#308 1978 German Grand Prix

2022-08-04 01:00

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#1978, Fulvio Conti,

#308 1978 German Grand Prix

For reasons best known to the Automobile Club von Deutschland, the Formula One Constructors’ Association, the Formula One drivers and Max Mosley and B


One should not be surprised if, from now on, major automotive teams start their races on the circuits and finish them in court; this is already happening in England, where the judges of the High Court of Justice will have to decide whether Arrows copied the plans of its new single-seater from Shadow, a case that is currently unfolding in the Formula 1 World Championship. Last fall, the then sports director of Shadow, Jackie Oliver, spectacularly left the team led by the American Don Nichols, funded with the money of Franco Ambrosio, known for his legal troubles. Jackie Oliver not only left the bearded American in the lurch but also took away the entire staff, including the designer Tony Southgate, and in a very short time, he created another team, thanks to the financial support of Ambrosio, who had also joined the new team. Thus, in November 1977, the new Arrows was born, named after the initials of its five partners: the financier Ambrosio, the sports director Rees, the executive director Oliver, the chief designer Wass, and the designer Southgate. In sixty days, Arrows managed to build and test a new Formula 1 car in record time, with which it started the ongoing World Championship. Like a betrayed lover, Don Nichols decided to take revenge on Arrows, born as an offshoot of Shadow. Through an injunction process, the American obtained that the English police inspect the modern workshops of Arrows, to seize a series of technical plans of the new car, after which he filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Don Nichols claims that the car with which Riccardo Patrese stood out in Formula 1 is entirely copied from the designs that Tony Southgate had executed for his previous employer. The case is sensational. The trial will probably last two weeks and may cost as much as an entirely new Formula 1 car. If justice were to rule against Arrows, its cars could be seized, and thus one of the youngest and most interesting teams would disappear from this World Championship. Remember that after the British Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese is in eighth place in the World Championship standings, on par with renowned drivers like Scheckter and Hunt. Ragazzoni is now, with his Shadow, only in fifteenth place. But can a designer be forbidden from copying himself? This is the issue that will be debated in London in the case brought by Shadow against Arrows, specifically against Tony Southgate, the designer of the latter. 


The thirty-eight-year-old English technician is one of the best specialists in racing cars today. He has gained experience in seventeen years of work with the most famous teams: he started in 1961 with Lola, which has been the school of all English designers, including Chapman. He then worked for B.R.M. and Shadow before joining Lotus in 1976. Around mid-1977, he was called back to Shadow, where he designed the current car, and left at the end of the year to design the Arrows. It is clear that if a concept is valid, such as that of side wings, a designer will not discard it just because he has changed jobs, hence the inevitable similarity between the two cars. It is interesting, however, to observe the similarities between Arrows and Lotus: conceptually, the two cars exploit the same principle, which is obvious since Southgate participated in studies on the aerodynamics of Chapman's cars. The external appearance is different because there is no upper part of the side pods, which is a clear demonstration that the important part is underneath. At this point, it could be hypothesized that Lotus will also sue Arrows, but this will certainly not happen because Chapman does not like publicity of this kind, but above all because the solutions of Lotus are better than those of Arrows, especially regarding the suspensions. On Wednesday, July 19, 1978, judges and lawyers in black robes and traditional white wigs discuss the most advanced techniques in building Formula 1 cars in the austere Royal Courts of Justice. It is the first time that two such different worlds come into direct contact in the famous Inns of Court, almost monastic, of the English judiciary, whose origins date back to the times of the Knights Templar and King Edward I, who established the first secular courts in London. The trial for the case brought by Don Nichols, the American owner of the Shadow team, for which Clay Regazzoni and Hans Stuck race, against the Arrows of the Englishman Jackie Oliver, who has Riccardo Patrese and Rolf Stommelen as his drivers, is currently underway. In his testimony, Don Nichols specifies that following the economic difficulties his team faced after the South African Grand Prix last year, he decided to initiate negotiations in Milan, together with his sports director Jackie Oliver, with the Italian driver Renzo Zorzi, who came forward claiming to have financial backing. However, the first two sponsors proposed by Zorzi were unable to provide the required funds. The Italian driver then introduced Don Nichols to the well-known Milanese car dealer Pietro Achilli, who in turn put him in touch with Franco Ambrosio. 


The Italian financier, currently in prison, declared, according to Don Nichols' testimony, that he had a great interest in Formula 1 Grand Prix and promised that if the American were to rehire the designer Tony Southgate (who had by then moved to Lotus), he would, in turn, bring Mario Andretti to Shadow since he absolutely wanted to beat Ferrari with his own team. Consequently, on July 15, 1977, Southgate returned to Shadow, but almost simultaneously, Ambrosio ceased to financially support the Anglo-American team, which a month later won the Austrian Grand Prix with Australian driver Alan Jones. The Ambrosio name was removed from Don Nichols' cars, but following a legal action initiated in America by the Italian financier, it was subsequently reinstated in the last races of the past World Championship. In a meeting held in early August 1977 - according to Don Nichols' deposition - plans were initiated with Tony Southgate for the construction of the DN 9 model for Shadows. However, before the new single-seater was completed, sports director Oliver left Shadow in September 1977, and two months later, the team also lost almost all of its personnel. Chief designer Southgate, who had received a considerable advance from Nichols and an Alfa Romeo GTV, submitted his resignation in December 1977. In early January, Arrows announced its new team to the press, whose five founding partners all came from Shadow, including Franco Ambrosio, the new organizational director Oliver, the sports director Rees, the designer Southgate, and his assistant Wass. In just sixty days, they designed and built a new Formula 1 car, whose creation, according to Nichols, normally takes four or five months. Due to the defection of most of its personnel, Shadow was unable to complete, according to the accusation, the construction of the DN 9 before the United States West Grand Prix, the fourth of the current World Championship. Arrows, on the other hand, made its debut at the end of January in the Brazilian Grand Prix with Riccardo Patrese, who had also moved to Arrows. According to Don Nichols' testimony, Arrows was only able to achieve this feat by copying the plans of the DN 9 and realizing it with the same architects as the original project. Consequently, Shadow would have suffered severely, not having obtained the best tires from Goodyear, reserved solely for teams already ahead in points, a vital factor for the support of sponsors. 


Don Nichols then pointed out that, based on some photos he obtained related to certain component parts built by Shadow and later found at Arrows, he had asked the English police to investigate the matter. Following the search carried out in the new Arrows workshops, many documents were seized, and according to the Shadow owner, they demonstrate that the rivals violated copyright law. On the other hand, the defense firstly replies by saying that Formula 1 teams copy each other's new technical developments when they become a determining factor in the championship result, and argues that the designer Southgate, hired by Shadow, was, however, employed as an external consultant, as evidenced by his self-employed status for tax purposes: Furthermore, the defense asserts that the DN 9 was not an original project, but essentially a copy of the new Lotus. At this point, Riccardo Patrese risks being without a car after the German Grand Prix, which will take place on Sunday, July 30, 1978. The battle fought in the following seven days at the High Court of Justice in London between Arrows, for which the Italian driver races, and Shadow with Clay Regazzoni, is nearing conclusion. On Monday, July 31, 1978, the British judiciary will suspend hearings with the beginning of the summer holidays, and it is therefore very likely that a verdict will be reached before then to avoid the case dragging on, with significant complications and uncertainties for the future of both teams involved in this sensational dispute. There is currently a procedure to obtain from the judge the confiscation of the three existing Arrows cars or the immediate cessation of their on-track activities. If Judge Templema were to rule in favor of Shadow, the rival team would be paralyzed, in addition to having to bear the damages and expenses of the trial, for a total amount that could be a fatal blow to Arrows. In favor of Shadow, important figures testify, such as Ken Tyrrell, Teddy Mayer, Colin Chapman, and the technical expert of the FOCA, Joivett, all agreeing that despite frequent plagiarism of ideas in Formula 1, very rarely does motor racing produce two cars as similar as Shadow and Arrows. For its part, Arrows' executive director, Jackie Oliver, continues to argue that the designer Southgate is an independent consultant and therefore not employed exclusively.


"When he was hired by us, Southgate informed me that he had consulted a lawyer about the technical plans he had executed for Shadow, and then we decided that we could use them."


And he denies having personally detected the debts of the rival team to then force it into bankruptcy. Jackie Oliver argues that, given Shadow's financial difficulties, he had tried to form a new company to save most of the technical staff who had previously worked with him and to ensure the support of suppliers. Oliver also denies being directly funded by Franco Ambrosio and insists that the negotiations were instead initiated with his wife Christina, an American citizen, who initially provided Arrows with $100.000. Meanwhile, both teams send their cars to Hockenheim. However, a verdict that could be pronounced by Monday looms over Arrows. In the meantime, after many rumors, after the whispers, the news leaked through mysterious channels, something concrete, tangible finally leaks. For months, there has been talk of Jody Scheckter's move to Ferrari. On Wednesday, July 26, 1978, the South African is in Italy and presumably goes to Maranello to sign a contract with Ferrari. Scheckter arrives in Milan on Tuesday night, after 11:00 p.m., coming from Frankfurt, and is unlucky, if he wanted to keep his trip a secret, as he finds numerous Italian journalists as fellow passengers returning from Hanover where the presentation of a new Volkswagen car took place. Approached, the driver responds vaguely, saying that he was going to Milan for business and was just passing through. A somewhat strange fact since Scheckter has often shown not to overly like Italy, and there is no evidence that he has connections with Italian sponsors or industries. The only logical explanation is that the South African arrived to finalize the contract that would bind him to Ferrari in the coming season or perhaps even from the last races of the current World Championship. How did this solution come about? It is known that Enzo Ferrari was looking for one of the best drivers for his cars, being dissatisfied with the overall results of the 1978 races. There was talk first of James Hunt, then, after the candidacy of the whimsical Englishman fell through (who seems to have asked for disproportionate fees), of Scheckter, and, as a last hypothesis, even of Patrick Depailler. Apparently, the puzzle was completed for the South African. To reach an agreement, some doors must have opened, first of all that of Walter Wolf, the Canadian manager of Austrian origin who gives his name to the team he runs, co-owning 10% with the South African driver. Wolf had said (and even threatened) several times that no one should try to take Scheckter away from him.


"If Ferrari dares to contact my driver, I will go to legal means, even if it ruins me."


Well, Mr. Wolf must have changed his mind. What could have led him to change such a seemingly tough position? The reasons are not known. Among the many hypotheses that can be formulated, there is one that could provide a sufficiently valid explanation. Scheckter would move to Ferrari in exchange for Villeneuve, who would go to Wolf. The Canadian manager knows Gilles well, to whom he has entrusted one of his cars in the Can-Am formula on many occasions. There is also a great friendship between the two, and it is not excluded that the possibility of having a Canadian driver may have ultimately convinced Walter Wolf definitively. Now it only remains to be seen when Jody Scheckter will begin his activity with Ferrari. If all these news is confirmed, it can be predicted that soon the drivers of the 312-T3 will be the South African and Carlos Reutemann. The success at Brands Hatch and the belief that, all in all, having an attacking driver (Scheckter) and one capable of great regularity (Reutemann) would be positive must have shifted the balance in favor of the South American who until a few days ago was considered departing for Ferrari. The German Grand Prix, scheduled for Hockenheim, will probably be one of the last that Reutemann and Villeneuve will compete in together. Both drivers have chosen the new version of the 312-T3 for the German race, the one tested in the days before at Fiorano with the exhaust pipes facing upwards. While the driver market receives its first shocks with the Scheckter case, who moved to Ferrari, the World Championship is preparing to experience the eleventh act of its long season with the German Grand Prix. Obviously, the announcement made on Wednesday evening by Scheckter himself confirming his move to the Italian team without defining the details (it is said that he received 500.000 lire, plus the freedom to choose his sponsors) causes some surprise because it was announced well in advance of the end of the racing year. The first controversies are also not lacking. With what spirit will Scheckter run on the Wolf now that he already knows he is joining Ferrari, and with what morale will Reutemann face the last races, knowing that next year he will have a teammate like the South African? But these are idle questions, as Jody is certainly not the type to let slip any opportunities for pleasure. 


It will be embarrassing for everyone, however, if in Sunday's race Scheckter were to find himself in front of a Ferrari and perhaps prevent it from achieving a very important victory. The first reactions to this sensational signing by the Maranello team are mixed. Among those directly or indirectly involved, the only one to give a positive judgment is Gilles Villeneuve, who should be replaced by the South African.


"Jody is the driver I like the most. He is very fast, and if he couldn't stand out much this year, it's only because the Wolf was no longer competitive. In the last races, with a new car, Scheckter has returned to being among the best. I think Ferrari has made a good ally."


Negative, however, is the opinion of Clay Regazzoni:


"I don't think Scheckter is a suitable driver for Ferrari. To drive the cars of the Commendatore, you need to have a head, as well as being good."


More objective is Riccardo Patrese, who was one of the names that many would have liked to see driving for Ferrari:


"I believe Scheckter can do excellent things with Italian cars. He is one of the best. If you ask me why Ferrari did not take a national driver, I don't know what to answer. Ask them."


This extra-agonistic turn does not prevent thinking about the German race, which could be a decisive stage of the World Championship. Many questions arise at this point. Will Amaretti and Lotus be able to recover the lost ground at Brands Hatch? Can Ferrari repeat the feat achieved on the English track? According to statistics, the Hockenheim circuit should not be particularly favorable to Colin Chapman's cars. Last year (although they were different model cars), Andretti and Nilsson had to retire with a broken engine after a few laps, and Lauda won with Ferrari, making an incredible overtaking move on Scheckter. Now the Lotuses are ahead of everyone, and they will probably still manage to get very high positions on the starting grid. But it remains to be seen what Ferrari will be able to do. Engineer Forghieri has brought two new versions of the 312-T3 to Germany with some aerodynamic modifications and with the exhaust pipes facing upwards, which seemed particularly efficient in tests at Fiorano. Reutemann and Villeneuve have lapped the Fiorano track with times very close to the record of the small circuit, something that has not happened for at least two months. If Reutemann were to achieve another success, and if Andretti and Peterson were to collect few points (and let's not forget Lauda, who is always in an ambush position), the championship could be open again. However, before the race weekend begins, after the fan issue, the miniskirts issue erupts. These, i.e., those plastic skirts that Lotus, immediately imitated by other cars, has adopted under the body to increase ground effect, are at the center of the controversy. On Tuesday, August 1, 1978, members of the Formula 1 Constructors' Association and CSI technicians will meet to make a decision, whether to keep the miniskirts or ban their use. One of the most determined to outlaw these skirts is Niki Lauda, who has not yet forgotten the fan issue related to his Brabham Alfa.


"There must not be double standards; the regulations must be interpreted correctly here. If the fan is prohibited, so should the miniskirts be. Lotus cannot have this advantage over us. If everything returns to normal, we can still fight for the world title. Otherwise, it will be pointless: Andretti and Peterson would have too much advantage on their side, and no one would be able to oppose them even on a track like Hockenheim."


Indeed, the predictions still place Lotus in the very top positions for the German Grand Prix. The long straights of this stadium-like circuit should not pose difficulties for Colin Chapman's cars, which are very fast even on the straight, thanks precisely to the ground effect caused by the car's body and the skirts underneath, which do not allow air to enter, creating a vacuum under the car.


Last year, it was Scheckter with the Wolf who secured the pole position with a time of 1'53"07, at an average speed exceeding 215 km/h. However, the lap record is held by Lauda, with the Ferrari 312-T2, who clocked 1’55"99, at an average speed of 210.680 km/h. Carlos Reutemann seems to be very calm and confident. The Argentine driver considers the choice of tires very important, as always a challenging decision.


"If we manage to have good tires like at Brands Hatch, we can have a very good race. But everything depends on the choice and the tests on Friday and Saturday."


Much more optimistic are the Michelin technicians. The head of the French team, Engineer Dupasquier, states that once the right tires are found, there will be no more problems for Michelin.


"We are on the right track. If the result in England is confirmed, we could win all the upcoming races until the end of the World Championship."


A rather bold prediction, considering many believe they can win this race. Scheckter, with the new Wolf after a good performance in the early part of the race in England, Lauda and Watson, who are always in search of a victory, after the one in Sweden, quite contested, and the Ferrari team. Not to mention the resurgent Hunt, with McLaren, and then at least Jacques Laffite, who has the 12-cylinder engine in his Ligier-Matra. On Friday, July 28, 1978, people wonder if Ferrari's victory at Brands Hatch was accidental. If only the times from the first two laps of the German Grand Prix practice are considered, the answer would undoubtedly be affirmative. Nothing seems to have changed at the top of Formula 1 performances. There are, it's true, small shifts, ups and downs of some car or driver, but the result is always the same. Lotus is the fastest among the running cars. This time, however, it's Ronnie Peterson who lines everyone up, with great confidence. The Swede sets a time of 1’52"13 at the fantastic average speed of 217.933 km/h (a new absolute track record), preceding in order Lauda, Scheckter, Andretti, Jones, Hunt, Laffite, and Watson. The Ferraris are only eleventh with Reutemann and thirteenth with Villeneuve. Distances are quite significant, especially for the Ferraris, which, even improving significantly in the last hour of the available official training, cannot hope to perform miracles. The ranking expressed by the tests so far leads to various considerations. The first is regarding power and speed. Hockenheim is probably the fastest circuit in Formula 1. Yet, once again, the eight-cylinder Cosworth managed to stay ahead of the powerful Ferraris, Alfa Romeo, and Matra. Only Niki Lauda, who loves this track where he performs at his best (many are betting on the Austrian's success in the race), managed to place his Brabham among the best, amid a swarm of cars powered by the Ford engine. What does this mean? Is grip crucial, the so-called ground effect in which the Lotus excels, or are there problems with using the engines? How can the Cosworth, with a maximum of 485 HP, so clearly surpass the Ferraris, which undoubtedly have over 500 HP? Engineer Mauro Forghieri answers this question:


"In terms of speed, we don't have problems. However, I don't rule out that our rivals haven't found a way to get something more, maybe with greater risk. However, these are not our difficulties. Yesterday we struggled a lot due to the fuel pumps. The intense heat causes irregular operation, that famous vapor-lock consisting of air bubbles in the fuel lines. Plus, we're always at a disadvantage with the tires for the tests. Goodyear has had tires for a while that last two or three laps, while Michelin doesn't. And we could very well make forty laps with the same set of tires."


This is the first explanation. The same fuel supply problem, however, also troubled the Brabham-Alfa and Lotuses, especially Andretti. And here comes the second consideration. 


Even if it's a feeling and not a real fact. But it seems that the Italo-American driver, when the decisive moment of the championship arrives, as happened last year, is haunted by misfortune and difficulties. In the first practice session, Mario was stranded with a broken fuel pump, and in the second session, he was stuck in the middle of the track without fuel. In short, he lost a lot of time, and this is probably the cause of his delay compared to Peterson. Moreover, the Swede wants to beat Andretti and win the world title. After accepting the superiority of the Italo-American for several races, helping him even to contain James Hunt's comeback in the French Grand Prix, the Swedish driver has now changed his mind and behavior. In practice, as soon as he noticed that Andretti was in trouble, Peterson launched his attack with a car that followed him perfectly, finely tuned down to the smallest details. While Mario struggles on the track, due to the faulty operation of the fuel pump first and then when he runs out of fuel, Ronnie makes the maximum effort, setting the best time. At the end of the tests, Andretti is not satisfied at all, almost worried as if once again he sees the chance of winning the world title slipping away, as if his abandonment of American races for Formula 1 had already been a futile attempt.


"All we need now is for everything to start going wrong. And this Peterson starts acting smart. As if there weren't all the others, starting with Lauda, waiting for me at the corner. Tomorrow I will try the impossible to get ahead and secure the pole position. It will be difficult, but I have to try. Starting in the second row on such a fast circuit almost means losing at the start."


With the heat that has descended on Germany, with 35°C in the shade looming over Hockenheim, making predictions becomes problematic. Last year, in almost a similar situation, many engines broke down, including those of the two Lotuses. Only ten drivers managed to finish the race won by Lauda with Ferrari after a sensational overtaking on Scheckter. Probably Ferrari hopes precisely for this factor, the reliability of Reutemann and Villeneuve's cars. With the eleventh and thirteenth times achieved in practice, there is no hope for more, although the tires could also prove decisive. Michelin is not as fast as Goodyear, but they seem to guarantee greater durability in this heat. Lauda seems to be out of the mix, appearing to enjoy himself. The Austrian driver finishes qualifying at least fifteen minutes before the others and goes to the Ferrari pit where very precise timing is done to see what the others are doing. He doesn't even worry when, just before concluding his tests, he notices that a tire was literally falling apart due to the intense heat. Also, Jody Scheckter, with a competitive car (the new Wolf looks like a twin of the Lotus), demonstrates his worth. With the prospect of moving to Ferrari, the South African driver has suddenly transformed. Before, he was sullen, unpleasant, particularly difficult to approach for Italian journalists with whom he absolutely did not want to talk. Now he is smiling, friendly, and available. He even manages to listen and answer between one test and another, bending over backward to talk to everyone, trying to be brilliant to please the interlocutors and create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. These are the miracles that men like Enzo Ferrari can perform. If the latter, during negotiations, had told his new driver not to talk to anyone, it must be acknowledged that he was obeyed with the utmost zeal. And, with equal promptness, he was listened to if he has now given the go-ahead to the South African. Jokes aside, Jody Scheckter, besieged by the international press, shows what is perhaps his true face, that of an intelligent and ready young man. First of all, he specifies that he has not yet signed a proper contract with Ferrari.


"I am, there is no hiding it. I was fine at Wolf, where everyone was friends, talented guys. But I needed new experiences, new stimuli. It's a bit like changing wives. I believe in Ferrari for its technical capabilities even though I know and am convinced that there will be a lot of work."


Someone asks him if it's true that he is an excellent driver, very fast but not a good tester.


"If anything, it's the opposite; I consider myself a driver capable of setting up the car well. If I have problems, they will be others. I have to join a new team, and I don't even know a word of Italian. I hope to adapt quickly."


What does the South African aspire to by joining Ferrari, and what does he fear in particular?


"I hope to win the world championship as Lauda did. I fear nothing; in fact, I must admit that something scares me: the journalists. They told me they are terrible."


There remains one more hour of practice on Saturday. If the heat from Friday persists, we will witness another exciting session. But it is difficult to surpass the time set by Ronnie Peterson: the intense heat on the first day of practice made the drivers' efforts very challenging, and many had tire problems, like Lauda, who had a tire burst while going very fast. Jarier also had a big scare (but not due to the heat): the Frenchman crashed violently against a guardrail because he found the accelerator stuck on his ATS. Fortunately, only the car was destroyed. Regarding Italian drivers, Patrese is in the middle of the group just ahead of Brambilla, while poor Merzario, who had a broken gearbox, has not yet managed to qualify among the twenty-four drivers who will start the race. The battles for Formula 1 starting positions have become a head-to-head duel. In the Lotus monologue, Andretti and Peterson fight to secure the first position, as if they were alone on the track, without opponents. Therefore, the Italo-American will start in pole position, thanks to the nine hundredths of a second margin he managed to inflict on his teammate at the end of an exhausting day of testing, on a circuit suffocated by heat, humidity, and mugginess. Nine hundredths that Mario obtained as a margin, risking life and limb, pushing the limits of his and the car's capabilities after the Swede had set the best time as soon as he hit the track. 


Peterson had literally thrown himself onto the fast circuit, lowering the track record again on the third lap with a time of 1'51"99, meaning he had raced at an average speed of over 218 km/h. To reach this limit, the blond, unleashed Ronnie, searching for an even better result that would put him out of reach of any competitor, and especially Andretti, tried to go even faster but went beyond the safety barrier. At Opelkurve, the corner that leads to the finish straight, his black Lotus exits like mad, in a skid, and ends up on the embankment, raising a large cloud of yellow dust. The car is damaged, and for Peterson, visibly shaken, there is nothing left but to head to the pits. Mario Andretti, on the other hand, is more cautious, increasing the pace lap by lap and eventually setting a time of 1'51"90. All this risk just to secure the best starting position but perhaps also to reaffirm that he is the better one, the boy from Montona, a village near Trieste, transplanted to Nazareth, in the United States. Among the rivals of the Lotus duo for the world title, the only one who is saved and will start with good chances of success is Niki Lauda with the Brabham-Alfa, staying quite close (0.4s from Andretti) to the leaders. All the others are clearly behind, and among the best group, the Ferraris are the furthest behind: Reutemann slips into twelfth position, and Villeneuve into fifteenth. One of the worst starts of the season. In the Ferrari pit, the mechanics are not at all satisfied with how things are going. Engineer Forghieri says:


"At Brands Hatch, although starting from the back rows, given the characteristics of the circuit, we could hope for a recovery, as it happened. But here, on such a fast track, the chances are almost nil. They would really have to break down for us to get among the top."


The problems for Ferrari are mainly two. Reutemann had difficulties with the tires. He says that the Michelin tire loses out to Goodyear on the straight due to its construction type. Being very flat, it has a larger contact surface than the more rounded Anglo-American tire, offering greater resistance. It is not clear what they would like to achieve. In this case, there is grip, but it is detrimental. For Villeneuve, there are troubles with fuel. It seems that the German one (it was not possible to import the Italian Agip one) is different and does not fit well with the Ferrari, causing asphyxiation phenomena in the engine that sometimes fails and does not reach all the RPM. Forghieri borrowed some from Elf, and it seems that the result is better. Mind you, it is necessary to emphasize that the heat will be decisive in today's test (about 40 °C during the race hours). Many will have to retire early. Many argue that the Lotuses will not last at the pace of the tests. 


But this is perhaps just a hope for those who see themselves starting defeated. Another decisive factor will be that of the tires. Will the Goodyears hold up until the end, or will the Michelins give in before the limit? For these reasons, it is believed that the race could also turn into a kind of lottery. Lauda, Scheckter, Jones, and Hunt are the most dangerous outsiders for Andretti and Peterson. Jabouille with the Renault turbo and Laffite with the Ligier-Matra also do well. The twenty-five-year-old Brazilian Nelson Piquet, one of the main protagonists of the English Formula 3 championship, will make his Formula 1 debut. Riccardo Patrese manages to climb to fourteenth place, ahead of Villeneuve, and even Brambilla manages to qualify. The Italian driver finishes the tests furious after being bumped by Hunt:


"I was returning to the pits in neutral without fuel when that crazy guy got in front of me, zigzagging. I went to the right signaling him to let me pass when he suddenly tightened and with a tire, he broke my nose. Perhaps he thinks he's playing bumper cars."


Brambilla waits for Hunt to return to the pits and then reaches him, giving him a punch in the head. Then he grabs him by the collar and in Lombard dialect explains that certain things should not be done. Then he goes to file a complaint with the GPDA. On Sunday, July 30, 1978, 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 Scheckters 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 Scheckters 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, Jones, Watson, Hunt, Laffite, Reutemann, Fittipaldi, Villeneuve, Pironi, Patrese, Jabouille, Tambay, Rebaque, Rosberg, Stuck, Mass, 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. As the two black Lotus appear in the stadium for the second time an audible gasp goes up from the spectators, for they have already pulled out a very visible lead over Laudas Brabham, and barring trouble the German Formula One race is all over. Alan Jones follows Laudas Brabham, and on lap 3 the Williams is by and in a splendid third place. Not only that but the white-and-green Saudi Arabian-backed car pulls away and almost hangs on to the pace of the Team Lotus drivers. If Frank Williams and his little team are showing signs of satisfaction they are well deserved, for Alan Jones is leading the powerful Alfa Romeo backed team, the McLaren team, the mighty Ferrari team, the Tyrrell team and the wonder-whizz kids Arrows team. Rosberg arrives at the pits at the end of lap 2 with the nose cowling smashed to pieces and has another one fitted, and Mass and Stuck are missing. The two Germans have collided when the formers ATS collapses at the front. Just as Scheckter is deciding that his race is run on the opening lap the Wolfs fuel system clears itself and the Cosworth V8 comes onto full song and the South African really gets stuck into the job of making up lost ground. As the Wolf slices through the field in a most impressive manner the Renault also has a touch of the get up and go and Jabouille moves rapidly up from thirteenth place to sixth place by lap 6 and then the engine blows up. Scheckters engine does not blow up and he gains places relentlessly, from last place to midfield by 10 laps and there is more to come. Reutemann calls at the pits after four laps to have a chat about the condition of the spare Ferrari, and rejoins the race nearly a lap behind. Peterson leads the race for four laps, until he and Andretti are well clear of the rest of the runners (in only four laps, ye gods!) and then moves over and lets Andretti by into the lead in accordance with team orders. How nice to see a team working as a team, instead of the usual selfish individual outlook. At 10 laps the situation is Lotus first and second, Williams third and just holding on, Lauda (Brabham) fourth and on his own, and then Hunt, Laffite, Villeneuve, Pironi, Scheckter, Patrese, Fittipaldi, Tambay, Watson, Ertl, Rebaque, Brambilla and Piquet. While Scheckter is moving up in spirited fashion, Watson is moving back, his gearbox being unable to provide him with fourth gear, so that he is having to change up from third to fifth, and equally to lose time in changing down. 


Reutemann is all alone at the back, and Stommelen is a lap down, his short-cut to the pits being overlooked by the German officials. On the starting grid Laudas Alfa Romeo engine has been showing signs of losing water, so it is no surprise when it blows up on lap 12, conveniently just past the pits. This leaves a big gap between Jones in third place and Hunt in fourth place, and the McLaren driver has got clear of the Ligier, so there isnt much serious racing about to happen. Reutemann disappears quietly from the scene and Tambay does likewise, but with more flair, for a tyre deflates and spins him into the catch-fences. Then Hunt fails to come round. Scheckter has dealt with Pironi, Villeneuve and Laffite in quick succession, so that when Hunt goes missing the Wolf takes over fourth place, but still a long way back from the Williams and the two Lotus cars. Three laps later Hunt appears limping his McLaren along carefully with the left-front tyre in shreds. Like Stommelen has done he takes the short-cut across the side of the stadium to get to the pits, and is soon back in the race with a new wheel and tyre fitted. Unfortunately his illegal entry is reported and some fifteen laps later he is given the black-flag and disqualified, but meanwhile the German driver in the German beer factory sponsored Arrows is allowed to continue. The Lotus duo continues to cruise round and the sheer mechanical poetry of the two black cars running effortlessly nose-to-tail is a joy to watch, unless you are very biassed or very anti-Lotus. The sight of Alan Jones in the Williams in a strong third place is extremely popular, and Scheckters climb from the last to fourth is indeed valiant. Fittipaldi is having a splendid little duel with Pironi, which looks good but can not be taken too seriously, as the Tyrrell is in trouble with its front brakes and the Frenchman is not exactly a World Champion driver. Young Hector Rebaque is enjoying himself in his brown Lotus 78, racing against Patrese, whose Arrows has a touch of the vapours. Unfortunately the little Mexican has a big spin out in the country, which drops him back three places, but he recovers and later passes Patrese, Watson and Villeneuve, albeit they are having various troubles. On lap 29 a groan goes up as Alan Jones heads for the pits, the Williams DFV sounding awfully flat; the fuel system has overheated and vapour bubbles have got into the injection system. Water is poured on vital components and Jones tries two more laps, but has to give up as the system can not be sorted out. 


The two Lotus seventy-nines are running beautifully, showing no signs of suffering from the heat. Patrese has a spin off onto the grass when his engine splutters at the wrong moment, but soon rejoins the race and the F3 driver Nelson Piquet drops out when the engine in his Ensign shows signs of tightening-up. On lap 34 there is a look of alarm in the Lotus pits, for Peterson has dropped back an uncomfortable amount from his team leader and next time round it is clear that he is in trouble, locked into fourth gear. This is a sure sign that something is breaking up in the final drive, allowing the main gearbox-shaft to move. The Swede nurses it along as best he can but on lap 37 the final drive breaks up on the return leg back towards the stadium and another Lotus 1-2 is spoilt. Most people would have liked to have seen Alan Jones in the Williams inherit second place, but fate has already struck her blow there, so it is Jody Scheckter who inherits Petersons place, and no-one begrudges it, for he has really driven hard against all odds. With four laps left to run Andretti can almost free-wheel home, Scheckter is in second place, a very consistent Laffite is third with the Ligier, Fittipaldi has scratched past Pironi into fourth place, and Harold Ertl is sixth, having passed Villeneuves Ferrari which is suffering from the fashionable vapours. Alas, the amiable Ertls moment of glory is not to be for a piston collapses and he free-wheels into the stadium in a shower of oil from the left bank of inlet trumpets on lap 42, to cheers from the crowd, even though he is an Austrian living in nearby Mannheim. Mario Andretti takes a decisive step towards the world title. The Italo-American not only won the German Grand Prix, but this time luck was also on his side. None of his rivals in the championship race scored points. Now, the Lotus driver finds himself comfortably alone at the top of the standings with 54 points, with only five races left in the season. For Peterson, Reutemann, Lauda, Depailler, and Watson, who are trailing the leader, hopes of an unlikely comeback are greatly diminished. It is extremely difficult at this point to imagine anyone challenging the Team Lotus driver. The combination of car and driver has proven too strong so far. Five victories (six with Peterson's in South Africa) out of eleven races demonstrate a clear superiority on any track. With the ground-effect solution implemented on his new car model 79, the English constructor has outpaced all competitors. 


Some have managed to partially catch up, like the Wolf driven by Scheckter, but it seems too late now. At a time when machines perhaps matter more than drivers (although no one questions the skill, courage, and tenacity of the thirty-eight-year-old Triestine emigrant), it's hard to see who can stop this triumphant march. Chapman had the idea of a car that maximizes the suction effect of air under the body and has successfully realized it. On Saturday afternoon, at the hotel adjacent to the circuit, the technical commission of the CSI, along with a representation from FOCA, gathered. The discussion focused mainly on the issue of retractable winglets placed under the body of the Lotus (and also other cars), which create the ground-effect. Delegates deferred any decision to the CSI Bureau, which will meet in September. There was an attempt to abolish these winglets, but any stance in this regard will only be possible in the fall, when everything will likely be settled. The cause for this potential prohibition is the usual one, for safety reasons. Detractors argue that cars glued to the ground as they are now go too fast, especially in corners, and become too dangerous. The truth is that they would like to strip Lotus of this winning weapon. But the merits of the English car and, with them, those of Andretti and Peterson, who give him stimulus and support, are also numerous. If anything, it's the competitors who should admit their mistakes. Each for different reasons, but all with some error to pay for. Ferrari must settle the debt with the choice of tires. Michelin tires work well and are winning on slow tracks but are almost disastrous on fast ones (see Le Castellet). Additionally, the cars have shown small but crucial flaws on some occasions. Aerodynamics that haven't always performed at their best, sometimes imperfect road holding, and yesterday's fuel feed issues. McLaren pays for the interrupted development of its cars, perhaps due to Hunt, who is not a good tester. Tyrrell faces the abrupt transition from six wheels to normality. Brabham is defeated by frequent malfunctions and breakdowns. Perhaps the only one to have learned the lesson is Wolf, which has updated quickly but can't start battling on equal terms with Lotus just now. Apart from the fact that next year it will also have to resign itself to losing its driver, expected at Ferrari. So, cheers to Andretti and Lotus. They have proven to be the best. The overwhelming victory in the German Grand Prix has brought a smile back to Mario Andretti's face, who appeared worried after the setback in England. 


The Italo-American driver feared a repeat of last year's story when a series of retirements cost him the World Championship. In the official practice, he had to push hard to secure pole position ahead of his teammate Ronnie Peterson, which added to his race concerns. However, everything went according to the Lotus script in the race, with Andretti taking the lead.


"It was quite easy to achieve this victory because I could control the race without ever experiencing a problem. I had a good start, but at the first chicane, I hesitated, and Ronnie was quick to pass me. There was no reason for us to battle among ourselves, so when I overtook him, he just followed me."


Do you think this victory closes the fight for the world title?


"It's still too early to say it's over, even though everything went in my favor in this race. Of course, the title is closer now."


On the podium with Mario Andretti, as usual, is Colin Chapman, who can't contain his joy for his driver's new achievement.


"I am pleased with this new success because Mario has shown he can race with intelligence. He drove wisely without letting the desire to win outright take over. I am sure I have made Mario the best driver of the moment."


The haul for Lotus could have been even more significant because until well past the halfway point, Peterson firmly held the second position behind Andretti.


"The gearbox got stuck, and for a few laps, I tried to continue with just one gear. Then, when I saw I was losing too much ground, I decided to stop to avoid damaging the car."


Jody Scheckter was the only driver who enlivened a monotonous race. The South African, starting from the last position, made his way to second place with an aggressive race.


"At the start, the mechanical fuel pump got stuck, so I had to let everyone pass. It's a shame because without this issue, I could have challenged Andretti."


For Ferrari, the race was compromised from the start as Reutemann had to return to the pits after the reconnaissance lap to replace the car with the spare due to a fuel leak.


"I couldn't have been more unlucky. In the first laps, I was worried because I had to use the spare car, which naturally was not perfectly balanced. Then, I experienced fuel pump problems again and had to stop definitively due to the rupture of the injection distributor membrane. Without these issues, given how the race went, I could certainly have achieved a good position."


Even Villeneuve, at the end of the race, lamented a missed placement.


"I started very well despite some chaos ahead, squeezing through a corridor on the right, almost skimming the pit wall. I had passed five or six competitors. Later, the front tires started to degrade, and I had to stop to replace them as the car became uncontrollable due to excessive oversteer."


A day with few results for Italian drivers in the race. Pironi also experienced the same problems in the race as he had in the practice days.


"After a good start, I had to slow down to finish the race. The fuel pump drove me crazy; at one point, the engine stalled and then suddenly restarted, causing me to spin."


Vittorio Brambilla didn't have many ambitions. His car is not among the most competitive, so the Italian driver was satisfied with finishing the race. At least to create good omens for the probable debut on the Alfa Romeo Formula 1.


"I didn't even have the satisfaction of finishing because the fuel pump started working irregularly, and I had to stop along the track."


From godfather to boss. This is the transformation that Bernie Ecclestone, Brabham manager and jack-of-all-trades of the Formula 1 Constructors' Association, is making as he feels his leadership position waver. After buying the German Grand Prix, taking on the responsibility of organization and paying only 100.000 marks to the German automobile club to maximize the event, he has implemented every expedient to gain as much as possible. Unsatisfied, he had a makeshift wooden stand built for journalists under the sun, opening the actual press stand to paying spectators. Ticket prices, about 100.000 lire each. Speaking of Brabham, Bruno Giacomelli, European Formula 2 champion, was invited by BMW to attend the German Grand Prix. He was supposed to take a victory lap with his Scaini March BMW, but the car didn't arrive on time. Instead, the Italian driver encounters Niki Lauda, with whom he had a dispute after the famous overtaking at Brands Hatch. The two drivers confront each other, but each remains firm in their opinion. Nevertheless, it's an explanation between true professionals that leaves no resentment. However, it seems that the mechanics of Brabham did not appreciate the action of the Italian driver. Without the much-vaunted English fair play, they gifted him a well-packaged box. Inside are excrements. Still on the topic of Brabham and Alfa Romeo, it must be said that even water, if consumed excessively, can make one dizzy. However, at the table, it would be better not to ask indiscreet questions to engineer Chiti, director of Autodelta, the sports department of Alfa Romeo. It's not the first time (it happened last year in Dijon when he let slip that he was building a new Formula 1 car) that the Tuscan designer reveals secrets and intentions over dinner. This time, Chiti says that the Alfa-Alfa would be ready to race right away.


"If we went on the track today, we could even finish third."


Continuing the conversation, prompted by those present, he suggests that the official debut of the new car will take place at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on September 10. At least that's the intention, as the car seems ready. The driver will be Vittorio Brambilla, who has raised it since birth. The Italian driver is eager to race with this car.


"I am convinced that it could finish among the top three because it is perfectly tuned, very fast, and even the new Pirelli radial tires prove to be efficient."


The desire to compete is certainly there and justified, as the work done so far needs on-track verification against other cars. The only concerns revolve around the decision to debut the car in Monza. It remains to be seen if the Alfa Romeo executives (the leadership of the Milanese company has changed completely in recent months) will be willing to risk the debut at such a delicate moment for the company.


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