Even though June is the month of football championships, we must not forget another World Championship that captures the attention and curiosity of hundreds of millions of people every two Sundays (thanks to TV): Formula 1. The viewership ratings are high, watching a Grand Prix from the comfort of a chair, perhaps sipping a drink, is always exciting and convenient. Two hours of spectacle, with a thrill of suspense, forgetting the various limitations that constrain the car: a pleasant and, why not, relaxing appointment. Six races have already been held, and this time it's in Spain, at the Jarama Circuit near Madrid. It's a short track (only 3404 meters) and twisty, with relatively low average speeds. The record for the distance belongs to James Hunt, who won the race in 1976 with McLaren at an average speed of 149.690 km/h, and the lap record to Jacques Laffite (Ligier-Matra, 1977), who set the fastest lap in 1'20"83, at an average speed of 151.907 km/h. Exploits that will be improved this Sunday, thanks to advances in aerodynamics and tires that make the Grand Prix cars more competitive every year. Moreover, in 1977, Mario Andretti, with the Lotus 78, secured pole position with a time of 1'18"70 (remember that times achieved in practice are not considered official records), and a few weeks earlier, in private tests, some drivers managed to surpass the Italian-American's time. After closing the Indianapolis chapter, Andretti arrives at Jarama for the first series of tests with the role, perhaps uncomfortable but certainly defining, of the favorite. The reasons are many: last year, with the old Lotus model, the Italian-American outpaced Laffite by 0.72s (who got the second-best time), Lauda by 0.76s (the World Champion didn't race due to sudden rib pain), and Reutemann by 0.80s. In the race, Andretti had no problems, easily leaving every opponent behind. The circuit is favorable to the characteristics of the Lotuses, and on this basis, another consideration arises: if Andretti managed to dominate with the Lotus 78, what will he do this year with an even more capable car? The 79 showed its potential at Zolder, both in practice and in the race, and at Jarama, it should, at least in theory, repeat its performance. From this perspective, Ronnie Peterson, Andretti's teammate, risks being Mario's most dangerous rival. The Swede, who finished second in Belgium with a Lotus 78, will also have a new Lotus model.
For Colin Chapman, there might be only the problem of keeping his two drivers calm and not squandering the current advantage in family disputes. Starting permitting, Reutemann, with Ferrari, should also have good chances in Spain. In Monaco and Zolder, the Argentine spoiled every hope with truly unfortunate starts. A negative streak that is hoped to be closed. Carlos is an experienced professional, capable of reacting. After the brilliant race in Belgium, there is also anticipation for Gilles Villeneuve's performance. However, for the Canadian, the important thing is still to finish the race, not to aim for victory at all costs. The talent is there, but the youngster must learn to control his own ambitions. In Belgium, he was able to do it, and only a puncture prevented him from achieving a better result. Certainly, for Reutemann and company, it's time to block Andretti. The Italian-American has 27 points in the standings compared to Patrick Depailler's 23 (Tyrrell), Reutemann's 22, Peterson's 20, and Lauda's 16. For the World Champion, while Alfa Romeo presents its all-Alfa car, the situation is not very promising. Eleven points behind, a car that is competitive but not at the level of a Lotus and a Ferrari. In 1974, with the Ferrari team, Niki won his first Grand Prix in Spain, revitalizing Maranello's fortunes in Formula 1. Will he do the same now with Brabham-Alfa? Speaking of Alfa, it was supposed to be a secret or almost secret debut. But the rumors of recent days have attracted dozens of photographers and journalists around the private Alfa Romeo track. The scheduled event was important: the first on-track outing of the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 car built in the Autodelta workshops. A second all-Italian car (alongside Ferrari) that should soon return to the world of Grand Prix. After 27 years of absence, the Portello company, having gained experience with its 12-cylinder engine in the Brabham team, seems determined to go it alone. The much-awaited moment did not disappoint: on Monday, May 29, 1978, at 11:14 a.m., the powerful roar of the new car, started for the first time on the track, sent shivers to those at Balocco. The entry is off-limits. Vittorio Brambilla is at the wheel, having arrived early in the morning. Those who see the Monza native enter the circuit can notice his deep emotion: Brambilla had been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, and the dream seems to be coming true now, although it is not yet clear when the official debut of the new Alfa-Alfa will take place. The driver completes a slow lap, then makes an initial, long stop in the pits for a brief setup. Subsequently, from 1:10 p.m., the car returns to the track, and this time Brambilla completes another dozen laps.
After another session in the afternoon, at 4:00 p.m., the tests are suspended. For now, Autodelta mechanics, led by Manfredini, must continue their preparation work under the guidance of the designer, engineer Carlo Chiti. Along with Alfa's men, Pirelli technicians with engineer Mezzanotte and Turchetti are also present. The Milanese company will provide radial tires for the new car. The car, glimpsed for a few moments, is dark metallic gray, similar to the front of Ligier and Copersucar (the collaboration of engineer Caliri, former Ferrari technician and co-designer of Emerson Fittipaldi's car, should not be unfamiliar to aerodynamics). Even the cockpit and the tail seem almost identical to the new Ligier, with advanced construction concepts, such as the side partitions and the wing integrated with the body. As mentioned, it is not yet possible to determine when the official debut of the new Alfa Romeo will take place. However, it is possible to speculate that the first test will coincide with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Sunday, September 10, the date from which the Milanese manufacturer will have - according to the contract signed with Brabham - the opportunity to race with a car entirely its own. Meanwhile, on Friday, June 2, 1978, Colin Chapman also delivers the new Lotus 79 to Ronnie Peterson, and the Swede immediately manages to fully exploit it, setting the fastest time at the Jarama circuit on the first day of practice for the Spanish Grand Prix: 1'16"68, at an average speed of 159.827 km/h. Ronnie Peterson precedes Mario Andretti, who nevertheless confirms the superiority of British single-seaters on this track. It is a clear superiority, reminiscent of what emerged in Zolder, Belgium.
The Lotus 79, a well-conceived model, especially for its aerodynamic solutions, shines particularly in mixed circuits, where fast sections are accompanied by twisty parts. The car is balanced, agile, with exceptional grip and road holding. In terms of pure speed - as indicated by measurements taken with photocells on the pit straight - the Lotus is on the overall average (250-255 km/h), but in the corners and turns of Jarama, Peterson and Andretti are much faster than everyone else. The difference - a second or more - between the Lotus and the rest of the group is clear when examining the times. Carlos Reutemann, with Ferrari, was the best of the "non-Lotus" with a time of 1'17"64. Then there are James Hunt (McLaren) in 1'17"66, the two Brabham-Alfa Romeos, John Watson in 1'17"98 and Niki Lauda in 1'18"19, and Jody Scheckter in 1'18"24. Gilles Villeneuve, with the second Ferrari, sets the ninth time (1'18"55). The heat - in Madrid, it feels like mid-summer, with 35 °C in the pit area - affects the course of the tests. The first session in the morning enjoys a cooler temperature, and in general, this allowed the drivers to immediately achieve excellent times. These were not repeated in the second part of the training, in the afternoon, precisely because of the heat, which affects the tires, nullifying the changes made to the cars after the indications of the initial session. Among the most disadvantaged by these environmental conditions are the Ferrari drivers. Reutemann says:
"We came here a month ago, and I was doing 1'16"0-1'17"0. Now I can't do it, yet the circuit is the same, the car and the tires are identical, and the driver too. The car behaves completely differently: I have problems with understeer and oversteer, it's difficult to balance the front and rear".
And Gilles Villeneuve, in fact, says the same things:
"We have little grip, and the track always seems slippery".
In conclusion, the marriage between Ferrari and Michelin does not yield the expected results at Jarama - at least for now. The specialists from the French company are honest and admit it.
"It's a problem with the rear tires, like in Argentina. With the heat, with the track full of rubber particles left by the cars using Goodyear, grip becomes precarious. However, we only have these types of tires, so it will be necessary to study the best way to adapt Reutemann and Villeneuve's cars to the situation".
Hunt, a protagonist in 1976 with McLaren of a contested victory in Spain, reappears. The Englishman, who also experiments with little success a small front wing placed between the two wheels, is not in a fortunate period. After the collisions at the start of the Monaco and Belgium Grand Prix, Hunt - in the very last minutes of practice - collides with Emilio Villota's McLaren. The Spaniard, spinning, had ended up in the middle of the track at the exit of the corner leading to the grandstand straight. Much fright, no damage to the drivers, while Hunt's McLaren - who, in anger, throws a punch at Villota - needs to be rebuilt. Many problems for the Brabham-Alfa, a car by its constitution not very suitable for the Spanish circuit. Watson does better than Lauda, but the World Champion is struggling with his car. The new type of chassis brought to Jarama is too rigid. Lauda says:
"It's not an unsolvable problem; of course, we need to work on the springs and shock absorbers and prepare the car for a race without thinking about lap times".
Among the Goodyear drivers, following the policy established in Belgium, Jacques Laffite was immediately favored, having set the ninth time (1'18"83) in the first part of the practice. Thanks to the better tires received in the afternoon, Laffite improves to 1'18"42. Riccardo Patrese and Vittorio Brambilla, with the Arrows and Surtees, are expected to receive preferential treatment during the last day of practice. The two Italians perform very well, while Arturo Merzario, who has passed the pre-qualifying hurdle, and Alberto Colombo (who will race for the entire season with the ATS-March) are, at the moment, outside the list of the 24 drivers admitted to the Spanish Grand Prix. A camera placed on the roof of the pit will spy on the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, the seventh event of the Formula 1 World Championship. The images will be sent to the race direction: those attempting to gain an advantage at the start will be penalized. It is a timely warning after what happened in Monaco and Belgium. Otherwise, what validity would the practices have, with all their energy expenditure to secure a good position on the grid, if every value could be disrupted by the actions of the most unscrupulous? And in the Jarama circuit, where passing is almost as difficult as in Monte Carlo, being in the front rows at the start is truly important. For this reason, we witness a mini Grand Prix: the hour and a half of the morning of June 3, 1978, is dedicated to fine-tuning the cars and testing with a full tank of gasoline. Almost all the drivers compete in the 60 minutes valid for the starting grid, in a frenzied race, trying in every way to squeeze out something. Sixty minutes that do not change the substance of the situation: Lotus ahead of everyone, with an theoretically insurmountable advantage. It must be said theoretically because practices are one thing, and the race is another. Various factors come into play, foremost among them being the ability called reliability: every part of the cars must withstand the demands of a tough and exhausting race, made more challenging in Spain by the heat, which could strain the engines. This is particularly the concern for those using the eight-cylinder Ford-Cosworth engines. For the Lotus team, there is also the fear that the cooling system of the new 79, not well-tested in such environmental conditions, could cause some trouble. While Ronnie Peterson simply refines the preparation for the race, Mario Andretti snatches the pole position from his teammate. The Italian-American sets a record time: 1'16"39, at an average speed of 160.412 km/h. Peterson, with the time of 1'16"68 on Friday, remains by his side in the front row. Mario Andretti says at the end of the practice:
"I had a more lively engine, and I didn't have to exert much effort. It's clear now that Ronnie is my most formidable opponent, but he knows how to behave in the race against me. In the race, Reutemann, Villeneuve, Lauda could be dangerous depending on the circumstances. I hope it's not too hot: I don't know if the radiators of my Lotus are capable of cooling the engine to the right extent".
A significant step forward is taken by the two drivers of the Maranello team. Carlos Reutemann starts in the second row, and Gilles Villeneuve in the third. The Argentine goes from a time of 1'17"64 to 1'17"40, and the Canadian from 1'18"55 to 1'17"76 (meaning from the ninth to the fifth position). The careful setup work on the Ferraris and more fortunate choices in using tire types brought to Jarama by Michelin have allowed this improvement, which, of course, awaits confirmation in the race. Carlos Reutemann says:
"I'm aiming to win. In races like these, anything is possible. Of course, Lotus has something more, and it's a matter of the car, not the tires, as Andretti inflicted a gap of over a second not only on me or Gilles but also on other drivers using Goodyear, like Hunt or Lauda. I pushed to the maximum; more was just not possible. The car had a bit of oversteer, but with a full tank, it behaved quite well, which gives me confidence for the Grand Prix".
Gilles Villeneuve adds:
"In this last hour of practice, we have improved in two, my Ferrari and me. The engine and brakes didn't completely satisfy me in the first day, and I had made some mistakes. Now I say that it's an open race for any result".
While James Hunt and John Watson do not improve their times set on Friday, Niki Lauda achieves a small improvement with his Brabham-Alfa (from 1'18"19 to 1'17"94). According to the Austrian's opinion, there is nothing to be done against the Lotus:
"Andretti and Peterson are unbeatable, just like in Zolder, and they will be the same in fifteen days in Sweden. These circuits are tailor-made for the aerodynamic qualities of the 79. I can only fight with McLaren or Ferrari. Here my Brabham goes as it can: a new chassis has been fitted, and it seems that the situation has worsened".
A notable improvement, however, for Riccardo Patrese. Thanks to the more valid Goodyear tires, the Italian manages to move from twelfth to eighth place. A 1'18"14 that allows him to start in the fourth row. Less happy notes for Vittorio Brambilla, who without specific tires is quite far back in the lineup, and for Arturo Merzario and Alberto Colombo, who fail to qualify. On Sunday, June 4, 1978, the skies are not quite as clear as they have been, but it is still more than warm enough and the race is due to start at the very late hour of 4:00 p.m. Just before midday there is a 30-minute final-test-session for the fortunate 24 who are going to take part in the 75-lap race, though few of them can see it being much of a race with Andretti and Peterson on the front row in the 1978 Lotus cars. As this is the 75th anniversary of the Royal Automobile Club of Spain, the arrival of the reigning King and Queen by royal helicopter is a special occasion. After the drivers have driven their cars from the pit lane, round the circuit to the dummy grid in front of the main grandstand, they all remove their helmets and are presented to the King at the foot of the control tower. He wishes all the participants Good Luck and most of them think to themselves we’ll need more than that, with those two sleek black Lotus cars on the front row of the grid. Andretti is a whole second better than the best of the rest, which seems impossible on such a short circuit. As 4:00 p.m. approaches, engines are started, the grid and the pits are cleared and the two black cars, with their gold advertising lettering, lead the field away on the warm-up lap.
The 12 pairs of cars pause on the grid, at the foot of the giant control tower, the red light changes to green quicker than some drivers expect and the race is on. Andretti makes a good start and so does Reutemann, behind him, but Peterson has not been paying attention and fumbles his getaway. In a start that would have made the drag-racing fans cheer, Hunt takes his McLaren off the line and shoots between Peterson and Reutemann. Before the end of the pits he swoops past Andretti on the left and then dives across to the right and aims for the first corner with the brakes hard on, knowing that if anyone (particularly Andretti) is going to get by he will have to take the long way round the outside. The whole manoeuvre is racer Hunt at his brilliant best, and he must have an evil grin on his face as he leads the field through the tight corners on the back leg of the circuit. For five glorious laps Hunt drives his heart out, using every inch of the road, and more, as the McLaren slides over the kerbs. A slightly ruffled Andretti sits back and watches this display of sheer enthusiasm and joy, and then as they started lap six the Lotus closes up, goes by, and it is all over. Hunt has had his moment of glory and now the serious motor-race begins and Andretti just drives away into the distance.
Those opening laps stand Hunt in good stead, for though Andretti passes him with ease, it means he is in a sound second place, with only Reutemann’s Ferrari in sight behind him, in third place. Then come Watson, Villeneuve, Patrese, and Laffite with a gap to the next group that consists of Scheckter, Peterson and Lauda, followed by Pironi and Tambay. Right at the back of the field comes the yellow Renault, for Jabouille has been elbowed out of the pack on the first corner, and has spun. This solves all the problems of the turbo-car holding people up, but unfortunately Depailler gets baulked by the spinning Renault and gets a bit left behind. At 10 laps the scene settles down, with Andretti and Hunt well away, Reutemann in a lonely third place, then Watson with Villeneuve, Patrese, Laffite and Peterson line up behind him and pushing hard. Lauda has got clear of Scheckter and is aiming to join the group ahead, but in ninth place the World Champion is going to need more than skill to ever see the leader. Pironi and Tambay are behind Scheckter and then come Mass, Brambilla, Depailler, Regazzoni, Fittipaldi and Jones all fairly close, with Stuck dropping back from them as his Shadow is not handling too well. Keegan, Rebaque, Jabouille and Stommelen bring up the rear, as Ickx is in the pits having the throttle linkage on the Ensign looked at. The Renault is giving a good display of its claimed 500 HP as it wafts past Rebaque along the main straight, and shortly afterwards does the same with Keegan’s Surtees. It is clear that Ferrari and Michelin have made a mistake over the tyres fitted to the two red cars from Maranello, for Reutemann is losing all contact with the leaders and Villeneuve has dropped to the back of his group, and is passed by Lauda on lap 16. Whereas Hunt has made a deliberate choice of unsuitable tyre, and is holding on to second place as long as he can, and enjoying it, the Ferrari drivers are very frustrated. Fittipaldi decides his tyres are not right and stops to change them, and Tambay has gone missing, the McLaren stuck in the sand and unable to restart. The Frenchman has been driving without using the clutch for gear-changing, in order to rest his left ankle which is sore, and he muffs a change down and spins off the track. Although he restarts the engine he cannot get any grip and has to abandon a perfectly healthy car.
On lap 20 Rebaque’s Lotus 78 is making an awful noise as it goes by the pits and he stops next time round. A complete exhaust pipe has broken off, from the cylinder head to the junction for the tail pipe, due to grounding over the bevelled kerbs, the young Mexican not being experienced enough to know where you can run over kerbs and where you shouldn’t. On lap 22 Patrese disappears from a good fifth position when the Cosworth engine in his Arrows breaks, and Reutemann is visibly dropping back from Hunt into Watson’s sight. Andretti is now beginning to lap the tail enders, not that it causes him any trouble, and he even goes by the Renault as if it was not there. His complete command of the race is exactly as expected, but Peterson stuck in sixth place is all wrong, though it is difficult to see what the Swede is going to do about it, with Laffite and Watson in front of him and Lauda close behind. Not an easy bunch to deal with, even for an inspired Peterson, and after his bad start he is not looking all that inspired, but he is thinking about it. With Villeneuve now down in eighth place and being worried by Scheckter and Pironi, and Reutemann holding a tenuous third place, the Ferrari-Michelin combo decides it is time for a change, so both drivers are signalled in. At the end of lap 28 Reutemann heads down the pit lane to where new wheels and tyres are laid out ready, and the mechanics change all four very rapidly. They have just finished when Villeneuve appears down the pit lane and there is a bit of a scramble to let Reutemann’s car off the jacks and send him on his way as the second Ferrari pulls up. Even though the next set of wheels and tyres are still in the pit, the Ferrari boys do a pretty quick job and as Villeneuve drives off down the pit lane, Andretti goes by to complete his 29th lap, so the young French-Canadian is now a full lap behind. Reutemann has resumed in tenth place, behind the two Tyrrells of Pironi and Depailler. All this leaves Watson in third place, a long way behind Hunt, while Andretti has a very comfortable and relaxed 12-second lead. The foursome of Watson, Laffite, Peterson and Lauda looks as though it has reached a stale-mate situation, except that the Lotus driver can see an opportunity just ahead. They are coming up to lap a group of tail enders and in the ensuing melee Watson goes from third place on lap 36 to sixth place on lap 38, and Peterson is leading the bunch when the pushing and shoving and dust has died down. Watson’s excuse for this and the fact that he begins to drop back, is that he is having trouble with his gearbox. Be that as it may, the fact is that Peterson, Laffite and Lauda begin to close up on Hunt, with Peterson looking as though he wants second place.
The Tyrrell team are having a mixed race in eighth and ninth places, for just as Depailler overtakes Scheckter, Reutemann overtook Pironi, so it is a case of win one, lose one, but it is all mid-field stuff and of little consequence. Andretti is now 20 seconds ahead and cruising along comfortably, while Hunt is still in second place, even though his tyres are wearing thin. Peterson is still a long way back, but is closing steadily and Laffite and Lauda are staying with him. While Reutemann is picking up the odd place here and there, Villeneuve is not making much progress, so he is called in again and another set of tyres are fitted. As Peterson gets his sights on Hunt’s McLaren on lap 50, Depailler is into the pits with a misfiring engine. The ignition unit is changed but before this is done the second Tyrrell is also into the pits with an equally erratic engine. Depailler does another lap, with no improvement so the plugs are removed and one of them has bits of metal on it, from something nasty inside the engine, so that is the end. As they start lap 53 Peterson wafts by Hunt’s McLaren and into second place and three laps later Laffite goes by the McLaren and then Lauda goes by. Hunt’s tyres are used up and he should have stopped by now, but the decision is being left to him, and it is not until lap 60 that he finally heads down the pit lane to have all four wheels and tyres changed, but he has let the others get too far ahead. What has delayed his decision is the sight of Lauda’s Brabham by the side of the track on lap 57, with a broken Alfa Romeo engine, which means that Hunt is back in fourth place, and then a lot of excitement and confusion on lap 58 when Reutemann’s Ferrari goes off the track in a big way, bounces over the guard-rails and is caught by the debris nets protecting the back of the paddock. The swarthy Argentinian climbs out with bruises on his chest, leaving the Ferrari hanging in the nets like a fly in a spider’s web. By the time Hunt has changed tyres and gets back into the race he is a lap down and in sixth place, with no hope of improvement, unless someone drops out. There are only 15 laps to go and Lotus are once again in first and second places, this time with two Type 79 cars, and one feels they could probably have done the same thing with last year’s cars! With just over 20 seconds between them the two sleek black cars tour on to victory, having completely annihilated all opposition for the second race in succession.
Laffite brings the new Ligier home to a good sporting third, followed by Scheckter in a distant fourth place and Watson fifth. An exhausted Hunt is sixth, one lap down. The 1978 is becoming the year of Lotus. First Andretti and second Peterson in Belgium, first Andretti and second Peterson in Spain. Results that shake the Formula 1 circus and give a very specific face to this World Championship, especially because, in the face of the English team's offensive, rival teams appear to be struggling: Ferrari, Brabham-Alfa, Tyrrell - the teams that had Reutemann, Lauda, and Depailler as their most capable representatives - collected only disappointments at Jarama. It's pointless to list the reasons for Lotus' supremacy here. It's enough to remember that the new model 79, brought to the track for the first time by Andretti in Zolder, follows modern construction lines in terms of aerodynamics. Colin Chapman and his designers, at a crucial moment for Formula 1, found original solutions, even managing to overshadow the importance of tires. Lotuses not only beat Ferrari-Michelin but also McLaren-Goodyear, Brabham-Goodyear, and so on. While the circuits of Zolder, Jarama, and Anderstorp, where the Swedish Grand Prix will take place, particularly suit the characteristics of the Lotus 79, the supremacy of the British car can be challenged on other occasions, but this risks happening too late. We are at a key moment in the season, and Andretti and Peterson are striving to build an insurmountable lead. The Italian-American driver has 36 points, and the Swede has 26, against Depailler's 23, Reutemann's 22, and Lauda's 10. It takes little to understand that the Italian-American and the Swede are in an exceptional position, both mathematically and due to the actual supremacy of their cars. At Jarama, the biggest disappointment comes from Ferrari. That Brabham was in crisis at Jarama was clear from the tests, but that Ferrari had such a negative day was not expected. It's perplexing because it's not clear how this could have happened. In the morning practice, the final machine check, the situation seemed good: Reutemann, with a full tank of gas, had lapped in 1'18"87 against Andretti's 1'19"42. In the Grand Prix, however, things went very wrong; the cars were not right, there was a lack of agreement between tires and the car, and the drivers had to deal with excessive understeer. Both had to return to the pits for checks, but then the situation more or less remained the same.
Michelin specialists, noting that their tires showed no particular signs of wear, refused specific responsibility. Does the change in weather conditions on the track from morning to afternoon explain all this? One thing is certain: the men of the Maranello team will have to give their best. Enthusiasm, skill, and courage are not enough; it's time for everyone to get involved, or Mario Andretti will be the 1978 World Champion without too much difficulty.
"It wasn't as easy as it seemed, but I didn't have any major problems either. To avoid unpleasant surprises before the start, we decided to put on slightly harder tires than those used in practice. This meant we lost the advantage of being significantly faster than the others. Overall, though, I have to admit that it went well. At the finish, my tires were so little worn that they could be used in another race".
With this new victory, do you think you're now unreachable in the championship standings?
"It's still too early to talk about winning the World Championship for me. Anyway, now I have good hopes and can face the upcoming races with more calm".
The second place loosens the cool Ronnie Peterson, who, after losing several positions due to a bad start, made a good comeback.
"At the start, I got distracted and didn't see that the traffic light had turned green. Three policemen who until a few seconds before the start were lined up on the track distracted me. In those moments, I thought they couldn't start with the military on the track. Suddenly, however, a sergeant arrived and made them move. At the same moment, the light turned green, and I didn't see it because my eyes were on the scene with the military. In an instant, the others passed me from all sides, and Hunt even bumped into my front tire. During the race, however, everything went quite well. Only when I was in the group with Watson and Laffite did I have some trouble with the rising water temperature".
Jacques Laffite, with an excellent race, managed to get on the podium:
"I couldn't certainly get more than that because the Lotuses had a gear more. For some laps, I tried to contain Peterson's attacks, but he was clearly faster, and at the line, I had to let him pass".
James Hunt for many laps was the only one able to challenge Andretti:
"Maybe I pushed too hard at the beginning, and the tires overheated. After half the race, my McLaren suffered significant understeer, and I had to go back to the pits".
Not a favorable day for Ferraris. Reutemann and Villeneuve were never able to get into the fight for the top positions. Gilles says:
"My car was completely unbalanced, and the front of the car responded completely differently from the rear. Throughout the race, I had grip problems".
Michelin's Dupasquier specifies, one of the responsible for Michelin:
"It shouldn't only be a matter of tires because at the end of the race, our tires were still in good condition. I can't explain the nature of the lack of grip, but, of course, on this occasion, the tire-car combination was not the best".
Niki Lauda missed another precious opportunity to gain points for the World Championship and thus contain the gap from Andretti.
"The engine suddenly failed, and I couldn't do anything but retire. Certainly, with this new setback, the fight for the title becomes increasingly difficult for me".
A dramatic incident, fortunately without consequences, involved Carlos Reutemann in the Spanish Grand Prix. The Argentine went off the track during the fifty-eighth lap, and his Ferrari, after tearing down three rows of safety nets and flying over a guardrail, stopped, semi-upside-down, against a fourth large net. Reutemann, who got out of the car by himself, returned to the pits and was then admitted for a series of checks to the circuit's field infirmary, from where he was later taken by helicopter to the La Paz hospital in Madrid for a safety x-ray examination. But the doctors and the driver himself, who wanted to return to the hotel with his wife Maria, immediately reassured Ferrari's men. No injuries, just a slight state of shock. The accident ended in the worst way a difficult day for the Maranello team. After returning to the pits to change tires, while in third place, Reutemann had resumed the race in tenth position. The Argentine had managed to move up to seventh place in about twenty laps. In an already quiet race, in the sense that, naturally, for Carlos there were no more hopes of getting into the high positions of the Grand Prix, dominated by Lotus. Instead, here comes the stroke of bad luck. Reutemann's Ferrari was seen skidding out of the Varzi turn, where Lauda had left the track with a broken engine, raising a lot of dust, and, still skidding, travel the short connecting straight with the subsequent Le Mans turn. Engine running, wheels locked, the car got into the nets, causing very serious damage. Hypothesis: a defect in the accelerator, a slide on the dirt that ended up on the asphalt. Reutemann says:
"I felt that the car was going on its own, uncontrollable. I rule out a throttle blockage. What happened, I don't even know".
At first external examination, there are no wheel and suspension failures. The Ferrari was immediately surrounded by firefighters and stewards, while the loudspeakers broadcasted dramatic news. The wife of the Argentine driver, who was holding the tachometer in the pits, burst into tears. Fortunately, after reassuring the rescuers ("I'm fine, I'm fine, stay away, though, a fuel tank broke, and there's a risk of fire"), Carlos quickly reached the pits, where his wife almost went crazy with joy. Ugly moments in races, moments that you never want to experience.