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#310 1978 Dutch Grand Prix

2022-08-02 00:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti,

#310 1978 Dutch Grand Prix

In the days leading up to the Dutch Grand Prix, the Formula 1 teams conduct tests at the Monza circuit. The focus is on Lotus, the dominant team of th

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In the days leading up to the Dutch Grand Prix, the Formula 1 teams conduct tests at the Monza circuit. The focus is on Lotus, the dominant team of the season, and its drivers, Andretti and Peterson, who are vying for the World Championship title within the family. Dozens of photographers are stationed around the Lombardy circuit, hoping to capture the new Alfa-Alfa during a crucial test before its official debut. However, that's not the only point of interest. As always, fans eagerly await Ferrari's appearance on the track on August 18, 1978. The Maranello team, despite recent ups and downs, remains close to the hearts of fans. Three victories (Brazil, USA West, and Great Britain) mark the positive side of the season so far. It might seem modest when considering recent history, but significant given the challenges faced. The choice of Michelin tires has been a major uncertainty for the cars of Reuterhann and Villeneuve, and Ferrari has paid the price for this deliberate decision. There have been challenging moments, some due to genuine misfortune, others when the team benefited from good luck (as seen at Brands Hatch), and still, tough days like the French Grand Prix, turned into a tire test while others raced and Lotus claimed victory. Now, it appears that the Ferrari-Michelin relationship is heading in the right direction, yielding interesting results. Looking into the future of the Maranello team, what technical solutions are being studied to keep up with the competition? Engineer Mauro Forghieri responds: 

 

"We are heavily involved in races, but we don't forget about development. I believe there is much to be done in aerodynamics and in implementing new solutions for the chassis and suspension. I don't think there is much room to increase the engine's performance; it has already reached very high levels".

 

Addressing rumors that the new 312/T3 is considered outdated: 

 

"Stories. We've won three Grand Prix with a new car. No one has outperformed us except Lotus. Our friends would like Ferrari always to be the strongest, but it's not possible; there are also others. I wonder why we have to bear the entire weight of motorsport in Italy. And people, critics, are never satisfied. If we lose, we are incapable, incompetent, presumptuous, choosing the wrong drivers, making non-functional cars. When we win, it's because we have the most powerful engine, our opponents had difficulties, because it's our duty. In short, it's time to let us work in peace".

 

If the Alfa-Alfa enters the races, responsibilities can be shared. 

 

"We hope so. Finally, people will stop criticizing us. The others always do things well... Has anyone forgotten that Alfa developed its Formula 1 engine based on our model? They took several young technicians who knew everything about the twelve cylinders. Now there is talk of a new engine from the Milanese company, but it will take time before it is revealed".

 

Why did you sign Jody Scheckter for the next year? 

 

"You should ask Enzo Ferrari that question. In any case, I tell you that the transfer has not been finalized yet. The choice of the South African was almost obligatory. There are five or six Formula 1 drivers who can be considered among the fastest: Andretti, Peterson, Lauda, Scheckter, Reutemann, Hunt. We already have one, Carlos. It was not possible to have Andretti and Peterson because they are practically already under contract, and Lauda, even morally, could not return to Maranello. If we had taken Hunt, the Italian press would have destroyed him in three days, and public opinion would have been unfavorable. Scheckter remained, and that's who we turned to. We hope to do a good job with Jody. It's regrettable to have to let Gilles Villeneuve go. The guy has shown good talent. He has also been very unlucky because he could have achieved excellent results but missed them due to inexperience. It will be a shame to lose him; he is a serious professional. I am convinced he can do well in any team. And finally, a few words about the future. People should not worry; Ferrari will remain afloat and continue to be competitive. Just have patience".

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A risky overtaking maneuver has cast doubt on a World Championship that, until the eve of the Austrian Grand Prix, seemed to be already decided in favor of Mario Andretti. On the Zeltweg track, made even more treacherous, indeed deadly, by the rain, the Italian-American driver, perhaps due to excessive confidence, made a mistake that, combined with the race result that saw his teammate Peterson as the winner, could be decisive for the title. With the 9 points gained in Austria, Peterson is now close to his teammate, and in the remaining four races, he hopes, although officially stating that he won't attack Andretti, to attempt some other unexpected moves. An intense finale is expected, fueled by the family rivalry between the two Lotus drivers. It is an uncomfortable situation for both, but especially for Andretti, who now doesn't know to what extent he can rely on the loyalty of the Swede in adhering to any team agreements. The opportunity to win the World Championship, a rare occurrence in a driver's career, might make even the cool-headed Peterson forget team agreements and push him to try to turn the battle for the final victory in his favor. Media discuss this new situation at the top of the championship with Mario Andretti, who is conducting tire tests at Monza. A few days after the incident that affected his Austrian race, after some thought, how does he justify this hasty overtaking?

 

"My mistake was trusting Reutemann's behavior too much. At that moment, I thought Carlos would let me pass since I was faster than him. Of course, I can't blame him as he stated he didn't see me, and I believe him".

 

How does he now see the championship?

 

"It's certainly not comforting to have Ronnie so close. But now, what's done is done. There's no point in crying over it".

 

Up until now, he has always aimed for a complete victory. Does he think he can continue with this tactic in the remaining races?

 

"Perhaps it's time to change it. We'll have to assess the effort required to stay in the lead and whether this expenditure of human and mechanical energy will negatively impact the final race result. From now on, I'll have to focus more on accumulating points in every opportunity rather than a single victory".

 

Does he think Peterson will respect any team instructions to support him?

 

"Ronnie is a serious professional, but I will have to rely primarily on my own strengths".

 

Soon, racing will resume in the Netherlands, where last year Andretti made some daring overtakes at the Tarzan corner. If the opportunity arises again, will he try to overtake his opponents on the outside?

 

"I hope not to find myself in that situation because in that case, I'll have to reconsider it a bit. When things start going wrong, it's time to reflect on every move".

 

How many points does he think he still needs to add to his current total to win the championship?

 

"It's difficult to say now; however, 18 points should be enough".

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In practice, two victories in the next two Grand Prix races. Could he seal the deal at Monza?

 

"I would really like that. Monza is one of the tracks I love the most".

 

What does the future hold for the Andretti-Chapman partnership?

 

"In the short term, the World Championship title, then many ideas, many projects, to continue winning. While others rush to quickly build cars similar to ours, Colin is already working on a new single-seater that, according to him, will be so revolutionary that the current model 79 will seem as old as one of those double-decker buses in London".

 

Wednesday, August 23, 1978, Niki Lauda tests the Alfa Autodelta Formula 1 car on the Paul Ricard circuit. The tests do not proceed as planned. Initially, Goodyear causes a significant delay compared to the scheduled timetable. Later, the intense heat (28-30 °C) forces the Italian team to interrupt the tests because the water temperature of the new single-seater becomes too high after just a few meters. The World Champion arrives at the circuit at 10:00 a.m. in his jet, landing at the airport adjacent to the Le Castellet track. Shortly after, Sante Ghedini also arrives by car. Lauda has been awaited at the box since early morning by engineer Carlo Chiti, head of Autodelta, and all team members who continue the work started on Tuesday. Why these tests?

 

"I am part of the Brabham and Alfa team, so it is normal for me to work for Alfa, as well as for Brabham".

 

Did you willingly accept to test this car?

 

"I collaborate with Alfa Romeo, when Engineer Chiti asks me to test a car, I do it".

 

Chiti immediately engages Lauda, providing explanations about the car and showing him a new rear bodywork (more suitable for fast tracks than the one used until now) prepared for comparative tests. The World Champion then talks at length with Vittorio Brambilla and then gets into the car, still inside the box, to test the cockpit. The tests are conducted with Goodyear tires. As mentioned, the tires significantly delay these tests because the American tires arrive at Paul Ricard several hours late due to customs issues, just like the car. Subsequently, more time is lost for balancing. Around 12:30 p.m., it is decided to start with the only set of tires available, the one used by Brambilla on Tuesday evening. The Italian driver, after completing several laps, hands over the car to Lauda, who continues for another two laps. After stopping, he asks the mechanics to modify the cockpit, and an hour later, he gets back on the Formula 1 Alfa to complete three more laps. The car, very oversteering because the tires are worn out, experiences cooling problems. The water temperature is indeed too high (110 °C). Lauda waits while Autodelta technicians open a gap in the nose of the single-seater, and, as per the Austrian driver's indication, they change the front bar. Lauda goes back on the track (on the short 3300-meter layout), stopping repeatedly (every two to three laps) to cool the engine and adjust the wing positions. However, as the cooling system issue recurs, Autodelta technicians decide to interrupt the tests, even though the tires (with which Lauda completed only three laps, the last of the day) had arrived in the meantime. What does Lauda say about this car?

 

"I've driven too little to express an opinion. It seems quite good to me...".

 

Will you get back on the Alfa Formula 1?

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"If Chiti wants, I will be available".

 

Meanwhile, Engineer Chiti tries to downplay the test.

 

"These at Paul Ricard are just normal tests... Of course, the high temperature, combined with a track that demands a lot of power from the car, can create problems. We will work again and continue tests at our Balocco track and at Monza next week".

 

And what about the Italian Grand Prix?

 

"I don't know, we'll see".

 

From a technical point of view, these tests are not conclusive. Lauda clocks 1'11"39 compared to the 1’10"80 set by Brambilla on Tuesday (the track record belongs to Lauda himself with the Brabham-Alfa, which set 1'08"30 in December 1977), but such brief tests cannot provide relevant data. So, what's behind the scenes? Once there was the judgment of God; now there is that of Niki Lauda, at least for Alfa Romeo and Formula 1. A judgment, in truth, presupposes a judge above the parties, while the World Champion is immersed in the affairs of Brabham and the Milanese brand, but we must be satisfied. From a technical point of view, there are no doubts: what Lauda says is law. Perhaps Ferrari did not think so, but that's another matter. In practice, Lauda should have expressed an opinion on the competitiveness of the new Alfa, on the chances of this car in Formula 1 Grand Prix. The judgment is postponed to another occasion. Better, because not even Lauda can afford to determine in one go whether a car is good or not. But why this test? Is it really a normal thing? It doesn't seem so. It's interesting to delve into the topic. Alfa Romeo is at a crossroads connected to its production: for the brand and the normal models' advertising, is it better to focus on sports (and in this case, on Formula 1), or emphasize the product's quality, following other paths? Gaetano Cortesi, the former president of Alfa Romeo, bet on racing, without neglecting the other aspect of the matter, of course. Having resigned, his successor, Ettore Massacesi, has not yet taken a clear position. 

 

Within Alfa Romeo, there are two opposing currents: some executives would like sports involvement, with an all-Alfa car, while others do not believe in competitions and, especially to face the strongly felt competition from BMW, would like other choices. But there is also the problem of Autodelta, Alfa's racing department: responsible for it is Carlo Chiti, with around 200 employees. This department, with the company's reduced commitment to sports, what would it do? Already now, it does not only produce racing cars or accessories. From Settimo Milanese, the armored Alfetta cars for the transport of various state authorities come out. There is a feeling that this test with Lauda is an attempt to strengthen the pro-sport faction's position (of which Chiti is, of course, one of the animators), a way of forcing the hand in view of the upcoming Italian Grand Prix. A positive opinion from Lauda would carry great weight, also towards Brabham and Bernie Ecclestone, who has already expressed readiness to manage the Alfa-Alfa with his team. Aside from the problems plaguing Alfa Romeo, one thing is certain: its name is linked to a sports image. Leaving this path could pose a considerable risk for the Milanese brand, which has long been disengaging from the racing field: no rallying in a big way, the participation in Sports races is over. It seems that the Alfasud Trophy is destined to close in the near future due to the very high costs. Difficult decisions. Dr. Massacesi will soon have to clarify the path to take. But if he chooses sports, he will have to hurry; otherwise, Alfa Romeo risks starting late. And that would surely be a mistake. Meanwhile, there is almost the impression that by now, the 1978 World Championship interests many protagonists only in a mild form.

 

"So, the title is a family affair between Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson, and against Lotus, there is nothing for us to do".

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And so, in recent weeks, there has been a whirlwind of contacts between drivers and teams, in an atmosphere of rumors and indiscretions. Who leads, who directs, who finances: every actor in the Circus seeks the best arrangement, the most valid placement for the next season. Many are defeated this year, in one way or another, and everyone hopes for a comeback. Ferrari secured Jody Scheckter, kept Carlos Reutemann, and left Gilles Villeneuve free. The Maranello team hoped to beat Niki Lauda, to allow Carlos Reutemann to win the title, thus demonstrating that it is easy to win with a Ferrari. Things went differently. And even for Lauda, victory in Sweden with a fan aside, the challenge with Ferrari was not successful. Not to mention the setbacks suffered by Andretti and Peterson's Lotuses. Now the Austrian tests the new Alfa; perhaps in 1979, he will race with the Milanese car managed by Bernie Ecclestone. And what will Alfa do? How will the internal dispute between the pro-sport and anti-sport factions be resolved? Thinking about the future, but meanwhile, at Zandvoort, the circuit on the North Sea, the World Championship returns with the first trials for the Dutch Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season. A track among sand dunes, always beaten by the wind, a fast layout with a mixed section that should once again highlight the road holding characteristics of the Lotuses of Andretti and Peterson. Last year, with the less competitive model 78 compared to this 79, the Italian-American had dominated in the trials. But at Zandvoort, betrayed by too much impetuosity, Mario made a serious mistake, dueling with James Hunt, and had to abandon any hope of the title, a title that ended up in the hands of the more regular Lauda and the then more reliable Ferrari. This time Andretti doesn't have to guard against Lauda; he must pay attention to a driver very close to him, to that Peterson who was prematurely considered finished and who, instead, this year has shown to be still a Formula 1 ace. Yet another confirmation that judging a driver's performance is not easy and too often the poor competitiveness of a car confuses and leads to negative evaluations of the driver. But Andretti must also be careful with himself, knowing how to control his own character, tempering the fiery side of his personality. In Austria, he squandered an almost certain victory to immediately surpass Reutemann. Perhaps his first real mistake of the season. With a car capable of inflicting a second on the strongest rivals on average every lap, there is no need to be in a hurry. 

 

Either you go straight to the front or you wait for the right moment for a safe overtake. The Italo-American, beyond the mathematical scores (9 points separate Mario from Ronnie), can rely on his role as the lead driver, the privileged contract with Lotus, and the favor of Colin Chapman. Chapman wants Andretti to be the champion, if for no other reason than this: Peterson will not race with him in 1979, Andretti will, so it's Andretti who will have the Lotus with the number one, the number that indicates the Formula 1 World Champion's car. Therefore, Andretti can only lose the 1978 title: due to bad luck, mechanical failures, or his own mistakes. Difficult. Of course, Peterson is ready to take advantage of any slight opportunity: I would say that psychologically he is in a better position. So, it doesn't take much imagination to imagine what the outcome of the first tests for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort might be. Once again, a festival of Lotus, once again a superiority that no one can touch. Ferrari, for a few minutes, deceives those who criticize the English team and its Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson for putting every race to sleep, but a double misfortune almost simultaneously (for Carlos Reutemann, a gearbox failure, and for Gilles Villeneuve, another off-track excursion) slows down their momentum. And, after the magical moment has passed, when the track conditions become less favorable for Michelin tires, all hope fades. Under a sky heavy with clouds, with a cold wind sweeping through the sand dunes within which the circuit is drawn, Andretti and Peterson are on par. The Italo-American laps in 1'16"96, his teammate in 1'16"97. A hundredth of a second is an almost imperceptible difference, showing that Andretti and Peterson receive the same treatment from Lotus in terms of car preparation, assistance, and tires. This is in practice, because in the race Andretti, as mentioned, is the number one and Peterson is ordered to favor him. A situation that, of course, does not please the Swede, who has already decided to leave Colin Chapman's team to join McLaren. Ronnie keeps quiet, knowing that it's not convenient for him to make announcements, at least as long as he's behind the wheel of a Lotus. But the game is done, as it is certain that Andretti will renew his contract with the English team. In a whirlwind of rumors, it seems certain that James Hunt will end up at Wolf and Clay Regazzoni at Williams. Bruno Giacomelli has a good chance of becoming Andretti's second, and Villeneuve of Hunt. Carlos Reutemann's position is not yet 100% defined. 

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The Argentine hesitates between yes and no, not so much because of the difference in economic treatment compared to Scheckter but because of the doubt about being relegated in 1979 to the role of humble follower of the South African. And, going back to the tests, Reutemann is the best of the non-Lotus, as he laps in 1'17"34, followed by Niki Lauda's Brabham-Alfa Romeo (1'17"51), Jacques Laffite's Ligier-Matra (1'17"55), always very competitive at Zandvoort, and John Watson's other Brabham (1'17"73). For Villeneuve, the seventh time (1'18"11). The track is clean, but above all, the Michelin tires do not pick up the rubber deposits left by the much more numerous Goodyear tires and offer excellent performance. The Argentine drops to 1'17"34 in a few laps, and Villeneuve to 1'18"21. Then, however, within ten minutes, Reutemann stops along the track due to a gearbox failure, and the Canadian tackles a turn of this difficult circuit too aggressively: car on the curbs, spin, final blow with the right rear wheel against a guardrail. Damage to the body, damage to the engine: the oil sump is torn off in the impact, and the car returns to the pits leaving a trail of lubricant. Result: while rivals progress, Reutemann has to settle for the reserve car, not as well-prepared as the other, and moreover, with a malfunctioning fifth gear, while Villeneuve is left stranded. The two drivers of the Maranello team only return to their cars towards the end of the second part of the training (and bravo, as usual, to the mechanics who in just over two hours have replaced an engine and a gearbox), and, with the track now dirty, only the Canadian manages to improve his time. The balance, however, is not bad for now. There is a feeling that the Maranello team is returning to the top positions, albeit without illusions towards the Lotuses. But now the tires are better, especially they have a more consistent performance, allowing technicians and drivers to dedicate themselves with greater calm and time to the work of fine-tuning and adapting the cars to the characteristics of the track. We can only hope. A few words about the Italians. Many problems for everyone, from Patrese (unsuitable suspensions, excessive engine temperatures) to Giacomelli (fuel pump), from Merzario to Brambilla (ignition and road holding). But still, nothing compared to Alan and Jones: the Arab-funded Williams lost a wheel, and the Australian found himself airborne. Car semi-destroyed, driver without a scratch. There is indeed a saint for those in Formula 1. While waiting to see what will happen on Saturday, August 26, 1978, the tests of the Alfa-Alta at Le Castellet with Vittorio Brambilla and Niki Lauda have a wide echo at Zandvoort, as Alfa Romeo deems it appropriate to issue an official statement on the matter and, in general, on its position regarding Formula 1 and Brabham. Too bad it's a classic Italian statement, that is, elusive and open to many interpretations, so much so that a courteous word of mouth intervenes at the last minute to offer some suggestions.

 

"In relation to news appearing in the press, Alfa Romeo specifies that it can consider participating in Formula 1 races only if it appears as an effective promotional tool for its commercial policy. Therefore, the Alfa Romeo presidency, while approving the development of its own car, which had long since begun testing, had already preferred to postpone any decision on participation in races to the moment when the new engine (currently under construction) will be available, which will allow aerodynamic solutions for the updated current car. Consequently, Alfa Romeo has expressed its willingness to discuss the renewal, requested by Mr. Ecclestone, for the agreement with Brabham, an agreement that was about to expire, but has asked as a prerequisite that Autodelta's participation in technical decisions be more binding. For the rest, it would be an agreement - still under discussion between the parties - for the supply of engines (obviously containing the relevant economic conditions) and not the formation of a mixed team".

 

The new engine mentioned in the statement is a 12-cylinder V engine that, due to its characteristics, allows - unlike the current boxer engine - the creation of a single-seater capable of having the ground effect so valid in Lotus aerodynamics. The car is not running for now (so no participation in the Italian Grand Prix), but its development is assured. Brabham will not manage the Alfa-Alta, but will continue with its single-seaters. However, if Bernie Ecclestone does not accept a kind of technical supervision by Carlo Chili and Autodelta (the racing department of the Milanese company), the contract will not be renewed. Thus, the possibility of seeing an Alfa-Alta in the Grand Prix races regains strength. A story, all in all, confused and poorly conducted. Chiti and Ecclestone make statements full of milk and honey ("We need to collaborate more among ourselves") and Lauda smiles serenely. 

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He didn't like the Alfa-Alfa operation, and in the end, at least for now, he turned out to be right. Returning to the Dutch Grand Prix, this year we become monotonous in reporting the outcome of the practice sessions for a race. The fault lies with Lotus, of course, and its two drivers, who achieve pole positions in a series. Also in the Netherlands, on the Zandvoort circuit, Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson manage to line up their black single-seaters in the front row of the starting grid, leaving behind opponents who seem to accept this situation calmly by now and who limit themselves to fighting among themselves to at least be the best in the non-Lotus group: Andretti, in the family challenge with Peterson, is the best. The Italo-American improves Friday's time, dropping from 1'16"96 to 1'16"36. Last year, Mario won the pole position with a lap time of 1'18"65, and Niki Lauda, with Ferrari, set the lap record with a time of 1'19"99. Few data that clearly show the progress of Andretti and his car.

 

"The Lotus seems tailor-made for Zandvoort. On Friday, I had some setup problems, then everything went smoothly. I hope to win, of course, but I won't trade a victory in the Netherlands for the risk of compromising the title. I promise not to be in a hurry, not to overtake anyone, to go slowly".

 

And he smiles, adding:

 

"I am especially interested in getting some points. I don't need a victory".

 

Andretti is calm, he feels in a position of strength compared to Peterson, who fails to improve the time set on Friday.

 

"Tomorrow, Mario says goodbye to everyone, including me, and leaves. My car has little traction in slow corners, and in practice, I had carburetion problems. In addition, they also fitted rear tires of a different diameter".

 

About Andretti (and perhaps also this retiring Peterson) having the chance to win the Dutch Grand Prix, everyone agrees. Lauda and Carlos Reutemann claim that the Italo-American has at least a second of margin compared to them, even though they are the first to acknowledge that the race situation could evolve differently for any reason. Lauda and Reutemann, who have long been tied in the World Championship standings with 31 points each, engage in a fervent duel to improve their performances. The feat is achieved only by the Austrian, who surpasses the Argentine by a hundredth of a second: 1'17"33, against 1'17"34. The two will start together from the second row, ahead of Gilles Villeneuve and Jacques Laffite. In Lauda and Reutemann's practice day, there is a small engine-related incident. The World Champion sets his time in about twenty minutes, then parks the Brabham-Alfa in the pits and watches the training from the pit wall, monitoring the performances of rivals. Why such an early stop?

 

"I couldn't do more, and besides, I've used up the sets of soft tires, good for achieving superior performance. No point in continuing".

 

It's a typical attitude for Lauda, but someone in his team whispers:

 

"With those tires, he could have continued. The truth is different; he heard that the engine didn't sound right and, fearing a breakdown, he stopped".

 

The rumor spreads quickly in the gossip-filled world of Formula 1, and to deny it, Lauda gets back into the car. The Austrian driver completes just three or four laps, just to let everyone know that the 12-cylinder is not dead. A blatant denial, but not entirely convincing. 

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Meanwhile, as Villeneuve makes an excellent improvement, Reutemann tries in vain to do the same to fend off Lauda's attack. The reason? An evident drop in engine performance. One detail: Carlos' Ferrari speed on the straight in front of the stands never exceeds 265 km/h, while Villeneuve's car reaches 276 km/h. An issue that can be disappointing but does not negate the overall progress of the Maranello cars compared to previous Grands Prix. Among those who improve their performances between Friday and Saturday, notable names include James Hunt (who definitively breaks ties with McLaren), Emerson Fittipaldi (his Copersucar is steadily improving), and Riccardo Patrese. The Italian is involved in a curious misadventure: leaving the pits with his Arrows, he ends up with a wheel on a jack. The steering wheel has a violent backlash, and Patrese suffers a painful tear in his back and neck.

 

"I'll still race, but I don't know if I'll make it to the end".

 

Arturo Merzario and Clay Ragazzoni do not qualify: the old guard of Ferrari brings a sense of nostalgia. Jochen Mass is also out as he brings a new ATS to Zandvoort, practically identical to the Lotus but not equally competitive. Imitation is not always easy. On Sunday, August 27, 1978, during the half-hour of warm-up to fine-tune the cars before the start, Jacques Laffite is unlucky as the engine of his Ligier fails, and the French driver has to resort to the reserve car. But Rupert Keegan is even more unlucky, going off the track with the Surtees and breaking an arm. The rescue is scandalously slow; it takes almost eleven minutes before an ambulance picks him up and takes him to the hospital in Haarlem. In the starting lineup, the first of the non-qualifiers, Arturo Merzario, replaces him with his namesake car. Later, the drivers bring their cars to the starting grid, and Brambilla's troubles begin. His Surtees refuses to start; the engine remains silent. Vittorio is forced to jump onto the reserve car at the last minute. At the start of the Dutch Grand Prix, Andretti does not get caught off guard (as has happened to him on other occasions) and, in fact, just edges out the starter, taking the lead followed by Peterson. The dance of the Lotuses begins in the Dutch Grand Prix, while Laffite, third at the end of the first lap, is gradually sucked back. Lauda, Reutemann, Watson, Fittipaldi, with clockwork precision, pass the Frenchman in the entry zone of the Tarzan corner, which closes the long straight in front of the stands. The races of Patrese and Pironi last only a few hundred meters. In the Tarzan corner, the two drivers closely follow Jabouille and Daly, who is not quick to enter the next section, forcing Patrese to slow down. The Italian is approached by Pironi, who in his attempt to pass puts two wheels on the grass alongside the asphalt. 

 

While Jabouille and Daly pass, Patrese and Pironi race wheel to wheel on the short straight before the S behind the pits. Pironi, at the entrance to the corner (turning left), tries to get back on the track with all four wheels but ends up touching the Arrows. A significant collision follows, with the cars flying into a large dust cloud, then a collision with the guardrail and a bounce back onto the track while other drivers perform acrobatics to avoid hitting the two cars. There is another incredible delay in the rescue vehicles. At the end of the first lap, Andretti and Peterson, amidst waving yellow flags, barely avoid the Tyrrell and the Arrows. The latter remains in the middle of the track for two more laps because it is difficult to hook it. Anything could happen, fortunately nothing does. Patrese and Pironi walk back to the pits, unharmed. The Dutch Grand Prix continues with a linear trend. Andretti, Peterson, Lauda, Reutemann. Watson, Fittipaldi, Villeneuve: this is the order of the top positions. The advantage of the Lotus duo is around 5-6 seconds. The carousel is monotonous. Jabouille is admired, making a beautiful comeback before being betrayed by the engine; Schekter is observed navigating in the last positions with an unstable Wolf. Then, the decline of Ferrari begins. Lauda gradually distances himself from Reutemann, whose car shows clear understeer. Between laps 39 and 40, the Argentine is overtaken by Watson and Fittipaldi. Villeneuve will also manage it during lap 55. Meanwhile, Brambilla's troubles continue. The Italian goes off the track in the panorama corner, gets help to restart, and after a few laps, the regulation kicks in: a black flag and disqualification. A negative period for Vittorio, who also risks finding himself without a ride in the next championship after Alfa Romeo's decision to withdraw his car from the World Championship. There is a small moment of suspense three-quarters into the race. Lauda gets closer to the two Lotuses; his disadvantage drops to less than two seconds. 

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The Austrian pushes the Brabham to the limit while Andretti slightly slows down with a broken exhaust. Peterson is concerned, the Italo-American reassures him, and he presses the accelerator again. Lauda gives up. Moreover, before the Grand Prix, he wanted to change the gearbox ratios due to the fear of headwind on the straight in front of the stands. An unfortunate choice, as the fifth gear is too short. The rev limiter also doesn't work properly, so the problems of the Austrian and Andretti balance out, leaving the gap in favor of the Lotus driver unchanged. The Dutch Grand Prix concludes without further excitement. The Lotus team's successful season continues. Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson secure the first and second positions for the fourth time: a one-two that leaves no room for doubt or discussion in a Dutch Grand Prix terribly monotonous. Some duels in the rear, but at the top, a static situation with the Lotus drivers committed to following Colin Chapman's wishes and the others resigned to staying behind them. Niki Lauda, with the Brabham-Alfa, attempted a desperate attack, then gave up. The Austrian won the duel with Carlos Reutemann: while the two Brabhams performed well (John Watson finished fourth), the Ferrari of the Argentine and that of Gilles Villeneuve experienced grip problems midway through the race, or the hopes born during practice days faded away. Villeneuve sixth, Reutemann seventh for a result that will disappoint the Maranello team's fans, especially now that we are on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix. What else can be said about Chapman's cars? It is enough to remember that this is the eighth victory of the year for a Lotus driver (six for Andretti, two for Peterson), that in thirteen Grand Prix, the drivers have achieved nine pole positions and five fastest laps. An impressive record. It should also be added that the British team has equaled the record for wins (70) in the World Championship held by Ferrari. Peterson behaved as the perfect teammate, shadowing Andretti, even alongside him on one occasion but careful not to bother him. Even the Swede seemed pathetic, as if he wanted to shout to everyone:

 

"I could pass him".

 

Not having to fear any internal or external competition, Mario's path has now become a walk. Already in Monza, he could become the World Champion. And it would be, indeed it will be, a well-deserved title. Andretti has made many sacrifices to fully dedicate himself to Formula 1; he has matured as a driver, although it is always difficult for him to restrain his temperament. He is an excellent tester, and his agreement with Chapman in developing this super Lotus 79 has proven to be perfect. On the other hand, Chapman confirms in this formidable season that he is one of the most valid designers in Formula 1, full of ideas, enthusiasm, and experience. A man who lives in close contact with the team. The Brabham-Alfa has achieved a very good placement. After all, the Lauda-Watson one-two is the best non-Lotus result. Lauda was more incisive, even risking breaking his car's engine, momentarily giving the impression of being able to catch up with Andretti and Peterson. But the Lotus duo was simply managing the race, even though the Italian-American had a power loss in the engine due to a broken exhaust. Watson was very positive. In essence, a result that makes the English team and Alfa Romeo happy, helping to smooth over the controversies created by the Alfa-Alfa case. While Emerson Fittipaldi's Copersucar seems to be steadily improving, Ferrari had another negative day. Not as bad as the French Grand Prix, as Villeneuve at least secured a point, but certainly not very exciting. Poor grip, a tire problem; Michelin says that perhaps the worsening weather conditions (initially sunny and hot, later cloudy with cold wind) affected the performance of the tires. A year of transition and experience, but how many bitter pills to swallow for drivers and technicians. A monotonous Grand Prix, we said. In the end, it was more eventful in the hours leading up to it due to a war of statements between the CSI and FOCA regarding a new regulation introduced by the former on aerodynamics. Threatening statements, angry constructors (except Ferrari): a lot of talk, but everything will be sorted out for the next year. Formula 1 is a cash cow, and no one will break the toy. To delve into the details, the CSI was the first to open hostilities, deciding to abolish, starting from January 1, 1979, the so-called side skirts currently used on Formula 1 cars to achieve ground effect. After the prohibition of the use of the fan (considered dangerous and against regulations as it represented a mobile aerodynamic device), the CSI had tasked the safety subcommittee with studying a new regulation for Formula 1 to limit the use of these aerodynamic appendages. Hence the Bureau's decision to ban, in the higher interest of safety, the lateral structures (skirts) because they are used to create greater downforce, allowing higher speed in corners. 

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The CSI's technical regulations subcommittee had proposed to elaborate the regulation by October 1, in agreement with FOCA. FOCA's response to this stance was not long in coming, and after holding their own meeting, the constructors made it clear that they did not agree with what the CSI had established. They threatened to show up in Argentina at the beginning of the next season with cars that comply with the current rules established by Formula 1 competitors. FOCA's response, sounding like a declaration of war against the CSI, was issued to defend the various teams that, for several months, with considerable financial commitment, have been working to prepare next season's cars on the model of the current Lotus. Thus, a new showdown is looming between the bodies governing motorsport and the constructors. Colin Chapman, Lotus' boss, says:

 

"Beyond what is expressed in the statement, I cannot add anything because we have decided not to make comments".

 

Bernie Ecclestone, Brabham team manager and FOCA president, adds:

 

"The CSI's decision is stupid. We don't want to create our own championship outside the CSI; however, if they want to change the regulations, they must do it well in advance and not overnight. We have all invested large sums in certain aerodynamic studies".

 

Carlo Chiti, president of Autodelta and designer of Alfa Romeo engines, emphasizes:

 

"The fact that the CSI has banned the side skirts is a gesture of justice after the decision to eliminate our fan. Now we'll have to see what the technical regulations subcommittee can decide and whether it can counteract FOCA".

 

Caliri, Copersucar's aerodynamics consultant, says:

 

"It seemed like a power move by the CSI to show that they are in charge. It is an unacceptable decision because it was made too late after all the teams had already conducted studies in this regard".

 

The Ferrari's position, on the other hand, is contrasting:

 

"Ferrari does not think that emerging safety concerns should be ignored. Our team will adhere to the regulations that will be issued by the sports authorities governing Formula 1 in the future".

 

FOCA's response is commented on by its president, Pierre Ugeux:

 

"I understand their reaction. It is human. But their position may certainly change after we have the opportunity to meet in Argentina with cars that do not comply with the regulations: I say there is still plenty of time before January, and therefore we will have time to adjust the positions taken".

 

But let's go back to talking about the current World Championship. With another seasonal victory in the Dutch Grand Prix, Mario Andretti has further increased his lead in the standings against his teammate Peterson and can now face the upcoming events with serenity. Andretti's success was clear, and for many laps, it was a walk for the two Colin Chapman cars. Only in the end, when everything seemed decided, did the excitement begin, as strange noises from Andretti's car indicated a broken exhaust pipe.

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"I had the great fear of being deceived just a few laps from the end after leading the entire race. I kept looking in the rearview mirrors because around the exhaust pipes, the body is made of plastic, and I feared it could catch fire at any moment".

 

At one point, Lauda had approached in a worrying way. Did he think he could be caught?

 

"No, I had slowed down to save the engine. When they signaled the danger from the pits, I pressed the accelerator to the floor, and in a few laps, I reestablished a safe distance".

 

With this victory, do you think you have closed the discussion for the world title?

 

"Now everything has become easier. I'm not sure yet, but I can face the next races without anxiety".

 

Did you think Peterson could overtake you?

 

"No. We agreed, and Ronnie respected the agreement like a gentleman. His season has been exemplary. He has been able to live up to the role assigned to him at the beginning of the year. Today he protected me excellently".

 

Next season Ronnie will no longer be your right-hand man but an opponent. Why didn't you try to keep him at Lotus?

 

"Indeed, I regret losing him, but he is also of a certain age, and it is right that he pursues his career".

 

Who would you like in his place?

 

"A talented young man who wants to learn. Giacomelli seems like the right person, so I have already proposed him to Chapman".

 

After every race this season, celebrations in the Lotus van have become a habit. Champagne flows while Chapman, Andretti, and Peterson discuss the latest success. Peterson enjoys teasing Andretti verbally, telling him:

 

"If I wanted to today, I could have overtaken you with just one arm. I had to respect the agreement, and I wanted to keep faith with what was established".

 

Behind the Lotuses, the best was Niki Lauda, who secured a good third place.

 

"I didn't encounter any problems, but there was nothing to be done against those two. When I got close to Mario and Ronnie, it was because they were going flat out".

 

For many laps, the Brabham mechanics in the pit were worried because Lauda's engine wasn't performing well. Engineer Carlo Chiti admits:

 

"I was afraid that it could break at any moment, but the trouble was caused by the rev limiter that had shifted".

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A negative day for Ferrari. Reutemann says, just getting out of the car:

 

"We've never performed this poorly. My 312 T 3 was significantly understeering, and keeping it on the road was a problem".

 

Gilles Villeneuve shares the same opinion:

 

"After half the race, the car became unstable and very difficult to control".

 

Patrese's hopes of breaking into the top positions vanished after a few hundred meters due to an incident that could have had serious consequences.

 

"It's Pironi's fault because he tried to pass me even though I was in the right trajectory. He bumped into me, and we ended up against the guardrail".

 

Pironi's version is naturally opposite:

 

"It was Riccardo who touched me; I had already overtaken him".

 

Fortunately, the drivers remained unharmed, although there were signs of a tire on the Frenchman's helmet at the end.


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