#312 1978 United States Grand Prix

2022-07-31 01:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti,

#312 1978 United States Grand Prix

Ronnie Peterson is buried on Friday, September 15, 1978, in Orebro, his hometown. Since the morning in the square in front of the church of San Nikola


Ronnie Peterson is buried on Friday, September 15, 1978, in Orebro, his hometown. Since the morning in the square in front of the church of San Nikolai, a magnificent building from the 1300s where the funeral ceremony was to take place, a considerable crowd begins to gather. By 2:30 p.m., when the pilot's family arrives, the crowd amounts to over 2500 people. The coffin is already placed in the church amidst a sea of flowers. Stand out a huge crown, one entirely made of roses from Ronnie's mechanics, one with the inscription "Mario and Deanne Andretti," and one from the Swedish royals. In the afternoon at the Orebro airport, Colin Chapman arrives with his wife and all the Lotus mechanics. Ken Tyrrell, with his wife, Patrick Tambay. Niki Lauda with his personal plane and Bernie Ecclestone, the manager of Brabham. In the morning, James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi, John Watson, and Gunnar Nilsson had arrived in the town through various means. The Swedish driver, absent from races for a year due to a terrible illness, was also present. During the brief religious ceremony, drivers, executives, and mechanics take their places to the right of the coffin, facing the family. Ronnie's wife, Barbro, in black attire with long blonde hair scattered over her shoulders, is now without tears. The Protestant pastor officiating the ceremony, bidding a final farewell to Peterson, says:


"Up where you are now, dear Ronnie, there are certainly immense tracks, without dangers, where you can drive your car just as you always liked."


At the end of the ceremony, Formula 1 drivers carry the coffin, holding it by the handles, to the hearse that heads to the cemetery for burial in the presence of only family members. Before leaving, Chapman agrees to exchange a few words with journalists. He expresses once again his sorrow for the death of his excellent driver but refuses to talk about the accident. When asked why the unfortunate pilot's car was made to disappear from Monza, he responds curtly:


"It hasn't disappeared at all. It was taken to England on Sunday night following the routine of all Grand Prixs. After each race, the tents are taken down, and we go home. I don't see why an exception should be made this time."


Among the drivers, the most disturbed during the ceremony are Fittipaldi, in tears, and Lauda, who came to Sweden to pay tribute to his friend despite the loss of his father. Fittipaldi, before entering the church, had murmured:


"Terrible things that don't seem real. One moment you're full of life, and then suddenly, death attacks you."


And so, on a cloudy, cold, and sad day, the final act of Ronnie Peterson's tragedy concludes. Now, the Swedes hope that the Italian judiciary and sports authorities can at least shed complete light on the drama that unfolded in the Italian Grand Prix. Deputy public prosecutor Dr. Armando Spataro, in charge of the investigation into the tragic accident in which Ronnie Peterson lost his life, continues to receive new elements that will help clarify the dynamics of the dramatic crash. A new video, produced by Commercial Film on behalf of the Brabham-Alfa team, is delivered to Dr. Spataro in the evening. However, these images do not bring any new elements to what was already known. Nevertheless, the filming angle of the tragic start (from the top of the elevated curve) is unpublished, and therefore, the film, when compared with others, may perhaps clarify what happened. Dr. Spataro has also received a group of technicians and experts who will verify the causes and any responsibilities for the incident. According to rumors, Dr. Spataro has instructed the experts to answer, also through the examination of video recordings, the following questions: the causes that led to Peterson's death; what types of trauma the driver suffered in the accident; what types of impacts may have caused the death; any violations by the drivers of the sporting regulations. There will then be a dynamic-mechanical expertise on the cars involved in the collision. In this regard, investigators will encounter great difficulties because the remains of Peterson's Lotus and Hunt's McLaren were transported to their respective factories in England immediately after the race: at that time, there was no request for seizure from the competent authorities. 


For the technical-dynamic part, the following experts have been called: Prof. Carlo Doniselli, head of the automotive construction department at the Polytechnic of Milan; Eng. Giovanni Egisto Dini, head of the automotive construction department at the University of Pisa; Dr. Cesare Fiorio, president of the Asa (Fiat-Lancia-Abarth racing), expert in sporting regulations; King. Frere, expert in technical regulations; Eng. Giovanni De Riu, expert in technical issues. While the conditions of Vittorio Brambilla, who is still hospitalized at Niguarda Hospital, continue to improve, the world of Formula 1 has yet to absorb the tragic death of Ronnie Peterson. For the seats left vacant by the Swede (at Lotus for the next two North American races and at McLaren for the next season), contacts by various managers are beginning again with drivers who could replace the unfortunate Ronnie. According to rumors, in the running for driving the second Lotus in Canada and the United States are the Finnish Keke Rosberg and the Brazilian Nelson Piquet. At McLaren, instead, efforts are made to engage a top-notch driver capable of advancing the development of the new M28 model, now completed. With the candidacy of John Watson ruled out because he is not well-liked, there is growing speculation about an interest from the English team in Jacques Laffite. The Frenchman, who has driven the Ligier-Matra in recent seasons, is not only a very fast driver but also considered a valid tester. Riccardo Patrese, on the other hand, will not be able to participate in the United States Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, October 1, at Watkins Glen. The exclusion of the Arrows driver is decided by the organizers of the American race, who reject his entry request. Malcolm Currie, the executive director of the race, declares that he has exercised his prerogative, refusing to provide any other justification, but it is quite obvious that the rejection of Patrese has been advised by what happened at the Monza circuit during the Italian Grand Prix. Patrese, according to some testimonies, has been accused of being the cause, with a rather reckless conduct, of the tragic pile-up in which Ronnie Peterson lost his life and Vittorio Brambilla was seriously injured, now out of danger but still hospitalized. It is the first time that a Formula 1 driver has been excluded from a Grand Prix, even unofficially, for such a reason. According to this incident, Lauda, Hunt, Watson, and Emerson Fittipaldi would have threatened to boycott the United States Grand Prix if Patrese had been admitted to the race. The absence of four of the major drivers would have had disastrous repercussions for the Formula 1 Constructors' Association, which is contractually obligated to participate in all races with all teams and their most experienced drivers. It is also said that Bernie Ecclestone, who as the head of Brabham would have been directly affected by a possible absence of Lauda and Watson, exerted pressure on the organizers of Watkins Glen for Patrese to be banned. Asked about it, Ecclestone simply states:


"I have learned that Patrese's registration for the next race has been rejected, but I don't know anything else".


In an interview with the Daily Express newspaper, the sports director of Arrows, Alan Pees, says:


"We received a message from the organizers of the United States Grand Prix to inform us that they are willing to accept our cars, but not Patrese's registration. If other organizers do the same, Patrese is finished".


From other sources, it is learned that Riccardo Patrese's place will be taken by the Finnish Keke Rosberg, with whom Lotus had initially been in contact for the remaining two races of the World Championship after Ronnie Peterson's tragic death. Still, Colin Chapman later decided to let only Mario Andretti race until the end of the season. The news that the registration for the United States Grand Prix has not been accepted is brought to Riccardo Patrese by some journalists. Reached by phone on Thursday, September 21, 1978, at his home, the Italian driver says:


"Of course, this saddens me a lot. I didn't expect them to reach this point. Of course, I continue to claim that I am not guilty and for this reason, I will leave for the United States to explain my reasons to the drivers who accuse me. They probably support their accusations after seeing only the footage from Italian television; with me, I will bring more extensive documentation and hope to convince them of my innocence".


The exclusion of Riccardo Patrese from the upcoming race has sparked strong reactions in England, where almost all Formula 1 teams are based. The comment from the authoritative newspaper The Guardian is symptomatic:


"Patrese's exclusion from the United States Grand Prix sets a disturbing precedent. Although the American authorities have not officially revealed the reason for this exclusion, Patrese's reputation as an aggressive driver, particularly his role in the fatal Peterson incident, is among the likely explanations. However, the line between dangerous driving and merely resolute driving on the track is not something that should be judged by the organizers of the United States Grand Prix".


The article concludes:


"Peterson's death is a tragic and terrible event in which the entire world of Grand Prix is under scrutiny. Shifting all responsibility onto the unfortunate Patrese seems to us a malevolent way to find a scapegoat".


Even more explicit is the reaction of Jackie Oliver, the owner of Arrows, for which the Italian driver is the standard-bearer.


"The disqualification imposed on Patrese is entirely due to the actions of four or five Formula 1 drivers, namely Lauda, Watson, Fittipaldi, and Hunt, who took the law into their own hands and instituted proceedings against Patrese without allowing him the slightest chance to defend himself. Without even consulting other drivers, they then cornered the officials of the Watkins Glen race. The actions of these drivers are inexcusable because they were decided without knowing all the facts and, even more importantly, before the Italian judiciary pronounced its verdict. As both a constructor and a driver, I am disgusted and ashamed of what has happened to Patrese. I am determined to fight against the decision made by the officials of the American race. Before the practice sessions at Watkins Glen, I will convene all the drivers and organizers for a conference at which Patrese will be present in person. I hope that justice can prevail, and Riccardo is reinstated in the race".


Jackie Oliver confirms that he has a reserve driver, Keke Rosberg, if needed. The Brabham-Alfa Romeo will have three cars in the race, with Nelson Piquet also participating, likely to replace John Watson in the next season. Lotus will go to Watkins Glen with two cars, both available to Mario Andretti. On Friday, September 22, 1978, the Italian Motor Sport Commission intervenes in favor of Riccardo Patrese and issues a press release that reads:


"If the organizers of the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Watkins Glen were to actually adopt the measure announced by the press against the Italian driver Patrese, they would automatically place themselves outside the legitimacy of the international sports system. Two investigations are currently underway into the tragic event in Monza and the related responsibility, and a decision cannot be made before the results of these investigations are known. This is also to avoid giving substance to the underground interests that obscure the world of Formula 1, and of which the attitude towards Patrese would be further confirmation. CSAI has already approached CSI to request strict adherence to sports regulations".


On Saturday, September 23, 1978, Niki Lauda decides to step back and says:


"If Riccardo Patrese presents himself at Watkins Glen with a less arrogant attitude and if all the other drivers agree, he can participate in the United States Grand Prix".


The commission of drivers opposed to Patrese's presence had sent a telex to Malcolm Currie, the organizer of the American race, putting pressure not to admit the Italian driver to the race. Currie yielded to the veto, which, however, is not absolute. Lauda explains, from his villa in Hof, the small town in the green hills of Salzburg:


"No, we did not intend to exclude Patrese drastically from the United States Grand Prix. In fact, we will meet next Wednesday at Watkins Glen, where Riccardo can present his reasons. We mainly wanted to create a sensational case, draw attention to a fact that we consider very serious: the lack of a law regulating the behavior of drivers and the delay in interventions by those, like CSI, who should punish the authors of the most serious irregularities promptly and effectively, of which, albeit with many shortcomings, the current sporting code deals with. It is unacceptable that two weeks after the tragedy in Monza and on the eve of the race in America, there has been no official decision. Too much talk, too much chatter. It's not enough for us".


Lauda, who does not like football, uses this example to better explain his ideas on this topic, which he feels deeply, both as a man and as a two-time World Champion with Ferrari.


"In football, there is a referee: the game is regulated, those who are incorrect are warned or expelled. The referee shows the yellow or red card, and the situation is immediately clear. Then, that player will miss a Sunday or two. This mechanism does not exist in our sport. Why not suspend the license for a Grand Prix or two for those who behave irresponsibly? We, the drivers' commission, want something similar to the system adopted in football to be introduced in motorsport. We do not want to replace CSI, we do not intend to be judges of anyone. On the contrary, we press on CSI to do its duty. I heard that in Italy, they accused us of being mafia for our policy in Patrese's case. But what mafia? We just want clarity. Tragedies like those in Monza, in addition to losing a colleague and friend like Ronnie, worrying about Vittorio Brambilla, and fearing for our future, are disasters for the image of Formula 1. Dramas that give rise to controversies, which end up putting all drivers in a bad light. No, we are not reckless daredevils, irresponsible people driven by the desire for profit or the desire to win to do crazy things. We are just professionals doing a somewhat peculiar job".


On the causes of the collision immediately after the start of the Italian Grand Prix, Niki Lauda has clear ideas. His judgment may not please Patrese and the fans of the Italian driver, but it must be accepted with respect: it is the opinion of a competent person who, among other things, gains nothing by accusing the Arrows driver.


"The start was given incorrectly. This seems clear to me. But nothing would have happened if all the drivers had behaved correctly. I have seen and reviewed the television recording of the incident here at home. I played the tape up and down, and in the end, I convinced myself, and I regret it, that much of the blame for what happened depends on Patrese. Riccardo was able to start with more momentum than others due to the mistake of the Monza starter. And that's normal. But then he widened to the right, beyond the white line that marks the Grand Prix track on the asphalt from the section of the high-speed ring, and continued to press the accelerator until he suddenly returned, pushing Hunt against Peterson. Hunt is not to blame at all. How could he expect such a maneuver? It is true that Patrese was ahead of James' McLaren by 20-30 centimeters, but this gave him no right. It was not a situation comparable to entering a corner: Riccardo at that moment was entering the track from the outside. This is fundamental; his very serious mistake was not to lift his foot earlier, not to brake. But why do that? The race was long; if his Arrows had been more competitive than other cars, he would have had all the time to get into the top positions. And if it wasn't, in a few laps, after risking so much, he would have fallen back".


At this point, Lauda touches on a key aspect related to Patrese's character, confirming that the Italian driver was under observation by colleagues.


"I don't know Riccardo, nor have I been close to him for a long time on the track on several occasions. However, many complained about his behavior, starting with Peterson himself in Sweden. He doesn't give way on the straight, he closes you in the corner. Then he says that the fault is with others, that he is a phenomenon, and that we, all of us, are stupid. He never makes mistakes. It's an arrogant, incredible way of behaving. We are human, we make mistakes, but we try to understand each other, to help each other, we do the same job. Patrese may have good qualities, but he doesn't have the right temperament to be a professional driver. At least for now".


A harsh judgment. Lauda has a cult of professionalism in every aspect. He is precise, meticulous, and tough on himself. A strict teacher for the student Patrese. A teacher who, above all, would like a bit more humility in those taking their first steps in one of the most dangerous and challenging jobs in the world. Riccardo Patrese will meet with the Formula 1 Safety Drivers Committee at Watkins Glen, where he is accused of dangerous driving. Before taking the flight, on Tuesday, September 25, 1978, the media talks to the Italian driver at Linate airport, where his plane from Venice makes a stop before taking off to London. From the English capital, the Italian driver will depart for the United States. Niki Lauda stated that the drivers' committee wanted to create a lot of noise around Patrese's case to provoke a reaction from the CSI. The goal is to have the CSI establish a specific body to judge the on-track behavior of drivers. What does Patrese think?


"I believe that those on the committee have chosen the wrong way to make their case heard by the CSI. To implement their intentions, they involved a driver who, in the end, should be judged by the judiciary. It should have been a matter between me and them, and instead, the issue has escalated to become worldwide. It was not a very fair attitude towards me. They may have succeeded in getting the CSI to act, but my image has certainly suffered".


Lauda claims that at Watkins Glen, they will want to hear his opinion and will not oppose his participation in the race, provided Riccardo does not present himself with the tone that the Austrian considers arrogant and attributes to him as habitual. Moreover, the former World Champion argues that Patrese never wants to acknowledge the mistakes he makes. What is his response?


"When Lauda talks about an arrogant attitude, I don't think he refers to the incidents that happened this year. Many judge me as arrogant because I don't talk to them or because I don't live in their circle. But, in reality, it's they who have never accepted me: after all, I consider it natural, I'm new to the environment, they are close-knit, they have known each other for years and form a closed clan. I've never seen an openness towards me. I must say that I am shy, a bit introverted, and I prefer to keep to myself. Perhaps this way of mine may have made me appear arrogant".


Lauda has said that he received complaints from many drivers regarding his behavior on the track. How does he justify it?


"Well, in Sweden, I can admit to having adopted a defensive obstructionist tactic in the last laps of the Grand Prix when I was fighting to defend the second position from Peterson's attacks. But I don't think I violated the regulations: I recognize that this type of maneuver is not generally adopted in Formula 1, although not everyone always behaves impeccably. On this point, I can discuss and reconsider my position. As for the incidents at the start, especially the one in Monza, I again decline any responsibility. I agree that I moved to the right, but it was a natural reaction since Hunt had started before me, and I risked hitting him from behind. To avoid it, I moved, and in accelerating, I was faster than him until I found myself in that narrow passage".


And he adds:


"I want to clarify, however, that I returned not because there was a guardrail, but because I saw that there was no one on my left. If we objectively look at the footage, from the moment I re-entered to the moment Hunt touched Peterson's car, 180 meters had passed, and I think the reflexes of a Formula 1 driver are such that he can judge how to behave in such a situation. I was ahead, so it was up to him to anticipate my maneuver".


So, in Monza, he didn't make any mistakes?


"My only fault was being at the start of the Italian Grand Prix and finding myself involved in a series of negative situations. After a not-so-smooth start, I just tried to do what every driver does: go faster than the opponents".


Does he think he can participate in the United States Grand Prix?


"That remains to be seen. Everything will depend on the meeting I will have with the drivers. In the discussion, I hope to clarify many things. I will be happy to listen to their advice because they have more experience than me, but I believe that even they should open their eyes and judge more objectively on certain things".


Thursday, September 28, 1978, for the first time in the history of Formula 1, a driver is officially excluded from a race. Riccardo Patrese will not be able to participate in the United States Grand Prix for disciplinary reasons regarding safety. This is the decision made by the drivers of the special committee after a day of laborious and tense discussions, from which a statement signed by Fittipaldi, Andretti, Scheckter, Lauda, and Hunt is released. 


"The Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) safety committee of drivers has decided to confirm Riccardo Patrese's non-admission to the United States Grand Prix based on his on-track behavior in races prior to that of Monza. Patrese has admitted that his way of driving deserved the criticism directed at him. The committee unanimously decided to confirm the decision not to race at Watkins Glen if Patrese had participated in the United States Grand Prix. This decision was not made lightly, but in the absence of other interventions to discipline a driver's driving, the committee felt it was the only way to resolve the issue on this occasion. The committee urges the CSI to conduct careful checks immediately in granting licenses for Formula 1 and to ensure that only a provisional license is granted to debutant drivers. Each driver should be given a card on which to report all incidents for periodic control and examination. This examination should include a system to suspend licenses for different periods depending on the severity of the incidents. The decision regarding Patrese was not based on the Monza incidents, for which there is not enough evidence for judgment. The committee deems it appropriate to inform that, in its opinion, no responsibility can be attributed to the Monza starter and the circuit for the incident that caused Peterson's death".


Indeed, the drivers officially do not consider the tragic incident that led to Ronnie Peterson's death, but they punish the Italian driver for his previous actions in races, deemed extremely improper. Patrese is struck by the decision: he had hoped until the last moment for a reconsideration. His team, Arrows, decides to protect his interests. General manager Jackie Oliver hires a team of lawyers from New York to oppose the decision of the FOCA drivers and the previous one made by Watkins Glen race director Malcolm Currie. According to Arrows executives, the Grand Prix could even be blocked, but it is unlikely to reach that point. Patrese will be able to take part in the last race of the World Championship, the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. The confirmation from the CSI is still pending, but it is unlikely that the FIA body will intervene against the drivers' decision. Moreover, Bernie Ecclestone orchestrated the whole affair, intending not to let the young Italian Beppe Gabbiani race at Watkins Glen. Gabbiani will make his debut with Surtees, formerly owned by Vittorio Brambilla. 


The initiative was blocked by Gabbiani's managers, who threatened not to let Bobby Rahal's Wolf race either. Everything unfolds on Thursday morning in the paddocks of Watkins Glen, a circuit nestled among the hills surrounding Seneca Lake, in the woods of New York. Trailers, tents set up in vast meadows, set the scene for the trial against Patrese. The members of the safety drivers committee appear as carbonari, members of a revolutionary movement, gathered to judge the actions of a traitor. Mario Andretti, James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda, and Jody Scheckter are, along with Bernie Ecclestone, individually present in a large caravan where, around 10:00 a.m., Riccardo Patrese arrives with a suitcase, velvet pants, and a metallic Arrows jacket, looking tense and very nervous. After about three-quarters of an hour, the Italian driver emerges from the caravan with a dejected look, visibly agitated, staring blankly. To the journalists surrounding him, Riccardo says nothing; in fact, he doesn't even stop, taking refuge in his team's garage. While understanding the pilot's state of mind, it must be said that once again, even on this occasion, Patrese has shown himself to be undiplomatic, not understanding that explaining the facts and presenting his versions can help resolve difficult situations. It is learned, however, from what he tells his girlfriend, Susy, who has never left him in these hours, and from what he tells his manager, Jackie Oliver, that James Hunt was the prosecutor in the trial. The Englishman accused Patrese of being responsible for all the incidents he was involved in during the season, not least the one in Monza. Furthermore, it is learned that the most moderate and careful to speak was Andretti, while all the other committee members aligned with Hunt, including Scheckter, the new driver for Ferrari. Lauda, as soon as the meeting ended, confides to some friends that if it were up to him, Patrese should not race anymore. The harshest words, however, are spoken by Ecclestone. The English manager, as usual, seems to have the situation under control, manipulating the circus as he pleases. The head of the FOCA even allows himself a tasteless joke and an accusation of exceptional gravity. When asked what he thinks of the situation and how it would end, Ecclestone responds:


"Ask Ronnie Peterson who is there, buried seven feet underground".


This is a way of implying that Patrese is solely responsible for the death of the Swede. Nevertheless, on Friday, September 29, 1978, Riccardo Patrese rebels. The Italian driver does not passively accept the decision of the Formula 1 Drivers' Safety Committee to confirm his exclusion, for disciplinary reasons, from the United States Grand Prix. The young Arrows driver rejects the accusations both morally and practically. In essence, while admitting his own responsibilities for some incidents during the season, Patrese considers the measure taken against him too heavy, serious, and economically damaging, as well as irregular in the proceedings, before the commission. For this reason, the Arrows driver, to protect his interests, seeks the intervention of some lawyers from New York. However, Patrese does not limit himself to hiring a private law firm. He turns to the League of Civil Liberty, a group of lawyers who act free of charge, with determination, aggressiveness, competence, and knowledge of the subject, in defense of anyone who feels oppressed and denied their rights. According to American law, under which no one can be indicted or treated differently from others in a similar activity without a sentence deciding so, Patrese asks the organizers of the Grand Prix to be reinstated among the entrants in the race. If his request is not accepted, the lawyers can intervene, even invoking the suspension of the race. In fact, Riccardo's position appears quite strong. As there is no sentence, neither sporting nor judicial, against him preventing him from competing (the pressure from the drivers' committee on the Watkins Glen organizers has no legal value), the Italian driver has some chance of asserting his rights. Of course, we are in the realm of hypotheses because everyone is moving in these feverish hours, and it is not even excluded that the drivers' committee and the organizers themselves have prepared countermeasures, perhaps postponing the discussion in front of the judge to Monday, October 2, 1978, in a way that any subsequent decision will be useless since the race has already taken place. Riccardo Patrese says:


"In any case, I cannot accept this situation and exclusion from the race without trying to defend myself. The affair has damaged me too much for me to remain passive, as I had to do in front of the Drivers' Committee, where they hardly let me speak, and I had to hear accusations from people who have done all sorts of things".


And he adds:


"Hunt and company issued a statement at the end of the meeting written with some diplomacy, excluding all my responsibility for the Monza incident. But the reality is different: they think I caused Peterson's death, and they are still scared. Instead of that incident, I do not consider myself responsible, and I want it to be known in every way".


The shadow of Ronnie Peterson's tragic death hangs over the Formula 1 environment. The situation at this moment is very confusing, and it is logical that everyone is trying to shift the blame. Beyond any consideration, however, some positive facts remain that could bring benefits to all drivers risking their lives in races. The action of the safety committee was clumsy, in some respects illegal (in practice, by threatening not to participate in the race, the five members of the committee blackmailed race director Currie, who, based on the possibilities allowed by the Formula 1 regulations, did not accept Patrese), but it certainly set in motion a mechanism that could clarify many things. In the meantime, the first practice session of the United States Grand Prix doesn't bring major surprises. Andretti is once again the fastest, even setting a track record at Watkins Glen with a time of 1'38"92. This further demonstrates that his Lotus is significantly superior to other cars on every circuit. Frenchman Jean Pierre Jarier, driving this car for the first time, sets the sixth-fastest time and is likely to improve. The overall performance of Ferrari is also good. Carlos Reutemann records the second-best time, clocking 1’39"86, while Gilles Villeneuve lags behind in eighth place with a time of 1’41"43 as he seeks to fine-tune the car. On Saturday, September 30, 1978, the Patrese case is definitively closed. The Italian will attend the United States Grand Prix as a spectator. His teammate Rolf Stommelen won't be in the race either, as Arrows officially withdraws its entry in protest against the exclusion of the Italian driver. In a statement signed by the team manager, Jackie Oliver, and other officials, including German sponsor Klaus Cramer, Arrows claims to have taken this action in agreement with Patrese, but it's not true. The situation is once again highly complicated, full of blackmail and compromises. On Saturday morning, the CSI (International Sporting Commission) sends a telex to the race director of the United States Grand Prix, Malcolm Currie, instructing him to accept Patrese's entry. 


If the entry were not accepted, the CSI would consider the race invalid for the World Championship. The Safety Committee of the drivers, informed of the CSI's intervention, states that if the Italian driver were to start, they would not participate in the race. A lengthy discussion ensues, and at one point, Patrese is very close to winning his case. However, Bernie Ecclestone intervenes. The English manager informs Oliver that Arrows' acceptance into the FOCA (Formula One Constructors' Association) for 1979 would depend on the team's attitude in the Patrese case. At this point, Oliver decides it's better to sacrifice the Italian driver for the chance to be part of the FOCA and decides to withdraw the entries. Patrese disagrees and doesn't sign the statement. Meanwhile, further details emerge, highlighting how Patrese and Arrows have acted with superficiality and delay in defending their interests. Initially, according to a statement from the organizers, it was said that the judge in Elmira, before whom Patrese appeared with lawyers from Civil Liberty, had declared that the matter was not within his jurisdiction but that of the sports authorities. In reality, things went differently. The judge stated that Patrese should have officially requested permission to race from the sports commissioners at Watkins Glen. If they had refused the entry, only then could the Italian driver have the right to turn to the judge. In this case, the magistrate would undoubtedly have issued an injunction against the organizers to accept the Arrows driver into the race like all the others. However, neither the English team nor Patrese followed this procedure, and the decision to withdraw the team ruled out any possibility of reopening the matter. Perhaps it's for the best. The Italian driver, considered presumptuous and arrogant by the majority of his colleagues and particularly unfair in his driving, would have found himself in a very difficult position if his presence in the race had been forcibly imposed by the judiciary and the police who would have had to intervene at the circuit. What would have been the reaction of the Safety Committee? Lauda and others who had officially declared they wouldn't race with the Italian would have been forced to keep their word. 


One can imagine what would have happened if the Grand Prix had taken place without its main protagonists, starting with Andretti, who is, of course, the local hero. Anyway, Patrese tries to further clarify his behavior in these days, saying:


"When I appeared before the five accusers, they advised me to admit my responsibilities, not to react. And I played along, hoping that everything would be resolved with a reprimand. Instead, they hit hard. Apart from the fact that if I had obtained the injunction from the judge to race, I would have come to the circuit declaring myself willing to give up the race if Hunt had also been excluded, whom I believe has made as many mistakes during the season as I have, now I want to clarify my position. I will ask to go before the commission again and say everything I think, showing some photographs of the incident in Monza, from which it is clear that I did not collide with Hunt, but it was the Englishman who did everything on his own, crashing into Peterson".


Niki Lauda and Ecclestone, informed of Riccardo's intention to revisit the issue, say that the Italian driver is wrong to insist, and it would be better for him to keep quiet. Mario Andretti, in an interview with an American newspaper, adds that Riccardo has a forked tongue because, in front of the commission, he admitted to behaving incorrectly several times and now insists on asserting that others are track pirates. Clearly, this case overshadows the events of the United States Grand Prix, although at Watkins Glen, in every store, on all the walls, everywhere it is written: Go Mario. Andretti is going strong. The newly crowned World Champion is the favorite for victory in the United States Grand Prix. The Italo-American will start again from pole position, one second ahead of the nearest competitor, Carlos Reutemann, with Ferrari. During the last hour of practice, disturbed by a strong wind that makes the cars fly on the longest straight of the Glen, Andretti further improves the track record to 1'38"114, and Jones, Hunt, and Jarier advance in the starting grid, while Reutemann, although remaining in second place, fails to do better than Friday, and Villeneuve, also stuck on the times of the first qualifications, slips from third to fourth place, preceded by the unleashed Jones. On Sunday, October 1, 1978, during the free practice session in the morning, Mario Andretti is involved in a frightening accident. The Italo-American collides with a guardrail at the end of the long straight from the pits due to the failure of a half-shaft on his Lotus. The car is almost completely destroyed, losing the left rear wheel. Andretti was almost done with the practice to finally fine-tune the car and was driving at maximum speed, as he couldn't achieve the desired times. The best results are, in fact, achieved by the Ferrari of Villeneuve and Reutemann. Mario is forced to race in Jarier's car, set up for the Frenchman. Jarier, in turn, participates with the spare car, completely devoid of setup. 


At the start of the United States Grand Prix, Mario Andretti quickly takes the lead, followed by Carlos Reutemann, Gilles Villeneuve, Alan Jones, Niki Lauda, Jean-Pierre Jarier, James Hunt, John Watson, and Jody Scheckter. However, during the third lap, Mario Andretti, struggling with braking problems, is passed by both Reutemann and Villeneuve. Reutemann's advantage gradually increases, and over time his opponents move away, swapping places but never getting closer. The other Lotus driver, Jarier, has tire problems and slides to eleventh place before returning to the pits during lap 11. Reutemann continues comfortably in the lead, followed by Villeneuve, Andretti, Jones, Lauda, Hunt, and Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who performs a nice series of overtakes. On lap 21, Jones passes Andretti. Mid-race, Carlos Reutemann leads the United States Grand Prix comfortably, while on lap 21, suddenly, a piston breaks in Gilles Villeneuve's engine, and Jones finds himself behind Reutemann, trailing by 35 seconds. Mario Andretti continues to lose positions, being passed by Niki Lauda as well. During lap 26, Jabouille and Scheckter pass Hunt, and during lap 28, Andretti retires due to an engine failure. In lap 29, Lauda also retires for the same reason. The standings now show Carlos Reutemann in the lead, followed by Alan Jones, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Jody Scheckter, Patrick Tambay, and Emerson Fittipaldi. Meanwhile, during lap 34, Jean-Pierre Jarier passes Emerson Fittipaldi. Then, during lap 37, the French driver also overtakes Patrick Tambay. And during lap 53, the Lotus driver passes Jody Scheckter and Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who is slowed down by braking system issues, rising to third place. Jody Scheckter also takes advantage of the situation and passes Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Jarier will be forced to retire during lap 55 due to a lack of fuel. 


Carlos Reutemann and Ferrari ruin Mario Andretti's party. The newly crowned World Champion intended to celebrate with another victory after clinching the title at Monza. But the Lotus betrayed him this time. Also, an incident in the morning, when the Italo-American crashed in the free practice due to the breakage of a half-shaft, hitting the guardrail, losing a wheel, and ruining his car. Andretti had to participate in the race with Jarier's car, adjusted for the Frenchman. Jarier, in turn, had to climb into the spare car. Carlos Reutemann had said on Saturday, on the eve of the race:


"Tomorrow I will certainly go for a good run. The car is perfectly tuned, and I am confident that I will achieve a good result".


The eve's prediction was fully confirmed, indeed, it went beyond all expectations with the victory of the Argentine and the second triumph of the year for Ferrari. The success - it must be acknowledged - was facilitated by Andretti's situation, who had to race with Jarier's car, certainly in a psychologically inferior condition. The American remembered what had happened in Monza when Peterson, after destroying the car in the morning practice, had to drive the reserve car and was involved in the unfortunate fatal accident. Andretti had a big scare in the free practice, flying into the guardrail, destroying the car, and certainly did not have an aggressive race as he usually did. Furthermore, he was stopped by brake problems and, finally, by the engine failure. It's needless to say how Carlos Reutemann is beaming at the end of the race. He has never been seen so cheerful, smiling, willing to talk.


"Four victories in a year are a good record. Especially considering that Lauda, with three wins last year, won the world title. It didn't go as well for me; I couldn't achieve other placements, but I am already satisfied like this".


At this point, are you regretting leaving Ferrari and signing with Lotus?


"Lotus is an excellent team and has very competitive cars. I think they have demonstrated that throughout the season. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, ask Ferrari why I left. I don't want to say more".


A rather heavy remark toward Maranello from the South American. What does it mean? Probably, Reutemann would have been willing to stay, but he did not reach an agreement with Ferrari and was forced to leave, making way for Gilles Villeneuve and Scheckter.


"I am happy because we did a good job. Now the car is really good, and especially the tires are in good shape and improve from race to race. We have raised a child who has grown very well, and I am convinced it will bring a lot of satisfaction to whoever replaces me in the future. Anyway, I have shown that I am not a finished driver, as some have claimed, and that I still have a great desire to race and win".


The Argentine talks about the race, honestly admitting that it was not too difficult for him.


"I overtook Andretti at the end of the straight because I believe Mario had problems with the brakes. From that moment, I just had to be careful in overtaking and control the race. I didn't even push too hard because the pit signaled that Jones was far away and had no chance of bothering me. I feel sorry for Villeneuve because he could have done well too. I dedicate this victory to the second team of Ferrari mechanics, who worked very well and were of great help to me".


This dedication from Carlos is also a bit polemical: until he signed with Lotus, the South American was entitled to the first team of mechanics. With Scheckter's arrival, Villeneuve took his place, and he got the second team. Nevertheless, competent guys, to whom Carlos dedicates this success. The long Formula 1 season, which began in January in Argentina, is about to conclude. 


On Sunday, October 8, 1978, on the new circuit built on Notre-Dame Island, on the San Lorenzo River, practically in the center of Montreal, the last Grand Prix of the year, the one in Canada, will take place. The World Championship has already expressed its values: Andretti and Lotus have dominated far and wide on all tracks, collecting titles, victories, satisfactions, and millions of dollars. Unfortunately, once again, the world of Grand Prix leaves behind a trace of pain for the tragic loss of Ronnie Peterson in Monza and controversies over the Patrese case, erupted after the Italian Grand Prix and closed with the exclusion of the Arrows driver from the United States Grand Prix. An affair that made everyone look ridiculous, from the drivers to the managers, to the organizers, and especially to the sports authorities. But Formula 1 is a monster that eats everything and burns characters, feelings, anything, in a short time. Just consider the example of poor Peterson. Much mourning, accusations, measures after his death, intentions for the future. Behind the scenes, however, the only element that has prevailed over everything is the place that the Swede left vacant at McLaren, the team for which he had already signed a commitment for the next season, abandoning Lotus. His death has triggered a series of changes in the driver market, leading to Watson's hiring by the English team to fill the void left by Peterson. One champion disappears, and others are found. The life of Grand Prix drivers is becoming increasingly tough in a game of millions of dollars, sponsorships, blackmail, alliances played under the watchful eye of team principals like Bernie Ecclestone who pull the strings of this immense circus. Apart from established champions, the few names that include Andretti, Lauda, Scheckter, Fittipaldi, Hunt, and others, who are contested with dizzying salaries, all the others must fight incredibly hard to get a seat. Only those with a patron, a company, someone willing to pay huge sums for advertising, find a place. Young people, in particular, are chosen based on two criteria: undoubtedly, their skill expressed by results in minor formulae. 


However, more often than not, the more significant criterion for selection is the money that a rookie can bring and the political interest that supporters and car manufacturers have in him. To be hired by Brabham-Alfa in place of Watson, alongside Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet brought $500.000 to Ecclestone, pleasing Alfa Romeo, which has significant interests in the South American market, and Parmalat, which has the same goal of expansion. It is said that the young Elio De Angelis, son of the well-known Roman builder, had to commit to paying a more or less identical (or even higher) amount to go to Tyrrell. And so in other cases. The Warsteiner brewery, which sponsors Arrows, spent over $1.000.000 to paint Patrese and Stommelen's cars gold this year. And, setting aside the latter due to the scarcity of results, it imposed the hiring of another German driver. Hence the arrival of Jochen Mass. Some drivers, despite their advanced age, are in high demand. Clay Regazzoni is valuable for his experience, but it is certain that some teams would like him because they believe that the Swiss driver, all in all, can bring in good sponsors and is liked by both the Swiss and the Italians, two markets where many interests can be had. Clay could have the second Renault car, even if the French team is under pressure to favor French drivers. Regazzoni is also in demand from Williams (subsidized by the Arabs), who certainly have many business dealings in Switzerland. Behind every contract, there is a backstory. Only a few teams think about having the best they can find on the market. This seems to be the case with Ferrari, which, being a true car manufacturer, must also look after results, not having sponsors to please. Then there are the cases of small self-managed teams like Merzario's, which would be content to keep going, to participate. Finally, there are the drivers, perhaps even talented ones, who risk being unemployed, as could happen to Bruno Giacomelli, the European Formula 2 champion, because he is looking for a good seat and sees the way blocked by those who have money. In short, as said, a ruthless world, where sport has very little to do. Only when the cars hit the track can everything be forgotten, and the show begins.


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