#300 1978 South African Grand Prix

2022-08-13 00:00

Array() no author 82025

#1978, Fulvio Conti, Ludovica Dell'Aquila,

#300 1978 South African Grand Prix

Tuesday, January 31, 1978: John Surtees, the former Formula 1 World Champion and constructor, admits that his relationship with Vittorio Brambilla has


On Tuesday, January 31, 1978: John Surtees, the former Formula 1 World Champion and constructor, admits that his relationship with Vittorio Brambilla has reached a critical point. The Italian driver has long been dissatisfied with the car, failing to qualify for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Surtees adds that he will travel to Italy to meet with Brambilla but suggests little hope for reconciliation. According to Surtees, it's very likely that Brambilla and he will be entrusted with testing the new Formula 1 Alfa Romeo with Pirelli tires. Testing is expected to begin at the Balocco track at the end of March. Rumors suggest that the World Champion, Niki Lauda, has threatened Autodelta's engineer, Chiti, to leave Brabham-Alfa if the new Italian car races in 1978. Shifting gears, there are questions about whether Ferrari is preparing to leave the Formula 1 Constructors' Association (FOCA), of which it has been a member since its foundation a few years earlier. The answer seems affirmative, reading between the lines of the terse statement released on Tuesday, February 7, 1978, by the Ferrari Racing Department's press office. The telex reads:


"Enzo Ferrari does not accept the sports presidency of FOCA, as decisions made in Modena on December 17, 1977, during the constructors' meeting, were modified in the London meeting on February 1, 1978. The topics on which decisions had already been made were re-voted".


With this stance, the Modena-based constructor clearly indicates displeasure with Bernie Ecclestone's power games, the head of the Brabham team and the godfather of the Grand Prix world. Without the support of the Maranello team and the prestige of Enzo Ferrari, FOCA could gradually lose credibility and power, becoming a truncated association that does not represent the entirety of Formula 1 teams, especially considering that someone else might follow the example set by the most famous name in motorsports, Ecclestone. Once again, Ecclestone acted improperly towards FOCA members. In Modena, it was decided that the English manager would hold the position of administrative president, while Ferrari (also considering that the Maranello team is the World Champion and the engineer had declined the offer in the past) would retain the sports management. Taking advantage of the translation of English terms, Ecclestone in London asked and obtained the transformation of his appointment to executive president. That is, he wanted to have executive and decision-making power, leaving Ferrari with only an honorary position without any possibility of direct intervention. The Brabham boss argued that Ferrari could not personally attend FOCA meetings but would be represented by engineer Roberto Nosetto. While Nosetto would undoubtedly act according to the Modena constructor's directives, Ecclestone took the opportunity to downplay the possibility of interventions by true representatives of motorsports. 


All of this is also in view of the future. It is not excluded that the shrewd Bernie, especially if results are not positive, is preparing to leave Brabham (in 1979) to retain only the management of the association and handle its affairs to his advantage. Without the official support of Ferrari, the maneuver will be more difficult. In the meantime, however, Enzo Ferrari is left alone. On Monday, February 27, 1978, at the Modena Polyclinic where she had recently been admitted after a long stay at home, Mrs. Laura Garello Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari's wife, passed away. The announcement of her death is made only after the funeral, at the express wish of Enzo Ferrari, who wanted the funeral to be held in the strictest private form, almost emphasizing his grief. Laura Garello Ferrari was originally from Cuneo, born in Racconigi in 1919. In 1919, she met Enzo Ferrari in Turin when - just discharged - he had found a job in the body shop of a Bolognese after being rejected by Fiat. The next day, Tuesday, February 28, 1978, at Kyalami Ranch, the hotel that hosts the Formula 1 circus, the drivers spend their last hours of rest in a relaxing environment. Lying on deck chairs by a pool, they joke around while refreshing their tans. This hotel, with its white bungalows with thatched roofs, English-style lawns, and tall palm trees, is an oasis of peace, the ideal place to relax nerves. The village is almost silent, only occasionally broken by the roar of some engines being started by mechanics in the nearby boxes less than a kilometer away. On Wednesday, March 1, 1978, the official trials for the South African Grand Prix, the third act of the World Championship scheduled for Saturday, March 4, 1978, will begin. On paper, the South African trial looks particularly interesting from a technical point of view. 


In fact, at Kyalami, some new cars will be lined up, among which stand out the Ferrari 312-T3 and the Brabham BT46 Alfa Romeo. At Ferrari, after the reassuring tests carried out last week on the South African track, it was decided to retire the 312-T2 and field the latest model, the T3. At first glance, the replacement might seem daring, especially considering that the old T2 won the recent Brazilian Grand Prix in Rio with Carlos Reutemann. But Ferrari has a similar precedent: in the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix, the T2 debuted, relegating the glorious 312 T, which had won just five weeks earlier in Long Beach with Clay Regazzoni, to the museums. On the other hand, the comparative tests carried out by the Maranello team's drivers speak in favor of the T3, which with Reutemann set an unofficial track record of 1’15"22 at Kyalami. The Italian team believes a lot in the T3, and for this reason, young Villeneuve will also be given a car of the same type. Ferrari's new single-seater, which has already demonstrated efficiency and reliability, also has the advantage of being designed taking into account the characteristics of the new Michelin tires and is therefore able to fully exploit their potential. The T2 hands over to the T3 as the winner. In a few days, we will know if Maranello's latest creation is a worthy successor. The time for the Brabham BT46, a much-talked-about car that surprised on the day of its presentation with some futuristic solutions adopted, seems to have come. Redesigned in some details, with the non-functioning radiant panels eliminated (replaced by traditional radiators), the BT46 was one of the fastest cars at Kyalami. Niki Lauda, in recent months, has worked hard on this new car, but the single-seater is not yet as reliable as the Austrian champion would like. However, Lauda has few alternatives; the BT45 is a car that practically has no development possibilities, so if Austria wants to think about the future, it must focus its efforts on the BT46. 


In addition, Lauda wants to get rid of the worry of bringing the new car to the race, so he is willing to take the risks associated with a debut. The return of the Renault turbo will also be worth following, which at Kyalami could be one of the cars to beat, favored by the rarefaction of the air (the track is located on a plateau at almost 1800 meters above sea level), which will significantly reduce the power of conventional engines in some cases. In the tire war, after Michelin's success in Brazil, Goodyear's counteroffensive is expected. It has promised the most important teams using its tires a series of special tires for the trials. Meanwhile, Niki Lauda has spent one of the calmest eves of his racing life. With his personal plane, he even allowed himself the luxury of going on a safari inside Africa. Then, on Wednesday, March 1, 1978, as soon as he gets on the new Brabham-Alfa BT-46, he gives the impression of driving a car he has been driving for a long time and with impressive ease astonishes those in the pits with the stopwatch in their hands. To everyone's surprise, the Austrian driver, after only half an hour of testing, sets a time of 1’14"65, and no one, despite the efforts of Andretti and Hunt, manages to do better. For the first time since leaving Ferrari, Niki Lauda finds himself at the top of a ranking, even if it is the first official trials of the South African Grand Prix. The real challenge for the Brabham-Alfa is to have Lauda's time recognized. In fact, the timekeepers initially assign the day's best performance to James Hunt with McLaren (1’14”34), a performance that no one in the pits had recorded. Vivid protests from Ecclestone and Ghedini, supported by managers from other teams, finally lead to the correct decision. Niki Lauda comments at the end of the trials:


"I'm satisfied even though this timing mess has somewhat spoiled the celebration".


Lauda, however, is also involved in an accident that could have had serious consequences. Towards the end of the trials, in the curve that leads onto the straight, the Austrian miscalculates the overtaking times of Jarier and gets his nose under the Frenchman's right rear wheel. The ATS takes off but immediately returns to the ground without serious damage.


"My mistake".


The second time is that of Mario Andretti, with the Lotus. The winner of the Argentine Grand Prix encounters a lot of traffic while on the track and therefore cannot improve his performance further. 


Hunt follows with a real time of 1’15"14, and Tambay's second McLaren is followed by Jody Scheckter with the Wolf. Ferrari is far from the top positions. This is only because while drivers using Goodyear tires can use qualifying tires that have a limited life for a few laps, Reutemann and Villeneuve (seventh and ninth times) must rely on rather hard Michelin tires in terms of compound but that can cover the distance of an entire race. All of this does not diminish the ambitions of the Maranello team. The T3 is making its first official appearance, and if it is not at the top of the timesheets, it depends only on factors unrelated to the chassis and engine. The goodness of the T3 structure was evident in the free practice sessions of the past few days, and after today's tuning, a generally better result is expected. Of the Italians, only Patrese with the Arrow had the opportunity to emerge at the beginning, but then he broke the engine. Vittorio Brambilla has problems with the six-speed gearbox of his Surtees: the mechanics of the English brand mount the second gear instead of the third and vice versa. Leoni and Merzario, both arriving in Kyalami at the last minute due to flight delays, do not force the pace. Leoni, moreover, sees this track for the first time in his life, while Merzario spent the night awake to help his mechanics assemble the car. Thursday, March 1, 1978, the second and decisive day of the official trials for the South African Grand Prix changes nothing, not even the top positions on the starting grid. Therefore, it will be Niki Lauda, with his Brabham-Alfa Romeo, starting in pole position thanks to the best time recorded on Wednesday. The changed environmental conditions - the day is more humid and sultry - vary the smoothness of the track, which is significantly slower and does not allow for adjustments to the performances set on the first day of trials. Lauda himself, twenty minutes from the end, seeing that the track is getting worse, returns to the pits confident that his time will not be beaten.


"It was useless to continue, because it wasn't possible, despite all efforts, to do better than yesterday. The car responded perfectly, while the engine wouldn't rev over twelve thousand RPM, probably due to incorrect carburetion. I am confident for tomorrow. The car is reliable, but it's important to consider that it's its first race".


However, for cars using Goodyear tires, the uncertainty arises regarding the real grip possibilities throughout the race because, to achieve better times, the more qualified teams have been using special tires for some time.


"I'm sure my tires will last the entire race".


The World Champion doesn't say it explicitly, but his behavior reveals the desire and confidence to win this Grand Prix for the third consecutive time. Starting on the front row next to the Austrian will be Mario Andretti. The Italian-American is not particularly brilliant because he is forced to use the reserve car since, in the morning free practice, his car suffered an ignition system failure. Behind Lauda and Andretti, McLaren drivers Hunt and Tambay will line up, also thanks to the times recorded on Wednesday. The same goes for Scheckter and Jabouille, who will start in the row after. The real protagonists of this second day are Patrese and Villeneuve. The Italian driver had shown comfort on this track and that the new Arrows is a competitive car in the few laps completed on Wednesday. In the morning, Riccardo had been one of the fastest, but a few minutes before the end of the untimed practice, in pushing his limits, he made a mistake in braking, ending up in the barriers, damaging the front of the car and bending the aerodynamic wing next to the tank. The Italian driver spends the interval between the two practice sessions with some apprehension as he fears that the mechanics won't be able to repair the damage in time. In the decisive hour, with an exciting progression, he achieves a time of 1’15”48, which is also the best time of the day. The other pleasant surprise comes from the young Canadian Ferrari driver, Gilles Villeneuve, who takes only 0.02s more than Patrese to complete the lap. The performance of the Canadian gains more value considering that he outperformed Carlos Reutemann. For Forghieri, the technical head of the team, the assessment of these two days is positive:


"Our drivers had to fight and set times with race tires. In the last laps, we could have tried something, but we were left with only two sets of Michelin tires, which we consider ideal for the race, so we decided not to mount them to keep them intact and be able to break them in on race day, in the conditions that will be there. Of course, we would have liked to use tires for a longer time and fight for pole position, but for now, Michelin is looking for solutions for the race, and I must say honestly that they are right".


In addition to Patrese, Brambilla, Cheever, and Merzario will also be in the race. Brambilla, dealing with a car that has reached the limit of development, must use all his determination to avoid being excluded. After the trials, on the eve of the Grand Prix, the drivers relax. As is tradition in this country, no practice is held the day before the race to allow the organizers to clean the track. The drivers, after a quick visit to the circuit to talk to the mechanics who are inspecting the cars, spend this day of waiting at Kyalami Ranch. While some engage in spirited tennis matches, others spend these hours chatting or playing backgammon, the favorite pastime by the pool. The atmosphere is serene, even though this Grand Prix presents many uncertainties. In the official trials, an exceptional Lauda emerged, who, behind the wheel of the new Brabham BT 46 Alfa Romeo, returned to pole position, something that hadn't happened since the Austrian Grand Prix last year. Ferrari, called to reassert itself after the overwhelming victory in Brazil, is far from the front rows of the starting grid as its drivers achieved only the eighth and ninth times. However, the results of the official trials must be analyzed in relation to the different type of tires used by Ferrari compared to other teams. While Brabham, Lotus, and McLaren drivers set better times with special tires, Ferrari drivers could only rely on the same tires they will use in the race: Michelin, engaged in producing and testing tires capable of ensuring satisfactory durability throughout the race, have not yet prepared those for qualifying. The possibility that the race will be dominated by drivers starting in the front rows depends almost exclusively on the duration of these special tires that Goodyear has made available to the best teams. In Brazil, the top positions in the lineup were occupied by cars with tires from the Akron-based company, but in the race, the story changed immediately at the start when Reutemann took command forcefully and dominated the race uncontested. On that occasion, Ferrari's opponents had to give up chasing immediately because the tires deteriorated after a few laps. The same could happen again; in that case, a Ferrari victory would not be impossible, although Reutemann and Villeneuve, starting in the fourth and fifth rows respectively, will have to work hard to overtake the opponents ahead of them at the start. On this front, the atmosphere is serene, and everyone has confidence in a positive result. Niki Lauda, literally transformed in terms of cordiality and willingness to answer questions after leaving Ferrari, openly declares his ambitions for the race:


"The new car, which I tested for the first time on this track, is wonderful and has an amazing engine. It's very fast on the straight and has good cornering stability. I'm really satisfied; I certainly didn't expect to get pole position on the first occasion".


The friend who takes him to the circuit calls him to the car. Saluting, the Austrian asks:


"And how is Ferrari doing?"


Then he walks away with a sly look, the look of someone who wants to make it clear that he won a round in the Lauda-Ferrari match. Even Andretti, who will start alongside Lauda, doesn't hide his ambitions, although the Lotus cars haven't found themselves particularly comfortable on this track.


"It will be a very tough race, especially for us, who are not particularly fast on the straight. Anyway, I hope to gather some points to maintain the first position in the World Championship standings".


McLaren drivers also have a chance, both lined up in the second row. The young Frenchman Patrick Tambay says:


"I'm confident for the race because yesterday, in the morning practice, I found the ideal setup with a full tank and with the tires I'll use in the race, which, by the way, are the same type I used to set the times. My favorites are Niki and Hunt, but I don't rule out getting involved in the fight for victory. It will all depend on the start".


In the Ferrari team, the eve passes calmly. Villeneuve sits quietly in the shade, talking to a friend without showing particular interest in the social games tied to his colleagues. How does it feel to be ahead of Reutemann?


"None, because only a few hundredths separate us".


Has he studied any particular tactics for the race?


"None of that. We'll see after the start what my chances are. If I'm among the first, I'll go on the attack; if I stay behind, I'll try to distance myself".


If he sees his teammate in the rearview mirrors, will he let him pass?


"Certainly, if I see that he is faster than me".


On Saturday, March 4, 1978, the morning rain gave way to sunshine for the race. At the start of the South African Grand Prix, Mario Andretti and Jody Scheckter had better starts than Niki Lauda, who found himself in third position, followed by James Hunt, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and Riccardo Patrese, who started from the seventh position. Patrick Tambay, starting poorly from the fourth grid, burned the clutch and found himself in last place at the end of the first lap. Patrese passed Jabouille during the fourth lap and moved up another position when, two laps later, James Hunt retired with a broken engine. Meanwhile, Patrick Depailler moved up, passing John Watson and Jean-Pierre Jabouille, while Patrese managed to join the Scheckter-Lauda duo. During the 19th lap, the Italian driver from Arrows also passed Lauda and climbed to third place. Mario Andretti led the race until his tires overheated, after which he was overtaken by Scheckter and Patrese. During the 27th lap, the Italian driver from Arrows took the lead with a pass at the first corner. In the meantime, Depailler continued to climb, passing Andretti during the 24th lap and Lauda during the 26th lap. Riccardo Patrese continued undisturbed in the first position, followed by Jody Scheckter, Patrick Depailler, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, John Watson, and Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Two laps later, the French driver from Tyrrell also passed Jody Scheckter and rose to second place. Scheckter could not improve his pace and was soon passed by Lauda and Andretti. During the 52nd lap, Niki Lauda retired due to an oil system failure, and the other Brabham driver, Watson, ruined his race with a spin, costing him a position. Now, behind Patrese and Depailler, there was Mario Andretti, followed by Ronnie Peterson. Meanwhile, during the 53rd lap, Rupert Keegan lost oil from his single-seater before the mixed part of the track. Three laps later, Carlos Reutemann did not notice the danger and went off the track, retiring. Riccardo Patrese's race ended 15 laps from the finish due to an engine failure, leaving the first position to Patrick Depailler, followed by Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, John Watson, Alan Jones, and Jacques Laffite. However, Mario Andretti was penalized by the low fuel remaining in the tank, so he was overtaken by Ronnie Peterson three laps from the finish. The Italian-American would later have to make a pit stop to add fuel and finish the race, although outside the points zone. At the beginning of the last lap, Patrick Depailler still had a good advantage over Ronnie Peterson. 


At the first corner, Crowthorne, Depailler lapped Rebaque, but blueish smoke emerged from his car, indicating that the Frenchman's Tyrrell had also run out of fuel. Peterson reached the Frenchman's car; the two cars traveled wheel to wheel in the middle section of the circuit. Depailler managed to get his nose ahead at the Sunset curve, but at the exit of the left turn at Clubhouse, Peterson alongside the now fuel-less Tyrrell and passed in front, remaining there until the finish line. For the Swede, it was the ninth career victory, the first since the 1976 Italian Grand Prix. Patrick Depailler, John Watson, Alan Jones, Jacques Laffite, and Didier Pironi followed in the standings, finishing in sixth place. Everyone awaited Depailler at the finish line; the mechanics were already ready to jump onto the track to celebrate him. However, from the last corner, the sleek black and gold shape of Peterson's Lotus emerged. In the pits, people looked stunned. This was the final blow of a race in which emotions were certainly not lacking. Smiling, the blond Swede said, as he abundantly sprayed the crowd that, almost like in Monza, acclaimed him the winner:


"It doesn't seem real to me. I'm sorry that Patrick didn't win because he deserved the success. I kept my pace aiming for a good placement".


Next to him, Depailler received the same dose of applause and compliments:


"Unfortunately, the winner is the one who crosses the finish line first, but I am still satisfied with the car's performance. We worked a lot and well on the mechanics; now we need to think about aerodynamics. We'll try to get the victory next time".


Patrese's drama had unfolded a few laps earlier. The Italian returned to the pits in tears. Certainly, his disappointment was great and justified, and friends tried in vain to console him:


"I couldn't be more unlucky. It's easy to say that I led a race like a true champion, that victory will come next time, but I had already won my race here".


In the Ferrari box, there was an air of demobilization, while the cars were still on the track. Reutemann, from the top of the guardrail, followed the last phases of the race:


"Today there was nothing to do; our opponents were much faster than us. The grip of our T3s was rather precarious, and just staying in the middle of the group was not easy. To finish the day well, we were missing that stupid off-track excursion, but the track was slippery due to the oil left by Keegan, and I couldn't control the car".


Watson's third place was not enough to satisfy the Brabham-Alfa Romeo team managers. Lauda's engine failure, due to the difficult functioning of the lubrication system, suggested that something was wrong with the new BT 46. Engineer Carlo Chiti explained:


"Of course, there is a pleasure that we don't know, because Lauda's twelve-cylinder breakage is due to the same reason that caused Watson's engine to break in practice. If we don't find the cause immediately, we'll break a hundred more engines".


The post-race atmosphere seemed like a wall of tears. Everyone, except Peterson, who was naturally happy, complained about the adverse fate and lamented the missed opportunity. But who has the right to rage against the misfortune that robbed them of a race largely dominated is undoubtedly Riccardo Patrese. 


Compliments and acknowledgments for the excellent race flattered the Italian driver, but they were not enough to console him. Anger and disappointment were great. Even in the evening, when he went to dinner in a restaurant in Johannesburg with Brambilla, Leoni, Regazzoni, and some friends, Riccardo couldn't calm down:


"And how could I? I had run the best race of my career, without a mistake, without uncertainty. I can't help but be angry. Until next Wednesday, when, knowing myself, I'll reach the height of anger, I'll continue to dwell on the victory now certain and lost due to the engine failure".


And from Thursday onwards, what will you do?


"I will start thinking about the next race. And to think that once in the lead, now with a certain safety advantage, I did everything to save the car. I was afraid for the tires because it was unknown if they would last the whole race, and instead, suddenly, I heard the typical metallic sound of a broken piston. At that moment, my world collapsed".


His car, the new Arrows, already proved to be very competitive in its second race. Whose merit is it?


"In fact, it's a car that is already at the top. The credit goes to the excellent work done by the whole team. The main components are a good team, a good designer, and a decent driver".


At the beginning of the season, some considered your choice to bet on a team starting from scratch after the split of Shadow as a risk. Did you expect to achieve such results so quickly?


"Let's say it was a calculated risk because I had worked with these people throughout last year, so I knew how they operated. I had particular confidence in Southgate, who is the car's designer. I also took some risks because at one point, we didn't even know if we could put the car on the track. Now I'm glad that events prove me right".


What is the behavior of the Arrows on a fast circuit like this?


"The car has been designed to adapt easily to any type of track. It allows many adjustments, both mechanical and aerodynamic, and therefore is adaptable to all situations that can be encountered on different circuits. The main feature of this car is the aerodynamic part, which has been studied for over a month in the wind tunnel and has yielded very good results".


Between two races, it will be a year of racing in Formula 1. What is your assessment?


"I am satisfied with the past season because it has given me great experience, although frankly, I would have hoped to get some more points in the World Championship standings, given the good performances in the last races. With a bit of luck, I could have even made it to the podium of the top three, especially in Monza".


How do you find yourself in the world of Formula 1?


"Well, even though it is a very challenging environment as you cannot afford to make mistakes. You always have eyes on you, you are at the top, and consequently, you also take the highest risks".


Does the constant scrutiny psychologically affect you?


"Perhaps it influenced me a bit in the first three races of the past season when the results were negative due to car problems and also mine, due to inexperience. On those occasions, I had been criticized quite harshly by the media, and I felt it a bit. Now, I am aware of my capabilities and I am more relaxed".


What do you like least about Formula 1?


"The inherent business aspects that exist and, at times, overshadow the sporting side. In Formula 2 and Formula 3, there is only sport, while here there is a component of sport and a business component".


How do you prepare physically to endure the race? Do you have assistance?


"I do it alone, based on what I have learned from the athletic trainers I had in the past when I practiced other sports. In particular, I did a lot of swimming and competitive skiing. In swimming, together with Novella Calligaris, I was the Italian junior champion in the 4x100 mixed relay and came third in the 100 meters backstroke. In skiing, I competed in several national-level races, and until two years ago, I had eighty FIS points in both giant slalom and slalom".


Was the tension you felt in those sports less than what you feel in Formula 1?


"I practiced other sports at a younger age, so I was a bit more excited. Now that I have done a lot of competitions, I am completely calm before starting".


Who is your role model among drivers, and currently, who do you like the most?


"In general, I have always admired Stewart, although I don't have a specific role model to follow. Currently, I like Lauda because I think he represents the best expression of professionalism, intelligence, and speed for a Formula 1 driver".


What do you think of Villeneuve?


"It seems to me that he is maturing quite well. He had some adjustment issues in the first races, which is quite normal, especially driving a demanding Ferrari, as everyone says. But now he is fitting in very well".


Formula 1 Grand Prix races often involve shadows and problems, often colored by negative aspects such as money, interest, strange friendships. However, how can one deny that they constitute the greatest show in the world? The race that took place at Kyalami, South Africa, is exemplary in this regard: 78 laps of agony, a continuous series of sensational twists, an alternation of drivers in the lead, a collapse of the best drivers, and finally an incredible finish, with a wheel-to-wheel duel in the last kilometer that provided moments of suspense and millions of viewers. Ronnie Peterson forcefully snatched victory from Patrick Depailler. 


A victory achieved desperately, almost like a pirate, with determination and a heart that leaves no room for reason. The clear impression is that the blond Swede with a mischievous air was willing to do anything, even to have an accident, just to surpass his dismayed opponent. In that last kilometer of the race, it was possible to fully assess Peterson, for better or for worse: and precisely with a guy like Ronnie, did Gilles Villeneuve have to fight on other occasions? It was inevitable that the drama of Japan and the collision in Brazil would occur. Peterson was looking for a success for several seasons after suffering (and causing) many disappointments, once with Lotus, then with March and Tyrrell. His luck, in the end, was the breakdown of Mario Andretti's car, his teammate. A breakdown that allowed the Swede to unleash against Depailler. Depailler's Tyrrell, however, remained one of the protagonists of the South African Grand Prix. The English team, which had lost two years chasing the mirage of the six-wheeled car, returned to a traditional type of car and immediately regained competitiveness. It is not difficult to imagine that Depailler will soon find a way to win as well. The same consideration can be made for Riccardo Patrese, the hero of the Kyalami race for forty laps. With his Arrows (a car made with the help of the controversial financier Franco Ambrosio), the young Italian driver had an exemplary race, overtaking, among others, drivers like Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, and Jody Scheckter, and then leading the Grand Prix with astonishing confidence and authority. A Patrese who, despite the disappointing outcome of the race, demonstrated that he had gained valuable experience in Formula 1 in less than a year: today he is the new man in our motorsport, and it is doubly regrettable that he does not have a Ferrari, indeed Villeneuve's Ferrari, in his hands. 


It was a difficult day for the Ferrari team, not only due to the retirement of its two drivers but also and above all for the modest performance of the debutant 312-T3. On the TV screens, Villeneuve and Reutemann only appeared at the almost simultaneous retirement, the Canadian due to an engine failure and the Argentine due to an unfortunate off-track excursion on the oil left by Rupert Keegan's Surtees. There will be much discussion, perhaps, about this debut of the T3 and the retirement of the T2. Premature debut? Wouldn't it have been preferable to continue with the old car, which had performed so well in Brazil? In reality, since the T3 was supposed to replace the T2 (in Formula 1 progress is continuous), Ferrari did not make a mistake in bringing its new single-seater to South Africa. Even difficult days can be valuable if they translate into useful lessons, providing indications for the future. Now there is time to work on the T3, to make refinements and changes if necessary: there is a month until the next Grand Prix, that of Long Beach, and two months until the start of the European phase, which is then decisive. The race, in the end, confirms the disappointing outcome of the trials for the Ferrari team. No surprises, while others who had emerged in training retired from the race: Lauda, for example, Andretti, Scheckter, Hunt. For Lauda, it is the first retirement of the season, and precisely with that new Brabham-Alfa of which he had spoken highly. In reality, the Brabham BT 46 showed some typical teething problems of debutant cars. A draw between the Austrian and the Maranello team, a zero-zero full of anger and disappointment, while little can be discussed about the tires, the war between Goodyear and Michelin, even though this time the American company prevails. Nothing has changed in the top of the standings, as Andretti, Lauda, and Reutemann retired. Andretti, betrayed by his Lotus, did a great favor to Brabham and Ferrari and now finds himself behind Peterson. For Lotus, with two roosters in the henhouse, hours of tension are perhaps looming.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


Contact us


Create Website with | Free and Easy Website Builder