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#321 1979 French Grand Prix

2021-12-09 00:00

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#1979, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alessia Bossi,

#321 1979 French Grand Prix

For Jacques Laffite and Gerard Ducarouge, present in Pau to carry out some demonstration laps with the Ligier, on the sidelines of the Formula 2 Grand

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For Jacques Laffite and Gerard Ducarouge, present in Pau to carry out some demonstration laps with the Ligier, on the sidelines of the Formula 2 Grand Prix, the news of the serious accident involving Patrick Depailler on Sunday 3 June 1979 was shocking. The information arriving from Clermont Ferrand, Depailler's hometown, says that the incautious French pilot, who fell with a hang glider while descending from the Puy de Dòme, was operated on on Monday 4 June 1979 in the Chapeguerai clinic to reduce the multiple fractures in both ankles and tibia and fibula of the left leg. Professor Raux, who directed the surgery, says the fractures were reduced by osteosynthesis and another immediate operation is not ruled out. Guy Ligier comments on the incident in rather harsh words:

 

"I didn't take it out on Patrick, because it was a disgrace. Of course, he behaved unprofessionally. Now we will have to find a replacement shortly, even if we will reserve a place in the team for Depailler next year".

 

In the Ligier team the atmosphere is tense. Laffite, usually very cordial, replies in monosyllables to those who ask him for an opinion on the matter. Then, cornered, he declares:

 

"It's terrible, it just wasn't needed. I spoke to Patrick by telephone yesterday morning and he told me that he will have at least until September. His behavior is open to criticism, because I too would like to ride a motorbike or ski, but if I want to race I have to avoid these risky sports. Now I'm the first driver, but it will be very tough because I'll have to fight alone against the two Ferraris".

 

Dark-faced, Ducarouge, the Ligier team manager, is not very inclined to issue judgments:

 

"What do you want me to tell you. I'm sorry for him, but he got me in a lot of trouble".

 

Who will take his place alongside Laffite?

 

"I don't know yet. We will decide tomorrow, when I meet with Ligier".

 

There is a rumor that he replaced Depailler network with Jacky Ickx.

 

"Maybe, but we haven't decided anything yet".

 

While the Ligier team is looking for another driver, the Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, two times Formula 1 World Champion, is looking for money, due to serious financial difficulties. His sponsors, a cooperative of sugar producers, do not seem willing to renew their commitments with the pilot, who even admits the possibility of rescission of the contract with Copersucar before the deadline set for December 1979. Speaking with journalists from San Paolo, Fittipaldi clarifies some points of this critical situation, but does not make the slightest hint of future prospects, in the event of the abandonment of Copersucar. He limits himself to denying the reports according to which he would have received engagement offers from Guy Ligier and does not specify whether the recent contacts he had with Ferrari executives should be attributed to the possibility of his transfer to the Maranello team. Fittipaldi says that, barring unforeseen events, he will continue to race with Copersucar, at least this season. On Monday 11 June 1979 Fittipaldi will reach Paris, where he will submit the new F-6A car to a series of tests in view of the French Grand Prix. The decision to abandon Formula 1 could be announced by Copersucar in a month's time, when the board of directors of the Brazilian consortium will meet for the renewal of company positions. It's no mystery that. Copersucar executives are against maintaining the patronage of the Brazilian Formula 1 team, following the disappointing results obtained by their car in this part of the season.

 

"Confirming or suspending sponsorship is a problem for Copersucar. I, in their place, frankly I wouldn't know what to do".

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However, Fittipaldi points out that in Brazil there are at least fifty companies, with advertising budgets higher than that of Copersucar, which could sponsor him.

 

"But if no Brazilian company were able to do it, the only solution would be to emigrate to Europe".

 

In the meantime, during a meeting of the FIA held on Wednesday 30 May 1979 in Madrid, the energy crisis that has recently exploded throughout the world is examined. In order to make a moral and psychological contribution above all, the FIA delegates established that fuel consumption in motor racing should be reduced by 10%. The measures to obtain this result will go into force on 1 January 1980. However, the methods with which we will try to achieve the objective have not yet been decided. In all likelihood, a partial elimination of races will also be considered. After more than a month of forced double, due to the cancellation of the Swedish Grand Prix, the Formula 1 World Championship resumes. With the French Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday 1 July 1979 on the small and tortuous circuit of Dijon-Prenois, the second round of eight races begins which will have to decide the fight for the title, which currently sees Jody Scheckter in the lead with Ferrari. The French race is particularly interesting for many reasons. First of all because all the teams had plenty of time to set up the cars and try to remedy the problems registered in the first part of the season. Then for the various news that are expected: the debut of Jackie Ickx on the Ligier in place of the injured Dapailler; that of the Finn Keke Rosberg on the Wolf to replace the renounced James Hunt. While there will almost certainly not be the new version of the Ferrari 312 T4 (which appears to have overheating problems) the debut of the new Arrows by Riccardo Patrese and Mass is expected, a car with unprecedented aerodynamics and that of the Tyrrell equipped with a new type of electronically controlled suspension. The program includes free practice from 10:00 am to 11:30 am and timed practice from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm on Friday 29 June 1979. Same times for Saturday. Located in the hills, about fifteen kilometers from the capital of France's most famous gastronomic region, the track that alternates with that of Le Castellet to host Formula 1 will be the scene of the resumption of the Formula 1 World Championship, in a very hot climate. Exactly one month after the conclusion of the first round of racing with the Monaco Grand Prix, racing is back as if it were a new season. All the teams have worked hard, modified or even replaced the cars, even changed the drivers, adopted new technical solutions. Logic would have it that the dominant motif of the French Grand Prix should still be sought in the duel between Ferrari and Ligier, rulers of the seven races carried out so far. But there are too many factors to take into consideration to rely on such a simple solution. In general, the balances can change from one trial to another. Let alone now, after more than thirty days of rest.

 

Ferrari and Jody Scheckter, leading respectively in the Constructors' and Drivers' Championships, are always considered the pairing to beat, but it must be said that the Italian team, all in all, is perhaps the one that has obtained the least benefits from the determined long stop since the cancellation of the Swedish Grand Prix. The problems deriving from the difficult situation of the metalworkers, engaged in the fight for the employment contract, did not spare the Maranello racing department. Also for this reason, Ferrari (which in any case has to face the solution of some drawbacks that arose during the tests) was unable to bring the modified version of the 312 T4 to Dijon, a car with more advanced aerodynamics and technique than the current model. Scheckter and Villeneuve will have to compete with the same cars of the previous races, which have however undergone evolutions in small details. Just take a quick tour of the paddock to see that almost all the other teams have been able to work hard on the single-seaters. Arrows presents a completely new model for Riccardo Patrese. A machine with aerodynamics different from all those seen so far, much more rounded, with a nose that looks like a cross between that of a dolphin and that of an airplane. The news continues with Jacky Ickx, in place of Depailler, driving a Ligier that seems increasingly competitive, with attention to every detail. Obviously, apart from the interesting debut of the Belgian driver, the French team will stake everything on Laffite who will receive every possible assistance. Less valid but always curious will be the debut of the Finnish Rosberg on the Wolf that belonged to Hunt. Obviously we cannot forget the Williams of Ragazzoni and Jones, who had the time to eliminate their youth defects, just as we must take into consideration the Tyrrells of Pironi and Jarier, with new suspensions, electronically regulated. And then again we talk about the two twin-turbo Renaults. Also noteworthy is the return, after the experience of Zolder, of Alfa with Bruno Giacomelli. It is still the experimental car without ambitions, waiting for the new one, but with important modifications. Faced with so many new features (and pay attention to Niki Lauda who seems to have finally developed the Brabham) we can only wait. The duel between Ferrari and Ligier is also tinged with yellow. It seems that the supremacy of the two teams, the French and the Italian one, could be undermined by the advent of other cars. A month to redo everything and many showed up for the French Grand Prix, which will take place on Sunday, full of hope and news. Riccardo Patrese, cheerful, full of enthusiasm, presents his new Arrows.

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The design technician, engineer Tony Southgate, says that it is a revolutionary machine, and the Paduan is convinced that it will soon be able to be with the best. The problems he had with the rear suspensions have already been resolved and already on Friday, in the first timed qualifying, Riccardo will be able to fight on equal terms with everyone else. His is an authentic wing car, a car capable of keeping up with Ferrari and Ligier. But this is not the only novelty of the French Grand Prix. There's also a recharged Niki Lauda, refreshed with satisfaction. He tested his Brabham at Silverstone and set a stunning new lap record. Was it a coincidence? Ermanno Cuoghi, the chief mechanic who fled from Ferrari, replies:

 

"A few tweaks, a trifle, were enough to completely change the performance of the car. Lauda is very satisfied and I think the next races will give him satisfaction. The car now drives well and can make full use of the engine's power".

 

With his Brabham-Alfa, Lauda is one of the favorites to score the best times in the timed trials of the French race. It's new for this year. The Austrian hasn't had it easy since he left Ferrari. The victories in Sweden and Italy were disputed. Then the new car, increasingly full of problems, always stopped in the pits. Will this story be over? Will we have a Lauda capable of winning again? The answer is not easy, we will have to wait to see what the others will do too. The championship, as has been said, begins again. We are in the eighth race of the season and it is as if nothing had happened so far, as if Scheckter was not leading the race for the world title, as if Ferrari had not won four races. On alternate years, the Grand Prix of France takes on a green and pleasant atmosphere, when it is held at the little Autodrome near Dijon, in the Bourgogne region. The pleasant countryside which surrounds the circuit is in direct contrast with the arid, dusty countryside which surrounds the Paul Ricard Autodrome, the other home of the Grand Prix of France. The Dijon-Prenois Autodrome does not have a lot to offer, but what it does offer is good; there are two very fast corners, one falling away downhill at its end, the other diving down into a dip and climbing steeply out of it, while the main straight is long enough to get fully wound up, but is hard work as it is approached by quite a steep hill, so that engine torque is more important than engine power. The pits are spacious enough but are set so far back from the main straight, with a vast grass area between, that passing cars are of academic interest to those in the pits and team personnel have to do a lot of running to-and-fro. As far as spectators in the main grandstands are concerned the pits might just as well be non-existent. However, the undulating part of the circuit is so well provided with natural banks, and so much of the action can be seen, that the vast majority of spectators throng this area.

 

There had been the usual tyre-testing sessions some time before the event, and with the lull caused by the cancellation of the Swedish Grand Prix all the teams are well armed and ready for battle. The Lotus, Ligier and Shadow teams have four cars apiece, while Tyrrell, Brabham, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault, Williams, and Arrows have three cars each, all of which means that space is at a premium. There are some new faces in new places and some old ones as well, for Hunt and Daly have opted out of the Formula One scene, the former to go and play squash and the latter to return to Formula Two until such time as a better car than the Ensign comes his way. Depailler is out of action after a hang-glider accident, so this means that three replacement drivers are needed. The Finnish driver Keijo Rosberg takes over the Wolf vacated by James Hunt, while the Ensign team is offered the French driver Patrick Gaillard. After much speculation about who will drive the second Ligier the offer goes to Jacky Ickx, the very experienced Belgian who opted out of Formula One some time ago because he could not stomach the razz-me-tazz and commercialism of Formula One in the Seventies. Everyone else is in their rightful place and after a four-week lay-off from the actual business of racing as distinct from testing and experimenting, interest is running high. The Renault team has attempted two full-length, 80-lap, sessions on the Dijon-Prenois circuit with their twin-turbo cars and are quietly confident that they are going to be competitive. Team Lotus has a Mark 2 version of the Lotus 80 and appears to be making progress with its aerodynamics, though Reutemann has lost all interest in the new car and is sticking to the Lotus 79. The Tyrrell team has built a brand new 009 to replace the one crashed at Monaco by Pironi, and Ferrari has built another T4, number 041, which Villeneuve is to use, Scheckter retaining the car with which he won at Monaco. The Ligier team is out in force, with four cars, and the Arrows team is proudly displaying their two brand new cars, the A2 models, which are different from everyone else though not necessarily better. Merzario’s injured hand has mended and Giacomelli is looking happy in the works Alfa Romeo.

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Just when everyone is satisfied with the new practice arrangements, of a testing hour in the morning and a timed hour-and-a-half in the afternoon, the French reverts to the old system of 1 1/2 hours timed on Friday morning and one hour timed on Friday afternoon, followed by 1 1/2 hours untimed on Saturday morning and a hectic single hour timed on Saturday afternoon. The reasons for this change are a bit obscure, but involved contracts, the BMW publicity races, and the letter of the law, which is all rather petty, and we would be better off without such silly wrangles. It is cool and cloudy on Friday morning with a niggling wind blowing all the time, but everyone is out in the pit lane and ready to go, except for the new Renault RS12 which is having its gearbox attended to after a brief test at Montlhery the day before. The Renault team confidence is soon confirmed when Jabouille starts making the running and is hammered home almost as soon as Arnoux goes out in the brand-new car, for he is up the front as well. Andretti is not at all happy with the new Lotus 80 and soon changes to the old one, while Alan Jones has to take to the spare Williams when the engine in his own car goes sick. The Ligier team is in a muddle, having set up Laffite’s car for the latest Goodyear front tyres, only to find they have done it all wrong, so while it is changed, he goes out in his spare car. The works Alfa Romeo tries a new nose cowling, with a chisel-shaped centre piece and fins, but later reverts to the old full-width nosepiece. The times being put up by the Renaults are throwing everyone into confusion, and speed traps near the start/finish line indicates that they are not that much faster than the other front runners, so clearly, they are reaching their maximum earlier and certainly not losing out around the twisty back part of the course. The twin-turbo layout appears to have provided a wider torque spread as well as better pick-up, and the handling of the new series cars is more than adequate. By the end of the morning the two Renaults are in a class of their own, with Jabouille fastest with 1'07"41 and Arnoux second with 1'07"96. The nearest to the two French National cars are Villeneuve with his new T4 Ferrari with 1'08"18 and Piquet with the Brabham-Alfa with 1'08"19. Then comes Alan Jones with 1'08"23, to lead the Cosworth-powered cars. It is not without significance that the fastest three cars are on Michelin tyres.

 

The new Arrows have a lot of small problems to sort out, both works Lotus cars are right out of the picture, as are the Tyrrells, and Lauda is eyeing his young number 2 in the same way as Scheckter is eyeing his number 2. Rosberg is doing the sort of mid-field times that is expected of him, and Ickx is doing a better job in his come-back than is anticipated. During the lunch-break the underside of the nosepiece on the Lotus 80/2 has to be patched up and reinforced with fibre-glass as it has been wearing itself away along the strait, suggesting quite a good down-force being applied to the front of the car. The afternoon session sees extraordinarily little change in the overall scene, the Renaults repeats their morning times, with Arnoux the faster, but not quite as fast as Jabouille’s morning time and nobody else is in the same bracket, or even looks like getting into it. Reutemann is in trouble with Lotus 79/4 as an electrical short in a wire on the steering column keeps blowing the spring-loaded automatic fuse, so he abandons the car and takes out 79/5. Andretti on the other hand sticks with the new Lotus 80 all afternoon. Laffite is back in his own car, but prefers the feel of the T-car, and Jones is still in the spare Williams, and is easily the fastest of the Cosworth runners. The end of the day sees the Renault team even quieter and more confident, with both their cars on the front row and over half-a-second quicker than the next car, which is Villeneuve’s Ferrari. The whole scene at the front of the grid is changing before our very eyes, with new faces in new places, Lauda being the first of the Old hands in sixth place. Of the 27 cars that practise only 24 are going to take the start, so the last three on the Friday list have something to aim for. These are Merzario, Gaillard and Patrese, the last-named not getting to grips with his new Arrows like his German team-mate, who is in twentieth position. From blue to yellow danger. Never before have the cars of the French state car factory traveled so fast as on this occasion. After the first day of practice Jabouille has the best time, followed by his teammate Arnoux. In third place, detached by 0.067 seconds, is the Ferrari of Villeneuve who precedes the young and no longer surprising Brazilian Nelson Piquet, then Jones with the always competitive Williams, Lauda (once again preceded by the second driver of Brabham), Scheckter, Pironi Regazzoni and Jarier. The gaps between the top ten riders are contained in about 1.5 seconds: all the others are quite far away. Starting with Laffite, who is only eleventh with the Ligier, ending with Patrese, who, despite a good improvement between the two rounds of practice, would not have qualified with the new Arrows. 

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However, Renault's result shouldn't come as a surprise. The twin turbocharged engine that drives the cars of Jabouille and Arnoux seems to particularly like the Prenois circuit, with a long straight and fast corners on which many tests have been carried out. Either way, the lap record was shattered. The French car with the 1500 cc engine, the only one to use the turbo in Formula 1, is not new to these exploits. Already in Kyalami (South Africa), Jabouille had obtained the pole position and, in many other races, since his debut in England in 1977, he had shown that he was very fast. But, never as now, its supremacy in terms of power had made itself felt so heavily with two cars in the first two places. Now, since Renault has almost always set up disappointments in the race (especially due to the unreliable engine) to these performance tests, one wonders if it will still be a flash in the pan that will not have continued on Sunday. According to the technicians and drivers of the transalpine team, it seems that this is the right time, that Renault has achieved, working hard in the month available, the degree of refinement and completeness required to finish a race at a high pace. The adoption of the new German KKK turbo has made the engine more flexible and the power usable at all revs. Villeneuve says with a smile, commenting on the results of the first day of testing:

 

"The only drawback for us was that the Renaults are faster. On the straight they pass us brutally. For the rest, my Ferrari seems to be fine, and there are no particular problems".

 

With the Canadian's third place and Scheckter's seventh (the South African wanted to try different solutions, so as to obtain nothing more than his teammate), Ferrari finds itself in an advantageous position against the competitors for the world title. While Jabouille stated that on Saturday he will be able to further improve his lap record to safely secure pole position, all the others will have to work only to make a few steps forward. The biggest problems are with the Ligiers, which have lost competitiveness, with Laffite eleventh and Jacky Ickx, an experienced driver but a bit out of training, in twelfth place. Suffice it to say that the Belgian is so unaccustomed to this new type of car that he was physically affected by the centrifugal force in the corners. Ickx had to have foam rubber placed next to his helmet, tied to one shoulder, in order not to suffer the repercussions against the cockpit of the car. As far as the Italian cars and drivers are concerned, there is an honest performance by Giacomelli's Alfa with the eighteenth fastest time. The Milanese car drove for a long time, even changing the front nose. If the Alfa has any particular problems, it is not known, as the driver and technicians have closed themselves in their caravan, postponing the discussions to another moment. Lotus proved once again that the design of its 80 model was completely wrong. World Champion Mario Andretti reported about 3.5 seconds behind Jabouille and was clearly preceded by Reutemann, who also drives the Lotus 79 model. The Italian-American driver didn't hide his profound disappointment and there are already those who are talking about a forfeit on the part of both. It seems that Reutemann has already contacted Brabham about his return to Ecclestone's team, while a precise future is not yet known for Andretti. But if these drivers and these cars are in trouble, what about Riccardo Patrese? The Paduan had great hopes in the new Arrows A2 to reach the top and seemed deeply disappointed by the performance of the new car.

 

"It's a very difficult car to set up, with very complicated aerodynamic adjustments. I don't know how it will end. If we manage to fix it well, it will certainly be competitive, otherwise it will be a tragedy for me. Because this type of ground effect vehicle either goes or doesn't go. There is no way out. We have all seen the problems troubling the new Lotus. Let's hope for the best, as I risk elimination. If I can't improve my time, I won't be able to get into the top twenty-four on the starting grid. And that would be a big step backwards for me".

 

As for Patrese, it is said in the Formula 1 environment that he is required by many teams. Someone argues that Riccardo could move to Williams next year, in place of Jones, who would go to Lotus to replace Reutemann. These are all rumors, but with a certain basis as the riders are already contacting the team owners. As for the French Grand Prix, we will have to wait for the last practice session to give a definitive judgment on the cars and the drivers and the race favourites. It is not excluded that Patrese will be able to recover as, in Friday's practice, he was unable to use the best time tires he will have available, as a miniskirt on his Arrows got stuck. We will see the hunt for the Renaults and all the other teams will try to catch up on the very fast French cars, even if nobody seems able to enter the fight between the cars equipped with Michelin tyres. Not even the Brabham-Alfas of Piquet and Lauda, which also went very well, and the Williams of Jones.

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At most, we can expect a recovery from Scheckter, who wanted to try some strange solutions and was slightly delayed with his Ferrari. But the most extravagant news, which emerges from Friday, is that seasickness can also come from driving a Formula 1 car. This is what happened during practice for the French Grand Prix to numerous drivers, who had to stop briefly in the pits to overcome kinetic crises, i.e. nausea and dizziness, caused by speed and centrifugal force when cornering. To mitigate these phenomena, Jean Pierre Jabouille and Jacky Ickx had their mechanics build a special support that will allow them to limit the swaying of the helmet to a minimum in the mixed part of the track. The French driver, after the exploits of the timed qualifying, starts under the favor of the forecast:

 

"The pole position is the first prize for the great amount of work done by the whole team over the years. Now we are also confident in victory".

 

Even with a technically outdated car, Bruno Giacomelli managed to get an honorable seventeenth time.

 

"You can't do more with this Alfa Romeo. Our efforts are now concentrated on the new single-seater that will make its debut at Monza".

 

Speaking of the Alfa Romeo daughter-in-law, the engineer Carlo Chiti points out that probably no other races will be held before the Italian Grand Prix, to concentrate all attention on the new model.

 

"It is our intention to prepare two cars for Monza, in order to allow Brambilla to compete in front of his public with a competitive car".

 

Next season, Alfa Romeo will field two cars for the entire World Championship. As for the choice of the second driver, the candidacy of Niki Lauda, which was talked about in recent days, seems to have definitively faded alongside Giacomelli. The president of the Milanese company, Ernesto Massacesi, has arrived in Dijon and has been in conversation with the technicians for a long time.

 

"At Alfa Romeo they only want Italian drivers".

 

The eyes of the Alfa executives seem to be focused on Riccardo Patrese, who however is being courted by several other teams. On Saturday morning it is still cool and overcast, and though warm by English standards it is not as hot as the Bourgogne should be at the end of June. The hour-and-a-half test-session sees many teams trying out their spare cars, Scheckter taking 037, Andretti in 80/1, Lauda in BT48/02 and Laffite in JS11/03 as well as JS11/04. Jones has a new engine in FW07/003 and Rosberg is still happy with the Wolf WR8, the spare car not being used. Everyone is getting set for the final hour, those near the front determined to get into the select Renault time-bracket, while those at the back are out to try and not be there. The Wolf is being tried without nose fins and proving quite stable and Jones is in great form, the Williams handling beautifully and going well, but then trouble struck. Half-way round a lap when Jones put the brakes on, the front ones stay on. A small return valve in the master-cylinder has stuck preventing the fluid from returning from the calipers and the Williams arrives at the pits with the front brake discs glowing, the calipers and hubs nicely heat-treated and once the wheels stop revolving everything goes solid. It is the end of practice for Alan Jones, for though the spare car is got ready time had run out. Time is also running out for Tambay, whose McLaren breaks its engine before the morning is finished, so that the McLaren mechanics have to get really stuck in and change the engine before the afternoon session began. The Williams mechanics have to fit completely new assemblies to Jones car, uprights, brake discs, hubs, calipers, the lot. During the previous day some of the drivers have been suffering from the effects of G-forces on their necks round the two long fast corners, and Rosberg and Ickx have head-restraints made up to hold their helmets in place, while the Renault drivers are thinking of doing something similar. Quote of the weekend must surely go to Andretti, who is anything but fast with the Lotus 80. When asked about the effects of G-forces in high-speed cornering, he said he just wished his car would generate enough G-force to give him a nuisance. Due to the reversion to the old system of practice everything now hangs on the final hour. 
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Lauda is sticking to the spare Brabham as it feels better than his own car, Piquet’s car has some last-minute work done on its gearbox internals, Tambay’s McLaren is half-way through its engine change, Andretti abandons Lotus 80/2 in favour of Lotus 80/1, the newer car needing some re-thinking on its aerodynamic underside. Laffite has settled on JS11/03 as it feels better than the newer Ligier and Jones is in FW07/003 with all new front parts. Jarier’s Tyrrell is in trouble with sheared driving studs on the left rear hub and when everyone has started practice mechanics are still drilling out the broken bits. He eventually goes off with only five driving studs instead of the full complement of six. The Shadow team is running their new car for de Angelis, and the Arrows are improving but suffering from having the wrong springs at the back. Merzario is out of the running quite soon, with engine trouble in his own car. Jabouille is still setting the pace, but before Arnoux can join him the engine in RS12 goes sick with trouble in the valve gear, and that is the end of his practice. While many drivers seem to have given up all hope of challenging the turbo-charged Renaults, two drivers are definitely out to give them a run for their money. These are Villeneuve and Jones, and the Williams driver is really giving it all he knows, with good results. Just when he is fully wound up and heading for a sub-1 min. 08 sec. lap there is a cloud of dust on the last corner and Pironi goes off into the catch-fences with a rear wheel missing from his Tyrrell 009. The whole front of the car is ripped off and by a miracle the driver escapes unscathed. The well-wound-up Jones arrives on the scene as yellow flags starts to wave and at the end of that lap his time is 1'07"99. For four laps the yellow flags are out, and everyone slows down, and then practice is stopped with 27 minutes of the crucial hour gone.
 
The problem is that the wrecked Tyrrell is right in the line of fire of anyone else going off on the fast downhill right-hander, and all the catch-fences are down anyway. For an hour everyone twiddles their thumbs in the pits while catch-fence repairs are done, and the remains of the brand-new Tyrrell 009/6 are brought in on a breakdown truck. This respite allows the McLaren mechanics to finish off Tambay’s engine change, and for Jarier’s mechanics to fit a completely new hub to the left-rear of his Tyrrell. When practice restarts Regazzoni roars off and runs over the left nose-fin of his team-mate’s car, which delays the Australian a few minutes while a new one is fitted. Villeneuve is now going harder than ever, determined to try, and split the two Renaults, especially as Arnoux is hors-de-combat and relying on his 1'07"45 of yesterday to keep in on the front row of the grid. Jabouille has stopped all arguments by recording 1'07"19, which firmly establishes him on pole-position. Villeneuve eventually does 1'07"65, close to the Renaults, but not close enough. While Jonesey-boy is getting himself wound up tight again his Cosworth V8 goes on to seven cylinders and he comes into the pits. While his mechanics are investigating, the engine goes Pop and a cloud of white smoke from the exhaust indicates a valve through a piston. Once again, the spare Williams is readied, but it is too late, the hour is up, and practice is finished. In the final minutes Rosberg disappears with the Wolf WR8 and is towed in afterwards, the trouble being a broken rotor arm in the ignition distributor. It was announced by the Stewards of the meeting that Jones and Rebaque have made their fastest laps while the yellow flags are out, and in consequence the four lap times involved for each driver are scrubbed. This does not affect Rebaque as far as the grid is concerned, but it does knock Jones off the second row.
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His next best time is 1'08"73 in the final hour, so that his grid time comes from his 1'08"23 recorded on Friday morning, which means that he is on the fourth row of the grid. Even so he is still the first Cosworth V8 user, but he is not in the true position: he should have been in with the turbo V6 and 12-cylinder cars. Ickx is in the middle of the grid, having made a very reasonable impression, and Giacomelli has qualified the works Alfa Romeo quite comfortably. The three unfortunates are de Angelis (Shadow), Gaillard (Ensign) and Merzario (Merzario), but then Gunther Schmidt the owner of the ATS team raises a small cry of protest and withdrew his car from the race. The trouble is that Goodyear has given one of Stuck’s special tyres to Lauda, as they are noticeably short of sticky qualifying tyres. This withdrawal means that de Angelis can start from the last position on the grid, and Rebaque moves across to the penultimate position. Only some time ago there was talk of 300 km/h racing cars, but it was more a way of saying than a reality. Now the situation has changed. Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who will start from pole position in the French Grand Prix, exceeded this speed to set the best qualifying time. His Renault, powered by an engine supercharged by two compressors, reached 301.390 km/h three-quarters of the way down the straight, just 1100 meters long, steeply uphill in its initial part. A top speed that allowed him to record a time of 1'07"19 for an average of 203.602 km/h, a record result on the 3800-metre lap of the Prenots circuit. Even in the last qualifying round, Renault he thus confirmed the indications he had provided on Friday in the first timed qualifying.Despite the efforts made by all the teams and dozens of tire changes, no one was able to overtake the cars of Jabouille and Arnoux, who will occupy the front row. they only served to change the starting grid from third place onwards. To say now that we are moving towards the era of turbochargers is still premature. There is no verification of the race and, above all, a counter-test on other tracks will be necessary. Renault had already obtained the pole position in South Africa and had presented itself as a rival to Ferrari, but then had disappointed.
 
The French single-seaters will have about fifty more horsepower than the riva there, and they will be the machines to beat in terms of performance. This greater power allows the two Turbo cars to adopt different aerodynamic solutions from the other cars, with more inclined wings and spoilers, which crush the single-seaters against the asphalt, making full use of the ground effect. This sudden but not unexpected performance of the single-seaters entrusted to Jabouille and Arnoux changed Ferrati's objective, which will not, at least it seems, have to look to Ligier as its main opponent. With Lafflte relegated to fourth row and Ickx to seventh, Villeneuve and Scheckter will have other riders to think about. The Canadian proved to be very fast (and the only one to keep the accelerator fully pressed in the difficult counter-slope curve that follows the pit straight), maintaining third place and improving further. Gilles dropped to 1'07”65, just 0.046 seconds from Jabouille, with a performance made entirely of anger and will. Scheckter also made small progress, moving up to fifth position (he was seventh on Friday), behind the excellent Nelson Piquet who, once again, albeit slightly, preceded his teammate Niki Lauda, sixth on the grid. However, it is difficult to understand if these results have a precise correspondence with the value of the pilots or if sometimes they are not determined by chance or luck. The adjustments of the cars, the choice and arrangement of the tires are so difficult that on occasion an overtaking, a dirty track, the ambient temperature, the wind can change the situation. Suffice it to say that there are only 0.010 seconds between Piquet (fourth at the start) and Jones (seventh): and in this minimal fraction of time there are Lauda and Scheckter. As for the news of the last practice session, there are no significant episodes to report, except for an accident that once again had Didier Pironi as the protagonist, but the young French driver does not have any responsibilities. His Tyrrell lost the left rear wheel in the very fast corner that leads to the finish straight. The car skidded terribly at about 200 km/h and stopped against the safety nets, practically destroyed. The pilot, by a miracle, remained unharmed, but the fear was great. The day brought Lafflte's disappointment. Guy Ligier says:

 

"The car is always the same, but it doesn't keep the road, we can't figure out what it is about".

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And the now usual non-competitiveness of Lotus, relegated to mid-field. Giacomelli will also be at the start, with the Alfa Romeo laboratory. The driver from Brescia improved his time, but his will necessarily be a race of waiting and regularity. Because you can't expect much from a car that was born old. After qualifying, the ATS withdraws Hans-Joachim Stuck from the race in protest against the treatment received by Goodyear. On Sunday morning the skies are very grey, which is just what the Renault team and Michelin have been praying for, as ambient temperature is all important to the turbo-charged 1 1/2-litre V6 Renault engine, and to the wear rate of the racing Michelins. There is a half-hour warm-up when everyone has a final check that all was well. Jones has a new engine in his Williams, the Lotus 80/2 is well and truly abandoned, Laffite is in his T-car (JS11/03) and the test-car (JS11/02) is being readied in case of emergency. Pironi has no choice but to use Tyrrell 009/1 and Lauda soon stops with BT48/02 as its new engine is down on r.p.m. With plenty of time in hand before the 2:00 p.m. start (the French always insist on a proper lunch period) the Brabham mechanics set about installing another engine for the team-leader. Before the racing cars leave the pits to drive round to the grid the drivers are taken on a lap of honour in a vast fleet of all the latest Mercedes-Benz cars, though one or two drivers seem to be missing! In good time the twenty-four starters left the pits, but only twenty-three arrive on the grid! Ickx has made a nonsense changing gear on a corner and has spun off and smashes a front wheel. He abandons the Ligier and got a lift back to the pits, where he is put into the Test-car (JS11/02) which he has never sat in before, and away he goes to do another lap and join the grid. (Strictly against the civil-service rules, but it is a Ligier, and this is the French GP.) Eventually the twenty-four cars set off on their parade lap, led by Jabouille in the yellow and black Renault, with his chirpy little team-mate alongside him. Behind the two cars from the Regie-Renault are Villeneuve (Ferrari) and Piquet (Brabham-Alfa) while in row three are two very sour-looking each having to look at the back end of their number 2 driver’s cars. Scheckter is behind Villeneuve and Lauda behind Piquet.

 

In row four are the first of the Cosworth-powered cars, Jones (Williams) and Laffite (Ligier) and then the rest of the runners, the two works Lotus ignominiously in the middle of the grid. Jabouille does a good job in leading the field, and they all arrive back on the grid, pause, the red-light shine, then the green and the 80-lap Grand Prix of France is under way. The Ferrari Villeneuve makes a searing start from the second row, and he not only split the two Renaults before the first corner, but leads them, with Scheckter hard up behind. Poor Arnoux in his first start from the front row does not get off too well and all the field streams into the first corner he stays out wide and the-world-and-his-wife goes by before the end of the first lap Villeneuve is long gone, driving at 9 3/4-tenths on that opening lap to Jarier who has equalled Villeneuve’s drag-race start. The red T4 Ferrari of the French-Canadian is going at an unbelievable rate, and using every inch of the circuit, smoothly and tidy and precise, Villeneuve pulls out an incredible lead. Arnoux is down in ninth place, behind Jones and Laffite, but is looking quite unflustered and settling in to redress the situation. By lap 3 Arnoux has passed the Williams and the Ligier, and they have swapped places anyway, with Jones pulling away from the blue and white car. On the next lap Arnoux goes past Lauda and catching Jarier takes a bit longer. Meanwhile Villeneuve is pulling away from Jabouille at a second or more a lap, though the Frenchman does not seem perturbed. He is comfortably ahead of Scheckter and Piquet, and Jarier is being warned about the approaching number 2 Renault. There is little he can do and Arnoux powers past on lap 7 and set his sights on Piquet’s Brabham, which he catches on lap 11. Jones is also into this hard-driving style and catches Lauda and Jarier in quick succession and by lap 12 the order is Villeneuve, well in front and going hard, Jabouille quickly weighing up the situation, Scheckter trying to hang on to the pace, Arnoux, Piquet, Jones and Jarier. After quite a gap comes Lauda, dropping back all the time, Laffite doing his best with a not very well balanced Ligier, Regazzoni, Pironi, Rosberg, Reutemann, Watson, Fittipaldi, and Tambay, with Andretti heading for the pits with failing brakes due to a fluid leak from a union in the front system. Giacomelli, Patrese, Rabaque, de Angelis and Mass bring up the rear, with Lammers behind after a pit stop to cure a misfire. 

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Everyone is still racing. Arnoux is soon up behind Scheckter’s Ferrari and on lap 15 he goes by, while Jones is desperately looking for a way by Piquet’s Brabham. The Alfa Romeo powered machine is doing nasty things in the middle of the fast bends before the pits, flicking it tails out at just the wrong moment, which is keeping the young Brazilian on his toes and making him work harder than he should have done. One of the skirts on Mass’s Arrows is coming adrift and he is dropping further and further back, to be lapped by Villeneuve on lap 15. At 20 laps, or quarter-distance, the leading Ferrari and second place Renault are still out on their own, while Arnoux is in a certain third place. Scheckter, Piquet, Jones and Jarier followed, with Regazzoni next up having passed Laffite and Lauda. Ickx has stopped twice, to change first the front tyres and then the rear tyres on his untried Ligier and is now down at the back, with only Lammers and Andretti behind him. As Lauda spun off on lap 24 and could not restart, Jabouille begins to close up on the flying Villeneuve, the steady progress of the Renault being uncanny. Jabouille is soon behind the Ferrari, but not quite close enough to attack, and as they are lapping slower cars it looks as though the situation is stalemate. This battle goes on for lap after lap, first Jabouille getting baulked by a slower car, then Villeneuve, and so on, so that the situation is still the same at half-distance, 40 laps. This has pulled them well clear of Arnoux, who in turn is far away from any competition. Scheckter has slipped back, from being passed by Piquet and then Jones, the Australian still hanging on to the Brabham-Alfa and watching it twitch through the corners from close quarters. Ickx suddenly disappears when his engine blew up and Andretti is despairing of ever getting going with the Lotus 80. At 44 laps get clear of the Renaults. Jabouille has done a first-class job of getting away and is holding second place, followed by Scheckter, Piquet and Jabouille is making it noticeably clear that he wanted the lead, but Villeneuve would not oblige. As Rosberg holds him up briefly out of the last corner, he shoots by on the wrong side, with the Renault right behind him.

 

On lap 46 Villeneuve comes up to lap de Angelis and as he eased to go by him on the wrong side, Jabouille is hard on the Renault’s power and draws alongside to pass the Ferrari up the straight, and lap 47 sees the 100.000-crowd wild with delight as a French driver in a French car leads the Grand Prix of France. Having got by, Jabouille gives it all he has got for a lap or two, and leaves Villeneuve a bit breathless, so that at 50 laps there is a sizeable gap between the two cars. On lap 52 Andretti disappears quietly, giving up the unequal struggle, while on the next lap Piquet disappears noisily in a shower of stones and dust as his Brabham-Alfa goes backwards into the catch-fences on the last corner, leaving Alan Jones to sail past into fourth place. Although Piquet blames himself for losing control, the car has been acting so peculiarly all the race, that it is remarkable that he catches it as many times as he does. Villeneuve’s desperate efforts to get away from the Renault in the early stages has naturally taken toll of his tyres and brakes, and knowing he can no longer hold Jabouille, he eases his pace slightly and concentrates on conserving his Michelin rubber and Ferodo brake pad material, to make them last to the end of the race. His team-leader is very disgruntled about the whole affair and before he suffers the ignominy of being passed by Jarier in the Tyrrell he pulls into the Ferrari pits for a new set of tyres. This left the Tyrrell in fifth place, but Regazzoni is thinking it would be a nice place to be and is pressuring the blue car heavily. Providing everything on the leading Renault keeps going Jabouille looks to having victory in his grasp, but he is far from happy not only worrying about the reliability of the mechanical components, but his brakes are wearing and needing increased pressure to be effective. This is causing him great pain in his right leg, as he has to push harder and harder on the pedal, and the overall strain is beginning to tell on him. Fortunately, there is no way that Villeneuve can repeat his early efforts without using up his tyres and brakes, and second place is his sole interest, but it is far from certain for Arnoux is closing up rapidly, responding nobly to signals from the Renault pits. With ten laps to go there now started a memorable battle for second place, so fierce and competitive that the leader of the race is totally overlooked. By lap 71 Arnoux is right behind Villeneuve, and still there on lap 72.

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On the next lap they lap some slower cars and the Ferrari got through while the Renault did not. Lap 75 and 76 they are together again, but Villeneuve is not giving in, but on the start of lap 78 the Renault is alongside the Ferrari and takes the lead. But it is not over, for Villeneuve is not one to give up. He is back in the lead on the 79th lap, but Arnoux is proving to be just as tenacious. Side by side they start the last lap, side by side they go into the first corner, side by side they come out of the first corner. Neither man is going to give way and they throw caution to the winds, rubbing their tyres against each other as they dive into the twisty back leg. Villeneuve gets inside at the far hairpin, Arnoux is in front as they climb out of the dip, but the Renault engine gives a hiccough as he accelerates, and the Ferrari is instantly alongside. Over the brow of the hill they go, still rubbing tyres, but with the Ferrari on the advantageous inside for the long fast final bend. Down the last dip they are virtually touching, nose to tail; up the hill the Renault pulls out and as they disappear over the brow and race for the line, they are side by side again. The Ferrari gets the verdict by an official quarter of a second, and while it has all been happening Jabouille has quietly won the Grand Prix for France, creating so many firsts that it is bewildering. First Renault victory in a Grand Prix since 1906, first-ever Grand Prix victory by a turbo-charged engine, first Grand Prix win for Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and so on. It is a worthy moment for the wholesale consumption of Moet Chandon champagne. The lanky Frenchman is completely exhausted and has to be helped from his car, his right leg really suffering from the effort required on the brake pedal. Almost punch-drunk by the enormity of the whole affair poor Jabouille would have preferred to have gone and lain down, rather than give himself over to the delirious French crowds. Being a national hero is almost more than the quiet Frenchman can bear and he looks dazed and shell-shocked for quite a time after winning. The two little whizz-kids in second and third places are grinning all over their faces, having thoroughly enjoyed their last lap rough-and-tumble, saying it had all been good fun, though they realise it could have ended with them both spinning off.

 

But they are racing in real earnest for second place and that over-rides all other thoughts, until afterwards. It has been a Renault joy-day vigorously, and Arnoux is well content with being third to such a hard racer as Villeneuve, while the little French-Canadian is the hero of the 3-litre establishment with his hard-driven fourth place, and he is Goodyear’s white hope, for three cars ahead are all on Michelin tyres. Jarier completed yet another worthy race for the Tyrrell team, with fifth place, and good old Regga scores again for Frank Williams with sixth place, only one second away from the Tyrrell. As the dust of the winners settled and the rest of the runners came in it is seen that Reutemann is missing from tenth place. The front brakes on the Lotus 79 have failed on the seventy-eighth lap and he stuffed the nose of his car under the back of Rosberg’s Wolf. While the Wolf goes on the Lotus stops with a crumpled nose and the right front wheel pointing sharp right. A grumbling Scheckter finishes seventh, after his stop for fresh tyres, and John Watson also stops for fresh tyres for his McLaren which lost him a place to his team-mate. Rebaque has run non-stop in his private Lotus 79 and has nicely vanquished the two new Arrows. Giacomelli brings the works Alfa Romeo to the finish after stops to look at the gearbox and change tyres. Pironi has yet another Tyrrell component break on him, this time in the rear suspension. It has certainly been a Grand Prix of France to go down in history, being won by the French, but the race for second place revived the interest of all the Formula 1 disbelievers. All races cannot be good, but you should watch all races so that when one is good you do not miss it. The tussle continues even after the fiery finale. Once across the finish line, Jabouille and Arnoux join up to complete the lap of honor together, with their turbo Renaults in front of the delirious French public. However, this episode does not please Villeneuve, who had run great risks to finish second a few moments before. Then the small but tenacious Canadian tries several times to slip his Ferrari between the two yellow cars traveling at the same pace. Thus an appendix to the race is created, before it all ends with the arrival of Scheckter who will signal to the three drivers preceding him to let it go, since the race is over. Then on the podium, after exchanging meaningful glances, Gilles and René exchange vigorous handshakes while Jabouille showers them with champagne. Not even afterwards, there will be controversy and indeed, Villeneuve limits himself to saying:

 

"It was Arnoux who touched me first, mine was just a reaction. In any case, I had a lot of fun".

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The French in turn gave an explanation of the defeat:

 

"I had almost run out of petrol, and the engine no longer responded well to stress. Otherwise Villeneuve wouldn't have passed me".

 

Immediately after the race, the winning car, the Renault RS, undergoes a technical inspection. The usual nasty rumors hint at the fact that the engine was oversized, so the scrutineers work to remove any doubts. The car was dismantled and checked by the Monegasque technical commissioner Barabino, in the presence of the members of the CSI, Benzing and Crombac, and was perfectly in order. Indeed, the engine is 10 cc less than the one liter limit. After the successes of Ligier at the beginning of the season, it was finally the turn of the state factory, the Règie Renault. Thirty-six-year-old Parisian Jean Pierre Jabouille won the French Grand Prix, ahead of Ferrari's Gilles Villeneuve and teammate René Arnoux. A triumph that sent the more than 100,000 enthusiasts who filled the small but spectacular Prenes circuit into a frenzy. A show within a show, that of the maddened crowd that at the end of the race poured onto the track to pay tribute to the first three finishers with long, endless applause. It is almost impossible to say about the happiness that overwhelmed the Renault team. The riders, the mechanics, the sporting director Gerard Larrousse, the manager Jean Sage, the technical manager Francois Castaing, all repaid themselves with this day two years of very hard work, of sacrifices, of disappointed hopes, of inevitable criticisms that rained numerous and increasingly pressing in recent times, when the yellow and black cars designed and built in Boulogne-Biilancourt were often ridiculed for their continuous abandonments, for their modest placements. It was the day, the first in the twenty-nine-year history of Formula 1, of the victory of an engine supercharged by a turbocharger. A technical route which, thanks to this success, will soon be followed by other companies. But it was also the day of the consecration of Gilles Villeneuve as a very talented driver, of the recognition of the courage and indomitable will of the little Canadian. The applause of the enthusiastic public was also for him, for what he showed throughout the race, from the beginning, from his lightning start, to the last laps when he engaged in a fight with Arnoux bordering on the thrill that made him close his eyes. to more than one spectator for fear that one of the two drivers would end up causing an accident. Villeneuve, together with Renault, was the great protagonist of this sixty-fifth French Grand Prix. While the Transalpine company has entered the ranks of the great motoring brands, the twenty-second brand to establish itself in Formula 1, the Ferrari driver has given life to the eighty breathtaking girls in which this eighth round of the World Championship unfolded. A cold day, with a fresh wind that transformed the hot Burgundy summer into a typically Nordic spring. Jean-Pietre Jabouille, born in Paris on 1 October 1942, brother-in-law of Jacques Laffite (they married two sisters) was for many years considered more of an excellent test driver, rather than a driver capable of winning a Grand Prix. But with the success achieved, the first of his career, he showed that with a good car he too can be a champion.

 

"I don't want to make any controversy on a day like this. It seems to me that the facts surpass all discourse. It wasn't an easy win. It was also a tactical race that made me struggle a lot, even physically. I got out of the car at the end with terrible pain in my hip. I imagined that Ferrari would have Villeneuve play the hare. For this reason, when the Canadian got off to a very strong start, I didn't take the bait. I continued with my pace, convinced that sooner or later the Ferrari man would have problems with the tyres. Then, when I realized that I was gaining noticeably without too much trouble, I attacked and passed Villeneuve rather comfortably. From that moment on I no longer had any difficulties, and with five laps to go I even reduced my pace so as not to take any unnecessary risks".

 

The happiness of the Renault team shines through on the face of Gerard Larrousse, the team's sporting director.

 

"It is a very important success for us. It gives us breathing space and credibility both with our management and with the public. And like a breath of fresh air to continue with even greater commitment. Sure, winning is very nice, but winning in France, when it's the first time, was fantastic".

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Who asked him what is the secret of this triumph. Larrousse replies very simply:

 

"The adoption of the turbo engine on the new wing-cars has allowed us to make better use of this propulsion system. Being faster in the corners, we can take advantage of the Turbo compressor for longer. There are no particular secrets here, apart from our painstaking work".

 

And if they were to abolish the miniskirts in the next championship?

 

"I've always been on the side of those who argue that miniskirts are wrong for Formula 1. In any case, we shouldn't have any major problems because if we have to take them off, it will be the same for everyone".

 

Ferrari beaten but not disappointed. Gilles Villeneuve's second place makes up for the loss, also because the Canadian has moved up in the world rankings behind Jody Scheckter. Engineer Forghieri admits, before returning to Italy:

 

"Against a car like this, we couldn't do anything. Maybe we should build a five-litre engine. Villeneuve, however, was great. As far as Scheckter is concerned, we still don't know exactly why his car didn't rev it to the max. He complained about the carburetion, which seemed delightful to him. Then he also replaced the tires with the stop in the pits which lasted 18 seconds, in an attempt to recover something. In the end it was pretty fast but it didn't help".

 

Could this affirmation of the turbocharged engine mean the beginning of a new technical era?

 

"It is still too early to tell. We will have to wait for the results of other races. Sure, when it's running right, that engine is great. We are working on a similar project, but I don't know when it will be used. We'll see as soon as possible".

 

A few words from Scheckter, who appeared rather tense at the end of a race that was certainly not fun for him.

 

"I was slow, I didn't know exactly why, I didn't understand it even after changing the tyres. It was a bad day".

 

The victory of Renault, the second place of Ferrari and the third of Arnoux form a nice en plein for Michelin. The French company has fitted the same tires to all four of the machines it supplies. These are different tires for each wheel, softer on the right and harder on the left, where the characteristics of the track gave the greatest stress. Only Arnoux asked for an even stronger front left tyre. The result of the French Grand Prix definitively took away any hope of Mano Andretti of fighting to regain the world title. The Italian-American was forced to retire on lap 51 due to grip problems caused by brakes not working perfectly. With a few words Andretti, disheartened and with broken morale, liquidated the new Lotus 80.

 

"I don't see a future for this car, all the solutions tried so far have given us disastrous results. The race was an ordeal because the car was completely off balance. In these conditions, I certainly can't hope to defend the World Championship".

 

New disappointment also for Brabham. Piquet, who has been quicker than Lauda for some time and was doing an excellent test, in fourth position, before going off the road on lap 52.

 

"The car went flying like a bullet, without me being able to do anything. I was in fourth gear, at full speed, and I went off the road risking a lot. I didn't understand the reason for this accident, which deprived me of a good placement".

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Lauda also went off the road after lap 13.

 

"I took the wrong line and ended up spinning. When the car stopped I tried to restart the engine, but it was useless".

 

Five laps behind the winner, after two stops in the pits, Giacomelli finished in the Alfa Romeo.

 

"The gearbox didn't hold fourth gear and for this reason I spun on the track. The tires, then, were disastrous. I changed them, but in the end I still got on the canvases".

 

Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux undoubtedly felt the breath of an equally large number of fans, who followed the French Grand Prix on the Prenois circuit or on video. Behaving as if they were driving two motorcycles, almost leaning over the asphalt in an attempt to outdo each other, the Canadian and the French, two jockeys, but in terms of stature but with the heart of giants, were the protagonists of a very tight last tour that brought them together in an intense and passionate ovation from the 120,000 present. A lap that deserves to be told, meter by meter, by the two protagonists, who shook hands on the podium as if nothing had happened, however, after exchanging a look which meant compliments and reproaches at the same time from both sides. Gilles Villeneuve, very tired but fully satisfied with the result, which brings him back to second place in the world rankings behind Scheckter, comments on the final episode saying:

 

"They told me from the pits that Arnoux gained about a second per lap. I realized that I could hardly resist one of his attacks, because my car, from mid-race onwards, had become undriveable. Suddenly, with three laps to go, I saw René right behind me, ready to overtake. He had been following me for some time and had studied my trajectories to choose the ideal moment to overtake me. In fact, he came alongside and overtook me just before the end of the straight. I tried to lengthen the braking, but it was useless. Arnoux overtook me because he was faster at that point. I immediately thought of retaking second position in the S, controlling the Ferrari with great difficulty. I knew that in that double corner I could do it. But the French practically shut me down while I was trying to put it on. For a moment I was afraid of going off the track. I managed to get back in the slipstream, in the hope of being able to take advantage of his mistake or even the slightest failure of his Renault. The opportunity presented itself in the last lap immediately after the straight where, with braking at the limit, risking a lot, I put the nose of my Ferrari in front of his Renault again. Arnoux didn't give up and still paired me touching me sideways. At that point I responded in kind and we basically covered a few hundred meters wheel to wheel, hitting each other several times. I recognize that it was a no-holds-barred fight, but he was the one who provoked it first. In the end I was right. It was a wonderful race, which also entertained me like it hasn't happened in a long time".

 

With eyes dilated from fatigue and a slightly upset air, but happy in any case, Arnoux also expresses his version of what happened:

 

"With eight laps to go, the regular flow of fuel started to fail. Despite this, I tried to take a second place which was worth a lot to me, almost a victory. When I overtook Gilles I thought it was done, instead I found myself in an incredible battle. If the engine had worked normally, I wouldn't have had any difficulty detaching the Canadian, however, in those conditions, I was forced to give up. Pity. We even touched each other three times, without malice, just because we were motivated by the desire to surpass ourselves. After all, it was important for me to arrive. Second or third is still a good result, the best of my career in Formula 1. For the moment Villeneuve is winning 1 to 0, but I hope to have the opportunity for revenge soon".

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The final meters of the French Grand Prix with the reckless overtaking, collisions and risky braking between Villeneuve and Arnoux cause discussion. This is an episode that thrilled millions of people on television and that will go down in the history of car racing. The pilot with the most heart, with the most experience, with the most courage prevailed, the one who refused to make this simple reasoning. Villeneuve's feat may even seem like a crazy gesture. In reality, only a champion could complete such a desperate attempt: the heart was joined by an exceptional ability to control the car, to exploit all its fame. The comparison with Tazio Nuvolari spontaneously arises, another who didn't want to know about giving up, who fought to the last even if the race seemed lost. Who does not remember that race ended by maneuvering the steering column, because the steering wheel had come off? Other times. Today in Formula 1 what counts are the tyres, the aerodynamics and the engine. In an increasingly sophisticated game that involves research laboratories, wind tunnels, rare materials, technicians with refined mechanical solutions. Drivers win if they have a competitive single-seater, otherwise they become followers: Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti seem like shadows this year; an Arnoux - who is a cyclist of modest talent and little experience - instead manages to become the protagonist. In this sense, Villeneuve's enterprise is - at least for once - man's revenge on the machine. In Dijon a driver was not only better than a rival, but also his car. There are those who argue that the Ferrari driver has accomplished an epic feat, that car races are beautiful precisely because of the thrills they provide. But certainly there is no shortage of detractors, who on the contrary say that the show does not justify the danger, that the Canadian and the French have behaved irresponsibly and incorrectly. So is it legitimate to risk so much? The interested parties, Gilles and René, answer this question very calmly. The Ferrari driver says:

 

"If, when I go out on the track and compete, I had to think that I'm putting my life on the line, I wouldn't have even started. We are professionals and we must behave as such".

 

Arnoux says:

 

"People are impressed because they are not used to seeing certain scenes. Those who attend Formula 2 and Formula 3 races are not surprised by certain overtaking, by these situations defined as thrilling. The risk is always quite calculated. When an accident happens it is because there is an unexpected event, an error or because the car breaks down. Our cars are built specifically to go fast, to brake quickly and to attempt overtaking at the limit".

 

Mauro Forghieri, technical manager of Ferrari, has no doubts:

 

"The drivers know what they are doing, what their limits and those of the machines are. In the particular case of Dijon, Villeneuve performed a masterpiece as he behaved like an expert driver. He calculated that he had a guy like Arnoux ahead of him who doesn't have much experience in Formula 1. And then he took advantage of the situation. If he had had to overtake a Regazzoni or an Andretti, most likely he would have stayed behind, after the lesson he had in the Long Beach incident when the Swiss put him out. Furthermore, one must not think that Gilles' action was entirely improvised. When there are trials, the Canadian carries out tests, studies all the possible trajectories and probable overtaking, as if he were in a race".

 

Of the opposite opinion is the engineer Carlo Chiti, director of Autodelta-Alfa Romeo.

 

"I have not seen the television but they told me in great detail what happened. In my opinion it was not an uplifting show. Bumps, counters and all kinds of improprieties. These drivers are badly used to it because no one ever enforces the regulations and there are no punishments. It is clear that there are risks when driving at certain speeds. But to go looking for them is sheer madness. The most serious fact is that it is not only young people who behave in this way but also the elderly, those pilots who should set an example. And then when serious accidents happen, responsibilities are sought".

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With the Dijon race archived (with Giacomelli finishing seventeenth), Alfa Romeo is continuing preparations for the new wing-car which will make its debut at Monza driven by the driver from Brescia and Brambilla. Engineer Chili confirms that Autodelta is studying the creation of a 60-degree twin-turbo six-cylinder engine. Ultimately, one race was enough to change the face of Formula 1. Before the French Grand Prix, the dominant motifs of the World Championship could be identified in the duel between Ferrari and Ligier. while for the drivers' title it seemed that Scheckter had clearly gained the upper hand over his rivals and especially over his teammate Gilles Villeneuve. Jabouille's victory with the Renault-Turbo and the second place of the irreducible Canadian changed the situation, even if Ferrari still remains the car to beat and the South African driver the most advantageous candidate for the final success. Ligier inexplicably sunk (no one can explain the reasons for this decline), with Laffite and Ickx never in the race, it was Renault's turn to come forcefully into the limelight. There are many factors that have contributed to the dominance of French cars. Accurate preparation on the Dijon track itself, the Michelin tyres, the cold day, the layout of the circuit (with its very fast corners which allow continuous use of the turbo), are the basis of! turns out that is, all in all, not a surprise. Sooner or later, in fact, Renault had to reach the top. Massive cash allocations, a first-rate technical staff and a test pilot like Jean-Pierre Jabouille guaranteed the ascent. Certainly this success cost a lot: two years of work, many disappointments, criticisms, sometimes even ridicule, like last year in the same French Grand Prix, when the car stopped after just one lap. But the team was supported by trust, by fair play (which earned them the orange award for courtesy from specialist journalists) and in the end they were right.

 

The same strength that gave this satisfaction to the Renault team can be found in Gilles Vllleneuve, protagonist of an unforgettable finale, of a winning duel with Arnoux for second place that made the fans shiver and exult, those present on the circuit (many , over 120,000) and above all the millions of people who watched the race on television. For the little Canadian driver who is only in his second season in Formula 1, the moment was very delicate. Deprived of a third place finish at Zolder due to fuel problems in the final meters and stopped by a breakdown at Monte-Carlo, Gille was likely to find himself with morale shattered. The particular formula of the championship (four valid results for each of the two groups of eight races) still gives a good advantage to Jody Scheckter, who in the first period had gained a 6-point margin over Lafflte and 10 over his teammate. But Gilles above all re-nominated for the title of fastest and bravest driver in Formula 1. His overtaking attempts, his breathtaking braking, his determination and driving sensitivity certainly place him among the men of the greatest class. Reserved, devoid of divisive attitudes, affectionate father of a family, Gilles Villeneuve transforms himself into a fighter who currently has no equal, even if placed in conditions of inferiority in front of a more competitive car - such as Arnoux's Renault. Someone will argue that his recklessness can be dangerous. That's true, but who would go to a race with twenty-four robot racers as protagonists? The Canadian's feat is therefore one to remember. Also because these 6 points, won with courage, may have a bearing in the fight for the world title. 


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