#319 1979 Belgian Grand Prix

2021-12-10 23:00

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#1979, Fulvio Conti,

#319 1979 Belgian Grand Prix

There is not a great deal of enthusiasm for the hour-long test session on Friday morning in the drizzling rain and the Wolf and McLaren teams do not v


Niki Lauda is looking for a new stable. The news is not official but reliable. The Austrian champion made no secret of the fact in Spain that he was deeply disappointed with Brabham, even though in recent times the BT48, the new model presented at the start of the season by the British team, has made discreet progress. In what was supposed to be the year of his great revival, after the sensational divorce with Ferrari and a first season with Brabham, Lauda failed to collect, in the five races held so far, even a placing of any significance (his best result was sixth place at Kyalami). Basically, Niki had to be content in almost two years with Ecclestone's team with two successes, both contested, in Sweden, thanks to the banned fan, and at Monza because of Andretti and Villeneuve's penalty. There had even been rumours that the former World Champion intended to quit even before the end of the current World Championship, but the possibility was categorically denied by the driver himself. Lauda states:


"It is absolutely not true that I am retiring, I will still race next year".


The likelihood that Lauda is already negotiating in order to find a more competitive car that will allow him to end his career on a high note is therefore becoming more consistent. This thesis is confirmed by spokesmen for the Emilian company that finances Brabham, and which has a personal contract with the driver. Sante Ghedìni, Parmalat's public relations manager, affirms:


"Niki has an agreement with us, and in all likelihood we will renew it for next year. At the moment, however, we are deeply disappointed with the situation and the results and it is not excluded that we will look together for a new solution with another team".


These statements are confirmed by the fact that Bernie Ecclestone is actively looking for new sponsors. One wonders, however, where the Austrian will end up. The names of Renault and Wolf have been mentioned, but what guarantees will these two teams be able to give the Austrian, given that at the moment Jabouille and Arnoux with the French cars and James Hunt with that of the Austrian-Canadian millionaire are unable to obtain positive results? Excluding a priori a return to Ferrari, there would possibly remain Alfa Romeo (Lauda alongside Giacomelli) if the Milanese company's car should prove competitive, at least with the new car being built. In any case, it will be necessary to wait some time before knowing how this sensational case will be resolved. In the meantime, engineer Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari's technical manager, is already at work on the Scuderia Ferrari's private track at Fiorano on Monday 30 April 1979. The racing rhythm now becomes relentless, fortnightly, and Scheckter and Villeneuve's T4s will be on Wednesday 3 May 1979 at the Zolder circuit. where the Belgian Grand Prix, the sixth round of the World Championship, will be held on Sunday 13 May 1979. Says engineer Forghieri:


"Unfortunately there is no time to work with any continuity. We basically go from one race to the next, trying to improve the car after each experience. We would have many new solutions to develop, but we have to wait".


However, in the aftermath of the race won by Depailler at Jarama in the Ligier, with the Lotus of Reutemann and Andretti in second and third place and the Ferraris of Scheckter and Villeneuve in fourth and seventh, the topic of the day is tyres, the joys and sorrows of Formula 1. The cars, in some cases, the drivers seem to be less and less important in the results, at least according to the statements of the engineers. At the end of a race won by Ferrari with Michelin. if you go and talk to the people at Lotus, Ligier and Brabham, i.e. the teams that use Goodyear tyres, the explanation is always the same, almost an official excuse.


"With those tyres there is nothing to be done. They go faster".


When the opposite happens, of course, people at Ferrari say the same thing. Is it possible, people ask, that tyres are so decisive? The answer is positive. It is the tyres, in most cases, that decide racing. Engineer Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin's racing manager, explains:


"Formula 1's supplier industries manufacture the tyres in more or less small series for each race. From time to time the construction, the composition of the compounds, the sizes vary in a continuous evolution in search of the best performance. If Goodyear beats us decisively in Spain, we are forced to run for cover, to do something new, something more advanced. The same applies to our rivals when we are the ones who win. That's why mistakes can sometimes be made".


Engineer Forghieri adds:


"There are many factors to consider, and finding the right formula is always difficult. You have to consider the type of track, whether it is fast or slow, the composition of the road surface, the weather conditions, the temperature, the different types of aerodynamic and set-up adjustments we have to give the cars".


When the technicians have all this data at their disposal, tests are made. Then solutions are decided. Then it happens that at the time of the race something changes (a drop in temperature, for example) and all the calculations are thwarted. Ferrari has a varying number of tyre types available for each Grand Prix. Forghieri concludes:


'At Jarama we had chosen the ones we felt were most reliable and fastest for that race. But that wasn't enough. The clearest demonstration of this comes from the fact that Villeneuve. after experiencing difficulties due to his initial off-track, the faulty first gear engagement and the rear brakes that seemed to block his T4 too roughly. as soon as he changed tyres, fitting another type, he lowered the track record by almost two seconds. It is true that the car at that point was lighter with the fuel tank almost empty. But it must also be said that Jones in the Williams, who until that moment had the lap record, was no longer able to improve even after changing tyres".


The situation regarding tyres, therefore, has not changed. Also in the next races, unless someone finds a definitive solution, we will have to expect an alternation of results that may seem puzzling. Tyre problems: an explanation that, after each race, if the result has not been brilliant, drivers and technicians offer to the public's curiosity. An explanation that can sometimes be a good excuse to gloss over other reasons (a drop in engine performance, for example, or a mediocre performance by those at the wheel) but is almost always true. Until the beginning of the 1960s, only one type of tyre was used in races, whatever the weather, the legendary Dunlop Racing tyres, which allowed a single-seater to participate in three to four Grands Prix with the same set of tyres. Then, with the advent of the new Formula 1 (1 January 1966), the gradually increasing power and weight of the cars put the old tyres in crisis. The specialists looked for new, increasingly sophisticated ways: enlarged section (which implied a delicate link with the suspension), soft compounds, smooth tread. For drivers, manufacturers and tyre experts, tyre problems began, which were often also suspension problems. The grip of a tyre depends on two factors: the maximum grip that can be obtained between the compound and the ground and the ability of the suspension to guarantee the maximum contact surface at all times. It is important to note that a compound only works well at a given temperature: if it gets too hot, wear becomes excessive; if it stays too cold, grip is not perfect. Result? The driver has to perform miracles of skill to control a car that is progressively less drivable or he cannot fully exploit its power. Consequences: He has to brake before others at the entrance to curves, drive through them at a slower speed and enter the straight more slowly, delaying the moment of acceleration. Oversteer and understeer occur, forcing the driver to make difficult corrections. All this, in conclusion, translates into a very simple reality: a single-seater that is not optimally supported by the tyres is less fast than its rivals.


Hence the alchemy to find the right balance between durability and performance, to get the right choice on that track, in those environmental circumstances. Often four different tyres are fitted on the same car. Sophistications justified by the anxiety to win. Naturally, it happens that in one context one brand emerges and in another the opposing brand: Michelin, for example, in South Africa or Long Beach, Goodyear in Spain. With one difference: that Michelin only counts on Ferrari or Renault (four cars), Goodyear on all the others (twenty cars). Machines and men, then, sing no more? Adagio, there must still be a good single-seater at the base, supported by an excellent team. Tyre problems are the price to pay for the evolution of Formula 1; an old argument that suffers no solutions. Remaining in the historical sphere, twenty-eight years after abandoning Formula 1, Alfa Romeo (which won the first two editions of the World Championship in 1950 with Farina and in 1951 with Fangio) returned to racing. The debut will take place on the Zolder track. The news has not yet been officially announced by the Milanese company but it is certain, in view of the good times achieved by the single-seater designed by engineer Carlo Chiti and built in the Autodelta workshops. What is commonly called Alfa-Alfa, to distinguish it from Brabham, which uses twelve-cylinder engines from Italian industry, on Friday 4 May 1979 recorded the third best result at Zolder, behind Ligier and Ferrari, with a time of 1'23"06, The car will be driven by Bruno Giacomelli. The Alfa Romeo that will make its debut at Zolder is actually a transitional car. Designed in 1977 and built last year, it has undergone continuous evolution and modifications dictated by the experiences made on the Balocco track. But a new wing-car model, which will be able to mount the 12-cylinder 60° V engine, is already at an advanced stage of construction. The engineer Carlo Chiti. director of Autodelta. the racing department of Alfa Romeo, designer of the Formula 1 car that on Friday 11 May 1979 will make its official debut in the World Championship by taking part in the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, would not like to talk about his new car. For reasons of superstition, for prudence, but then his Tuscan dialectic takes over and the talk flows smoothly. What does this return to the Grand Prix represent for Chiti, who has been involved as a technician since 1952?


"Nothing special. We know very well that it will be a difficult comeback. The debut, however, represents the first goal achieved after almost two years of work. We have been working on this car for about twenty-four months. We run it as an experimental car, waiting to have the new, definitive one for 1980".


Is Formula 1 the point of arrival for a designer?


"I don't completely agree. Sports cars, prototypes, rally cars. Everything has its own weight, its own value. I would say that even Formula 1 has technical shortcomings determined by the limitations that these types of cars have by regulation. For a technician, perhaps it is better to work on a racing car derived from the series. It's clear, though, that Formula 1 offers great satisfaction, especially in terms of advertising".


You were at Ferrari from 1957 to 1961, winning two world championships with Hawthorn and Phil Hill. Is your return with Alfa Romeo also a personal revenge?


"No, absolutely. I have very good memories of those times and no reason for revenge. I can only say that in Formula 1 from the beginning to today everything has changed. Back then it was at most two or three teams that could fight for victory. Now there are at least ten cars that can win a Grand Prix".


The elderly driver Maurice Trintignant said recently that if Nuvolari were racing today he would give all the idols of the day, from Andretti to Lauda to Gilles Villeneuve, a lap behind him.


"These are stories. Nuvolari would have his own difficulties to place. When the great Tazio raced, the fight was limited to two or three drivers. It was often a match of two. Trintignant's is a utopia. It used to be easier to win".


The Autodelta team is already in Zolder. It is made up of a dozen or so mechanics who will depend on Chiti and engineer Marelli. The car will run on Goodyear tyres and this is one of the biggest fears of the Milanese team, which fears that it will have non-competitive tyres. As far as relations with Bernie Ecclestone and Brabham are concerned, Chiti assures that Alfa Romeo's plans have not changed and that the contracts will be respected to the end. The engines for Lauda and Piquet's cars would be prepared with the same care as when the Milanese company was not directly involved in the Grands Prix. Meanwhile, in Belgium, also helped by the French government, demonstrating how much value is placed on sport in the transalpine nation (Minister Jean Pierre Soisson has promised new funds to be taken directly from the state budget for Laffite and Depailler's team), Ligier is preparing to try to win yet another Grand Prix in the Formula One World Championship. Having won three out of five races held, against Ferrari's two, the blue cars would reach their maximum goal (four wins in the first round of eight races) if they were able to dominate the Belgian Grand Prix scheduled for Sunday 13th May 1979. The times set the week before the Grand Prix, on this track, one of the most beautiful and demanding on the international circuit, speak for themselves. Depailler lapped with the best result of 1'21"62 (Scheckter in the T4 clocked a time of 1'21"84), proving that the Ligiers were still going strong. Of course, these times will not be enough to obtain pole position, as last year Andretti with the Lotus 79 lapped in 1'20"90, but they are still significant. A duel between the cars of Guy Ligier and those of Maranello is still to be expected. Ferrari, after all, has always shown in recent years that it likes the Belgian track. However, in making predictions, Villeneuve (Ferrari) will have to be cautious, as after what was seen at Jarama just ten days ago, there are many cars that are growing dangerously. As for the Lotus 80, the Williams, Andretti and Reutemann himself, even if the Argentine will still have the old model at his disposal, Jones and Regazzoni will be able to act as third wheel, as well as Niki Lauda who really has a lot of anger in his body after the last disappointing results. From the lot of the favourites one cannot even remove Tyrrell, now half Italian after the sponsorship of Candy. Jarier and Pironi have been from the start of the season always among the best, and it is not excluded that with morale at its highest they may not be able to provide, especially if helped by a bit of luck, a big surprise. The Zolder race also marks Alfa Romeo's return to Formula 1 racing.


However, this long-awaited debut, with the talented Bruno Giacomelli at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo, must be taken for what it is worth, without having too many illusions. In the Belgian Grand Prix the new Arrows should also have made its debut for Riccardo Patrese. But the technicians of the English team are late in the construction, and it will be necessary to wait again to see the Paduan driver at the wheel of a competitive single-seater. Progress should instead be made by the Renault RS10 of Jabouille who, if he has found a better set-up, will certainly be among the outsiders for his speed skills. Last year on this circuit Andretti won ahead of poor Peterson, and then came the Ferraris of Reutemann and Villeneuve. The Canadian, after the mistakes made in Spain, has promised to race very carefully. The driving motif of this sixth round of the world championship, however, will be as mentioned above. Ligier's attempt to get away, Ferrari's attempt to catch up, the hopes of the other teams that have so far been left high and dry, make one believe that there will be a great fight under the banner of uncertainty. The matter is becoming more and more complicated. And the World Championship even more interesting. Ligier at Jarama has taken a good lead over Ferrari, bringing its victories to three, and above all putting two drivers in contention for the World Championship: Depailler flanked at the top of the drivers' standings, and Laffite just two points behind. It is an enviable situation as the two French drivers are now in high spirits and will try to give it their all. Ferrari, on the other hand, has a rather favourable tradition on the beautiful Belgian track. Last year the T3s were the only cars that managed to almost keep pace with Andretti and Peterson's super-fast Lotus, which on that occasion scored the first one-two of the season, on their way to winning the title. Logical therefore to foresee a close battle. But the complications we mentioned earlier are not only represented by the duel between Guy Ligier's cars (the astute French constructor has also managed in recent days to obtain the support of the Ministry of Sport and it is to be expected that with greater economic possibilities he will succeed in making his voitures bleu even more competitive) and those of Enzo Ferrari. Too many teams have suffered from the seasonal supremacy of the two rivals, and it is normal that they have prepared a relaunch in grand style. First among them was Lotus, which to the general surprise, after initial difficulties, had already managed to get the new Lotus 80 up to speed. Just on Thursday, 10 May 1979, Andretti, on his arrival in Belgium, for the first time gave his opinion.


"I am convinced that on Sunday we can fight almost on equal terms. If in the next few days, during qualifying, I have the chance to refine the preparation of the car and eliminate those small defects that it still has, I will no longer have to fight for a placing but for the victory".


The belligerent declarations of the reigning World Champion are matched by those of Lauda. Who, for the moment, does not want to talk about Alfa Romeo's debut, which he had previously always contested, fearing that the Milanese company, having its own car to race, would loosen up on his Brabham.


"I could have finished third at Jarama, I hope to be at least in the same condition at Zolder".


The lot of favourites must also include the Williams of Jones and Regazzoni, cars very close to the Ligier in terms of set-up, very fast and now perhaps more reliable after the hasty but positive debut on the Spanish track. If we also put Jabouille's new Renault Turbo in the mix, we can see that the battle is more open than ever. Always taking into consideration the problem of tyres, which as always could be decisive, tipping the balance in favour of either Ferrari or its rivals. The last note of the day is the long-awaited return to Formula 1 racing of Alfa Romeo. In the Milanese team, absolutely no predictions are made. Everyone would be content for the moment with an honest race. Bruno Giacomelli seems very sure of his chances, but makes it clear that he has no intention of overdoing it. Last year he raced on this track in a McLaren held together with wire and achieved a good eighth place. He would already be happy to repeat the feat. Formula 1 speaks more and more Italian. Ferrari has been in it since the post-war period, Alfa Romeo has been back in the 1-engine business at Brabham for three seasons, and now it is back on its own with the debut of the car built entirely by Autodelta in the Belgian Grand Prix. And now another big name in Italian industry, that of Candy, a leading company in the household appliances sector, joins the Formula 1 circus. In fact, in Belgium Tyrrell will be teamed up with the company that has its headquarters in Monza. The cars will probably be white with blue lettering. The intervention of the new sponsor, which gives life to the Candy-Tyrrell team, via the British dealership, saves Ken Tyrrell from a precarious economic situation. The British manufacturer, which had been racing without any external financial support since the start of the season, had recently said it still had limited autonomy to participate in the world championship. The agreement is for two years, until the end of the 1980 season, with the possibility of possible renewals, for £1.500.000. Candy's interest in motor racing, the company's executives explain, is not just for advertising purposes (in any case, each Formula 1 race can boast an average television audience of over 500.000.000).


"We are at the forefront of electronic research in our field. We sincerely believe that we can also give technical collaboration to the team".


There are, after all, several national industries that supply material to Formula 1. such as the special ceramics used for the edges of the famous miniskirts, and the light alloy honeycomb panels with which some single-seaters are built. Still on the subject of Formula 1 news, it was hinted in recent days that Niki Lauda might leave Brabham at the end of the year for another team. The rumours now seem to have been confirmed: Marlboro would have offered the fantastic sum of $1.000.000 to the Austrian driver to move to McLaren, which races under the colours of the cigarette multinational. Lauda, who has not achieved any major results since leaving Ferrari, is still considered a character capable of attracting public attention. Obviously the offer, the highest ever made to a Formula 1 driver, also takes into account Lauda's value: with the Austrian they hope to relaunch McLaren. There is not a great deal of enthusiasm for the hour-long test session on Friday morning in the drizzling rain and the Wolf and McLaren teams do not venture out, the former due to a possible shortage of wet-weather tyres and the latter because they are still finishing off their cars. The previous week both Goodyear and Michelin had held tyre-testing sessions at the circuit, during which Depailler, fresh from his Spanish GP victory, had had a slight accident in the Ligier and John Watson had had a major accident in the McLaren M28/1B and demolished it. The Colnbrook team salvaged what parts they could and built them on to the monocoque of M28/2, so that when it arrives at Zolder and is completed it became M28/2B. 

The third of the M28 cars is undergoing the same treatment at the factory so Tambay is having to make use of M26/7 dragged out from under the bench. Team Lotus is out in force, with Andretti’s Lotus 80/1 improved in many details, with shorter nose cowling without the skirts under it, and new body panels along its length. A Mk. II Lotus 80 is on its way, with the centre of gravity moved forwards and with shorter side pods. Reutemann is still using a Lotus 79 and quietly getting on with the job, while both drivers have a spare Lotus 79 standing by. After making it clear to Jody Scheckter that he is supposed to be number one in the Ferrari team, and as such he should be winning races, the team provides him with a brand new car for Zolder, number 312T4/040, while his small sparrow-like team-mate took over 039, which Scheckter has raced in Spain. The blue Tyrrells of Pironi and Jarier have the word Candy painted on them, to do with a big bag of gold put into the Tyrrell coffers. The Ecclestone team has a brand new BT48, number 04, for Lauda, not fundamentally different from the others, and Lauda’s usual car BT48/2 becomes the team spare, Nelson Piquet keeping to BT48/3. Renault has fitted double-caliper brakes to the front of their new car, RS10/01, which Jabouille is driving again, while Arnoux retains his usual earlier car.  Some of the lesser teams are in trouble before the meeting begins, Team Ensign has done a major revamp on MN09 but is held up for fibreglass work for new bodywork, so bundle their two old cars, MN06 and MN08, into the transporter and set off. Fittipaldi sends their Copersucar sponsored F6 back for a complete re-appraisal and EF is using his old faithful F5A/1 with nothing as spare. Ligier has hoped to finish another JS11 car in time for this meeting, but time ran out, so Laffite and Depailler are in their usual cars, and the rest of the teams are unchanged since Spain, though most of them have been working non-stop on detail improvements, tidying up and minor modifications. The ATS team are at it with hacksaw and file, altering the aerodynamics on the newer of their two cars. Of particular interest is the first appearance of the works Alfa Romeo experimental car AR177/001. Fundamentally this is the car that was on test all last year, and which certain loud-mouthed people said would never race. Since its inception it has undergone a number of total redesigns, to keep pace with progressive thinking, and it arrived with present-day features such as inboard-mounted suspension units, aerodynamic side-pods with sliding skirts, flush fitted side radiators and total enclosure of the mechanical components.
It is still using the old flat-12 Alfa Romeo engine, with the Alfa Romeo/Hewland gearbox/transmission as developed for Gordon Murray and his Brabham cars. Painted Alfa Romeo red this car is being run by Carlo Chiti and engineer Marelli from Autodelta, which is the competition department of the State-owned Alfa Romeo firm. When first projected it was being developed on Pirelli tyres, but somewhere along the line a change was made to Goodyear tyres, and the American firm are doing everything to keep Alfa Romeo happy. The driver for this first works Alfa Romeo entry in today’s scene is little Bruno Giacomelli, last year’s Formula 2 Champion, and to see an Italian Racing driver in an Italian racing car is to see happiness. At the end of the hour test-session the Alfa Romeo engineers report no problems, but stress that the car is purely experimental and is being used to get the team into the rhythm of racing, before coming out with an entirely new car. The Ensign team has plenty of work to do as MN08 spring a serious oil leak, and MN06 is far from ready, and the Ligier team has the gearbox in bits on Depailler’s car. McLaren get their cars finished and Wolf bring out WR8 for the timed practice in the afternoon. The track is still very wet, though the drizzle has stopped and it is pretty obvious that the first rush of cars would soon dry out a path round the circuit. In consequence, while most drivers set off on wet-weather tyres, one or two stay in the pits with their cars on slicks, waiting for the right moment to join in, and gambling on the rain returning after they put in a quick lap on the dried-out line. It does not quite work out like that as the rain returns too soon and sees some drivers well and truly caught on the wrong foot. Wet or dry Villeneuve seems to be well in the groove and it causes no surprise to find him fastest at the end of the timed hour-and-a-half, but Jabouille in second place with the latest Renault causes a few eyebrows to rise. As always, Laffite is well up with the Ligier, but his team-mate Depailler is late coming out and misses the driest moments. Hunt is in trouble with disappearing rear braking power and by the time WR8 is wheeled away and replaced by WR7 the dry moment has passed. A completely erroneous time for Giacomelli in the Alfa Romeo has everyone twittering a bit, but it is later corrected. Even so, it isn’t going badly and seems very trouble-free for a beginning. Once again Piquet is only the flicker of an eyelid behind Lauda, with the V12 Brabham-Alfas, but the damp conditions make the overall scene a bit inconclusive. With only about one hour gone the drizzle returns in earnest and everyone gives up and cover everything with tarpaulins, all except Hunt who flogs round on his own in WR7.

When he stops Villeneuve goes out on wet Michelins, and then Pironi joins him, the Ferrari and the Tyrrell having the track to themselves. When they stop the whole business of practice fades quietly away and everyone hopes Saturday would be dry. After the heat of the first races of the season, the Belgian Grand Prix plunged Formula 1 into a kind of late winter, with rain and cold weather disturbing the first day of practice. On the wet, or at any rate slippery, track, the drivers put on a show of skill by performing a series of spins, skids, and half exits, all resolved fortunately without damage. With such a situation, the result of the first timed practice session is therefore to be taken with little consideration, although some indications, of course, may already be useful for the race. It is significant, for example, that the best time was set by Gilles Villeneuve in the Ferrari T4 ahead of Jabouille in the new Renault Turbo RS10. This means that the two cars and the Michelin tyres, with which they are both equipped, adapt well to the mixed-fast track of Zolder, on which acceleration and braking count a lot. The day also provided other important clarifications. It said that the Ligier-Ferrari duel is still on, as Laffite set the third best time (Depailler, on the other hand, was unable to place himself among the best as he was stuck in the pits for a long time to change gearbox ratios), and it confirmed the progress of the Williams with Regazzoni surprisingly fourth, thanks to a car that proves to be agile and competitive. Alfa Romeo's debut did not give any great thrills, as was expected. Bruno Giacomelli, despite driving to his and the car's limits, achieved P16. An honourable placing, however, for a car that took to the track for the first time, with all the difficulties involved, not least those concerning the tyres. As it is well known, in fact, Goodyear supplies the best tyres to the official teams and the driver from Brescia was the second of the non-privileged drivers, preceded only by Rebaque. who has a Lotus 79 at his disposal, the same as Reutemann's. To tell the truth, as far as Alfa was concerned, the only thrill was caused by the speaker, the circuit official who, by a clamorous mistake, at the end of practice officially announced a mysterious third time for Giacomelli.


A time that was not recorded by any of the timekeepers of the various teams and not even by Alfa Romeo itself. After some discussion, the misunderstanding was cleared up by the publication of the official rankings. As was the case at Jarnma, the first day's practice is therefore to be taken with the benefit of inventory. Today everything could change, especially if the good weather returns. A local farmer says that it should be sunny, and consequently the real battle for the grid should be ignited in the last qualifying session. Ferrari, however, should be able to fight for pole position, even if engineer Mauro Forghieri, at the end of practice, clearly says that he didn't understand anything about these first practice sessions. In fact, free practice took place in the pouring rain and the best time was set by Laffite with a time of 1'38"43. Then, when the timed ones began. the track had already partially dried but was still slippery. All the teams were therefore forced to make continuous changes in set-up and aerodynamic loads as they were able to increase speed. This perhaps also explains the gap between Villeneuve, fastest of all, and Scheckter, who finished sixth (the South African joked, to justify his placing: 'I am an old driver'). Viìleneuve set the best time, 1'24"06, a far cry from the 1'20"90 with which Andretti had set the track record last year. In 1978 the road surface had just been resurfaced and now the track is less smooth, even though the cars have made great progress. The last hour and a half of qualifying is therefore awaited with great interest and with the hope that the weather will turn nice again. The entire Formula 1 Circus has welcomed Alfa Romeo's return to racing. Bernie Ecclestone himself (although worried that the Arese company, busy on its own, might neglect its collaboration with Brabham) let it be known that the return of a stable with great traditions can only be welcomed. Only Niki Lauda is openly annoyed by the novelty. The Austrian did not hide his disappointment, which he had already expressed several times, and appeared more intractable than usual. Lauda said that the decision to return to racing with the car built by Autodelta was not serious about him and that this would become a problem to be solved in the future. Commenting on the result, engineer Carlo Chiti said:


"I am quite satisfied. I was more or less expecting a mid-range time. The car is experimental and since we also have to work on the new one we cannot expect more. I think the best thing about our car is the top speed, which is very high".


Bruno Giacomelli, however, appeared rather pleased.


"The car has undergone a lot of modifications, but it is clear that being only partially a ground effect car, it was not possible to do better. My aim is to qualify first, and on Sunday to finish the race. No prudent tactics have been imposed on me, but when I drive I also do it with my head and it is obvious that there will be no madness on my part to gain a position. The important thing is to gain experience while waiting for the new model. However, there are several small problems to be solved".

Friday night prayers are answered and Saturday is dry though overcast, but at least some serious testing can take place in the morning preparatory to the now all-important hour-and-a-half in the afternoon, during which time positions on the grid would be decided. The rather tight confines of the Zolder circuit usually make a position near the front of the grid all-important for any hope of victory. During the morning Villleneuve tries the spare Ferrari (038) and finds it quite to his liking, while Andretti spends most of the time patiently waiting while Chapman and the Lotus mechanics struggle to re-tighten the rear end of the Lotus 80 where it has come undone deep within the mechanical conglomeration behind the engine: instant accessibility on the Lotus 80 is not its strong point. By the time the afternoon session is due to begin everyone is wound up tight and rearing to go. Just to keep everyone from getting too keen (or desperate) the scrutineers have a Go-No-Go gauge at the pit lane exit, which checks the height and width of the rear aerofoil. Most teams are playing safe, but one or two are right on the maximum height limit, but there are no problems. That everyone is trying hard is evident by the number of spins during the afternoon, most of them harmless, some causing a little damage, but none very serious. Brakes are being used to the maximum, engines always on peak power, and some exciting diving-through at the last moment when a fast runner is on an all-out lap and catches up with a slower car. The tempo is high but the lap times are not showing it due to a freak phenomenon with the track surface that is not responding to the available grip of a sticky short-life qualifying tyre; a bit less for the Goodyears than for the Michelins. It is doubtful whether a lesser-driver can really justify hard, soft or super-soft tyres, but the top bunch of drivers who can really benefit are finding their difference in lap time negligible and many are totally confounded by making their best laps on hard rubber. It is the same for everyone, but the result is that the overall average time is not as good as anticipated. The casual observer would never have known. Team Ensign has got MN08 repaired for Daly, the oil tank having split the previous day, but now all their efforts fade when the engine blows up. Hunt is back in WR8 and looking quite good, but Watson in the M28B McLaren simply isn’t in the running, while poor Tambay in the M26 is merely wasting time and effort. Villeneuve is still happy with the spare Ferrari and Scheckter is happy in the brand new one.
The two Ligiers are doing it again, the drivers matching each other’s times and forging ahead of the field, but there is a sharp pointed red nose not far away from them. It is a Brabham-Alfa Romeo V12 and it is driven by Nelson Piquet. The new Williams cars are going well and Alan Jones is well up near the front, while Regazzoni is not far behind, while both Ferraris are in there with the best of them, but not dominating. Strangely the Renaults have got left behind in the mad, desperate rush of the afternoon. The Ligier team’s smiles fades when Depailler ha a huge spin off into the protecting fences and damages his car badly, so that he has to continue practice in the spare car, which is the original prototype JS11. Unfortunately the Frenchman does this right in front of Alan Jones who has to take violent avoiding action, putting his Williams over the kerbs which wrecks the skirts on the left-hand side. He returns to the pits, where both skirts are hitched up and fixed and he carries on without the theoretical maximum advantage of ground effect. In this condition he makes his best lap of the afternoon at 1'21"59, against Laffite’s best of 1'21"13, and feels confident that with everything working properly on FW07/001 he could have snatched pole-position. Well before practice is finished Lauda gives up with the newest Brabham, feeling that the engine is down on power, and he transfers to the spare car, BT48/02. However, he does not do many laps as he does not like the handling of it. Meanwhile his young team-mate is really in the groove and firmly on the second row of the grid, with every possibility of getting on the front row when a water leak sends the temperature gauge soaring up and that is that. In a mad rush he is fitted into Lauda’s number one car, the brand new BT48/04, and sent off again, but time is running out and it is all to no avail. With practice nearly over there is suddenly a great commotion at the first corner, when Andretti and Mass collide and both cars go off the track. When the furore of the afternoon subsides and the Lotus 80, the Arrows and the Ligier are brought in by the breakdown trucks, the furious pace of the afternoon is indicated, yet nobody is near the times of last year due to the track-surface/tyre phenomenon. The Lotus 80 has suffered damage to the left-front corner, the front pick-up point for the lower wishbone being torn out of the monocoque and the outer end of the top rocker-arm being torn apart. The Arrows suffer a severe bending of the right-rear suspension and the Ligier has suffered a damaged monocoque. There is plenty of work going on in the paddock late on Saturday night. The corner of the Lotus is cut away and some skilled work with tin-snips, pop-rivet gun and welding torch see a repair effected, while the Arrows mechanics rebuild the rear end of their car for Jochen Mass.

The Ligier team decides that Depailler would use the spare car for the race, and set-to to give it the full race preparation. The renewed Ligier domination (Laffite or Depailler starting on the front row) was not enough to make the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix boring. On the contrary, it was a day full of interesting events, tense and nervous to the point of paroxysm. Ligier was once again the favourite. Jacques Laffite set the fastest time (1'21"13) and his teammate, Patrick Depailler, was only 0.07 seconds behind. On the second row was surprisingly the young Piquet, in the Brabham-Alfa, flanked by Alan Jones' new Williams. Then Andretti and Villeneuve, Scheckter and Regazzoni. The two Ferrari drivers set the same time (1'22"08), but the Canadian was classified sixth and the South African seventh because Gilles had been faster in the previous round of practice. Once again this was caused by the tyres. As the weather changed over the Zolder area and the sun came out, Goodyear took over from Michelin. And the proof that the tyres are decisive comes from the results themselves. There are substantial differences between the different tyres of the Anglo-American company. Those supplied to the so-called privileged drivers allow significantly better performance, quantifiable by up to two seconds per lap. If the weather situation does not change, it will be very difficult for the Ligiers to be attacked, even if the gaps are minimal. Laffite and Depailler have an excellent chance of victory. The fact remains, however, that the Zolder track allows easy overtaking, and so some chance must also be given to combative drivers like Jones. Among the day's novelties, the most sensational concerns Niki Lauda, who only managed a P13 (1'22"87). The Austrian will start on the seventh row on an equal footing with Bruno Giacomelli, at the wheel of the rookie Alfa Romeo. For the former World Champion, who only on Friday had contemptuously described the Autodelta car as a kind of tank, this is a real snub. Niki had big disagreements with his patron, Bernie Ecclestone. The latter, excited by Piquet's feat, treated Lauda as a second driver. Between the two almost came to a complete break in relations, although formally they did not show it.


Lauda, halfway through practice, got out of the car declaring that it was unrideable, even in a straight line, and asked to continue qualifying with the reserve car. In the meantime, Nelson Piquet also stopped, who after a spin should have stayed in the pit. Ecclestone didn't think about it for a moment, and literally grabbed the Brazilian by the overalls and forced him to get into the car left by Lauda. Perhaps the boss wanted to prove that Piquet, with the same car, would be able to go faster than the Austrian. The verification did not take place, as the tests were almost immediately over, also because there had been an incident between Andretti and Mass. The two had touched and the German had ended up between the safety nets, posing a danger on the track. It was, however, the first time that Lauda was deprived of his reserve car in favour of his young partner. It now seems certain that at the end of the season Lauda will leave Brabham. Officially it was said, to explain Niki's lacklustre performance, that the engine of his Brabham made 500 laps less than Piquet's. But engineer Chiti pointed out after the tests that the performance of engines also depends many times on the mechanical and aerodynamic set-up of the car, and this would mean that Lauda was less good than the South American precisely in this work in which he is now considered a great specialist. A Brazilian in Emerson Fittipaldi's footsteps. Nelson Piquet, 26 years old, from Rio de Janeiro, not even a Formula 1 season on his shoulders, seems destined to take up the legacy of the two-time World Champion who is now always sailing in the last positions. Piquet was the surprise protagonist of the second day of practice, taking the third fastest time overall and a place on the second row in today's race, and bringing the Brabham-Alfa to the top of the grid for the first time since the start of the World Championship. The young South American, who had made a name for himself in Formula 3, had been signed by Brabham for several reasons: he had a substantial sum of money, around $500.000, which he paid to Bernie Ecclestone; although he was a good talent, he was young and inexperienced and therefore would not create problems in the team. Piquet in essence should not have bothered Niki Lauda, and instead the Brazilian, after a few break-in races, ended up doing better than his captain.


"I did not expect such a result, and above all I am satisfied because this third half brings confidence back into the team".


How come Lauda was less fast?


"I tested Niki's car after mine had stopped and I realised that his engine made 500 rpm less. Probably the difference between our two results was determined precisely by this inconvenience. I don't think I have surpassed my master yet. Lauda and I drive differently and that is why the set-up of our cars is different, but he has always given me valuable advice".


What ambitions for today's race?


"My goal is not to overtake the Ligier but to finish at least in the top six to take points. That would be my first step in the World Championship standings".


The other news concerns the good, indeed excellent - considering the premise - performance of Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo, which, had it been fitted with better tyres, could perhaps have been even a little further ahead. There was also a spectacular run off the road by Depailler, who completely opened the front wheels of his Ligier when he had already set the second best time. A final note is political. Formula 1, and specifically the Ligier, has been the subject of a lively dispute. After the news that the French team will be subsidised by their government, a group of spectators - obviously French - papered the grandstands and carried large posters around the circuit in which it was written, a sign that, in the midst of an acute energy crisis, the transalpine Sports Ministry's initiative was not welcome:


"France has no oil but it has Ligier".


On Sunday morning things look good, the weather is fine and dry and it is getting nice and warm. In the morning warm-up half-hour Andretti tries the repaired Lotus 80 and also his Lotus 79/5 and after some deliberation decides to race the Lotus 79. Depailler is settled to race the spare Ligier and Villeneuve returns to his original Ferrari, number 039. There is nothing to choose between the two cars and there has been less wear and tear on the later one. Everyone else is in their designated car and Tambay is standing by hopefully, as, first reserve, but it is in vain. An estimated crowd of 75.000 packs the banks and the sandy wooded enclosures and watches the drivers take round on a parade lap in open-top saloon cars. When they climb into their racing cars and leave the pit lane to drive round to the starting area, all 24 are ready for the 70-lap race. One odd thing is that the Brabham team has their two cars on different types of Goodyear tyres, those on Piquet’s car being much against the wishes of the Goodyear technicians who are convinced they would not last the distance. The stop-go characteristics of the Zolder circuit are making brake temperatures run hotter than is comfortable and many teams have added extra lengths of flexible ducting to try and get more cooling air to the discs. When the starting time of 3:00 p.m. approaches the 24 cars set off on their warm-up lap, led by Laffite, and arriving back at the start drew up in their grid positions. The red light comes on, changes to green and the race is on, Depailler getting the jump on his team-mate with Jones hard on the tail of the leading Ligier. Laffite hangs momentarily and Piquet is by into third place before the first corner. At the end of lap 1 it is Depailler, Jones, Piquet, Laffite, Andretti, Regazzoni, Scheckter, Villeneuve, Reutemann and Hunt. Into the chicane on the back straight on lap 2 Scheckter and Regazzoni collide, the Ferrari continues but the Williams is left with a flat left-front tyre and is hit in a rear wheel by Villeneuve’s Ferrari which is close behind. This takes the front aerofoil off the Ferrari and breaks a wheel, and by the time the French-Canadian has limped round to the pits and has a new nose-piece and aerofoil fitted and a new wheel, he rejoins the race in last place, almost a lap behind the leader. There then begins the heroic drive of the day as he laps faster than the leaders and starts to work his way up through the field. Depailler continues to lead, with Alan Jones hard on his tail and Laffite got by Piquet: the young Brazilian is running his own pace and not trying anything stupid with his more experienced adversaries, but the tyres are not working out at all well.


Scheckter is driving hard from the word go and passes Andretti on lap 4 and on the next lap he barges his way by Piquet in a most unruly fashion, giving the Brabham-Alfa Romeo an almighty thump on the left-rear tyre as he does so. Andretti passes the Brabham on lap 7 and on the next lap Piquet stops at the pits for a more orthodox set of tyres, the delay dropping him down to twenty-second position, one place ahead of Villeneuve. Jabouille stops at the pits to report low turbo-charger pressure and on lap 11 Reutemann is in the pits unexpectedly with the left-front tyre coming up in bubbles. With a new tyre on he rejoins the race in next to last place and we now have three hard racers making up for time lost through misfortune. Piquet has already passed Lammers and Arnoux, while Reutemann and Villeneuve are not yet in sight of the tail of the field. During lap 12 Alan Jones has a tentative go at passing Depailler, but it comes to nought, and starting lap 13 he makes another attempt under braking for the left-hand corner after the pits. Depailler sits it out with him and the Williams is forced to run wide and while the Australian sorts himself out Laffite nips by into second place. Undeterred Jones continues to press the two blue and white cars with his green and white Williams FW07 and it is a spirited trio out in front. In fourth place Scheckter has them in sight, while Andretti is a lonely fifth, but behind him Hunt has his Wolf sandwiched between the Tyrrell twins and is giving them a bad time. There is a fair gap before a dispirited Lauda appears, unable to shake off the attentions of Stuck with the ATS. Either Lauda and the Brabham are going awfully badly, or Stuck and the ATS are going extremely well, the truth lying somewhere between the two. Then come the two Arrows, with Patrese leading Mass, the Alfa Romeo, Watson and Fittipaldi with Piquet lining himself up to overtake his fellow Brazilian. Reutemann and Villeneuve have yet to make contact with the tail-enders while de Angelis has a quick pit stop and rejoins the race more or less in the same place, but a whole lap behind. He is in behind the red Alfa Romeo works car and has not gone many laps before he and Giacomelli falls over each other and ends up in the sand. At the front of the race the Ligiers are running into an unusual phenomenon that the drivers later blamed on the Goodyear tyres. Without warning the cars would lose adhesion at the front going through some corners and they had to lift right off to regain control.


It happens first to Depailler and Laffite goes by into the lead, then it happens again and Jones is by into second place. When the phenomenon overtakes Laffite the Williams is by into the lead, looking very secure with Alan Jones in full control, his Goodyear tyres giving no problems at all. Scheckter is still in fourth place on his Michelins and the rest of the Goodyear runners are following comfortably, so it rather looks as though it is the Ligier chassis and suspension rather than the tyres that are causing problems. On lap 22 Lauda’s Brabham begins pouring out oil and smoke and he keeps going for another lap, lubricating the track liberally. A lap later and Piquet comes to rest on the back of the circuit with engine trouble so Alfa Romeo’s fortunes sinks to zero. Andretti is having a bad time with fading brakes, the pedal going further and further down before anything happens. It finally gets to the point where his right foot is pushing the brake pedal so far down that it is taking the accelerator as well and after a couple of exciting moments arriving at corners with the brakes on and the throttle open, with the throttles winning the battle, he gives up. The Williams and the two Ligiers are neatly spaced out and it does not look as though the French are going to be able to do anything about the British. It looks as though Frank Williams’ long overdue victory for his Saudi Arabian sponsors is at last going to happen as half distance approaches and Jones looks to be in complete control of the situation. The French cars are dropping back and Scheckter is beginning to sit up and take notice. Villeneuve is consistently lapping faster than anyone and now moving up places steadily, disposing of Lammers, Arnoux and Fittipaldi without easing his pace, and even overtaking Reutemann who is driving a hard and consistent race after his tyre trouble. Hunt gets the better of Pironi and pulls away from the two Tyrrells, though the Wolf is swooping about a bit under heavy braking. Even so he is driving hard and closing on Scheckter’s Ferrari very visibly. With retirements, Stuck has moved the ATS up into a good ninth place, ahead of Patrese’s Arrows and Watson’s McLaren, but the German’s good drive is spoilt by a pit stop on lap 35 when a rear wheel gives trouble and has to be changed, this dropping him to next to last, behind Fittipaldi, but he does not give up. Jochen Mass has long since gone when he spins on the slippery surface, ending up on the grass verge with a stalled engine, unable to restart. By lap 40 all seem settled when without warning the green and white Williams fail to appear. A groan goes up from all the Williams supporters when the loudspeakers announces that Jones has stopped.


An obscure electrical failure has cut-out the injection pump and the ignition and the engine just stopped. It is really sickening. This put Depailler back into the lead, with Laffite second, Scheckter third, Hunt fourth and Jarier and Pironi fifth and sixth. Hunt’s joy only lasts half a lap for he spins on the entrance to the back straight and damages a rear wheel against the barriers. As marshals go to his aid Jarier arrives, takes violent avoiding action, and slides across a kerb, destroying the left-hand skirt on the Tyrrell. He stops at the pits but nothing can be done so he has to continue at a slower pace, seeing a certain fourth place disappear. By now Villeneuve is up behind Patrese in the Arrows but the arrogant young Italian won’t let the Ferrari by and indulges in some silly blocking tactics. It takes Villeneuve nearly ten laps to deal with the stupid young Italian, being very careful not to tangle with him. Once by, the Ferrari just disappears into the distance from the Arrows, and Patrese then has Reutemann in his mirrors, but even idiots don’t try it on with the swarthy Argentinian. While this is happening there is drama at the front when Depailler gets caught out by the Ligier’s sudden understeer trick and he goes straight on into the barriers round the first corner after the pits. This smashes the right-front suspension and leaves Laffite back in the lead, but by now Scheckter is trying all he knows and closing on the French car. What has been a possible second place for the South African now takes on the possibility of victory so he doubles his efforts, and by 50 laps is closing fast. There is nothing Laffite can do as the Ferrari looms larger in his mirrors and on lap 54 Scheckter is by into the lead, to the accompaniment of loud cheers and flag waving from the Ferrari fans. Villeneuve is now in a remarkable fourth place, from a desperate last, and Reutemann is fifth, these two men being shining examples of real racing drivers. Villeneuve is still pressing on hard and catches and passes Pironi, to move up into third place and on lap 63 he makes his fastest lap, which is the ultimate lap record. Barring accidents the last four laps are obviously going to be routine for everyone is neatly spaced out, the order being Scheckter (Ferrari), Laffite (Ligier), Villeneuve (Ferrari), Pironi (Tyrrell), Reutemann (Lotus), Patrese (Arrows) and Watson (McLaren). The unfortunate Stuck is a lap behind, but has got ahead of Fittipaldi and Lammers (Shadow) and Jarier (Tyrrell) are bringing up the rear. Scheckter takes the chequered flag after a hard and determined drive, Laffite follows but Villeneuve fails to appear. 

The Ferrari runs out of petrol within the last half a lap, so from a secure third place little Gilles Villeneuve has to watch the others go by and relegate him to seventh place, officially one lap behind the winner, but in actual fact part of the way round lap 70. It has been a race of bitter disappointment for a lot of drivers and a lot of teams, notably Jones and the Williams team. Depailler and Ligier, Team Lotus, and Brabham. The Ferrari team hardly knows whether to laugh or cry; another gallon of petrol would have made them totally happy, but obviously a Ferrari flat 12 engine had not been driven as hard for so long, as Villeneuve did following his second lap pit stop, so it was hardly surprising that the fuel consumption was more than they’d known before. The 75,000 spectators must have gone home well satisfied with the excitement and action of the 1979 Belgian Grand Prix, even if many of them are disappointed with the result. A race like that hasn't been seen for a long time; perhaps we have to go back to two years ago, on the city track of Long Beach, when Andretti, Lauda and Scheckter gave each other a breathtaking battle. On that occasion the Italian-American won, in Belgium it was the turn of Jody Scheckter, in his fourth Formula 1 success, his first with Ferrari after three with Wolf in 1978. The shivers started on lap 2, when Ragazzoni, the likely protagonist of the race, was put out of action by an accident, and ended at the last when, 400 metres from the finishing line, Gilles Villeneuve incredibly lost a third place that seemed already his. A place that the Canadian had won fighting desperately in an attempt to recover positions, after having stopped because he was involved in the carambole that eliminated Regazzoni. Villeneuve had to stop in the pits, change the nose and the front wing of his T4 and restarted in last position, so detached that in the rear-view mirror he could already see the blue-white colours of the Ligier driven by Depailler, who was leading the race. From that instant Gilles started his run-up, one overtaking after another and a continuous improvement of lap records. Perhaps he could even have finished second. But in his rabid comeback he consumed every last drop, or almost, the 175 litres of fuel he had in his tank, and his Ferrari stopped while the whole Italian team was waiting for him at the finishing line. Gilles Villeneuve returned to the pit box red in the face. Perhaps in anger, perhaps in disappointment. The Canadian driver spoke through clenched teeth while his wife, Joanne, looked at him tenderly. The Canadian explains the reasons for the stop that relegated him from third to seventh place, a lap down.


"With two laps to go I felt that the car was not well fuelled. I realised that I was running out of petrol and, unfortunately, the trouble happened. Perhaps there was still a few drops in the tank but the electric pumps were no longer drawing it. Too bad, it could have been the best race of my life, a great satisfaction".


In the Ligier team there is a certain satisfaction for Laffite's second place, conquered not without difficulty. Smilingly and jokingly says the likeable Jacques Laffite:


"We keep to the average, although it could have been much better. The oil on the track made the car unrideable and honestly I had to work hard not to finish off the track. Second place is good for me, also because in this way I am leading the classification, albeit on a par with Scheckter. It means we will fight for the title in the next races. In any case, I think the races to come will be more and more difficult for everyone".


Engineer Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari's technical manager, could not hide his bitterness for Villeneuve's misfortune.


"Scheckter's success fills us with joy, but Villeneuve's failure to finish was a great disappointment. It could also have been second place for Gilles, if Patrese had not held him up for a long time in the decisive part of the race. However, this is the talk of the later, as in any case Gilles remained stationary, out of petrol. I can also justify Patrese, who was not very fair towards our driver, because he was fighting in the first positions".


There was still one result missing at Ferrari to be able to savour with full satisfaction the brilliant start of the season of Mannello's cars, a victory of Jody Scheckter, the worthy South African driver that the Italian team had hired to entrust him with the role of the team's leading man. The long-awaited success came at the end of a stupendous, unpredictable race, full of twists and turns. A slight collision with Regazzoni on the second lap (in which Villeneuve was also involved) and a skid in the attempt to overtake Jones a few laps later, seemed to have definitively compromised Scheckter's chances of victory on this occasion too. Instead, the rest of the race turned into a sure march for the South African towards a success that materialised metre after metre, lap after lap. Halfway through the race the Ferrari box went into turmoil. Jody, in full comeback, gained precious seconds on Laffite and the Ligier at every lap. Engineer Mauro Forghieri, stationed on the signal wall, gave precise orders and cheered his driver on every lap. On lap 54 Scheckter took the lead, greeted by public acclaim. On the podium, the South African, visibly happy, vented his joy by showering those attending the prize-giving ceremony with the traditional champagne.


"I dedicate this success to Enzo Ferrari, who also deserved to have this satisfaction from me: he had been waiting for it for several months".

Without the trouble that forced Laffite to slow down, would he still have won?


"I don't think so, because the Ligier was practically uncatchable up to the middle of the race".


For the first time this season, there was a race with many twists and turns and a continuity of changes at the front of the race. There were exactly six passes at the lead of the various drivers. Were there any difficult moments in this race?


"Yes, a few. Immediately on the second pass I touched Regazzoni's Williams in an attempt to overtake it. At the braking of the straight opposite the pits I flanked Clay on the inside. We arrived at the entrance of the curve side by side, we both tried to enter, but at that point the track is too narrow and the collision was inevitable. Fortunately, I was not damaged. Another difficulty I had was trying to get past Jones, who closed in on me: I had to climb up onto a kerb to avoid crashing into him, and I nearly spun".


Did the car have problems?


"In the finale the first gear was struggling to engage. The real penalty was the track, which was all dirty with oil".


This victory relaunches you in the championship. What are your ambitions for the title?


"It is still early to talk about the World Championship. Considering the fight we have seen in the last few races, I think we will have to get to the Ime of the championship to know the winner of the title".


However, the fact remains that the victory went to Scheckter who, for the first time since the World Championship began, spread smiles for everyone.


"It wasn't easy, because with oil on the track you risked ending up outside at every corner. Honestly, from the way things were going right after the start I was not hoping for anything more than a placing. Then when they signalled from the pits that I was gaining on Laffite I realised that I had success in my pocket. So much so that when I overtook the Frenchman and crossed the grandstands straight, I let go of the wheel and raised my arm as if I had already won".


It cannot be said that the Formula One World Championship is not lively this year. After six races five drivers are at the top of the standings, divided by a gap of only five points. Jody Scheckter with his brilliant victory on Sunday in Zolder has moved into the lead of the classification, on a par with Jacques Laffite. Both are on 24 points. Villeneuve and Depailler follow at 20 and the very regular Reutemann at 19. A very uncertain situation, when there are only two races left (Monte-Carlo and Sweden) at the end of the first group of eight races that will conclude the first round of the long competition. According to the regulations adopted since the start of the season, drivers will only be able to add up to four results in this period. Thus begins, to make matters more complicated, the discard game for those who will have more than four useful placings, Scheckter has already had to give up the point gained with his sixth place in Brazil and Reutemann the two obtained at Kyalami. Even allowing the South American of Lotus a chance, the fight seems to be restricted to the drivers of Ferrari and Ligler, who boast three victories for each of the teams: two for Laffite and Villeneuve, one for Depailler and Scheckter. The battle between four drivers from two teams seems to be the driving motif of the championship. If Scheckter and Villeneuve did not have the chance to measure themselves on equal terms in Belgium because of the accident that forced the Canadian into an exciting but unfortunate pursuit, culminating with the unpredictable stop 400 metres from the finish line for lack of petrol (there were 6-7 litres left in the Ferrari's tank, which the pumps could no longer draw), the two Frenchmen put on a show in their internal battle. Laffite and Depailler did not spare themselves. Overtaking to the limit, thrilling braking, risks one after the other confirmed that, for the moment, the team games have not yet come into play, that the fight is open. Engineer Mauro Forghieri explains:


"This situation was determined by two factors. First: there are a lot of drivers going fast. Second: there are currently many cars that are equivalent. All the manufacturers have followed a certain type of technical evolution, that of the wing-cars. Our cars travel quite well, the Ligiers are very good and now the Williams have also joined in, small, light, effective. With a good driver like Jones and an experienced one like Regazzoni these cars will also soon be in the fight".

But what is the weight of the drivers?


"Even among them there is a certain balance. I would put Scheckter and Villeneuve, Laffite, Depailler and Jarier among the best. Among the youngsters I see Piquet very well".


And Andretti, reigning World Champion?


"Mario is good, a true professional. But he is 40 years old and probably on a downward parabola. Although now with serious preparation, with medical care, he can last for a long time".


How, then, can the interests of the teams be reconciled with the rights of the drivers?


"It's simple. The most intelligent drivers will come out in the distance and they will be the ones to contend for the title. A driver can be very fast but that's not enough to be champion. Dan Gurney and Moss were very good but they never won a World Championship. Whoever can work harder, whoever has the steadiest nerves and whoever is able to fine-tune his car more precisely will eventually beat the others".


The long-awaited debut of Alfa Romeo was not particularly lucky. As fate would have it, it was Elio De Angelis, the other Italian driver in the race, who unintentionally threw the Milanese company's car off the track. Giacomelli, after an unhappy start and a brief comeback, had settled into the middle positions. De Angelis, slightly faster, had been following him like a shadow for several laps. On lap 22, at the end of the straight opposite the pits, at the braking before the chicane, the Roman rider suddenly lost his brakes. De Angelis, after a vain attempt to avoid a collision, ended up crashing into Giacomelli's Alfa, which had instead braked to set the corner. The collision was extremely violent: at that point the cars were speeding at around 260 km/h. De Angelis' Shadow ended up ruinously in the nets with the front completely destroyed, while the Alfa Romeo, with its rear suspension bent, its wing crumpled and a damaged tyre, was dangerously sideways on the track. Giacomelli was ready to restart the car and bring it back to the edge of the track in a safer place. Elio De Angelis, who had just arrived in the pits, sought out the Alfa Romeo managers to apologise.


"My brakes suddenly failed and I couldn't avoid Giacomelli".


Engineer Carlo Chiti, seeing the young Italian driver's behaviour, played down the situation by replying:


"Don't worry, come and see me and we will talk about it more calmly".


Chiti later told journalists:


"It's a shame that this incident took us out of the race. Considering the retirements and accidents that characterised this race, and considering that Giacomelli was leading a waiting race, a good placing was within our reach".


Giacomelli, who received an apology from De Angelis, was also disappointed at the end of the race for what had happened to him.


"At the start I preferred not to take any risks, to avoid compromising the race straight away. I had to be very careful not to degrade the tyres as my car is heavier due to the greater amount of petrol we have to pour into our tanks. As the laps went by, after the group had thinned out, I started to gain a few positions again. My only goal was to finish the race, unfortunately the accident deprived me of this satisfaction as well".

Patrick Depailler, who was injured when his Ligier went off the track during the Belgian Grand Prix, will be able to race in Monte-Carlo on Sunday 27 May 1979. The French driver, who immediately returned to Paris, underwent a series of X-rays on Monday morning on his right wrist, which appeared to be fractured. The examinations ruled out an injury, establishing only a contusion and a severe twisting of the limb. Depailler immediately began treatment, which should undoubtedly enable him to take part in the next race. Meanwhile, Niki Lauda personally confirms that he will leave Brabham at the end of the season. Left for ten minutes locked in a caravan before leaving for Salzburg, when the race was still in full swing and he had already retired, the Austrian had some very harsh words for his team.


"I have always maintained that when a team is divided into three parts, sponsor, team and engine supplier, you cannot work well. The negative results are a confirmation of my theories. Now I am tired, and I confirm that at the end of the championship I will change teams. In September I will say what my destination will be".


The journalists bounce back to engineer Carlo Chiti, head of Alfa Romeo, to ask if he would like to have Austricao in his team, assuming that Autodelta will race two cars next year.


"Lauda is undoubtedly an excellent driver. But his whims, his tantrums are unbearable. Now he has taken it out on us because we have prepared our own car. The truth is that in these days Piquet went faster than him, and Niki can't stand such a situation and justifies his negative performance with excuses".


Speaking of Alfa Romeo's debut, Chiti maintains that he is satisfied.


"In qualifying we achieved good times. In the race Giacomelli was driving carefully and if he had not been eliminated by De Angelis' collision he could have achieved a good placing. We will not race in Monte-Carlo in order to continue working on the cars".


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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