The mark of success of an event is when it becomes established and accepted in a short space of time, with no doubts or discussions, and the Grand Prix at Long Beach in California is one such event. Getting a race organised around the streets of a city is a daunting and difficult problem, as the enthusiasts of the City of Birmingham know only too well, yet the Long Beach group not only got their race off the ground very quickly, but got it established and accepted by the hard-bitten world of Formula One almost instantly. The first race round the city streets was a Formula 5000 race in 1975 and the first Formula One Grand Prix was in 1976. Here we all are at the fifth Grand Prix to be held at Long Beach and the overall feeling is that the event is nearly as old as the Monaco Grand Prix. By all the rules and laws of this plastic age in which we live, a race round the streets of Long Beach doesn’t make sense. If anyone re-created the Long Beach circuit as an artificial Autodrome, with all the concrete walls, minimal run-off areas, cambered roads, changes of surface, blind brows, bumps, dips and hollows they would be laughed out of court. As I have said before, thank goodness the world of Formula One is full of hypocrites. I enjoy the Long Beach race and the circuit is much better than Monaco; long may it continue. Thanks to package-tours and group-travel by air the arrival in California is well before the serious business of practice begins and there is no pre-practice testing allowed, as at Monaco, though some teams go off to various permanent tracks for private testing. Consequently there is the opportunity to investigate a little of California before the 10 a.m. practice session on Friday morning. As is accepted fact the entire Grand Prix entry is all set and ready to go under clear blue skies when the circuit is officially opened for the morning untimed session preparatory to the timed qualifying session in the afternoon. There are 27 drivers ready to do battle for the 24 grid positions, and if Mr. Ecclestone had got his way there would have been 28 drivers. At the last minute he tries to bull-doze a third Brabham entry for the oval-track racer Rick Mears, but he is confronted with the rules he agreed to last year which call for three months advance warning for enlarging a team or substituting a new driver into Formula One.
The convener of the closed shop finds the shop door closed - and locked. The previous Grand Prix was at Kyalami, 5.500 feet above sea-level, and there had been a lot of muttering about the unfair advantage that the turbo-charged Renault’s had had. Now we are at sea-level and all things are equal for all teams, while in addition the Goodyear Tyre Company has relented on their decision about supplying qualifying tyres and has come prepared to let everyone have special short-life tyres. This is a final fling, for it has been agreed all round that special qualifying tyres will not be used by anyone as from the next Grand Prix, which is in Belgium on May 4th. There is now nothing for anyone to gripe about. Turbo-charged 1½ litre engines, or 3 litre unblown engines, Goodyear tyres or Michelin tyres, race-worthy tyres or qualifying tyres, it is the same for everyone, so practice takes a pretty serious aspect, and no-one has been trying the circuit previously. There are a few changes to be seen, the McLaren team has invited Stephen South to stand-in for the injured Alain Prost and the ATS team has built a brand new D4 car and Jan Lammers is taking the place of the injured Marc Surer. The Brabham team are trying out a new gearbox on their spare car, Lotus has new gearboxes on their two cars to be used by Andretti and de Angelis, Renault is trying an AP power-assisted brake system on Arnoux’s car, which is a brand new car, Shadow has built up another car to replace the one destroyed in South Africa, many teams are using bigger brake discs and extra cooling ducts and aerodynamic devices are going out of fashion; nose-fins are disappearing altogether on some cars and rear aerofoils are reduced to very small proportions on others, while sliding skirts and the efficiency of the mechanisms are still occupying designers’ minds. I often think it is very fortunate that the majority of teams do not have to think about engines, leaving it all to Cosworth Engineering, otherwise there would be an acute shortage of brain-power in some teams. On the other hand it makes you appreciate teams like Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Renault who have to deal with all aspects of the Formula One car.
All the usual troubles arise during the morning session, with engines breaking, gearboxes breaking, cars being broken against the concrete walls, cars spinning, drivers complaining, drivers contented, drivers happy and drivers miserable, in fact, never a dull moment. There is certainly no shortage of enthusiasm and no shortage of pressing-on, even if some of it is regardless. When the excitement of the morning has dissipated and preparations has begun for the all-important timed session it is seen that Rosberg was to take the spare Fittipaldi car, F7/3, which is the first totally new 1980 car from the united forces of last year’s Wolf team and Fittipaldi Automotive. He had hit a wall in the morning and distorted the monocoque on F7/2, so it was put to one side. The reason he hit the wall is because he misjudged his apex on the right-angle bend leading onto the pit straight, his front wheel bumping the curb, which bounced the whole car off-line and into the wall on the outside of the exit of the corner. Reutemann is to use the spare Williams, number 6, as he has bent his own car, number 5 and it is taking time to fit new suspension parts. Mass is in the spare Arrows, number A3/1, as the engine in A3/4 has blown up. The Long Beach circuit is such that you have to work hard and concentrate hard even if you are going slowly, for there are so many sharp corners and hazards that a moment of inattention will put you in deep trouble. Arnoux is using the spare Renault RE22, as he is not fully convinced about the power-assisted braking on RE24, while Piquet is giving the spare Brabham, BT49/03, a try using the new Weisemann gearbox. Daly comes in with a crumpled nose on his Tyrrell, and Watson is sitting patiently while the McLaren mechanics try to stop M29C/2 from boiling.
Laffite abandons his Ligier after brushing a wall, and transfers to the spare car and Kennedy’s Shadow is wheeled in with the left-rear wheel at a drunken angle due to a broken upright. Giacomelli comes in with the nose of his Alfa Romeo all bent out of shape and Stephen South bends his McLaren when he has to dodge Depailler’s Alfa Romeo which is travelling slowly and unexpectedly. Watson is in the spare McLaren so it is the end of South’s practice. Mass is still in trouble for the spare Arrows have broken a drive-shaft universal joint. When it is all over there are no great surprises and the first six are Pironi (Ligier), Jones (Williams), Piquet (Brabham), Arnoux (Renault), Reutemann (Williams) and Jabouille (Renault). Those people who credited the Renault performance in South Africa solely to the altitude were having to think again, for both Renault drivers are up near the front in spite of a lot of brake trouble. At the back of the field are Lees, Kennedy and South, indicating that Formula One is not an easy game to break into. The Saturday morning test-session sees most of the Friday troubles put right, though Rosberg is still using the spare Fittipaldi car. The AP power-assisted braking system is transferred to the spare Renault and Arnoux gets back into his brand new car. Reutemann is back in his own car, as is Mass and everything goes a lot more smoothly as everyone prepares for the final fling in the afternoon test-session. Apart from a good grid position netting the driver/team a lot of money from the FOCA kitty, it is also pretty vital for the race as overtaking through the streets is not all that easy, and there are sections where you can get badly hold up by a slower car. The weather is staying perfect, with cloudless skies and everyone is wound up pretty tight. The Ferrari team seems to be getting nowhere at all, and get in a flap when Scheckter’s car goes sick and they have to prepare the spare car, number 042, in double-quick time.
In Friday’s timed session Lammers has got the new ATS round in a very respectable time, which has given him eighth position overall, but whether it is significant or merely because a lot of drivers are still fiddling about with their cars is difficult to say. However, while a lot of people are still fiddling the young Dutch boy is out and away, improving on his Friday time and for a brief and glorious moment he holds pole position! Drivers like Piquet, Arnoux and Depailler are getting on with the job, tough-eggs like Alan Jones are battling against the odds, in his case a recent attack of pleurisy and a still uncomfortable chest condition, the moaners are moaning, the old women are doing their knitting and the whole scene is completely satisfactory and pretty normal. A race for pole position is developing between Nelson Piquet in Brabham BT49/06 and René Arnoux in Renault RE24, two new cars on the Formula One scene. When Piquet stops for a change of tyres the Brabham mechanics work with a will, and as the young Brazilian takes off down the pit road in a full-lock power slide, wheels spinning and revs up near the maximum, his mechanics grin with delight for they know their driver is right on song and determined to hang on to pole-position lap time. Arnoux is doing wonders with the turbo-charged Renault, and when he comes in with the nose cone all smashed in a new one is quickly fitted and he is away again. Those who were not winning had good excuses ready, and a whole lot more gobble-de-gook of modern technology. Those who had no ready-made excuse said the track got slower as the afternoon wore on! It looked to me as though Piquet and Arnoux were going faster and faster as the day wore on. When it is all sorted out Piquet is on pole-position by a whole second from Arnoux, but the little Frenchman has shown that the Renault is not to be ignored even on twisty circuits. The Renault team are more than delighted for even they have thought the turbo-charged engine would be at a disadvantage on the slow corners.
Lammer’s courageous efforts with the new ATS nett him an incredible fourth place overall, just behind the tenacious Patrick Depailler with the very healthy sounding Alfa Romeo V12 and all the stars and prima-donnas who know they can drive better than the Dutch F3 driver, and have better cars than the ATS, hid behind the excuse that the track has become slower just as they were ready for their great bid for pole-position. Some people will talk themselves out of anything, and some people believe them. On Sunday morning there is the regulation thirty-minute warm-up in which the idea is to make a last-minute check on everything, running with full petrol load and on race tyres and if all the Saturday night work by the mechanics has been done well there should be no trouble. But the best laid plans, etc. Piquet is about to overtake Daly when the Irishman makes the fatal novice-mistake of trying to get out of the way, instead of getting on with what he is doing, and the result is an airborne Brabham and a bent Tyrrell. The Brabham is carefully checked for alignment and found to be OK, and the Tyrrell is straightened as well as possible. Alan Jones comes walking down the pit road, having left his Williams by the track side with a seriously blown-up engine and Reutemann comes to rest with the inboard universal joint broken on a drive-shaft. There is no time to change Jones’ engine so the spare car is prepared for him, while Reutemann’s broken pieces are replaced. The Ensign also broke a universal joint, and has new components fitted, this being MN11, the first of the 1980 cars. Scheckter is back in his own car, as are Laffite and Mass and once the Williams team are sorted out everything seems to be in order. The three non-starters are Kennedy, Lees and South, and Fittipaldi and Regazzoni are on the back row of the grid. Geoff Lees has disappeared after the first day of practice, due to catching the fashionable Californian cold, and no-one seems very interested in taking over his Shadow.
The start for the Long Beach Grand Prix is situated on the bottom straight, leading towards the Queen’s Hairpin, but the timing line and finish line are still on the top straight, opposite the pits on Ocean Boulevard, so the race is actually 80½ laps in length. As at Monaco, or any other tight and twisty circuit, it is a terrible problem to find a suitable place to start 24 cars, with a 0-100 mph time in the region of 5 seconds, and not have them fall over each other at the first corner. The start is due at 2 pm and though the skies are still cloudless a light breeze is whisking the dust and rubbish about. All 24 cars leave the pit lane to be driven round to the finishing straight where they assemble in grid order. When all is ready and 2:00 p.m. approach they set off in formation, led by Piquet in the blue and white Brabham, with John Watson’s McLaren needing a push-start. They pause at the starting lights on Shoreline Drive, the red light shone, then the green and 24 accelerator pedals are flattened as clutch pedals are released. Piquet and Arnoux are side-by-side round the hairpin, with the Brabham taking the advantage of the inside line, and Depailler driving through into second place. At the back of the field Andretti runs over someone’s rear wheel and bends his steering and Zunino dodges out of the way of what he thought was going to be an accident and hits the outside wall. Up onto the top-straight to start the first timed lap Piquet leads from Depailler, Arnoux, Jones, Giacomelli and Patrese. The number two Brabham of Zunino stays down at the hairpin, Andretti is right down among the back-markers and the ATS comes to rest on the top straight with a broken drive-shaft universal joint. At the end of the first full lap Piquet still leads from Depailler, Arnoux, Jones, Giacomelli, Patrese, Reutemann and Villeneuve all nose-to-tail. Then come Daly, Pironi, Scheckter, Jabouille, Rosberg and Laffite all very close, with Regazzoni, Watson and Fittipaldi bringing up the rear. Mass is into the pits to change a punctured tyre and Andretti is in to withdraw due to the bent steering on his Lotus. One and a half laps gone and three cars out of the race already.
There is no change on the next lap but by the end of lap 3 Piquet has pulled out a measurable lead over Depailler, and he is not waiting for anyone. Jones has overtaken Arnoux and has his sights firmly on the back of the Alfa Romeo, while Reutemann has pushed the second Williams car past Patrese’s Arrows. On the fourth lap, as the mid-field runners have braked for the hairpin before the bottom straight Giacomelli gets his Alfa Romeo all crossed up and spins sideways and then rolls back across the track. All hell breaks loose and while the unlucky ones run into each other the lucky ones find a way through the melee. When the dust has settled Giacomelli has gone, heading for the pits for a new front, leaving Jarier’s Tyrrell minus a wheel, the de Angelis Lotus 81 with the right front corner smashed in, Reutemann’s Williams with a broken drive-shaft joint, and Cheever and Scheckter heading for the pits. The Osella has been punted up the back and Scheckter has put flat-spots on his tyres as he locked everything up in a panic stop. This little kerfuffle alters the whole pattern of the race from fourth place back, but out in front Piquet is completely unruffled and is pulling away beautifully, driving with lovely precision and looking the complete master of the situation. In the multiple accident de Angelis has suffered foot injuries and has been taken off to hospital and it is remarkable that no-one else was injured. At 5 laps the scene is well settled, with the Brabham well ahead and going strongly. Depailler is still second and driving his heart out, but it is only a matter of time before he will have to give in to the pressure from the cool Mr. Jones. Arnoux is doing a terrific job hanging onto the Williams and behind them Patrese is being pressured by Villeneuve, which is not a healthy position to be in. All the way through the field there are little scraps developing, apart from Piquet who is well out on his own. Daly has his Tyrrell between the two Ligiers, all running nose-to-tail, Jabouille with fading brakes is hounded by Rosberg and Regazzoni, Watson and Fittipaldi are locked in combat.
Scheckter and Giacomelli are well behind after their pit stops, as is Jochen Mass. By 10 laps we are down to 17 cars and of those Jabouille’s Renault is in the pits with boiling brake fluid. The Ligiers dispose of Daly’s Tyrrell and the Irishman falls into the clutches of the Regazzoni, Watson, Fittipaldi dice, for they have caught up and also enveloped Rosberg. Making up time from his pit stop Jochen Mass catches this lot, though he is a lap behind, so there are six cars involved in a pretty free-for-all scrap. On lap 18 Jones gets past Depailler, to take second place and Villeneuve has long since dealt with Patrese and Arnoux and at 20 laps, or quarter distance, the order is the implacable Piquet commanding the whole scene, followed by Jones and Depailler, then Villeneuve and Arnoux, the Frenchman still refusing to give up trying, Patrese on his own, and Laffite on his own. There is now a sizable gap before Pironi appears, his Ligier having ruined its rear tyres, and then comes the motley crowd with Mass working his way through them and Giacomelli having caught them up. Fittipaldi has got past Watson, Rosberg and Daly and is hanging on to Regazzoni’s Ensign, Jabouille is still in and out of the pits with his brake troubles. By 27 laps Piquet is right behind the motley crowd at the back of the field, about to lap them, and as it is a pretty unruly crowd all engaged in their own battles, he has quite a challenge ahead of him. Time is on his side for he has a good lead over Jones, but there is no room for errors. One by one he picks them off, taking his time and never putting a wheel wrong and as he disposes of them they are automatically presented as an obstacle to the following Alan Jones. It takes Piquet eight laps to work his way through the end of the field, but he is safely through and away, having shown intelligent caution in a tricky situation. Jones gets through them all in six laps, but Piquet has the pace of the race so well in hand that he keeps the same lead over the Williams. Laffite’s Ligier subsides down at the Queen’s Hairpin with a flat tyre on lap 37 and Depailler’s brave drive comes to an end on lap 41 with a suspension breakage and a lurid spin.
To consolidate his lead Piquet sets a new lap record in 1 min. 19.830 secs on lap 38, which is a staggering improvement over the old record of 1 min. 21.200 secs set up by Villeneuve in last year’s race. The French-Canadian is driving his Ferrari harder than it really wanted to go and on lap 41 he is lapping Derek Daly when he trips over the Tyrrell and damages the Ferrari front wing. He shoots into the pits for a new nose cone and takes off like “Jack the Bear” in fifth place, but now a lap down on Piquet. He is in again on the next lap as the body work has not been fixed properly (the Ferrari team really are going to pieces). This time he rejoines the race, going as fast as ever, down among the motley crowd at the back. His efforts come to naught when a drive-shaft joint brakes on lap 47 and on the next lap we lose another front runner when Alan Jones falls over Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo as he is lapping it. The collision bends the left side track-rod almost double and also bends the right-side one, so with wheels splayed out Jones has to abandon his Williams. As Arnoux has been forced to drop right back with failing brakes, Patrese has inherited places and with all the retirements ahead of him he finds himself now in second place, albeit nearly a lap behind Piquet. The Brabham driver is still driving beautifully smoothly and is literally coasting along, any possible opposition having long gone. After his second accident Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo is too badly damaged to continue racing, though he limped back to the pits, thus avoiding the wrath of the burly Australian. As Regazzoni hurtles down to the Queen’s Hairpin at something like 170 m.p.h. he unaccountably loses all his brakes and goes straight on. The Ensign strikes the abandoned Brabham of Zunino, slicing everything off the right-hand side, and crashes head on into the barrier. Poor old Regazzoni is trapped in the wreckage for a long time, while the rescue crew cut the smashed car to pieces to get him out. He is taken to hospital with leg and spinal injuries. For Nelson Piquet the last quarter of the race is a mere formality and he cruises round as smooth as ever, with only Patrese on the same lap.
For the remnants of the field, who are a lap behind it is a different story for third place is there to be taken by anyone who tries. Although Arnoux is still holding on to third place he is slowing all the time due to his lack of brakes so Watson overtakes Fittipaldi, with his eye on that third place, but the Brazilian fights back and repasses. After his stop for tyres Scheckter has slowly clawed his way back up through the field and is not far behind the Watson/Fittipaldi duel, while Rosberg has dropped back to retire on lap 59 when his engine has failed, and Daly is going slowly with fading brakes. On lap 63 Arnoux has his right-rear tyre fail and limps to the pits for a replacement, and this lets Fittipaldi up into third place, with Watson fourth, the McLaren giving trouble with its gear selection. Scheckter is now fifth and the remaining runners are Pironi, who has lost a lot of time first with failing tyres and then a long stop for a tyre change, Mass, Daly, Arnoux and Jabouille, the Renault number one being a long way behind after stopping repeatedly to have the brake fluid changed to try and stop the overheating of the fluid. In the closing stages Scheckter chases after Watson, occasionally getting very close to him but the Ulsterman holds off the South African to the end of the race. Meanwhile Piquet has slowed right down and let Emerson Fittipaldi unlap himself so that he could complete the full 80 laps in third place. It has been a moving scene on the winners’ rostrum as Nelson Piquet has received the plaudits for his first Grand Prix victory, with his hero and idol alongside him, for every rising Brazilian racing driver must admire Emerson Fittipaldi who has led the resurgence of motor racing in Brazil. The new star from Brazil has been completely overcome by the occasion, but he has earned his acclaim to the full, with pole-position on the starting grid, a new lap record in the race and a victory after leading from start to finish. One of today’s natural winners and I am sure Fittipaldi and all of Brazil are proud of him.