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#315 1979 Brazilian Grand Prix

2021-12-15 00:00

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#315 1979 Brazilian Grand Prix

John Watson rischia una ammonizione o una multa, dopo quanto accaduto nel Gran Premio d’Argentina. La notizia dell'iniziativa presa da Balestre, presi

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John Watson risks a warning or a fine after what happened in the Argentine Grand Prix. The news of the initiative taken by Balestre, President of the Sports Commission of the World Automobile Federation, comes as a bit of a surprise to Formula 1 circles. No one thought that the sporting authority would take a decision on the incident that occurred at the start of the Argentinean Grand Prix and, above all, it was not thought that Watson would be blamed so directly. In this regard, former World Champion James Hunt, who is a close friend of the McLaren driver, came to the Irish driver's defence.

 

"Looking at the photographs and videos, you would think that Watson caused the accident. But we don't know what happened before that. And I believe John's statement that he was rear-ended before colliding with Scheckter".

 

Ferrari is of a different opinion. Through its press officer, Marco Piccinini, they agree with the decision taken by Balestre.

 

"Beyond the fact itself, it is interesting that the sporting authority has decided to intervene. We are not saying this because one of our drivers was involved and injured in the accident, but out of a sense of justice. In our opinion, the carambola was not really a starting accident. It was not a pile-up or an attempt to steal positions. It was a collision that could have happened at any time during the race and was the result of a completely irregular overtaking move. We hope that the sporting commission will always act in this way and in good time, precisely to avoid these episodes happening".

 

What will Watson face? Most believe it will be a simple warning, but it is possible that, as was done for Patrese by the Drivers' Commission, he will be suspended for one race. We will see in the coming days how the matter will develop. In the meantime Bernie Ecclestone, refusing to talk about the Watson case, limited himself to declaring that at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo, where the second race of the World Championship will be held, there are no problems for the start.

 

"Immediately after the start there is a very long straight. The drivers will have time to pull away from each other and I'm sure nothing will happen".

 

On the subject of starts, Hunt, in turn, says that there is no point in changing the starting system. In short, the controversy surrounding the Watson case is still raging in Sao Paulo. The Irish driver, who was explicitly accused of being responsible for the initial carom of the race by the CSI president, Balestre, reacted in every possible way and tried to clear himself. Watson declares that he is not totally guilty of the incident and believes that a good percentage of the accident can be attributed to Scheckter.

 

"The photographs published in the newspapers are not sufficient to establish what happened, I am convinced, before going to hit the South African, that I was touched in my turn".

 

 

The McLaren driver also claims that part of what happened was the fault of the Ferrari's mechanical weakness.

 

"The Italian car lost its wheel in an incredible way. It seems to me that the impact was not so violent as to cause such a serious break. If it had been the other way round, if it had been my car that had been hit, I'm convinced it wouldn't have lost its wheel".

 

That's quite an accusation against Ferrari. But Watson is obviously trying to defend himself in the best possible way, by attacking. As far as the problem of accidents at the start is concerned, almost everyone in Formula 1 world is convinced that this should not be attributed to the track, but to the drivers. It is the drivers themselves who admit their responsibility, as for example James Hunt admits:

 

"We should race with more brains, because these accidents must not happen again. There's no point repeating it: you don't win races on the first lap".

 

A rather strange statement from a driver who, when he finds himself in the pack, is certainly not one of the softest. Hans Stuck took an identical position to that of the Englishman.

 

"The accident in Buenos Aires involved Watson and Scheckter. But it could have happened to anyone. However, I do not agree with punishing Watson. An irregularity had already been committed in America with Patrese, repeating the mistake would be worse".

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However, it is also interesting to hear the opinion of the representatives of Foca, the manufacturers' association. Bernie Ecclestone is no longer in Rio de Janeiro, because he has gone on holiday for a couple of days. Max Mosley, the association's lawyer, is speaking on his behalf.

 

"We are convinced that greater involvement by the sporting authorities can only bring good. But we are also surprised because they should consult us before making any decisions. We believe that a greater firmness from the sports authorities will be a good thing for motor racing, provided that everything is done very clearly by hearing all the parties concerned. As for Watson's accusation that Ferrari's wheels are weak, I think it was a statement dictated by the excitement of the moment. We all know that the Italian manufacturer uses the best material in Formula 1 and that the breakage was certainly not caused by a defect in construction or material. It was the mechanics of the accident, the clutch between the two wheels that caused the loss of the wheel of Scheckter's 312-T3".

 

Meanwhile, on Thursday 25 January 1979, the new Copersucar F6 driven by Emerson Fittipaldi took to the track for its first tests. A wing-car, as the new trend of Formula 1 wants by now, that takes its first steps and that the Brazilian driver hopes to race already in two Sundays on his home track. As far as the first tests are concerned, the Copersucar F6 runs in 2'25"0, a rather high time also showing problems with the rear brakes. The tests will continue in the coming days and will be joined by those of Villeneuve's Ferrari.

 

Too many accidents in Formula 1: what should those who make mistakes pay? What solutions should be devised? Now John Watson, the first McLaren driver, is being accused of the reckless manoeuvre with which at Baires he excluded Jody Scheckter's Ferrari from the race, triggering a chain of collisions, but the one guilty is not only him. All the drivers are a bit guilty, one today and another tomorrow, as they desperately try to gain a few positions at the start. It doesn't take long for extremely dangerous situations to arise in the group, situations that are virtually uncontrollable. Equally guilty, however, are the various team principals and the CSI managers, who have allowed the most reckless drivers to impose their own law, the first ones because the important thing was to win (and earn more money) and the second ones because they did not impose respect for the regulations.

 

Only now, in the wake of the controversy surrounding Riccardo Patrese, they are taking action: control commissions, proposals to make the starts safer. One thing is certain: the start will always be the most delicate moment of a Grand Prix because of the presence of many cars in a limited space, which for a few seconds have more or less the same performance. Fines, warnings, disqualifications, should only be a deterrent suspended, so to speak, in the air. The key to the problem is only one: the drivers' sense of responsibility and professionalism. You can't win races at the first corner, but you can lose them. Discussions, controversies and concerns, because nowadays collisions at the start of Grand Prix races happen too frequently.

 

We remember the car crashes in Monte-Carlo, Belgium, Austria, Holland and the tragic one at Monza. And although the number of victims has fortunately been reduced, thanks to the higher level of safety achieved in recent years by the single-seaters and the emergency services, the problem remains as unresolved as ever. The second Grand Prix of the year, the Brazilian one, was approaching. It was to be held on Sunday 4 February 1979 at the Interlagos circuit, just outside Sao Paulo. The first one, the Argentinean one, saw the success of Jacques Laffite and the Ligier-Cosworth ahead of Carlos Reutemann and the Lotus, but to make people discuss was not so much the surprising victory of the French car, coupled with the defeat of the English one, but the disastrous accident that opened this thirtieth Formula One World Championship.

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Everything will be decided on Thursday 1 February 1979. The questions that give a thrilling atmosphere to the eve of the Brazilian Grand Prix will be dissolved by the evening. While the drivers will be occupied in the free practice, at the first contact with the track of Interlagos, the commission of enquiry in charge of examining evidences and documents, of hearing testimonies about the accident of Buenos Aires, will draw its conclusions and consequently will take decisions and measures. According to rumours leaked by those closest to the directors of the sporting commission, the drivers' commission and the constructors' association, it can be predicted that John Watson, considered by many to be responsible for the car crash at the start of the race, will get off with a warning, thus avoiding the disqualification he would have deserved for the risky and dangerous manoeuvre he was involved in. It seems that the sporting directors, with President Jean-Marie Balestre in the lead, would be willing to set an example with a heavy punishment, but the majority opinion is that the intentions of Bernie Ecclestone and Mario Andretti, who will represent the constructors' association and the drivers' safety commission, will be decisive for the outcome of the investigation.

 

The majority of the latter have already come out in favour of the Irishman. Scheckter himself, who was the first to be hit by Watson's McLaren, and therefore, among the drivers involved, the one who ran the greatest risks, declared that he did not consider an exemplary punishment appropriate at the moment. As far as the constructors are concerned, there is (apart from the fact that Ecclestone has always avoided accusing Watson directly) the impression that a non-belligerent agreement has been reached. The controversy aroused in recent days by Watson himself, who had accused Ferrari of using imperfect materials for the construction of its cars, an accusation based on the sudden breakage of the wheel of the South African's 312-T3, would have led to the impression of friction between the English and Italian teams. On Tuesday, 30 January 1979, however, Teddy Mayer, manager and head of McLaren Racing, issued a press release in which he denied certain statements attributed to him by an Italian sports newspaper, which seemed to support Watson's thesis on the alleged fragility of Ferraris. The headline:

 

"McLaren accuses: Ferraris lose their wheels".

 

The statement signed by Teddy Mayer and distributed by Marco Piccinini, Ferrari's public relations manager, states.

 

"It is untrue, and finds no justification in my statements, which were partially misunderstood. However, since it appeared in that article that I was suggesting an investigation into the safety of the Ferrari 312-T3, regarding the impression that it had lost a wheel too easily, I now state that a careful examination of the left rear wheel of the Ferrari #11 clearly shows the signs of a very violent impact, such as to completely justify the detachment of part of the wheel. Indeed, no manufacturer of racing cars can question Ferrari's well-known tradition of adopting the safest construction methods, the result of more than thirty years of commitment as a genuine automobile manufacturer".

 

This release is proof that peace has been made and that Watson's head will not be sought - so to speak. All this, of course, if Balestre's opinion and that of the witnesses who point to the Irish driver as the author of a manoeuvre that was, to say the least, reckless, do not prevail. In this heated atmosphere, the second world race of the season is about to get underway. It is only to be hoped that the fear of punishment that may be adopted in the future, the stricter control of what happens on the track, will serve as a warning to the drivers. Because they are the only ones who, by behaving responsibly, will be able to avoid dramatic repetitions of what we saw last year in Monza and ten days ago in Buenos Aires.

 

On Thursday 1 February 1979, in a surprise move, the sporting authorities resolve the Watson case. The Irish driver, considered responsible for the accident in Buenos Aires, is fined 10,000 Swiss francs, but he is allowed to keep the third place he had won in Argentina, and consequently to keep the points he had taken for the Formula 1 World Championship. The decision matured on Wednesday night, when the executives met at the Sao Paulo Center hotel. It had previously been announced that the meeting would take place on Thursday, and that the discussion would also be attended by Andretti representing the drivers and Ecclestone for the constructors' association. The sporting directors have moved up the timetable, taking a unilateral step. In the presence of the president of the sporting commission, the Frenchman Jean Marie Balestre, the Argentinean organisers with Charles Nacache, the director of the Argentinean Grand Prix, Juan Manuel Bordeu, and the commissioner Abel Tannure, applied to Watson the maximum fine provided for by international regulations, officially admonishing him.

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At the same time it’s decided, this time in agreement with Ecclestone, that the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix will be given as normal, with no changes to the previous ones. The first problem of the year therefore seems to have been overcome, at least on a formal level. But we are convinced that this is only a temporary solution, as the incident will certainly have a long aftermath and the controversy will not end with the fine imposed on Watson. As soon as he heard the news of Balestre's decision, Max Mosley, the constructors' association's lawyer, said, even if the tone of his words seemed joking, that it would be very difficult for the world federation to get the money for the fine from Watson. For his part, Balestre, president of the World Motor Sport Federation, states that the fine imposed on Watson must be paid within 48 hours. If the Irishman does not pay within the prescribed time limit, he risks exclusion from the Brazilian Grand Prix. However, it will be up to the local stewards to admit the McLaren driver to the race or not.

 

Behind these words lies an open conflict between the drivers and the constructors' association on the one hand and the sporting authorities on the other. Actually, the situation is much more complicated. In fact, Formula 1 is going through one of the most difficult times in its almost 30-year history. If all those involved do not act responsibly, we could end up with splits that would ruin and make this fascinating yet dangerous sport lose all credibility. There has been talk of currents. One obviously belongs to Ecclestone, the patron of Formula 1 and owner of Brabham. The skilful English manager tries to earn as much money as possible from Grand Prix racing. His strength lies in the fact that by distributing part of the profits (from the skilful contracts he manages to extract from organisers and all those interested in racing) to teams and drivers, he maintains enormous decision-making power. Another group (generally flanked by Ecclestone, and opposed to the sporting bodies) is formed by some drivers, led by Andretti, Lauda and Scheckter. The latter are convinced that only they can judge what happens on the track and take any action. On Thursday Scheckter speaks very clearly, and in very heated tones declares:

 

"We don't need the world federation to punish those responsible for accidents. We have to draw up our own rules, a code for what happens in the race and then decide for ourselves what punishment should be meted out".

 

The other group of drivers, whose spokesman is Clay Regazzoni, is also against the sporting authority and the manufacturers. The Italian repeats in more detail what he had already mentioned last week, after the accident in Buenos Aires.

 

"Here people keep talking about the drivers' faults, without thinking about problems that are more serious. It is true that some of us sometimes make mistakes, but that is human. Nobody wants to deliberately cause accidents. He would be a fool because the risk is enormous even for those who cause trouble. The reality is different; the truth is that today we are racing with cars that are the result of pure madness. The braking distances are getting shorter and shorter, and in corners you go as you do on the straights, with your foot firmly on the accelerator. Do you want to know why Watson caused the accident in Buenos Aires? Because he was convinced that his car could hold the outside line. Then, when he realised that if he kept to that line he would crash off the track, he had to pull in and what happened is what happened, We talk about technical progress, about the development of cars that will then spill over into series production. This is a huge deception. Stick-on tyres, mini-skirts and all sorts of other gadgets like ground effect can never be applied to cars on the road. Chapman's idea applied to the Lotus 79 is not that of a genius, but the result of the work of an irresponsible person. We are being made to race in cars that are no longer cars, but aeroplanes. Do we want to talk about safety, about responsibility on the part of the drivers? Don't make me laugh. I want to see what happens the day one of these skirts is left up in the race. Something that will happen sooner or later, because all it will take is the seizure of one of the springs that raise and lower these aerodynamic appendages. In this case you'll see the car take off. And if a massacre happens, the drivers will be blamed, the organisers will be blamed, and the tracks won't be suitable".

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Regazzoni's outburst seems justified. Only if drivers, constructors, sporting authorities and organisers know how to study new regulations for cars and racing in general will it be possible to reach a solution to the serious problems that risk compromising the world of Grand Prix. Moving on to the chronicle of the race weekend, Friday 2nd February 1979 Ligier keeps its eve's promises. After the victory in Buenos Aires the men of the French team, through the mouth of the sporting director Gerard Ducarouge, had said that on the track of Interlagos for the Brazilian Grand Prix they would have given a further demonstration of their superiority. Well, in the first two series of official practice Jacques Laftite is clearly the fastest, so much that he doesn’t even take part in the afternoon's qualifying. As once happened to Niki Lauda, the Parisian watches from the pits the useless attempts of his adversaries to reach him.

 

Laftite's time is not even approached by his rivals: his 2'23"07, at the average of 198.126 km/h, remained a mirage for all. Even Patrick Depailler tries everything in his power to repeat his team-mate's result, but failes. If on Saturday 3 February 1979, in the last hour of practice valid for the grid, the situation would not change, Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter would both be on the second row, behind the French cars. The Maranello team is working hard to get to this positive level, if you consider that Jody and Gilles are still driving the old, 312-T3s. A good help to the two drivers of the Italian team comes from Michelin, which seems to have found the right tyres on this track. However, at the end of the tests the South African, visibly upset, says that he could have done better if he hadn't always found too many cars on his trajectories when he was launched to set a good time. However, Ferrari's speech is positive because if the 312-T4 keeps its promises we will soon see Ferrari drivers fighting for victory again.

 

The experience of the tests carried out in 1978 and the previous week gave good results, even if not all the problems are solved. Proof that Michelin's radial tyres played an important role in Ferrari's overall result comes from the Renaults of Jabouille and Arnoux. The two Frenchmen, who had struggled a lot in Buenos Aires, are in an excellent position in the provisional classification. Rather precarious, on the contrary, is the situation of Lotus, even if Andretti and Reutemann (the latter could run very little because of the seizure of an engine valve of his car) are not so far from the first ones. The very winding track full of ups and downs at Interlagos doesn’t enhance the skills of Colin Chapman's cars, which had not been developed since 1978. It is clear that the English manufacturer is thinking above all of the 80 model, which will make its official debut in Spain. Only then, when the new Ferrari is also out, it will be possible to see if Ligier will play the same role this year as Lotus did last season. Lauda's new Brabham-Alfa is in an upward phase. After the ordeal in Argentina, when he risked not qualifying, the Austrian made a lot of progress with his car. The engine supplied by Alfa Romeo impresses everyone. Niki himself is now very satisfied with the engine.

 

"It is more ready than the previous one, and it sings a very pleasant tune. I still have to balance out the car in terms of aerodynamics and road-holding by fine-tuning the suspension. However, I am convinced that day by day we will be able to make progress until we reach the level of the best".

 

Lauda, in all probability, will race alone, as the Brazilian Nelson Piquet, who was injured in Buenos Aires, has tried to drive, but he fears he will not be able to bear the fatigue of the race. The Austrian's car is practically a travelling laboratory. Lauda does a few laps then stops and the mechanics make changes. During the test, the caissons are shortened to give the car a ground effect, evidently because Niki realizes that he has too much air resistance. As soon as the work was done, the BT 48, powered by an engine that was proving to be even more brilliant than the previous one, improved by a few tenths on the lap.

 

Still on the subject of new cars, Emerson Fittipaldi gives up racing his Copersucar F6. For the moment the old car is still more competitive. Big problems for the McLarens. Watson gets one of the worst times while Tambay, who had destroyed his car on Thursday, goes on track only in the last minutes of practice and is not even credited with a time. Unfortunately, the only serious accident of the day involves the young Italian Elio De Angelis. The 20-year-old from Rome runs his wheels into the grass and loses control of his car, skidding and crashing his rear end into the guardrails. The single-seater will come out of the accident seriously damaged, so much so that De Angelis fears he won't be able to take part in Saturday's practice and Sunday's race, because there is a lack of spare parts for the necessary repairs.

 

Together with Laffite and Depailler intending to win, with the Ferraris lurking to take advantage of possible mistakes or defaillance of the Ligier drivers, with Lotus still in play, with the very fast Renaults ready to seize the opportunity, the race was more than exciting. A sure spectacle for the over 100.000 Brazilians who will crowd the Interlagos circuit and for millions of spectators who will watch the race on television, with the hope that the famous miniskirts will not create problems and that everything, finally, will take place under the banner of sport only.

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On Saturday 3 February 1979, on the Interlagos track, which is considered one of the most demanding in the world, it becomes clear that the Brazilian Grand Prix, the second round of the Formula 1 World Championship, will offer a duel not only between individuals but also between teams. The starting grid seems to be prepared by a choreographer with a great sense of spectacle. Two Ligiers with Laffite and Depailler on the front row, two Lotuses with Reutemann and Andretti in second and two Ferraris with Villeneuve and Scheckter in third. It's enough to give you the shivers just thinking about it. The biggest novelty comes from the angry return of Colin Chapman's cars. Reutemann and Andretti couldn't catch the Ligiers, but they overtook the Ferraris. It must be said that Mario and Carlos, to make this exploit, had to resort to all imaginable expedients, from very soft tyres to very reduced aerodynamic loads. The Argentinean and the Italian-American fight with all their strength: a profitable work, even if this advance might not be then decisive in the race.

 

The Ligier, in fact, seemes to have many hidden resources. It's true that Laffite has some problems, first by breaking the gearbox pinion and then for troubles to the fuel system, but we have to consider that the French driver has an advantage of one second per lap over all the rivals. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, Sports Director Gerard Ducarouge has already established a tactical plan so that his two riders do not get in each other's way at the start. Whoever takes the lead first will have the right not to be attacked by his team-mate, who will have to protect his back. It is clear that the French team is banking on Jacques Laffite, who with another success could take the lead in the World Championship. It should not be forgotten that the new regulations only take into account eight results out of the sixteen races scheduled for the season. The battle for victory could also include the Ferraris, who have a rather favourable tradition on this track. The fastest of the two Maranello team drivers is Villeneuve, despite the engine of his 312-T3 taking 280 laps less than expected.

 

"The favourites for success are obviously Ligier and Lotus, but an inclusion of our cars is not excluded. The race will be very hard".

 

In Sao Paulo, after several days of bad weather and cold, the sun comes back and the weather became as if by magic. The temperature now exceeds 30°C, and the sun beats down on the track, making it less fast. The Interlagos track is one of the longest in the world (7873 metres) and, apart from an 800-metre downhill straight, it's all ups and downs. The road surface is uneven and in several places the single-seaters jump. Brazilian Nelson Piquet will also be there, and he wants to take part in the race at all costs, despite the fact that his foot, injured in Argentina, has not yet fully healed. An imprudence that Brabham should not have allowed him. Piquet will start behind Lauda, who fails to improve his time on Saturday. The Austrian tries the BT 48 with new aerodynamic solutions, but the experiment turns out to be negative and during the night the mechanics will be forced to work to bring the car back to its original set-up.

 

On Sunday 4 February 1979, shortly before the start of the race, Mario Andretti's Lotus has technical problems that have to be repaired on the track by the mechanics of the British team. Everything seems to be solved, but at the signal to start the engines, smoke is emitted from the engine of the Italo-American's car, forcing the fire brigade to intervene. The car, however, is allowed to start. The other Lotus, the one driven by Carlos Reutemann, also suffers problems, so much so that it is pushed by the mechanics to face the recognition lap.

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Unfortunately for those who wish to see the Ligiers challenged, raceday proves to be much akin to Saturday in terms of whether, with sunny skies and high temperatures preventing the use of softer tyres. Indeed, only a bust-up during the pre-race warm-up threatenes to upset the French squad, with Jacques Laffite staying out for four laps after the session concluded. This invokes a small fracas in the pits as Formula One Constructors Association leader Bernie Ecclestone and race organiser Robert Langford, although there would be no further sanction. Elsewhere, Ferrari are forced to complete a last minute engine change on Jody Scheckter's car, while suspension issues causes headaches for Riccardo Patrese and Hans-Joachim Stuck.

 

With that the field is ready to start, with Laffite set to lead the field away on the parade lap once the pre-race paraphernalia has been cleared away. However, as the Ligier pulles away the two green-gold Loti behind refuse to move, with Mario Andretti's car bursting aflame. Marshals quickly cover the back of the car in extinguisher powder, while Carlos Reutemann has to get a push start after the rest of the field, including Andretti, clear the grid. Indeed, it proves to be a particularly controversial parade lap, with Reutemann allowed to carve his way back up to third, while Andretti carries on without any issue. The official, and Lotus' major rivals, quickly delves into the rulebook to investigate the various incidents on the parade lap, although no action has to be taken before the start. Furthermore, only 23 of the 24 qualifiers make it back to the grid to take the start, for Jean-Pierre Jarier would roll to a silent stop midway around with an total electrical failure.

 

In-spite of all that the actual start of the race would pass without issue, Laffite blasting clear of the rest of the field when the lights switch to green. He’s chased by Reutemann, who also aces his getaway to jump ahead of Patrick Depailler in the second Ligier. The rest of the field pile in behind the now white backed Lotus of Andretti, with no major incidents at the first corner. The rest of the opening tour would see Laffite dance away at the front of the field, while Reutemann's hold of second is lost down the Retao straight, with Depailler bustling past into Curve 3. Indeed, the Frenchman's move pushes the Argentine so wide that Andretti slithers through as well, with Reutemann just managing to sweep across in front of Scheckter. Elsewhere, Emerson Fittipaldi completes a stunning start to run in sixth, up from ninth on the grid, with the rest largely in grid order.

 

The race for victory is all but over at that point, for Laffite and Depailler simply pulled away from the two Loti during the early stages. They’re aided by the fact that Andretti sweps into the pits at the end of lap two, having noticed that he’s losing both fuel and fuel pressure. This is traced to a hole in the fuel metering unit, which has been the cause of his pre-race fire and knocked out two of his Ford Cosworth V8's cylinders. That failure promotes Fittipaldi into fifth, before the Brazilian ace put the home crowd into hysterics by diving inside of Scheckter on lap three. Indeed, the former double-Champion is more than capable of pacing Reutemann in the early stages, although both have been dropped by the two Ligiers out ahead. Elsewhere, Niki Lauda picks up a gearbox issue and hence begins a slow tumble down the order, while the second Brazilian racer in the form of Nelson Piquet is moving steadily up the field in the sister Brabham.

 

Indeed, young Piquet is really throwing his Alfa Romeo engined Brabham at the Interlagos circuit early on, and soon finds himself fighting Lauda's former teammate Clay Regazzoni for twelfth. It proves to be an intense scrap between the experienced Swiss and the enthusiastic Brazilian, and comes to an inevitable conclusion when the white Williams cuts across the nose of the red Brabham into one of the hairpins. Piquet duly slammes on the brakes, hurting his already painful foot in the process, but only succeeds in sliding into the back of Regazzoni and spinning both around. Regazzoni rejoins unhindered, while Piquet slowly crawles back to the pits with his nose out of joint and a lot of pain in his left foot. The race soon settles after that point, with Reutemann managing to pace the Ligiers, which runs just out of sight, while also dropping Fittipaldi. 

 

Elsewhere, Lauda has retired as his gearbox continues to deteriorate, while James Hunt sufferes a steering failure in the Wolf, the entire mechanism coming apart on lap seven. Indeed, the main source of entertainment through to half distance proves to be Jean-Pierre Jabouille, racing his way through the lower half of the field after a miserable start in the #15 Renault. The only thing to distract observers from the Frenchman's charge are the brief actions of his compatriot Didier Pironi, who throws his Tyrrell at Scheckter mid-race. Indeed, the young Frenchman succeedes in getting inside the scarlet car, only to misjudge his braking into the tricky turn ten hairpin, and duly sends himself into a triple-pirouette on the dirt. Miraculously Pironi misses the guardrail on the outside of the corner, and duly manages to scramble back onto the circuit having only lost a couple of seconds to the South African.

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Back with Regazzoni and the Swiss ace is about to get involved in his second accident of the race, this time with Patrick Tambay as Jabouille sweps onto their mutual tails for twelfth. Indeed, feeling the pressure from behind Tambay throws his McLaren inside the Williams at turn fourteen, and only succeedes in drifting wide into the side of the Regazzoni. The Williams is sent into a very lazy, but otherwise damage free spin, while Tambay's McLaren goes flying into the catch fencing, resulting in the left-front wheel being ripped off the car. Back with Pironi and this time the Frenchman manages to get his Tyrrell ahead of Scheckter's Ferrari without issue, aided by the fact that the South African racer is seriously struggling with tyre wear. Indeed, both the scarlet cars are feeling the pain of their Michelin tyres, although Gilles Villeneuve seems to have a stronger run as he creps onto the back of his teammate over the following laps. They would, however, both inherit a position just after half-distance, for a loose rear-wheel on Fittipaldi's car causes him to slow suddenly, dumping him down to the back of the field as he crawles around an entire lap of the Interlagos circuit.

 

Villeneuve abandons his Michelins just after half-distance, and finds that he has vastly more pace on fresh rubber and half-fuel, having felt like he’s on ice with his old set. Scheckter stayes out longer and drops back behind the Canadian when he rejoins, with both behind overtaken by Jabouille in the Renault. Indeed, despite using the same Michelin tyres as the Ferraris, and pushing far harder, Jabouille's tyres seem to be performing far better, although he too pits with ten laps to go, moments after teammate René Arnoux suffers a huge spin at the second corner and stalls. With that the race is over, the only action of note is the steady rise of the two scarlet Ferraris back into the points, although they are lapped by the flying Ligiers outfront. Indeed, Laffite has time to record fastest lap as he cruises home to victory ahead of teammate Depailler, while Reutemann survives a post-race protest to claim third after his controversial push-start on the formation lap. He heads Pironi across the line by half a minute, with the Frenchman the last man on the lead lap ahead of Villeneuve and Scheckter.

 

Jacques Laffite wins (again taking victory, pole and the fastest lap as in Argentina) ahead of his team-mate Patrick Depailler. Carlos Reutemann arrives third at the finishing line, followed by Pironi, Villeneuve and Scheckter. After the race, in the belief that Reutemann could be penalized one minute for pushing at the start, Didier Pironi appears on the podium. Jacques Laffite takes only four hours to take his revenge on Colin Chapman, and for an error of judgement (the Frenchman completes four more laps when the chequered flag is lowered). Two to concentrate before the start and just under another two to take a clear victory.

 

"It was a very hard-fought victory, even though to the public everything looked easy. In practice I had to fight from the first to the last metre. The car became very understeerable after a few laps and keeping it on the track was a real problem".

 

Did Jacques fear at any point that he might have to give up the lead?

 

"Not at all, even though Depailler was closing in and not giving me a moment's respite. His pressure was strong, the same as it would have been from an opponent and not a teammate".

 

How do you feel after this second success?

 

"An immense pleasure, especially towards Chapman. He wanted to disqualify me and I told him before the start that I would give his cars two seconds a lap. That's what happened and I think that's the best response to the British manufacturer's lack of sportsmanship".

 

 

Compliments, hugs and celebrations in the Ligier box are not only for Laffite, but also for Depailler, who completed the French team's day of glory with the second place. Patrick, however, does not appear fully satisfied, his objective was victory. But, with great sincerity, he admits:

 

"There was nothing I could do against Jacques. Throughout the race I tried to attack him without succeeding. Every time I tried to catch him, he took off and within a few laps I was far enough away that I couldn't stay in his slipstream. Moreover, my car was not perfect because it understeered and was very difficult to drive".

 

The success of the French drivers is completed by Didier Pironi's fourth place. The driver, who is of Italian origin (his parents are from Friuli), after an initial mistake that cost him an off track in an attempt to overtake Scheckter, made a good comeback:

 

"I met many difficulties in the first laps because with full tanks my Tyrrell was too slow in the narrow bends".

 

If Depailler has to be demoralized, Ligier could count on a less valid driver. However, this does not seem to be the problem of Ducarouge's team at the moment. The Ligier sporting director is convinced that this superiority demonstrated in the first two tests of the year will continue in the coming races.

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"We will go stronger than everyone, on all circuits. Fast or menu fast, full of straights or corners. Our car has no rivals at the moment".

 

A negative day for the Lotus, in contrast to the amazing march of the two Ligiers. Andretti states:

 

"A blacker day could not have happened to me. A fuel pump diaphragm failure created a fuel leak and the trouble started. It's a pity, because at least I could have got a place".

 

The fifth and sixth places for the Ferraris are very difficult. After a good start, the two 312 T-3s never had the necessary grip on the asphalt because of the tyres. Engineer Forghieri explains:

 

"At the halfway point of the race we were losing about six seconds per lap to the others. Then we changed tyres and things went better, so much so that we were able to make up some of the lost ground at the end".

 

The interest of the Brazilian public was kept alive by the idol of the house, Emerson Fittipaldi, who in the first few laps, using all the resources of his trade, managed to stay close to the leaders.

 

"I was hoping to repeat last year's race but at one point I had to stop in the pits because the right rear wheel was vibrating a lot. It was probably due to the rim not fitting perfectly into the hub".

 

This explanation raised a few eyebrows as Fittipaldi had started on very soft tyres to try and surprise his rivals. The two Italian drivers who started the race were also without much glory. Riccardo Patrese, with an economical race, finished ninth.

 

"I couldn't do otherwise, because as the laps went by the chassis of my Arrows began to vibrate, so much so that at the end I couldn't see the track clearly anymore".

 

Elio De Angelis, with a car put together with makeshift parts, finished twelfth:

 

"My aim was to finish the race, as I couldn't expect more from a car in such conditions. On top of that, the engine dropped a lot and everyone was passing me on the straights".

 

In the aftermath of the race, there was no shortage of controversy surrounding the only minor incident that occurred during the race. Frenchman Patrick Tambay was the first to spark off the discussion, and after arriving at the pits on foot, he blamed Regazzoni for the collision:

 

"He closed in on me while I was trying to overtake him".

 

The Swiss's version is different:

 

"Tambay must be honest and explain the facts as they really happened: he tried to pass me on the inside after I had already set the corner. He didn't realise he was making a mistake and ended up against my car, crashing into me and compromising my race".

 

Not a Grand Prix passes by without controversy. After the accident in Buenos Aires and Watson's punishment, now the Reutemann case. The Argentinean driver risked compromising his third place in the race because of an episode that occurred at the start. His Lotus did not start during the reconnaissance lap and the mechanics were forced to push it out. This provoked an immediate reaction from the other teams, who lodged a complaint against Carlos. The protest was officially launched first by Copersucar and then by Ferrari. The rules would punish the culprit by moving to last place on the grid. Since this measure was not taken at the start of the race by the stewards, the same stewards did not consider it necessary to apply the one-minute penalty or even the disqualification of Reutemann requested in the complaints of Copersucar and Ferrari. There’s a lot of discussion about this affair and for a long time after the end of the race it’s not known whether Reutemann would have been classified third or fourth, so much so that on the podium, in third place, at first, Frenchman Pironi climbs up. Even at the Lotus box Reutemann's wrong start caused some confusion. For the entire duration of the race Chapman signalled to his driver that he was in fourth place, as if he had already considered the one-minute penalty confirmed.

 

This time Ligier scored a one-two. As had happened four times last year for Lotus, the two Ligiers crossed the line first and second, winning the Brazilian Grand Prix after winning the Argentinean one. The success went to Jacques Laffite, in the lead from the beginning to the end, ahead of Patrick Depailler, who always held the second place without ever being threatened by his rivals. In practice, the race lived on in the fight for the back positions even if, after climbing onto the winner's podium, Laffite declared that his was a suffered victory, as his car had complained of oversteer problems right from the start. In fact, the Ligiers gave the impression of having no rivals; who knows what they would have done had they been perfectly tuned.

 

Taking more than a second a lap lead over the fastest of the chasers, Carlos Reutemann in the Lotus, the French cars immediately pulled away behind them, as if they had an extra gear. At the end of the race only four drivers were at full speed, all the others lapped. The response from the track awarded third place to a very regular Reutemann, even though the Argentine risked being relegated one position due to a one-minute penalty, which was later withdrawn.

 

The win of Laffite and the second place of Depailler are completed by Didier Pironi's placing in the fourth position at the wheel of the Tyrrell. An authentic triumph for the French colours with three drivers of avant-garde and the confirmation that the future will reserve them other satisfactions. Behind Pironi, the two Ferraris, with Villeneuve and Scheckter in the order. A quite positive result on a practical level for the old 312 T-3, but Gilles and Jody could never fight with the best ones. A forced choice of Michelin tyres (the track conditions imposed to use only a certain type of tyre) made the two Italian cars very slow in the fastest part of the circuit in the first part of the race and the pit stop to change the tyres was only useful to recover some positions towards the end of the race. The race, run almost entirely under the sun, mitigated however by a rather cold wind (just before the start some drops of rain had fallen), did not offer - not only because of the obvious superiority of the Ligiers - many emotions.

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With Andretti withdrawn from the race since the first lap, with Jarier stopped even before the start, the Brazilian Grand Prix had few cues of liveliness and lived above all on the cheering of the huge public, divided between Fittipaldi and Reutemann, who had attracted many Argentine fans. There were also some interesting duels that blossomed at the back, but without any significance for the final result. However, there was no lack of twists and turns, the first of which led to the premature elimination of the reigning World Champion.

 

As soon as the grid was formed, just before 2:00 pm, the Lotus mechanics intervened on the car of the Italian-American who had complained of engine problems on the transfer from the pits to the track. The spark plugs were changed and everything seemed fine when, at the signal to start the engines, a big flame was seen under the Lotus #1. The mechanics ran off and, of course, the fire brigade followed with fire extinguishers. The start of the fire was immediately put out, but the powder used to put it out caused irreparable damage to Mario's car. In fact, at the start Andretti was immediately delayed and then was forced to stop on the second lap when he was in third position.

 

While Laffite and Depailler began their escape, the Brabham-Alphas immediately left the scene. Nelson Piquet put on a show for five laps, climbing a few positions and then pitted as planned. The young Brazilian took the start just to please his fans, as his physical condition (he had a sore foot, a consequence of the accident in Baires) would not have allowed him to complete the race. Unfortunately, however, Piquet's retirement was followed by Lauda's, who lost a lot of positions in a few passages. As soon as he got out of the car, the Austrian explained that he had gearbox problems and was unable to engage fourth and fifth gears. Together with the two drivers of the Anglo-Italian team, Jarier retired, who broke the engine of his Tyrrell; after a while also Hunt disappeared from the scene, whose Wolf reported a steering failure, and Tambay, who went off the track because of a collision with Regazzoni.

 

Since the first stages of the race it was clear that Ferraris wouldn't have made much progress in the very first positions. Scheckter, who had started well enough, was overtaken by Fittipaldi at the end of the only straight of the Interlagos circuit. However, this overtaking has an explanation. The Brazilian champion had tried everything to please his home crowd and had mounted weather tyres that were much faster than race tyres. His exploit, up to fourth place, lasted until lap 22, when he had to stop to change his tyres. The Ferraris also suffered the same fate. Scheckter maintained the fifth position until the ninth passage and then, after being overtaken by Fittipaldi, he was also overtaken by Pironi. The French driver, in his enthusiasm, crashed into a guardrail, but his car wasn't damaged and he could go on undaunted, placing fourth, behind the two Ligiers and the Lotus driven by Reutemann.

 

Nevertheless, the fifth and sixth places obtained by Villeneuve and Scheckter satisfied Ferrari. With two old cars, one could not ask for more and, after all, the times obtained in practice were confirmed in the race, when Laffite had set the fastest lap followed by Depailler, Reutemann, Andretti and the two Ferrari drivers. If the Martini-Lotus number one hadn't been stopped by a breakdown at the start, the order of practice would probably have exactly reflected the race order for the first six places. Going back to Ferrari, however, apart from the positive results, which were determined more by Gilles' and Jody's commitment, by the technicians and above all by the mechanics (eighteen seconds to change the four tyres on the Canadian's car), than by the car, there was still the big problem of the tyres. This time, Michelin, which had come out on top on other tracks, miscalculated the composition of its tyre compound. Engineer Forghieri and the drivers were already aware of this fact on the eve of the Brazilian Grand Prix, even though it was not made public. Mauro Forghieri reveals:

 

"We already knew before the start that we would probably have to stop to change the tyres. The compounds wore out too quickly and the prediction turned out to be correct. Now we just have to hope that this problem will be fixed as soon as possible. On the new T4 the problem could be solved more easily. I use the condlzlonal because when you try something new, there are always unknowns. We just have to work and have faith".

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Forty-four seconds to Lotus, a minute and a half to Tyrrell, eight kilometres to Ferrari on the Interlagos circuit. A first and a fourth place in Argentina, a winning combination in Brazil. This is the balance of Ligier-Gitanes after the first two races of the Formula 1 world championship. Not even the Lotus of last year or the Ferrari of Lauda's titles had managed to get off to such a flying start. Jacques Lalfite, with two complete successes, favoured by the new regulations that consider valid four results on each of the two groups of eight races in which the championship has been divided, already has 25 per cent of the title in his hands. That's a lot for a team that started off without much fanfare, considered by all to be competitive but at the same time more of an outsider than a candidate to dominate the season.

 

To celebrate the victory, Ligier offers a party on the terrace of the Hilton on Sunday evening. The weather is cool, the swimming pool, in which the flickering lights of the candles are reflected, gives you the shivers just looking at it. But the atmosphere is warm and cheerful. Friends and foes alike come together to celebrate the French team. There are the men from Renault, those from Lotus, people from Tyrrell and Arrows, together with specialist journalists from all over the world. A sign that these victories have not created too much envy and discontent. Even if, it is clear, everyone is already thinking about revenge.

 

The most striking fact about Ligier is the environment; it is clear that successes help to make everything easier. Gerard Ducarouge's task is simplified, but it must be acknowledged that the team's sporting director has managed to create a good amalgam between drivers, technicians and mechanics. The coexistence between Laffite and Depailler, who both consider themselves winning drivers, is not only harmony: in the race Patrick and Jacques are adversaries. Depailler suffers from his teammate's superiority, but the rivalry is limited to the track. During practice, the two French drivers give each other advice, exchange opinions and technical suggestions. However, at the basis of everything there was the car, the new Ligier JS 11, a wing profile car, according to the dictates of the moment, with original solutions as for suspensions and mechanics in general. Ducarouge calls it the best compromise that could be achieved. And then he says:

 

"Don't think that it's only aerodynamics that make it a winning car. There's something underneath, which perhaps others will discover sooner or later, that has a decisive impact on performance".

 

But there are those who absolutely do not believe the explanation of Ligier's sporting director. Engineer Carlo Chiti, technical manager of Alta Romeo, is convinced that he knows the real secret of the French car, also because he is directly involved in the choice of Ligier's solutions.

 

"The secret of the Ligier is absolutely in the aerodynamics. Apart from the fact that it is a very well built car in all its components, the real reason why it is superior to all its rivals comes from the application of a double wing profile. To put it simply, while other wing cars have two simple boxes, one on each side, to achieve depression and airflow, the French car has applied another internal wing that allows it to exploit the ground effect with thirty per cent more. I say all this with full knowledge of the facts, because it's the same solution we adopted on our Alfa. A year and a half ago we went to Paris, where the Eifel wind tunnel is located, to try out this type of aerodynamics. Six months later, the studies were scrapped and Ligier, having a narrower engine, the Cosworth, was able to develop them, making ailerons about twenty centimetres wider than ours. Obviously now we too, with the sixty degree engine, are developing a bodywork that will have the same characteristics and perhaps an even greater exploitable wing width".

 

Antonio Tomaini, Ferrari's technician, also thinks that Ligier's statements have been made to pull the wool over the eyes of those who are trying to find out what characteristics make Laffite's car unbeatable at the moment.

 

"We have to recognise, however, that the car has been built very meticulously, with top-notch materials. It will be very difficult to prepare a car capable of beating it, especially as the Ligier seems to be able to have the same behaviour and performance on every type of track".

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On the Lotus side, the opinion on Ligier is not far removed from that of Ferrari. It's quite evident, on the contrary, that the World Champion team is under shock for the way the exploit of the white-blue cars happened. Chapman probably thought that his 79 model would be enough to counter any offensive at the start of the season while waiting for the new 80, which will be ready for the Spanish Grand Prix. Peter Collins, the British manufacturer's right-hand man, states in this regard:

 

"At this moment, however, there is nothing we can do. We can only wait. Chapman is convinced that his new car will be able to make progress compared to the Ligier".

 

In the absence of particular aspects to comment on, related to the dispute of the Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix (accidents, moments of particular emotion, surprises and revelations), on Monday 5 February 1979 the Brazilian newspapers dwell today on the Reutemann-Fittipaldi case that left the Formula 1 world in suspense for over an hour, after the end of the race. Carlos Reutemann, today Lotus' number two driver, is in fact at the centre of a protest made by Copersucar - Emerson Fittipaldi's team - which, appealing to the regulations, had asked for a minute's penalty for the Argentinean driver. It was only after an hour and a quarter that the four race commissioners called upon to examine Copersucar's appeal confirmed Reutemann's final position, placing him third, with a total of ten points in the championship standings.

 

According to Copersucar's complaint, Reutemann's Lotus had been pushed by mechanics at the start and, since Emerson Fittipaldi was only a few seconds behind the Argentinean driver, Copersucar had already delivered its appeal at the beginning of the fifth lap, hoping to obtain a penalty against Reutemann from which the Brazilian driver would have benefited. Instead, it was found that Reutemann, although pushed at the start of the preliminary lap, had then switched off the engine and restarted regularly. While the stewards (two Brazilians, a Frenchman and an Argentinean), gathered in the control tower, were trying to interpret the FIA's yellow book of regulations, Reutemann and Colin Chapman were backed by an important ally, Ken Tyrrell, who would ultimately have benefited from a negative verdict for Reutemann, given that Fittipaldi had had to return to the pits, midway through the race. declares Ken Tyrrell:

 

"This is an unfair punishment, which is why Lotus has my full support".

 

Reutemann, for his part, more surprised than indignant, had limited himself to commenting ironically:

 

"They had to wait forty laps to make a decision?"

 

For his part, the race director, Mario Patti, claimed that no one had informed him of the alleged irregularities in Reutemann's Lotus:

 

"After the start no commissioner detected any improprieties by the Lotus, I think Reutemann should not be penalised".

 

After having been on the podium as third, Didier Pironi, of Tyrrell, had apologised for having taken Reutemann's place without waiting for the official result of the meeting. Ferrari had also decided to protest about Reutemann's third place, claiming that in order to line up on the grid, he had overtaken several drivers, which is not allowed. But since the cars had already returned to the pits, the stewards rejected the protest of the Italian team, and the Argentinean driver was able to celebrate his third place.

 

The fastest cars of the moment, Ligier's blue beasts, are born in a small workshop on the edge of the countryside in central France. You get there by leaving behind you Vichy, decadent in the decaying whiteness of its spas, today this provincial town that softens the heavy memories of the occupation and the collaborationist government. Continue for just a few kilometres, past the new residential suburbs, a hypermarket, a few industrial sheds, and you come to the sign on the side of the road: Ligier, quite simply. A few metres inside, a low office building screens off a couple of massive warehouses. In front of the first one are the bodies of the Renault tractor cabs, and inside are a few dozen workers. To find the racing cars, you have to go through another small door at the back and enter a large room the size of a suburban mechanic's workshop.

 

In the few square metres, two old Ligier-Matras that raced in 1978 are lined up. Very few workers are around, a few technicians in blue shirts look out from inside a wooden stand waiting for the arrival of the two cars that have racked up resounding successes in South America, mortifying the old and new aristocracy of motor racing, from Ferrari to Lotus. The protagonist of this extraordinary adventure, Guy Ligier, is in his office, between a phone call and an interview, lifting his wrinkled face to accommodate a cameraman. Orphaned at the age of eight, butcher's apprentice at the age of fourteen, correspondence student for as long as he could, then rugby player and rowing enthusiast until he discovers engines. First, of course, the antechamber of the poor: the motorbike, with which he begins to race, and well too, because he wins a French championship with a Norton 500. Then he discovers the car, supported by the money he’s making with a road works company that he has built up from nothing by dint of his own efforts. Rallying, circuit racing: at the Nurburgring in 1966 he has a frightening accident, forty-seven fractures, and the doctors want to cut off one of his legs. He refuses and a few months later starts again.

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But life doesn't spare him any hard knocks: his business fails, his closest friend, fellow car raider Jo Schlesser, kills himself in a Honda in Rouen. He is tough, stubborn and does not give up on life. At forty years of age, he starts fighting again, knocking on doors. At the time of the marriage between Maserati and Citroen, he assembles SMs in his small factory and began to make racing cars: JS, all bearing the initials of his dead friend. But also the collaboration with Maserati enda, unfortunately quickly, when Citroen joins Peugeot.

 

Ligier works for a few years with Matra, which supplies him with racing engines. He feels that he is about to succeed, but the results are late and last year Matra leaves him. He also risks losing the sponsorship of the tobacco company that produces the Gitanes, when the anti-smoking law, which prohibits tobacco advertising, comes into force last year. But this time the wheel of fortune turns well: an amendment saves the combination with the Gitanes, and the company grants him extra funding that allows him to line up two new cars at the start. It is the JS 11s of Laffite and Depailler that win in Argentina and Brazil. Ligier-Gitanes are the first to race with French drivers. Today, France has discovered Ligier, is pampering itself with the miracle-maker, and boasts the French Ferrari.

 

"Ferrari? I wish. But it's not time yet, I don't know the Commendatore personally, as you say, but I have great respect, great admiration for him. His whole life is reflected in his sporting activity. He has won a lot, and he is still there, ready to fight, as always. He's an example, of course, a model, for me too".

 

At forty-nine years of age, his face is marked by wrinkles, his features massive, stubborn as an auvergnat. Guy Ligier is a mixture of Gabin and Ventura, a tough, gruff but genuinely good guy. Which does not mean good-natured. He recounts his life, the years of beatings and disappointments, which today are counterpointed by the joys of success and celebrity. Ligier admits in a disenchanted tone:

 

"People are only willing to help us when you are already good, only when you win. Not before. It's no use fooling yourself, it's the law of life".

 

And to an interviewer he confides:

 

"Look how many people I have around me today, how many friends I have found after years. But in my time of need, when my cars weren't winning, I was alone".

 

Now the telegrams are piling up on his desk, the phone calls are coming in, as are the offers.

 

"It's time to add another sponsor to the Gitanes, after ten years we are now starting to collect. But let's not delude ourselves, I always tell my drivers, my collaborators: we are winning now, but the others are not just watching us. They are working to beat us. It's now that things become more difficult, we were the surprise of the season, but it's up to us to confirm these first victories. We have to work twice as hard as the others to keep the initial advantage".

 

Don't you think you have already won the world championship?

 

"But no, absolutely, we expect the reaction of Lotus, Ferrari, the others working to catch up. We can still improve our cars, our drivers are good, but nothing is decided yet".

 

Guy Ligier remains cautious, guarded, defensive. But what is the technical secret of his cars: the aerodynamics, the engine, the grip?

 

"Our secret is made up of a combination of things, of details, of meticulously studied details. Of course we have followed the Lotus experience and improved it, the shape of our car has been studied on the basis of experience in a Parisian laboratory, the Ford Cosworth engine gives excellent results, the Goodyear tyres are excellent. But it is the care of the whole, the team work, of our small team of 34 people, that constitutes the secret and the soul of both the 2500 pieces of which the car is composed and the victories".

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In fact, what is most striking is the artisanal dimension of Ligier, at least the one found in Vichy. Around the owner there are two engineers, two draughtsmen, a designer, two pilots, a dozen mechanics and less than twenty workers. There are just over two hundred employees (including those who make tractor cabs). Ligier's two children also work in the factory: the boy, Philippe, is in charge of the plastic bodies, the girl. The girl, Pascale, works as an telephonist. It is a structure almost on a family scale that accentuates the Ligier miracle, although the contributions of Cosworth, the Parisian wind tunnel specialists and perhaps (again) Matra cannot be underestimated. Is it true that Ligier does not follow the races directly in order to save money? How much does he pay his drivers?

 

"We have an annual budget of 10.000.000 francs, which is less than that of other manufacturers. There is very little to splurge on. It's also true that I didn't go to South America to avoid spending money, and I'm unlikely to go to South Africa in March. As for the salaries of Laffite and Depailler, it's true that they don't earn what the other teams pay. But I provide them with cars with which they can win Grand Prix. And so they can also make money".

 

What is your dream today?

 

"To win the world title, but it's still too early to talk about that. And it seems like a dream. And then to be able to continue making Formula 1 cars, because that's the only possible formula for a manufacturer-craftsman like me. If the racing cars go well, I hope to find a car manufacturer so that I can make a commercial car with him that bears my name".

 

For the moment, his team is reduced to a forklift for testing, the cars of Laffite and Depailler and a fourth, under construction, with the last of the money. A French miserliness that is more than obligatory. Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 World Champion, has long been a public relations man. As such, he is in Turin on Tuesday 13 February 1979 to attend the presentation of a new plant and product line by Sabelt Britax. What does he think of Ligier's exploit?

 

"I think that this supremacy arrived a bit by chance, in the sense that Ligier found the ideal combination of mechanics and aerodynamics, elements that are difficult to synchronise. Let's not forget that the experience of the engineers who produced the Matra is behind them".

 

Do you think Ferrari has a chance to counter Ligier?

 

"Many. The season has just started and it is likely that the French cars will not be able to repeat the successes of the first two races. For this year it's difficult for them to improve any more, whereas Ferrari and Lotus will be hard at work, I won the world titles in alternate years: this means that it always takes a period of time to bring a car to competitive levels".

 

His opinion on Scheckter and Villeneuve?

 

"Jody is the potential winner of all races. I like Villeneuve, he is making his bones. He makes mistakes, but he is intelligent and gains experience from his mistakes".

 

The Scottish driver, who continues to be actively involved in the sector with enthusiasm and undoubted competence (he is a commentator for a major American television channel), has always been committed to racing safety. His judgement is still relevant today. Above all, it is an objective judgement. So, changing the subject, he is asked for his opinion: what has changed in terms of safety for racers?

 

"Today it is much worse, because there is no group discipline. There is no respect for the collective, nor a leader among the drivers. When Fangio, Moss and Clark were around, their supremacy automatically made them the moral leaders of the drivers. There was also the Grand Prix Drivers Association, which, when I left racing, was very powerful and managed to make every driver responsible. Back then there was no cheating, now...".

 

Fulvio Conti


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