#310 1978 Netherlands Grand Prix

2022-08-02 00:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti,

#310 1978 Netherlands Grand Prix

The F1 circus arrives at the picturesque Circuit Park Zandvoort for the thirteenth race of the 1978 World Championship tour, which remains unchanged s

The F1 circus arrives at the picturesque Circuit Park Zandvoort for the thirteenth race of the 1978 World Championship tour, which remains unchanged since the visit in 1977. Indeed, the only change for the Grand Prix amid the dunes was the date, with the Dutch Grand Prix being held far later in the calendar than usual. Regardless, the usual F1 mob arrives to battle around the Park, albeit with news of some major changes for the 1979 season. The most significant of these impeding changes is to come at Lotus, with title protagonist Ronnie Peterson set to leave at the end of the season. Indeed, the Swede has enough of his role as number two to Mario Andretti, despite the fact that he and the American are in a duel for the title. The Swede duly waves away an improved financial contract from Colin Chapman, whom is informed of Peterson's intentions before the Swede agrees a deal with McLaren. McLaren themselves are on the hunt for a new lead driver for 1979, for their most divisive ace James Hunt has grown tired of fighting at the back of the top ten. Teddy Mayer therefore decides to contact the aforementioned Peterson to join the team, offering the Swede the chance to lead the team alongside Patrick Tambay. Peterson duly signed the deal after rejecting Chapman's last minute offer, with the deal set to be announced at the US Grand Prix. Back with Lotus and Chapman decide to contact another driver known to be upset with the conditions of his contract heading into the 1979 campaign. That man is Carlos Reutemann, who is not impressed with Ferrari opting to employ Jody Scheckter for the upcoming season. He is therefore keen to sign-up with the best team in 1978, and will duly sign a deal to join the Norfolk squad ahead of the race in the Netherlands. Elsewhere, Alfa Romeo is testing their long awaited Grand Prix car, with Italian racer Vittorio Brambilla, still at Surtees at the wheel. Indeed, the Italian has briefly shared the car with defending World Champion Niki Lauda, whom is released by Brabham-Alfa Romeo to take part. 


The test is conducted at Le Castellet, and is so impressive that the Alfa Romeo bosses hope to debut the car at the Italian Grand Prix. Likewise, Ligier is testing their first wing car ahead of the 1979 campaign, albeit in the form of a test bed. This test bed also appears with a Ford Cosworth engine, rather than the Matra V12 that the French squad is running since Guy Ligier signed up to F1. The eponymous Ligier has also been away securing funds to run a second car for 1979, although Jacques Laffite will likely race on his own for the rest of 1978. Into the more immediate entry list and McLaren add their third driver to the entry list, European F2 Champion Bruno Giacomelli returning to the team. Indeed, with the Italian already declared F2 Champion there is nothing stopping him joining the McLaren team for the rest of the season, joining the disillusioned Hunt and Tambay in the factory cars. Their customer team BS Fabrications are also fielding an enhanced line-up in Zandvoort, with Nelson Piquet again partnering Brett Lunger. Elsewhere there will be a third Shadow in the field, and not in the form of a poorly disguised copy by Arrows. This genuine DN9 is instead the car sold to Danny Ongais ahead of the race in Long Beach, with Interscope Racing having finally gained enough funds to ship the car over the Atlantic. The American racer therefore joined Hans-Joachim Stuck and Clay Regazzoni in the factory cars, while the aforementioned Arrows team are unchanged, Riccardo Patrese and Rolf Stommelen at the wheel. The final significant change to the entry came at ATS, whom has decided to take a financial offer from F&S Properties to take their second seat for the rest of the season. The Dutch firm duly employed Michael Bleekemolen to drive alongside Jochen Mass, who has been testing ATS' new wing car dubbed the D1. Bleekemolen will also try out the new car in the build up to the Zandvoort weekend, but opt to stick with their established HS1.


Into the Championship and victory for Peterson in Austria has ensured that the Swede remains in contention for the Championship with four races to go, nine points behind teammate Andretti. Indeed, the American ace is still the man to beat at the wheel of the Lotus 79, although Peterson's victory proves that he is more than a match for Andretti if the two have equal equipment and fortune. Behind, Patrick Depailler has moved into third, overtaking Lauda and Reutemann as those three enter the final phase of their fight for third. The International Cup for Constructors, meanwhile, is all but over with four races to go, with Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth requiring just a single point to take their seventh Constructors' Cup. Indeed, the only team that could possibly deny them are Brabham-Alfa Romeo, although they will need to win all four races and see Lotus fail to score at all. They are instead in a fight for second with Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth and Ferrari, with those three separated by just five points heading into the final quarter of the season. Qualifying for the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix will be staged across the Friday and Saturday ahead of the race, with no significant changes to the programme. Saturday morning is therefore again given over to untimed practice, leaving Saturday afternoon and the two Friday sessions free to set the grid. As for a target time Mario Andretti's pole claiming effort of 1'18"65 from 1977 is expected to fall, most likely at the American ace's hands. Before the full qualifying sessions get underway, however, a pre-qualifying session is staged to reduce the field to 30 drivers from the entry list of 33. Eight potential victims are chosen from the entry, with the slowest three getting knocked out of qualifying before the weekend begins. Those three victims prove to be Harald Ertl in the loaned out Ensign, Danny Ongais in his privately entered Shadow, and Rolf Stommelen in the new Arrows.


Into the full qualifying session and Lotus will indeed dominate all three sessions, with Andretti duly emerging ahead of Ronnie Peterson.The American ace set a new circuit record en-route to pole, a 1'16"36 putting him over half a second clear of second placed Peterson. The Swede himself seems to be driving within himself amid rumors of his impending departure, although his running is interrupted by an engine failure. The closest man to the Lotus will be Niki Lauda in the first of the Brabham-Alfa Romeos, albeit a full second off of Andretti's ultimate pace. Regardless, the outgoing World Champion does enough to beat the two Ferraris of Carlos Reutemann and Gilles Villeneuve, while Jacques Laffite makes it four 12 cylinder engines in the top six in the Ligier-Matra. James Hunt and John Watson are next, sharing the fourth row, ahead of Jean-Pierre Jabouille in the turbocharged Renault, and Emerson Fittipaldi in his eponymous machine. At the back of the field, meanwhile, there will be an intense fight to qualify, with the grid limited to 26 starters. Ultimately both ATS drivers Jochen Mass and Michael Bleekemolen fail to qualify, as does Clay Regazzoni in the factory Shadow. Arturo Merzario also fails to make the cut, despite matching Nelson Piquet's best effort, although the Italian would ultimately get to start after an accident for Rupert Keegan during the pre-race warm-up. Raceday dawn very dark and wet, although the rain soon drifts away to be replaced by a strong wind, which drags sand across the circuit. The pre-race warm-up is held in the worst of those conditions, resulting in Rupert Keegan having a huge accident at Tunnel Oost, ruling him out of the race. Arturo Merzario duly takes over the Brit's spot on the grid, joining on a row of his own in his eponymous car. Fortunately the circuit is completely dry by the time that the field assembles on the grid, meaning everyone will start on slick tyres.


The start of the race will see the two Lotus drivers Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson streak away from the grid, flying in formation with the American ahead of the Swede. Behind Carlos Reutemann and Niki Lauda go toe-to-toe into Tarzan for third, only for Jacques Laffite to slither past in the Ligier-Matra. However, while the start is clean the rest of the opening lap is not, with a dramatic accident through the second corner causing a lot of minor damage. Indeed, as the field sweeps through Gerlacht Didier Pironi and Riccardo Patrese glances off one-another, sending both shooting across the circuit. Patrese's Arrows is even briefly airborne as it bounces back onto the circuit, with the cars around them bumping through the scene. Fortunately both Patrese and Pironi will escape without injury, although there is not enough time to clear the former's ruined car from the middle of the track before the two Lotus appear to start lap two. Indeed, having already pulled out a small lead over Laffite, who is about to lose third to Lauda, both Andretti and Peterson are fighting for the lead, and duly had to sweep either side of the abandoned Arrows. Andretti just manages to hold on having gone to the inside of Patrese's ruined charger, with Peterson dropping back a few extra yards. Patrese's car is dragged out of the way after the rest of the field has thundered past, meaning the track is completely clear. That, combined with an order for Peterson to stop his attack allows the two Lotus to ease away from third placed Lauda, whom is being harassed by Reutemann once the Argentine dealt with Laffite. Indeed, the Frenchman is struggling in the spare Ligier, his original race car suffering a terminal oil leak en-route to the grid before the start.


Andretti and Peterson continue to move clear at the head of the field during the following laps, and with Lauda and Reutemann not close enough to fight all of the attention is focused on Laffite's demise. Indeed, the Frenchman simply lacks pace in the spare Ligier, and duly drops behind John Watson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Gilles Villeneuve and Alan Jones. Elsewhere Keke Rosberg spins into the dunes and beaches himself, twice, Patrick Depailler is out after his radiator is damaged by Derek Daly, while Nelson Piquet retires with a terminal transmission issue. There are no significant changes to the order before half-distance, although Jean-Pierre Jabouille does manage to elbow his way past James Hunt at the back of the top ten. Vittorio Brambilla, meanwhile, is fighting hard with an uninspired Jody Scheckter outside of the top ten duly sees the Monza Gorilla skating into the gravel at the chicane. The marshals manages to push the orange Surtees back onto the track, but only after Brambilla has climbed out of the car to fetch them. Reutemann will begin to struggle over the following laps, his Michelin tyres proving too soft to last the distance. Indeed, as Andretti and Peterson, still nose to tail, lap the lack-lustre Scheckter, Watson sends his Brabham diving past the Ferrari for fourth. Fittipaldi duly follows the Ulsterman through a couple of laps later, leaving Villeneuve to find a way past his teammate on equally tiring tyres. Lauda, meanwhile, is beginning to inch closer to the two Lotus, taking a couple of hundredths out of them to move within three seconds of the duo with 30 laps to go. Seeing this, the Lotus pitcrew gives permission for Andretti and Peterson to push once again, with the gap quickly growing to four seconds. The two black-gold cars again settles down to lap a few hundredths slower than Lauda, only to speed up every time the Austrian racer get within three seconds.


This ploy will almost back fire, however, for Peterson will get caught behind a rather depressed Hunt in the midst of one of their mini-sprints, just as Lauda claims the fastest lap of the race. The gap suddenly goes from three seconds to one, with Lauda sizing up a move into Tarzan at the start of lap sixty, albeit from a long way back. However, with Hunt out of the way Peterson is able to push once again, and duly inches clear of the Austrian as the race enters its final throes. Indeed, with five laps to go Peterson is back in Andretti's mirrors, and seriously threatening to throw the #6 car up the inside of the #5. Lauda, meanwhile, has had his anti-Lotus charge ruined by a lock-up, caused when the Austrian has to stamp on the brakes to avoid a spinning Bruno Giacomelli. That, combined with the strong headwind reducing his top-end speed, means that Lauda ultimately settles for third. With that the race is run, for Colin Chapman refuses to allow Peterson to attack Andretti to claim victory. The American ace duly crosses the line a third of a second ahead of the Swede, sealing the International Cup for Constructors for the Norfolk based squad with three races to go. Lauda is a lonely third ahead of his teammate Watson, while Fittipaldi and Villeneuve complete the scorers, the latter albowing his way past Reutemann late on.



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