The noise should have started at 10:00 a.m., but it did not start in fact until midday. The official reason given for the delay was that doctors and ambulances had not arrived, but there were other unofficial reasons mentioned and later the FISA called for an official enquiry into the delay (it is discussed in Reflections). While this delay irritated most teams, Lotus and Renault were very happy as neither of them had got their new car ready at 10:00 a.m., but they had by midday. When it all got underway Andretti was in the Lotus 80, Reutemann in the Lotus 79 that he has been driving all season so far, Pironi and Jarier in their usual Tyrell 009 cars, Lauda and Piquet in their usual V12 Alfa Romeo powered Brabhams, but John Watson is in an entirely revamped McLaren M28, built around the monocoque of the first M28. Tambay is in his usual M28 and Stuck is in the newer of the two ATS cars, Scheckter is in Ferrari 038, Villeneuve in 037, and Fittipaldi is in his F6 Bellamy-designed car. Jabouille have the brand new RS01 car. Lammers and de Angelis are in the pair off Shadows, Hunt is in the latest Wolf, Daly have an old Ensign and Merzario is in his latest car. Depailler and Laffite are in their usual Ligier cars, while Jones and Regazzoni are in brand new Williams FW07 cars, the Australian have the first car built, which is test in California and the Swiss having the second car, which have yet to turn a wheel. Patrese and Mass have the same Arrows as in Long Beach and Rebaque have his Lotus 79. In the paddock, desperately trying to join in is Willy Kauhsen’s entry for Giancarlo Brancatelli, the WK/004 is been work on and WK/005 was being cleaned up after a small fire had broken out when it was tow-started. Before the hour was up there were various troubles; the new Renault broke its turbo-charger linkage and have to be tow in and Hunt’s Wolf WR8 seem down on power, so he changed to WR7.
The Brabhams are running without nose-fins, and the Williams team is preparing to follow it, while in direct contrast Andretti is running the Lotus 80 with nose-fins and no skirts under the nose cowling. The good cars are clocking over 260 k.p.h. Past the pits and the not so good ones are only just over 250 k.p.h. Due to the two-hour delay in the morning everything run two hours late for the rest of the day and the timed practice session is from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., but it make little difference to the icy blast, the cold wind being more than the noon-day sun could compete against. Some drivers like Piquet and Mass are on with it from the word go, while others are still fiddling about or conserving their limited supply of special Goodyear tyres. Scheckter is braking incredibly late at the end of the main straight and Villeneuve going hard, overtaking cars without hesitation going into corners, even nipping by World Champion Andretti without so much as an excuse me. Hunt is still in WR7 and Jabouille is back on the track with the turbo-charger repair on the RS10 Renault. Piquet’s V12 Alfa Romeo engine blew up and practice was stopped while the stricken Brabham was removed and the mess cleared up. Then everyone are off again and this time the Kauhsen team managed to get their car going and Brancatelli headed out into the hurly-burly of professional driving. The Williams team are experimenting running minus the nose-fins and then tried without the engine cover as well. Fittipaldi stuck valiantly to his new car, even though it still do not handle to his liking, but as the session wore on he went slower and slower. Watson was not much better with the revamped McLaren M28 and the way the centre-mounted rear aerofoil wobbled about caused some concern among those watching out on the circuit.
The two Ferrari drivers on their Michelin tyres are really setting a fast pace, and Villeneuve was embarrassing his South African team leader. Times are so far below those recorded last year that one was almost tempted to doubt the official time-keepers, but individual time-keepers in the teams agree, so we were resigned to accepting a remarkable advance in just twelve months. From a fastest practice time last year, of 1'16"39 by Andretti with a Lotus 79, it is already down to 1'14"87 by Villeneuve with the T4 Ferrari. While he is in a class of his own at under 1'15"0, Scheckter, Laffite, Depailler, Reutemann, Andretti, Arnoux and Pironi are all under last year’s fastest time. There is a tidy appearance about the final order after this first practice that was to continue throughout the meeting. Two Ferraris, then two Ligiers followed by the Lotus pair. While some drivers like Scheckter, Jarier, Patrese, and Rebaque did 40 laps. Poor Merzario only managed five and Brancatelli seven, as minor troubles kept bringing them back to the pits before they could complete a full flying lap. Apart from these two Daly was the first non-qualifier on this first day, only 24 of the 27 cars being allowed in the race. On Saturday morning conditions were unchanged, except that the test hour got under way promptly at 10:00 a.m. The Renault team are still in trouble as Arnoux went off the track with a broken rear wishbone and the turbo-charger seized on the new car, but in spite of all the problems both cars are well up on the grid. The Shadow team are also having troubles, but are not so well placed; Lammers’ car have its final drive unit apart in the pit lane, and de Angelis felt much happier in the spare car, though he just wasn’t fast enough to make his presence felt. Hunt is trying both Wolf cars, set up differently as regards suspension and handling, and found he preferred WR7.
Fittipaldi abandoned his new car once more and return to his old faithful F5A/1, and so to the afternoon timed session, with some drivers having special tyres and some not, some drivers having enough special tyres and some not, most drivers on Goodyear tyres and four on Michelin. There is a certain amount of bickering about unfair because the Ferrari drivers have an almost unlimited supply of special tyres and the favoured Goodyear runners only had two or three sets; it is just this sort of reason that encourage Enzo Ferrari into collaborating with Michelin to get the tyres he wanted, instead of standing in the Goodyear queue with Lotus, Brabham, McLaren, Tyrrell and the rest. The pace warmed up considerably in the afternoon and it was the Ligier team that were setting the standards; whether Gerard Ducourouge and his engineers have some secret tweak or not we’ll never know, for if they have you can rest assured they are not going to tell anyone. Some say they have some special tricks with aerodynamics, others say it is some tricks with tyres. There is no doubt the cars handle well and are nice to drive, for both Laffite and Depailler are very happy with them. On the advice of Scheckter the Ferrari team have alter their ratios in the gearbox, but Villeneuve isn’t convinced they had done the right thing. Chapman and Andretti are quietly getting on with the fine tuning of the Lotus 80, and making good progress, but Reutemann is delay while a split water radiator on his Lotus 79 is changed. Lauda had used up all his special tyres and packed it in quite early, while Piquet was very close behind his team-leader’s best lap time, back in his original car with a fresh engine installed. Both Ligier drivers are under the magic 1'15"0 mark, as was Villeneuve, when suddenly an excited buzz came from the Ligier pit. Laffite has one 1'14"50 and is firmly established on pole position on the grid, with Depailler alongside him, but the little French-Canadian is right behind them, these three being in a class of their own.
Scheckter has been trying the spare Ferrari, 039, and felt happier with it though he was not as fast as he had been with 038. For quite a while he was in fourth place alongside Villeneuve on the second row of the grid, but towards the end of the hour-and-a-half Chapman and Andretti began to get the Lotus 80 somewhere near right and the World Champion did a 1'15"07 which ousted Scheckter down into the third row of the start alongside Lauda, with Piquet and Reutemann behind them. The Tyrrells and the Renaults came next and then the two Williams cars showing good promise for a new design, but the new McLaren are little better than the old one. Rebaque and Lammers are on the last row of the grid and Daly (Ensign), Merzario and Brancatelli fail to qualify. Sunday see more clouds in the sky and the icy wind dropped a bit, though it is by no means warm and a very large crowd poured out to the Autodrome, in spite of the high admission charges being asked. A thirty-minute warm-up period take place at midday, and Villeneuve is the first away. Fittipaldi is planning to race his old car, Hunt is in WR7, Scheckter in the spare Ferrari and de Angelis in the spare Shadow. All twenty-four cars and drivers are fit and ready for the start of the 75-lap race, which was due to start at 4:00 p.m., once the King of Spain have arrived by Royal helicopter and the drivers had been officially presented to him by J. Stewart Esq. From the green light, apart from the initial rush off the grid, the two Ligiers have it all their own way, they simply disappeared into the distance with Depailler leading Laffite. There are not team-orders so they sort-of raced against each other and Laffite pushed as hard as was reasonable on a team-mate, but not as hard as he would have do on a rival team member. On lap 3 Depailler go round in 1'18"39 and these are their fastest laps in the race.
Meanwhile all sorts of things were going on behind them; Reutemann (who had made a superb start) led Villeneuve, Scheckter, Andretti, Lauda, Pironi and Piquet, but on lap 4 the young Ferrari driver try to get the better of Reutemann under braking for the hairpin at the end of the straight, got in a muddle and spun, baulking Jarier and Pironi very badly as he did so. The Tyrrell go on but the Renault had a spectacular flame-out in the megaphone exhaust and by the time Jabouille got the engine back on the boil everyone had gone. This mistake drop Villeneuve down to eighth place behind Piquet, and on the next lap he spun again at the same place and fell to thirteenth position behind the two Williams cars. Down the field an unhappy Watson is struggling along in sixteenth place, only just managing to stay ahead of Tambay, and Hunt is at the back having got boxed in on the first lap. A bare half-a-dozen laps see the scene settle down into four pairs and the miscellaneous rest. First there were the two blue and white Ligiers of Depailler and Laffite in full command, then came Reutemann and Scheckter, Andretti and Lauda, and then Piquet and Jarier. The older Renault of Arnoux is leading the rest who are Pironi, Regazzoni, Villeneuve, Patrese, Mass, Watson, Tambay, Stuck, Lammers, Fittipaldi, Rebaque and Hunt. A long way back came de Angelis, having been off at the main hairpin, and Jabouille, while Jones was in the pits having a deflated tyre changed on his new Williams. Just as everything seemed settled two of the front runners disappear. At the end of the straight Piquet shut off and braked as usual, and when he came to open up the throttle pedal is jammed! Part of the fuel-injection unit had broken and jammed the mechanism. This was as he was starting lap 16, and almost at the same time, half-way round the circuit, Laffite had missed a gear-change and blown up his Cosworth engine, leaving Depailler to breathe a sigh of relief and continue on his own well out of reach of any opposition.
Scheckter felt he might have do something about the Ligiers had he been able to get by Reutemann, but he was having his work cut out to do anything about the Lotus 79. Although to the casual spectator it looked as if everyone had given up trying and was merely cruising round, it was far from so, for apart from Depailler, who is cruising, the rest are driving harder and harder every lap, though not actually getting anywhere. The new Renault retire with turbo-charger trouble, Watson coasted to rest out on the circuit with a dead engine, which was merciful relief, and Hunt retired with overheated brakes. The only changes had been in mid-field where Arnoux have drop back and Regazzoni had eventually got by Pironi, but then the engine went sick in the Williams and that was the end of the race for the Swiss driver. Although he was at the back of the field Alan Jones was showing the worth of the new Williams FW07 by pressing on hard, and lapping faster than anyone else. For a long time Hector Rebaque is hanging on to the tail of Fittipaldi’s car, and no doubt learning quite a lot, and even when the leaders began to lap them he still stayed with the Brazilian. While lapping Tambay, Andretti have collide with the McLaren and broken the right-front nose-fin off the Lotus 80, but some clever juggling with the adjustable roll bars corrected the instability, though while finding the settings Lauda overtook the Lotus. This had happened on lap 43 and Jones had run over the broken fin and collected another puncture, which gave him another pit stop. He was soon back in the race driving harder than ever and on lap 47 he made the fastest lap in the race, up to then, in 1'18"0, in spite of a troublesome gear-change. The linkage have play up before the start, and he was having to be a bit brutal with his gear-changes.
Eventually the new Hewland gearbox cried enough and after 55 laps gave up. Encouraged by passing the Lotus 80 Lauda now worked away at Scheckter’s Ferrari, and eventually got by on lap 60, which put him into third place, behind the confident, cruising Depailler, and Reutemann’s Lotus 79. The glory only lasted for three laps, for the Alfa Romeo V12 engine was losing water and when the temperature soared sky-high that was the end of a gallant run. Rebaque’s dice with Fittipaldi ended when the chocolate-brown Lotus 79 burst its engine, spewing oil all over the back and in the final ten laps Andretti got the Lotus 80 well wound up and caught and passed Scheckter’s Ferrari on lap 67, to drop neatly in behind Reutemann’s Lotus 79. There was no disputing Patrick Depailler’s victory, he led from start to finish, without straining himself and the Ligier JS11 was faultless. The solid and consistent Reutemann did a good job in finishing second and Team Lotus are not too unhappy with the first race of the Lotus 80. Scheckter is not very satisfied with his fourth place tending to talk about worn-out Michelins, but he made his fastest lap on lap 73, bad Michelins or not! Jarier is fifth and Pironi was sixth, which pleased Ken Tyrrell, and in seventh place, and catching up fast, was Villeneuve. On lap 58 he had gone into the pits and in a lightning stop the Ferrari mechanics had changed all the wheels and tyres, fitting a set of short-life softer tyres, and Villeneuve had set off with the sole object of creating a new lap record. This he do on lap 72 in 1'16"44, which is the middle one in a run of five laps in the 1'16"0. Up to that point Jones had held the lap record with his 1'18"0 done on normal racing tyres. The last car not to be lapped was Arrows of Jochen Mass, the German having driven a good hard race, and beating his young Italian team-mate. Arnoux, Patrese, Fittipaldi, Lammers, Tambay and Stuck all finished one or more laps down, the last three having lost time with pit stops for various problems.