#331 1980 South African Grand Prix

2022-08-26 00:00

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#1980, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Margherita Urpi,

#331 1980 South African Grand Prix

Ferrari is not in crisis. The negative results of the two South American Grands Prix have various reasons, but none can be considered chronic, and in


Ferrari is not in crisis. The negative results of the two South American Grands Prix have various reasons, but none can be considered chronic, and in any case, there is no need to dramatize a couple of races gone wrong. This is, in summary, the opinion of engineer Mauro Forghieri, technical director of the Maranello team. Back in Italy, where preparations for the cars that will race at Kyalami in South Africa on March 1 will begin immediately, Forghieri quickly assesses the situation, analyzing the double journey in Argentina and Brazil. 


"If any other team had achieved our performances, it wouldn't have caused such a stir. In Buenos Aires, we even came close to victory, and in Interlagos, we could have gathered some points. However, we are Ferrari, the team that has practically won everything in the last five years, three Drivers' World Championships and four Constructors' World Championships, so it is mandatory to come first. No one can always beat everyone else".


In these two races, however, you had unforeseen problems, such as those with the engines, and that can be considered quite worrisome...


"We must not forget that the T5 arrived in Buenos Aires with only three days of testing. A new car almost always needs a rather long tuning period. In Argentina, for example, we discovered a steering defect that has been fixed. Also, if we have made some progress with Michelin compared to last year, others with Goodyear have progressed more. And there's another consideration to make: while in 1979, at the beginning, it was just us and Ligier and in the end, just us and Williams, now many teams are hungry for success. Lotus, Brabham, Ligier, Williams, Renault, all fight to be competitive".


Do you think Williams is already on the decline?


"No. Williams is a car like any other. It can be very fast on certain circuits and be beaten elsewhere. It has been mythologized for an extraordinary series of results, but it also coincided with an unfavorable period for other cars. I absolutely do not think that Frank Williams has finished his cycle. We will see it again in the top positions. And then Jones's third place in Brazil is an excellent result".


Returning to Ferrari, Forghieri said that you have made progress with Michelin. In Brazil, however, the tires caused serious trouble for you, while Renault with the same tires had no problems.


"This is also explainable. Besides the fact that Ferrari and Renault do not have the same characteristics, and therefore, a tire that may be good for one can be negative for the other, you have to take into account different contingent needs. The French turbo cars, thanks to the power of the engine, travel about 15 kilometers per hour faster than our cars on the straights. Between 250 and 280 km/h, this means that we were losing approximately 42 meters per second. So we had to make up for it in the curves. And this determined a different wear of the tires".


But, aside from the tires, you temporarily lost the proverbial reliability of your cars due to engines that strangely proved fragile...


"As I have said before, this worries us. But until we know exactly what it is, it is useless to make speculations. In the coming days, we will examine the material and try to resolve the situation in the best possible way".


An opinion on the drivers in the first two races?


"Our drivers were very good. They could not have done more. Among the others, I liked De Angelis because he showed that he is not only fast but also intelligent. Pironi was excellent, and Prost saved McLaren from a debacle".


Despite the delicate moment, Forghieri remains rather optimistic about the future. The engineer will work hard with his collaborators to present Ferraris at Kyalami that are once again up to the task. And he relies a lot on Scheckter and Villeneuve. News these days says that the South African will go to Talbot in 1981 and will be replaced by Patrese. Assuming this is true, it is certain that Jody will do everything to regain the title with Ferrari. The competition, in any case, is open, even though it seems that Williams and Lotus are preparing to field new six-wheeled cars, with four rear-wheel drives. It is not an absolute novelty since experiences in this field have been made in the past, but it is certainly an additional point of interest for a championship that already appears full of uncertainties. On Wednesday, February 13, 1980, Gilles Villeneuve, just as he is completing the last lap of the tests started on the French Paul Ricard circuit, goes off the track in the fastest part of the track at the end of the long straight leading to the Beausset corner. His T5 ends up on the guardrails, at about 290 km/h, tearing off about sixty meters of a double safety net from the ground. The car leans against the protections and stops after scraping for another hundred meters. Fortunately, the Canadian - and this is a demonstration of how robust Formula 1 cars currently are - is unharmed. Just a little pain in the neck, from the jolting on both sides of the head during the incident. The causes that caused this sensational skid are not yet clear. However, it seems that it is either a break in the left rear suspension or the failure of a new type of hub carrier that had been adopted on the T5.


"I just felt that something was wrong in the rear, and then I saw myself pointing towards the guardrail. Visibility, despite the hour (it was 6:00 p.m.), was still good enough, and I saw the nets coming towards me. I didn't close my eyes to try to drive the car in the best way and avoid a head-on collision. I managed to control the car quite well and leaned against the guardrail. It was undoubtedly a difficult moment, one of the most unpleasant of my career. However, fortunately, everything was resolved without damage".


Villeneuve will no longer have a car to continue testing. The car is quite damaged, with the wings completely destroyed and the wheel lost, although the cockpit is intact. The tests will continue with Scheckter. These tests carried out on the Le Castellet track, however, have a fairly positive outcome for Ferrari. The mysterious ailment that the engines had reported on the trips to South America did not occur again. Before the skid that ended the tests at 6:00 p.m., the two drivers had covered about 500 kilometers each, without any failures or problems in the engines. The recorded times are good, although not the best among those set these days by the numerous teams conducting tests. Against the 1'04"2 with which Patrese had driven on Tuesday, the Ferraris record 1'05"67 with Gilles and 1'06"30 with Jody. However, it must be considered that while the Canadian runs on qualifying tires, the South African tests with tires that could be used in races on slower circuits, namely Monte Carlo and Long Beach. On Wednesday, the fastest is Jabouille, with the Renault Turbo, marking a time of 1'05"5, but the French driver does not push to the maximum, also because the car is particularly heavy due to the numerous data acquisition instruments applied above. While Jabouille is on the track, his teammate, René Arnoux, conducts some tests for a new type of braking system, with a brake servo, which Renault would like to use on some particularly challenging tracks for the drivers. These tests, however, do not give positive results for the moment and will be continued in the coming days. As for Ferrari, the cars presented at Le Castellet have undergone several modifications in small details. They have not, however, had any innovation in the oil cooling system and in the pipes that were criticized after the engine failures in South America. Apparently, in those circumstances, it was occasional failures. Or, in any case, the same problems did not arise with the cold temperatures recorded on the plateau where the Paul Ricard circuit is located. This does not mean that the trouble has already been completely overcome, but it can also suggest that the problems recorded in Argentina and Brazil may have been occasional. However, it will be seen in the coming days when Ferrari (which will test until Saturday) will try to make the most of the engines and cars to see to what extent the complex can withstand fatigue. 


As for the drivers, aside from the thrill of fear for Villeneuve, Scheckter is very calm and confident in the future.


"I don't think the start of the championship has compromised anything, even if we haven't scored points. Everything will still be possible, especially because I don't think there will be a dominant team for all races, but different men and machines will alternate in victories. I have a lot of confidence in what Ferrari is doing, and especially in the turbo, which I am convinced will come on track after the first half of the season".


On Thursday, February 14, 1980, Formula 1 enters the tunnel. However, this is not the usual wind tunnel used to study the aerodynamics of cars but the famous Vittorio Emanuele tunnel, the true heart of Milan. It hosted the unveiling of the new Formula 1 Tyrrell. In an unusual setting among elegant shops and famous bars, the new car from the English team, sponsored by a well-known Italian home appliance industry, captured the attention of numerous passersby who lingered for hours to get a close look at a Formula 1 car. To build the new car, designed by Formula 1 at Le Castellet by Maurice Philippe, one of the most famous English designers, Tyrrell did not succumb to futuristic solutions as it had done in the past. Instead, it chose to follow the path laid out by Lotus and Williams, building a car that can now be considered traditional, namely a wing car. The new single-seater was studied in every detail to maximize the so-called ground effect. Among the technical innovations, a new gearbox stands out, utilizing ratios and shafts from the usual Hewland, designed by Tyrrell, and about ten centimeters shorter. This solution allows for further cleaning of the rear part. During the press conference, Ken Tyrrell raises the issue of the track that will host the upcoming Italian Grand Prix, a designation that, according to the English manager, is not yet final. Tyrrell decisively supports Monza, and the same opinion is expressed by his two drivers, Jean-Pierre Jarier and Derek Daly. According to Jarier, Monza is one of the safest tracks, while Imola lacks facilities. A few days later, on Friday, February 22, 1980, a meeting of the Formula 1 Technical Commission takes place in Paris. 


The FOCA, the constructors' association, had requested limitations on the use of turbo-compressed engines, ranging from a reduction in displacement (from 1.500 cc to 1.400 cc) to a reduction in turbo pressure, and restrictions on fuel usage. However, the FISA, the International Federation, decides to abolish the use of skirts starting from the 1981 season, a technical choice that penalizes cars powered by traditional naturally aspirated engines more. This decision would have violated the rule that allows changes to the technical regulations only with a five-year notice, but the FISA is ready to justify the immediate validity of these decisions for safety reasons, as provided for in Article 15 of the technical regulations. These decisions cause a rift within the GPDA, the drivers' union: the drivers of Cosworth-powered cars, which benefit from the skirts, accuse Jody Scheckter, the association's president and Ferrari driver, of prioritizing the interests of his team. In the same meeting, it is established that starting from the Belgian Grand Prix, there would be regulations for the use of qualifying tires, and the creation of a proper Constructors' World Championship is decided, starting from 1981. Finally, the definitive dates for the Canadian, Las Vegas, and United States East Grands Prix are confirmed: September 28, October 5, and November 2, respectively. Meanwhile, South Africa is preparing to celebrate its World Champion. Jody Scheckter's smiling face appears everywhere, on billboards, in newspapers, on television. The frenzy seems to have infected everyone, and tickets for the Grand Prix scheduled for Saturday, March 1, 1980, at the Kyalami circuit, as the third race of the World Championship, are almost sold out. However, Scheckter tries to temper expectations:


"I would really like to honor my title with a nice victory at home. But it will be very difficult. I will do everything, but it doesn't depend only on me".


Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the Maranello team, predictions are not obviously in favor of their cars. 


Too many factors indicate the Renault turbo as the car to beat for the South African race, especially given the altitude of the track, allowing the French team's technicians to use the thin air that reduces the power of traditional aspirated engines, resulting in a significant advantage in lap times.


"In any case, I have a lot of confidence in Ferrari. In Maranello, obstacles are faced with great determination. If there were problems in Argentina and Brazil, I must admit that everything possible has been done to solve them in the time available. Only the track will tell if the work done can yield immediate results. However, I don't think we will go empty-handed as in South America".


With Jody, the conversation returns to the famous belief expressed by Enzo Ferrari in his memoirs, suggesting that a rich and established champion loses the drive and motivation to continue taking risks and trying to win.


"It's true that various commitments can distract you. But I absolutely don't think that's my case. I don't feel satisfied yet; I mean, I want to achieve something more in Formula 1. The return to South Africa these days has brought back memories of ancient times when I was a boy dreaming of making it big. I spent nights with the girl who would later become my wife, Pamela, preparing the cars. I haven't forgotten that beautiful and at the same time sacrifice-filled period. And it's precisely these sacrifices that I endured to reach the top that drive me to continue in the same way. I don't feel like I've lost anything in terms of driving, attacking races. On the contrary, I have the advantage of experience and maturity. I try not to put myself in a position to make gross mistakes, but I also don't neglect the smallest opportunity to achieve positive results".


But they say you've already planned your future and that you'll leave Ferrari at the end of the season to join the new team that Talbot is putting together...


"Honestly, I don't know. It may be that Ferrari doesn't want me anymore at the end of the year. In that case, I would have the right to prepare something to continue. However, it's a long way from saying that I've already signed with Talbot. In the past, people talked about drivers' transfers almost at the end of the championship. Now they want to anticipate everything, and by inventing news or collecting rumors, in the end, some truth can be hit upon. However, this is not my case. For now, I think about racing for Ferrari and trying to repeat last year's result".


The other day in Paris, the executive committee of the FISA decided to abolish skirts for 1981. Is it a positive development?


"Of course. We drivers are very satisfied with this decision. The abolition of those infernal devices will reduce the danger of races. Also, on a technical level, the regulation will bring advantages, and all constructors will be obliged to start over. There will be a reshuffling of the deck that will bring new interest to Formula 1".


Scheckter is therefore calm and confident in his abilities. This is the best way to approach this third championship race. Although Renault (and with the French team, one should not forget Williams, Brabham, and Lotus) appears more than formidable for the Saturday race at Kyalami, Ferrari can rely on a driver (indeed, two, because Villeneuve is no less) who still has the desire to win. However, everyone promises a battle. Renault to confirm the victory achieved in Brazil and to demonstrate once again the superiority of its turbo engine, especially at high altitudes, like the South African circuit located over 1600 meters above sea level; Ferrari to regain ground after the setbacks in South America; Alfa Romeo to confirm the progress made in recent tests; Lotus to showcase its quality at the top of Formula 1 again; Williams to say that its period is not yet over. And so it could go on for all the teams. 


Each has something to say, something new to present. But the one who has the most interest in this race is Riccardo Patrese. Many will remember the exploits of the Arrows driver on this same track two years ago when he narrowly missed a sensational victory due to sheer bad luck.


"This time, I feel that I can really have a great race. My car is ready and fast on the straights. Of course, I fear Renault and Ferrari, but I think I can compete on an equal footing at least. At least these are my expectations. In the first two races of the season, I achieved good results, and I hope to climb even higher. I wouldn't be surprised if I were to go to the podium on Saturday after the race. It would be a well-deserved reward for many sacrifices".


How can you be so sure? Many times, you hoped to be among the top finishers and then were disappointed...


"Now I have more confidence in my abilities because the car is really ready. It's not just a hope of mine, but almost a certainty. You will see it already in free practice. And then, even if I don't go very fast in qualifying, I am sure I can have a great race. The heat and altitude on Saturday will certainly cause a strong selection. And even if someone were to go ahead, they wouldn't have a hundred percent chance of making it to the finish. By now, I have a lot of experience on this circuit".


Which drivers do you fear in particular?


"The Renault ones, of course, and then Ferrari. I hope to compete on equal terms with my friend-enemy Elio De Angelis. He achieved a great result in the last race and is very motivated. These days we have spent a lot of time together, and we have gotten to know each other better. We have become almost like two brothers, even though a significant rivalry separates us. I hope to engage in a good battle with him that can excite our fans. It would be wonderful if the two of us, Italian drivers, could compete for a good placement".


Riccardo Patrese's optimism is not unfounded. The designer of his car, the Englishman Tony Southgate, has prepared a truly competitive Arrows. The car is perfect in every detail and seems to be up to the level of the best competitors. However, it should not be forgotten that the Renault with the turbo-compressed engine will have significant advantages due to altitude and thin air. All the other cars lose a lot of power, while the engine of the French car maintains the same characteristics, more or less, as it has at sea level. All bookmakers favor the two drivers Jabouille and Arnoux. The two Frenchmen do not reveal too much, but there is a lot of confidence within their team. Ferrari is not to be taken lightly either, and the work done recently gives a particular boost. Jody Scheckter states:


"I am confident about the chances of our T5s at Kyalami. The track is classic, with long straights connected by various types of curves. The road surface, on the other hand, is quite unique, with its characteristics varying significantly depending on the oil and rubber deposited on the track. It is not excluded, however, that, with no usual private tests, the first practice sessions may take place under particularly good grip conditions. However, finding an acceptable aerodynamic-suspension balance will not be easy since our naturally aspirated engines cannot produce more than 410-420 HP, and therefore, we will have to use the wing load sparingly due to the importance of top speed on a track like this".


The South African trip does not particularly worry Gilles Villeneuve either, who finds the Kyalami track quite interesting, although the Canadian driver thinks that racing at an average speed of over 200 km/h per lap can be dangerous. However, we will already see tonight, at the end of the unofficial practice sessions, if these predictions will be respected. 


On Wednesday, February 27, 1980, Ferrari's much-awaited test in the first trials for the South African Grand Prix offers a two-faced result. The Maranello cars do not record any particular engine problems, as feared, but they are very slow: twelfth time for Villeneuve and sixteenth for Scheckter, who is even preceded by Ricardo Zunino, considered one of the slowest drivers. As if that were not enough, halfway through the free practice, Scheckter's car slows down, leaving behind a trail of white-blue smoke. It is immediately thought to be an engine failure. But in reality, the plastic cap of the oil tank has just come off, and the lubricant, spreading on the engine, causes the smoke. As a precaution, Jody takes the reserve car, but the engine of the other car, repeatedly checked, does not appear to be damaged. The fact is commented with a certain wit by the South African driver, who says:


"It wasn't Ferrari smoking, but me in the cockpit".


A joke to hide some concern, as the current prospects are not very rosy.


"The car is not bad, but evidently, we can't exploit the Michelin radial tires as Renault does".


And Gilles Villeneuve shares the same opinion.


"The T5 is quite fast on straights. In curves, however, it loses grip, and I am forced to slow down. Jarier with the Tyrrell easily passed me just after the pit straight. We hope to do better today and tomorrow to at least equal last year's time, which was just over 1'12"0".


For Forghieri, the situation should change in the official qualifications.


"We have tried different solutions, and we hope that Michelin will provide faster tires for us today. Evidently, the Renault has a chassis that adapts better to the French radial tires. If we don't improve, we will have to hope for rain. We lose about 10 km/h on the straights to the turbos and 6 km/h to the fastest of the other cars, which is Laffite's".


It took just one lap for Jabouille's Renault turbo to silence. Just when it seemed that Jacques Laffite, with a very fast Ligier, could be the big surprise of the free practice, Jabouille set the time of 1'11"0, which constitutes the new unofficial record of the South African track. The previous one, set by Jabouille himself in last year's qualifications, was 1'11"80. Laffite had dominated until then with a time of 1'11"39, using the softer Goodyear tires he had available. To set his record, Jabouille used Michelin tires number 135, tires that can be regularly used in the race. This means that when necessary, Renault, by opening the turbo valve, can go below 1'10.0 and easily secure pole position. Goodyear is trying everything to counter the dominance of Michelin and Renault at Kyalami. There is talk of very special tires with a double covering, that is, a very soft surface compound used for making times and consumed in four or five laps, leaving a harder and more resistant layer on the surface for the race. These tires would have arrived expressly from the United States, and Laffite could have been used as a guinea pig for an experiment. Otherwise, it would not be explained why all the other cars equipped by the Anglo-American company, including the other Ligier of Pironi, remained distinctly behind. Jones with the Williams set the fourth time, preceding Piquet, Pironi, Reutemann, and the new Tyrrell of Jarier, which went quite well. Alfa Romeo set the tenth time with Giacomelli before having to stop due to an engine failure. The Italian driver completed several laps at a sustained pace, demonstrating that the car is making significant progress. For Patrese, ninth time, there will be a chance to improve in the qualifying sessions. Similarly, De Angelis and Andretti, who had problems with their Lotus cars' gearbox and injection, can also improve. There was also an accident: due to steering failure, Prost's McLaren went off the track at 200 km/h in the corner leading to the pit straight. 


The Frenchman suffered a leg injury and suspected fracture of a toe on his left foot. Perhaps he won't be able to race on Saturday. Meanwhile, among Formula 1 drivers, anarchy returns. A few months after the re-establishment of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, during a meeting held on Wednesday evening, such differences of opinion emerge that in the end, Jones, Watson, and Piquet resign. Speaking about safety, the abolition or maintenance of skirts, turbo engines, each one tries to pursue the interests of their team. On one issue, the drivers agree: trying to prevent manufacturers from putting a maximum limit on their earnings. Formula 1 is rich in characters. People who, for one reason or another, excite the imagination of fans. The legend of Enzo Ferrari, the mysterious figure of Bernie Ecclestone, and the Arab oil princes are integral elements of this strange world. However, the most important role in the Grand Prix show belongs to the drivers, who have always aroused love and hatred. Immense popularity, born in the times of Varzi and Nuvolari, continued through a thousand names and episodes to Stewart, Fittipaldi, Hunt, Lauda, and Villeneuve. You can become a star for many victories, as happened to Jackie Stewart, or just because you are likable or brave. However, not all champions can say they are genuine characters. Some hide behind an introverted character, and others avoid standing out. This is the case, for example, of Alan Jones, who in recent times has won several races, is a candidate for the world title but has not managed to step into the protagonist's shoes, to arouse sympathy among fans. Another driver who falls into the category of anti-characters is Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the Renault driver who is currently dominating the South African Grand Prix trials and can be considered one of the favorites for the 1980 World Championship. Jabouille is considered by many more a good tester than a driving ace. Perhaps precisely because of his natural reserve and also for the rather tough character he has always shown, making him unpleasant to those who do not know him well. Thirty-seven years old, a Parisian by birth and vocation, raised in a middle-class family, Jabouille, who physically resembles the American comedian Danny Kaye to a considerable extent, lives a rigorous life for racing. He is almost an ascetic of motorsport: he left artistic studies early (he is still a good draftsman) for the world of engines.


"And I believe I have already demonstrated that I haven't chosen the wrong path. I have been, always with Renault, the European champion in Formula 3 and 2, and I have won endurance races with Sfiori cars. Now, I aim for the world title, thinking I have a good chance of achieving it this year. If I reach this goal, I would like to win at Indianapolis afterward. I will only feel satisfied after that".


This is what Jean Sage, the sports director of Renault, who has known the driver for many years, states:


"Jabouille only thinks about racing. He plays tennis, does sports, goes fishing, but only in terms of physical preparation for the car and to relax during breaks between races. He is a difficult man, very demanding because he is competent. He could build a car by himself, as he has already done in Formula 2. So, he expects the best from the mechanics and treats them with some detachment, to the point that in the team, while respected, he is not very popular. But he doesn't behave like this out of malice, even though there is a bit of selfishness in his manner. He is solely focused on getting the best possible result".


But what are the qualities and flaws of this kind of "ice man" who only thinks about machines and races? Sage responds:


"He is a driver who handles the car with extreme sensitivity. He never abuses it, drives with precision. For example, for the same distance traveled, he consumes less fuel than Arnoux".


What does Jabouille think of himself?


"My greatest virtue is to be extremely sincere. The greatest flaw is always telling the truth, even when it is very unpleasant. That's why many people don't like me".


Jean-Pierre Jabouille is closely linked with Jacques Laffite. They married two sisters (Geneviève and Bernadette), spend their free time together. They met on an ice rink when they were fifteen: the Renault driver was the French ice skating champion and is now also a great admirer of the Olympic star Eric Heiden. Then he gave up skates and dragged his friend into racing. And if they were to find themselves in a head-to-head duel in the final race for the world title?


"I would hope for a victory for the better one. That is, for Jabouille".


On Thursday, February 28, 1980, Renault is playing with its rivals. While all the other teams are struggling to improve their lap times by a few tenths, Jabouille and Arnoux stop at the pits, posing next to their cars, with the usual, splendid cover girls. This is the scene after the first qualifying session for the South African Grand Prix. The 50 HP advantage of the French turbo engines at 1670 meters above sea level is still evident. Jabouille dominates on the track, setting a time of 1'10''0, a new circuit record, at an average speed of 211.010 km/h, while his teammate settles for a time of 1'10''21, giving the impression of not wanting to overdo it. And Michelin technicians say that Renault hasn't even used qualifying tires. The turbo is more than enough, but Renault must also have a good chassis to beat Piquet by 1.87 seconds, who is third with Brabham. If it weren't for the two Frenchmen so far ahead, many could be satisfied and hope to compete for victory. Only Ferrari has reasons not to be satisfied. Villeneuve's eighth place and Scheckter's twelfth (the latter tied with Patrese) are the result of a car, the T5, which for the moment seems slower than the old T4. Last year Scheckter started with the second time (1'12''04) and Villeneuve with the third (1'12''07). Now the two Ferrari drivers haven't even been able to match those performances. Giacomelli is ninth with Alfa Romeo, just behind the Ferrari from Milan (although the team broke another engine with Depailler), De Angelis is eleventh with the possibility of improvement, and Patrese is thirteenth with a progressing Arrows. On Friday, February 29, 1980, only seven drivers manage to improve their positions in the last qualifying session. 


Therefore, in the South African Grand Prix, the front row will feature the two Renault Turbos of Jabouille and Arnoux, followed by the Brabham of the excellent Piquet, the Ligiers of Laffite and Pironi, and again the Williams of Reutemann, who leaves his teammate behind, although by a small margin. The only novelty concerns Alfa Romeo, which surprisingly places the rejuvenated Depailier in seventh place. Otherwise, everything remains almost unchanged, as on the first day of timed practice. Scheckter takes a small step forward by overtaking Villeneuve, but the Ferraris will start ninth and tenth in the fifth row without the possibility, barring sensational surprises, of repeating last year's result when they finished first and second. Osella will also be in the race, having finally qualified. The favorites' part is played by the French, who have four cars among the top five starters. It must be said, in fact, that Renault, with its Jabouille and Arnoux, threatens to split the race into two groups: on one side, the yellow and black cars fighting for victory among themselves, on the other, the rest of the group competing for a placement. The figures recorded these days speak clearly. Almost two seconds per lap advantage over everyone else, about 30 km/h (300 km/h versus 270 km/h) more speed at the end of the main straight, the possibility of not pushing the engines to the maximum, as no one will be able to keep up with the two French cars, give an accurate measure of the situation. In short, Renault can only lose if it encounters unexpected problems. As a spectacle, in addition to its dominance, at most, the French team could offer a nice duel between Jabouille and Arnoux. The battle behind the Turbos is more uncertain, as at the start, eight cars will be separated by lap times within just over a second: Piquet, with the Brabham, precedes Laffite by only one hundredth. To give an idea of what these results have cost the drivers, just consider a statement from the Brazilian:


"I couldn't have gone even one kilometer per hour faster even if I had been on the track for a year".


Ferrari has worked more than the others in the hope of achieving some improvement. 


Indeed, Scheckter has taken more than 0.6s off his lap time, but Villeneuve remains at the same point as on Thursday, surpassed by Depailier with Alfa. However, it is not so much the performances that worry the Maranello team. Scheckter is quite satisfied:


"We managed to find a higher top speed without losing in the turns".


And Villeneuve is convinced he can have a better race than in Brazil. The problem always lies in the reliability of the engines, which, after a day of relative calm, saw Villeneuve break an engine in the morning during free practice, and another one failed on Scheckter's car at the end of the qualifying hour. It was thought that they were fatigued engines, but Marco Piccinini, Ferrari's sports director, dispels any doubts:


"We had installed brand new ones last night".


What is the cause of these problems? It's difficult to answer, as even the careful examinations conducted in Maranello after the South American trip found no congenital and repeated faults. The only serious hypothesis to consider, since engineer Forghieri swears that these engines are the same ones that almost never broke in previous years, is this: the new T5 creates stresses or vibrations on the engines that cause these issues. Now, it is hoped that the inconvenience will not recur in the race because the damage would be serious practically and psychologically for the team and the drivers. Scheckter also went into a spin at Sunset Corner in the morning practice: he was trying to push to the maximum and damaged the rear wing. Villeneuve, in turn, at the start of the timed session, had to change cars because the brakes weren't working well. Then he couldn't find the right balance. Some claim that both drivers broke the engines of their cars because they exceeded the allowed number of laps, seeking higher speeds. The problem did not occur on Thursday, as there was a limiter. But this rumor is not confirmed by Ferrari. For the first time, eight months after the dramatic incident with a hang glider on Puy de Dôme that cost him multiple fractures of both legs, Patrick Depailier regains his smile. The Frenchman has achieved a result that has brought him back to the top positions of a Grand Prix: the seventh overall time, which is a demonstration of the rider's regained efficiency and the progress of Alfa Romeo.


"At first, I didn't hope to go so fast. I still don't have perfect control of the car; in fact, on Thursday, three times while trying to shift to fourth gear, I accidentally shifted to second, causing the engine to over-rev until it broke. However, there have been significant improvements due to the large amount of work done and the changes made after the two South American races. Progress is 90% mechanical and 10% related to my physical performance. In the race, I will try to attack from the beginning. If I reach the end, we will certainly achieve a good placement".


Engineer Carlo Chiti explains:


"Choosing Depailier was the right move. Many criticized us and had doubts about his validity after the incident. However, Patrick has shown to have an iron will and to be a complete driver who has contributed a lot to fine-tuning the car. He provides the main technical directions, confirming himself tireless in trying all possible solutions".


Depailier's progress coincides with a drop from ninth to twelfth place for Giacomelli, who was unable to improve his time. However, the Italian driver had to overcome several problems, oversteer at the beginning of practice, throttle sticking at the end, and had only one set of good tires available. The pit stop for the throttle issue, however, saved Giacomelli from a greater danger, as the mechanics discovered a crack in the rear right wheel hub. A few more laps could have led to a sudden failure with unpredictable consequences. 


The joy of Alfa is joined by that of Osella, which has finally managed to qualify. Eddie Cheever will not only participate in the race but will also not start in the last position. Turinese constructor Enzo Osella says:


"We didn't expect to qualify already in Kyalami, as the car has only covered 1900 kilometers so far. There is still a lot of work to do, but at least we have reached the first goal. I am also happy for those who believed in our possibilities. Cheever has shown character and possesses the driving qualities that had impressed in the lower formulas".


On Saturday, March 1, 1980, the 78-lap race is scheduled to start at 2:15 p.m. When the cars set off from the pits to go around the circuit and form up on the grid, all 24 are present and correct. Villeneuve and Rosberg sneak in an extra lap, and then the long 1x1 grid is formed with Piquet, Laffite, Pironi, Jones, and Villeneuve wondering if they can jump the two Renaults when the starting signal is given and have a moment of glory by leading for part of the first lap. Jones is in the latest Williams FW07, Villeneuve is in the spare Ferrari, Jarier and Daly are giving the new Tyrrell design its debut race, Regazzoni is in the first of the 1980 Ensigns, and Watson is in the M29B McLaren that Prost has crashed on Thursday afternoon. Unlike British commentators, the South African one does not get over-excited at the countdown for the start of the pace-lap, and he sends the field on its way without making people think the race has started. The Lotus of de Angelis proves difficult to start, and the rest has long gone before he gets away. As the 23 cars arrive on the grid, the young Italian is still charging along trying to catch up, but he is too late and has to take the start from the back of the grid. When the green light comes on, Alan Jones makes a searing getaway, passing his teammate and Laffite and is alongside the Renaults as their turbo-chargers take hold. Then it is all over; the two French cars power away into the lead and head the very frustrated field into the first corner and down the steep hill of Barbecue Bend. In beautiful formation, the two Renaults lead the opening lap with contemptuous ease, Jabouille leading Arnoux in strict team order. They are followed by Jones, Laffite, Reutemann, Piquet, Villeneuve, Scheckter, Pironi, Jarier, and the rest, with de Angelis trying hard to make up for his handicap. On lap two, de Angelis is so busy passing a group of cars up the hill to Leeukop hairpin that he arrives going too fast on the wrong line and there is nowhere to go. 


He locks up the brakes and spins off into the dirt and out of the race. It does not need many laps to see that the Renaults are pacing themselves on the speed of their followers, thus easing the strain on the turbo-charged engines, their tires, brakes, fuel consumption, and so on. They could easily have pulled away at a second or two seconds a lap, thus opening up a big gap, but they didn't. Jones and Laffite are appearing to be keeping up with them, but what is happening is that the Renaults are waiting for the Williams and Ligier. Waiting, but not to be caught. This you could tell by the exhaust notes of the Renaults, never giving an indication of being hard on or hard off, always smooth and gentle, and the attitude of pitch and squat is negligible, indicating no desperate measures on brakes or accelerator. The followers present a very different picture, all harsh and angry, with the drivers doing all they know to maintain the pace. The way the two Renaults cruise through some of the corners is almost insolent, Arnoux keeping station directly behind Jabouille in a beautiful example of team-driving; he is never too close, never alongside, never too far back, but just right, leaving all the pace-making and line to Jabouille like a number two driver should. On lap eight, Laffite scratches his way past Jones to take third place, and we have French drivers and French cars first, second, and third. Reutemann does not maintain the pace of the two hard men in front of him but settles back in a comfortable fifth place ahead of Scheckter, Piquet, Jarier, and Pironi, while further back Daly leads Giacomelli, Patrese, and Mass. Then come Fittipaldi, Zunino, and Andretti, followed by Regazzoni, Depailler, Rosberg, Villeneuve (after an excursion off the track on lap three dropped him to the back), Watson, Cheever, and Lees. On the next lap, the scene at the back has changed, for Cheever has crashed the Osella at Crowthorne, and Villeneuve and Depailler have disappeared into the pits. The Ferrari driver has started on different tires to Scheckter, and they have been hopeless, so he now stops for a different set. Depailler's fuel mixture is all up the spout, and he stops to have it adjusted, but it only makes the misfiring worse. 


On lap 11, Patrese crashes at Crowthorne Corner, like Cheever, both drivers being caught out by erratic brakes, and the next one to go is Scheckter when his Ferrari engine goes on to 11 cylinders, due to a broken valve spring or something similar. Up at the front, the two Renaults are still droning round at their ease, leaving Laffite to set the pace, and he is driving his heart out but cannot know just how easily the Renaults are staying ahead. The Ligier is superior to the Williams on handling, and Jones is losing contact with the blue and white car, but nevertheless holding on to fourth place. Derek Daly stops briefly at the end of lap 18 to say that his gear-change is playing up, but he is sent back into the race and told to make the best he can. This drops him from ninth place down to 18th place, last of the non-stop runners with only Villeneuve and Depailler behind him. The Ferrari is still not handling very well, so Villeneuve can do little to improve his position, while all the fiddling with the Alfa's injection system only makes things worse, and Depailler is in and out of the pits on nearly every lap. Andretti is having a miserable drive down among the tail enders, the Lotus losing out on speed on the straight, and then an exhaust manifold pipe splits, which doesn't help matters, and Regazzoni passes him with the Ensign. At the back of the field, Rosberg and Watson are having a jolly little dice among themselves. Villeneuve despairs of his Ferrari's handling and makes another stop for yet a different set of tires and as he accelerates away from the pits, something breaks inside the transmission (not a drive-shaft as the race-information office states), and the Ferrari stops instantly with no drive to the wheels. On lap 35, Alan Jones grinds to a halt with a broken gearbox, the oil having leaked out from a split in the cooling system. This lets Reutemann up into fourth place, but no challenge to Laffite. Still, the two Renaults drone round in formation. As they lap the backmarkers, Arnoux takes no chances, biding his time to overtake and then shooting back into position behind Jabouille with no strain at all, indicating just how effortless their domination is. Laffite is always there in third place looking for a ray of hope, but none comes. Even when Arnoux drops a fair way back, waiting to lap Regazzoni, there is no hope for the Ligier driver, for at the same time he is having to wait to lap Daly. The complete rear aerofoil breaks off Giacomelli's Alfa on lap 39, and he stops at the pits to have a new assembly bolted on, dropping from 12th to 16th and last place. 


Jean-Pierre Jarier has been driving a good race with the new Tyrrell, holding fifth place, but on lap 56, he is forced into the pits to change the rear tire, and the Tyrrell team takes the opportunity to change both rears and the left-front while he was in. This spurs on Piquet and Pironi who have been following Jarier, but the Brabham is wearing out its left-front tire, so the Brazilian is having trouble fending off the Ligier driver. Down at the back of the field, Rosberg and Watson are still having a ding-dong, and when they are being lapped by the ding-dong of Piquet and Pironi the scene gets quite animated. It is a perfectly fair free-for-all with no one needing to give way, and on lap 59 as they all scrabble into the Leeukop hairpin, Rosberg's Fittipaldi ends up in the catch fences and breaks the steering connection on the left front wheel. Piquet and Pironi are away, leaving Watson on his own. As Jabouille starts lap 62, his right-front tire bursts, due to picking up a nail or similar sharp object off the track, and he has a very busy time bringing it all to rest at the foot of the hill. His task is not made any easier by having one rear shock absorber out of action; it had broken its mounting quite early in the race. As in Brazil, René Arnoux now inherits the lead, while the saddened Jabouille walks back to the pits after yet another certain victory has been snatched from his grasp. This means that the Piquet/Pironi battle is now for fourth place, and the Ligier driver does an audacious bit of overtaking braking for the Leeukop hairpin, but Piquet is not giving up and scrabbles back in front. Reutemann's third place is in jeopardy, for his car is feeling odd, and he is convinced the left-front tire is failing, so he stops on lap 64 to have it changed. It later transpired that the right-rear tire was losing pressure and the right-hand side skirt was wearing away. This stop lets Piquet into third place and Pironi fourth, but the Frenchman is still trying to get by the Brabham again. Through all the troubles and retirements, Jochen Mass has driven steadily and consistently and is now in fifth place, with Reutemann behind him after his stop. Once more Pironi makes a concerted attack on the Brabham and forces his way by, now into third place, and this time Piquet has to give way best for he can see his left-front tire is completely worn out, and he can hardly restrain the Brabham on right-hand bends, so he settles for fourth place with only eight laps left to run. 


With six to go, Reutemann snatches back fifth place, and with Jacques Laffite still driving his heart out in second place, René Arnoux chalks up his second victory with the turbo-charged Renault. As Reutemann has overtaken Mass, the Alfa Romeo of Giacomelli grinds to a halt after the esses, and at the end of the race, Depailler does one more lap in his misfiring Alfa and picks his young teammate up to return him to the pits. The Renault stroll concludes happily, even though it's not the very unlucky Jean-Pierre Jabouille but the young René Arnoux who emerges victorious. The Formula 1 South African Grand Prix could not have ended any differently. If at least one of the two powerful French turbos had not crossed the finish line first, the mockery would have been too great and the result unjust. The superiority demonstrated by the yellow and black cars was such that the race had no story, except in the battle for positions that saw Laffite secure second place ahead of his teammate Pironi, Piquet, Reutemann, and Mass. Just check the standings to see the extent of the French triumph: three cars in the top three positions (one Renault and two Ligiers), three drivers in the same positions, and a fourth, Jarier, in seventh place. This comprehensive French success on both technical and human levels contrasts with one of the darkest days in Italian motorsport. Here are the figures for what can be defined, in sporting terms, as a disaster: both Ferraris and both Alfa Romeos retired, Cheever's Osella went off the track, and De Angelis and Patrese also went off early. A few words are enough to explain the race. The two Renaults didn't even allow the thrill of the usual slow start. They started magnificently and immediately created a gap. While anger and dismay characterize Ferrari's post-race, the mechanics begin to pack up the equipment and the cars even before the race ends, before the Renault and Ligier teams begin the award ceremony and celebrations for their drivers. Engineer Mauro Forghieri leaves without making statements. He was supposed to - say the other team officials - get to the airport as soon as possible to return to Italy. The drivers remain to watch, beyond the wall, the track where their rivals in many battles pass by. Jody Scheckter, though bitter, speaks without making a drama.


"I can't understand what's happening. The car was a bit better than in Argentina and Brazil. I could have fought for a placement, but I felt after a few laps that the engine wasn't working properly. For me, the race was over. Now I can't wait to get back to my family in Monte Carlo. We're not competitive anymore. Hopefully, Ferrari does something to regain the efficiency of the past season".


Gilles Villeneuve's analysis is more comprehensive and technical.


"Tires, car, engine, nothing worked well, unfortunately. Last season, we started well, then Williams came, giving us a second, a second and a half per lap. Now Renault gives two seconds to Williams, which, in turn, has been caught up by many other teams. We, however, have not progressed. So it's all clear. Personally, I had chosen harder tires than Scheckter's, but I completely lacked grip from the start. I was driving like on ice. I hope these problems are solved soon. Even if we won't win again, we should at least try to be among the best".


In the absence of Forghieri, a few words are extracted from his deputy, Tornami, always taciturn and reserved.


"At this point, there's no point in hiding the truth. We've fallen behind. We're already working hard to recover; we'll have to do something more, or we'll end up detached. It's difficult to say what doesn't work in the T5. Perhaps the car performs like last year's, but others have taken giant steps forward".


Sports director Marco Piccinini makes more or less the same considerations.


"I really hoped to have overcome the engine problem, and instead, even if to a lesser extent, troubles have resurfaced. The loss of reliability is more worrying than the result. A poorly functioning engine and a broken half-shaft are not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, hoping for a rapid arrival of the turbo engine is optimistic. It will take a long time before it can be seen on the track".


There is obviously a completely different atmosphere at Renault, even though the French team does not seem completely satisfied, torn between the joy of Arnoux's victory and the regret of Jabouille's missed success. The young René says:


"It was all easy, like in Brazil. For many laps, I was behind Jean-Pierre without struggling. Then, when I saw him slowing down, I felt both disappointment for him and the weight of responsibility for a victory precious for Renault that I could not miss. Laffite and the others didn't worry me. It's still early to talk about the world title. We have races ahead that, on paper, are unfavorable for our car: Long Beach, Monte Carlo, Montreal. However, eighteen points already are a good loot".


In any case, Arnoux's victory is creating a big problem at Renault. Soon, sports director Gerard Larrousse will have to decide whether to continue relying on Jabouille as the lead driver or to pass the role of number one pilot to the younger (and lucky) Arnoux. Alfa Romeo president Ettore Massacesi watched the race with extreme interest. In the end, he declares:


"I'm not dissatisfied, even if it could have gone better. Too bad".


Regarding the fault recorded on his car, Depailler specifies:


"The Lucas distributor drove me crazy this time. However, there's still a lot to work on the car, especially for aerodynamics and weight that must be further reduced".


Bruno Giacomelli, combative but not supported by good luck, recounts his adventure.


"I was going quite well, and maybe I would have finished in a good position when the rear wing came off. It's incredible. I didn't notice it immediately, then when the car started swaying, I thought a tire had deflated. So I looked in the mirror and realized I had lost the wing. I found myself driving as if I had three wheels. An experience I hope not to repeat. In the end, I had to retire due to the exhaust breaking, which compromised the engine's efficiency".


The adventure of the three Italian musketeers lasted a short time. De Angelis out in the second lap, Cheever and Patrese, one behind the other in ninth and tenth. Cheever took the greatest risks for an accident that was very similar to the one that cost Marc Surer both legs.


"At the end of the pit straight, I pressed the brakes to slow down, but the pedal went to the floor with no result. I started knocking down the safety nets with the car, which I had put sideways in desperation, to slow down a bit. In the end, I hit a post that straightened my Osella and pushed me straight into the wall in a head-on collision. Fortunately, there were stacks of tires that softened the impact".


Cheever suffered a couple of abrasions on an ankle while getting out of the cockpit. The car, on the other hand, is severely damaged. Elio De Angelis's race lasted less than two minutes. At the hill's curve, uphill, which leads to the starting straight, he tried to overtake Watson, who was slower. The Northern Irish pilot did not favor the maneuver, and the Italian driver, who was a bit unbalanced and too fast, spun with his Lotus, which did not restart. Setup problems also betrayed Riccardo Patrese. After the free practice sessions, the Arrows technicians decided to remove the adhesive tapes placed on the air intakes for better cooling.


"The braking remained unbalanced: the rear brakes locked up because they were hot, while the front ones, cold, did not push enough on the disc. I found myself sliding out".


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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