Australian there are the two drivers of Ligier. Jacques Laffite with 1'44"44 and the talented Didier Pironi, a Frenchman from Friuli, with 1'44"64. In fourth place there is Mario Andretti, with the new Lotus 81, followed by Riccardo Patrese, who regains confidence and returns to shine with a finally valid car. In difficulty, instead, Ferrari, although the cars of Maranello have remained in the middle of this provisional classification. Gilles Villeneuve got the ninth time (1'46"35) and Jody Scheckter the twelfth (1'47"06). As you can see, the gaps between Ferrari drivers and Jones are quite heavy, between two and three seconds.

 

"We had grip problems. The track has deteriorated in the most tortuous part and, evidently, our radial tyres are more sensitive to these negative situations. Instead, we solved the overheating problems that had strained the engines in free practice. We cannot say that we are very calm. However, since the race will be very hard, we do not lose all hope of making a good impression".

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Admits engineer Mauro Forghieri. Jody Scheckter, who went off the track once, and Gilles Villeneuve are unanimous in their judgments:

 

"An undrivable circuit, which will create difficulties for everyone to stay on the road".

 

The T5, however, is still under development and it is to be hoped that Saturday will be a step forward. The fact that the tyres played a decisive role in these first practices is shown by Renault that had the same problems. Jabouille managed to fit in with the new Elf 20 in sixth place and Arnoux was only twenty-third. But it must be said that the little René also broke two engines and ran very little. We must also remember the exploit of a young man, the twenty-four year old Frenchman Alain Prost. The European Formula 3 champion, debuting in Formula 1, outscores his teammate John Watson, finishing in tenth place and about a second ahead of the Irishman. It should be noted that Prost left behind in this first classification two World Champions (Scheckter and Fittipaldi) and six European Formula 2 champions (Regazzoni, Jarier, Giacomelli, Depailler, Arnoux and Surer). This is thanks to a very good car, but also the skill of the driver. The bad placement of Bruno Giacomelli, nineteenth, has a justification. The Brescian was only able to make nine laps, because he went off the road in the chicane that follows the pit straight.

 

"I jumped out at about 250 km/h. In the middle of the curve there is a bump. The car took off and, probably due to the failure of the miniskirts, when it returned to the ground it had completely lost grip. It spun two times, and then it ended up on the grass. There was also a fire beginning, because the dried grass was catching fire and the fire brigade had to intervene with the fire extinguishers. So I couldn’t run anymore. I hope to get into the top ten, because the car is pretty good. If I had not had the misfortune to go off the road, I would already be among the best after the first qualifying. I hope very much to have a good race on Sunday, which would repay me of many sacrifices and a lot of work done with this car".

 

The other Italian, the Roman Elio De Angelis, with Lotus, was not particularly fast, but his car had several problems, especially with miniskirts. Eddie Cheever, with the Osella, also had to work hard to get the car in place. There are also difficulties in the team where, on a chronometric level, everything is fine. For the moment, among the Italian drivers the Italian Riccardo Patrese, fifth in the overall classification, was the best, with an Arrows that seems to have become competitive again. The new model of the car, designed by the designer engineer Tony Southgate, seems to be very quick on the Argentine track, so much so that Patrese could even aim for a placement in the first three places.

 

"Finally, people will start talking about me, realising that I’m there. I spent a season - the past one - really of hell, in which I seem to have lost all the friends and supporters. It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t get the results from the car. I hope to make up for it soon".

 

During the first practice session there was the first fight between Jones and Reutemann at Williams. The Argentine, back in the box with a fire at the electrical system, wanted to get into the spare car, but the Australian stopped in turn and asked to swap cars, leaving Reutemann on foot. On Saturday, the last practice session is held. There is a fear that the new asphalt will deteriorate further. The organisers and Bernie Ecclestone would propose to run on the outer track, obviously much faster, but the rules are clear: you can only run where the practice sessions are held. In addition, the other track is not homologated. If the asphalt were to crumble again, then you risk the cancellation of the race. A race without prediction. Even though Alan Jones' Williams will start on pole, with good chances of victory for what he showed at the end of last season and for the overall supremacy shown in these two days of qualifying, it is not said that the Australian has a very easy task. Too many unknowns weigh on the result of the race, starting from the infernal heat, to end up with the difficulties imposed by the asphalt, which crumbles under the grip of the tyres in acceleration and braking. 


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