#313 1978 Canadian Grand Prix

2022-07-30 01:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti,

#313 1978 Canadian Grand Prix

One week after the United States Grand Prix took place at Watkins Glen, the Grand Prix circus arrive to “pitch tent” in the new surroundings of the Il

One week after the United States Grand Prix took place at Watkins Glen, the Grand Prix circus arrive to pitch tent in the new surroundings of the Ile Notre-Dame circuit, an artificial road course made up of access roads round a small island in the St. Lawrence River a stone’s throw from the centre of Montreal. This is the third venue for the Canadian race since its inclusion in the World Championship series 11 years ago, most of the races taking place at the Mosport Park circuit not far from Toronto. Twice the race was held at the St. Jovite circuit, to the north of Montreal, but since 1971 it has been at Mosport with a gap in 1975 when there was an argument between the teams and the organisers. The teams returned to Mosport in 1976 and 77, but it was becoming clear that discord was fast developing between competitors and circuit owners, so this year the race move to Montreal. Against the backdrop of Montreal’s high rise office blocks and hotels, the 2.796-Mile Ile Notre-Dame track winds and twists as way round dilapidated structures built for the Expo '67 exhibition 11 years ago as well as facilities provided for the more recent Olympic Games. Two weeks before the Grand Prix is scheduled to take place, the track receive its regulation baptism when a Canadian national Formula Atlantic event take place. Two drivers, Rosberg and Rahal, take part in this inaugural race and adjudge the circuit pretty tight and tortuous in Formula Atlantic single-seaters so there is speculation that nobody would be able to get past when it come to running 3-litre Formula One cars round it. After the Watkins Glen race there is a predominantly end of term feeling amongst all those teams, drivers, mechanics, journalists and hangers on who have following the World Championship trail since it began in sunny Argentine last January, seemingly an age ago. But there is still one or two interesting changes for the final race of the season, not to mention a spectacular (but in no way unexpect) decision from Goodyear to initiate development and tyre supply contracts with nine specific teams and leave the rest to either buy their own rubber or find an alternative supplier.
The fortunate teams are Arrows, Brabham, Copersucar, Lotus, Tyrrell, McLaren, Ligier, Williams and Wolf. Minor changes to the entry list include the addition of Brazilian F3 star Nelson Piquet in the spare Brabham BT46, this promising youngster taking over from Watson as Lauda’s number two next year. Piquet enter provisionally at Watkins Glen, but subsequently withdrawn, but once the American race is over and all three Brabham chassis emerge in one piece, Ecelestone decide to give his new recruit a run in Canada. It is emphasised, of course, that the two established team members would have first choice in the use of Piquet’s car as a spare if necessary. Tambay decide to switch back to McLaren M26/3 after driving the ex-Giacomelli M26/7 at Watkins Glen while Andretti begin practice at the wheel of Lotus 79/1 while Jarier go back to using 79/3 which is been snatched from him by the new World Champion after 79/4 was crashed in the race morning warm up at Watkins Glen. 79/4 is repaired and ready for Andretti’s use when he require it. In the Ensign camp there is just one entry for Daly, Morris Nunn feeling that it is best to keep a spare chassis on hand for the Dubliner. To compound the tight and twisting nature of this new circuit, torrential rain virtually wash out the two sessions of practice on Friday, there being a brief respite for ten minutes or so right at the end of the Friday afternoon spell. Even then, it is a question of being ready to go at the right moment and keeping in the dry groove which successive cars produce round the circuit. Surprisingly, the three Brabham runners are not ready and find themselves caught on the hop with the result that none of them is qualified at the end of the first day. Fortunately, practice don't turn out to be that illogical and the conditions drive out on Saturday afternoon. Thus the status quo is largely restored, although the grid provide some surprises with strange faces in unfamiliar places. But, in reality, Friday’s times are irrelevant and only indicate who have the bravado and temperament for effective wet weather driving.
In both saturated sessions, Michelin’s wet weather tyres are a major factor in helping the Ferrari 312T3s of Reutemann and Villeneuve to dominate the proceedings. Reutemann is quickest in the first session in 2'02"578 (a comparison with the F/Atlantic dry weather fastest lap of 1'44"650 indicates just what the conditions is like), with his young French Canadian team-mate just over a second slower, a reflection, perhaps, of his less sympathetic use of the throttle. Even taking into account the drier conditions right at the end of the second session, those two Italian flat-12s continue to hold sway throughout the afternoon, Reutemann improving to 1'57"940 and Villeneuve to 1'58"605. Andretti take his 79/1 round in 1'59"150, so prospects look quite good for Lotus, while the lanky Hans Stuck, a great enthusiast in the wet, splashed his Shadow DN9 happily round in 1'59"150, his quick reflexes coping superbly with the slippery surface. Then come Jody Scheckter in the Wolf WR6 (1'59"916) and Jarier who is once again proving himself at home in the cockpit of a Lotus 79. The Frenchman record a 2'00"214 which is fractionally faster than Alan Jones could manage in his newly rebuilt Williams FW06/002 which is been reassembled round a fresh monocoque following its trip into the catch fences during practice at Watkins Glen. His best is  2'00"244, just in front of Daly’s Ensign MN06, the Irish driver intending to start the day at the wheel of MN07 but finding the clutch mechanism locked solid when he try to drive it away at the start of the first session. He thus transfers immediately to MN06, proving Nunn’s decision to run a single entry to be a wise one. There are one or two others to demonstrate commendable form in the wet, notably Rosberg in his ATS D1, the Finn managing a 2'02"014, while Surtees drivers Gabbiani and Arnoux are well in the swim of things in the middle of the practice lists.
It is all good, spray-raising fun although a little irrelevant to the serious business of the weekend, and the whole episode is proving highly frustrating to the Renault organisation with Jabouille struggling away at the back, apparently with little chance. After the team’s fourth place finish at Watkins Glen, Montreal provide a big let-down because the tight, twisting circuit in the pouring rain pose just about the most singularly unsuitable conditions for the 1.5-litre V6 turbocharged engine to operate in. Even when the circuit dry out on Saturday, Jabouille is destined to be the last qualifier on the grid. Of course, in such dismal conditions, there is a surplus of off-course casualties as everybody splash about in the spray, trying to avoid each other as well as keeping off the high kerbs and muddy run-off areas. Those who fall foul of the diabolical conditions including Piquet who run BT46/5 gently off the road on Friday afternoon, bending the right front corner as a result, plus Bleekemolen’s ATS (which bends the front of its monocoque) and Laffite in the Ligier. The French driver’s excursion is a little more complicate and result in the session briefly coming to a halt. The Ligier driver spins JS9/02 into the guard-rail and then attempt to drive back to the pits, not knowing that the impact have dislodged a gearbox oil plug. Within a few hundred yards the gearbox stops and the blue car stops in the middle of the track. Regazzoni crash his Shadow DN9 which is particularly frustrating as the mechanics have rebuilt his machine round the monocoque of DN9/4A-4 since Watkins Glen, his previous machine having kink its monocoque over a kerb at the American track. So now the team have two bent monocoques out of which to reassemble a car for the Swiss and close examination confirm that it would be easiest to reassemble the DN9 with its Montreal damaged tub. That’s what they do, but Regazzoni couldn’t qualify the machine.
Tambay found himself climbing back into the unloved M26/7 after an oil line fracture on M26/3, Rosberg has gearbox problems on the ATS and Rahal crash his Wolf WR5 too badly to repair for Saturday. As a result, the Wolf team have to reclaim the original WR1 chassis, which is on display in the foyer of a Montreal hotel, and work through the night preparing the car for Rahal to practice on Saturday. Award for the most unfortunate spinner go to Lotus privateer Rebaque who rotates on his own and once with some assistance from Daly. Although the track dry out for the final hour of practice on Saturday afternoon, there is a biting cold wind and the threat of snow from the north. Villeneuve sets the pace in that final hour, recording 1'38"230 in his Ferrari and it look for a long time as think it would be quick enough to take pole position. But Jody Scheckter get himself well wound up in his Wolf to record 1'38"026 and then Jarier eclipse both of them with a stupendous 1'38"015 which leaves people wondering just what sort of magic machine Chapman have evolved in the Lotus 79. Villeneuve retain third place on the grid, feeling that he lost out slightly because his Ferrari is fitted with softer brake pads for the rain, but he still qualified for the second row just in front of Watson, the fastest of the Brabham-Alfa Romeo runners who record 1'38"417. Alan Jones ran out of fuel near the end of the session, making him very annoyed, and he did a 1'38"861. Then come several people with minor niggles, notably Fittipaldi on 1'38"930, frustrated with a water leak, and Lauda on 1'39"020, complaining that his Brabham wouldn’t turn into slow corners as he would like. Completing the fourth row is a very happy Hans Stuck but Andretti is back on the fifth row on 1'39"236, the World Champion’s two days of practice frustrated by a minor balance problem in 79/4 (to which he’d switched on Saturday), the difficulty subsequently trace to incorrect camber adjustments although practice is over before this is found out.
Then come Laffite and a deflate Reutemann, unable to understand why his Ferrari feel so abominable. Patrese is another to ran out of petrol, but he still manage to beat Depailler and the cautious Piquet who is playing himself in with caution and commendable respect. Daly qualified ahead of Arnoux and both McLaren drivers are in trouble. Hunt have to take the spare M26/7 after M26/5 stops out on the circuit with throttle control disorders and Tambay runs over the back of Rebaque in one of the hairpins, bending a front rocker arm on his M26/3. Rahal qualified the old Wolf while Rosberg and Jabouille share the back row of the grid, both disappointed. Non-qualifiers include Regazzoni, Gabbiani, Stommelen, Rebaque, Merzario and Bleekmolen, an interesting mixture. Thankfully, race morning dawned dry and blustery which is a good omen for the thousands of French-Canadian enthusiasts who poured into the circuit to cheer their hero Villeneuve. A welcome cache of respectability is bestowed on the event by the presence of Canada’s progressive and popular Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, and it is the nation’s Premier who wave the 22 cars away on their parade lap before the official starting signal is given. Jarier make the best start, leading Scheckter into the fast right-hander beyond the pits with Jones and Villeneuve side-by-side in their wake. As they brake for the left-hander into the first chicane, Stuck come barging through, spins his Shadow in the middle of the pack and forcing Fittipaldi off the circuit and into the catchfencing. Laffite also get involved but quickly resume the chase, leaving Stuck to trail dejectedly back to the pits where he retires with damage suspension and steering. Fittipaldi, absolutely furious with the German driver’s behaviour, end his race there and then amidst the catch-fencing. At the end of the first lap the order is Jarier, Jones, Scheckter, Villeneuve, Watson, Andretti, Depailler, Lauda, Reutemann and the rest.

There is no catching Jarier for the Frenchman have opened a two second gap over Jones by the end of lap one, rushes away into the distance in brilliantly smooth and controlled style. With three laps completed he has almost seven seconds over the Williams driver and he progressively open out his advantage until he is 13 seconds in front after as many laps. Jones initially hold a strong second place, the strong Australian driver feeling well able to cope with both Scheckter and Villeneuve who are close behind. Unfortunately he realises that a rear tyre is losing pressure after only five laps and, after an increasingly difficult battle, he is forced to give best to both Wolf and Ferrari. By lap 19 he is fade to fourth place. Meanwhile, further down the field there is trouble with Andretti attempting to slip up the inside of Watson at the hairpin as the field complete lap five. There isn’t sufficient room for an audacious manoeuvre of that nature and the Lotus make firm contact with the Brabham, both cars spins to a halt facing each other on opposite sides of the circuit. Despite trying to dissuade the marshals, both cars are push-started to get them out of their predicament (they don’t want to fire up on their starters, anyway). Watson come straight into the pits, resume the race and retire three laps later with damage rear suspension, while Andretti continues almost a lap down on the leader. On lap ten Rahal makes the first of three pit stops to investigate intermittent misfiring on his Wolf WR1, a problem that eventually led to his retirement after 16 laps. It seems likely that one of the flap valves in the fuel system is somehow sticking, possibly the legacy of WR1’s long layoff from active service. A lap later Laffite come in to change both rear wheels, suspecting one of them to have worked loose in the first-lap incident. A lap later Depailler come past the pits pointing at his front tyres, indicating to his mechanics that the softer compound Goodyears chosen to run are not lasting up to the pressure of the race.


On lap 17 the blue Tyrrell come rolling into the pit lane, both front wheels are changed, and the Monaco winner is back in the fray down in 13th position, set for a fine climb back through the field. Lauda goes from the lap charts shortly after team-mate Watson, his Brabham out of brakes, so the sense of disappointment in Ecclestone’s camp is magnified when Piquet suddenly drops back from seventh to 11th as he begin to experience difficulty in selecting gears. He keep going as well as he could, watching his mirrors to make sure he don’t badly baulk faster cars, something he generally manage to avoid doing although he do chop off Scheckter quite badly on one occasion. With 20 laps of the race completed Jarier is holding sway at the head of the field, not looking in the least flustered as he steers his Lotus between the chicane kerbs with considerable precision, Scheckter is second, then Villeneuve, Jones, Reutemann, Daly, Patrese, Rosberg, Pironi and Tambay. On lap 27 Reutemann take fourth place from the still-slowing Jones while Rosberg bring the ATS into the pits with a bad misfire that take three pit stops to cure, eventually being trace to a problem with the fuel metering unit which have to be changed. Jones could stay out with that deflating tyre no longer than 33 laps, so then he came in for fresh rubber all round. Thus equipped, Jones returns to the race to establish the first official F1 record for the Ile Notre-Dame circuit, lapping in 1'39"072 despite the fact that he have to hold the car in third gear and haven’t got an operational fifth gear at all. As he remarked afterwards, that is a reflection of just how well the Williams is handling on the Montreal track. Scheckter is chasing as hard as he could in second place, but he isn’t making any impression on Jarier’s advantage and it seems as though Colin Chapman’s stand in is on the way to scoring the team’s ninth victory of the season out of 16 races. But, sadly for the Frenchman, things are not going to work out like that.


Half-way round lap 46 Jarier feel his car sliding about a bit more than usual and when he presse the brake pedal he realise that they are not as effective as they have been. There is an oil leak onto the rear brakes and, two laps later, the loss of lubricant begin to show up on the oil-pressure gauge. Then, at the end of lap 49, it is all over and Jarier quietly bring his Lotus into the pits to save blowing its engine apart, stepping out of the cockpit to be consoled by Colin Chapman after a very worthy effort indeed. Thus, with 21 laps to go, Gilles Villeneuve is leading his home Grand Prix and the crowds goes wild with excitement and delight. It would have been so easy for the young French-Canadian driver to get over-excited in such a situation and perhaps threw the whole thing away by clipping a wheel against one of the many guard-rails that line the circuit. But, as he proved at Long Beach and Monza, Villeneuve is a very cool customer indeed and doesn’t easily become flustered. He keeps himself carefully in check for the remainder of the race and come home to take the chequered flag, a delighted and satisfied winner of his home Grand Prix. Reutemann is catching Scheckter towards the finish, but the Wolf driver hungs on to finish a strong second while Patrese who takes every step to keep out of trouble, boost his rather shaken confidence by coming home fourth in his Arrows A1. Depailler is really wound up after his pit stop for tyres and came rocketing back to fifth, just in front of Derek Daly’s Ensign, the Irish driver driving well just as he has done at Watkins Glen. Eighth is Tambay, nursing fading brakes, in front of Jones and Andretti, while Piquet and Jabouille are running along with Rosberg, although the quick ATS driver is too far back to be classified. James Hunt spin off with under 20 laps to go while the impressive Arnoux stop with engine failure after an early pit visit to change a bent steering arm.


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