#309 1978 Austrian Grand Prix

2022-08-03 00:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti,

#309 1978 Austrian Grand Prix

It never ceases to amaze that the Grand Prix at the Osterreichring has become so established in such a relatively short space of time, the first GP be


It never ceases to amaze that the Grand Prix at the Osterreichring has become so established in such a relatively short space of time, the first GP being held in 1970. Apart from a healthy enthusiasm among the organisers and public alike, the whole concept of the Osterreichring is right from the word go, when its form is laid out on the mountainous hillside of the Zeltweg-Knittelfeld valley. Even people who enjoy the street racing and glamour of Monte-Carlo or long Reach have to admit to the charm and pleasant atmosphere that surrounds the Austrian circuit, with its Nürburgring character and countryside. In no way could you describe the Österreichring as an autodrome. On the Thursday afternoon before this year’s Grand Prix all seems settled in the Paddock; all the team transporters are parked and unloaded, the tyre companies are in full swing mounting tyres, the hospitality buses and coaches are ready to open next morning and there are 31 drivers ready to contest the 26 positions on the starting grid. There is to be no pre-practice sort out of the rabbits, all are welcome for the Austrian curcuit is considered big enough to take everyone. Then, at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday it is announced that Ertl, Rebaque, Lunger, Arnoux, Rosberg, Stommelen and Merzario have to present themselves at 8:00 a.m. on Friday morning, ready to do three-quarters of an hour practice, from which the fastest seven out of the eight would be permitted to take part in the official practice due to start at 10:00 a.m. All that effort and activity to eliminate one driver seems to be very pointless, they might just as well have drawn lots. On Friday morning the eight thrash round and Rolf Stommelen is the one to be left out, through no fault of his own.


He is driving a brand new car built by the Arrows team to a design that is considered not to infringe any design features of the Shadow cars, and thus keep the English Law Courts happy, following the legal ‘punch-up’ Shadow v Arrows in which Arrows lost. The Oliver/Rees/Southgate consortium has actually designed and built a new car before the Law Courts decision is made, and it has been on test at Zandvoort. This car is to be driven by Patrese and the second one, which is brand new, was for Stommelen. During the early morning rabbit-pie session it springs a fuel leak and strands Stommelen out on the circuit, destroying all hopes of him getting into the magnificent seven; they should have drawn lots. After some film making play, during which Lauda circulated with a camera on his Brabham-Alfa Romeo, the serious business of practice begins. You hardly has to be clairvoyant to imagine how the Lotus 79 would perform on the high-speed, undulating Österreichring, with its fast corners and 135 m.p.h. lap speed. Equally, the turbocharged Renault is going to need watching for there are no slow corners on the Austrian circuit, and high-speed acceleration is all important. Andretti’s Lotus 79/3 has improved lower wishbones, front and rear of the same elliptical-section tubing, but of better construction, while Peterson’s Lotus 79/2, still retains the round-section ones; and this is to prove technically significant if we are to believe everything we are told, but more of that later. The early morning rabbits have been lapping around 1'41"0 so any self-respecting Formula 1 driver just had to get 1'40"0 for a start. Reutemann’s Ferrari (036) has its alternator fail before practice begins so he has started in the spare Ferrari (035) while his own is repaired, and Villeneuve is in his usual car (034); all three cars have the same exhaust layout, of two pipes over and two pipes under.


The Michelin tyres seems to be working well on the high-speed corners, and both drivers are quite competitive. Two of the Brabham-Alfa Romeos are fitted with side radiators at the forward end of the monocoque sides, and they are neatly faired in and looking very permanent. These are BT46/6 (Lauda) which also has the carbon-fibre brakes, and BT46/6 (Watson) which is on normal disc brakes. The spare car (BT46/3) has the old type of front-mounted water radiators. Both drivers are soon in the sub 1'40"0 class, but a long way off the fastest time, which is set up by Peterson in 1'37"71. Once again there are mixed feelings in the Lotus camp, for while Andretti is sorting out tyres, roll bar and aerodynamic settings, Peterson is going indecently fast without any drama. Andretti is fast, but not fast enough to catch the Swede! Renault has modified one of their cars (RS01/02) to a new inter-cooler layout, with a water radiator incorporated in the cooler, this radiator being piped into the main engine cooling system. It reduces the temperature of the ingoing air and gives better torque characteristics rather than more power. The second car, 03, do not have this modification. The car with the new layout runs remarkably well and very reliably throughout the morning and is well up among the fast runners. Among the tail-enders Rosberg is in trouble with a locking left-front brake on the Wolf WR3, so goes out in WR4 while it is investigated and finds to be caused by a hub bearing breaking up, so the whole assembly is changed. Bob Sparshott’s B & S Fabrications team has expanded into running a two-car team, with Brett Lunger still in the McLaren M26 and the young Brazilian Formula Three star Nelson Piquet in their M23 McLaren. He is settling in nicely and unkind people are saying that the sight of another Brazilian driver, and in a McLaren to boot, is making Emerson Fittipaldi wake up.


True or not, Fittipaldi is showing some of the firm that his fans have been waiting a long time to see and the Copersucar Fittipaldi is going very well. Derek Daly is back in the number one works Ensign, and Harald Ertl is in the second car. In spite of all their legal problems the Arrows team has done a monumental amount of work in producing two brand new cars, completely redesigned so as not to infringe any Shadow design features, but still following the wing car concept. As the beginnings towards cleaning up the air-flow through the rear suspension a complex system of tubular wishbones, struts and links-operated coil spring/damper units mounted above the gearbox with a clever link system operating a longitudinal torsion bar in a torsion tube; the left-hand suspension is coupled to the torsion bar and the right-hand suspension to the torsion tube. The cockpit monocoque is so slim that the gearlever and operating rod are outside on the right, covered by the fibre-glass cockpit surround. Like a Sharrows the front suspension is still hung on the ends of the steering rack casting, but there are different supporting struts. Patrese spends Friday morning learning about the new car, designated the A1, as he has not sat in it before, Stommelen having done the Zandvoort test driving, and it is this first car, A1/1, that the young Italian is using. Local driver Hans Binder is endeavouring to take part in his home Grand Prix and is driving the second ATS car, but it goes wrong and he has to switch to the spare car, which upset his rhythm. His famous compatriot, Niki Lauda, is not at all happy in the side-radiator Brabham, and tries the spare car (BT46/3) with front radiators, and his team-mate Watson is equally ill at ease. By the end of the morning Lotus are fastest (Peterson in 79/2) but Reutemann, is second fastest (Ferrari T-car 035) so there are heavy discussions between Andretti and Chapman and Lauda and Gordon Murray.


The Ligier team are very happy at being fourth fastest, Laffite driving the newer version of the JS9 and Fittipaldi is radiant with his fifth fastest position. During the lunch-break (for those who have no work to do) the two Brabham-Alfa Komeos are converted back to front-mounted radiators and Chapman and Andretti evolve a remarkable theory to account for Peterson’s better times. Andretti feels that his car, 79/3, is not as well balanced as it should be and that the fault lay in the aerodynamics under the car. The only obvious difference between 79/3 and 79/2 is that 79/3 (Andretti’s car) has the latest elliptical-section lower front wishbones and 79/2 (Peterson’s car) has the earlier round-section wishbones. The theory is evolved that the turbulence caused by the wishbones is markedly different, one from the other, and that the apparently better streamlined ones are in fact doing something odd to the air-flow through the side-pod vemuri. Without question air passing over an aerodynamic surface does strange things, and the Lotus 79, like its forerunner the Lotus 78, uses vortex generators to start the air spinning in the desired direction. In any lesser team the number one driver would have tried the number two car and if it has felt better he would have taken it. In Team Lotus it’s a bit different, so for the afternoon practice the wishbones on Andretti’s car are changed into a temporary round-section by taping on split plastic hose pipe! This is claimed to be the answer to Andretti’s worries, and he put in times virtually the equal of Peterson’s morning times. The Swede has little chance to encourage or refute the theory as his Nicholson-built Cosworth engine destroys itself completely when a connecting rod broke, which is the end of practice for Peterson. Another engine which destroyed itself, before the driver got under way, is the Cosworth in Hunt’s McLaren, and while he is being strapped into the spare car by the mechanics the team management are at the pit wall waiting for him to finish the lap.


The difference with the irabhams with their front radiators compared to the side radiators is so inconclusive that Murray is all for leaving them at the front and Orgetting the whole scientific approach. Then when something breaks in the transmission on Lauda’s car and he abandones it out on the circuit and appears on foot through the back of the pits to take the spare car on (BT46/3), poor Murray nearly despairs. While all this is going on the Renault is going faster and faster and has got up to third fastest overall, behind the two Lotus cars. In addition it goes through a speed trap in front of the pits at 162 m.p.h., faster than anyone, which made a few eyebrows rise; for the pits straight is approached by the fast downhill Rindt Curve, where handling is pretty vital. More than satisfied with the whole situation Renault let Jabouille go out in the spare car just to check it. The Brabham troubles are not over for the engine in the spare car breaks just before the end of practice. On the afternoon times Andrew is the Fastest with 1'37"76 but Peterson is still on pole position with his morning time of 1'37"7. As the Renault in third place has a time of 1'38"32, and the next best is Reutemann (back in his number one car, 036) with 1'38"50 the Lotus situation is looking pretty normal. Anyone with a time in the 1'19"0 bracket has cause for despair, and among those were Hunt, Watson, Lauda and Jones. Saturday morning sees the skies looking grey and ominous and there is more than a hint of rain as the 1 1/2 hours of untimed testing takes place. Andretti’s Lotus has been fitted with round-section lower front wishbones. Peterson’s has a new engine, the Brabhams all has new Alfa Romeo engines and unrest in the McLaren camp is temporarily alleviated by Hunt and Tumbay swapping cars. In Team Surtees the unrest is aggravated by swapping drivers, for Brian Henton is put into Keegan’s car as a temporary try-out as the Southend driver is getting left behind, even by the rabbits. As if to keep the Surtees pot boiling Brambilla crashes.


As the final hour of practice approaches there is no air of expectancy, for nobody is convinced they could catch the Lotuses and added to the gloom is the speed of the turbocharged Renault. I lowever, more important is impending rain from over the mountains, for the cloud base is ominously low. A projected parachute drop to amuse the crowd is cancelled because of the low cloud, and at ten minutes past 1:00 p.m. the last hour of practice begins. Barely has the cars left the pits than parachutists appeares through the clouds, dropping towards the circuit. Somebody has not told them their stunt has been cancelled. Practice is stopped instantly. Eventually the all-important hour got under way at 1:22 p.m. and Lauda is first away, while Hunt wans In the pits for the traffic to clear, and Peterson is forced to wait as his gearbox internals are being inspected. Stuck changes over to the spare Shadow, the Tyrrells are trying full-length undertrays., Keegan is back in his Surtees, but Piquet is missing as his McLaren is still having its engine changed, the morning having shown the previous one to have lost power. After only ten minutes, practice stops once again, this time involuntarily, as rain begins to fall, which precludes any fast times being made. The circuit is not wet enough to learn anything on rain-tyres so everyone sit around and waits. Tambay, Stuck and Regazzoni go out for some exploratory laps and then Andretti and others joined in. By 2:00 p.m. the activity has fizzled out and then real rain comes down and everything is awash. After a short pause Reutemann goes out on Michelin’s best rain tyres and laps pretty impressively, and some of the Goodyear runners begins to wonder if perhaps the Argentinian is gaining experience that would stand him in good stead. Peterson, Jones, Andretti and Hunt joins in, to see how bad the conditions are, and also Jabouille in the Michelin-shod Renault, and then the hour is finished.


Although Lauda has been fastest before the rain came, it is not significant and Patrese, Rosberg, Daly, Regazzoni and Binder are the only ones to improve on their Friday times before the rain. After practice Tambay’s McLaren, Rosberg’s Wolf and Stuck’s Shadow are picked at random and measures and weights by the scrutineers to check for legality. All is well. On Sunday morning the weather is warm and dry and things looks quite encouraging during the 30-minute untimed warm-up period. Andretti is still using round-section front wishbones, totally convinced of the improved aerodynamics! Hunt is still using Tambay’s car and is mentally satisfied, though Tambay in Hunt’s car is not so sure. Jones is checking out the spare Williams car (002), and the Brabhams are still using front-mounted radiators. Pironi has discarded the full-length under-tray from his Tyrrell, uncertain of the effects on the balance of the car, but Depailler is quite happy with his. Stuck is driving the spare Shadow and Brambilla has an accident. The race is due to start at 2:00 p.m. to run over 54 laps of the circuit and prior to this Lauda’s left-hand radiator is being soldered in the pit lane, to stop a leak, Keegan’s Surtees TS20/02 is being got ready for Brambilla for the Southend driver has not qualified. The ATS team has packed up as neither driver has qualified and Merzario is first reserve and still living in hopes. By the time the cars starts to leave the pits to drive round to the grid, a steady drizzle of rain is falling, but not enough to wet the track so everyone is on slick dry-weather tyres, but it all seems rather optimistic. Once again the two efficient-looking black Lotus cars occupies the front row of the grid, looking totally dominant, but the turbocharged Renault and Reutemann’s Ferrari just behind them makes the situation interesting. From row three, behind the Renault, Jacques Laffite has no intention of being baulked by any slowness on pick-up by the yellow car, and as the 26 runners finish their pace-lap and pause on the grid for the green light to come on, the Ligier is already inching its way up alongside the Renault on the outside.


It is a good start and everyone gets off well, with Reutemann imposing his Ferrari between the two Lotus cars, with Peterson leading. Depailler has made another of his meteoric starts and is well up with the leaders. Caught napping by Reutemann in the opening manoeuvres Andretti tries to go round the outside of the Ferrari and spins off into the barriers! Obviously having become flustered, like he has in previous races when things did not go to plan. He could so easily have bided his time before dealing with the Ferrari. Scheckter and Depailler rockets past but already Peterson is gone into the distance. His lead at the end of the first lap is incredible and makes you wonder what everyone else is doing. Looking serene and safe Peterson ends the opening lap with no one near enough to challenge him, but behind in a roaring nose-to-tail mob come Scheckter, Depailler, Reutemann, Hunt, Laffite, Pironi, Watson, Jabouille and the rest, with Tambay all on his own right at the back. The track is a lot more slippery than most people realises and on the fourth lap Scheckter slid off and crashes into Andretti’s abandoned Lotus, doing neither of the cars any good. This leaves Depailler in second place followed by Watson, Jabouille, Hunt and Laffite, for Reutemann has had a moment and drops back down the field. On the far side of the circuit a heavy rainstorm is approaching and conditions on slick tyres are impossible as rain sweeps across the valley. Even before the rain at the start finish area great rooster-tails of spray could be seen billowing out behind the cars as they descends the hillside from the top straight. At the end of lap 6 Villeneuve heads for the pits for rain tyres, having executed a monumental spin, and next lap Jabouille loses control of the Renault, managed to gather it all up and also stops for rain tyres, while Fittipaldi is into the pits and Pironi spins off and knocks the nose cone off his Tyrrell.


Peterson finishes lap 7 in full control of the situation and when the last car has gone through the officials decides to stop the race and the red and black flags are held out, meaning Race to stop and restart at a later time. After the decision has been made Peterson spins off onto the grass and gets stuck, so it is Depailler who arrives first at the red and black flags, and as the rain pours down the Austrian GP comes to a grinding halt. It is clearly stated that the Grand Prix would now be considered a two-part race, the first part having run for seven laps and the starting grid for the 47-lap second part would be in the order in which the competitors completed lap 7. That is, Peterson, Depailler, Watson, Lafitte, Pironi, Lauda, Hunt, Regazzoni etc. Only those cars that arrive back at the pits under their own power will be allowed to start in the second part and there will be no changing to spare cars, though repairs and resetting of suspension and brakes for rain conditions will be allowed, and naturally everyone fits knobbly rain tyres. Rebuque’s Lotus 78 is towed back by the marshals, apparently undamaged, but could not join the restart, though Peterson and Reutemann drive their cars back, having been extricated from the grass verges. Patrese’s Arrows is towed in, with the nose cone damaged, and should have been wheeled away along with Rebaque’s Lotus, but in the confusion the Arrows management sneaks the car into the pit lane and starts repairing it, even though it is all obviously illegal, but Oliver, Rees and Southgate seem to thrive on such situations. The restart is timed for 3:00 p.m. giving everyone adequate time to prepare their ears for a really wet track. At twenty minutes to 3:00 p.m. the pit road is to be opened to allow cars to set off on a warm-up lap, and ten minutes later it is to shut and anyone left behind will be out of the second part of the Austrian GP. It is all quite clear, but there is some discussion as to whether Peterson and Reutemann have received outside assistance driving the first part of the race, even though they have driven their cars back to the pits.


With Peterson on pole position and Reutemann in last position, having spun off on lap 5, it is a delicate situation, but is resolved by allowing them both to restart, though Reutemann would be considered to be two laps behind at the start of the second race. There should have been 21 cars lined up in pairs for the second part, Andretti, Scheckter, Rebaque and Piquet being irrevocably out, and technically out, but there are 22 cars on new grid due to the Arrows team’s shady tactics. In pairs, the order is Peterson, Depailler, Watson, Laffite, Pironi, Lauda, Hunt, Regazzoni, Daly, Jones, Rosberg, Villeneuve, Brambilla, Jabouille, Stuck, Tambay, Arnoux, Lunger, Ertl, and Reutemann on own at the back. Jack Oliver inserts his car in ahead of Ertl and officialdom didn’t as they had larger problems at stake. By the time it is all sorted out it was 3:15 p.m. and though the heavy rain has stopped it was still very wet. The 21 cars plus the one illegal one, do their pace lapsand drew up on the to await the green light, whereupon stalls his Alfa Romeo engine and raises his in despair. The light goes green, Depailler, Laffite and those on the left went with spinning tyres, while those on the right dodge around the stationary missing it by mere inches. Hunt is commited go by on the right, between the Brabham and guardrail and make it by an unbelievably small amount, and all looked to be all right until tail-enders arrive and PatreSe tangles with in avoiding the Brabham. The golden spins into the air, and crashed down pointing the wrong way and the Ensign is punted into barriers. Watson is push-started and away leaving the bent Arrows and Ensign behind, just retribution for the Arrows, but unfortunate for the Ensign. Meanwhile the opening laps of the wet second part is a repeat of the dry first part, for Peterson has so much lead at the end of the lap that once again you wonders what everyone else is doing: Pounding along behind are Depailler, Lauda, Laffite, Daly, Villeneuve, Pironi, Stuck, Fittipaldi, Brambilla, Reutemann (having passed eight cars on the opening lap), Regazzoni, Arnoux, Rosberg, Jabouille, Lunger and Tambay.


A long way back come the hapless Watson and finally Hunt limpes into the pits with the right rear suspension all bent, having come off second best in an altercation with Daly’s Ensign. Alan Jones never did appear as he has gone off the road-and bent the Williams. The start line wreckage has been rapidly cleared before Peterson ends his first lap, the Ensign being quickly towed away and the Arrows being pushed away on to the grass verge for Jack Oliver and his cohorts to survey and (hopefully) ruminate upon. With everyone on wet tyres the race is on, if you could call the pursuit of the lone lotus a race. Peterson cruises away with ease and the interest behind is the sight of Lauda passing Depailler and taking second place, and Reutemann storming through the field into fourth place, the knobbly Michelin tyres obviously doing a good job. After six laps the track is drying visibly and Tambay makes a pit stop for slick tyres and this is the start of a spate of tyre-changing. One or two drivers like Peterson, Lauda and Reutemann are taking unusual lines through the corners in order to splash through wet portions of the track, rather than follow the correct line which is drying out. In this way they make the best use of their wet tyres for as long as possible, but the skies are indicating no more rain, so tyre change stops are inevitable for everyone. While some of the lesser lights come in for tyre changes soon after Tambay, it is not until the end of lap 11 that Peterson is seen heading his Lotus down the pit lane and as he stops Reutemann goes by into the lead, as Lauda is also heading for the pits. The Ferrari driver is really flying on his wet weather Michelins, though of course, he has a two-lap deficit as far as the overall picture is concerned. Peterson rejoins the race in sixth place, and Lauda in eighth place, and they move up a place instantly as Depailler stops for dry weather tyres. They then move up two places as Fittipaldi and Pironi Stop for a tyre change but the Tyrrell driver did not complete his next lap, going off the road on the Rindt Curve, before the pits.


All these stops have allowed Villeneuve to move up front fifth place to second place, so the Ferraris are now in first and second, but still on wet weather tyres, as is Jabouille in the Renault in fourth place between Peterson and Lauda. At the end of 16 laps Reutemann is heading down the pit lane and Villeneuve takes over the lead, followed by Peterson, but Reutemann is back on the track in third place, ahead of Jabouille’s Renault. But not for long as he spins. the road and out tif the race on lap 18 and the Renault stopping for a tyre change let Lauda into third place. A fair way back comes Depailler, with Stuck hard behind, and then Derek Daly doing an excellent iob in the Ensign, ahead of Fittipaldi. Reutemann now reappeares having got back on the track again, but he has received outside help and is soon black-flagged and disqualified. here is only Villeneuve out on the track on wet tyres, and still leading the race, though Peterson is closing and at the end of 21 laps the little French-Canadian relinquishes the lead as he stops for a tyre change, and Peterson goes by. In trying to catch the Lotus Lauda has tried too hard and spins off into a barrier, and though he gets back to the pits still in third place the rear suspension is too badly bent to continue. This leave Peterson way out on his own, driving tidily and smoothly, with no great strain, but needing to exercise considerable caution for the track is still very treacherous in places. Villeneuve rejoins the race in second place, ahead of Stuck, who has got his Shadow past Depailler’s Tyrrell, but the Frenchman isn’t giving up. As the two battle away together they gradually close up on Villeneuve’s Ferrari, and for three laps there is a very good three-cornered dice going on with second place at stake. The Renault retires at the pits with gearbox trouble, and Daly is in a firm fourth place and lapping some of the tail-enders, among them Longer in his M26 McLaren, who gets stuck in behind the Ensign and has quite a go.


Depailler gets the better of the three-cornered fight and then Stuck spins Off the road onto the wet grass, where he stays, so the race order is now Peterson way out ahead, Depailler second, Villeneuve third, Daly fourth, Fittipaldi fifth all on the same lap) and a lap down were Brambilla, actually staying on the road, Tambay, Laffite, Watson, Longer and Arnoux, with Kosberg another lap behind, struggling along with a seized up clutch mechanism, and Regazzoni, who has made two tyre changes, the first set not being to his liking. At 30 laps there was no change, though Peterson laps Fittipaldi the next time round, and then Daly has a spin on the tricky surface and could only continue after being pushed back on the track by the marshals, which naturally means the black-flag and exclusion. It is an ignominious end to a very spirited drive. Tambay also spins off but did not restart and with nearly 50 seconds lead Peterson could cruise home to.a well-earned victory, even though Depailler and Laffite are recording fastest laps between them. Just before the end of the 47 laps Peterson sets a new fastest lap for the race in 1'43"12, at over 128 m.p.h. and canters home comfortably ahead of the Tyrrell and the Ferrari. Laffite very nearly catches Brambilla at the finish, trying for fifth place, but as it turns out his fourth place in the seven-lap race, combined with sixth in the forty-seven-lap race, netted him an overall fifth ahead of Brambilla who has been a long way back when the first race is stopped. After what has looked like becoming a total shambles the Austrian organisers recover the situation well, and though there are one or two grumbles from various dissatisfied contestants, the overall opinion is one of satisfaction under the circumstances. Team Lotus are happy, as usual, though Andretti is a bit chagrined about throwing away a certain victory. Peterson may be designated number two in the team, but he is certainly very capable of stepping into his leader’s Shoes when the occasion arises, Such as it did on the first lap of the Austrian GP.



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