Friday morning is grey and cool, with a fresh breeze blowing down the main straight, but at least it is dry and looks like staying that way. A scan along the pits before the morning test-session begins shows some interesting things and some changes. The McLaren team has their brand-new M.30 car for Prost to drive (see notes on the cars), Alfa Romeo has put Vittorio Brambilla into car number 22, the number previously used by poor Patrick Depailler. Jochen Mass is still suffering from the bruises sustained in his practice accident in Austria a fortnight earlier, but is planning to race for the Arrows team nonetheless. ATS has a brand new D4 model to replace D4/02 which had been destroyed in a testing accident at Silverstone. Lotus are still running a three-car team. Renault are smiling when they hear people talk about equality now we’re at sea-level. Ligier are anxiously fingering their Goodyear tyres, hoping they are the right ones (they will be on Michelin next year, in all probability), the Williams team has their Union Jack and Saudi Arabian flags flying strongly in the breeze in front of their pits and Ensign has both their cars ready to go, with Geoff Lees recruited into the team alongside the local lad Jan Lammers. Before things get under scan officially Jean-Pierre Jabouille is doing some filming with a camera mounted behind the cockpit. There are 28 drivers ready to race for 24 places on the grid, the question not being one of who is going to get in but more of who is going to be left out. The cars haven't been running long before there is a flurry down at the Tarzan hairpin as a McLaren plough across the run-off area into the barriers. It is John Watson, whose brakes have apparently failed as he has gone into the corner, and he is lucky to escape with only a shaking. It is McLaren’s morning as the new car has been held up while a 200 p.s.i oil pressure in the Nicholson Cosworth V8 has been investigated; the oil pressure release valve has stuck and it means lifting the car up onto trestles while mechanics work away underneath. During the hiatus while Watson’s wrecked car was collected, Piquet’s Brabham was towed in as the engine had broken.
Everything has got under way again and continued uninterrupted for the allotted time, nothing startling happening, but everyone has been getting settled in for the afternoon timed session. Spare cars have tried out, tyres checked, springs changed, aerodynamic devices adjusted and altered, anti-roll bars changed, and so on. Jochen Mass has decided to opt out of the event as he is still suffering from the after-effects of his Austrian accident and is finding the pounding incurred by today’s hard springing has been affecting his vision and almost causing black-out. Standing in the Tyrrell pits is young Mike Thackwell, watching the overall scene preparatory to having a drive in a third Tyrrell in the North American races. The Arrows team manager has wasted no time in co-opting the young lad and fitting him into one of their cars. Due to various delays in the morning the afternoon timed hour starts twenty-live minutes late, but it allows the Arrows mechanics to re-adjust everything for both their drivers. Patrese’s engine has blown up in the morning and he is being fitted into the spare car, while Thackwell is being fitted into the car vacated by the burly Mass. It isn’t long before Daly is into the Tyrrell pit for new side-skirts, having damaged them over kerbs, which is a tiresome repeat of what he’s done in the morning, so that his maintenance bill is mounting up. Brakes are taking a hammering at the end of the straight for with improved cornering power and improved adhesion with the latest tyres the drivers can go deeper and deeper into the braking area. Any number of cars are arriving back at the pits with smouldering brake pads and very hot discs. There are no real surprises at the important end of the field, the Renaults, the Williams and the lone charger of the Brabham team, setting the pace, with Giacomelli doing some spirited driving in the Alfa Romeo. The Ligier team are not right up the front, there being dark mutterings about not being able to obtain the Goodyear tyres they really want. Their driver’s description of how the cars handles sounds a bit like the Ferrari drivers when describing their Michelin tyres.
The Williams team and Piquet have no complaints about their Goodyear tyres, and the Renault drivers are very happy with their Michelin tyres. All tyres look the same, but some seem better suited to some cars than do others. The two Renault drivers are never seriously challenged, there being little wrong with the cars, the engines, the tyres, or anything else and are all smiles at being able to set the pace even at sea-level, where their turbo-chargers are not supposed to have an unfair advantage over the atmosphere 3-litre engines. It is Arnoux ahead of Jabouille all the way, with Reutemann, Jones and Piquet bunched up together behind the turbo-twins. Jones tries the T-car as well as his own, and actually records his best time in it; then he switches back to his own car. Piquet has no option but to use the spare Brabham, as his own is having its engine changed. There is gloom in the Fittipaldi pit for Rosberg has crashed in F8/1, not due to his exuberant driving this time, but due to a front suspension failure, and the car is too badly damaged to repair on the spot. They are not the only team to suffer a breakage, for a rear lower wishbone mounting on the Lotus 81/B has broken and sent Mansell off into the sand, and then a rear hub bearing shaft has broken up on 81/3 which de Angelis was driving. Jones comes slowly into the Williams pit with his throttle linkage adrift, has it fixed and roars off again, still chasing that elusive two-hundredths of a second which would move him ahead of his team-mate and up into third position. He takes the right-hand bend behind the pits in his usual manner, on full-throttle, takes his foot off the accelerator and onto the brakes in the split second available as the car goes from the left of the road to the right, to line up for the left-hand hairpin, but the throttles do not close immediately and the Williams performs a classic example of the well-known phrase it flanged the guard-rail. There is nothing that the Australian can do as the car bounces along the steel rail and with the right front suspension demolished as well as the rear end, he steps out unscathed, but as he says later: I actually saw stars for a moment.
This isn another car beyond immediate repair, and a phone call to Didcot gets the test-car crew on its way in a van with the basic ingredients of FW07B/5 on board. It has been a hectic day with a McLaren, a Fittipaldi and a Williams hors-de-combat, a number of blown-up Cosworth engines being created-up in preparation for return to sender and a number of cars being repaired and strengthened. The pace at the front of Formula One is indeed fast and furious these days and there are some pretty sweaty drivers about when it is all over. A cautious John Watson has circulated in the spare McLaren, a slightly awed Mike Thackwell has gone quite well on his first try at Formula One, finding the G-forces on his neck far greater than anything he had over experienced and the heaviness of the Arrows steering almost more than his 19-year-old physique can cope with, and Mansell and Fittipaldi have looked as if they are not going to take part in Sunday’s race, unless they find some more speed. There is rain on Saturday morning, but it does not last and the test-session takes place in windy and sunny conditions, or at least it starts like that. Piquet is still using the spare Brabham, Laffite is in the spare Ligier and Rosberg is in the old original F7 Fittipaldi. In the paddock the Williams team are building up a new car around the basis of FW07B/5, while the salvageable bits off FW07B/9 are being loaded into the Sherpa van along with the damaged monocoque to be taken back to Didcot straight away, the test-team having driven out overnight with the monocoque and components for FW07B/5. Meanwhile Jones is out in FW07B/7. Reutemann stops out on the circuit in FW07B/8 when its engine blows up, and there being no spare car he has little option but to stand around doing nothing. Another Cosworth engine blows up, this time in the new McLaren M30, so Prost uses M20C/5 and Watson is still in his spare M29C. A squall of rain interrupts the morning activity, but not for long, and when it is over those with nothing to do have lunch, but the Williams and McLaren mechanics set-to to change engines in their stricken cars. As the wind is getting stronger a number of teams change gear-ratios and fit smaller rear aerofoils, to try and get more speed on the straight, without losing anything on the corners.
The final hour of timed practice is from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the new McLaren M30 is back in action again, but Reutemann’s Williams is still being finished off. Piquet is back in his own car, Brabham BT49/7, but the spare is on hand for him and has been fitted with a B-specification rear end, which uses a Weismann transverse shaft gearbox, and the suspension to go with it, with the spring units directly behind the gearbox, operated by long rocker arms. All this gives a much clearer path for the air exiting under the car, the Weismann gearbox being tall, but very slim. Rebaque, in BT49/6, has been using this type of rear end all the time, and indeed this car has had the Weismann layout for three races now. The general consensus of opinion is that the track is slower than yesterday, with the stronger wind blowing fine sand onto the surface, but if this is so nobody tells Arnoux, for he goes even faster than before. The rebuilt chicane has added about 2 seconds to the lap times, and Arnoux’s best is 1'17"44, compared to his best practice time last year of 1'15"461. None of the other front runners can match their Friday times, though it is not for want of trying. Jones is running with the bare minimum of petrol in the tank and misses his pit signal to come in, setting off on one more lap, but he doesn’t complete it for he runs out of petrol on the far side of the circuit. Cursing his luck and wondering what to do he is amazed to find practice has been stopped, and a course car towes him round to the pits! It hasn’t been stopped for him; Geoff Lees has spun his Ensign and marshals are struggling to get him out of the sand, while some of the other drivers are still roaring past at unabated speed in spite of yellow flags. To retrieve the situation the organisers stop practice and as they do so the Ensign is push-started and roars off! However, the short break is the luck that Alan Jones wanted. Everyone gets going again and with barely half-an-hour left the Lotus team fit Mansell into Andretti’s spare car, 81/2, as he seems to have reached the limit of the possibilities of the experimental car 81/B and is not fast enough to be in the top twenty-four. Straight away he moves up to sixteenth place, so that Lotus really has to believe that there is a difference in the road-holding of their cars.
It seems that there are various versions of side-pods, with different shapes underneath, and they have finally hit on something that gives them an advantage. Andretti and de Angelis are tenth and eleventh, respectively, which is quite good for Lotus these days. A surprise to a lot of people is to see John Watson ahead of the two Lotus cars, in ninth place. He is suffering no after-effects from his Friday accident and claims that he has now grasped the technique for driving a ground-effect car. Better late than never. Due to the short stoppage practice goes on until seven minutes past 2 p.m., but the important part of the scene does not change. The two Renaults are at the front, followed by the two Williams, with Reutemann one hundredth of a second faster than Jones. Even missing the first twenty minutes of this final hour does not deter the Argentinian, he is still a fraction faster than Jones, even though neither of them match their Friday times. Piquet is in fifth place, and unable to improve on this he gives the spare car a few laps just before the end, but stops out on the circuit out of fuel, says the Brabham people, as they push the car through the paddock with the rear end on a trolley-jack. While Ligier are grumbling about their tyres not providing the predictable adhesion they have become used to, Ferrari are actually quite pleased with their Michelins for a change, and Villeneuve responds with seventh place on the grid, while Scheckter is twelfth. Rosberg has found the old Fittipaldi hopeless and gives up trying, Thackwell goes quite well at his first try, but not well enough, Lammers just can not get any results from the Ensign on his home track. and Keegan improves over his previous time, but not by enough, so these four are the ones who were to be spectators on the morrow. The Renault team are grinning contentedly, happy with their Michelin tyres, satisfied at the performance of their turbo-charged V6 engines at sea-level, and having no complaints about their road-holding or anything else. They have been listening for the cries from their competitors of ban the turbo-charger, but there aren’t any. The Ferrari turbo-charged engine is imminent, Alfa Romeo are quietly working away, the Brabham team are using turbo-charged BMW engines next year and the best rumour of the weekend is that Cosworth Engineering are going to put the V6 Renault engine into production for general sale.
To say that the rain comes down on Sunday morning would have put it mildly, you would have thought the sea had overflowed! The weather forecasters have promised that all would be sunshine and bright by mid-day, but no-one really believes them. In Holland you are not allowed to cause a public disturbance before mid-day on Sunday, and the noise of racing engines is considered to be a disturbance, so the pre-race warm-up half-hour can not take place until 1:00 p.m., the race being due to start at 3:00 p.m. Everyone hopes for no trouble, for they have enough problems trying to gauge what the weather is going to do and what tyres and gear ratios to use, for the strong wind has turned through 180-degrees and is now a head-wind on the main straight instead of the tail-wind it had been for the past two days. When the warm-up begins the rain has stopped and the wind is drying the track as you watch, so that though some drivers set off on wet-weather tyres they are soon in the pits to change over to slicks. Jones is still in the Williams T-car though the newly-built one is standing by ready to go, Piquet’s spare car has been converted back to a Hewland gearbox and appropriate rear suspension, Mansell is back in Lotus 81/B as the T-car has to be kept available for Andretti, in case of any last minute problems with 81/1 and everyone else seems to be in pretty good order. As predicted the sun appears, everything dries up and the wind settles down to a still breeze and there are sighs of relief all round as preparations have been made for a dry race, and some teams were having final thoughts on gear ratios. Well on time the cars leave the pit lane one at a time and are driven round to the assembly-grid in front of the main grandstand, Piquet, Reutemann, Pironi and de Angelis all pulling off into the pit-lane either for a quick word with their staff, a minor adjustment, or merely to sneak in another warm-up lap. The front of the grid looks pretty orthodox, but it is a change to see Villeneuve and Watson so well placed, and Giacomelli’s position is something we are becoming accustomed to.
Brambilla has qualified the second Alfa Romeo quite comfortably, on his first appearance for nearly a year, which should have made the non-qualifiers think a bit. As 3:00 p.m. approaches, engines are started and the green flag waves to set the field off on its parade lap behind the two Renaults, ready for the start of the 72-lap race. All twenty-four cars line up correctly on the starting grid, in two staggered rows, with Arnoux at the front and when the green light shines they all make superb starts, though some are better than others. Zandvoort always provides an exciting drag-race down to the right-hand sweeping hairpin of the Tarzan corner, the track being very wide all the way round, with quite a steep banking so that all manner of liberties can be taken in the opening rush, and they were. Arnoux is well away but Jabouille’s engine hangs-fire as he changes into second gear and Jones is past him on the outside and side-by-side with Arnoux as they turn into the corner. Jones clings to the top of the slight banking, right round the outside of the Renault and dives down into the lead as they leave the corner. Laffite and Reutemann both pass the hesitant Jabouille and everyone streams round the hairpin behind the pits and up over the hill across the sand dunes. By the end of the opening lap Alan Jones has a surprising lead, surprising to him as well, for he expected the Renaults to power down the long straight. As he starts lap 2 and rounding the tight hairpin behind the pits he looks in his left-hand mirror to see where the Renaults are. That is his big mistake. While thinking about what is happening behind him he lets the Williams slide too far to the right as he leaves the hairpin and he skates over the bevelled kerb and smashes the right-hand sliding-skirt as he comes back onto the track. As he takes the next left-hand bend he can feel the car is unbalanced and realises he has done some damage. He still leads through the back sweeps and onto the straight, but then heads for the pit-lane, furious with himself as he watches Arnoux, Laffite, Reutemann, Jabouille, Piquet, Villeneuve, Giacomelli, Andretti and the rest go by.
As they plunge off on the third lap Jones stops at his pit, pointing to the right side of the car, and his mechanics go into action removing the side panels, detaching the damaged skirt and its spring mechanism and fitting a new one. On lap 3 Laffite overtakes Arnoux, while Jabouille overtakes Reutemann as did Piquet and Giacomelli, so we have French drivers and French cars in the first three places. Arnoux challenges briefly for the lead on lap 4, but fails and then settles into second place and as the leaders go by at the end of lap 5 the Williams mechanics finish their work and Jones fairly rushes back into the race. Not with the intention of some professional drivers in the past, who cruised round after such a long stop, but with the determination to drive like hell and have a go. He is a full three-and-a-half laps behind when he rejoins the fray and lesser men would have given up and gone off for a beer. While all this has been happening there have been disasters all round. Rebaque has retired at the pits at the end of the first lap with gearbox trouble, de Angelis has been forced to dodge Patrese and in doing so he has collided with Pironi and Jabouille’s Renault is feeling very unbalanced and he has pulled into the pits at the end of lap 6. All four tyres are changed and he sets off again to see if the Michelins are the trouble. This lets the remarkable Villeneuve into third place, the Canadian driving with all his natural vigour even though he knows the Ferrari will use up its Michelins before very long, while immediately behind him Nelson Piquet is settling in nicely, his Brabham BT49 feeling absolutely right. On lap 7 he takes third place from Villeneuve and pulls away to join Laffite and Arnoux and by ten laps these three are out on their own and Giacomelli now passes Villeneuve and Reutemann lines himself up to do the same. With the race barely settled down we have lost Rebaque, de Angelis and Pironi, while Fittipaldi is in the pits with brake trouble and Jabouille and Jones are far behind.
Laffite still leads from Arnoux and Piquet but then there is a gap before Giacomelli appears in fourth place, leading Villeneuve, Reutemann, Andretti, Watson and Jarier, then another gap to the odds and ends at the back of the field, led by Patrese with Scheckter, Daly, Prost, Cheever, Surer, Mansell, Lees and Brambilla following. As Scheckter comes in to change tyres Piquet moves up into second place and at the end of lap 12 the young Brazilian driver sits it out side-by-side with Laffite down past the pits into the Tarzan braking area. He is on the bumpy inside line and the Brabham is pitching horribly but Piquet is determined and as they stand on the brakes he is in the lead and away, after a brave and decisive manoeuvre. Arnoux is not completely happy for his Renault has more brake balance to the rear wheels than he would have liked, which means he can not take liberties under braking. Although there is a cockpit control for altering the front-to-rear brake balance he has been warned severely not to use it, because the last time he had altered it during a race he had got muddled and turned it the wrong way. Consequently, when he is pressured by Giacomelli he has to give way, which drops him back to fourth place, ahead of Reutemann and Andretti. Trouble is still rife back down the field, Mansell has spun off when his brakes have failed on the Lotus 81/B, Watson’s brief moment of glory faded when his Cosworth V8 starts to vibrate dramatically, forewarning of an imminent blow-up, so he retires immediately, Jabouille has tried yet another set of tyres with no improvement to the handling so now the differential is suspected as being the cause of the trouble, and Fittipaldi comes creeping back into the pits still in trouble with brakes. Right under his rear aerofoil is the Ferrari of Villeneuve, eager to get to his pit for another set of Michelin tyres. Meanwhile Alan Jones is pounding on really hard and is amongst the tail enders who could have been excused for thinking he was leading at a furious pace, if they had not seen him go into the pits.
He is still three laps behind the leaders, but it does not diminish his pace. Once past Laffite’s Ligier the Brabham team-leader pulls away relentlessly, driving beautifully and looking supremely confident, while Gordon Murray the designer and his pit-crew watch with satisfaction and keep their young star fully informed of his progress. For once Andretti is feeling happy and confident in his Lotus 81/1 and he has shown this by passing Reutemann on lap 20 and then closing up on Arnoux to challenge for fourth place. Laffite is beginning to drop back a little and this encourages Giacomelli to greater efforts and he begins to close up on the Ligier and can see second place as a distinct possibility. As Surer goes by on lap 29 making an awful noise from a split exhaust manifold on the ATS, Patrese retires his Arrows with a blown-up engine. Alan Jones is now closing up on the mid-field runners, but still three laps behind, and Reutemann makes an attempt to outbreak Andretti for the Tarzan corner and fails miserably. By half-distance, 36 laps, Piquet has it all sewn up barring trouble, for he is something like twelve seconds ahead of Laffite and running the race at his own pace. Giacomelli is within striking distance of second place and Arnoux is still holding fourth place ahead of Andretti, and Reutemann, while Jarier is keeping up with them. Then comes Daly, Frost, Cheever and Surer, the two Ferraris being a lap behind due to their pit stops and Jones still three laps down. On the next lap Giacomelli is right up with Laffite and on the back of the circuit he tries to outbreak the Frenchman going into the second chicane, gets all crossed up and bounces over the kerbs damaging the side-skirts. Meanwhile Reutemann has made another abortive attempt to outbreak Andretti going into the Tarzan corner, the Lotus driver being in fine form and refusing to give way. Giacomelli’s mistake drops him back to seventh place and the damage caused is to slow him up and eventually cause his retirement. While first and second places look secure, third place is still wide open between Arnoux, Andretti and Reutemann and to add spice to the situation Alan Jones now catches up with this trio.
For a while he sits behind Reutemann and then goes by on lap 44 and Andretti thinks he's got double-vision when he sees a green and white Williams car in each mirror. While Reutemann seems content to follow the Lotus, Jones has other ideas and makes to overtake, but Andretti is having none of it. He has no idea that Jones is three laps behind, he could have been on the same lap, and any Williams car is opposition to his fourth place. For three laps we have a good old battle, with no quarter given and none asked for, which must have upset some of the ex-drivers who now act as television commentators. At the end of lap 48 Jones gets it just right and gets by Andretti, wagging a finger at him as he does so, but it has been good clean racing, with both drivers having implicit faith, as you must do when you run that close to each other. Having been shown how to do it by his team-leader, Reutemann passes Andretti as they start lap 51, thus taking fourth place, but with little hope of doing anything about Arnoux in third place. Scheckter has stopped for another set of tyres and a few laps later Villeneuve also stops for another set, it seeming odd that the Ferraris need three sets of Michelins to do the race distance while Renault can run through non-stop on what appear to be the same tyres. We are now approaching lap 60, with only twelve to go and Piquet is so confident out in front that he is able to ease off and take his time. At the end of lap 58 Giacomelli gives up the unequal struggle with his damaged Alfa Romeo and retires at the pits, while Daly goes out of the race in his Tyrrell in a more spectacular fashion than he had done at Monaco earlier in the season. As he breaks for the Tarzan corner to start lap 61 the left front brake disc shatters and tears one of the calipers from its mounting; the errant caliper flows out radially and punches a hole in the alloy wheel rim and goes into the tyre. With no front brakes and a flat tyre the Tyrrell ploughs off across the sand, the wheel and hub assembly break off, the left front corner digs into the sand and the car spins upwards to an incredible height and crashes down on top of the tyre barrier, fortunately the right way up.
A rather shaken Irishman is helped out, with a slight cut on his leg and lots of bruises, justifiably wondering what has happened. With ten laps left it now becomes noticeable that Arnoux is closing the gap between his Renault and Laffite’s Ligier, for now that most of the petrol load has been used up the Renault feels more stable under heavy braking so the wiry little Frenchman is piling on the steam. Jones, Reutemann and Andretti try to stay with the Renault, but they can't and the turbo-charged car draws away in pursuit of the Ligier. It all begins to happen rather quickly and the Ligier pot does not alert their driver so that by lap 69 the Renault is in Laffite’s mirrors. At the end of the next lap it powers past into second place, Arnoux wisely waiting until the end of the long straight before he goes by, thus preventing Laffite from diving into his slip-stream. Arnoux is now braking to the maximum and it is all over. Piquet comes home a worthy winner, having taken the lead from the opposition rather than inheriting it and once ahead no one has looked like troubling him. A chirpy Arnoux finishes second, half-a-second ahead of Laffite and with a twinkle in his eye tells his rival that he has turned up the turbo-boost in the closing laps but everyone knows the Renault runs on a fixed boost pressure. Reutemann is fourth and we wait for Andretti to finish a good fifth, but he never appears. With half a lap to go the Lotus has ran out of petrol. Cutting it fine is one thing, but this is ridiculous and it means that Jarier, Prost and Villeneuve all go by the stricken Lotus, dropping it to eighth place. On the slowing down lap Jarier stops and gives Andretti a lift back to the finish, but he is not too amused at Team Lotus. Alan Jones drives hard right to the end, having made up half a lap on the leaders and is not particularly overjoyed at seeing Piquet on the winner’s rostrum as he is too close for comfort in the World Champion table. While Nelson Piquet acknowledges the applause Gordon Murray stands in the crowd below smiling contentedly, but there is no sign of the Brabham team owner Mr. Ecclestone, he seems to have disappeared.