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#301 1978 United States Grand Prix West

2022-08-12 00:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti, Ludovica Dell'Aquila,

#301 1978 United States Grand Prix West

It was supposed to be a sort of celebration, at most a press conference. Instead, it turned almost into a brawl, and it was close to an irreparable fr

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It was supposed to be a sort of celebration, at most a press conference. Instead, it turned almost into a brawl, and it was close to an irreparable fracture between Lauda and the Italian press. On Thursday, March 9, 1978, everything started due to a series of misunderstandings on both sides, and also because of the Austrian driver's impatience in answering certain overly curious questions. Thinking to do something pleasing and useful for public relations, the Italian sponsor of Brabham, Parmalat, a producer of food products, once defined by Enzo Ferrari as a former mediator of cold cuts, brought Niki Lauda and John Watson, the two drivers of the team, accompanied by Sante Ghedini, for a meeting with specialized journalists. Before lunch, a serene, cheerful atmosphere prevailed, with Lauda appearing to be in high spirits, almost transformed from his usual tough character. The Austrian, in perfect physical shape, with the signs of the terrible Nurburgring accident becoming less evident, willingly undergoes even a series of interviews for various private radios and televisions that he had previously carefully avoided. However, the climate changes suddenly when, almost at the end of breakfast, the administrator of Parmalat invites the reporters to ask questions to Lauda and Watson. Perhaps this is the first error in judgment, expecting Niki to turn into an entertaining public relations man is a bit too much. The World Champion does not tolerate questions he considers impertinent, and so begins a series of questions and answers that do not degenerate solely due to the common sense of the interlocutors. Obviously, the theme of the discussion is the recent South African Grand Prix, where Lauda retired, and Watson finished third. In the Kyalami race, there were disputes between Alfa and Brabham regarding the cause of Lauda's withdrawal with a malfunctioning engine. The Italian team claimed that the compressor was damaged due to irregular lubrication imposed by too small ducts. The English argued that it was the engine that failed, while Watson's engine performed well. What is the truth?

 

"When you put a new car on the track, there are always risks. I have never seen a new Formula 1 car without problems. We will gradually solve ours. Perhaps already in California".

 

At this point, Engineer Chiti, head of the racing department of Alfa Romeo, intervenes:

 

"It is true that we had some disagreements with Ecclestone, but between husband and wife, it is often necessary to argue to reach a positive understanding. Many times, initial mistakes serve to avoid subsequent ones".

 

And Lauda says to the engineer:

 

"Well done".

 

Why then were the two cars not set up in the same way?

 

"The cars were the same".

 

Lauda replies, unaware that the technicians had previously stated that modifications were made to one car and not the other. How do you explain that one Brabham arrived, and the other did not? And why didn't Lauda win if he had the same car as Watson, who did well? Lauda raises his eyebrows. Then he begins to speak in English, saying that it is easier for him to explain in that language. Amidst the noise of the room and the crackling speaker, it is hard to understand, but one word resonates repeatedly:

 

"Stupid".

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Anyway, an impromptu translator interprets the speech like this:

 

"Lauda is deeply disappointed. He expected serious questions, but instead, he found himself facing a bunch of five-year-olds. He asks for relevant questions; otherwise, he says he prefers to go home to his wife".

 

It is needless to say what happened. Many threaten to leave immediately, others respond. Then the controversy subsides. Lauda takes the microphone again and says:

 

"All these questions have already been asked three times; I have already answered them".

 

In essence, the misunderstanding lies in the fact that the Austrian driver finds it foolish to repeatedly answer the same questions. Still, it cannot be said that the questions are childish if, when asked one thing, he answers another and, moreover, contradicts what the technicians and managers of his team affirm. The interview then continues without much interest. Does he miss a track like Fiorano to fine-tune the car? And does he think Ecclestone will prepare a similar one for him in the future?

 

"I know Ecclestone well, and he has too short an arm to spend money on a track. There is the possibility of developing a car even during the race and in practice. Of course, the Fiorano circuit was fantastic".

 

How does he judge the start of the World Championship?

 

"Excellent. I believe it will be even more interesting than last year. There are many cars and drivers capable of winning".

 

What does he think of Villeneuve?

 

"Villeneuve has made excellent progress, and in the last races, he has been fast. The difference is that he is Canadian, and I am Austrian".

 

A joke to conclude the speech, and then Lauda leaves. Perhaps he wants to restore a more cheerful atmosphere, but it is more likely that he wants to reiterate that certain questions are not to be asked of him. Speaking of Gilles Villeneuve, the latter will participate in the United States Grand Prix West, 99%, scheduled for Long Beach on Sunday, April 2, 1978. The participation of the Canadian driver in the American race had been doubted following news from France that Villeneuve was unwell due to an infectious disease. In reality, Gilles abruptly interrupted the tests Ferrari was conducting in Clermont-Ferrand on Monday, March 20, 1978, after finishing those at the beginning of the week in Le Castellai. The driver had a fever and discomfort and had to give up getting on the track. A first visit raised concerns that it was a rather serious form of mumps. However, during the evening, Villeneuve called from Monte Carlo, where he resides, and assured Ferrari executives of his presence in Long Beach.

 

"I had myself thoroughly examined, and it is excluded that I have to stay home for a long time, as could be suspected initially. It is mumps but in an extremely mild form. As a child, I had already contracted this disease, and now, evidently, I had a slight relapse since one of my children recently had it. On Friday or Saturday - they assured me - I will be completely healed and will leave for Canada. Then I will continue to Long Beach, where I undoubtedly plan to race".

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The news of Villeneuve's likely unavailability had been met with some concern in Maranello. Nevertheless, various possibilities had been considered. Engineer Enzo Ferrari had contemplated three scenarios: racing only Reutemann's car, giving the young De Angelis, familiar with the T3, his debut, or preparing a second car for another driver. For the third time, Formula 1 landed in California, the land of oranges, oil, dollars gambled on the green carpets of Las Vegas, and Hollywood cinema. This is the realm of temptation, with its capital in the wonders of Disneyland and an appendage in the Long Beach circuit, a tourist-industrial center worthy of psychoanalysis. In this setting, the Long Beach Grand Prix Association created its city circuit. A few years ago, when the FIA received the request to organize another race in the United States in addition to the existing one at Watkins Glen, they accepted the proposal to give fans across the vast country the opportunity to see a Formula 1 race. However, they insisted that the race be held at a certain distance from the Glen, at least four thousand kilometers. Thus, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill came up with the idea of creating a city circuit in Long Beach, mimicking that of Monte-Carlo. The stage is set, and everything will kick off with the practices to determine the names of the four drivers participating in the first qualifying session scheduled immediately after, at 9:30 a.m. There are eight candidates: Patrese, Stommelen, Daly, Rosberg, Lunger, Rebaque, Ongais, and Merzario. They must give their all to secure a spot among the regular entrants. All of them fear this additional challenge. A small mishap (they only have one hour) could end their hopes. Four of them will have to pack their bags and return home after spending a significant amount of money to come to the United States. On Thursday, March 20, 1978, mechanics completed the fine-tuning of the cars. There are several small novelties. Ferrari adopts rear stabilizer bars that the driver can adjust from the cockpit while driving. Alfa Romeo has radically modified the cooling system of the Brabham by adopting larger radiators. Tyrrell has new suspensions and a new chassis for Pironi's car. Brabham has taken a step back: traditional control instruments with needles have returned to the BT46. The digital thermometers and tachometers designed with aeronautical technology have proven dangerously inaccurate. 

 

Some engine troubles are said to be due to incorrect readings of the tachometer. The breakdowns in South Africa would thus find a valid explanation. And to think that Niki Lauda should be familiar with digital instruments, given his passion for jet planes. The Austrian driver will be the last to arrive in Long Beach; he took advantage of the trip to Kansas to attend a course with a flight simulator at an aerospace industry. After all the folkloric preliminaries, including the Formula 1 car parade won by Laffite's Ligier, ahead of Lauda's Brabham (displaying the new blue and red colors) and Villeneuve's Ferrari, and the inevitable election of Miss Long Beach, before an enthusiastic crowd, the United States Grand Prix kicks off. On Friday and Saturday, the thirty registered drivers compete for participation and starting positions. On Friday morning, the first to take to the track (still wet from the rain the previous night) under a pale morning sun are the eight non-manufacturer-associated competitors. The four qualifiers join the first and second practice sessions, totaling twenty-six cars. Only twenty-two of them will be on the starting grid. The atmosphere, as everyone awaits the results, seems calm, but it conceals excitement, curiosity, and interest in what will happen in the race. Each team does its best to update the cars based on previous experiences, but the results of their work are still to be revealed. As usual, during these eve days, various rumors circulate, with confirmations and denials that intertwine and reveal little about the actual situation. Few tell the truth, and it's challenging to decipher what is true and what is false. The major problem, as almost always, is with the tires. It is said that Michelin has prepared new tires (two types) for Ferrari, an evolution of those used in South Africa. There is talk of extremely fast slicks that could allow Reutemann and Villeneuve to secure positions at the front of the starting grid. This is, of course, in the realm of speculation. Goodyear, however, seems to have the answer ready. The technicians of the American multinational have prepared wider tires, made in both the United States and England, for the major teams, from Lotus to McLaren, Brabham to Arrows. Since Long Beach is not an excessively fast city circuit, Goodyear aimed to achieve better grip and cornering acceleration by widening the tires to 11.5 inches at the front (usually 9.95 are used) and 26.5 inches at the rear. 

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This innovation allows for widening the front track of the cars, while on the rear track, work has been done on the wheel mounts, narrowing them, as the rear track cannot be widened beyond the maximum allowed by regulations. The two tire manufacturers for Formula 1 are engaging in a genuine battle for supremacy, and there is an incredible atmosphere of suspicion on both sides because each fears being overtaken. As Mario Andretti, considered the number one favorite for victory by American bookmakers, says:

 

"Tires will play a crucial role in this race. The other components for winning will be the chassis and the driver. The car must withstand considerable stress in jumps, but the problem is mainly grip. The asphalt along the circuit changes at least ten times, and in some places, it is very slippery. Another problem will be the start. The organizers have moved the start from Ocean Boulevard, where there is immediately a ninety-degree turn, to the beginning of Veli Shoreline Drive, the longest straight of the circuit. So we'll find ourselves bunched up at full speed in a turn on the first lap. It's true that the road is wide, with ample escape routes, but we still have to see if the stratagem will prove positive. Otherwise, I don't see any other problems; I'll attack it fully because I'm racing at home, and I have to win for my fans".

 

Many believe that Andretti has a good chance of winning, but all eyes are also on Riccardo Patrese, who displays considerable confidence due to the competitiveness shown by his Arrows. The Italian driver's performance at Kyalami has already sparked a real barrage of rumors about him. It is said that Patrese has been contacted by Alfa Romeo to drive the Italian-type car that the Arese company is reportedly in advanced stages of development. Engineer Chiti denies everything, also reaffirming that there is no ready or set car in the Autodelta workshops. Some claim that the car will first hit the track at Balocco within twenty days. We'll see who is right. Engineer Chiti confirms:

 

"We talked to Patrese only because the boy was interested in possibly participating in some races with our Sport cars. There is absolutely nothing else. I don't know if Parmalat contacted him to go to Brabham next year. These, for now, are things that do not concern us".

 

On the part of Parmalat, Sante Ghedini denies that the Italian driver has had any contacts at this time. It is still too early to talk about transfers. Speaking of the United States West Grand Prix, Carlos Reutemann's feat with the Ferrari 312-T3 in the first official practice session is sensational. The Argentine is clearly the fastest, leaving the second-placed Niki Lauda with the Brabham-Alfa almost two seconds behind. Gilles Villeneuve, with the other Ferrari, sets the third-best time, followed by Jacques Laffite with the Ligier-Matra. A demonstration that the 12-cylinder engines offer excellent performance on the Long Beach circuit. Reutemann is truly skilled, showing he is in top physical condition. The Ferrari driver immediately proves he can travel fast, improving lap by lap. However, about halfway through the hour and a half available, Reutemann has to stop a few hundred meters before the pits.

 

"I felt some strange vibrations, so I preferred to stop to avoid damaging the car. I think it was something with the engine".

 

Reutemann then got on the reserve car and continued to set very fast laps until he achieved the absolute best time (the official track record is Lauda's, 1'22"75), putting him in a favorable position compared to other competitors, even though two practice sessions are still ahead, one in the afternoon and another on Saturday. To achieve this feat (confirmed by Villeneuve's third place), Ferrari mounts the new Michelin tires marked with the number 51 on its cars. These slick tires have already been tested at the Le Castellet circuit and evidently have remarkable grip and stability properties. Following Reutemann, Lauda, Villeneuve, and Laffite, Andretti is in, followed by Scheckter, then Watson, Hunt, and Jones. Patrese is eleventh. The Italian driver qualified in the morning, along with Merzario, American Lunger, and German Stommelen, after a series of three trials that saw eight drivers start. The excluded ones are Rosberg, Rebaque, Ongais, and Daly. On Friday, March 31, 1978, the country of computers, space conquest, and advanced technology faces a crisis in the face of a car race. The organizers of the United States Grand Prix are unable to draw up a classification of the first two official practice sessions for the Formula 1 race scheduled for Sunday.

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If the track times are known, it is thanks to the chronometers of the various teams: the American timers in charge create only confusion, assigning incorrect times, inventing results never achieved, placing those who were ahead behind, and vice versa. A situation with no way out that, regardless of how it will be resolved, will always leave dissatisfaction, discontent, and anger. All done with incompetence, superficiality, and a presumption that borders on ignorance. Having said that, before moving on to the chronicle of a day of total chaos, it is necessary to emphasize that Ferrari and Michelin emerge in a position of clear supremacy over their direct competitors. Carlos Reutemann with the 312 T3, equipped with French tires, is clearly the fastest on the Long Beach city circuit, and Gilles Villeneuve sets the second time. The first signs of what would happen later were noticed at the end of the first hour of practice. Everyone waits a long time for the official times, but the organizers announce that they will be communicated at the end of the day. So the audience had to settle for unofficial times provided by the team chronometers. According to the data provided by Campiche, the Heuer technician working for Ferrari, Reutemann was significantly faster with 1'20"99 (a new record on the American circuit), exactly 1.77s less than Lauda, who came second ahead of Villeneuve. All the others were left far behind with considerable margins. The credit for this feat is to be shared in three parts: first, the new slick tires provided by Michelin and marked with the number 51. These tires allow Ferrari to unload power to the ground easily and have a lot of grip, meaning traction on the asphalt and endurance over distance. Second, the excellent setup of the car, meticulously taken care of in every detail. Third, Reutemann's great form, appearing very focused and in perfect physical condition. The same applies to Villeneuve. The Canadian, from race to race, gains more confidence with the car and shows undeniable driving skills and great aggressiveness. In the afternoon, the situation, according to the electronic timing in the boxes, improved even more for Ferrari. Reutemann could no longer go below 1'21"0 but confirmed himself as the best with a time of 1'21"75. Villeneuve, on the other hand, made progress and reached 1'22"15, marking the second absolute time. Therefore, Italian journalists return to the press room convinced that Reutemann and Villeneuve will be in pole position, at least for the first day. Instead, here comes the surprise. A man shows up to read the times:

 

"First is Laffite, then Lauda follows, third is Hunt, fourth is Reutemann...". 

 

Naturally, everyone present approaches to seek explanations. The man, with an altered voice, points out that those are the official times and there is nothing to discuss. However, after facing further pressure, he says he will return to the jury for clarification. Another crazy ranking emerges. First is Laffite, then Pironi, who, according to the official timers' statement, should have been driving the Tyrrell #4, which is actually Depailler's. More protests arise from journalists, and from this moment, a dance of voices begins to drive even the most impassive reporter crazy. After admitting that there were some small errors, the organizers announce that the timing did not work well. Then they propose:

 

"Let's take an average of the times measured by the various teams, so we'll have a fairly accurate situation".

 

They change their minds, suggesting using the measurements of Michelle Dubosc, the highly skilled French timer who works for Ligier, taking all the times manually with a single stopwatch. Finally, they absolve themselves by summoning team managers and asking them to compile a reliable ranking. The various team principals come together and reconstruct the practice times. As a result, all the drivers of a certain interest, whose times were taken by everyone, are classified. Reutemann is placed in first, Villeneuve in second, Andretti in third, and so on. The unprotected drivers from the constructor's association end up at the bottom. A real madness. The hope remains that on Saturday, the times will be recorded accurately, and a starting grid reflecting the actual values on the circuit can be compiled. With the billions spent on research and construction of cars, Formula 1 loses a significant amount of credibility on these occasions due to an organization that shows incredible shortcomings. By next morning everyone seems to be back to square one, with new engines installed, dents knocked out, suspensions replaced and drivers back in the cars they hoped to race. 

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The hour and a half of untimed practice, intended for testing with full petrol tanks and race-worthy tyre combinations saw the mayhem continue. Depaillers Tyrrell 008 has a cine-camera on its roll-over bar, and is later towed in with a broken driveshaft; Seheckters Wolf WR1 is brought back on a. breakdown lorry, with a broken rear upright; the Renault had a vast air-horn scooplog air into the turbocharger unit, in place of the NACA duct; Reutemann preferrs the spare Ferrari to his regular one; Stuck crashes his Shadow DN9 badly when dodging Keegan who is busy demolishing his Surtees, and the Brabhams are rubbing their back tyres on the top radius rods. There is never a dull moment. For the final hour, when times are to count for the starting grid the timekeepers still do not seem to be in complete control of their equipment, and eventually only tell 0,5 who improves on their Friday time. Strangely Reutemann does not improve, though no one beats his Friday time, but Villeneuve moves up closer to him, and Lauda joins the elite in the 1'20"0. Stucks Shadow cannot be repaired so he is out, and Keegan has another go and this time really smashes up his Surtees. He is not alone, for Bramlilla crashes his Surtees as well. Scheckter is using WR3, the supposedly spare Wolf, and Pironi hit a wall early on and have to sit and watch proceedings, while Depailler suffers an ignition failure which costs a lot of time. On the fastest leg of the circuit the Brabham-Alfas and the Renault are consistently the fastest through the Frank Williams speed-trap, while the Ferraris are in amongst the average Cosworth-poared cars, yet are easily the fastest on lap times, so clearly maximum speed is not all-important. When it is all over the two Michelin-shod Ferraris are still on the front row of the grid, with Reutemann in pole-position, with Lauda and Andretti in the second row and Watson and Peterson in the third row, so that the Lotus is the only Cosworthpoared car to challenge the Italian 12-cylinder cars. Gilles Villeneuve in second position has to rate the biggest A-for-effort, regardless of any supposed advantage of having a Ferrari or Michelin tyres. There are some new hopefuls at the back who would have still been at the back no matter how many Ferraris or Michelin tyres you give them. 

 

The top Goodyear-shod runners are muttering amongst themselves finding it hard to believe that a funny little French firm can beat the mighty American firm. Of course, if the Ferrari teams superiority is not due to the Michelin tyres then you have to admit that the new T3 Ferrari, on only its second outing, is a very good car. The advantage cant possibly be with the drivers, some people are saying. The four drivers who do not qualify are Stuck (Shadow DN9) who has no opportunity in the final hour, Pironi (Tyrrell 008/4) who also has to sit it out, Lunger who progresses progressively, but not far enough, and Leoni in the lone Ensign who has never looked like being fast enough. Although Keegan scrapes into last place on the grid he cannot start as John Surtees is running out of spares and there is only enough to cobble up a single car out of the remains of TS19/07 and TS19/06. These are assembled onto the monocoque of TS19/02, which was brought along just-in-case. Stuck is first reserve but the Shadow DN9 cannot be repaired, so Pironi scrapes into the starting list. On Sunday, April 2, 1978, the sun accompanied the United States Grand Prix West, attended by 75.000 spectators. The decision to change the starting point helped avoid crowding at the first curve. At the first turn, John Watson braked heavily, forcing Reutemann to widen his trajectory. Gilles Villeneuve took advantage of this, finding himself in the lead. The first lap immediately posed challenges for Patrese and Merzario. Patrese couldn't shift to second gear, getting caught in the middle of the pack. Merzario was hit by Pironi and returned to the pits to change a wheel, practically ending his race due to subsequent gearbox issues. Behind Villeneuve, the first retirements began. On the second lap, Peterson passed Hunt, moving up to seventh place. By lap 5, Hunt hit the wall at the exit of an uphill turn, possibly due to a suspension failure, and his car was towed off the track by a service truck in an acrobatic intervention. On lap 9, Watson also had to leave the Grand Prix. The Northern Irish driver had to stop due to the explosion of the extinguisher located in the rear of his car. This elevated Lauda to second place, between the Ferraris of Villeneuve and Reutemann. However, Villeneuve demonstrated having the faster car, gradually pulling away from the Austrian. But even for the World Champion, the moment of retirement arrived. During lap 27, his Brabham did not pass the pit lane anymore.

 

"The fuel pressure dropped to zero, and I had to stop".

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After the race, the issue was traced to the malfunctioning electronic control unit that managed the electrical system. Meanwhile, during lap 19, Mario Andretti dropped to fourth place due to a wrong choice of Goodyear tires and the low power of his engine, being overtaken by Alan Jones. With Lauda also out, the two Ferrari drivers were leading the race, pursued by a determined Alan Jones in the new Williams. The Australian closely followed the two Ferraris until lap 38 when Villeneuve's absence on the pit straight caused concern in the Ferrari pit. Villeneuve, traveling at high speed, found himself behind Clay Regazzoni, battling with Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Gilles followed him for half a lap and then attempted to overtake in the Pine Avenue corner. Trying to take advantage of Regazzoni's sudden braking, Gilles imprudently pulled alongside the Shadow, but the space available proved too narrow. Clay had to return to the racing line, and the collision was inevitable. Villeneuve's Ferrari ended up on the curb, lifted, touched Regazzoni's car, went over the Shadow, brushed against the helmet of the Swiss driver (fortunately unharmed), and flew sideways onto the track, crashing heavily with the rear against a tire barrier. Reutemann's sprint began from this moment. For 41 laps, the Argentine wisely managed his lead, first fending off Jones' attacks and then, when the Australian slowed down from lap 47 due to a fuel injection pump failure, comfortably controlling Andretti's comeback. While Reutemann raced towards victory, Depailler maintained a solid third position, ahead of Peterson and Laffite. Surprisingly in sixth place was Patrese, delivering a great performance in the final stages, despite losing half a lap early on to replace a front tire that had deflated due to a slight collision with a bin. Jones had to settle for seventh place. 

 

Outside the classification, Brambilla struggled initially, forced to the pits for several laps to replace brake pads and then compelled to retire due to a differential failure. Another victory for Carlos Reutemann. After winning in Brazil, the Ferrari driver secured his second win of the season at the United States Grand Prix West, equaling the score with Italo-American Mario Andretti, who had won in Argentina. Now, the two rivals were tied at the top of the World Championship standings, both with 18 points. Lole's satisfaction was immense, perhaps compensating for many past disappointments. So great was Reutemann's joy that he remained composed on the podium when, among the numerous awards, he was presented with a painting depicting a Ferrari leading a group of cars on the Long Beach circuit with Niki Lauda at the helm. Only when the organizers tried to put the inevitable Goodyear cap on his head did Carlos show a gesture of impatience and called the Michelin man to give him the right headgear. A proper acknowledgment for the French company, which had a significant role in this first-place finish. The Argentine's victory was in the air. The times achieved in the eventful official trials, the pole position, a race conducted with intelligence and skill, confirmed the impressions of the eve. And to think that Reutemann didn't have a good start: choosing the right side of the starting grid turned out to be wrong, although the final result proved the South American right. Reutemann, despite having a good initial start, found himself hindered by Watson when entering the turn at the end of the starting straight. Watson arrived with locked wheels and skidded across the track. If Carlos had closed the gap, he would have undoubtedly been hit by the Brabham of the Northern Irish driver, who managed to pass along with Lauda. However, the quickest at the start was Villeneuve; the Canadian took a wider, faster line and found himself leading the race from the first lap. Gilles immediately set a furious pace, with Watson, Lauda, Reutemann, and Andretti following in line.

 

"Honestly, I didn't expect to win. Although I was sure I would have a good race because I am in good shape. I had concerns about what happened in Kyalami. We didn't know if we would have problems with the tires. Instead, the Michelin-Ferrari combination worked perfectly. The car is continually evolving and improving from race to race, maintaining great reliability as always. Now everything is over, and I came first. I am happy as perhaps never before in my life. But it wasn't easy. The race had a tight development, and on more than one occasion, I risked losing it. At the beginning, I found myself blocked by Watson and spoiled the pole position. In the end, while I was cruising safely, I suddenly felt the rear end lighten as if I had hit an oil slick, and the car almost spun. Fortunately, I managed to recover and pull away before Andretti caught up with me".

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Carlos Reutemann explains his race in one breath:

 

"Maybe I should have tried to overtake Lauda when he was chasing Villeneuve. But Niki's Brabham was as fast as the Ferrari on the straight, and even though it was slower in the turns, overtaking was impossible. I saw Gilles' accident, but I can't say whose fault it was. I'm sorry for him because he showed he was fast. Now we're on the right track, but it's too early to sing victory. The championship restarts in Monte Carlo. Even though we have more confidence, we'll have to start over because with Michelin tires, we have no reference points on the Monaco streets".

 

Gilles Villeneuve doesn't hide his disappointment for the accident he was involved in. However, the Canadian doesn't lose heart.

 

"Maybe next time. I may have self-eliminated, perhaps due to a misjudgment. It seemed to me that Regazzoni had braked more than necessary. I saw a gap and tried to overtake him because I had been behind him for more than half a lap, and I was significantly faster. I started the maneuver by side by side with Clay, but he took the right trajectory and closed on me. The accident was inevitable. I wasn't scared. The blame for what happened was at least 50% mine. I'll learn from this negative experience. The car was doing fine, even though the track was dirty, and there was a lot of oil on the asphalt. At the start, I managed to take the lead by widening the turn at the end of the straight".

 

Regazzoni does not share the same opinion as the Canadian, saying:

 

"What Gilles did was genuine madness. At that point, overtaking was neither possible nor advisable. He only made me risk a nasty accident".

 

Immediately after the race, Reutemann receives compliments from Enzo Ferrari. The constructor, through a phone call, expresses appreciation for the Argentine's behavior.

 

"Reutemann has proven to be a driver on whom one can rely to the fullest".

 

Regarding Villeneuve, the constructor would have said:

 

"I am very sorry for Villeneuve. The young man - who is only in his sixth Formula 1 race - improves every time. On this occasion, he was involved in an accident that put him out of the race, but he could have won. Indeed, I believe he was about to achieve his first victory".

 

Everyone also expected a great race from Andretti, the winner on this track last year and the winner in Argentina. However, the Italian-American never managed to challenge Reutemann:

 

"At Long Beach, we made many mistakes. We wasted too much time finding the right settings, and the ones we chose were not suitable. Moreover, we put in a fifth gear that was too long, causing the engine to lose revs. In short, I have to be very satisfied with the second place. I am still leading the standings, albeit tied with Carlos. Let's take it easy with the predictions, anyway; in my opinion, Lauda and Peterson are not yet out of the game".

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It was a negative day for Lauda. After putting his soul into the qualifying attempts to secure the pole position (a feat he narrowly missed), he was then denied the opportunity to fight for victory. The powerful engine of the Brabham-Alfa suddenly stopped due to a failure in fuel pumping.

 

"Blame it on the electronic control unit. The engine, we checked it after the race, was working perfectly".

 

However, when the same diligent technicians had to explain what happened to Watson, they hid behind a semi-axle breakage. The Brabham team manager, Michel Blash, on the other hand, said that the fire extinguisher mysteriously burst, and Watson had to stop because the cockpit was filled with smoke. In the Italo-English team, there seems to be no great agreement even on what to declare.


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