At the end of the Italian Grand Prix, the Formula 1 driver market officially begins, putting an end to the month and a half of rumours, possible offers and counteroffers that anticipate the race in Monza. As always, all the rumors going around some drivers that, when they take the decision, they quickly and absolutely clarify the scenario. One of this is, with no dubt, Niki Lauda. Even if the first rumors indicated a move to McLaren, it is very likely - not to say sure - that Lauda will stay with Brabham in the next season, where they are already talking about the future BT48, because the BT49 with the Cosworth engine is not giving the expected results in the private races. The second driver of the team will be Nelson Piquet, who makes the situation for McLaren difficult, because there’s no driver available. It is more likely that they will continue with their current drivers pairing: John Watson and Patrick Tambay, because the recent performance of the Frenchman won the trust of Teddy Meyer. Moreover, the team does not have its main designer, because Alistair Cadwell moved to Brabham to work with Gordon Murray. The surprise is the Williams, because everyone was expecting that it would keep Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni. But Frank Williams hired Carlos Reutemann, leaving an empty place at Lotus, that could be filled by Didier Pironi. His place in Tyrrell would be taken by Derek, who surprised in Austria and will race in the last two Grand Prix of the season with a Lotus. As Clay Regazzoni will race for the Alfa Romeo, under the leadership of Bruno Giacomelli, where he will carry out as the new test driver. As for the rest, Renault will continue with Arnaux and Jabouille, Ferrari with Villeneuve and Sheckter and Lotus with Andretti. In the meantime, the battle between Michelin and Goodyear is coming alive. The American company is trying to collaborate closely with a Formula 1 team to develop the tires in a better way and to fight against the French company. About this, they are leaving to this team their establishment of Frosinone, where Goodyear will have the most modern laboratory available and the best track to practice. A Formula 1 car, managed by a little group of technicians, will be used as a laboratory to tests the new tires. The big bonus that the Formula 1 team will have, basically, is a test track to develop its new models. Clearly, Bernie Ecclestone is very interested in the matter. Will Brabham be the chosen team? Probably, assuming that this happens, it will not be the Ligier team to collaborate with them.
The French constructor Guy Ligier, definitely risen to prominence in Formula 1 with the success of the cars driven by Jacques Lafitte and Patrick Depailler, often complains of not having enough means to carry on the team as would be necessary. The example does not scare the Turin driver Enzo Osella, which right in Monza announced that next year he will make the debut in the world of the Frand Prix with a car built in his factory of Volpiano, near Turin. The debut of the Osella, that will follow the footsteps of the other three Italian stables which are already in the World Championship (Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Merzario), will surely be the one of the most interesting fact of next season. The results achieved in the European Formula 2 of the Turin technician make you think that this debut, though difficult and full of questions, have a good chance of success. At the base of this predictions are above all seriousness, commitment and passion shown by Osella and from his racing collaborators. The car is under construction and should perform the first tests before the end of the year. In the last few days the driver will be chosen. The constructor continues to bet on the young Eddie Cheever but it will depend on the requests of the sponsor (an important cosmetic multinational). In order to work in the best conditions and set up the car, Enzo Osella is trying to build a little track at Volpiano (at the moment it will measure 1 km and then, if possible, it will be extended. Osella is trying to repeat - in a small part, obviously - what is the Fiorano circuit for Ferrari. Also this program (if it can be done, bacause regularly building permits are required, to the study of the region), it shows the will to start in the best possible way. Osella had even tried to obtain a cooperation of Pirelli, so he would make his entrance in Formula 1, next to Goodyear and Michelin. With excellent tests performed in Formula 2, the Italian factory has attracted the attention of many team interested in using the radial tyres. But Pirelli was unsure and Goodyear has already entered into agreements with the Turin constructor, but getting the exclusivity also for the minor formula. In this way the Anglo-American brand practically knocked out the Italian one, that was undecided for too long. Now the program for the next season remains to be defined, that will be agreed with the sponsor. If the available means will be sufficient, Osella will debut with a car (one on the wing with an Coswoort engine) already in January in Buenos Aires. If not, the debut will happen with the first European practice at Zolder, in Belgium, at the end of April. For an incoming team, there is one going out. On Friday, September 14, 1979, the Brazilian sugar consortium Copersucar announces in São Paolo the withdrawal of the company from Formula 1.
"We almost invested 1.000.000.000 of pesetas in Formula 1 since 1974 and the only result obtained is a second place in the Brazilian Grand Prix of three years ago".
The reason for the withdrawal can be brought back to the financial problems of the company. Despite the loss of the main sponsor, Emerson Fittipaldi was quick to confirm his attendance in the Grand Prix.
"From now my car will be racing with the name Fittipaldi and for the next season there’s a consortium of Brazilian company willing to finance me".
The plans of the ex World Champion include a team of two drivers. His partner can be the Argentine Guerra, even if we talk a lot of a young Brazilian driver. With the exclusion of Piquet (which in principle should remain at the Brabham), Ribeiro and Chico Serra are the more qualified candidates. Furthermore, although the management of the French company didn’t say anything about it - even if in someone said that it has given timid denials - it is hyphotesized that Talbot will enter in Formula 1. We have to search for the reason into the attempt of PSA to give the right push of this glorious name, almost legendary, that many young people nowadays never heard about. Peugeot believes that the best sports policy is the Rally one, closely related to the big series and in which Talbot already partecipate. But the possibilitiy it is not denied.
"Even if 1980 would be too soon anyway".
Rumors are strengthened by the fact that PSA, after buying Chrysler, became the owner of Matra Automobiles, the known French company that some years ago was in Formula 1, then they sold their engines to Ligier and now they retired from racing. But there’s a little problem, because the racing department is still part of Matra and not of the car division, but it doesn’t seem like a big obstacle. They are saying that some Ligier technicians - which had been lent to the French constructor from Matra - have been recalled. Others argue that Talbot doesn’t want the V-12 engine, but a new one, stating that a V-8 Turbo is under study. True, false or speculation? For the moment it’s just a rumour, especially for the words of one of Renault’s director.
"We would not be surprised if Talbot will challenge the competitor, because it would be a way of fight against Renault or Alfa Romeo. Is this not perhaps the reason why they choose a prestigious name for racing?"
At the end of the Italian Grand Prix, Formula 1 moves to Imola, for the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix, titled to the son of the Modenese constructor, Enzo Ferrari. On Wednesday, September 12, 1979, Enzo Ferrari goes to Imola to understand the situation of the work in progress of the new box, ahead of the Formula 1 race of Sunday, September 16, 1979. The entered drivers for the race are the new World Champion Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve, that during practice they shattered every previous record, running in 1’35”1, a considerably lower lap time than the unofficial record of Carlos Reuteman (1’37”3). Ferrari specifies that the team will race with only two cars, without the T-Car, because they have sent three cars in Canada for the next race. In case of breakage of one of the car, Villeneuve will be the one to partecipate at the Dino Ferrari Gran Prix. The track, a little longer of 5 km, will be lapped for 49, for a total of a slightly higher than 200 km. The circuit, which back then was temporary, has been transformed to a permanent one the previous winter and opened on Saturday December 2 1978, even with the presence of a group of citizens of Imola who had filed a complaint to the prosecutor of Bologna against the transformation of the track to a permanent one. For this Grand Prix the Brabham present for the last time the model BT48, with an Alfa Romeo engine. The track hosts for the second time in his history a Formula 1 race, after the Imola Grand Prix of the 1964, won by Jim Clark on a Lotus-Climax. The idea to bring back the maximum Formula to the Romagna track had already been proposed in 1977 by Enzo Ferrari, who had also suggested the creation of a European Tournament of Formula 1, with ten races and which is reserved to the drivers not entered to the World Championship, that it should have included the Dino Ferrari Formula 1 European Cup, a race to be held at the circuit of Imola on Sunday, September 25, 1977.
Following the defection of many British teams and the abandonment of the European Championship project by the CIS, the Automobile Club of Bologna announced in September 20, 1977, the cancellation of the Imola Grand Prix. On Thursday, August 2, 1979, Bernie Ecclestone reached an agreement with the Automobile Club of Milano and Bologna, based on which, in the next four years, the Italian Grand Prix would take place alternately at Monza and at Imola, where already this year an invalid race for the World Championship will be played. The role played by Ferrari was important and to his patient work of mediation pays tribute Ecclestone who, at the end of August, declares that it is mainly thanks to Enzo Ferrari if the Formula 1 cars can race in Imola. But there’s a problem, not felt by the organizers, but certainly by the drivers. The track of Imola is suited for the bikes, but the cars have not raced there for years and the F1 had only competed one time in a practice which didn’t count for the championship, in 1963. In a few words, according to the drivers, Imola is not a safe track. So Jody Schekter, as the president of the Drivers’ Association, as spokesperson of a crusade against a circuit that, unfortunately for him, is named after his employer. The disagreement between Ferrari and Scheckter, based on emotional foundation, will remain the heritage of a few for another month and a half. But in the meanwhile Jody Scheckter, World Champion with Ferrari, falls out of favor in the eyes of Enzo Ferrari and the results on track will also be affected from this.
"Schekter lined up against a track which bears the name of my poor son Dino. I didn’t like it, because it’s like he lined up against me".
Jody will try to explain:
"I also spoke about it with Engineer Ferrari explaining to him that against Imola, like it is now, every driver spoke; it expresses a collective opinion. I’m only the president and I’m worth one vote. There will be no problem if at Imola they will do the jobs we asked for".
But the situation with Enzo Ferrari will not change. At the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix are entered nineteen drivers: Scuderia Ferrari and Alfa Romeo are the only team to enter two regular drivers, but also the Agostini team, that does not take part in the World Championship, enters two drivers, for Giacomo Agostini and Gimax, and the Shadow, which replaces Jan Lammers with Beppe Gabbiani. Also the Copersucar-Fittipaldi does not bring Emerson Fittipaldi but the Brazilian driver Alex-Dias Ribeiro. Between the entered drivers then do not partecipate Hans-Joachim Stuck, of ARS, Jean-Pierre Jabouille of Renault and Jacques Lafitte of Ligier. Laffite, like other drivers of the World Championship, are busy with some tests at the Watkins Glen circuit, ahead of the East United States Grand Prix. Beppe Gabbiani, who takes part in the event with a Shadow, at the start is indicated at the Arrows, just as the debut in Formula 1 is expected for the Argentine Ricardo Zunino at the Brabham and Miguel Angel Guerra at the Copersucar-Fittipaldi. Free Practice and qualify are held on Saturday, September 15, 1979. The Ferraris monopolize the front row, with Gilles Villeneuve that comes ahead of the new World Champion Jody Scheckter by 0.32. The second row consists of Carlos Reutemann and Niki Lauda, while Beppe Gabbiani and Patrick Tambay don’t score valid times for the line-up, with the Italian driver that breaks the engine of his Shadow. Sunday, September 16, 1979, at Imola, at the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix, it is exactly Niki Lauda, who for two years is the moral number one rival of the Maranello team, to spoil the festive afternoon of the Ferrari. It has to be the Ferrari day, the catwalk competition for Jody Scheckter and the T4, the final gala in honor of the recently conquered champions title. After the first few laps, everything seems to follow a secret script which praises to the red cars of Maranello. In the lead, Villeneuve shows his exuberance looking at Scheckter who follows him like a shadow, like to do him the favor that the little Canadian did at Monza. Suddenly, with grit, in the slipstream of the Ferrari drivers there was Lauda.
"Thank goodness they do a bit of a show".
It’s the unanimous public comment, convicted that the Marenello drivers slowed down on purpose to animate the race, but Lauda, driven by the force that animates the exes, is terribly serious, determined not to lose the opportunity for revenge on the Maranello men. For two laps, the twenty-one and the twenty-two, Villeneuve and Lauda give life to a duel that gives emotions to every detached. Then, at the twent-second lap, the collision that is the turning point of the race. At the Tosa turn the Canadian, that follows Lauda, try to overtake the Austrian repeating the move of the previous lap which allowed him to overtake his opponent. But this time Lauda keeps a narrower trajectory and Gilles can’t find the right hole. Braking is useless. With locked tyres Villeneuve touches lightly the Brabham of the Austrian, but it is enough to make the front wing tilt. After the race Villeneuve doesn’t look for excuses:
"I was wrong, I was hoping to pass. Instead, Niki changed the trajectory and I could not avoid the impact".
Carlos Reutemann, another ex driver of Ferrari, also disturbs their party; he, despite a broken exhaust manifold, manages to finish the race in second place ahead of Scheckter. Schekter’s behaviour, starting from the sixth lap - when the Michelin tires began to deteriorate – is obvious. In Imola he tries to go until the end of the race. An unfortunate race for Giacomelli, whose race has been affected by a stone that punctured the water radiator. Brambilla, in turn, is the protagonist of an unhappy collision with the De Angelis which forces the latter to retire. A good race for Riccardo Patrese that, behind the wheels of an old Arrows, gets fourth place. Niki Lauda and the Brabham Alfa Romeo win for the third time (after the Swedish and the Monza race) a Grand Prix. The success achieved in Imola, that has the only injustice of not having been obtained in a titled competition, anticipate of a few hours the already announced divorce between the driver, the English constructor and the Italian factory which builds the engine for the car. In the same Imola race, Alfa, which is still looking for a driver, has raced (as had already happened at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza a week ago). About this, the name of Clay Regazzoni was made because he did not rule out the possibilities to drive, in the next season, the single seater of the Milano factory. After a year, Niki Lauda smiles again on the top step of the podium. The last time he had a smile without joy, in the Italian Grand Prix of the 1978, where the Austrian driver, on a dark day for the Peterson disaster, was proclaimed winner due to the disqualification inflicted on Andretti and Villeneuve, who had preceded him at the finish line. After a year of bitterness, disappointment, criticism and controversy. A true joke for the Maranello men. With this win Niki has closed, and in the best way possibile, another matter: the one between Brabham and Alfa Romeo that many times, in five years of collaboration, had given rise to mutual accusations.
"This success came too late".
Answers the Austrian to the compliments of Pierluigi Corbari, Alfa’s sports director. A joke that reveals some regret for the separation that maybe it could have been avoided with more auto-criticism from both sides. For Lauda the Imola race is a redemption. A victory that confirm the capacity, the experience and the class of the ex World Champion, still able to perform when the car allowes him to fight for more desirable goals. In commenting the race, the Austrian driver is little talkative.
"Obviously i’m very happy for this victory, even if i’m aware that the race was not important as a world championship race. Not all the drivers with the best cars were there, but beating the Ferrari World Champions is always a prestigious result".
Was it difficult to overtake Villeneuve?
"The race started well but Gilles immediately imposed an incredible rhythm and I couldn’t keep up with him. So I preferred to save the tyres and attack in the middle of the race when he had to slow down. For once, my car was perfect and therefore I didn’t have any difficulties to overtake the Ferrari driver".
How about the next year?
"I haven’t decided yet, in two weeks I will reveal my plans".
Lauda is in a hurry, the helicopter is waiting for him. He must return to Salzburg because other commitments await him. One thing is certain: this victory also favoured him on the driver market where he is highly desired. After the success of Imola it cannot be excluded that the Austrian decide to stay with Bernie Ecclestone, instead of moving to McLaren who has been wanting him for several months now. In the meanwhile, the former Scottish driver Jackie Steward responds negatively to the offer of Bernie Ecclestone to get back to racing in the next season with a Brabham-Ford. Steward declares:
"Even if I didn’t want to race, the offer was so tempting that I wanted to think about it. However, in all honesty, I have to refuse".
The immense time away from the competition and the possibility of no longer being the absolute best driver, beyond personal motivations, are the reasons for the refusal. In the time frame that divides the Italian Grand Prix from the Canadian Grand Prix, the Formula 1 teams go to Watkins Glen for some practice. Wednesday, September 19, 1979, during the second lap of practice, Jacques Lafitte improves the unofficial record of the day before, from 1’35”4 with an average lap time of 205.100 km/h. Alan Jones sets the time of 1’37”0, while the other drivers are much slower: Andretti sets a time of 1’38”7, Watson of 1’40”4 and Pironi of 1’41”51. A few days later, Saturday, September 22, 1970, during a meeting of the national sports council in Rome, are discussed the problems and the activity of motorsport. These meetings, which continue until the evening, are stopped around 1:00 p.m. to allow the president of the CSAI, Serena, to meet briefly the journalists. It’s confirmed, as previously established, that the 1980 Italian Grand Prix will be held in Imola on Sunday, September 14, 1980. After that one, it will be decided how to alternate the Italian races between the track of Monza, Imola and Mugello. Engineer Serena is asked what kind of initiative the CSAI intendes to undertake about the hot topic of pre-qualify, to which Alfa Romeo should submit for the admission to the official practice of the last two Grand Prix of the season in Canada and in the United States.
"Unfortunate the regulation, accepted by all parties, leaves no room for misunderstanding. However, the Alfa case takes on a particular aspect that derives from the prestige of the Milanese team. We will do our best to save them the effort of the pre-qualifying, also because we are convinced that at least one car is highly competitive. The problem will be solved within next week".
The national council gives a round of applause to Enzo Ferrari for the victory of the World Championship of Formula 1, and expresses its satisfaction to the Italian drivers of Formula 2 for this year’s results. The council finishes the work with the exam of the 1980 sports regulation, on which the secretary of the CSAI will branch out a detailed statement at the beginning of next season. In the meanwhile, Sunday, September 30, 1979 there will be the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, the penultimate race of the Formula 1 World Championship. The title already won by Jody Scheckter and Ferrari, the last emotion will be reserved to the battle for second place, which is limited to Villeneuve and Lafitte and with only a little possibility for Alan Jones. It is needless to say that Gilles Villeneuve is the favorite in this battle. Too many factors indicate that the little Canadian is the top man of the race which will be held on the island of Notre Dame, in a street circuit. Last year’s victory, the characteristic of the Ferrari T4 and the Michelin tyres, the same will of Ferrari and of Scheckter to pay back Gilles for what he did for the team during this year, are the basis of this prediction. Without forgetting the great cheer which supports the home driver already starting from Friday’s qualify. A million of sticker stuck on the cars, on shop windows, everywhere with the effigy of the Canadian (on which is written: J’ai la fièvre Villeneuve [I have the Villeneuve fiever, N.d.T.]) welcome him on his arrival at Montreal. So it makes sense to wait from Gilles a commitment higher than that, already remarkable, demonstrated so far. Another reason of great interest, is the presence of Alfa Romeo. The company of Milano, however, doesn’t know yet if they will participate to the race. In Canada two cars were sent. The model that has ran at Monza with Bruno Giacomelli, and a completely new car, even more evolved, for Vittorio Brambilla.
The presence of the two single-seaters at the race is conditioned to the decisions taken by the organizers and the FOCA, the Constructors’ Assosation. If Alfa should be required to partecipate to the practice of pre-qualify on Friday morning with both cars, they will withdraw from the race for reasons of prestige and justice. This pre-qualify would indeed be necessary because Copersucar asked to compete with a second car driven by Alex Ribeiro and also because Tyrrell wants to send three cars on track, one driven by the Irish Derek Daly, one more than usual. Alfa does not agree with this imposition which tastes more like a revenge by Bernie Ecclestone (who from Sunday will have to fit on his Brabhams the Cosworth engines, after the divorce with the factory of Arese) rather than an authentic regulatory necessity. Both the Italian Motorsport commission and the International one, like the great constructors (Ferrari and Renault), support the request of not doing the pre-qualifying with one car of the Milano team. It is therefore to be expected that the answer is affirmative and that Brambilla and Giacomelli are not forced to come back to Italy without racing in Canada. For the Canadian Grand Prix an interesting experiment will be carried out. On the Tyrrell-Candy driven by the Irish Derek Daly, behind the rollbar, a micro-camera Sony of the weight of just 0,5 kilos will be installed and will shoot the phases of the race on the circuit of Notre Dame Island at Montreal. Practically, those who will follow the Canadian Grand Prix on TV will get the impression of being on board of the cars. Talking about the technical field, Wolf will use, in this Grand Prix, the WR9 model, while Tyrrell will use three cars: besides the usual Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jarier, it is entered a car for Derek Daly, who had already raced for the British team in Austria. Also Fittipaldi enters a new car for the Brazilian Alex-Dias Ribeiro, who was missing from the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix, ran with a March, even if he disputed the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix, invalid for the World Championship, Sunday, September 16, always with Fittipaldi.
Due to one thing and another the Friday morning test-session is late in starting and everyone is fidgeting to get on with it because there has been no previous use of the circuit, for like Monaco and Long Beach, it is a once-a-year affair. While everyone else gets stuck in, the Alfa Romeo team has to stand around and watch and cannot be pleased to see Team Tyrrell playing around with a television camera fixed to Daly’s car! While the circuit does have some fast corners the slow ones are more important and suspension systems and handling characteristics that would encourage the car to change direction quickly and accurately are all-important. Villeneuve starts the day with a forward-mounted rear aerofoil, as used at Long Beach, but after a while returns to the more conventional one. Patrese is driving his modified Arrows A2, as is Jochen Mass, but the Italian has every intention of putting in some serious practice with the old Arrows A1 that he have driven in the Imola race, as it seems better on slow corners, not that the A2 is all that good on fast corners. The Brabham team has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Niki Lauda to drive the new Cosworth-powered BT49, for up to this point he has not even sat in the car, let alone drive it. His interest is such that he has never even been to the factory to see the new cars being built! In direct contrast Nelson Piquet has hardly let the new design out of his sight; has done all the test-driving and couldn’t wait to start racing the car. It is a classic example of one driver on the way down and the other on the way up. As it turned out Lauda drives ten laps in the brand-new car BT49/03 and then slops off to his hotel, leaving Bernie Ecclestone to circulate a bare-faced lie that the Austrian is unwell. In truth Niki Lauda had just done a James Hunt and walked out on the world that has been giving him a good livelihood these past few years - it is a world that has also tried to kill him, and failed, but that is a calculated risk that a racing driver takes when he commits himself to motor racing. It is not until the afternoon that it is officially admitted that Lauda has retired from Formula 1 racing and broken his contract with the Brabham team. The Brabham mechanics who have worked night and day to build the new team of BT49 cars are not amused, but take some solace from the energy and enthusiasm, to say nothing of the skill, of Nelson Piquet. Quite by chance (would you believe!) the Argentinian driver Ricardo Zunino is in Montreal and with difficulty the entry for Brabham number 5 is instantly changed from Lauda to Zuninio.
When we have finally disposed of the hoo-hah over Alfa Romeo and the disappearance of Niki Lauda, we can take serious stock of the situation leading up to the Canadian Grand Prix. It is no surprise to see Williams and Ferrari up at the front battling away, but the circuit does not suit the Renaults with so many low-speed corners. Unlike some teams, who whinge about the unfairness of the turbo-charged Renaults when they are on fast open circuits, the Renault team is not whingeing about the unfairness of the Canadian circuit which so obviously suited the Ferraris and the Cosworth-powered cars. Apart from low-speed pick-up, which is still inferior to their rivals, the Renaults are facing brake problems, especially with full petrol tanks when the weight is at maximum. The AP-Lockheed technicians are working closely with the French team to overcome their problems, concentrating on getting rid of the heat build-up under braking. On this circuit with numerous short sharp dashes between heavy brake applications Renault is not the only ones facing problems and most cars are using bigger air-cooling ducts or additional ones, some designed into the system, others merely tacked on hopefully. McLaren has scoops on the rear of the engine cover that bifurcates to feed air down each side of the inboard rear discs as well as enormous front scoops, while Williams adds flexible hose to feed cooling air to the callipers themselves. Before the end of the hour’s test session the engine in Watson’s McLaren has failed and he is using the spare car, while Villeneuve has reverted to the rearward aerofoil mounting. The afternoon timed practice period of one and a half hours is put back 30 minutes due to the late start in the morning, but when it got under way the two Alfa Romeos are forced to remain in the pits once more, while the arguments continued behind the scenes. Alan Jones now set the pace officially and the only other driver to get near him is his own team-mate Regazzoni and it is interesting to note the designer Patrick Head is not present, leaving the team in the competent hands of his two young technical assistants Neil Oatley and Frank Dernie, the former looking after Regazzoni and the latter looking after Jones, with Frank Williams overseeing the whole operation. Jacques Laffite is obviously in good form and the two Ferrari drivers are hard at it, but after a while Villeneuve’s engine shows signs of losing power so he takes over the spare car, which is in T4B form, as it appeared at Monza, with outboard rear brakes.
The water injectors to the rear brake ducts on the Wolf are replaced with a different type, and Renault experiments with a different shape of rear aerofoil on the new car being driven by Jabouille. With Lauda sloping off to the other side of America to get away from it all the Brabham team stuffs Zunino into car number 5 and throws him into the deep end. Not being fully prepared for this he wears Lauda’s helmet and overalls which confuses a lot of people, and as Piquet is using a new type of helmet coloured white instead of the familiar red and white it is not surprising that the Brabham team personnel look a bit bewildered by it all. However, Piquet’s driving is not bewildering, and he is making terrific progress with the new car, ending the afternoon in sixth place, right in there with the Ferraris. As no one is in the same bracket as Alan Jones the Williams team can afford to stop serious practice early and let him go out in the spare car to bed in a new crown wheel and pinion assembly. Merzario’s practice ends early unintentionally when the right rear hub breaks and Reutemann and Andretti both run out of petrol near the end of practice. Watson has to spend the afternoon in the less competitive spare McLaren, so that Tambay is much the faster of the two. Reutemann has tried the spare Lotus (79/3) and found he prefers it to his own car (79/4) but as it is supposed to be Andretti’s spare car there was a bit of tension in the camp when he said he wanted to use it for the race. While everyone clucks and fusses over the disappearance of Niki Lauda, some people hardly notice that Alan Jones has lapped at 1'30"625, when a reasonable estimate for the revised circuit has been about 1'32"0.
Nor do they seem to notice that dear old Regazzoni, who is totally disregarded by many people, is second fastest with 1'31"577, and no matter how good the car is you’ve still got to drive it to be that near the front. This is not a lucky season for the ex World Champions of Formula 1. After James Hunt, who retired a few months ago, Friday, September 28, 1978, also Niki Lauda suddenly leaves the races. A sensational decision, that catches everyone off guard, even those who have been close to him in this years. A decision matured and taken with the same cold-heartedness and determination, in a few hours, during the first day of practice of the Canadian Grand Prix, arrived after thirteen days after a victory, the one of Imola, that seemed to have given another success to a champion in crisis. Niki showed up regularly at the practice in the morning and followed the story of Alfa Romeo with interest. Alfa Romeo, being forced to partecipate to a series of pre-qualifying, preferred to retire, not without making a complaint and after having asked the Canadian organizers a compensation for material and non-material damage of 300.000 dollars. Then, for the first time, he got behind the wheel of the new Brabham, that fits the Cosworth engine in replacement of the Alfa Romeo engine. Lauda attended practices with the same commitment, but he went no higher than twelveth. While Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni dominated the practice round, anticipating Laffite, Villeneuve, Arnoux and Schekter, the Austrian was clearly preceded by his teammate Nelson Piquet. At 2:00 p.m., at the end of practices, Lauda left the circuit. He would tell a few years later:
"On Thursday I was already on track with the car. It looks great, a proper Formula 1 car. Gordon Murray did an excellent job. Normally, I should be very happy: the charm of a new and clearly successful version, a new start, a super contract, what more could I want? Instead: no emotion. Let’s not even talk about euphoria, then, I have the clear awereness of how cold all of this leaves me. The day after, at the Bonaventura hotel, I look in the direction of the track, bad weather, everything disgusts me and while I head to the first training the feeling does not improve. I review the car and nothing moves in me. I coexisted eight years with twelve-cylinder engines, with a B.R.M., Alfa and Ferrari and one way or another I liked everyone, for the rapid reaching of high speed, for the roar, for the aggression. I start the Cosworth engine, a comic feeling. I feel strange vibrations at the gimbal, a bad solicitation. A couple of explosions while I go out from the box, the noise is totally different, unsatisfactory, raw, everything gives a feeling of boredom, of slowness, nothing exciting. Nothing can replace the twelve cylinders, mostly for the feeling. Suddenly the veil falls from my eyes and I think only one thing: here you are out of place, absolutely, do something else, now. An opposite voice in me says: calm, don’t panic, drive a little longer. Yes, drive a little longer to gain time. Maybe you should have something moved in the car and then you would think differently. I keep worrying for a quarter of an hour, then I actually do something at the box, then I leave and I understand: I cannot stand it anymore, it is enough, the end, it isn’t possible anymore".
During the morning practice, Lauda completes 24 laps, then at 11:43 a.m. he goes back to the pits, gets out of the car and says to take the air out of the clutch and out of the breaks. Then, he approaches Bernie Ecclestone:
"I need to talk to you".
Ecclestone walks to the caravan of the Parmalat, with Sante Ghedini and Niki Lauda. When they get into the trailer, Niki announces that he has decided to give up racing.
"My heart can’t take it any longer, I don’t want to race anymore. I retire. I cannot stand it anymore, I can never do it again. I quit".
Bernie Ecclestone and Sante Ghedini speak. They are astonished. But, after the initial shock, the British manager immediately understands, but asks to Lauda if in 1980 he will race for someone else:
Lauda cancels the contract for 1980, without any discussion. The three phone to Parma, in Italy, and communicate the decision of the Austrian driver, that leave everyone astonished and incredulous. Bernie Ecclestone agrees with Lauda: if someone wants to stop he must do it on the spot and must not have any obstacle.
"It’s an important decision and the right one".
Lauda undresses, puts down the helmet and the suit in an angle of the box, goes to the race direction and calls Marlene on the phone:
"From today on, we will save some detergent. There will no longer be any suit to wash".
Marlene is happy. At the gate of the racetrack, Lauda meet a journalist friend, who asks him:
"Niki give me a news flash for my newspaper".
The Austrian driver answer:
"Here it is: I retire".
But his journalist friend doesn’t believe him and doesn’t write it. Back to the hotel, Lauda books a flight for the late afternoon for Los Angeles. In the meantime, Bernie Ecclestone protects the Austrian driver by journalists.
"Now you need peace, and I will cover you for as long as it takes to afford you to leave Montreal".
At the track a rather chaotic situation is created and the journalists report that Lauda has stomach ache, taking the news from this event: in occasion of the afternoon practice, Zunino will drive the Brabham #5. Ricardo Zunino, an Argentinian with some experience of Formula 1, had only came to watch, but Ecclestone seizes him immediately and gives him Lauda’s material. The Argentinian driver is hugely embarrassed: a new car, a track which he doesn’t know and a helmet on which Niki Lauda’s name is written. Two hours later, every journalist reaches the hotel where Niki Lauda, a great driver but also a great character, speaks quietly, and explains:
"I quit racing. Racing is a risk and when you lose the passion you can’t do it anymore. Money is not enough. I had a contract for 2.000.000 dollars with Parmalat and I quit. It’s like the inspiration for a painter: when it lacks, it is better to throw the brushes in the fire. I don’t enjoy racing anymore. I’ve noticed it today. I was in the car and I didn’t like the sound of the engine anymore. In fact, it bothered me. I made some other lap to really convince me, but I’d got it right, I did not like it anymore. Might as well stop immediately. I raced in Formula 1 for eight years and each of them worths at least ten. For me it is as if I was eighty: and in the spirit I feel them all. I disputed 113 Grand Prix. I also have the right to be tired. I feel the need to be interested to other things, which are newer and more exciting for me".
In the afternoon Parmalat’s promoter, Sante Ghedini, accompanies Lauda at the airport, ranting non-stop. After that, from Los Angeles Lauda goes to a hotel in Long Beach, where no one knows him. It’s a shocking news, but who followed with attention the Italian Grand Prix in Monza had noticed how in difficult spots, for example the exit of the Lesmo turn, the Austrian took his foot off the accelerator. Twelve years of racing (he started in 1968 with a Mini Cooper), seventeen victories in 114 Grand Prix held, makes Lauda one of the most popular character in the world of the sport. A character of those who impose themselves, in the good or in the bad way, who know how to create opposite feelings ranging from love to hate. At thirty, with a big bank account and a profitable activity of economic operator (last year he has established a flight company, the Lauda Air), Niki exits the scene. After leaving Ferrari, he won three times: in Sweden, in Monza after the penalty of Andretti and Villeneuve who had preceded him, and two weeks before at Imola, in a race that didn’t count for the World Championship. Saturday morning is grey and gloomy, but at least it is dry and not too cold, and the common round begins again at 10:00 a.m. for another untimed hour. Engines are hardly being looked at anywhere, but brake pads come in for a lot of scrutiny all along the pits. Patrese is trying the old Arrows A1 as it seems happier at dodging about through the tight ess-bends, which are loosely referred to as chicanes. Zunino is now dressed in his own gear, and after only ten laps the previous afternoon he is now getting down to some serious learning. Reutemann is back in 79/4 but is more interested in 79/3 and Alan Jones is trying the spare Williams, Villeneuve has a new engine in his Ferrari (041) and the T-Car T4B has been rebuilt to T4 spec. with inboard rear brakes. With permission now granted for one car to practice, Alfa Romeo sends Brambilla out in the brand new V12 car. This means that 29 cars are allowed to practise and already Scheckter is beginning to flaunt his role as next year’s reigning World Champion (don’t forget Andretti wears the crown until the end of this season) by stamping about the pits saying there are too many cars out on the track. Nobody seems very interested in his views, and anyway there is only 28 drivers taking part as the Wolf is undergoing numerous mods away in the garages and Rosberg do not have a spare car. As the test hour ends Piquet’s Brabham BT49 proves very reluctant to start as the fuel system is playing tricks.
Whether it is the thirty entries that have turned up, or Alfa Romeo’s refusal to be messed about like rabbits, or Lauda’s walkout, something seems to have upset the smooth running of the organisation. In the regulations they have stated that the race will be over 74 laps, but then changed it to 70 laps at the last minute, and now states categorically that it will be over 72 laps. At the end of the Friday timed session it has taken a long time for results to be issued and when they are, four of the times are hopelessly wrong. By the time the corrected results are produced it is nearly dark. As there are races also being run for National Category Formula Atlantic, Formula Ford, Formula Honda Civic and mixed sports and GT cars, one can be excused for thinking perhaps they are trying to do too much on a temporary circuit. Saturday afternoon starts grey and cool but gets progressively warmer and is crucial to those teams out to win the Canadian GP, for somehow the Williams stranglehold on the front row of the grid has to be broken. As no team is more determined to win than Frank’s Boys it is not going to be easy. Jones starts the afternoon in the spare Williams to do some full-tank test running as time has run out in the morning, and that done he gets into his own car and defends his pole-position in no mean manner. Jabouille is using the spare Renault (RS10) as the engine in his new car is showing signs of tiredness, while Patrese is settled in the old Arrows A1. To try and help Mass with the A2 the rear aerofoil has been removed completely, hoping that this will alleviate the inherent under-steer, but it seems like they are clutching at straws. Mechanical problems cause both Daly and Watson to take to their team’s spare cars, and after everyone is well underway Rosberg appears in the Wolf and after only a handful of laps, he sails off the road into the guard-rails in a totally inexplicable manner, the only rational decision being that he was trying too hard too soon. The front of the car is a total write-off, and the Finn is lucky to escape unhurt. This stops practice for nearly three-quarters of an hour, not only to remove the damaged Wolf but also to repair the guard-rails. When practice resumes Watson is back in his proper McLaren, but Daly, Jabouille and Patrese are still in the spare cars. Then Piquet has to resort to the spare Brabham BT49 while his own car’s fuel system is looked into, and then trouble in the Ligier team put Ickx into their spare car. With 30 minutes still to go Alan Jones has recorded an official 1'29"892, the only driver to get below 1'30"0, but Regazzoni is fighting hard to stay on the front row as both Villeneuve and Piquet are giving him a bad time.
He improves on his Friday time but so do Villeneuve and Piquet on theirs. Finally the local hero snatches second place from the old Bandit and quiet Nelson is right up the Williams tail. While all this has been going on Jonesy-boy has been sitting in the pits watching, with his timekeepers keeping him informed as to how close the opposition is getting. Villeneuve is still over half-a-second away, but you cannot underestimate the spritely young French-Canadian, and equally you cannot underestimate the rapidly rising young Brazilian in the Brabham team. Just in case, or as a warning of intent, Jones goes out again for a few laps as practice draws to a close, but he needn’t have worried, pole-position is well and truly his, as once again he is in a class of his own. However, Villeneuve is alongside him on the grid and in the second row Regazzoni has Piquet uncomfortably close alongside. To get a brand-new design onto the second row so soon shows great ability for the designer Gordon Murray, but no praise can be too great for Piquet, for apart from the car being new he has to make the change from Alfa Romeo V12 characteristics and power to those of the Cosworth DFV, and behind him is a whole line of drivers who have been using Cosworth power all year, and some for many years. Alex Ribeiro in the second Fittipaldi wears the slogan Jesus Saves on his helmet; if the Brabham team needs a slogan they should use Nelson Saves. While all this is happening up at the front of the grid there are two good efforts down near the back, for Brambilla has qualified eighteenth in his first try with the V12 Alfa Romeo and with only one day of practice, and Zunino of nineteenth on his first Grand Prix appearance. The fastest 24 are accepted for the race, so both are comfortably in. A good mid-field effort is that of Stuck with the ATS, who is in row six. The team has done some useful testing in England and modified the car in detail to make it more dodgeable and suited to the wiggly Montreal circuit and has obviously done things about right. When Niki Lauda has decided to quit racing, at the end of the first practice round of the Canadian Grand Prix, he did it himself, without notifying anyone of his friends in advance. A decision matured, probably, as he ran on the track of the Notre Dame island, in the full centre of Montreal. The Austrian felt on, suddenly, the weight of an intoleable situation. He got out of the car and he communicated his irrevocable retirement from racing to Bernie Ecclestone, the patron of Brabham, and Sante Ghedini, the public relations officer of Parmalat, the Italian sponsor, and to Peter McNally, representative of Marlboro, another company that during these years financed the activity of the driver. With Ecclestone, at first the ex World Champion tried to hide the bitter truth.
"I go back to the hotel, because I have a terrible stomach ache. I feel like throwing up".
But then, locked up in a trailer, Niki confessed to Ghedini that he was retiring, that it was his goodbye to Formula 1.
"I can not handle it anymore, I do not have anymore heart for racing. I quit".
For Ghedini it’s the classic bolt from the blue. So much so that, after having accompanied Lauda before at the hotel Hyatt and then at the airport (the driver left for Los Angeles where he is now, visiting the establishments of the McDonnel Douglas, the giant of the American aviation industry), Sante no longer had peace. He spent the evening like a nightmare and he spent the night in front of the window, starring into the void. Ghedini, still shocked, tells the same at the phone:
"The day before we had spent many hours togheter talking about the future, making plans for next season. Nothing revealed a similar decision. Niki hadn’t decided yet. It seemed to me that it was likely to stay in Brabham next year too. Rather, he was enthusiastic for the new car that it is under construction into the establishment of the English team. His decision must be matured during the night, or even during practices".
Sante Ghedini has been the greatest friend, the secretary, the trusted man, the adviser of Lauda from October 8, 1973, the day in which the Austrian has officially joined Ferrari. Six years practically lived in symbiosis, having the same ideas and passions: racing, piloting aircrafts and travels. For Niki, Ghedini left abruptly Ferrari, with the chief mechanic Ermanno Cuoghi, and he was doing everything to continue also for the next season. He certainly is the man that into the motorsport world knows best the thirty-year old Austrian driver.
"Many things have been said. That he is attached to money, that he is cold, that he is cynical. But the truth is different. Lauda loved racing for the driving pleasure, for winning. Something must have broken in him. He was no longer having fun. And when in his brain the idea of retirement formed, there was nothing to do. He did not resist. He thought about it again and again, maybe only for a night or for a few minutes in the cockpit of the car. Then he decided. In the trailer, Lauda told me few words: you see what life is like, Sante, today we are togheter and tomorrow we’re apart. I could no longer see myself going lap by lap in that circus. The engine roar was no more a music but a pain, a noise that broke my eardrums, that I couldn’t stand it anymore. At this moment not even if they offered me 10.000.000 dollars I could go on. It would be no use. I have other interests, other things to think about".
Now the most difficult task is up to Sante Ghedini. While Lauda will live these days at McDonnel, interested in his new passion, the airplanes, the Modenese manager will have to think of everything. Even if everyone is already ready to forgive Lauda. Ecclestone claims he will not take action against the driver, who abandoned the team without any warning.
"In a moment like this, the courage of Lauda must be respected".
A courage recognized also by Enzo Ferrari, beyond the controversy which divided the Modenese constructor and the Austrian driver. Talking about Niki, before the divorce, Ferrari had in fact said:
"It’s a man with clear ides, a man that knows what he wants and that act with fierce determination to reach what he set out to do. This gives him an advantage over the others".
The same determination that he had in racing, Lauda applied it in his retirement. How many drivers said they will stop when they no longer feel up to Formula 1? In this Lauda behaved as a champion. Also a champion of coherence. The retirement of Niki Lauda baffles the Formula 1 world, of which the Austrian, for some years, is the protagonist. Astonishment and acclaim between the drivers and directors for this surprise decision, which seems to have been understood by most of the drivers of the circus. Jacques Lafitte for example, says it is a smart gesture, so difficult to make, that makes you understand the courage of Lauda in dealing with certain delicate situations.
"I believe that Lauda showed great wisdom. The Canadian circuit is dangerous. Now, it may be that Niki, who was a two times World Champion and who has been racing for eight years in Formula 1, has judged that it is no longer worth risking your life every Sunday at the circuits".
Lafitte refers to the fact that this year Lauda doesn’t have a competitive car. Why would you risk for nothing, especially when, by nature, you still aim to be the best? On the contrary - it’s always the opinion of the people who work in Formula 1 - nothing makes believe that Lauda is not the same, as a driver, after the terrible accident in 1976 at the Nurburgring. In 1976, in a rainy Sunday of September, Niki Lauda had given up defending an almost conquered world title: it was raining at Japanese circuit of Fuji and the visibility was poor. Lauda, suffering after the accident of the Nurburgring, was uncomfortable in the cockpit of his Ferrari. Two laps, then he went back into the pits.
"Enough, racing in this condition is a madness, I quit".
And the championship was won by James Hunt. Now, for a particular twist of fate, both Lauda and Hunt, the protagonists of that dramatic season, both world champions, retired. Hunt did it in June after the Monaco Grand Prix, Lauda on Friday, the day before the Canadian Grand Prix. The reasons are more or less similar: the lack of motivation to continue, a sense of uselessness and boredom, the fear. Formula 1 races, apart from the spectacular suggestions and charm that surround them, constitute a stressful commitment for the drivers, a physical and mental fatigue. Practice, workouts, races for almost all the year, nerve-wracking journeys, a crazy lifestyle, a total concentration, a will to win that impresses everyone. A racer has to live only for the competitions, at least if he wants to stand out, without paying attention to the risks and dangers, without thinking about anything else, about the family, for example. It’s clear that the decision of Lauda it’s the final act of a meditation, of an anguish. The problems with the Brabham-Alfa, the newborn son, the commitments of a business - as the owner of an airline company - which is more pleasant and stimulating, the frustration of having to race with a non-competitive car: a set of factors that induced Lauda to a retirement which was only apparently lighting quick. Luca Montezemolo, friend of Lauda during the happy days when the driver was racing with the team of Maranello, says:
"I expected Niki to do something like that, but not so early. I think, anyway, that it is intelligent to retire while he is a high level driver, as he recently demonstrated at Imola in the Dino Ferrari Grand Prix, before taking the decision. Lauda is a champion that got many things from motorsport, but he also gave a lot: he operated for years at the top in an exhausting activity, not without any risks. Formula 1 loses a big character, one of the greatest driver of the postwar, whose credits for the relaunch of Ferrari can’t be hidden. As a man you may like it or not, he could be likeable or unlikeable, but his intelligence, his talent and his ability are obvious. I haven’t been able to talk to him yet, but I can attempt a judgement on withdrawal: he now lacks the will to fight and to risk, and it’s understandable in people, like him, for several years until now have always fought at the highest level. Between the driver who are still racing today, Niki is the one who won the most and who was always asked something more, maybe because not everyone was convinced of his exceptional skills".
Without Lauda, without this man apparently cold and unpleasant, without this polemic and smart driver, Formula 1 is smaller. Eight years of career, four of love-hate with Ferrari that are already legend, it seems yesterday, Lauda was a promise and now is a former driver. Into the sport the axes are meteors. There’s only a myth that is still going, while the driver pass: it’s called Ferrari. The Canadian Grand Prix, however, reserved another surprise, after complaints and counter-claims, Alfa Romeo managed to settle the discussion with the local organizers and FOCA for fifty percent in its favor. It is in fact allowed to the company to partecipate at the practice (so also to the race) with a car, and the chosen driver is Vittorio Brambilla, while the European champion of Formula 2, Bruno Giacomelli, will stay in the pit as a spectator. The solution of this delicate problem that eliminated the request of material and moral damage for 300.000 dollars from Alfa Romeo, is propitiated by the intervention of the FISA, that on Friday evening had sent a telegram from Paris to the organizers and to the FOCA, in which the regularity of the position of the Italian team was supported. At the end, after further lengthy discussions, they decided to accept a car without pre-qualify. The chosen one was Giacomelli, but the Italian driver refused to head to the track.
"I’m a professional, I don’t feel like driving with a car not which is not properly set-up".
Brambilla, however, settled with it. With the Alfa running, the last round of practice for the starting grip of the race was even more lively. Excellent performances were done again from the Williams of Alan Jones, but almost all rivals of the Australian improved their positions. The practice had many interruptions and the timekeepers had some difficulties to establish the right classification. When there were about ten minutes left to the end of the official practice, Jones had around half a second of advantage on Villeneuve. The Ferrari driver, supported by an incredible cheer, significantly improved his performance, and he does not hide the hope to win again as he did last year, although the admits that this time it will be more difficult to beat the Williams. The cars of the English team, sponsored by the Arabs, in the street circuit of the Notre Dame island are very fast, like Gilles Villeneuve himself admits:
"A success would allow me to reach a double target. That to make my supporters happy, simultaneously putting an end to the fight with Lafitte and Jones which threaten my second place in the World Championship behind Scheckter".
"Next year I will definitely aim for the world title. Let’s just hope that someone does not invent a new revolutionary car that makes mine look like an old iron".
"We already have some economic difficulties. If the supercharged engines should take over, we will end up being inexorably outdated. We can never spend millions of dollars to upgrade the car and be always competitive".
Sunday, October 7, 1979, the last race of the year will be held in Watkins Glen. Jones will aim to another victory, but he already thinks about the 1980 season. From January a new championship will start with the Argentinian Grand Prix, in Buenos Aires. Within three months and a half, will Williams still dominate as it has done in the last races?