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#325 1979 Netherlands Grand Prix

2021-12-05 00:00

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#1979, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Livia Alegi,

#325 1979 Netherlands Grand Prix

Jacques Laffite was revived by a spectacular overtake on the last lap at Zeltweg, with which he nibbled away a precious point from Jody Scheckter in t

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Jacques Laffite was revived by a spectacular overtake on the last lap at Zeltweg, with which he nibbled away a precious point from Jody Scheckter in the race for the world title. And yet, the cheerful thirty-six-year-old Parisian, ready for a joke and a banter, does not sleep on his laurels. The Frenchman is the Ferrari drivers’ number one opponent; he assiduously tunes his car with great professionalism and is also one of the men Goodyear relies on for its tests. For this reason, Laffite moves from Austria to Monza on Wednesday, August 15, 1979, without a single day's rest, in order to carry out a series of tyre tests of the Anglo-American company, in preparation for the Italian Grand Prix. At the end of a tiring day of practice, during which he covers about 500 kilometers, journalists ask him several questions about the Formula 1 championship. What do you think of the current World Championship regulations? 

 

"I don't agree with the new system to calculate scores for the title. There is a risk of having to discard third, fourth and fifth places, which are already very good positions for a driver. I undoubtedly prefer the old system or, alternatively, I think it is fairer to take into account the best eight or ten seasonal results, but without dividing them into two groups".

 

What are the reasons that brought Renault and Williams to their current degree of competitiveness, in your opinion? 

 

"As for Renault, it is simple: it is a good car and it can rely on a turbocharged engine that is particularly powerful. Williams’ secret, on the other hand, is that it has a latest generation wing-car. We had made a better car than Lotus, Williams was made after ours, copying several tried-and-true solutions and therefore had less trouble tuning. At Ligier, however, we are working, and I think we will soon be able to beat Williams again".

 

How do you explain Ferrari and Ligier’s drop in performance? 

 

"At the beginning of the season we were the fastest, but we had problems, and that is why Ferrari won some races. The Maranello cars are not true wing-cars, and therefore they could hardly have achieved more than they did, which already is a lot".

 

After the two South American victories, did you think you would still have to fight against Ferrari for the title? 

 

"The current situation at the top of the standings occurred because my team encountered difficulties. Now, to win the World Championship, I absolutely have to win at least one race. I can't hope to beat Scheckter just by finishing in good positions".

 

Where do you think the world championship will be decided? 

 

"It's hard to say, because the upcoming races will be held on very different tracks. We will have an advantage at Zandvoort, Monza and Watkins Glen, which are all fast tracks where a ground-effect car should be superior. So I think that after Monza we already could have a clearer situation".

 

Will you be able to benefit from the possible ‘family fight’ between Scheckter and Villeneuve? 

 

"No, this is not an advantage, because there are two of them and I have no help. Besides, internal struggle usually spurs one to do better and better".

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Who will win the World Championship? 

 

"I predicted Scheckter in December. Now I say either Scheckter or Laffite".

 

Eurovision did not broadcast the Austrian Grand Prix as a protest against Ecclestone. What is your opinion on this decision? 

 

"It is a very serious problem, which threatens to damage Formula 1. If I were one of the big sponsors, I would send a letter to Ecclestone warning him that such stances undermine the advertising investments made in Formula 1. This move risks setting our racing back years and limiting popularity".

 

Laffite does not state his opinion on the Goodyear tests and only says that the tires used are race tires and quite different from each other. On the other hand, the Frenchman, who sets the fastest lap with a 1'38"2, praises the Monza organizers, as they have made the track perfect from every point of view. On the other hand, Alan Jones’ work is limited; after an hour the driver is forced to retire due to a broken rear suspension. In the few laps he ran, the Australian set a time of 1'38"8. Testing will continue on Thursday and Friday; the new Alfa, driven by Bruno Giacomelli and Vittorio Brambilla, will also take to the track with Ligier and Williams. Thursday, August 16, 1979 is the day of the first official outing and first bad impression for the new Alfa Romeo. More than 6,000 people flocked to the stands and sides of the Monza circuit, probably foregoing a picnic or a swim in the pool, to witness the debut of Autodelta's new single-seater. But engineer Carlo Chiti's latest creation soon disappointed them, and the initial American-style whistles of approval transformed into whistles that meant no good and, instead, demonstrated complete disappointment. The Alfa 179 (this is the new car’s acronym, meaning Formula 1 car built in 1979), a car with rounded shapes, characterized by an advanced driver's seat which makes it look like a speedboat, had already caused some perplexity at first sight. Poorly finished, patched and roughly painted, the Milanese single-seater showed that it was still far from an acceptable degree of competitiveness. With Bruno Giacomelli at the wheel, the new Alfa ran 18 laps in the morning, the best of which was in 1'42"8, while in the afternoon, after three laps, it left Brambilla stranded along the track.

 

"The clutch is gone".

 

This is the official version of the Alfa men. Childish, pathetic lies to support Chiti’s claims, who has always maintained that his engines never fail. Instead, it was precisely the new 60-degree V-shaped 12-cylinder’s failure that caused the forced withdrawal. Fans who were watching practice at the second Lesmo corner claimed that, during the last pass, the Alfa lost a sleeve valve that the Autodelta men hurried to recover. The 179 was therefore loaded onto a truck amid whistles and returned to its Settimo Milanese headquarters. It should reappear at Monza on Friday, and Vittorio Brambilla will drive it. The mood in the Italian team is bad, to say the least. Engineer Carlo Chiti, meanwhile, simply says:

 

"Giacomelli has taken the first steps, while we will take the second steps with Brambilla. The car is still in the experimental stage, so it is natural that some issues will arise".

 

Bruno Giacomelli is not talkative either: 

 

"The car is very different from the previous model. One cannot yet make a judgment about its performance, although driving it one has a very good impression. I was impressed with the Williams because of its braking and exceptional road holding. I tried to keep up with Jones but after three corners he was so far ahead that I couldn't see him anymore".

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Vittorio Brambilla was also in the pits, watching his team's debut. Regarding rumors that he must undergo another medical examination to be judged fit to return to Formula 1, the driver from Monza states:

 

"I underwent a thorough medical checkup when I renewed my license. I was found fit to drive any type of car. I am in good standing and on the other hand I have not received any official communication for another visit".

 

With Alfa out of commission, Goodyear's work is carried out by Alan Jones, since Laffite, driving the Ligier, ends the tests shortly after noon to return home. Jones uses time-setting tires and manages to stop the chronometers at 1'36"8, just 0.7 seconds less than the performance that last year allowed Mario Andretti to take pole position in the Italian Grand Prix. Towards the evening, Clay Regazzoni relieves Jones. The Swiss, however, isn’t very lucky. After a few laps, the best of which was a 1'39"7, the Ticino native is forced to abandon practice because of rain. 

 

"Now the track is more open and there is greater safety; the paddock and pits are also up to the standards of more rational circuits. The only drawback is the curb at the exit of the second Lesmo corner which is too high, as Jones had already said".

 

On Friday, August 17, 1979, Vittorio Brambilla returns to Monza, the track that shaped him in motorsports and gave him the most dramatic moment of his life with that terrible Italian Grand Prix last year. Since then, when Brambilla suffered a severe head injury in the accident that cost Ronnie Peterson his life, he has struggled, recovered, and donned his suit and helmet again. The driver from Monza would have raced in a Grand Prix again some time ago if Alfa Romeo’s anomalous affairs in Formula 1 had not accumulated delays and postponements. But now it looks like the time is right. Brambilla tested the new single-seater 179 prepared by Autodelta for the upcoming Italian Grand Prix yesterday. Brambilla continued in Monza the tests which had been started by Giacomelli on Thursday. These tests are useful for fine tuning the car on a track which differs from Balocco, and to compare its performance with that of the other single-seaters (Williams, Ligier) that came down to Monza to test the various types of tires brought by Goodyear. Along the circuit, thousands of fans greeted Brambilla's return with warm affection and sympathy. Forty-three years old, a wife, and three children. Vittorio is calm, serene.

 

"This is not a special day for me, it's just a normal test on a track, with a car. A day like many others, a test like the ones I currently do in Balocco".

 

And how is this new Alfa Formula 1 car performing? 

 

"Not bad so far. Of course, there is still a lot to do, as is normal for a new car".

 

What aspect requires the most effort? 

 

"The aerodynamics, without a doubt".

 

During testing, which is also attended by Alfa Romeo president Ernesto Massaccesi, technicians work with particular attention on the wings (two different types) and miniskirts to increase the 179's grip. After the mediocre time (1'42"8) obtained by Giacomelli on Thursday, there is some improvement on Friday. Brambilla completes 57 laps under a blazing sun (asphalt temperature is 45-47 °C), dropping to 1'41"3. 

 

"It was a productive day. We were able to check the major issues and we will work on this path from today until the September 9 Grand Prix".

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Of course, the new Alfa is far from the top: Jones, in the Williams, lowered the circuit record with a time of 1'36"8 on Thursday. But engineer Carlo Chiti says that, sooner or later, the 179 will win. This was said at Renault and then it happened, after two years of work. It was said at Ligier and then it happened. How long will it take an Alfa Romeo driver to do the same? Sand dunes and, in front, the gray and perpetually sullen North Sea. The circuit where the Dutch Grand Prix, the fourth-to-last round of the Formula 1 World Championship, will be held on Sunday, August 26, 1979, looks like a strip of asphalt resting on piles of dust. One almost forgets that the fight for the World Championship, and not only that, could be decided on this circuit. Though this circuit is defined as mixed-fast, in reality it is full of tight and challenging corners, and the organizers have just built another chicane that limits speed on the fastest part of the track. It is a fast mixed track with a very tight corner placed right after the start (the Tarzan), almost a hairpin, where the most important episodes of the race usually occur. Otherwise, it is a fourth and fifth gear track with a chicane and some nice straights. Almost all the teams bring several modifications to their cars. The future of Formula 1 is also in question at Zandvoort for two main reasons which emerged on the eve of the first official practice, scheduled for Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. The first concerns Ferrari, which is bringing a substantially modified T4 to Zandvoort. The second, instead, concerns a meeting of the manufacturers' association (FOCA); this revealed Bernie Ecclestone’s attempt to put turbocharger engines out of business and possibly to create difficulties for cars using twelve-cylinder powerplants as well - meaning Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. It was known that the Maranello team was planning to bring a partially new car to the Netherlands, but this T4 in Zandvoort is a surprise in the number and extent of changes from the model-version (which is still present, with two units). The most important innovation is the rearrangement of the exhaust manifolds, which are now all gathered around the engine. This shift has allowed for the cleaning of the underside of the car, setting the stage for the creation of an authentic wing-car, a ground effect car. Indeed, with the side bulk removed, the wings of this advanced T4 are sharper and more prominent. As always, however, there is caution at Ferrari. There is no talk of a new secret weapon to beat Jacques Laffite and Ligier, but concrete predictions are made. Indeed, engineer Mauro Forghieri says the new car will be used only if it performs well in qualifying.

 

"Our T4 undergoes continuous evolution. But - I repeat - it is not a new machine. Therefore, one cannot expect miracles. We are convinced that we can have our say in the battle for the title but at the same time we cannot be certain that we will dominate. It will be an open race in which tires will once again be important. Goodyear has made significant strides by taking advantage of the cancellation of the Swedish Grand Prix, which allowed the Anglo-American company to work for a month without interruption, and now we will see if we can make up for lost time. As for the tactics of our drivers, there will be no special arrangements. They will be free, since they are both fighting for the title. However, if I were Scheckter I would adopt a rather prudent tactic while in Villeneuve's situation it will be necessary to attack hard from the start".

 

In any case, the engineer claims to have a fair amount of confidence in the old cars, which, based on previous tests, were especially designed for the Dutch circuit. If the modified T4 is successful, it will be driven by Jody Scheckter, Ferrari's first driver. Should this occur, the South African would have a slight edge over his teammate Villeneuve. This is not privileged treatment, however, but respect for the contract which designates him as the top driver. Jacques Laffite seems quite sure and is convinced that he once again has a competitive car at his disposal.

 

"Our mechanics have been able to work hard on my car, almost completely leaving aside Jacky Ickx’s. Now we are almost at the level we were at the beginning of the season and I will be able to make my voice heard. I am not worried about the fact that there are two Ferraris. If I go harder I can pass both of them without any problems. However, for this race, for the victory in the Dutch Grand Prix, I don't think there will be anything to do, Williams is still clearly the strongest".

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Among the news announced is Jean-Pierre Jarier’s return at the wheel of the Candy Tyrrell. Brabham, on the other hand, will continue to race with Alfa Romeo engines, although in recent days Piquet has already tested a car equipped with the Cosworth power unit at Sllverstone. The Alfa Romeo lettering has disappeared from the new model that is expected to make its debut in Canada and, in the meantime, Alfa Romeo has come to an agreement with Bruno Giacomelli for 1980. The contract will be signed in the following days. Testing will resume with the already modified 179 on Sunday, August 26 or Monday, August 27, 1979. A separate chapter must be reserved for the weather. On Thursday, August 23, 1979, the weather conditions are quite good, alternating between sunny and cloudy, but without too many problems. The situation could change completely should rain or a cold wind from the North Sea arrive. On Sunday, at race time, it will be very important to choose tire compounds in order to have a race on a constant level from start to finish. That is why, during the official practice and non-time trials, Ferrari will try to determine which are the best tires available and will make a choice only at the last moment, just before the start of the Dutch Grand Prix. During the FOCA meeting, held at a hotel in Zandvoort on Thursday, August 24, 1979, no decision was made for the time being, and a communiqué explaining what was discussed was postponed to the following week. It has transpired, however, that Bernie Ecclestone has seized the moment to try and gain advantages for the future. Brabham will use Cosworth eight-cylinder engines from the Montreal race, abandoning Alfa Romeo, while its manager has made a FIA thesis expressed at the late April meeting in Spain his own. According to the FIA, it will be necessary, as a moral duty too, to save 20% of Formula 1’s normal fuel consumption in 1980. For this reason, Ecclestone has apparently proposed to limit refueling to 180 liters per race, as opposed to 205-215 liters for Renault Turbo, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, which are the cars that burn the most fuel. If this proposal were to be accepted, the three racing teams would be in serious trouble. Ecclestone appears to have put forward another proposal on this occasion: further penalize turbo engines, raising them to a maximum of 1300 cc as opposed to the current 1500 cc. In this action of his, Ecclestone would seemingly have the support of all the British assemblers.

 

These are proposals that have, of course, already found opposition from Renault, while Ferrari seems to abstain for the moment, reserving the right to further look into the matter. But if gasoline is to be saved, would it not be simpler to reduce the duration of races by 10 percent, or even to partly thin out the calendar, which appears far too dense with events? Arrival at Zandvoort is greeted with thunder and lightning, rain and floods, and it is difficult to tell the difference between the North Sea and the sky, or the beaches or the circuit. Fortunately the awful weather eases on Friday morning when testing is due to start, though there is still a lot of water about. Since last year the driver’s Safety Committee, which seems to consist of Lauda, Scheckter, Laffite (when he’s not busy doing other things) and Andretti (when the others remember to tell him), has decided that the back part of the Zandvoort circuit was becoming too dangerous because of the higher cornering speeds being achieved now and they demanded (yes, demanded, not asked) that a chicane should be put in to slow things down a bit. Unfortunately the whole affair got muddled earlier in the season, for Lauda and Scheckter threatened a boycott if the work was not done and Andretti said no way, boycotts are out. At one of the meetings Laffite is busy practising his Bmw M1 for the Pro-Car races. The result is that a chicane is built of the wrong shape and in the wrong place, and nobody takes responsibility. Instead of a second-gear chicane the Dutch builds a slight wiggle into a top-gear right-hand bend, which merely causes drivers to lift off, drop down a gear, and take the wiggle flat-out. The difference to the lap time is unnoticeable and the safety factor is negligible. Sometimes it is better to leave things alone. With the damp conditions on Friday morning there is not too much enthusiasm for dashing around the circuit, some teams not even bothering to send their drivers out at all. Jean-Pierre Jarier is back in the Tyrrell team, Lotus arrives with three Type 79 cars after a lot of private testing with a revised Lotus 80, which doesn’t inspire much confidence; the Brabham team has an air of unreality about it with Lauda just waiting to leave, and a Cosworth-powered BT49 having been out on test, bidding farewell to the Alfa Romeo engines, and Shadow has built new front suspensions on their cars, with a wider track. Ferrari, Renault and Williams have their eyes on the more important things, like beating each other and winning the Dutch Grand Prix and the Ligier team are far from settled, though lckx is still replacing the injured Depailler. Hector Rebaque’s private team has a brand new car in the paddock, but not yet for running.

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This is in effect a new and improved Lotus 79, which they have built themselves with the assistance of the Penske racing shop in Poole, and formed an interim step before branching out on an entirely new car. This interim car uses a lot of Lotus 79 running gear components, but has an improved monocoque and different air-flow characteristics underneath designed by Geoff Ferris of the Penske Organisation. Apart from those drivers who find their way through the new chicane the morning is uneventful and inconclusive, but with the track drying rapidly everyone gets wound up ready for the afternoon qualifying session, though another downpour of rain during the lunch-break slows things up. It is still very wet and raining when the timed practice begins at 12:30 a.m. and Alan Jones is out in the spare Williams (FW07/1). The Team Lotus drivers’ modified Type 79 cars have the normal Hewland gearbox in place of the Lotus/Hewland they have used in Austria, and the rear suspension is virtually back to 1978 specification but the rear brakes are mounted outboard. In place of the covered in tail and rear aerofoil mounted on side-plates, the cars have uncovered rear ends and aerofoils mounted on a central pillar like a Williams! Andretti has 79/2 and Reutemann 79/4, while the spare car (79/5) is to normal pattern with inboard rear brakes and the rear aerofoil mounted on side-plates. The spare Brabham-Alfa (BT48/02) has totally new gearbox internals, so during the afternoon Piquet takes it out for some bedding-down, and in the meantime his own car (BT48/03) has its springs changed. It is not long before the rain stops and the sun comes out so that by the end of the hour and a half conditions are pretty good for those who are ready for them. As is becoming consistent the pace is being set by the Williams drivers, the Renault drivers and Villeneuve with the Ferrari, and this first afternoon is no exception. Jabouille has been trying both his cars, RS11 and RS10, having different rear axle ratios in them, and he decides that RS10 has the better ratio for the conditions. With little fuss he has taken the pole-position, while Jones and Villeneuve are vying for the other place on the front two, but then word goes round that Regazzoni is getting a bit serious, and sure enough the swarthy Swiss is up with them and by the end of the afternoon he is in front. His time of 1'16"316 just beating Jabouille’s 1'16"338, Jones and Villeneuve being half a second behind.
 
There was a time when half a second covered a handful of cars but these days some of the good runners are lucky to be two seconds behind the leaders. Already the front-runners are faster than the pole-position time of last year, and the safety-chicane is supposed to have slowed things down a bit. At this stage of the World Championship, the calendar offers the slowest circuits. Yet even below an average of 200 km/h, Williams continues to dominate in Formula 1. On Friday, August 24, 1979, in a complicated first round of qualifying for the Dutch Grand Prix, it is Clay Regazzoni's turn to set the fastest time, and obviously the track record too, though the track is slower than last year because of a chicane built at the last moment. The Swiss sets a 1'16"31, at an average of 199.350 km/h, a result that improves Mario Andreotti’s pole position from the previous year by 0.01 seconds. But if one considers the slowdown caused by the variant placed in the fastest part of the track (calculated at about 1.5 seconds), the wing-cars show that they have achieved the progress recorded on other circuits at Zandvoort too. Therefore nothing seems to have changed. Should the weather change on Saturday in the last hour and a half of timed practice, the gap margins could increase in favor of the fastest spots. However, the situation appears satisfactory for Ferrari, which squeezes its great rival in the fight for the world title, Laffite, in the grip of its two drivers. Scheckter might have done even better, that is, placed right among the very first, had he not been struggling to overtake a slow car and had not lost a few precious tenths of a second on his fastest lap. The adverse weather conditions do not allow the Italian team to test the new modified T4 as it would have liked; the car completed only a few laps in free practice in the morning on the wet track and was then shelved to continue work with the already tested cars. It is likely that the more advanced single-seater’s race debut will be postponed to Monza, assuming that new tests are not carried out on Saturday and that the times obtained should advise a change of heart. The struggle between Laffite and the two Italian drivers is becoming fiery, so much so that it is likely that other protagonists will be the ones aiming for success in the Dutch race. However, it took Clay Regazzoni, galvanized by the best time, to draw attention to Williams and himself with a series of polemical statements, especially against Scheckter.

 

"Jody is wrong if he thinks I am cut out of the fight. It is true that I have a possible ceiling of only 43 points, but it is not certain that he, Villeneuve and then Laffite will be able to overtake it. I cannot say that my morale is through the roof because at Williams I am not highly regarded, as everyone works mainly for Jones. I think, however, that I still have a chance to win the title. As for Scheckter, I have to say that he is acting strangely. As Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) chairman, he had the new chicane built completely wrong. The track, instead of becoming safer, is much more dangerous. The speed is slowed by about 20 km/h there, but you still pass by too fast between excessively high kerbs, which can act as a springboard".

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Almost all the drivers had critical words for the variant built by the Dutch. Incidentally, Elio De Angelis hit a kerb with his car and flew about a meter high, miraculously avoiding an accident with great ability. Scheckter, however, took no responsibility and responded to Regazzoni. 

 

"Maybe Clay thinks he can run his mouth because he was the fastest in practice. The GPDA asked several times for the construction of a chicane to make the circuit safer. Lauda and I indicated where it was best located. But we did not do the work and it is not our fault that the work was done incorrectly. I am also having difficulties with that part of the circuit".

 

The controversy does not stop at the contested chicane. Indeed, the struggle between FOCA and FISA continues unseen but clearly outlined. The latest developments seem to have scored points in favor of FISA and its president, Balestre. On Friday, it is officially confirmed that an agreement has been concluded between the three true automakers present in Formula 1. Renault, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari establish a joint action regarding technical developments, in favor of the adoption of turbocharged engines, of having no limitations in the tire supply and of the interpretation and formulation of sporting regulations (Ferrari, by the way, is studying seven types of supercharged engines). The three automakers also send a letter to FISA, confirming their confidence in the sports authorities to whom they grant decision-making powers. However, one might say that Formula 1 would be much more monotonous if there were no Clay Regazzoni. The old Ticino man always manages to bring out something new. On Friday, August 24, 1979, the Swiss driver not only sets the best time in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix, but also fires off several polemical statements: Clay attacks Williams, his team, then fires back at Scheckter, who is guilty - in his opinion - of requesting the insertion of wrong chicane at Zandvoort, and then, as if this weren’t enough, also attacks the Dutch organizers.

 

"I have nothing personal against Scheckter. But the South African can't go around talking about safety when he behaves in this way. He is the chairman of the GPDA and he asked for a chicane which is a danger to everyone to be put on this track. As far as Williams is concerned, I still don't know if I will stay at this team, which is a shame, because I was doing great here. However, I must acknowledge that I am not treated like Jones but am truly considered a reserve. And to say that I could even win the World Championship. They almost never let me test the car and have to suffer my teammate’s supremacy in all situations".

 

Regazzoni adds that the Dutch organizers put curbs that were too high at the chicane wanted by Scheckter and the GPDA, and then smiles, satisfied with his time.  Should it rain on Saturday, the pole position would remain his, a position which would be difficult to attack anyway. Jones acknowledges that the Swiss got this time (1'16"31) precisely because of his skill: 

 

"Clay went really fast. I can't say I had any problems with the car to defend myself. He was clearly faster this time".

 

Regazzoni's tough stance is certainly significant. After all, the Swiss driver is unsure he will be confirmed for next year. It seems, indeed, that his replacement is already ready. It would be Carlos Reutemann, who on Friday night is not attending a lunch offered by Essex (one of Lotus' sponsors) with his teammate Andretti and - according to Argentine journalists - has essentially already signed a deal with Williams. The Swiss driver's very bitter attitude is allegedly the reason for this driver swap. The controversy, however, does not touch Ferrari, which welcomes the times obtained in the tests with a certain satisfaction. Engineer Forghieri hopes to improve again today, though the starting position is already quite good. Laffite is between Villeneuve and Scheckter and will have a hard time gaining valuable points for the title fight. After a lot more rain in the night, Saturday begins bright and sunny and things cheers up enormously, though there is still gloom in the Lotus pit, not much joy in the Brabham pit, an air of confusion in the McLaren pit, and hopefulness among the lesser lights. Jones is still in the spare Williams, though Jabouille is back in RS11, Regazzoni is still driving hard and Pironi has a Williams-type centre-pillar rear aerofoil on his Tyrrell 009/6, which also has revised rear suspension with fashionable outboard brakes. Rosberg is concentrating on Wolf WR9, which also has the fashionable Williams-type rear aerofoil, but Ferrari and Renault are not copying anyone. As the day goes on the weather gets better and by the time of the timed session everything is about perfect. Jones is in FW07/4 for the afternoon, Regazzoni is in FW07/2 as always, and they have fourteen sets of qualifying tyres ready to be used up, with more to come if required. Practice has not been going long before Andretti is forced to take the spare Lotus as his own has the left-hand exhaust tail pipe come adrift, and Jabouille switches to the spare Renault as he is still undecided about gear ratios.

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Now it is Jones and Arnoux who are setting the pace, both getting away into a class of their own with laps at under 1'16"0, while a lot of drivers are still struggling to get under 1'19"0. It is Arnoux who gets the final word with a lap in 1'15"461, but Jones is not far behind, with 1'15"646, and then comes his team-mate Regazzoni with 1'16"228 and after that times are a bit academic. Scheckter gets stuck in and beat his young team-mate, as does Lauda by beating Piquet, while Lafitte tries Ickx’s car, leaving the Belgian to kick his heels behind the pits. Surprise of the afternoon is Rosberg with the Wolf WR9 for he gets himself well under control and finishes up just behind Laffite, the first of the non-super starts, but even so he is nearly two seconds slower than Arnoux, and if the same pace is kept up in the race it would mean him being lapped before the end. After a lot of misfiring trouble on both McLarens, even on the brand new one that John Watson is driving, the team get themselves sorted out to finish up in the middle of the grid. The Lotus scene is abysmal, with the reigning World Champion down among the tail-enders. Nothing they seem to do makes the car feel right, or if it does, it is slow. With still some time to go before the end of the timed session the air suddenly gets distinctly cooler and within minutes rain is pelting down again so the final practice just fizzles out, everyone except Renault and Williams feeling pretty depressed about the whole business. The regulation BMW-M1 race takes place after practice, though another shower of rain soon puts a stop to it. Another burst of sunshine and a dry track allows the BMW people to restart their race, but meanwhile the Formula One cars are being prepared for the 75 laps race to follow on Sunday afternoon. New engines are installed, gearboxes inspected, clutches replaced, brakes and suspensions checked over and so on. The amount of work that is done in the paddock after practice never ceases to amaze. There is an unusual situation in store, for in Holland you are not allowed to make an unseemly noise before 1:00 p.m. on a Sunday, and a racing engine is considered unseemly. Renault and Williams maintain their ability to determine the outcome of the World Championship.
 
In the Dutch Grand Prix, it will be time for René Arnoux’s turbocharged car to start on pole position. But the best chance for victory lies with Alan Jones, who will have a chance of winning for a third consecutive time. The Australian will be on the front row alongside the Frenchman. Based on recent races, it is easy to predict that there will be a Williams in the lead from the very first lap. While the cars from the small English team and the “Regie” will presumably fight for first place (Regazzoni and Jabouille are second-row runners-up), Ferrari will have a chance to place a decisive dent in Jacques Laffite and Ligier’s aspirations in the fight for the world title. Maranello's two cars are on the third line at the start, both ahead of the car of the combative Parisian driver. This is all speculation, as the race could also offer different situations. Rain is always fearsome in this area of the North Sea coast and would be enough to change everything. While a certain confidence reigns in the Italian team and the cars have shown a consistent performance, discouragement seems to have set in at Ligier. One should not believe Guy Ligier’s complaints too much, as he laments before every race, saying that he lacks the money to go on and that the World Championship is lost to him. Laffite is not one to give up easily, and the proof is in his overtake on Scheckter on the last lap in Austria. The fact that the small transalpine team is slightly in trouble remains. Ickx's car does not get much attention (the Belgian will start on the tenth row) and the mechanics feel the lack of rest. Saturday sees further evidence of a difficult situation for Ligier. After discovering a better set-up for the car, with increased downforce, Laffite found himself without the harder springs the new setting would require. Guy Ligier was able to purchase the two front springs from Shadow and the two rear springs from McLaren only by shelling out a few hundred dollars in cash. The problem was solved only at the last moment, when the team and driver were beginning to get nervous. In any case, at Ferrari there is little reliance on Laffite being in trouble. Mauro Forghieri says in this regard:

 

"The French are specialists in concealing reality. We must expect Ligier and Laffite to be ready to take advantage of the situation. The slightest inconvenience will be enough to undermine our entire supremacy. Only at the end of the race will we be able to say whether we will be satisfied".

 

Jody Scheckter, who significantly improved his performance (from 1'17"31 to 1'16"39, while Arnoux took pole position with 1'15"46, averaging 201.608 km/h), moved up to fifth place, ahead of Villeneuve. The Canadian, who was fourth on Friday, slipped to sixth, making him one of three drivers (the others being Laffite and Ickx) who failed to move up. In fact, Gilles did everything he could to advance. He performed many stunts and even put himself in a position to make mistakes. When he realized there was nothing to be done, Forghieri made him change the car's settings, but the new attempts did not yield the desired result either. Finally, an attempt was made to have him try the modified T4, but rain came down suddenly in the last twenty minutes of practice and this possibility had to be given up as well. The two drivers of the Maranello team appeared quite relaxed; this is especially true for Scheckter who, after the good performance, enjoyed serving the team's mechanics at the table for lunch, bringing plates and spaghetti. The Canadian seemed more tense, however. Neither made any overly confident statements while Laffite, perhaps made more confident by the fact that he had found the right springs, clearly said he was aiming for victory. With rain falling more or less every day, if bad weather were to arrive once again, there could be surprises. On the wet track it would be worth watching Keke Rosberg, who took Hunt's place in the Wolf. The Finn got the eighth time, placing ahead of a good Lauda, Pironi and Piquet. Further back, instead, are Patrese (P19) and De Angelis (P22), always affected by incredibly uncompetitive cars. With the race due to start at 3:00 p.m. it means that the half-hour warm-up period normally held on Sunday morning, is to be uncomfortably close to the start of the race, allowing no time for any serious work.

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Saturday night is another one of torrential rain and the campers and those having to work through the night must have become really fed-up by this time, but Sunday morning starts by looking promising, though everything is still damp as midday approaches. At 1:00 p.m. a maroon is fired up into the air to let everyone know they can now make a noise, and the thirty-minutes of test running begins. Piquet is in the spare Brabham (BT48/02), as his own has developed a small weep from its oil tank, but all the others are in their number one cars, though all the spare cars are standing by. The spare Ferrari has an old-type exhaust system with two tail pipes above the rear axle assembly, and two below, but it has a new body-top with the area over the side-pods ending in vast open-topped chimneys to help exit the air under the pods. Although it is prepared for Villeneuve on Saturday afternoon, it is never run. Pironi still has the central-pillar-mounted rear aerofoil on his Tyrrell, and both Brabhams are running with nose-fins. Alan Jones has a new engine in FW07/4 and though it is going all right, the team are not happy as the engine is breathing too many fumes from its atmospheric breather. Jabouille dickers about between his two Renaults, but finally chooses RS11, and Arnoux is all set to go. During the hour before the pit-road opens again to let the cars go round to the start, the Williams team decides that Jones should use the spare car, just in case there is trouble brewing inside the engine in FW07/4. Tyres, springs and shock-absorbers are all swapped over to FW07/1, everything else on the car being ready to race. Laffite suddenly decides he does not like the car he has been using all through practice and demands to use the spare car. As this has never been run at all it seems a strange thing to do at this late hour. At 2:30 p.m. the first cars leaves the pits and goes round the circuit to the start area, to line up on the dummy-grid. Reutemann, Jones and Regazzoni all dive into the pit lane, go through the pits and round for another lap. Andretti arrives at the start line minus the skirts on his Lotus 79 and all think Chapman is about to start a new aerodynamic trend, but not so, they are still fiddling about with them on the pit counter and he has them fitted to the car on the dummy-grid.

 

There is also a lot of last minute work happening on de Angelis’s Shadow at the back of the grid. For the second race running we have Arnoux on pole-position with Jones alongside him, though this time they each have their team-mates in row two, but the two Ferraris are just behind in row three and Ferraris must never be discounted. In a rather straggly order they go off on the pace-lap and re-appears down the long straight very spread out. The front rows are in position and fretting to get away long before the tail-enders arrive on the grid, but the starter does not panic and waits until everyone arrive before switching on the red light. Regazzoni already has his Williams pointing to the right, ready to slip around Arnoux. When the green light comes on Jones makes a good start, as does Jabouille, but Arnoux bogs-down. Villeneuve shots out of the third row, aiming for the left of Jabouille and as they accelerate past the pits in a drag-race for the first corner we have Jones ahead and then four cars abreast. Left to right it is Villeneuve (Ferrari), Jabouille (Renault), Arnoux (Renault) and Regazzoni (Williams), but there isn’t room for four cars abreast and Regga is being squeezed in towards the Armco barrier along the front of the pits. Suddenly his Williams tangles with Arnoux’s Renault, the left front wheel is ripped off the English car by the French car’s right rear wheel and a total disaster looks imminent. The wayward wheel bounces across the track and misses everyone, Arnoux slews sideways but catches it, Regazzoni skates down the right-hand side of the track on three wheels, and everyone behind brakes and dodges about. Scheckter has over-heated his clutch and has backed right off, being passed on all sides, Jarier dodges sideways and clutches Reutemann’s Lotus, but even so everyone scrabbles round the first corner. Alan Jones is away, but he has Villeneuve hard after him, followed by Jabouille, then Pironi, Laffite, Lauda, Rosberg, Watson, Jarier and the rest. Reutemann creeps round for the opening lap, with his steering all askew and retired at the pits, while Arnoux also crept round for a lap with his rear suspension knocked out of shape. Regazzoni only gets to the first corner, so with the race only one lap old, and 74 still to go the field is reduced to 21 cars. Nursing his clutch Scheckter starts the second lap in 18th position, a seemingly hopeless situation, but then the clutch begins to grip properly and he is away, to start the heroic drive of the day, only to have it overshadowed by other happenings.

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In only two laps Jones and Villeneuve have pulled out quite a gap on Jabouille, who in turn is well clear of the field. Lap two sees the disappearance of Fittipaldi with electrical trouble on his F6A/1 and on lap 3 Tambay is in the pits to search out the cause of a misfire. Lap four sees Jabouille gain a bit of ground on the two leaders, but Lauda disappears into the pits to retire. While practising with his BMW-M1 for the Pro-Car race he had an accident and hurt his wrist, and it is now giving him more trouble and the excuse to stop driving the Brabham-Alfa Romeo V12, with which he is openly disenchanted. We now have the interesting situation of the Cosworth-powered Williams, the flat-12 powered Ferrari and the Renault 1½-litre turbo out on their own with little to choose between them, for though Jones leads continually he can’t get rid of the other two cars. At the end of lap seven Patrese is lying fourteenth, five places behind his team-mate Jochen Mass, when the brakes fails completely on his Arrows A2 as he brakes at the end of the long straight. Helplessly he shots straight on into the sandy run-off area, giving himself and a lot of photographers a big fright. Watson is in and out of the pits also having a misfire in his engine, and Stuck is in with the ATS as it is vibrating badly for no obvious reason. After nine laps the second Lotus is gone, for Andretti comes into the pits with oil all over the back of the car from a split tank caused by a suspension member breaking and puncturing the tank. Scheckter is now up to seventh place and about to take Jarier, but though he has carved his way through the back of the field and is now dealing with the mid-field runners, he is not gaining anything on the leading trio. However, Villeneuve is putting the pressure on Alan Jones as the gearbox in the Williams is proving reluctant to engage third gear, and as they start the eleventh lap the Williams and the Ferrari go into the Tarzan Hairpin at the end of the straight, side-by-side, with Villeneuve on the outside. He sits it out with Jones in the most audacious manner, running right round the outside of the Williams, to take the lead as they accelerate away behind the paddock.

 

 It really is quite remarkable. Local boy Jan Lammers stops at the Shadow pit with trouble in his gear-linkage, and then Rosberg does the Villeneuve trick on Pironi, and takes fourth place with some spirited driving. Laffite has found the spare Ligier not so good, and has dropped from fifth place down to eighth, but his troubles are not over for Piquet is now attacking him. Lammers re-joins the race for only a few laps before his Shadow expires in a cloud of smoke as it passes the pits. The business of passing round the outside on the Tarzan Hairpin is catching on, for now Scheckter does it to Pironi, which puts the Ferrari in fifth position, but the South African isn’t stopping there and has sights on Rosberg’s fourth place. Jabouille now begins to lose contact with the leading pair as his clutch starts to slip, through it seems as though stale-mate has set in with Villeneuve leading Alan Jones, but unable to lose him. Equally Jones seems unable to do anything about the Ferrari. Jarier disappears out on the back of the circuit with the throttle slides on his Tyrrell jammed with sand, and when the inevitable happens to Jabouille’s clutch the scene is getting distinctly short of runners, with only 26 lap covered. As the Frenchman coaxes his ailing Renault back to the pits, Scheckter is all set to jump Rosberg and take fourth place, which he does as they go by the pits on full song, but with the demise of the Renault he automatically finds himself in third place, and well deserved it is. Rosberg’s brave run comes to an end when he goes into the pits at the end of lap 32 with his engine misfiring. A new ignition unit is fitted and he goes off again, but it is still misfiring and by the time he finishes that lap the misfire has manifested itself in the form of a broken valve. Half distance on a 75 laps race is half-way round lap 38, so we can only take stock at the end of that lap, and we find the Villeneuve-Jones situation unchanged, then a long way behind, but on the same lap, is Scheckter (Ferrari), then comes Pironi all on his own, followed by Piquet (Brabham) and Laffite (Ligier) in close company, followed within sight by Mass (Arrows).

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The remaining three runners, Ickx (Ligier), Rebaque (Lotus) and de Angelis (Shadow) have all been lapped, so out of the twenty-four starters we have only ten left in the race. Both McLarens have gone out with engine trouble, and Stuck has given in to the vibrations before something serious breaks. As Rebaque comes in to change a tyre on lap 43, it becomes increasingly obvious that the Williams is closer to the Ferrari than before and as Jones is still lapping regularly around the 1'20"0 mark it is clear that Villeneuve is in some sort of trouble and is slowing ever so slightly. As they started lap 47 the Williams is much too close for comfort and as they leave the new chicane at something around 140 m.p.h. the Ferrari has its left rear wheel up on the kerb and is going into an enormous spin. With remarkable coolness Villeneuve stays with the situation as the car spins across the track, and with equal coolness Alan Jones brakes heavily as the Ferrari spins across the track in front of him, and as it gyrates onto the grass he opens out again and is away in the lead, with no drama, no dodging about, nothing spectacular. As the red car gyrates onto the grass on the inside of the track Villeneuve gathers it all up, having kept the engine running, and roars away after the fast disappearing Williams, as if nothing has happened. The cause of the spin, and the previous slowing down is a softening rear tyre, though it is not obvious until the Ferrari is up to maximum speed along the straight on lap 48 when the tyre overheats and bursts just as the cars are passing the pits at around 170 m.p.h. Once again the remarkable Gilles Villeneuve is master of the situation, keeping the car straight and braking on three tyres while the burst one flappes around. He has no hope of stopping before the run-off area so at the last moment deliberately spins the car to a stop just off the track. There is no-one in sight behind him so he reverses off the track edge, across to the inside of the bend, and finding that the car is drivable he sets off on lap 49 but the remains of the burst tyre damages the rear suspension and by the time he gets to the pits there is little left on that corner of the car, the remains of the wheel and the upright being dragged along the ground by the last remaining suspension link. It is all over. Back in the pits, Gilles Villeneuve jumps out of his car and asks his mechanics:

 

"Can you repair it?"

 

Alan Jones has to do now is to cruise round and complete the 75 laps, but he is not without his problems for his gearbox is playing up, and it keeps jumping out of gear, so he is not having an easy time. It is now lap 50 and Jones, Scheckter and Pironi are the only ones on the same lap, Laffite has got by Piquet to take fourth place but is lapped by the leader. Two laps later and Pironi is gone, skating to rest in the sand as a rear suspension upright breaks, so we are down to seven survivors. Jones is 45 seconds ahead of Scheckter, so even with his gearbox problems he is in no danger and could afford to ease off slightly, his pit keeping well informed of the situation. This means that Laffite begins to catch up and as he is sitting too close behind for peace of mind, Jones lets him go by, content to follow the Ligier rather than be followed. With Pironi gone Laffite is in third place, but a full lap down on the leader. Piquet is a strong fourth and it really begins to look as though a V12 Alfa Romeo engine is going to last the distance. Ickx is fifth and Mass sixth, though the Arrows engine is beginning to sound rough and the German driver is dropping back though in no fear of losing his well-earned place. Rebaque is a lonely last after his pit-stop. With over 20 seconds in hand Alan Jones scores his third victory on the trot, and it is the fourth win in succession for the Williams team. In a few seconds Gilles Villeneuve saw the world title slip away at Zandvoort; the title had seemed his with an excellent attacking race, crowned by the overtake on Alan Jones in the difficult Tarzan corner. The title seemed conquered in the sense that, with a victory in the Netherlands, the Canadian would have distanced Laffite and almost caught up with Jody Scheckter in the standings. He would also have the advantage of having, according to the championship regulations, greater scoring possibilities in the following races at Monza, Montreal and Watkins Glen. Instead, though the situation for little Gilles is not definitively compromised, mathematically speaking, Villeneuve is now in fourth place in the standings.

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And that, in a way, would be the least of it. There is another much more serious fact to consider: the behaviour of the Canadian before and after the spin, subsequently going off track at the Tarzan corner due to a tyre blowout. Villeneuve had won admiration and sympathy for his reckless duel with Arnoux in the French Grand Prix, but this time the situation was different under many aspects and he was unable to curb his temper. He did not behave like a true professional: first, he did not return to the pit lane when he realised a tyre was deflating; second, he did not stop for a check after the frightening and spectacular spin at the chicane; third, he tried - too late - to take the car back to the Ferrari mechanics, to the point of destroying a wheel rim and the suspension. This last gesture was extremely dangerous, both for himself and for the other competitors. And it is surprising that the track marshals did not intervene to stop the Canadian driver and the spinning three-wheeled car, which was leaving a streak of sparks on the asphalt. Villeneuve's action is clearly understandable: a desperate attempt dictated by rage, by the anxiousness to seek a remedy in extremis, hoping that the fabulous Maranello mechanics can pull off miracle. But it also shows, deep down, that the Canadian is not a champion yet: the driver is exceptional, he knows how to dominate his Ferrari in a splendid way, he has talent, grit and experience, but he lacks the lucidity, the coolness to choose the lesser evil in an emergency. For example, giving up a win and settling for a good position, rather than squandering it all. The risk might have been logical in France, but it was absurd in Holland. In conclusion, Villenuve ended up favouring Scheckter and Laffite in the challenge for the world title. And at this point it might be reckless for Ferrari to insist on playing on an equal footing with Scheckter and Villeneuve (who is young and will be able to aim for the championship in 1980). Scheckter may be less likeable, but he offers greater confidence. While Alan Jones collects victories, Jody Scheckter and Jacques Laffite continue their close fight for the second world title. The Dutch round goes to the Ferrari driver who, thanks to his second place, further increases his lead.

 

"This placing is worth a victory. Now the title is starting to come closer. In the race at Zandvoort, I undoubtedly gained a big slice of it and will be able to face the next races with more confidence".

 

Why did you end up in the last positions at the start? 

 

"I had a small problem with the clutch right at the start and for a moment the car had no traction. A stroke of luck, all things considered, because the accident between Arnoux and Regazzoni happened right after, and I had to brake in order not to risk compromising the race right from the start".

 

Was it difficult to climb back up to second place? 

 

"I had to fight hard, but without making any mistakes. The weather conditions were constantly changing and made the track particularly treacherous. The car was perfect in every aspect and allowed me to make unthinkable overtakes, like the one on Rosberg".

 

Indeed, the Ferrari driver's overtake on the Finn was a masterpiece. Scheckter left Rosberg on the outside under braking and, after going all the way round the demanding hairpin, overtook him on the exit. This position gifted a moment of euphoria to Ferrari, for whom Zandvoort was one of the most feared races. Engineer Forghieri declared: 

 

"We took a small step forward, but it is very important for morale. Jody drove beautifully, like a true champion. It's a shame Villeneuve couldn't finish the race. Our bounty would have been more substantial".

 

Gilles Villeneuve led the race for 35 laps. Looking like a child who did something foolish and with a voice full of disappointment due to the unexpected setback, he says: 

 

"The car started oversteering four laps before the spin. The rear tyres had deteriorated and keeping the car on track was becoming more and more tricky. I ended up spinning at the new chicane and hit a kerb. I restarted, hoping that nothing had happened to the car but, in front of the pits, a tyre blew out and, in the attempt to get it replaced, the suspension was ruined. It was a pity because I lost my chances for the World Championship".

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Third place was also enough to cheer up the Ligier men, and Laffite in particular: 

 

"Scheckter was ahead of me, but the chances of final victory are still fifty-fifty. It was a positive race, which ended better than I expected after the troubles in practice. The modifications made to the car proved to be ineffective, so I started with the reserve car. In the race I immediately had problems with understeer, which forced me to hold off".

 

Guy Ligier adds:

 

"Jacques had one of the best races of his career, and third place is well deserved. I have to admit that we were lucky to get such a good result. Ferrari had a wonderful race. With Villeneuve in the lead and Scheckter well placed with a remarkable comeback, we had little chance of fighting the supremacy of the Italian cars. Maybe someone in heaven was cheering for us and gave us a hand. We are still in contention for the championship, and we will certainly work hard to tackle the next races in the best possible way".

 

Alan Jones is also thinking about the championship, though with a certain anger. The Australian, with his third consecutive victory, has made another leap forward in the standings, overtaking Villeneuve, but cannot win the title because he did not score any points in the first part of the season. 

 

"I am left with the victories, even if they are not enough to satisfy me completely. The Dutch Grand Prix wasn't particularly difficult and after a good start, Villeneuve was able to overtake me because the engine lost a few strokes due to the irregular petrol flow".

 

It was an awful day instead for the Italian drivers. Riccardo Patrese suffered a bad accident that could have had serious consequences. The Paduan explained: 

 

"My brakes failed me. An issue that prevented me from controlling the car".

 

Arnoux and Regazzoni, the protagonists of the spectacular accident at the start, blame each other for what happened. Regazzoni gets out of the car like a devil, with his fire cap on sideways. The Swiss driver does not spare any words in accusing the Frenchman: 

 

"These Renault drivers should learn how to make good starts, in addition to how to win pole position. It is useless for them to be so strong in practice if they compromise everything at the start by starting late".

 

Regazzoni is particularly bitter because he was informed right after the race that Williams would not renew his contract. As for Arnoux, the Frenchman also has harsh words for the other protagonist of the accident. 

 

"It's certainly not my fault that the car didn't start immediately. In any case, I was on my race line and didn’t do anything wrong".

 

Frank Williams is still smiling. However, another victory like this one at Zandvoort might force the British constructor to visit a cardiologist for a check-up. Alan Jones won the Dutch Grand Prix for the third time in a row, ahead of an excellent Jody Scheckter who beat his rival for the world title, Jacques Laffite. By now the British manufacturer's car has accustomed everyone to such feats. It was the fourth victory, and third consecutive one, for the Australian. However, it was not an easy success, determined by a clear superiority as in the previous races. Frank Williams states:

 

"This time I suffered a lot. At the end of the race I didn't know where to be. I was looking down the straight to see if Jones was coming. I could see that he was having some difficulty with the gearbox. Luckily everything went well and we won".

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The Australian driver’s race was a painful one: for forty-six of the seventy-five laps, he was under the thumb of Gilles Villeneuve’s lively Ferrari. Only the Canadian's fall, due to a tyre failure, gave him the green light. And even then, Jones had to fight tooth and nail because his Williams lost a gear. If the goddess of luck lent the Australian a hand this time, then she literally pushed Laffite forward, leading him to an unhoped-for third place with a car that was no longer competitive. The third place was won, however, with a very shrewd approach and thanks to the numerous retirements that occurred in the first positions. Suffice it to say that the Dutch race had only seven classified cars, of which only three with full laps, with seventeen retirements due to accidents or breakdowns. However, Laffite lost an important duel with Scheckter. The South African increased his lead over him by another two lengths. The Ferrari driver now leads the standings with 44 points, eight points ahead of the Ligier driver, while Jones is in third place (34 points) ahead of Villeneuve, who still has 32 points. The fight for the title with the discarded points (as you may recall, drivers can only accumulate points from four out of eight races in the second part of the championship) is therefore clearer. Both Jones and Regazzoni are now out of the running against Scheckter: the Australian, who already has three wins and a fourth place, can only add six more points to his total; the Swiss, instead, could only add up to a maximum of 42 points, even if he were to win the next three races. Mathematically speaking, only Scheckter, Laffite and Villeneuve can aim to win the World Championship. In the next Grand Prix, however, Jody, who already has four results under his belt, will be forced to discard points.

 

Only results from third place onwards will be good for him. Laffite, on the other hand, will still be able to add up to a full points tally. Villeneuve, who only has two second places, will be able to add up to nine points if he manages to win. All things considered, Scheckter will be able to reach the maximum quota of 63 points at the end of the championship, with three races still to go; Laffite has an insurmountable limit at 55; Villeneuve will not be able to exceed 53. From these figures it seems that the 29-year-old driver from Johannesburg has the best chance of becoming world champion even if the fight - as we have said - is very open. A lot of excitement is still expected, especially if the next races are anything like the one seen at Zandvoort. The race kept the 80,000 spectators present and the millions of fans sitting in front of the television with bated breath for over an hour and a half. On Monday 27 August 1979 Ferrari begins testing at Monza, where the Italian Grand Prix, the third-to-last round of the World Championship, is scheduled for Sunday 9 September 1979. Ferrari will do a long tyre test, but will also test two types of modified cars. These are the T4A and the T4B. The first is the car with the slightly inclined engine that made a few outings in Fiorano; the second version was seen at Zandvoort but was not used in the race. With these cars Scheckter and Villeneuve will have the chance to fight at Monza against both Williams and their main rival, Ligier, and then come to America, on more favourable tracks, and settle the battle once and for all by dealing Laffite the final blow. Engineer Forghieri declares:

 

"We have many projects in the pipeline and currently in progress, and we aren’t excluding any field from our research. There are seven types of forced induction for turbocharged engines being studied at Maranello. However, the turbo road is not the only road we are exploring, we are also studying new solutions, with modifications to the chassis and suspension, as well as aerodynamics".

 

Ferrari therefore does not stop. The race at Zandvoort, with Scheckter's second place behind Jones, speaks for itself. The Maranello cars’ improvement in performance was evident during practice and was confirmed in the race. Villeneuve got off to a very fast start and, after a few laps, managed to slip past the Williams into first place. It was only when the Canadian went off track on lap 46 that the Italian team lost the opportunity to win once again. Many accused the Canadian of making a mistake at the chicane, where he ended up in a spin: however it had been noticed, shortly before Villeneuve went off the track, that the car was no longer as smooth as before and had difficulty staying on the precise trajectories. Scheckter is now calmer and can feel victory in the air. 

 

"At this point there is little left to go until the title. I'm starting to convince myself of the actual possibility of winning. I think Villeneuve has also understood how things stand. It will be important for me, in the next three races, if the Canadian will help me. I don't think Gilles has a real chance today. In any case, the matter will be completely settled at Monza".

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As far as the relationship between the two drivers is concerned, Ferrari has made it clear that there is no first driver, i.e. a favoured driver. Scheckter and Villeneuve run as equals, with the same cars and the same possibilities. Because of the South African’s experience and ability (and also because of the regularity he has shown since the start of the season), he is assigned to the cars’ technical set-up and, in principle, the T-Car (i.e. the reserve car) is reserved for him. But Villeneuve is not to be outdone and the Canadian was also given every chance to run the race in the best possible way. On Saturday, when Gilles was unable to improve his time, the reserve car (the modified T4) had already been tuned to give him a chance to get ahead in the starting grid. Then came the rain and the possibility of the test was cancelled. Villeneuve himself, however, now considers himself cut out of the fight and will certainly try to give his teammate a helping hand in the next three races. The Grand Prix is in the air on Monday 27 August 1979. While the people of Monza are animatedly discussing at the coffee and ice cream shop in Via IV Novembre, right in front of the racetrack entrance, about Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve’s exploits, Ferrari shows up at the circuit to carry out a series of tests with Michelin that will last until Wednesday and that will also see the involvement of the Renault Turbo. A team of mechanics led by Tomaini arrives from Maranello with a traditional T. On Tuesday, Villeneuve will also arrive with engineer Mauro Forghieri and probably two modified cars, one from Holland (the same one that had done a few test runs at Zandvoort) and one from the Maranello workshops. The latter car will have other substantial aerodynamic and technical modifications. The task of taking stock of the situation falls to Scheckter, who, in the few minutes available between laps, talks about the fight for the title and the new layout of the track contested by Ecclestone.

 

"After Zandvoort I feel calmer. In Austria and Holland I was afraid that something might go wrong. Instead, in the balance of the last two races I came out well against both Laffite and Villeneuve. The Frenchman, however, contained the blow well, while Gilles was a little more delayed. Today they consider the Canadian cut off, but mathematically he is still in. So he remains a contender for the title. As far as I am concerned, I am now quite optimistic. For us Monza should be easier than the previous circuits, and Canada and the United States should be even better". 

 

The Ferrari driver, who is also one of the most influential members of the GPDA, gives a positive assessment regarding Monza.

 

"The track is now much better maintained, and it seems safe to me. There is only some problem at the exit of the parabolic curve, which could be solved by moving the guardrails. On Monday the circuit was very dirty and it was as slippery as water both at Lesmo and at the pit entrance. In any case, I think we can set lower times than Jones did (1'36"8) in practice last week".

 

Scheckter does not give much away about the possible rivalry with Villeneuve. At Ferrari they continue to say that the two drivers will always have the same chance in terms of assistance, and that neither of them will be considered first driver and have an advantage until the last race. The maturity shown by the South African, however, has its importance, partly because of Villeneuve’s performance on Sunday: he could have taken precious points away from Laffite with by placing well, had he not let himself be carried away by the desire to win at all costs. If Villeneuve were to give up some personal ambition in order to help the team, he would certainly be repaid in the next season. In fact, it seems that the Maranello team has several projects in more or less advanced stages which should guarantee a bright future for both drivers. Apart from the study of turbocharged engines (seven types of forced induction are being tested), the Maranello engineers are reportedly working on a sci-fi-like aerodynamic solution. This would be a car with a turbocharged engine and ground effect, which would guarantee results similar to (or better than) those obtained by the famous Brabham-Alfa that won - and was disqualified - last year in Sweden because of the fan that sucked the air under the car. To create such a car without going outside the rules of the technical regulations, Ferrari is planning a single-seater with a fairing (at the rear too) in which the wheel rims function as suction fans, extracting the air under the car to create an almost total vacuum. This appears to be a project with a non-immediate deadline but at an advanced stage.

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While still fighting for the 1979 World Championship, Enzo Ferrari is therefore preparing a winning blow for his rivals, should the idea turn out to be the right one. Meanwhile, Jody Scheckter - driving the 312 T4 - carries out a series of tyre tests. The South African completes 83 laps of the Monza circuit, from around 12:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., and sets a best time of 1'37"9. A pretty good result, considering it was achieved on race tyres. The previous week, Jones, in the Williams, had lapped in 1'36"8. Testing continues on Wednesday with Villeneuve's participation and the arrival of the Renault Turbo to be driven by Jabouille and Arnoux. The following day, Jody Scheckter sets a new unofficial track record of 1'36"6 in a T4, partially modified at the rear; this is 0.02 seconds slower than the time set by Alan Jones in a Williams ten days earlier. The South African completes 55 laps, testing brakes, shock absorbers and two different types of side panels. Villeneuve drives the 312 T4B, the recently modified single-seater, which arrives at Monza directly from Holland, and covers the distance of 40 laps, the best of them being a 1'38"6. Renault, on the other hand, does not take part in the tests. The French manufacturer’s turbocharged cars arrive at Monza in a badly damaged van, as they weren’t transported on the usual truck and the anchors did not hold. The jolts caused the single-seaters to slam violently into the decks, to the point that the bodyshells bent. During a break in testing, journalists asked Jody Scheckter a few questions. Ferrari has always been considered a difficult team. You have been working with the men from Maranello for almost a year now, what is the balance of your experience?

 

"The first difficulty in working for Ferrari is related to language problems. I don't speak Italian and as a result communications are sometimes unclear. Ferrari makes all the means available to its drivers, but on the other hand demands a lot of commitment from them. Consequently, you are subjected to hard work for long periods".

 

What are the Maranello team's main strength and weakness? 

 

"Ferrari's strong point is the great professionalism with which it approaches racing. Nothing, not even the smallest detail, is overlooked. You are always sure to have excellent assistance and to be able to count on very reliable cars. The downside is that Ferrari is a great team and at certain times is affected by political games".

 

What do you think of the studies that Ferrari is carrying out on the turbo engine and the self-ventilating wheels? 

 

"They are very interesting studies and necessary to always be at the top of Formula 1, but they take a long time to be finalised".

 

Monza, Montreal and Watkins Glen are the missing races in this championship. What are the chances of the Modenese cars? 

 

"In the next races I will have to try to get a better position than fourth if I want to make progress in the standings. Monza is a good circuit for our cars; Montreal is the track I fear the most since the real wing-cars could have a certain advantage there, while at Watkins Glen last year the Ferraris did well and so they will be able to repeat that performance this year too".

 

Have you spoken to Villeneuve about the tactics to be implemented in the next races? 

 

"Yes, Gilles and I discussed this problem and we came to a decision. Gilles has understood that he will have to help me, even if reluctantly. Frankly, I too would be sorry to work for someone else. However he will do it".

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Gilles Villeneuve records a time of 1'36"1 on the final day of the Ferrari tests for the Italian Grand Prix, setting a new unofficial track record. After a prolonged stop to replace the engine due to a valve spring failure, the Canadian returns to the track and, within a few laps, set a record lap that delighted the thousands of fans present. For Scheckter, however, the day is tormented by several problems. First, he is stopped by an oil leak from his T4 and then has to stop several times due to brake problems. The South African covers a total of 48 laps, the best of them being a 1'37"4. While waiting for the Italian Grand Prix, Gilles Villeneuve ends up on trial. But it is not Ferrari - who, all things considered, was the main casualty of the Zandvoort accident - who blames the Canadian driver. As had happened to Patrese last year when the Paduan was suspended for one race at Watkins Glen, it is the Formula 1 GPDA that is trying to take disciplinary action against their colleague, who is considered too impetuous and dangerous. No one would have known about the matter had it not been for René Arnoux; the Renault driver had spoken on the matter a few days earlier, complaining about the unilateral initiatives taken precisely by the aforementioned association. In Arnoux’s words:

 

"After the duel on track at Dijon, before practice for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Villeneuve and I were called to appear before the drivers' council. Andretti, Reutemann, Watson, Fittipaldi, Scheckter, Regazzoni, Niki Lauda and Bernie Ecclestone were at the meeting. They warned us not to repeat episodes like those we had experienced in the race".

 

The reprimands did not please the French driver at all. Arnoux asked, among other things, why he should undergo some sort of trial in the presence of Bernie Ecclestone, who is the owner of the Brabham team and therefore tied to a working relationship with Lauda, a member of the association. On that occasion, Arnoux expressed his convictions and dissent to Renault. The French manufacturer, backing the driver, allegedly warned FISA of the episode, in turn asking them to take a stand against this drivers' association led by Ecclestone, which judges with its own yardstick only those it deems fit to punish, perhaps ignoring what happens on track when those involved are members of the court itself. It seems, although it is not confirmed, that Ferrari too has given FISA the mandate to intervene. And this would also explain the attitude towards FOCA (Manufacturers' Association) taken by Alfa Romeo, Renault and Ferrari with the communiqué released at Zandvoort, stating that the sporting authorities are trusted. This situation, however, is not over. It seems that the drivers' association intends to judge Villeneuve again for what happened in Holland, in order to give the Canadian driver a harsh warning. However, fearing negative reactions from the fans at Monza, the drivers have allegedly decided to intervene again at Watkins Glen. Gilles Villeneuve, a very reserved man, reluctantly admitted that he was at the centre of this controversy. 

 

"I have already said that I don't think I did anything wrong at Zandvoort and, above all, that I did not endanger the other competitors. So I don't think I run any particular risk of disqualification like Patrese".

 

The most delicate position in this affair is that of Jody Scheckter, who will probably be called upon to judge his teammate. When Arnoux and Villeneuve appeared before the commission at Silverstone, the South African held a different position from the other drivers. However, it now remains to be seen what decisions FISA will take. Another tug-of-war between the sporting authorities and Ecclestone, whose shadow always looms over these thorny situations, is to be expected. The last, dangerous and useless three-wheel lap at Zandvoort brings Gilles Villeneuve to the center of violent controversy. The useless attempt to reach the pits, in the hope of angrily restarting towards a result that he had squandered with a spin at the new chicane, puts the Canadian under accusation. An intense and loud wave of criticism instantly submerged all the good things the Canadian had shown this season. The heart-stopping duel with Arnoux at Dijon or other exploits that had raised cries of enthusiasm - not only from fans - now seem distant memories. Suddenly the Ferrari driver is viewed as irresponsible, a man who jeopardised the safety of others, a driver with a lot of guts but no common sense. His maneuver was certainly not one of the most regular, but who wouldn’t have tried to defend second place and the chance to stay in the title fight after a spin? When Jim Clark managed to cross the finish line on three wheels by winning in Tasmania, the move was seen as an exceptional performance that only a few great champions could achieve. If Gilles had been able to restart and get a good placing, today his performance would be judged quite differently and almost certainly admired. However, the wave of controversy did not unduly upset Villeneuve. At Monza, during Ferrari's tests ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, journalists ask the Canadian what he thought about the accusations leveled at him. Is it true that he has a dual personality: calm and polite outside the races, and an angry lion in the car? 

 

"You can't be too gentle when racing. Everyone wants to win and so it's an elimination fight. I always demand the maximum from my car and I'm ready to fight until the last moment".

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Do you think it is right to take risks like the one at Zandvoort, instead of driving like an  accountant, following the examples of Stewart and Lauda? 

 

"I didn't take any risks to reach the pits. When I restarted after the spin at the chicane, I had a good look before re-entering the track. I had some vibrations, but after a few hundred meters they disappeared. I therefore thought that everything was normal and that's why I continued. Of course, had I realised that the car had problems, I would have returned to the pits". 

 

In the stretch of track you drove with the rear wheel dangling, did you not think about the risks of a possible fire or the damage you could cause to other competitors? 

 

"From the car's mirrors I couldn't really see what was happening to the rear wheels. I restarted from the Tarzan corner with the flat tyre, but I hoped it would hold until the pits. Then, I felt that the rim was touching the asphalt, but I couldn't imagine that it was coming off. Sitting in an armchair, in front of the TV, our thoughts and considerations are certainly different. Our thoughts travel on the edge of 300 km/h and there is little time to decide. I was still second behind Jones, 10 seconds behind and ahead of Jody by thirty. At that moment I was still in the running for the title and therefore decided to continue. Besides, a driver would hardly be able to win races if he stopped every time he felt a slight vibration".

 

Jody Scheckter, Villeneuve's partner and one of the members of the GPDA, has an interesting opinion on the subject: 

 

"Maybe Gilles didn't realise that the tyre was deflating, and he went back on track to defend a second place that was very important for him if he wanted to stay in the World Championship. In that moment he decided to play it all. I think any other driver would have behaved in the same way".

 

What causes drivers to behave in this way? It is certainly not for show. Last Sunday at Zandvoort Gilles Villeneuve really hoped to make it to the pits to replace the tyre that had caused him to go off the track at Tarzan corner. A belief fueled only by the will and desire to make it through, to continue fighting for the world championship. The Canadian certainly was quite careless, both for returning to the track in reverse and for having driven on a rim, with sparks flying everywhere, using race lines other cars were also on, trying to go as fast as possible, as if his Ferrari had been perfectly efficient. The race marshals who did not immediately signal to stop him did more wrong than the Canadian driver. A black flag (which is shown to force a competitor to retire) would have solved everything. Instead, the Dutch stewards merely chased the Ferrari on foot. Ferrari itself, always rather strict in these circumstances, does not seem to have taken disciplinary action against the Canadian. Mauro Forghieri has made it clear that one can forgive such a gesture to a driver in contention for the world title. The greatest damage, after all, was received by Gilles Villeneuve. For him this should be a further lesson, another experience to put into his professional baggage so as not to repeat certain mistakes. Champions also become champions by making mistakes. Of course, persevering in this way - as the ancient Latin maxim goes - would be diabolical.


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