For reasons best known to the Automobile Club von Deutschland, the Formula One Constructors’ Association, the Formula One drivers and Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, the German GP is once more held in the Hockenheimring concrete stadium. Reasons for not using the Nurburgring provide enormous variety. On the face of things the AvD is in charge of things at Hockenheim, and its dignitaries certainly fill the credit pages of the rather nice programme, but behind the scenes it is said to be the Max and Bernie Show, that Mosley and Ecclestone have more than a finger in the pie. At the Nurburgring you cannot really see the 250.000 spectators spread around the 14-mile mountainous circuit; whereas at Hockenheim the 100.000 that can be crammed into the grandstands overlooking the arena are very visible and the financial profit is clear for all to see. Whether this sight last year persuaded Ecclestone and Mosley to take a keen interest in the German GP, or whether it was for the good of the sport, we’ll never really know. One thing you can say for the Constructors’ Association, and those aspiring to join, is that when they promise a full entry they keep their promise and everyone turns up well on time and are all ready to go at 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning, for the first hour-and-a-half of official practice. Many of the teams had already been to the stadium some weeks before, testing cars and tyres and the opportunity was taken to sort out the overflow of rabbits so that when official practice begins there are twenty-eight selected drivers competing for twenty-four places on the grid. The basic format for practice is now well established, with Team Lotus setting the pace, the other top runners trying to keep up, the hard-triers in mid-field trying very hard, with good Goodyear tyres as their prize and the odds and ends at the back trying not to be right at the back.
There are one or two minor changes in the scene, Jean-Pierre Jarier re-joins the ATS team, as Rosberg is back with Teddy Yip’s Theodore Racing, they having dumped the Theodore TR 1 (Ralt) and bought two cars off the Wolf team, numbers WR3 and WR4. While Derek Daly is dallying about over his future with the Ensign team, Morris Nunn takes the Brazilian F3 driver Nelson Piquet onto his strength, to drive MN08; his second car MN06 is hired out to Harald Ertl, the bearded journalist-cum-racing driver from nearby Mannheim. On the mechanical front there are a few changes, but none of a trend-setting nature. Lauda’s Brabham BT 46/6 has a cockpit controlled rear anti-roll-bar, Villeneuve’s Ferrari (035) and the spare Ferrari (033) have up and over exhaust pipes gathered into a bunch above the gearbox, Reutemann’s Ferrari (032) has two exhaust pipes up and two down, the spare Brabham BT 46/3 has side-mounted radiators, one one each side of the forward end of the monocoque, air being fed in at the front and out at the sides, Stuck’s Shadow DN9/1. A has the rear aerofoil mounted on side plates attached to the ends of a large-diameter cross-tube attached to the back of the gearbox. The Williams team has a new cockpit top to try in which a short hump behind the cockpit gathers air for the engine intakes, leaving a flatter and more open space over the engine. The Ligier cars (both JS9 models, a second one having been concocted from the bones of the JS7/03) have new front aerofoils of larger area and a double-layer arrangement. Merzario has made himself another special, but it is not finished. The Arrows team and the Shadow team are diplomatically positioned at opposite ends of the pits in view of the legal action going on even as practice commences. It does not take long for Team Lotus to set the pace, shattering the best time made last year by Jody Scheckter in the Wolf.
His pole position time is 1'53"07 and both Peterson and Andretti are soon down in the 1'52"0. The only other driver to stay with them is Niki Lauda, - who tried the C-version of the BT 46 and then switched to his normal BT 46/6 and gets into the ace class with 1'52"73, but by this time Peterson is down to 1'52"15 and Andretti 1'52"70. Drivers apart, it is becoming rather noticeable that there are only two teams in the forefront of Formula 1, Lotus and Brabham-Alfa Romeo. A lap at the Hockenheimring is unusual in that it takes nearly two minutes and is very fast, yet the only bit that most people are allowed to see is the wiggly bit in the arena which is boringly slow. When the cars leave the arena they run out to the East Curve and back again on long, fast, flat stretches punctuated by chicanes. Speeds of over 180 m.p.h. are reached by the faster cars, but few people are permitted to see and only a relative handful can watch on the East Curve. Trapped within the vast concrete stadium, talk of 180-m.p.h. maximum and 130-m.p.h. averages seems very academic and belonging to another event altogether. If any adrenalin flows at Hockenheim, you are not encouraged to see it. While Lotus are getting on with it, others are not and the Renault RS01/03 is having engine trouble, piston rings being the bete-noir, and the newly constructed Ligier JS9/02 is having engine trouble, so both teams use their alternative cars. Jarier celebrates his return to the ATS team by demolishing the front end of HS 1/2 and thereafter uses the spare car, and while Scheckter is fairly happy with the Wolf WR5, he can not repeat his 1977 time done with WR2. For the first time this year the weather begins to get very hot, though no-one believes it until fuel systems start to suffer from vapour lock and tyres begin to blister before they have been used in anger. The mechanics certainly know it is getting warm for they are having to work on the unshaded concrete pit-apron and tools are getting very hot to handle.
In the afternoon session there is consternation in the Lotus pit when Andretti fails to come round. While he is warming up and cruising along the fuel system dries up and 79/3 stops; acceleration and braking forces are needed to operate the one-way valves from the fuel tank to top up the collector tank from which the injection pump draws while the car is in racing. The newly rebuilt spare car, 79/1, is brought into service but Andretti can not match his morning time. Meanwhile, Peterson is equalling his own morning times, improving slightly in spite of spending time having the brakes bled on 79/2. The side-radiator Brabham is not being used, and Lauda is in a very determined mood with the normal car, staying with the two Lotus aces, but Watson is over two seconds slower. Scheckter has announced that he intends to leave the Wolf team at the end of the season to join the Ferrari team, and is driving fast and hard as if to demonstrate his worth. He gets Wolf WR5 down into the ace class with a time of 1'52"68. Hunt and Jones are doing great things, relatively speaking, but they are a second-and-a-half slower than Peterson. As if to confirm Don Nicholls’ allegations that the Arrows team stole the designs of the DN9 in order to set themselves up in such a short time, both teams are suffering from the heat in the form of petrol vapour locks in the injection system. On the Michelin front all is not well, for Jabouille in the Renault is faster than both the Ferraris, which means that the Frenchman is out-driving Reutemann and Villeneuve, or the Renault has much more power from its turbocharged 1 1/2-litre V6 than the 3-litre flat- 12 Ferrari, or the Renault is a better car, or the Ferrari team is in a panic. Poor Gilles Villeneuve is far from happy, having heard from the Press world that Scheckter is to replace him next year, and nasty Mr. Ecclestone and Mr. Mosley don’t want his motor-home in the Constructors’ private paddock. In spite of this he is smiling shyly and keeping up with Reutemann on his first visit to the mighty and inspiring Hockenheimring.
Saturday morning is the time for experimenting and testing in readiness for the final hour of practice and the weather gets hotter and hotter. It is a splendid excuse for being unable to keep up with the Team Lotus cars, blame being put on vapour-lock or fuel system problems; the odd thing is that neither of the sleek black Lotus 79 cars seem to be troubled by the heat. Andretti has psyched himself into believing that his car, 79/3, has never been right since its accident in practice for the French GP, even though it has been rebuilt, checked and measured and pronounced to be 100 per cent. He tries 79/1 again with an open mind and convinces himself there is nothing wrong with 79/3, the two cars seeming to be identical in their handling. The afternoon practice is delayed for nearly half-an-hour while the ravages of some Alfa-Sud racing are made good and the pit-lane is very hot and steamy with everyone ready to go. Once underway the two Lotus drivers are soon in the groove and always a step ahead of the opposition. While Lauda is well into the ace category, his team-mate Watson scratches into the 1'52"0, only to have Peterson set a new ace class with 1'51"99. Next moment there is a huge cloud of dust as the Lotus spins off into the grass on the corner before the pits. The adjustable top link on the left-rear suspension has broken, letting the wheel turn inwards and generating more oversteer than even Super-Swede could cope with. Damage is minimal, being confined to the right-hand sideskirt which is crumpled as the car spins over the kerb, but it is the end of practice for Peterson, as Lotus 79/1 is Andretti’s spare car! Peterson’s old Lotus 78 is in the paddock, but there is little point in using it as the Swede is on pole position with his new ace time. While he sits and watches from the pits, Andretti goes faster and faster and takes pole position with 1'51"90. In the sweltering heat that is enough and Team Lotus packs up before the hour is finished, leaving the signalling boards reading Andretti - 1'59"0 and Peterson - 1'59"0.
As light relief to the demoralising sight of the two Lotus cars overwhelming everyone, Hunt and Brambilla have a bit of a fracas, caused by the unfortunate Surtees driver getting in the way when Hunt and Tambay are trying to help each other along. The loudspeakers get all excited over the fact that Hans Stuck just scraped onto the back of the grid at the last moment, after switching to the spare Shadow, but no-one seems to notice that Harald Ertl is already on the grid with a time he has done on Friday morning. The engine in the Ensign blows up on Saturday morning so he has to miss the crucial last hour altogether. Left behind to drown their sorrows are Regazzoni (Shadow), Jarier (ATS), Keegan (Surtees) and Merzario (Merzario). In the past we have given Alan Jones and the Williams car an A-for effort for his high placing on the grid among the works teams, but now this must stop for he has become part of the established front-runners and his place on the third row alongside Watson’s Brabham-Alfa Romeo occasioned no surprise and was to be expected.
Sunday is as hot as ever and many cars have sprouted scoops and ducts to try and get some air into vital fuel system components, such as fuel pumps, collector tanks, injection units and there is a lot of heat insulation of fuel pipes. The two Ferraris have elaborate air boxes moulded into the fibre-glass of the left side of the body and these are fed by a sunken duct in the side; this plenum chamber affair feeds cold air onto the fuel pump. There is only time to make this modification to 032 and 035. The race is due to start at 2:00 p.m. after the crowd has been entertained by a Renault 5 saloon car race and a Formula Vee race, and is due to run for 45 laps. As the cars leave the pits in the usual straggly disorder, to drive round the circuit to form up on the grid, it is seen that Stuck is using the latest Shadow, Rosberg is in the Wolf WR3 with long wheelbase spacer between engine and gearbox, Rebaque is in his LWB Lotus 78/4, Fittipaldi is in F5A/1 , though he has intended to use number 2, Jabouille is in RS01/02 with little confidence that the V6 Renault-Gordini engine will last long in the heat, Laffite is in the first of the Ligier JS9 cars, Jones is in the first of the Williams cars, and all else seem to be according to plan. As they complete the parade lap Scheckter’s Wolf WR5 is popping and, banging with vapour bubbles, in the fuel-injection system and Reutemann is heading for the pits with a trail of smoke issuing from the back of the Ferrari. He is quickly into the spare car, 033, which has not been used during practice and goes round to join the grid knowing he will not get far as there is no cooling to the fuel pump on this car. What has gone wrong with 032 is a bit obscure, the driver says it is the distributor, others say it is a fuel leak, some think it is a seal on the injection unit, but these days the Ferrari team are very twitchy and secretive and few of the team members seem capable of telling the truth.
The waiting on the grid before the field sets off on the pace-lap seems to get longer and longer with each race. Eventually the two sleek, black Lotus cars lead the field of 24 away on the pace-lap, carrying no sign of the name John Player Special, for cigarette advertising at sporting events is banned in Germany. The McLarens have the name Marlboro whited out and the Ligier has Gitanes covered up, and all such awful words are blanked out on team personal clothing, transporters and equipment. The Germans are very strict. During the pace-lap Scheckter’s Wolf is still playing up and when the 24 cars arrive back on the start-line the scene is anything but orderly. It is one of the worst starts in history for the green light comes on before the back half of the field has taken up their positions and the tail-enders come round the last corner hard on the throttle to try and catch the departing front half of the grid. Andretti leads away with Peterson right behind, followed by Lauda, Jones, Watson and the rest, the spluttering Wolf being passed by almost everybody. In the middle of the grid there is some confusion when Depailler is baulked by Tambay and Stommelen rams the Tyrrell, which retires on the Spot with a very bent monocoque. Into the first chicane Andretti overdoes his braking and while he sorts himself out Peterson goes by into the lead. When they reappear in the stadium the two black cars are nose-to-tail, Peterson leading Andretti, followed by Lauda (Brabham), Jones (Williams), Watson (Brabham), Hunt (McLaren), Laffite (Ligier), Reutemann (Ferrari), Fittipaldi (Fittipaldi), Villeneuve (Ferrari), Pironi (Tyrrell), Patrese (Arrows), Jabouille (Renauh), Tambay (McLaren), Rebaque (Lotus), Rosberg (Wolf), Stuck (Shadow), Mass (ATS), the lone Surtees and the two Ensigns. A long way back comes the unfortunate Scheckter, who is ready to be the second retirement, and then comes Stommelen taking a short-cut to the pits to have the front of his Arrows kicked straight.