The pits and paddock are well filled by Friday morning, to see the start of testing under blue skies and in warm sunshine, though there is a small gap where the Fittipaldi team should have been. Although they assure some people they will be there they opt out at the last moment due to financial problems. This means that there are only twenty-eight drivers to compete for the twenty-four grid positions, Rosberg and Serra being the absentees. While this made no difference to the front half of the grid, it affects the tail-enders and the non-qualifiers. There is a slight delay in starting the testing session due to the radio communication with the BMW M1 coupe course car malfunctioning. We have barely got going when yellow lights flashing up the hill past the pits indicate trouble at the artificial ess-bend at the top. Rebaque has been following his team-leader past another car when the Mexican misjudges things and bounces off the road, wrecking the left-front suspension on the Brabham. He takes over the spare Brabham when he walks back down the hill and meanwhile Piquet in the lead Brabham is setting a pretty cracking pace. Everyone is going through the motions of trying to balance drag against speed to give the best lap times, and those cars that have too much drag in the form of their plastic skirts rubbing on the ground are spending a lot of time in the pits having new rubbing strips fitted. Others are re-thinking on gear ratios, for every year someone over-estimates how fast they think their cars will go. Everyone knows that the average speed is well over 140 mph, so some of them get carried away into thinking their cars are going to do over 190 mph, and then seem surprised when they find their top gear ratio far too high. Pironi returns to the pits on foot, with a detailed explanation of what has happened, but the Ferrari team do not seem impressed and when the car is brought back the front is bent and the wheels splay out, which told their own story.
The Ferrari team has brought along two revised cars (050 and 051) on which the front half of the monocoque has been redesigned and the rear end has yet another method of holding everything in place, this time by means of a single large dural plate. The spare car (054) is to the original specification with the rear end hung on a magnesium-alloy casting. The afternoon qualifying hour starts 17 minutes late, to make up for the morning delay, and while Villeneuve gets on with qualifying in 050/B, Pironi has to wait for nearly half the session until his car (051/B) is repaired. In the Brabham camp Rebaque’s car (BT49C/12) is still being repaired so he goes on using the spare car (BT49C/9) until it is needed by Piquet. The Brazilian’s own car (BT49C/14) is using an engine that has done quite a mileage and it begins to show signs of fatigue, so he takes over the spare car but that seems equally tired so the whole team, packs up well before the end of the timed hour, with not a very impressive result. Meanwhile the Renault team are in full swing and both drivers are way out on their own, there being a bare three-tenths of a second between them, with Arnoux (RE33) just that much ahead of Prost (RE32). In third place, with only a handful of laps, is Villeneuve in the turbo-Ferrari, his very fast lap coming just before the engine blows up! (Did we say the 126CK engine was reliable?). With his delayed start Pironi never gets into the picture, but the two Williams drivers are hammering on as hard as ever, Jones using both his own car (number 16) and the spare car (number 15), while Reutemann stuck with number 14. As far as the majority of the field are concerned there are few surprises, or even disappointments. The Toleman team are not showing the improvement expected by this time in the season, though they are happier with the cooling system on Warwick’s car (TG181/04), which has a new system of engine water radiators in each side pod with intake charge inter-cooler radiators underneath each one and the oil radiator move to the nose of the car where it is incorporated with a new front aerofoil.
All this brought oil, water and in-going charge temperatures down significantly so that they can now proceed with higher boost pressures. The Tyrrell team are running their new car (011) on new Goodyear tyres, thanks to influence with the American firm by their ex-driver from Scotland. However, Alboreto is still using Avon tyres on the old 010 car. It is very warm and in spite of this the turbo-charged 1½ litre cars are going very fast, which seems to demoralise everyone else, so that this important hour lacks any sense of urgency, even though it means a lot of money for those up at the front of the grid, and the opportunity to race or not, to those at the back of the grid. As explained elsewhere the checking of ground-clearance as cars re-enter the pit road and the limitation of two sets of tyres per driver, has taken all the sparkle out of the qualifying hour and the message seems to be sinking in. On Saturday morning there is not a cloud in the sky and the temperature is soaring. The ravages of the previous day has been dealt with, new engines have been installed, suspension members replaced and problems worried over, but it all make surprisingly little difference to the overall situation. The turbo-charged Renaults and Ferraris are still the ones to beat and Jones, Reutemann and Piquet are the ones who try hardest to do so. However, a new factor enters on the scene in the shape of a Talbot-Matra V12 driven by Laffite, for he not only gets among the faster Cosworth powered cars, but begins to beat them. Reutemann is going great guns when there is an almighty bang and his Cosworth engine blows up, the Williams arriving back at the pits with a hole in each side of the crankcase. The Williams mechanics set to immediately to change the engine in time for the afternoon qualifying hour. By 1:00 p.m. it is getting very hot indeed, but not as hot as one of the turbo-chargers on Pironi’s Ferrari (the spare car, as his own is already in engine trouble) and his practice stops once again while mechanics in asbestos gloves set about changing the unit.
Suddenly there is a mild panic and everything stops, for a deer has appeared out of the woods up at the top of the circuit and has jumped over the fence and on to the track. It takes nearly half-an-hour to round it up and despatch it back into the woods, during which time the whole world of Formula 1 came to a complete standstill. Not that it is news, but de Cesaris has crashed on his opening lap, and is not being allowed out in the spare McLaren, and when practice resumes de Angelis goes off the track in his Lotus 87 and bents the rear end. The two Renault drivers are so fast, or rather the cars are, that everyone seems resigned to being unable to match them. Not so Laffite, who is using a different tyre to the other Michelin running Talbot-Matra, is responding to this. While others are bouncing and swaying on their rigid suspension systems the Talbot is looking very good and a lot more stable than anyone else. Michelin are not convinced about the use of this new tyre, but Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who now has a lot of say in the team management, is adamant about using it and brother-in-law Laffite is happy to go along with the idea. The result is fourth fastest overall, fastest non-turbo-charged car and faster Cosworth-powered cars. The Williams try hard but can do nothing about it, nor could Piquet, so the grid take shape depressingly French as far as the British teams are concerned, with Renault first and second and Talbot fourth. With Villeneuve in third place with his Ferrari we have manufacturer’s cars in the first four places with Reutemann as first of the Cosworth kit-car constructor’s representatives. The Alfa Romeo team are not in the running, Andretti using a car with the latest rear suspension and Giacomelli using one with the old original rear suspension, but the V12 engine just do not give the power required for this fast circuit. Down at the back of the grid there is gloom in the Tyrrell camp as Cheever is getting nowhere with the new car, in spite of the used tyres.
To crown it all Alboreto scrapes into the field with the old car on Avon tyres, which push Cheever down to the first non-qualifier ! At this point the young American has already despaired of the new car and has transferred to the old spare car, but it makes little difference. Daly gets the black March comfortably into the race, with nineteenth place on the grid and Salazar is just in twentieth place, with the Ensign which brings a smile to Morris Nunn’s face. Mere hundredths of a second eliminates the two Toleman cars showing that it is as tough at the back as it is at the front. Smiling to himself in fourteenth Jean-Pierre Jarier with one of the Osella cars, ahead of works cars from Brabham, Alfa Romeo, Talbot and McLaren, Enzo Osella seems a bit confused by the whole business. The race regulations have said the Grand Prix is to be over 54 laps, but this is a mistake and a correction is issued changing it to 53 laps, to keep it within the specified maximum race length of 320 kilometres. With the start due at 3:00 p.m. the warm-up half-hour is scheduled for ten minutes past mid-day on Sunday, by which time it is very hot indeed. Renault are particularly worried about their Michelin tyres, unconvinced that the left front one, which does most of the work on the long downhill right-hand bends, is going to stand up to the job. Jabouille is perfectly happy about the Talbot and its tyres, but the Ferrari drivers are not convinced about theirs. Villeneuve do only one lap before the right-hand turbine explodes, so while it is changed he goes out in the spare car, just in case something awful has happened. This means he has no chance to try his own car in full race conditions. Jarier comes in with smoke pouring from the left-hand exhaust of the Cosworth engine in his Osella, so the mechanics have a rush to change the power unit, and the Ensign is using oil badly but nothing can be done as they do not have a spare engine. Daly is going to have to race the spare March, as the previous day a tyre tread had come off a rear tyre while at maximum speed and damaged the rear end of the car, apart from giving the Irishman a very busy few moments keeping the car on the track.
At the prescribed time everyone leave the pit lane and set off round the circuit to line up on the dummy-grid opposite the pits, but only 23 cars return. The Theodore (TY/03) of Marc Surer comes to a stop with ignition failure. A course car tows him the rest of the lap and the Theodore team falls on it to try and find the trouble, but starting time is approaching so they are forced to wheel the car back into the pit lane and miss the start. In the German Grand Prix report Surer is said to have crashed due to a moment’s inattention. It later transpires that the accident is caused by the collapse of the front suspension on one side. Also the car is TY/02 not TY/03 as stated, and the accident leaves them without a spare car for Austria as TY/01 is in the middle of a total rebuild to the latest specification. After returning home Surer discoveres he has broken a rib, and drives in Austria in some discomfort. The two Renaults lead the field round on the parade lap in good order and all twenty-three cars take up their positions on the starting grid, with Rene Arnoux in pole position on the right, Prost on the left and Villeneuve’s red Ferrari behind the Renault of Arnoux. Reutemann and Prost begin to creep forward as the red light came on, then Arnoux begins to inch forward, but Villeneuve do not move. As the green light comes on the Ferrari goes off like a rocket straight past both Renaults and up the hill into the lead. The large Italian element in the crowd are delirious and on the top straight we can see the red car well ahead of the two yellow, black and white ones, while another red car is in fourth place. Pironi has come through from eighth place on the grid, passing Laffite’s Talbot-Matra V12 and all the Cosworth powered cars ahead of him. At the end of the opening lap the order is Villeneuve (Ferrari), Prost (Renault), Pironi (Ferrari) and Laffite (Talbot-Matra V12). The car manufacturers are dominating the scene. Reutemann and Jones lead the special builders and the Cosworth brigade.
Up the steep hill goes the Ferrari, but into the braking area for the Hella-Licht ess-bend it is all out of control and goes straight on through the escape road. Reutemann do the same thing and right at the back of the field Siegfried Stohr spins his Arrows car. Lap 2 sees a whole change of scene for Villeneuve is now sixth and Reutemann eighth, while the two Renaults just disappeares into the distance. Pironi is not only holding third place, but holding up Laffite and Piquet, who are anxious to get by and get at the Renaults, but the Ferrari driver is not interested. Down at the back of the field Daly has set off from the start with his engine only firing on seven cylinders and has returned to the pits, while the Theodore mechanics have found a broken rotor arm in the ignition system on their car. They get the car started with a new rotor and Surer joins the race from the pit road, only to have the engine die again within a few hundred yards; the trouble is deeper than just the broken rotor arm. Daly’s trouble is eventually traced to a duff sparking plug and the black March rejoins the race, but four laps down. The two Renaults are cruising away into the distance, while Laffite and Piquet are being held back by Pironi’s Ferrari, and after Jones and Reutemann have got past Villeneuve’s Ferrari, which is looking very unstable under braking, the two Williams cars join the queue behind the other Ferrari. Rebaque and Andretti both make quick pit-stops for minor engine problems and by lap 8 the Renaults are out of sight before Pironi and his entourage arrive. Then in one vicious thrust Laffite, Piquet and Jones all dive past the Ferrari and on the next lap Reutemann is by. Villeneuve is in trouble with his fore-and-aft brake balance, the warm-up trouble with the turbo-charger preventing him trying the car in race trim, and one by one other drivers get by him. First Patrese (Arrows), then Mansell (Lotus) and next in line was Watson (McLaren) but before the Ulsterman have a go the Ferrari goes off the track at the Bosch curve and destroys itself against the barriers, all the corners being knocked awry, Villeneuve stepping out unharmed.
On the face of things it looks as if the Renaults are going to have a runaway victory, especially as the sky has clouded over and the temperature has dropped dramatically, but Laffite has other ideas and slowly but surely he is reducing the gap between himself and Arnoux in the second Renault. At first it is not really clear whether the Renaults are perhaps easing off, having built up a large margin, but then the gap keeps reducing and Laffite is lapping consistently more quickly than the turbo-charged cars and the Talbot-Matra is not having understeer problems on the downhill bends like the Renaults and most of the other cars are having. The other Talbot in the hands of Tambay is into the pits on lap 16 with hydraulic trouble, its suspension staying up instead of down on the hydro-pneumatic cheating mechanism to dodge the 6 centimetre ground-clearance rule. Piquet, Jones and Reutemann can do nothing about the flying Laffite, and can barely keep him in sight, running fourth, fifth and sixth as they are. After a long pause Pironi arrives with Mansell, Patrese and Watson close up behind him and de Angelis catching them up. On lap 17 Mansell gets by the Ferrari and pulls away to good effect, leaving the others to find a way by. This put him in a firm seventh place, which he is holding well, only to have the engine fail on him on lap 24. Although Laffite is closing on the two Renaults steadily there is no guarantee that he would be able to do much about it if he catches them, but nonetheless the situation is interesting. As Prost gets to the top of the hill at the start of lap 27 the left front suspension on his Renault collapses and he skates to a stop and out of the race, leaving Arnoux in command, but now on his own against the ever-closing Talbot-Matra. Tambay has rejoined the race with the other blue and white French car, but he now has to give up as the car lost all its hydraulics but Laffite’s car is running perfectly.
Watson has got past the Ferrari chicane but Patrese and de Angelis are so busy fighting each other that they are making no impression on Pironi and Salazar has come up from the back of the field and joined in the fun, while Daly is also in there with the March, even though he is a number of laps behind. Pironi is as imperturbable as ever, leading this bunch for lap after lap. The two Italians are getting very irritable with each other, and in consequence not concentrating on the job of getting by the Ferrari, and Daly and Salazar are enjoying themselves hugely, not normally having a chance to dice with a group of cars. The Chilean Ensign driver has a large blister on his left front tyre, so on right-hand bends, he is deliberately throwing the car into a big oversteer to reduce the load on the blistered tyre, and on one lap he overdid it while in the middle of a pack at about 140 mph but manages to catch it. Laffite is now right behind the Renault but Arnoux is not going to give the lead away without a fight and for six laps the two French cars are nose-to-tail, with Laffite looking for an opening and Arnoux making sure there isn’t one. Patrese and de Angelis have finally got past the Ferrari and Salazar is now tucked in behind it, and when Arnoux comes up to lap them on lap 39 he hesitates for just a moment and that is all Laffite needed. The Talbot-Matra is through and into the lead. It is now all over, though Arnoux hangs on as best he can but the front end of the Renault is not holding the road like that of the Talbot. Behind these two is a pretty subdued precession of the Cosworth runners, in the order Piquet (Brabham), Jones (Williams), Reutemann (Williams), Watson (McLaren) and de Angelis (Lotus). Patrese disappeares with an expensive bang in the engine of this Arrows on lap 44 and at the same time the tired old engine in the Ensign cries enough. The fire-extinguisher in the side pod has come adrift and is blocking off air to the oil cooler, which do not help and it is running out of oil anyway.
Waston’s McLaren splits an exhaust manifold pipe which sound awful, but did no harm, while miraculously his young Italian team-mate is still circulating and has not been off the road. Giacomelli arrives in the pit lane followed by an enormous firework display behind his Alfa Romeo, from burning magnesium caused by the base of the Alfa engine dragging on the ground and before the fire catches hold he jumps out while the fireman douse the car in extinguisher. A joyous Jacques Laffite romps home to win the Austrian GP, the seventh different winner of World Championship races this season. The gamble that he and brother-in-law Jabouille take on the Michelin tyre situation is well justified, while Renault can only wonder if they have done the right thing in releasing Jean-Pierre from his contract with them. The Williams team finish fourth and fifth, a result that many others would love to achieve, but they are far from satisfied; at least the cars have run faultlessly for a change. Piquet is a fairly subdued third. Lafitte is delighted with his car, the Talbot-Matra V12, which once was a Ligier-Cosworth V8 (!) has behaved perfectly throughout, and has he not been held up by the Pironi’s Ferrari he could have led the race for more laps that he did. Of all the drivers who ran at close-quarters with Pironi’s Ferrari, and there re many of them, they all agreed that the power is phenomenal but the handling is diabolical and they all hope that the engine never gets into a good chassis.