On Wednesday 21st, February 1979, almost every formula 1 team begins to test in Kyalami, where on Saturday 3rd of march, 1979, there will be the South African Grand prix, third round of the world championship. It’s a warm day, with a temperature between 24 and 26 °C (38-40 °C on the asphalt), the best time is from Gilles Villeneuve with an old Ferrari 312-T3. The Canadian drives with very soft tyres, typical of qualifications, in 1'13"70. This performance is way better than Niki Lauda’s one the previous year (1'14"65), the one that guaranteed him pole position after the official practices. With normal race tyres, though, the fastest man is Mario Andretti with the Lotus 79. The Italian American does a time of 1'13"85, ahead of Lauda with the new Brabham B149 (1’14"22), ahead of Villeneuve (1'14"62), Jabouille with the Renault (1'14"49), Pironi with the Tyrrell (1'15"37), Scheckter with the new Ferrari 312-T4 (1’15"47), Watson with the McLaren (1'16"80) and Fittipaldi with the Copersucar (1'16"90)
With thirty minutes to go to the end of the practices, Niki Lauda, while exiting a corner, loses control of his car, ending up spinning. The Austrian is unharmed, while his Brabham has little scratches, having the nose and the steering pull lever broken. About the new Ferrari, the practices made by Scheckter can’t give useful informations. The engineers in Maranello will wait for the next days' training to decide whether to launch the new car or not. During this first phase of practices, Scheckter has problems with the butterfly valve, that blocks the gas at the end of the main straight. The Sudafrican, after a scary heeling, manages to avoid going off track by switching the engine off.
On Thursday February 22nd, 1979, during the second lap of free practice on the south African circuit, Jody Scheckter, driving the new Maranello car, gets not only the best time of the day, but manages to improve the best lap of the track, originally made by Gilles Villeneuve on Friday with the T3. At the 1'13"70 of the Canadian, Scheckter responds with a 1'12"93, approached by Jabouille that brings the Renault turbo to 1'13"06. None of the other drivers engaged in training manage to get down to these levels. Jody’s result confirms that the aerodynamic and mechanical solutions adopted on the T4 (ground effect and internal rear suspension) are valid and that the chances of the new car proving competitive are considerable. At this point it is almost obvious that the T4, led by Scheckter, will debut in the race on Saturday 3 March 1979 for the dispute of the Grand Prix from South Africa.
It should be noted, however, that the 312-T4 has achieved the record time with tender tyres, while the other teams for the moment have limited themselves to trying different aerodynamic solutions. In progress, however, also appeared the Brabham-Alfa BT 49 of Niki Lauda. Working hard, the Austrian managed to get down to 1'14"12, marking the fifth time overall. Improvements also for Mario Andretti and Lotus, timed in the fastest lap in 1'13'90. As for the old T3 of Ferrari, Villeneuve repeats the exploit of Wednesday with soft tires and runs in 1'14"20 with the race ones. At the moment, however, there is still no comparison with Ligier. The French team has given up these pre-provers and will be on track only next week.
There has been much talk in recent times of the inconsistency and inability of sporting power in motoring, but the era of chaos and prevarication is about to end. Fabrizio Serena, president of the Italian Automobile Sports Commission and member of the international commission, said this on Friday, February 23, 1979 in Milan. The Fisa (International Automobile Sport Federation, the body that replaced the old CSI) is determined to put things in order and to take back those prerogatives that compete. Serena, former central director of Amalia, with a past as a driver (she participated in four Mille Miglia), is very clear. Basically, it attacks everyone, and hard. In the sights of the president of the CSAI are passed the Foca, the Ferrari, the Automobile Club of Bologna and also Jean-Marie Balestre, president of the same Fisa.
"With the statement issued in recent days in Modena, in which he asked for autonomy in the organization of participation in the world championship, the Seal has discovered its true face. In other words, she wanted to attribute to herself responsibilities that do not belong to her, trying to do only her own interests. All this affirming a hypocritical fidelity to the regulations. We are sorry that Ferrari has lent itself to this game that only aims to make manufacturers earn something more. To get results, the Seal has personally attacked Crossbows that we support even if we have not always shared attitudes and decisions. This is not the way to reverse the situation of anarchy that has occurred in recent times and to return to compliance with the regulations. Among other things, Ferrari was wrong not to appeal the complaint filed at the Brazilian Grand Prix for the irregularities committed by Carlos Reutemann. with Lotus, at the start of the race: we had assured that, in competent place, the acquittal of the Argentine driver would not pass".
Then he adds, regarding the possibility that the Italian Grand Prix could change location:
"I take this opportunity to confirm that the Italian Grand Prix will be held in Monza, as stated in the international calendar. A.C. Bologna did not submit the application within the regulatory period and in any case the tender had already been assigned since 1977 to A.C. Milano. The leaders of Bologna have even committed a serious violation, signing a contract with Mr Ecclestone, as it is the sports authorities to decide on".
In response to the threats of split proffered several times by Seal and some Formula 1 drivers, Serena is categorical.
"The Constructors' Association, as well as the drivers or the organizers, are legally unable to act on their own. In almost all countries, as in Italy, it is the competent bodies, in our case the Automobile Club of Italy, to decide where the races take place. However, this does not mean that there should not be alternation if the regulations are respected. We want to see the statute of the Seal, to know on the basis of which prerogatives certain initiatives are arrogated".
Fabrizio Serena also criticizes critically, assuring that the CSAI has in preparation a project for the regulation of Formula 1 that will be presented internationally. It has certainly become known that a request will be made for the abolition of the famous mini-tyres by 1982.
"We must give the automotive sport credibility, give back to the public the show it asks for, where the human capabilities of the drivers stand out. We want the prohibition of 'ground effect' cars to see drivers driving cars and not be inside uncontrollable bullets. We must reduce the negative effects of racing, increase safety for all, and reduce costs. In short, he must end this period of anarchy that is threatening to kill Formula 1".
The statements made by the president of CSAI, Fabrizio Serena, about the manufacturers' association and Ferrari in Formula 1 and about the Monza-Imola affair, inevitably arouse the reaction of Enzo Ferrari. The manufacturer of Modena comments on the statements of Serena with a short statement.
"The newspapers today report the statements made by the president of the CSAI at the press conference in Milan. To the accusing appreciations that he thought to lavish me with noble abundance I answer with my life as a sport man from 1919 to today. Ferrari does not lend itself to any game; as he has repeatedly stated, it belongs to Foca and will comply with all the decisions that will be taken by the category association. Who is surprised of such belonging forgets that the adhesion of the Ferrari, happened with a year of delay from the constitution of the association, was the consequent necessity of what the leaders of the A. C. Milan, delegated from the A. C. Italy, agreed in Geneva in 1970 without the knowledge of the only Italian competitor in Formula 1. Disqualifications, fines, penalties, lawsuits with uninhibited interpretations of the sports code: this is what the president of the CSAI proposed in the Monza-Imola, whose origins and causes are absolutely not those that he put in evidence. The word fair is over: sportsmen are waiting for the Italian Grand Prix".
Enzo Ferrari responds to the statements of the president of CSAI, Fabrizio Serena (note the finesse: in the statement does not even mention the surname). A combative response, as is the custom of the manufacturer from Modena, who in 1964, at the end of the season, even made his cars race with the colors of the North American Racing Team for a controversy with the CSAI and the CSI of those times. Two important points that Ferrari emphasizes: its Scuderia is part of the Foca (Formula one constructors association) and must, therefore, follow its lines: the genesis of the conflict between Monza and Imola - and the manufacturer has a wide and detailed documentation about it - is not the one indicated by Serena, that is at the base there are no reasons of campanilismo Maranello-lmola, but other causes, related to the lack of those modernizations of the Lombard circuit asked in vain by drivers and manufacturers. In order not to follow the Foca road, Ferrari should leave the association: it would impose a minimum of consistency.
But would it be worth it, at least from the manufacturer’s point of view? No, obviously, for economic, sporting reasons, to protect the interests of the team. In the past, moreover, Ferrari was forced to join the group due to the mistakes and the lack of support of the Italian sports managers, in a situation that then worsened due to the low weight of the CSI. Of course, it is a pity that Ferrari, with its past, with its characteristics as a true car manufacturer, must be linked to the assemblers. A doubt remains: in October there was an attack by Fiat, which in racing represents a sponsor for Ferrari, of which it uses the image for advertising campaigns, against Bernie Ecclestone and the same Foca. Is there a gap between Maranello and Turin?
Returning to the events of the future South African Grand Prix, the free practice ends with another record. Jean-Pierre Jabouille with the Renault Turbo runs in 1'12"55, time of 0.038 seconds lower than the unofficial record obtained on Wednesday by Jody Scheckter with the new Ferrari 312-T4. The Ferrari T4, driven this time by Villeneuve, also fell below the previous limit: the Canadian scored a time of 1'12"83, against 1'12"93 of Scheckter. There are also improvements for Niki Lauda, with the Brabham-Alfa BT 49. The Austrian found a good aerodynamic solution, turning without the front wing, and brought his time to 1'13"94, ahead of Jarier’s Tyrrell (1'14"32), Watson’s McLaren (1'14"34) and Andretti’s Lotus (1'14"48).
The first steps of Ferrari’s new weapon for the Formula 1 World Championship are positive. The 312 T-4, driven in recent days by Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter, has achieved great time, and only during the last session of testing there was someone - Jean Pierre Jabouille with the yellow Renault Turbo - who managed to be faster. An excellent start, which shows how the basic setting of the T4, presented just a month ago in Maranello, is valid. The single-seater applies in an original way the aerodynamic principles so happily studied last year for the first time by Lotus: it is a car with ground effect, but a car that creates a downforce in the rear through its own technical solutions, bypassing the obstacle represented by the Boxer engine. This engine, unlike the V-shaped ones (such as the Cosworth or the 12-cylinder Alla Romeo of Brabham), due to its position, restricts the path of the internal air flows to the body, indispensable, with miniskirts, to get that suction towards the road surface that improves cornering. However, it is worth moderating the enthusiasm, waiting for the results of the real qualifying tests, scheduled in Kyalami Wednesday and Thursday (Friday is traditionally a day of rest, the South Africa Grand Prix will be held on Saturday).
And this for many reasons. First: these are free practices, that is private tests carried out by the various teams, especially to test the tires in view of the race and, more generally, the championship. The 312-T4 uses special tyres, with very soft compounds, to obtain significant time (and to achieve, it is clear, a good position in the starting line of a Grand Prix), but not usable for the duration of a race. Second, Ferrari has Michelin radials, as well as Renault. And, as it happens, Jabouille’s Renault, a test-driver of a good level, but certainly not as good as a Scheckter or a Villeneuve, got the best time. It is a bit 'the counter-test that Michelin brought in South Alrica special tires, trying to fill what last year had been a gap: the lack of tires for some time. Third: Ligier-Cosworth’s absence from Kyalami. The French team, which dominated in the first two races of the Formula 1 championship with Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depailler, has become a reference point for all opponents, more than the loose Lotus, as the JS 11 proved to be the most competitive single-seater of the new generation. However, given these considerations, it remains the brilliant exploit of 3I2-T4. An extra push to make the car debut in Kyalami: Ferrari needs this new creature to gain experience and then present in Europe, in the key period of the championship, a reliable car.
Another hot race for Formula 1: the high temperature will be one of the dominant reasons of the South African Grand Prix, the third round of the World Championship, scheduled for Saturday, March 3, 1979. The 30 C that will presumably hang over the track, during the race that will start at 2:30 pm, in the hottest hours of the day, can have a decisive weight on the final result. Last year, for example, eight drivers were forced to retire due to engine failure, caused by excessive overheating. On that occasion - as you will remember - the race turned into a real elimination test and in the end the poor Ronnie Peterson won, while Riccardo Patrese had to face a burning disappointment. The free practices have already provided interesting indications. The record obtained by Jean Pierre Jabouille with the Renault Turbo (1'12"55) confirms the progress made in a year. The supercharged six-cylinder of Renault is very good in the rarefied air (the Kyalami track is about 1300 meters above sea level), but this is not enough to justify such high improvements.
Environmental situation aside, however, the highlight of the race will be represented by the presence of the Ferrari 312-T4, the first of the anti-Ligier cars to take to the track, waiting for the fearsome Lotus 80. The British car will only debut in the Spanish Grand Prix, on 29 April 1979, after the dispute of the USA West, in Long Beach, where Colin Chapman will race the old cars again. The new Ferrari turned out very well at Kyalami, progressing day by day. Running in for the first time, Jody Scheckter dropped Thursday at 1'12"93 and Friday Gilles Villeneuve slashed the lap time by a tenth. A result that leads the Modena company to send to South Africa a second model, prepared in less than a month: Scheckter and Villeneuve, then, Saturday will probably compete with T4. It cannot be said that Ferrari has already solved all its problems.
The unknowns of the tyres remain, whose performance has affected the results of the Maranello machines both in Argentina and in Brazil. Michelin now seems to be able to provide very fast qualifying tyres: will they be equally effective in the race? Probably, this situation was also determined by the search, between the technicians of Ferrari and those of the French company, for a compromise: not having in South America a competitive car like Ligier or Lotus, it had evidently tried to make up for the deficiencies of the 312-T3 with tires faster but less reliable and subject to too rapid wear. Now it remains to check if with the new single-seater can be used harder tires. In recent days, Villeneuve has highlighted a new problem for Ferrari. The Canadian says that in Argentina and Brazil the engines did not seem as good as in the past.
"The twelve cylinders I used in Brazil was the worst I’ve had the chance to use since I joined the Italian team".
Behind this statement there is unfortunately a human drama: that of the disappearance of the engineer Bussi, the engine specialist kidnapped in Sardinia, of which nothing is known for months. An absence that Ferrari, with the usual reserve that has always distinguished it when it comes to personal events, has never pointed out but that undoubtedly has its weight. A difficult test, therefore, awaits the Ferrari 312-T4. Among the more rigid (and interested) controllers there will also be Ligier. If Jacques Laffite or his team-mate Patrick Depailler can still assert themselves, they will have put a strong mortgage on the world title.
in this sense, Wednesday, February 28, 1979 becomes an important day for Formula 1. In fact, the first official practice - not timed - for the Grand Prix of South Africa, called this year Simba Grand Prix, will be held, in honor of an important factory of French fries that has had the goodness to sponsor the race by pouring 110,000 rand that allow the organizers to satisfy the economic demands of the association builders. The tests, contravening the usual rules, will not be only three hours as it usually happens for other races, but will last from 9:00 am at 4:00 pm, to allow teams who could not make free workouts in the last week to fine-tune the cars.
The importance of these tests is determined by the presence of Ligier, great absent in the past days, when Jabouille with Renault and Scheckter and Villeneuve with the new Ferrari T4 have repeatedly lowered the unofficial track record to the fantastic 1'12"55 obtained from the turbo car of the French driver. If Ligier with Laffitte and Depailler proves that they can do even better, we can only expect a one-way Grand Prix, as happened in Argentina and Brazil. If instead the French cars will remain more or less on the performance of rivals, the speech will become much more interesting. It must be said that Ligier arrived in South Africa apparently very quiet. While the mechanics directed by Gerard Ducarouge yesterday Tuesday morning set up the cars, Laffite and Depailler stay all day in the pool, at Kyalami Ranch, the hotel that hosts most of the circus of Formula 1, sunbathing and bathing. Sign that the two drivers are not so worried about the exploit of the opponents. Says Mauro Forghieri:
"Unfortunately, Ligier has the advantage of being able to make a comparison for everyone. Until they get on track, we won’t know if our progress is enough to be competitive. We, like Renault, have improved by about three seconds on the lap compared to last season. They could also go further. Racing on high ground, however, any value could be changed: so I would not rule out a priori some surprises".
In this regard it is necessary to reveal that after the domination of Ligier in the first two tests of the championship, many teams have already run for cover. This is the case of Tyrrell, Shadow and Ats, which have modified the bodywork of their cars, adopting the dual-wing system (one internal and one external) that seems to be one of the major components for the success of French cars. Also the Arrows has important changes, strengthening the chassis of the cars of Patrese and Mass to avoid the recurrence of the twisting phenomena that had previously occurred. The greatest curiosity, however, concerns the new Ferrari T4 that, based on the first experiences made, have undergone small variations in aerodynamic load ratios, the widening of the slots for cooling and a good tuning of the devices for control and regulation of the roll and pitch. Jody Scheckter says:
"The new car is going faster than the old one, and it can still get better. I am convinced, however, that we will have to try to get the qualifying time straight away tomorrow in the first qualifying session. The Kyalami track is very sensitive to changes caused by oil and rubber depositing on the asphalt".
Villeneuve is of the same opinion, although the Canadian appears slightly more optimistic than his teammate:
"I’m really satisfied, as the T4 has already proven to be significantly faster than the T3, even though we are only at the beginning of development. In practice, the new car has a higher top speed and cornering, as well as a more incisive braking. Much will depend on the tyres that Michelin will provide".
The French tyre manufacturer seems to be recovering. Mr Blanchet, one of Michelin’s managers, confirmed that radial tyres seem more suitable for T4 and also said that in Long Beach, in the next race, will be able to provide completely new type tires that could revolutionize the situation. If there is a certain confidence in the Italian team, the same goes for Brabham-Alfa. Sunday, February 25, 1979 Niki Lauda, coming out of the usual reserve, said he had at last a competitive car.
"In theory, the BT-49 is able to get the pole position, which I believe will be achieved with a time of less than 1'12". We have found the right aerodynamic solutions, we will almost certainly run without the front baffles and with a reduced aileron, which will allow us to make the most of the power of the Alfa engine. It took about two months to develop the car, but now we are really on the right track".
With the Ferraris closer, with the Renault advantaged from the height, with Lauda again at the highest level, and with all the news announced above, today’s tests will therefore assume the appearance of a segnificativo test waiting for the final judgment of the race. Will Ferrari be the real anti-Ligier for the South African Grand Prix? This is a question that can only be answered by Saturday’s race. For the moment the Italian car is among the probable rivals of the French car, winner of the first two Grand Prix of the season. Scheckter and Villeneuve have achieved great times, but there is still no confirmation of the new T-4. The problems concern also and above all tyres. This is an old speech and we will have to get used to the situation. Jacques Laffite, winner of the Argentine and Brazilian Grand Prix, replied:
"Ferrari is always a formidable competitor. When a new car comes out of Maranello, you have to be careful. Italian technicians know how to work well and Ferrari in this field has a tradition that has no equal. However, for this race, since the T-4 is at its debut, I don’t think this will be the car that will worry us the most. I would rather bet my cards on the Renault. It is true that Jabouille never won a race and did not even finish in the very first places. But this, after so many years of work, could be the first time. Renault, powered by a turbo engine, enjoys great advantages in high altitude. And this circuit is at almost 1,800 meters. He has already shown Laffite does not believe that the new in recent days, in free practice, at what levels he will arrive and perhaps improve again".
The value of Renault on the Kyalami track is not a mystery. It is easy to explain the reasons for the exploits obtained by the French car. The turbocharged engine, that is supercharged by a kind of turbine, can be adjusted according to atmospheric conditions and pressure. The other cars, that is those driven by Cosworth engines and Ferrari engines, here lose several horses, as well as the Ligier: you get, from almost 500 horses habitual, up to minimum tips of 410 horsepower. This is the regular lowering of power with which you have to reckon at 1800 meters of altitude. The Renault Turbo, instead, adjusting a greater compression, will be able to keep intact its 500 horses. Now it remains to be seen if the French technicians will be able to obtain the best compromise to look after the endurance of their engine, which has always had problems with distance and has almost never finished the races. If the technicians of the transalpine team know how to regulate the turbo well, perhaps bringing it to 460-470 horses (there will always be about fifty more horses than all rivals), it may be that the engine resists to the end. If the adjustment is done perfectly, it is not excluded that Renault is the big surprise of the South African Grand Prix. Laffite continues:
"Of course we will not stand by and watch. I am convinced that my car and Depailler’s car on this circuit will also be able to say their word. The car is perfect, so much so that we didn’t even want to come to the free practice. We preferred to work in the workshop to prepare perfect machines. And I think my mechanics have succeeded. Today, however, we will see the results of this work. I hope that the South African Grand Prix will once again be a battle between me and my friend Depailler".
Two Ferrari drivers ahead of everyone. This is the result of the first official day of the South African Grand Prix, dedicated for six very long and exhausting hours, under a fierce heat, to free practice. Gilles Villeneuve gets the best time with 1'12"99, preceding Jody Scheckter who scored a time of 1'13"62. Laffite followed with Ligier, Jabouille with Renault, Lauda with Brabham-Alfa and Andretti with Lotus. A surprise double for the new T4 made in Maranello, although in private training last week the Italian cars had already announced significant progress. It is still early to rejoice and it is not said that the situation does not change on Thursday or Friday, when the cars will take to the track for the official qualifying. But the satisfaction remains for this confirmation from the time trial, with all the competitors on the circuit. The T4 is the destination of an authentic pilgrimage by all the drivers and technicians of the Formula 1 circus, who admire the solidity of the construction, the simplicity of the line and the new technical solutions.
The car is not beautiful ("...is the ugliest we have ever built, aesthetically speaking", said Enzo Ferrari during the presentation at Maranello), it looks almost like an amphibious car, but obviously has the skills to go strong. The T4 gives the impression of being attached to the ground and having a considerable acceleration both along the curve and at the exit. Also as top speed the new Ferrari rises to the best levels, very close to Renault, which is the only one to exceed 265 km/ h in the middle of the longest straight, in front of the pits. The times obtained by the two Italian cars force all the other teams to work thoroughly, but in the majority the rivals of Ferrari have several problems: Laffite complains of a considerable oversteer of his car, while his teammate Depailler makes the suspension change completely. Laffite asked Goodyear to have the same tyres that had allowed him to win in Argentina and Brazil, as those used in practice were too soft. Confirmation Andretti:
"It’s true, these tyres do not allow us to tighten the trajectories but they make us drift in the corner. Hopefully today we will get more solid tires".
In an attempt to score a good time, Reutemann in the middle of the tests ends up spinning but gets away with a bit of fright without damage to the car. Problems also for Renault, which uses the engines used in the past week and ends up having Jabouille stuck for almost all the tests due to the breakdown of the turbo. Friday the fight will come alive with the official timed tests, which will take place from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Ferrari hopes to improve even more, because in the overall good news has also included the one concerning Michelin tires. It seems that the radial tires have much less wear on the T4 than on the old T3, ensuring the dispute of a whole race without changes, as had happened previously.
The battle of the times for the starting line-up will have, as usual, also the tyres as protagonists. It will be interesting to see Goodyear’s response. Among the candidates to enter the top positions there is also Niki Lauda, who in practice got the fifth time proving that the new BT-49 could be competitive. The Austrian’s car took to the track without the front mustache and many immediately imitated it. Ferrari itself, with Ligier and Lotus, tries similar solutions. But all had to resume the previous original aerodynamics because without front wings the cars go stronger in the straight but lose too much in the mixed part. Lauda says he is satisfied with the car, but seems very upset.
"I have it with Alfa Romeo, because it wants to make the Alfa-Alfa debut in Zolder in May. Instead, we had a gentlemen’s agreement so that this would not happen before July. As far as I’m concerned, the relations between us are over".
Evidently the former World Champion believes that the commitment of the Milanese industry on two fronts can damage it. In response to this outburst, engineer Chiti, responsible for Autodelta, states:
"It is not sure that we will Debutteremo to Zolder also, if our president Massacesi gave us permission. Lauda can rest assured, however, as we will continue to help him as we have always done".
The controversy is rather heated, as the one between the sporting authorities and the Constructors' Association remains open. The members of the Seal met this afternoon to examine the situation. For now, no official announcements have been issued, but it is easy to predict a hard counterattack to the president of the Fisa. Balestre, after the latter had reaffirmed his and Automobil Club’s right to choose the circuits on which the Grand Prix will be held.
The joys of Enzo Ferrari have given a big displeasure to Guy Ligier, the French manufacturer who came to see his drivers, Laffite and Depailler, dominate the first free practice of the South African Grand Prix. But his cars and drivers had to bow to the superiority, albeit momentary, of the new Ferrari 312-T4. It was known that the Italian cars could have been fast, because last week’s training had already made it clear that the new car made by engineer Forghieri had achieved fantastic times. But no one expected the dominance to be so clear-cut that the Ligiers would have to struggle to keep up with the T4 speeds. Laffite, at the end of the tests, is quite discouraged:
"I did everything, but I couldn’t get to the Ferraris. My car had a lot of oversteer problems and the tyres weren’t right. If the Goodyear does not provide me in the official tests of the best tires, more suitable for this track, against Villeneuve and Scheckter there will not be much to do".
The problem of tyres is always the order of the day in Formula 1. The ups and downs between Michelin and Goodyear follow each other in the race. The Anglo-American team started well in the first two Grands Prix, in Argentina and in Brazil, it seems to be doing just as well in France, which at 1800 seems to have found the right solution for compounds and construction on the South African track. A battle in the battle, therefore, that will make even more interesting these three days dedicated to the third round of the 1979 World Championship. Which tyres will last longer? The first indications say Michelin. The French radials have adapted perfectly to the new ground-effect car built in Maranello and are no longer consumed as in previous races. The ratio - according to Michelin technicians - between the previous performances and the current ones is even 1 to 10: that is if before a tire lasted four laps now can support a race of forty. The battle, however, is just beginning, because surely already on Thursday Laffite and the rest of the competitors will return to the reverse. Pole position will be sought under the time of 1'12"0. Those who succeed in the feat will have the chance to start in the front row in the race on Saturday.
Lotus felt it was still too soon to debut their new Lotus 80 design, which was set to take over from their Championship winning, and ground-effect pioneering, Type 79s. Indeed, the only change for Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann would be a new set of stickers on the sides of their green machines, with Colin Champman signing a deal with ESSEX, an emerging conglomerate of oil companies. However, it was soon clear that Andretti's car was a new 79 chassis, the fifth 79 to be constructed, with the American's old car becoming the spare and hence meant that the original Lotus 79 could officially be sold-off to privateer Héctor Rebaque. Tyrrell, meanwhile, would be busy developing updates to their 009s, with designed Maurice Phillippe adding some new deflectors to the sidepods, akin to those on the Ligier JS11s. Their driver line-up of Jean-Pierre Jarier and Didier Pironi remained unchanged, while most of the rest of their cars was untouched prior to an impending suspension update. There was, however, no news of a major switch to a full ground-effect design, with the 009 seemingly competitive despite being half-way between the conventional and revolutionary.
Elsewhere, McLaren hoped that their newest M28 would solve their dreadful top-end speed, appearing far narrower and slightly shorter than its elder sisters. The new car was issued to Patrick Tambay, with John Watson retaining his original car, although with no running prior to the weekend it remained to be seen whether the modifications would make any difference. Indeed, the Marlboro backed squad also arrived with a variety of mismatching spares in their pursuit of pace, with a number of different front wings at hand. Over at Fittipaldi there was news of a new car, with the much-hyped F6 ready to make its debut with Emerson Fittipaldi at the wheel. Another rather odd looking creation, most of Ralph Bellamy's time had been spent on improving aerodynamic performance at the rear of the car, resulting in a shuttlecock like design, aided by the floor-scraping nose. The Brazilian squad only had one of the new F6s on hand, however, and would run Fittipaldi's usual F5A as both a spare and a means of comparison.
Another team with a new car were found in the surprising form of Ensign, with the new N179 penned by Morris Nunn a complete contrast to the new Fittipaldi. Nunn's design threw most of the radiators and cooling systems at the front of the car, creating a relatively tall front end that was meant to allow air to flow underneath and to the side of the car better than if the clutter was moved back. A novel design, only time would tell if Derek Daly could muscle the car around better than the N177 which had been retained as the team's spare. There was no news of change at Renault, with the French firm only announcing their intentions to run a twin-turbocharged car in the near future, a direct challenge to FISA and their recent declarations. Indeed, so focused were the French squad on engine development for the new RS10, that there was no sign that the new car would have ground-effect at all. Regardless, their duo of Jean-Pierre Jabouille and René Arnoux would use the team's venerable trio of RS01s in South Africa, which remained ferociously fast and fragile.
Elsewhere, Arrows had built another new A1 for Riccardo Patrese to drive, with his old car being cannibalised to rebuild Jochen Mass' car once again. Wolf, meanwhile, had busied themselves further copying the Lotus 79 for James Hunt to drive, a new nose appearing that was almost identical to the 79's, while Williams were as they were in Brazil with Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni at the wheel. Merzario arrived with their unchanged pair of cars for the eponymous Arturo Merzario, while Shadow were struggling on with their outdated equipment and inexperienced pairing of Elio de Angelis and Jan Lammers. ATS also made the trip to the African continent, having built a new D2 for Hans-Joachim Stuck to race. Completing the field would be Brabham-Alfa Romeo, with their trio of new BT48s already looking completely different to how they appeared in Argentina. Indeed, with Mr. Ecclestone distracted with FOCA, Gordon Murray had been left to throw anything he could think of to improve the performance of the design, resulting in new canard fins on the front wing, a narrower front wing and new engine mounting brackets. Furthermore, Niki Lauda had been gaining more confidence in the updated car after a series of tests, while teammate Nelson Piquet was fully fit and equipped with a new BT48 after his accidents in Argentina and Brazil.
Thursday 1 March 1979, what was supposed to be a tough fight, turns into a real battle, no holds barred. The first day of official timed practice of the South African Grand Prix kicks off an uncertain and exciting dance of record on the lap, with a balance that has not been found for a long time in Formula 1. The first round is won by cars with Michelin tyres, but the situation is still fluid and something could change in the time that the drivers will have Friday from 2:00 at 3:00 pm for the last qualifying. For the moment, however, the French company dictates law with the Renault Turbo in first position, and the two Ferraris to follow. Parisian thirty-six-year-old Jean-Pierre Jabouille still improved the unofficial track record, bringing it to 1'11"8, a time that means an average of more than 205 km/h. The exploit of the supercharged car was in the air and easily predictable. Thanks to the possibility of adjusting the compressor according to atmospheric pressure, Renault has kept almost intact its horses, while all other engines suffer the altitude of the circuit and lose a good twenty percent of their power.
This explains the secret of Jabouille’s performances, which in the straight reaches a speed of more than ten kilometers higher than that of all rivals. The temporary pole position of the Renault Turbo comes at a very delicate time for the transalpine state car company, which has lately been involved in heavy controversy and accused by public opinion of spending too much on racing. It was above all the recent victories of the artisan Ligier, who is struggling in economic difficulties, that gave the start to the process to the team led by former driver Gerard Larrousse. Behind the Renault were firmly placed the two Ferrari T4. Scheckter scored a time of 1'12"04 and Villeneuve just 0.03 seconds more. The Canadian said that he could also have fallen below 1'12"0 if in his fastest lap he had not had difficulty overtaking Fittipaldi. At the end of the test, the engineer Forghieri was however cautious in making pre-visions:
"We did very well, but we will have to see how the race tyres will go".
Speaking of tires, it has been said that Michelin won this first clash with Goodyear. Engineer Forghieri would have liked to have had many more qualifying tyres available, arguing that the French manufacturer has delivered only two sets per car. Instead, Michelin says they have given a dozen sets for each of the T4. Evidently there must have been some misunderstanding between the two partners, which in any case does not disturb the atmosphere of collaboration between the house of Maranello and the French. The problems with tyres also affect the work of the other teams. Everyone admits that even Goodyear is not too generous in distributing tyres. But the Anglo-American company is not going to throw away too many millions of dollars for the races and has asked Foca to reduce the time for training in order to limit expenses.
"If I had better tyres on my car, I could have done better. I am still in a good position to win again".
Laffite declares at the end of these first qualifying tests. but about the French cars, the news leaked Wednesday evening, according to which Ligier used an illicit system to improve its performance (with the adoption of special injectors on the feeding trumpets that someone claimed brought oxygen to the engine), leads to outrage Guy Ligier.
"This is talk from the aisle. All nonsense. If someone has the courage to claim officially, will be shamed by the technical examination. We created this system only to lighten the weight of the car, replacing it with the traditional electric pump. The injectors bring gasoline".
Ligier also claims to believe in the possibility of another victory with his car, and admits to considering only Brabham-Alfa and Lotus as dangerous rivals, while he does not have much confidence in the new Ferrari. In fact, the new Alfa BT-49 of Niki Lauda is very fast and with the Austrian driver gets the fourth time, stopping the chronometer hands just 0.032 seconds from Renault.
"The car is getting perfect, and I’m very happy".
Lauda, however, is also the luckiest among the drivers who use the Goodyear, because he can use his tires and also those of his teammate Piquet. However, there is no doubt that the Brabham-Alfa has made incredible progress and that the Austrian can be included among the favorites again. The best times are obtained by almost all riders in the morning, when the sky is overcast and the temperature mild. Then, when the sun comes out, no one can repeat significant results. This means that if Friday is hot and the weather is good, the current starting line-up can hardly be changed. Among the Italians Patrese will remain in the fourteenth position, and De Angelis (who for the locking of the brakes went to crash right at the end of the tests) in nineteenth place. And if nothing changes, the race will exclude Daly and Merzario who have got the worst times.
The great moment of Renault has therefore arrived. For the first time the French car got the best time in official practice and everything suggests that the last qualifying scheduled for Friday afternoon does not change the situation. Jabouille’s car therefore risks starting on pole position in the South African Grand Prix, the third round of the World Championship. A French car, the Ligier, is replaced by another always produced in the Transalpine nation, the Renault, always with a national driver. A very favorable period for the French colors, which dominate in Formula 1 after a long English and Italian dominance. The Renault is a car powered by a turbo engine, that is supercharged, of 1500 cubic centimeters, and is the only one to have adopted with great courage this system, which guarantees superior performance but at the same time causes problems of sealing the distance. Just the tightness of the engine will be the biggest concern for Jabouille who had so far had a few opportunities to get to the first places in the previous races, but had always had to abandon precisely for the failure of the engine. Now Jean Pierre is quieter:
"The machine has become more reliable, although in truth our technicians have not worked on it anymore. We are all engaged in the preparation of the new ground-effect car that will probably debut in Spain. It would still be great to close the career of this car with a victory. You can go to the museum with a decoration at least".
The chances of Renault winning the race tomorrow, however, are not great. The time obtained by Jabouille does not protect him from the safe attacks of Ferrari, who obtained the second and third time with Scheckter and Villeneuve, and from those of Ligier with Laffite, Brabham Alfa with Lauda, Tyrrell with Pironi and Lotus with Andretti. Everyone will give their best and, battle in the battle - as has already been said - there will be a real struggle between the tyre brands. The tires in fact will be deteminant for the race and no one dares at the moment to make predictions on the endurance of Michelin or the reliability of Goodyear.
All the teams, more or less, in recent days have complained about the issue of tires. Drivers would like to change tires every three laps to see that they get better performance, but the manufacturing industries are trying to curb this ever-increasing consumption trend of tires. A racing tyre for Formula 1 costs about 100 pounds to produce, without calculating the charges due to transport and tuning work. As a result, calculating that a machine normally consumes at least ten sets of covers on a day of testing, one can think of the prohibitive cost of workouts. The Goodyear among other things in recent days has placed an ultimatum to this trend:
"If you do not reduce your training hours, we will no longer be able to provide tires to the teams that are engaged with our service. We will have to change the system: either they will pay for the tyres or they will be satisfied with what we will give them".
The ultimatums that drivers certainly did not like, especially Laffite who demands from Goodyear a greater collaboration after the victories obtained in Argentina and Brazil.
"If I had more tyres, I would certainly have gotten a better time. But with a few tyres available I could not do more because when I tried my record on the lap I found myself hindered by a couple of other competitors. However, do not think that the Ligier period is already over. Tomorrow we will prove that our car is still able to win. The opponents who make us more afraid, however, are the Brabham-Alfa of Lauda and the Lotus. We don’t fear Ferraris because they are new cars and they will certainly have more problems than we can expect".
The South African Grand Prix does not offer a real favourite, as it did at the end of qualifying in Argentina and Brazil. This is the verdict of Friday, March 2, 1979. The circuit, placed at 1800 meters above sea level, the environmental conditions with the heat as probable protagonist, the arrival on the scene of new cars such as the Ferrari 312-T4, give the third round of the world championship that uncertainty that has been lacking so far. A wonderful uncertainty that all in all guarantees the show, that fight that should always be an integral part of motor racing. The latest tests do not fundamentally change the situation that had arisen on Thursday. In pole position will start the Renault Turbo of Jean Pierre Jabouille. This is also an absolute novelty.
Never before has the only supercharged Formula 1 car succeeded in the feat, a sign that the work of the French engineers has achieved good progress and that in the future it will have to take more and more into account the Jabouille single-seater, especially when the new ground-effect car made in the wind tunnel of the Renault workshops in the South of France arrives on the track. A lot of people are blocking Renault’s move. Jabouille, in the front row, will find the Ferrari T4 of Jody Scheckter, while behind it will have Villeneuve with the other car of Maranello and Lauda with a competitive Brabham-Alfa. In the third row will be the two Ligier of Depailler and Laffite, while further away appear the Lotus of Andretti and Reutemann. All people who want to win, however, and who have a chance to succeed. Once again the suspense is caused by the tires.
The cars are all pretty much fine, they’re all pretty much on the same level. Michelin and Goodyear tyres will most likely be the deciding factor for success. The last qualifying sessions do nothing but increase the confusion and put in technical difficulties and drivers who will have to decide which tyres to use on Saturday. The untimed morning workouts start late due to the lack of arrival of the first-aid doctors. When the cars get off the track it is already hot and no one can get significant time. In the early afternoon, at the start of the only hour valid for the qualifying, only Depailler, among the best, managed to advance by some position with an excellent 1'12"15. Villeneuve makes a few laps. Ferrari technicians realize that the front of the T4 body has a small crack. Subsequently, the mechanics try to reinforce it in the moment, but shortly after they will prefer to bring back the machine to carry out a precise and well made welding that can grant the broadest guarantees of safety.
About ten minutes from the end Pironi, with his Tyrrell, ends up in the safety barriers at full speed. The driver is hospitalized in the infirmary for a check-up but fortunately he only complains of a state of shock, and therefore should be present in the race. The car is completely destroyed. The Frenchman doesn’t explain how exactly it happened, some eyewitnesses claim they saw the right rear wheel coming off the car. Tyrrell got sideways and ended up in the barriers and then against a wall. The pilot also receives a stake to support the nets on the helmet, but fortunately for him the blow does not cause damage. The South African Grand Prix, therefore, has no definite favorite. This is based on the qualifying time, since there are eight cars in just over half a second at the top of the starting grid. The only one out of line is Jacques Laffite:
"At sixty percent I will win again. I am fully convinced of my chances and those of the machine. The tests were one thing, the race will prove that our superiority is not over yet".
Saturday 3 March 1979, when the starting grid is completed at 2:15 pm on the straight in front of the pits, the sky is already dark and black clouds threatened rain. The start however is given with perfect synchrony by the starter and the track is dry. In contrast to the previous two days of qualifying, raceday dawned dark and overcast, with overnight rain still lingering in the air. The circuit is, however, dry by the time the field emerged for the warm-up, which was staged without any issue, and would remain so as the grid was assembled for the start. Indeed, it was only as the field pulled away to complete the formation lap that a few spots of rain fell, although there was no question of swapping to wets. Much to the delight of the home fans it was Jody Scheckter in the new Ferrari that made the best launch, the South African ace blasting ahead of pole sitter Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Unfortunately for them the start/finish straight at Kyalami was very long, and hence allowed the turbocharger in the back of the Renault to spool up. That allowed the Frenchman to draw level with the scarlet car as they hit the brakes for the first corner, and duly swept around the outside of Crowthorne corner level with Scheckter.
The pair remained side-by-side through the Jukskei Sweep at full speed, before Jabouille finally clinched the lead on the inside of Sunset Bend. However, just as the Renault pulled into the lead heavy rain came sweeping across the circuit, greeting the field as pulled towards the Esses. Jabouille and Scheckter duly went charging into the water at unabated speed, while Niki Lauda slowed up in fourth behind Gilles Villeneuve and duly saw Jacques Laffite and Didier Pironi charge past at the end of the lap. The second lap would see Jabouille slip wide and gift the lead to Villeneuve, moments after the Canadian slipped past teammate Scheckter. The South African ace himself would also slither past the Renault at Clubhouse corner, with all three already several seconds ahead of the pack. A few moments later, however, their lead over fourth placed Laffite would be completely destroyed, for the race was stopped midway around the third tour.
"We had to take a risk and, having two cars at our disposal, we divided the odds. Jody, who knew the environment better and knew that when the sun came out again the track would quickly dry out, decided to avoid changing tyres. Villeneuve, on the other hand, was more cautious".
It is later in the lap that the first accident of the race occurred, albeit one that did not really affect the race. Indeed, Jan Lammers was the cause and ultimate victim, sliding into the side of Héctor Rebaque when trying to lunge his Shadow inside the Mexican's brown Lotus. Rebaque was sent into a lazy spin onto the grass, and duly scrambled back onto the circuit, while Lammers' Shadow was sent sliding into the catch fencing and out. Back with the leaders and Villeneuve was allowed to escape up the road on the slicks in the early stages, with Scheckter instead having to defend heavily from Jabouille. Come the start of the third lap after the restart the Renault was ahead of the #11 Ferrari, moments before Depailler slid off the circuit on his slicks. However, Jabouille's race would go down hill after that point, with another small slide allowing Scheckter and Jean-Pierre Jarier to slip ahead. Gilles said after the race:
"On the wet asphalt, with the Michelin tyres I thought I could gain three or four seconds per lap. So it was and I started very well. And I realized immediately that the calculation was correct".
The race soon settled down after that point, with Villeneuve continuing to pull away out front despite the fact that the circuit was drying. By lap fifteen the Canadian had a healthy advantage over his teammate, and duly slipped into the pits for fresh slicks as Scheckter had finally posted a quicker lap on the previous tour. Villeneuve duly rejoined a few seconds behind his teammate in second, with the rest of the wet starters slowly trickling in during the final laps. Indeed, it was proving to be a beautifully controlled performance from Villeneuve, who was keeping his Ferrari perfectly controlled while teammate Scheckter was slithering around Kyalami. Furthermore, with Jabouille dropping away and Jarier simply lacking the pace of the two ahead the Ferraris were on their own for the rest of the afternoon. Indeed, Villeneuve steadily reeled in his teammate through to half-distance, before Scheckter swapped to fresh Michelins before the Canadian caught him. Villeneuve is unleashed and recovers on Scheckter, until he arrives behind him, also because the South African has some difficulties with the road holding. Scheckter affirms:
"I thought I had some problems with the set-up, I had a suspension out of place, because the car was vibrating on the left front wheel".
With the Ferraris out of reach, for Scheckter rejoined a safe second, the attention was on those behind, although there was very little action of note. The most spectacular incidents of the race would end the races of Laffite and Alan Jones, with both spinning off the circuit due to mechanical issues. However, while Laffite's was a lazy spin into the gravel due to a puncture, Jones' Williams would be written off in the crash-fencing after suffering a suspension failure through the Jukskei Sweep. Both would fortunately escape unharmed. Elsewhere Arnoux was a major focus of attention as he picked his way through the field, although he was to be an unexpected victim of Jones' accident when debris from the shattered Williams punctured his tyres. The sister car of Jabouille fared little better, its V6 engine finally detonating itself after an impressive couple of days of running, leaving Lauda and Clay Regazzoni to fight for the final points with Nelson Piquet. That handed the focus of the race on the fight for third, with Mario Andretti sat directly behind Jarier as the race came towards its conclusion.
We are at the final laps; Scheckter must slow down the pace until from the pits he is signaled to return to change the tires. In fact, it wasn’t the suspensions that gave problems. Forghieri will say:
"Evidently Jody, driving with great determination in the wet, with slick tires, was forced to brake too many times not to get off the track. Friction and slipping consumed the tire irregularly, flattening it. Replacement was necessary".
The South African stopped on lap 52 (the break lasted 21-22 seconds) and Villeneuve took the lead. At this point the positions are attested. Gilles says:
"By now I had the race in hand. I could have forced, but I limited myself to control the return of my pursuers".
This explains the progressive rapprochement of Scheckter and Jarier, who however were never able to engage the Canadian. For Villeneuve it is the second victory. Behind Jody Scheckter, second at the finish, is Jean-Pierre Jarier, followed by the two Lotus and Niki Lauda, who managed to pass Nelson Piquet in the last laps. When it was introduced, the 312-T4 had perplexed the purists of racing cars. It’s really bad, that was the first comment. Enzo Ferrari, who shared this impression, added: to me, however, just go fast. Well, the new car produced in Maranello has proved to be extremely competitive, so much so that Ferrari, with one of its usual sharp beats, exclaims:
"I am happy with this debut that has definitely brightened the T4 and will please the many Ferrari fans".
The manufacturer also adds a thank you to the mechanics:
"Thanks to the mechanics who worked on the preparation of the car, and assisted her on track with the exemplary change of tires records that the sportsmen were able to admire in the television shooting. Thanks to the technicians, the collaborators and a good heart to the brave drivers".
Beautiful or ugly (but especially in a racing car the aesthetic concepts are quite relative, all sacrificing itself to functionality and efficiency), the 312-T4 has fulfilled in the best way to its only task, to be more competitive than the other cars raced in Kyalami. And it was both wet and dry, with a crescendo that left no room for the other cars and that allowed Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter to turn the South African Grand Prix into a family affair. The two drivers of Modena certainly did not turn to savings, each fought for himself: the first two laps of the race, those who saw the tussle between the Canadian, the South African and Jean Pierre Jabouille with the Renault Turbo, They must have made Ferrari tremble in front of the television.
But then the situation settled: in the final, after the fate or a greater wisdom in the choice of tires and in the guide rewards Villeneuve, the comeback of the South African may have given the impression of a challenge. In reality, on the one hand Villeneuve made savings, without taking risks, on the other Scheckter had to defend himself from Jarier’s Tyrrell. The test of the 312-T4 is also outstanding in terms of reliability. A new car can be stopped by trivial inconveniences or lacking in tuning; instead, in Kyalami the two cars have marched without problems, passing their most difficult test. It is the confirmation of how seriously we work in Maranello, of how useful the Fiorano track is, of how much Ferrari’s collaboration with the Fiat Group counts (sophisticated means of research, computers, wind tunnel).
Nor should the man element be underestimated: the mechanics of Ferrari are the best in Formula 1. The victory of Kyalami. So, it is valid from a technical and human point of view, it is a proof of the vitality of Ferrari and of Italian industry and work. Rhetoric? Let us say reality, of which perhaps we forget oppressed by a thousand terrible events. A victory that reopens the World Championship and that makes the next races even more exciting. Brabham grows, the new Lotus is coming, Renault Turbo is a good reality, Ligier will seek revenge: in short, no one is bored. With Ferrari he won the Michelin, in the framework of an industrious collaboration that for the Company of Maranello was at the beginning a gesture of courage, a leap in the dark, or almost.
How out of tune and full of envy is the voice of those who today claim to be only of French society the merit of the Ferrari statement of Kyalami. Yet, there is a sense of surprise in the pits of Kyalami after Ferrari’s victory. On the eve, despite the time obtained by the two 312-T4 in practice, not many people believed in the possibilities of Italian machines. Guy Ligier, for example, had predicted an almost certain trio for Laffite, indicating as possible outsiders only the Lotus, the Brabham-aifa of Lauda and the Renault of Jabouille the Trance builder appears rather dark in face and downcast.
"I really didn’t think the T4 was so efficient and reliable at the start. It’s a good car, no doubt".
Ducarouge replies by saying:
"They have won and so for the moment I am on the side of reason. But we will see if they will be able to repeat themselves in Long Beach, where we think of redeeming ourselves".
If the French take badly the triumph of Ferrari and the contemporary debàcle of their cars, almost all the other teams praise the work done so quickly by the Italian team. Of course, we must also stress the importance of tyres in the success of Maranello’s cars. The engineer Carlo Chiti, in charge of the Alfa, with a rather polemical tone, attributes to the French tires the greatest merit of the double of the T4:
"Ferrari won mainly because of the advantage conferred by Michelin. I do not support this argument in order to belittle the value of the machine, which is certainly valid, but on the basis of some data in my possession. We also had the opportunity to test the French tyres with the aifa-Alfa at Balocco. And the results speak for themselves. More or less in the same environmental conditions and with the same car the radial covers allowed us to gain about two seconds per lap compared to the Goodyear Clearly, to achieve higher performance, these tires sometimes still have to compromise. That is, in some cases they lack distance-holding. To follow the progress and developments that Goodyear has also achieved in recent times, the French engineers had to opt for compounds and constructions that allow them to be faster at the expense of durability. However, I am convinced that in the next races they will improve even more in this respect, and will give Ferrari a further advantage".
Colin Chapman is also impressed with the T4. During the tests the English manufacturer has often wandered in the pits of Ferrari, carefully observing the cars. At the end of the race, Chapman quickly left the circuit without making a statement. All he says is that he wants to go back to England to complete the development of the new Lotus 80, which will be officially presented in two weeks in London, on the eve of the race not valid for the World Championship, dedicated to the late Gunnar Nilsson, which will be held at Brands Hatch on March 17, 1979. Speaking for Lotus remains Mario Andretti.
"It was a monotonous race for us, also distorted by the rain and the two departures. We can only wait for the Lotus 80 to be competitive again. Certainly, Ferrari has proved to be always vital, creating a great car".
Mauro Forghieri has always been at Ferrari, practically since he finished his studies in mechanical engineering. Technical manager of the Maranello House, he is the designer of the 312/T4. Man with volcanic activity, extroverted, great talker. Forghieri accompanies to the undoubted professional skills that dowry that makes a technician also an inventor. In other words, it combines science with improvisation, finding in the blink of an eye the solution of problems with quick intuition. Thanks to the collaboration of Antonio Tomaini, a modest and silent Turin technician, Forghieri managed to make his cars with remarkable timing, following concepts that rarely proved wrong. Someone accuses him of being a choreographer, of having too much self-confidence, of imposing his own personality on drivers and of not being able to recognize his own mistakes (and he has made them). But at the same time we must recognize that the results often prove him right. No one better than the engineer Forghieri can therefore explain how the T4 was born, the car that will certainly be among the protagonists of this year’s championship.
"The car has been elaborated on my indications from the offices studies and technicians of the Ferrari. The work started a little later than in previous years because, at the time of taking decisions, the regulations were not yet clear. We did not know if we would have to develop the T3 model with elastic side bands or if, instead, it would have been allowed to use the rigid miniskirts, indispensable to make a car with a ground-effect, according to the most modern dictates. When the indications were accurate and we saw that all the other teams were oriented towards the wing-cars or wing cars, we started with the new model. We found ourselves in the wind tunnel with very precise diagrams and we analyzed the results on the computer for aerodynamic solutions. It was a question of adapting our boxer motor, wide and flat, to the new needs with the aim of finding the internal space to create the air depression necessary for the deporting effect. This goal was achieved by narrowing the engine by about seven centimeters with a new design of covers of the heads and the different arrangement of some auxiliary parts such as the electric petrol pump. In this way we could also collect externally the group of exhaust manifolds. Obviously, we also redesigned the gearbox to be able to insert the rear suspension in a central position, inside the car".
The Modenese engineer concludes by saying:
"On this new arrangement of the engine we have elaborated, always with the studies to the wind tunnel, the aerodynamics of the body, creating the internal wing. There remained the problem of air circulation that had to be expelled by depression. We found an optimal solution with the rear openings, inserting a grille on the upper part of the body for cooling. Obviously, by adopting these innovations, we also worked on the car’s suspension, chassis and overall set-up. The theoretical results were very good and we brought the car to South Africa, without having been able to carry out many tests for the development, with the certainty of having achieved some progress".
In essence, the Ferrari T4 is a compulsory car, built according to the regulations written by the Manufacturers' Association and then provided to the sports authorities, who had previously prohibited the use of rigid miniskirts and then returned to their decisions allowing their use. The construction of the first model began in mid-December, the presentation, which took place in Maranello on 15 January 1979 and the debut on track in Fiorano on 25 January 1979, after the Argentine Grand Prix. Due to the bad weather, however, the first real tests and the final tuning were carried out only from 16 February 1979 in Kyalami, where T4 immediately impressed until the resounding victory on Saturday.
The car racing records are not only those set by the drivers on the track. Behind the performance and success of Villeneuve and Scheckter is the perfect work of the whole Ferrari team. In particular, for this occasion, the commitment of the mechanics was impressive. Divided into two teams, one led by Paolo Scaramelli for the Canadian car and another driven by Antonio Bellentani for that of the South African, the men of Maranello have made a decisive contribution to the final result. After remaining to work until three in the night on Friday, to rebuild the two 312-T4 (which had been completely disassembled to weld the front frame cracked during the tests, to change the engines and to perform all the routine checks), the mechanics during the race are still exceeded in efficiency. The tyre changes for Villeneuve were made in 16-17 seconds, while for Scheckter in 21 seconds, a real record of speed and coordination.
It is therefore logical that the two drivers, at the end of the race, are the first to congratulate their collaborators and have offered the team the champagne of victory. The men of the other teams also run to congratulate their Italian colleagues. The latter, before resuming work (having to disassemble the cars again to send them home), christened the T4 with a nickname. Looking at the new machines with their thumbs up to indicate the high level of competitiveness shown at the debut, they called them Fonzie, named after the popular character of the television series Happy Days, which has had great success in recent months. When everything is perfect, in fact, the actor who plays Fonzie lifts his thumbs in victory. The most impressed by the performance of the new Italian car is the Frenchman Patrick Tambay. With a lot of sincerity, in no uncertain terms, the McLaren driver predicts a very bright future for T4.
"Long Beach, Jarama, Monte-Carlo and Zolder will confirm the validity of this machine. Ferrari has a chance to win all four of the upcoming races".
And Tambay accompanies these statements with an eloquent gesture to indicate that everyone will have to work to not make a bad impression. And what does Riccardo Patrese think of T4? The Paduan has no doubts:
"It’s a real bomb. Driving that car must be a joy for a driver. I, in the race, did nothing but see the back of the Ferrari, when they overtook me several times on the circuit".
Of the same opinion are the technical and sports managers of the other teams, from Peter Warr for Wolf to Maurice Philippe for Tyrrell. All have words of admiration for the Italian House:
"When Ferrari builds a new car, it puts it on the track and wins, it’s no surprise. Not for nothing it is always among the best, and is among the teams-driving Formula 1. Thanks also to the excellent drivers and the perfect organization that has always had".
And Ferrari drivers? What do they think of this victory?
"I dedicate this victory to Enzo Ferrari. Without his car I could never have tasted the great joy of this success. I think the engineer is very happy with me right now. After all, I got the last success of the 73 in Montreal and in Kyalami the first of the T4".
These are the first words of Gilles Villeneuve after his resounding triumph in the South African Grand Prix. The Canadian, in descending with a jump from the T4, leans his foot badly on the ground and gets a sprain to the right ankle. The grimace of pain and the reddened face, however, can not hide the happiness for the resounding success. For Ferrari a triumph, since Jody Scheckter won the second place. The mechanics of Maranello crowd around the drivers, also disfigured by fatigue. Engineer Mauro Forghieri shakes hands with everyone and recalls that the affirmation is not only of the cars and drivers, but also and above all of the team.
"Villeneuve, Scheckter, Ferrari and Fiat, a winning combination".
With these titles the South African newspapers salute the great success of the Italian team in the South African Grand Prix. A winning combination that had no rivals. But the real winner of the race is Villeneuve. The local critics do not fail to note that Scheckter, home idol, has suffered from the team-mate a sharp defeat. Everyone was hoping for him but Gilles took away all illusion, he was the strongest in the absolute sense. A success more than deserved for the conduct of the race of the Canadian, that he has not absolutely committed mistakes. He guessed his choice of rain tyres at the second start, his regular and aggressive driving for all 78 laps of the race. It seems a long time since the young Canadian was hired by the Italian team. Yet Villeneuve is little more than a newcomer.
Someone with a certain malice, had defined him, after the incidents of Japan and the other exits of road to Long Beach and to Monte-Carlo, the aviator. A driver who was always in the air with his car rather than on the track. Now this definition no longer appears in the newspapers. On the contrary, critics change the definition and now call Gilles with the name of Air Canada; the juxtaposition with the flight is always there, but on this occasion the meaning is quite different, as the Canadian flag airline is famous for its punctuality and efficiency. In essence, the little driver has become a protagonist always ready with the appointment to victory. Now Villeneuve thinks about the world title? His answer is very cautious:
"The probability exists, but it is still too early to think about such a result. We will see in the next races if luck will assist me".
Villeneuve’s not very talkative. He accepted Reutemann’s replacement with Scheckter without a fuss, while remaining as Ferrari’s oldest driver as second driver. The South African had in fact been chosen as a leading man, and he should have been content to make an appearance. He never protested, he never said anything and he has always worked very hard both in training and in race tests. His best quality, in addition to driving, is certainly temperament. For a physically small boy, it is impressive to see how determined he fights with the most famous rivals. Now all those who had criticized his assumption by Ferrari are reconsidering. It also turned out that Villeneuve is not a pilot arrived by accident.
The man who launched him on the grand lap of Formula 1 is a talent scout of considerable fame. He is Robin Herd, the manager of March. It’s a one-shot presentation. Herd was in fact the manager who started the success, among others, besides Peterson and Andretti, also the great Jakie Stewart. Now, after having put Villeneuve in a position to reach the highest level, the English takes care of Giacomelli. That is, always bet on men who can make a good impression. Just twenty-seven years old (he was born on January 18 in Chambly, Quebec) Gilles Villeneuve can now be considered a successful driver. He has already participated in twenty-two Formula 1 races starting twice in pole position (in Long Beach and Monza), and has achieved two successes, one in Montreal and the last, the most beautiful, in Kyalami. He certainly has the ambition to get to the world title. And certainly his ambitions are not unfounded.
After the Grand Prix, the Formula 1 circus quickly removes the tent. The performance is over. Technicians and mechanics run the first plane to the respective workshops. Only a few drivers, like Jody Scheckter who takes the opportunity to spend a few days at his parents' house, take a few days off. Everyone leaves Kyalami with the memory of a good race, a race that at least revealed something new compared to the previous ones. And we greet South Africa with the hope that something will change also in this Country rich by nature but isolated from the rest of the world. Only in a billboard black and white kids smile happy, hand in hand. There is hardly time to think about these things before diving into the world of racing, in this Formula 1 that rises every time to ensure its show.
The triumph of Ferrari, all the other indications coming out of this third world test, have in fact given new life, new interest to a competition that seemed to be going to boredom. The fight is still open. In Long Beach, on April 8, 1979, we will compete with the Ferrari to beat, with the other teams ready to take revenge. Let’s talk first about the positive data recorded by the Italian team. Confirmed the skill of the two drivers, Gilles Villeneuve and Scheckter, authors of a capital test, the most consistent reality is represented by the 312-T4, high-level competitive car. There is no doubt that also in the next races the last born of Maranello will have the role of protagonist. Nor can we hide the fact that other questions arise in the positive balance sheet. The most important concerns the two Ferrari drivers. Villeneuve’s victory put the team leaders in a delicate situation. If we can aim for the world title, which is the main goal of the season, should we give priority to the Canadian or South African?
The new rules of the championship, which takes into account only eight results on the sixteen races scheduled, will probably make the task of Ferrari easier, even if the psychological work will have to be subtle. It is true that Jody and Gilles showed in Saturday’s race to respect each other and to take into account the needs of the team. However, it was enough to see the face of Villeneuve and that of Scheckter at the end of the race on the podium to understand that the rivalry could ignite at any moment. Scheckter was certainly not satisfied with this second place, he wanted to win in front of the home crowd, instead he had to settle, also because the team-mate played a superb race, free of mistakes. Only if the next tests will clarify a true supremacy of one over the other, with equal chances, will not come to inevitable clashes between the two pilots.
This is unfortunately the contribution that you have to pay when you put on track two cars and two drivers. This also happens in other teams, such as Ligier, where, between Laffite and Depailler, there was an aggressive competition. Another problem that has not yet been solved, always with regard to Ferrari, is that of tyres. Michelin has won the comparison with Goodyear Radial tires, however, have not yet achieved the reliability that you would like. Meanwhile, Monday, March 5, 1979 some flag is still waving in the wind, over the balconies, sign and memory of the great festival. There were the carousels, the horns, the cheers and the hugs, as always when Ferrari wins and the name of Maranello proud in the world. Enzo Ferrari, the great old man, is illuminated by a double joy. He sits behind his desk and slowly shakes his arm behind the word. He says:
"It is the conclusion of an event that brought me joy, especially thinking about what my collaborators who devoted so much time and so much attention to these machines could feel".
Ferrari watches from the window his workers come out smiling, and he rejoices in their joy.
"In a company first come the men, then the machines and only last the locals".
He continues almost apologizing for the naked simplicity of the office. Outside, workers and technicians tell of Kyalami. The guardian, who knows the secrets of faces, says that after the victory they are a little happier, that the triumph in South Africa was the triumph of all. He says that the brain of Ferrari, Saturday, was in Kyalami and that the rest, the heart, was in Maranello in the thousand eyes on the video. On Saturday there was a terrible confusion, on the road, and everyone wanted to party. Around here we are born with Ferrari in blood. Maranello, composed of about 12.000 inhabitants, has always recognized in the name Ferrari the sign of its greatness. Pride, thanksgiving, participation, happiness. Don Aldo Vandelli has been parish priest of Maranello for twenty-five years. He, like everyone else, loves car racing.
"If it weren’t for Ferrari, we’d be here eating grass roots".
The parish priest remembers the early days, just after the war, when the country lived on agriculture and Ferrari meant wealth and well-being, when the factory was a family and the great old man expanded the name of Maranello in the world.
"There is a phrase that has remained well inside my mind, said by a guy from a large car industry. Yours, he said, is still a noble craft. Here, this is the value of Ferrari, cheering and well-being apart: its human dimension despite centuries of triumphs and honor".
As Enzo Ferrari also says, at the top of the scale there are men and then come the cars: to have a good car you must first cultivate the human values of those who think and build it.