Yet another very fast track and yet other new questions. The Formula 1 world championship goes to the country of the majority of teams engaged in this exciting racing season. And to respect the British traditions, the race will take place on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. in front of the television, for those who can not participate in person. It is the ninth race of the season and once again everyone awaits for the lap times of the first practice session scheduled from 12:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. to get an idea. After Renault’s exploit in Dijon, it would be easy to say that Jabouille and Arnoux are the favourites for the victory. The characteristics of the circuit with curves that allow to push the throttle to the maximum (in 1977 James Hunt won with the McLaren M26 at the average speed of 209.790 km/h and the same British driver got the fastest lap in 1'19"6 at 213.400 km/h) lead us to think about the possibility of another turbo cars victory for their power, acceleration and speed. But there is always a need for verification, also because, given the conditions, the situation could be slightly different. During the six tests last week, in fact, it was not Renault that got the best lap times, but Alan Jones with Williams. The Australian got a fantastic 1'12"7, which lowers the official Silverstone record by 6.9s. Thus, the British Grand Prix has an absolute novelty: the Williams. It is not a new car, but the same car that has made its debut in the middle of the season and that has already given good results. But, for the English race, many think that Jones and Regazzoni will be able to get their first victory with the single-seater built by the team of Frank Williams, and sponsored by the Arab sheiks. In fact, there are many reasons to think that at the very fast Silverstone circuit Williams can beat its rivals. The first comes from the fact that Goodyear will give all its contribution to Williams. The explanation of this is simple: the Anglo-American company does not intend to lose on its own ground against Michelin. And, right now, after the times set in practice (record for Jones in 1'12"7) last week, it is believed that no one can easily beat the combination between the English car and the Australian driver, with the possibility for Clay Regazzoni to insert himself in between. The first to admit that it will be difficult to beat the race pace of Williams is the same Jody Scheckter, the world championship leader.
"If Jones really set this time, I think it will be impossible to beat him. We are clearly above these results, and we are unlikely to get any closer in qualifying. I think Renault will always be the car to beat for its speed performance, but we must not exclude that the French car will have problems maintaining a very fast pace on this track, on which averages of over 230 km/h are reached. For us, therefore, we have to wait and see what others will do. We will have to do a race in the midfield, trying only to take advantage of any mistakes or failures of drivers and cars".
Clay Regazzoni, instead, who is back from Venice - where he played a tennis tournament in favour of UNICEF for the year of the child - is convinced that he has the same chances of Jones to finally grab a success, after going close to Monte Carlo.
"Our car is among the simplest that exist in Formula 1. A wing-car that has no set-up or aerodynamic problems. We have now managed to set it up very well and we should be close to achieving the sensational result".
It is not to be underestimated either, in addition to the interest of Goodyear, which focuses on Williams, also the possibility of favouring on this occasion a team that is paid by the Arab sheikhs masters of oil. If Williams gets to the finish line first, it could be an advantage for everyone in Formula 1. We should not underestimate this psychological reason because the airline Saudia, which finances the team of Jones and Regazzoni, if it is disappointed again in some other races, might want to give up the business. Everything therefore plays in Williams’ favour. Previously, Niki Lauda with the Brabham-Alfa had already made a miracle with exceptional results. Therefore, it is logical to think that the battle for the best starting positions will be very intense, and those who want to start in pole position will have to struggle a lot. Considering that Williams has also had reliability problems, and that Renault is still to be considered an outsider (at least for the moment), then Ferrari returns to the spotlight that, race after race, increasingly reduces its chances for the world title with the usual competitiveness and reliability. All in all, the two Ferrari drivers would also benefit from a Renault domination, which would block all rivals, provided that the 312 T4 cars are placed in the back positions. The problem remains, unsolved, who between the two drivers of the Maranello team can aim for the world title. After what Villeneuve showed in Dijon, Scheckter’s reaction is to be expected, as another defeat could weigh on Jody’s future. There is an open fight in the family at the crucial moment of the season. Ferrari will have to take into account, however, in addition to Jabouille and Arnoux, many rivals. Starting with Niki Lauda, who at Silverstone has developed his car and seems to be running really well.
Finishing with the Candy-Tyrrells of Jarier and Pironi, the aforementioned Williams, and the Ligiers that are on the track with several changes among which that of miniskirts, that should make even better use of the ground-effect to the cars of Laffite and lckx. The English race will also mark the debut of two new cars, the McLaren 29 driven by Watson and Tambay, and the Merzario A4 driven by the Merzario himself. These are two complete wing-cars, of which it is not possible to say much because they are still waiting for a valid test. Merzario comes to Silverstone with many hopes, among which to have no problems in qualifying. As for Ferrari, the T4s that raced in Dijon were shipped from Maranello, with the usual small variations due to technical evolution. These cars ran on the English track, almost 3 seconds above Jones’ time. Obviously the Maranello technicians are convinced that they can improve the performance. They probably have confidence in Michelin that, at Goodyear’s home, will do everything to inflict a resounding defeat on the great rival. After the Dijon race the winning Renault engine was stripped and measured just to stop any nasty people suggesting that it was a 2.1-litre Le Mans engine, so everyone is keyed up to see if the Renaults can repeat their speed on the Silverstone airfield circuit; and speed is the operative word, for in tyre testing Lauda had gone round in 1'13"30 (144 m.p.h.) which had rocked everyone back on their heels, until Alan Jones came along and took the Williams round in 1'12"99 (nearly 145 m.p.h.), saying there was more to come. All this added up to excitement, and a huge crowd began to head towards the home of British Motor Racing, three days before the event. The practice arrangements have returned to the new format of 1979, after the slight diversion at Dijon, so it is one hour of untimed testing on Thursday morning, ready for an hour-and-a-half of timed practice in the afternoon; and the same arrangement on Friday. There are 26 entries in the vast Silverstone pit lane, of which two are going to be forced to be non-starters thanks to rules and regulations, which seem a bit silly in view of the wide-open spaces afforded by the airfield circuit. Among the cars there are two and a half new ones and one different one, the odd half being the remarkable job the Tyrrell team did on 009/6, the car that crashed on Pironi at Dijon.
The entire front end had been torn off, almost back to the cockpit, so a new front half has been bonded and riveted on to the undamaged part. The two new cars are the McLaren M29 and Wolf WR9. The McLaren is a complete re-think, mostly using the thoughts of other successful teams, like Ligier, Lotus and Williams and the resultant M29 is lighter, shorter and smaller than the unfortunate M28 and its derivatives. While the Williams uses a secret heat-exchanger to cool the oil, rather than a conventional radiator, and has it hidden away on the left of the monocoque within the side-pod, the M29 has its secret heat exchanger on the right-hand side. This first new car, M29/1 is for Watson, while Tambay continues to use his uprated M28 until a second new car is completed. The Wolf WR9 has its major changes around the rear end, the object being to gain more clear space for the air to exit from under the side-pods. The major components to be moved were the rear brakes, previously mounted inboard on each side of the differential housing; they are now hub-mounted and hidden away within the rear wheels, and this means new rear suspension members and a general re-design of the layout of the back of the car, though no fundamental changes were made to the rest of the design. This WR9 is brand new and untried, whereas the new McLaren had done some testing the previous week. The different car is what appeared to be a new Merzario from Arturo’s small team, but it is in reality one of the Kauhsen cars that appeared so briefly early in the season. Using the basic Kauhsen WK the Merzario chaps had produced themselves a new car. For the rest it is the mixture as before, successful or otherwise, except for Team Lotus who return to square one. Both Andretti and Reutemann have a Lotus 79 as their first arm, with the first Lotus 80 as a spare car for the American and another Lotus 79 as spare for the Argentinian. The order is Andretti 79/4 and 80/1; Reutemann 79/5 and 79/3. Brabhams have the same three cars as in the previous race, with BT48/02 for Lauda and BT48/03 for Piquet, both cars being fitted with the carbon-fibre disc brakes, whereas the spare car BT48/04 is using normal steel discs. Ferrari are ringing the changes on their T4 cars, with Scheckter in the car that Villeneuve raced at Monaco (039) and Villeneuve in the car that was the spare at Monaco (038), with the same spare car as used at Dijon (037), needless to say, all rebuilt from stem to stern with all new components, engines, gearboxes and so on.
The flat-12 engine characteristics can be changed slightly by using different exhaust pipe lengths and diameters, and they are set up for higher power, lower torque characteristics for the sustained high speeds of Silverstone. The Ligier team are using three cars, Laffite in 04, Ickx in 01 and the spare 03, while Frank Williams’ team are as normal, with Jones in 003, Regazzoni in 002 and the original FW07 as the spare. Arrows have altered the rear end of the new A2 design slightly, by fitting an aerofoil between the side plates at the rear, giving it in effect a double-aerofoil, like the Lotus 80/1. On the driver front there are no changes, and quite remarkably there are only two British drivers in the British Grand Prix, and they both come from overseas. There isn’t an Englishman in sight. The drivers come from America, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, France, Finland, Germany, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia and Northern Ireland, but none from England. A sad state of affairs. In these days of everyone doing good and anything exciting and enjoyable being stopped, it is the time to go out into the open spaces of Silverstone and watch at Stowe and Club corners, for in two years’ time when the Grand Prix returns to Silverstone those corners may not exist. In testing, the latest Goodyear tyres and the road-holding of the better cars were allowing the drivers to take Stowe corner in top gear, after lifting off briefly (or so we were told in the papers). One driver/car combination was truly impressive, and that was Alan Jones in the Williams FW07. He came down Hangar Straight at close to 170 m.p.h., lifted right off at the end so that the overrun knocked an instant 30 m.p.h. off the speed, turned into the corner and floored the throttle and the Williams came out of the corner at about 155 m.p.h. and fairly hurtled down to Club corner, where he did the same. Most of the others were lifting off and hesitantly opening the throttle, some were changing down a gear and others were almost out of the corner before they opened the throttle. Because the Williams was so nicely balanced going into the corner, and all the way round it, Jones was able to be super-confident and you could visibly see the four tyres clinging to the road while the mass of the car and the driver wanted to fly off at a tangent under the effects of centrifugal force. It was something well worth seeing, whereas the Ferraris looked awful and were not worth watching, except to appreciate that perhaps they are not very good on high-speed corners due to insufficient downforce from their aerodynamics.
This is the first time we have seen the T4 on a circuit without any slow corners or the need for low-speed acceleration. It could not have been anything to do with the Michelin tyres because the Renaults were looking quite good. Two drivers who were very courageous in lesser cars, were Rosberg in the Wolf and Stuck in the ATS. While this test session was at its height Lauda came down Hangar Straight with a cloud of oil smoke coming out of the back of his Brabham-Alfa and cruised quietly by, and the next thing was that Scheckter’s Ferrari spun off right in the middle of Stowe corner and landed up backwards in the catch-fences, bending the rear aerofoil. He restarted the engine and drove off slowly back to the pits wondering what had happened! Meanwhile the same thing had happened to Alan Jones at Copse corner, and Scheckter had actually seen the Williams spinning off in his mirror. Earlier the engine in the new McLaren had blown up, so Watson’s progress was stopped, and the McLaren mechanics were well under way with an engine change before the test-session finished. From 12:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. the timekeepers are on the job to record everyone’s movements and things begin to get very exciting. Jones is using the spare Williams, while his own is being checked over, and Scheckter is using the spare Ferrari. Watson is back in the M29 with a fresh engine fitted and Lauda soon changes from BT48/02 to BT48/04, but it doesn’t help him to keep up with his young Brazilian team-mate. The scene at Team Lotus is so sad that it is best to draw a veil over it, and it is pointless to ask what the matter was, as some people are doing, because if Colin Chapman and Nigel Bennett knew, they would do something about it. The new Wolf is giving trouble in its fuel system, so Rosberg is out in the spare one, and Laffite is concentrating on the newer of the Ligier cars, which he had not liked at Dijon. Regazzoni’s progress stops when the skirts on his Williams go wrong, and as Jones is out in the spare, that is that. The Australian was really making good use of the spare Williams, and finding it as good if not better than his designated car. He was way out in a world of his own, lapping at under 1'12"0, the point at which the programme speed table stopped! He was down to 1'11"88 and feeling really happy about it, with no complaints and really enjoying the whole business. His average speed for that shattering lap was 146.84 m.p.h., with a brief maximum down Hangar Straight of 168-170 m.p.h.
Progress towards the ultimate of cornering at the same speed as you go down the straight was being made. In a different class are the rest of the runners, led by the two Renaults of Jabouille and Arnoux at 1'13"27 and 1'13"29 respectively. Then come the two Brabham-Alfas with Piquet at 1'13"47 and Lauda at 1'13"92. After that the times (as shown in the accompanying table) are over 1'14"0 which is over 2 sec. off the time of the Williams, and it is difficult to take any of them very seriously. It isn’t for lack of trying, as many of the drivers put in over 40 laps of practice during the hour-and-a-half. Down at the end of the field the runners are nearly 8 seconds off the pace of Alan Jones, and we are often told that racing is too close these days. So, the first day of this high-speed Grand Prix ends with Jones proving himself to be right when he said there was more to come after his private test-session, and with the Renaults maintaining the performance they had shown in Dijon. Of Lauda and his Driver Safety Committee we hear no more. At Silverstone Williams amazes the world of Formula 1 with an exceptional performance. The Australian driver Alan Jones set the fastest time of the first qualifying round with 1'11"88 at an incredible average speed of 236.323 km/h. To get an exact idea of how fast Jones was, just think that the circuit record (4,718 metres) belongs to Hunt, who had set it in 1976 with a time of 1'18"45, at the average speed of 215.550 km/h. Since Frank Williams’ factory is located in Didcot, about 70 kilometres from Silverstone, it can be argued that the cars of the former English driver, who became a constructor ten years ago, compete on their home track. All this, however, is not enough to justify the gap that Jones has inflicted on his rivals in this first day of practice. Renault takes second and third place with Jaboullle and Arnoux, respectively at 1.29s and 1.31s, Piquet and Lauda’s Brabhams are fourth and fifth at almost 2 seconds, then Reutemann (Lotus) and Regazzoni (the other Williams) with an even greater gap. In order to find the Ferraris you have to go back to tenth and twelfth position, the worst finish of the season for Villeneuve and Scheckter, remaining at 3.02 (the Canadian) and 3.32 (the South African) seconds from Jones. There are, however, logical explanations for what happened, beyond the fact that Williams has made dozens of experiences (and in practice developed the car) on this circuit. First of all, it must be said that Williams has a particular focus on Goodyear. Wanting to absolutely win this race, this time the Anglo-American team has built its tyres tailored to the cars of Jones and Regazzoni, adapting them to the type of suspension and aerodynamics. Preferential treatment of this kind can give you a big advantage. As if that was not enough, it seems that Frank Williams, or rather the technical director Patrick Head, has found some aerodynamic devices that offer other notable improvements. That there is some little secret about Williams is clear from the statements of Jones, Regazzoni and the constructor himself. When asked what changes were made to his car, Jones replies to ask Williams. But the latter hides behind a mysterious:
"I don’t even know myself what we owe this progress to".
While Regazzoni, rather nervous, lets slip something about aerodynamics, and then says he is not allowed to speak. Mysteries aside, it seems that this is a new type of fairing under the engine to give these advantages. However, there have been a lot of upgrades, from the Brabham of Piquet and Lauda, which confirmed (indeed improved) the lap times obtained in free practice, the Lotus 79 of Reutemann, with different suspensions and more effective brakes, up to the debut McLaren 29, with which John Watson is back among the fastest drivers. Good news also for De Angelis, who has a Shadow with new rear suspension (and who is in P15) and for Patrese, who little by little is setting up his Arrows. Instead, there are problems for Merzario, who has the last time and has only managed to complete nine laps with his brand new A4. Back to Ferrari, which today can improve but also possibly slip back, it must be noted that not having a car with full ground effect but only a partial wing-car, it has some problems on such a fast circuit. The chassis is affected by stress and the drivers cannot find the right balance between a mechanical and an aerodynamic setup. Forghieri had the drivers try different inclinations and sizes of wing, both front and rear. Scheckter, in an attempt to push in free practice in the morning, also spun into the Stowe corner, and had to use the spare car afterwards. Villeneuve complains about poor grip in all corners and in the chicane before the finish line, while Scuderia Ferrari technical director Mauro Forghieri tries to justify himself by saying:
"We have studied all the data available, and today we will work to improve the starting position".
On Friday the weather is getting distinctly warm, and it seems unlikely that speeds would improve. During the morning test-session Andretti tries the Lotus 80, but there is not too much enthusiasm around the Lotus pits. Jones and Scheckter are back in their original cars, though the Australian is beginning to wonder why, as the spare car had gone so well and felt so good. Before the end of the morning, with the rising air temperature, the water and oiI temperatures on the Williams are getting a bit too close to the optimum for comfort, so the aluminum water radiators are changed for brass ones, the slight weight penalty being worth it for peace of mind over temperatures. Among some of the teams who are trying to keep up there seems to be a lot of front-spring changing going on, but none of it looks like getting them into the 1'12"0, though it might have helped to make the situation look a little less depressing, or helped to ease the drivers brain-pain, especially as Regazzoni was beginning to get up with his team-leader, and James Hunt told us long ago that Regazzoni was over-the-hill. Scheckter’s Ferrari damages its engine and instantly a change is begun, the work going so quickly that it is ready to go again with a new engine by the time the afternoon session began at 12:30 am. Every time the Brabham-Alfas break, and they seem to do it regularly, Ecclestone closed the doors of the garages and made his chaps work in the dark. All very secret. Apart from oil leaks, one of their troubles seems to be the titanium exhaust pipes breaking, which is interesting because Lotus had replaced lots of suspension components on the 80 with steel parts because the titanium parts kept cracking. Interesting study for the metallurgists here. With the ambient temperature quite a lot higher, it is pretty certain that Jones pole-position is safe, but everyone is keen to get closer to it even if there is no hope of improving on it. The depressing part for most teams is that the Williams is turning in lap times on full petrol tank and hard racing tyres that they can’t match on soft short-life tyres and five gallons in the tank. There is almost an air of disbelief along the pit lane, but nobody can argue with facts and all the teams’ timekeepers have the facts. Practice had barely been running half an hour when everything goes quiet and it is reported that Patrese has shot the Arrows A2 into the fences at Becketts, so there is a pause while it is retrieved, the damage being slight, but it means he has to continue practice in the old Arrows A1.
While this happens, the new Wolf is playing up with an electrical fault, so Rosberg switches to WR7 and Jones switches to the spare Williams while the fuel is drained and measured from FW07/003. Villeneuve goes out in the spare Ferrari, and generally is far from happy, and it is strange to see him return to the pits and have no Ferrari engineer to greet him and plug in the radio communication. Eventually the Michelin engineer went and spoke to him. Enzo Ferrari having said that Scheckter can be World Champion this year it looks as though the team harmony has been interrupted. In his usual way, of getting on with his job quietly, Piquet is third fastest, behind Jones and Jabouille, but his progress is stopped when an exhaust manifold pipe on the left side breaks in two. The car is hidden away from prying eyes and the word puts out that the Brabham team has used up all its quota of Goodyear qualifying tyres. Jones is so happy with the spare Williams that it was agreed that he should race it, with a brand-new works Cosworth engine fitted for the occasion. No matter what people say, if you prove your worth to the world you get help from the right people and Frank Williams is enjoying the full support of Cosworth and Goodyear, while, needless to say, the full support he has been receiving from Saudi Arabia is being repaid in full. The hunt for Alan Jones’ lap time is open. The Australian driver, at the wheel of the very fast Williams, will start in pole position. Behind the Australian driver, in the first rows, there will not be the usual men but the emerging Jabouille with the Renault-Turbo, Piquet, with Brabham-Alfa, Regazzoni with the other Williams, Arnoux, Lauda and Watson with the new McLaren M29, which proved to be immediately competitive. To find the drivers who have been the protagonists of the championship so far, you have to scroll through the classification to the fourth row of Reutemann, the fifth of Laffite, the sixth of Scheckter and the seventh of Villeneuve. While the Williams have confirmed their adaptability to the very fast corners of this circuit (Jones could not improve Thursday’s lap time, while Regazzoni goes from seventh to fourth), Ferrari has taken a few small steps back, proving that the 312 T4, which is very good on other types of tracks, is not as effective on a track where the average speed is over 230 km/h. Scheckter slightly improved his performance, but Villeneuve was preceded by the surprising Elio De Angelis, twelfth with an improved Shadow thanks to the new rear suspension. It was known from previous tests that Ferrari would not be competitive at Silverstone. But nobody thought of such heavy gaps. Even Frank Williams and Patrick Head, sitting on the pit wall with their eyes on the stopwatch, say:
"Wait a minute...".
Scheckter is eleventh, 3.73s behind Jones, and Villeneuve is thirteenth, with a 3.03s gap. These are considerable margins, which should not allow the South African and the Canadian to be in the running for the first places valid to get the points useful to the classification of the World Championship, at least according to logic. While it is true that the Williams, which was already emerging in recent races, has suddenly become the best car in terms of speed performance (it seems that the secret of the cars of Jones and Regazzoni is in particular aerodynamic changes in the lower fairing of the single-seater), does not necessarily mean that it will go until the end of the race without problems. Ferrari can hope, in order to get acceptable placements, that the race will reveal some grip problems for their rivals. Unable to get significant lap times, the technical director of the Italian team, Mauro Forghieri, in agreement with Scheckter and Villeneuve, chose a compromise solution for the race:
"We don’t know exactly what our problems are. We set the best times with the harder tyres, the ones we will use during the race. Since we do not believe that others can repeat the results of the tests, we have prepared the cars with little spoiler effects, so that they are faster on the straights".
In this way the two Ferrari drivers will have problems at the exit of the curves, in which they will not be able to run in full throttle, but will be equal in terms of top speed with their rivals. A waiting race for the Maranello team. If towards the end there will still be some chance to earn some points (since Laffite, tenth, is not in much better condition), Jody and Gilles will try everything. As long as the Michelin tyres do not cause any problems. The tyres in any case do not seem to be the main responsible for the situation, as the troubles of the T4s have appeared a bit everywhere, from the suspensions to the engines. In fact, Scheckter ended the free practice of the morning with the engine almost out of use and in the afternoon Villeneuve had to stop qualifying and climbed on the T-Car, for a loss of power of his engine. If the Italian team is in its most difficult moment since the beginning of the championship, it is instead the best day for the 21-year-old Elio De Angelis who, as mentioned before, starts in the sixth row alongside Scheckter. The young Shadow driver, who certainly does not lack skills, has a car that allows him to drive and with which he can fit among the protagonists. Riccardo Patrese, who had to participate in qualifying with the old car, was not lucky, after an accident that deprived him of the new car. The Italian, looking for a good time in the first laps, found himself in trouble at the Becketts corner: the Italian driver braked, put the wheels in the dirty part of the track and ended up against the protections, denting the front of the car. In the race, however, he will probably have the new model available and it is not excluded that he can make a good race. Just in anticipation of the race, Cosworth technicians advise their customers to change their engines, due to a problem related to excessive oil consumption. In the Williams team, Wayne Eckersley and John Jackson replace the engine. But arriving late in the evening, in starting the engine they realise that the gas pump is not working, and then they are forced to replace the engine again, finishing operations at 5:30 a.m.. As always, the British GP (Garden Party) at Silverstone is a very long day of activity, for many it was 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and during all that time there is to be a brief hour-and-a-half for the GP (Grand Prix), the rest is splendid entertainment. We have already had a Formula Three race qualifying for the big Vandervell-sponsored race on Grand Prix day, and also another round in the Bmw publicity Procar race, which Lauda won and the crowd expressed their disapproval of Bernie Ecclestone Esq., by booing when he appeared at the prize-giving. Saturday is fine and dry and the air is full of helicopters, static balloons, performing airplanes, and men on parachutes.
On the ground there are saloon cars racing, Formula 3 cars racing, old cars racing, exotic cars parading, drivers from the 1949/50 British Grand Prix era displaying that they can still drive, wining and dining, drinking and eating, and all the other things that happen when you get 100.000 motor racing enthusiasts together in one field. It is all very orderly, very enjoyable and a credit to the Royal Automobile Club who start the affair off, and the thousands of willing helpers from motor clubs all over the country who help to keep it all going. It really is a splendid day, but there is the serious business of the 68-lap British Grand Prix to attend to. As it’s customary, there is a 30-minute test-session in the morning in which teams make final decisions, or not as the case may be. The Wolf team have settled to run WR7 as the new car was still misbehaving, Alan Jones settles to race FW07/001 and it has the very best Cosworth DFV in it, Lauda is to race the Brabham T-car, while Laffite was going to race the Ligier T-car but changed his mind at the last moment and decided to use JS11/04. Poor Jabouille is in trouble for he meant to use this half-hour to try his Renault on full petrol tank on different tyres and decide which ones would give him the best chance of holding on to the Williams from his position on the front row of the grid. His Hewland gearbox played up and he never got out on the track, so he had to guess at his choice of tyre to suit the Renault on full tank. Stuck is standing by as first reserve and his hopes rise when the Ensign is towed in with a broken engine. On Sunday morning, René Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve are summoned to Race Direction. The two drivers hear the circuit's loudspeaker calling their names, and intrigued, they walk to the office, where they find Niki Lauda and other drivers waiting for them. Niki Lauda tells Villeneuve and Arnoux that we had made some very dangerous maneuvers at Dijon, and that any contact could have endangered even the public. Arnoux and Villeneuve, meanwhile, become annoyed at what is happening. At one point Lauda asks if the two drivers have anything to say:
"That if it happens again I'm ready to do it again".
Villeneuve replies, while Arnoux is even more direct:
"Niki if you had been there, I would have come second".
After that the two walk away, together, from the race direction room. As the start is not due until 3:00 p.m. there is plenty of time for the Ensign team to install a new engine, so all 24 starters are ready to leave the pits at 2:30 p.m. after the aeroplanes had filled the air with aerobatics and paraffin fumes. One by one, in no particular order the twenty-four cars leave the pit lane and go round the circuit to form up on the starting grid, and Rosberg takes the opportunity to nip back into the pits for a final adjustment to the spare Wolf, before doing another warm-up lap. After what seemed to be a very long wait Alan Jones leads them off on the pace lap and they return to await the red light and then the green light for the off. Regazzoni makes a super start from the second row and arrives at the first corner going almost too fast, and without really meaning to, he elbowes his way past Jones and into the lead, with Jabouille in the Renault third. He is still leading on the other side of the circuit, but then Jabouille goes round the outside of him as Alan Jones goes through on the inside and from first Regazzoni is suddenly third and all is in order. The first lap sees the order Jones, (Williams), Jabouille (Renault), Regazzoni (Williams), Piquet (Brabham), Lauda (Brabham), Andretti (Lotus) - having made an incredible start from the fifth row, Arnoux (Renault), Laffite (Ligier), Villeneuve (Ferrari), Reutemann (Lotus) and the rest, but nothing is settled and there are about to be a lot of changes of position. The first thing that happens is that Piquet over-cooks it at the Woodcote chicane and spins off, which leaves Lauda leading a pretty desperate bunch who could see the leading trio disappearing into the middle distance. Jones and Jabouille go away on their own, Regazzoni is a lonely third and Arnoux, Villeneuve, Andretti and Scheckter are trying to get by Lauda. The World Champion does not get the chance for the Lotus destroys a wheel bearing and he is out after only three laps. The other three go by the Brabham and soon pull away and at five laps the race has settled down. With no strain at all Alan Jones is pulling out an enormous lead, while Jabouille soon realises he had chosen the wrong type of Michelin tyre, for not only could he not keep up but they were wearing too quickly.
Regazzoni is sitting comfortably in third place and Arnoux is leading the two Ferraris who look anything but comfortable. Laffite is having a ding-dong with Lauda and Jochen Mass has got his Arrows well into the mid-field bunch. His team-mate Patrese is anything but happy, for he had already been into the pits after starting late. The Williams is going like an Inter-City 125, but faster, and looks so smooth and confident that it makes you wonder what is wrong with all the others. Jabouille is falling back dramatically, and it is only a matter of time before he stops to try some different tyres. Regazzoni is sitting pretty to take over second place. Sure enough, it happens on lap 17 and we have the impressive sight of the two neat white and green Saudi Arabian backed Williams cars in first and second places in the British Grand Prix. Renault’s hopes are not dashed, for Arnoux is in a pretty strong third place, having outdistanced the two Ferraris and Laffite is leading the rest of the field, the tailenders already being lapped by Alan Jones. The Renault pit stop is a disaster, and with four new tyres Jabouille gets all tangled up in the wheel-nut spanner air-line and tears the nose cone apart as he roars off. He is back at the end of the lap for repairs, but they take a long time and he keeps the engine running and one of the turbo-chargers overheats and seizes and that is that. Scheckter had taken his rightful place ahead of his team-mate on lap 14 but it wasn’t going to do him much good, as they could not even see the leading Williams, let alone hope to catch it. Alan Jones is really coasting along, even though he is lapping in the 1'14"0, and he is running with nearly 1.000 r.p.m. in hand. Regazzoni is having to keep a wary eye in his mirrors and watch his pit signals, as Arnoux is going very consistently behind him, though there is no one else to worry about. Lauda is unhappy with the Brabham brakes and after being passed by almost everybody of no note he gives up. By 20 laps Jones had lapped Lammers, Gaillard, Fittipaldi and Rebaque, and shortly after he laps Tambay, de Angelis, Ickx, Pironi and Jarier in quick succession. Watson has the new McLaren in seventh place but then has to stop for a tyre change on the left-front; he then does an impressive climb back up through the tailenders to regain his position. At half-distance Jones is still in full command and everything is running smoothly, Regazzoni is still second and has got the measure of Arnoux, who is still third, but Laffite had got his Ligier among the Ferraris; everyone else had been lapped by the flying Williams. A great cheer from the crowd accompanies Laffite when he overtakes Scheckter, and then Reutemann disappears into the pits as his Lotus feels odd and he thought it might be a slow puncture.
It turns out to be a deteriorating skirt, on which the ceramic rubbing bits had broken up, so he goes on his way. As Alan Jones comes down to Woodcote corner to complete his fortieth lap, with everything seemingly in order, there is a bang, a cloud of smoke and that is the end of his super Cosworth engine and the end of his race. You can imagine his feelings as he coasts into the pits with a certain victory snatched away from him by a mechanical failure. For the Williams team as a whole, it is heart-breaking, but they are consoled by Regazzoni now solidly in the lead, for Arnoux in the Renault can do nothing about him. Laffite’s joy at being third does not last long for his engine goes sick and after stopping at the pits to make sure it wasn’t something simple like a wire off somewhere, he retires with internal engine damage. At the same time Rosberg falls out when the Cosworth engine in the Wolf goes sick with trouble in its fuel-injection system, so we have a rather depleted field with only four cars on the same lap, and all this has let Jarier into fifth place, though a lap behind, and Watson is sixth. Patrese comes into the pits to report a rumbling vibration in the back of his Arrows, sets off again and promptly has the gearbox break. At 50 laps Villeneuve is brought in and all four tyres are changed for a softer and stickier type and he sets off again, but he has lost his fourth place and is no longer causing Scheckter to keep an anxious eye in his mirrors. Before the race ends Villeneuve is back into the pits again, ostensibly with fuel-vaporisation problems, but it was clear that he was going no faster on the change of Michelins, and he retires in a very unhappy frame of mind. Round and round goes Regazzoni, followed consistently by Arnoux, but Scheckter is losing speed dramatically, his tyres wear thin, and his engine is not running cleanly. On lap 56 Regazzoni laps the Ferrari and smiles to himself hoping that Enzo Ferrari and James Hunt were noticing, and then a cheer goes up as the blue Tyrrell of Jarier takes away Scheckter’s third place, and an even louder cheer as Watson’s new McLaren passes the stricken Ferrari on their last lap. Pironi had lost contact with his team-mate when he had to stop and change a blistered tyre, and Tambay runs short of petrol before he gets the chequered flag for his seventh place. Elio de Angelis is black-flagged because his rear aerofoil was coming adrift and he stops at the pits for repairs, and this together with a one minute penalty for jumping the start puts him behind his Dutch team-mate, even though he had been well ahead of him at the start. When Alan Jones returns to the pits with the smoke coming out of the back of the car, not everyone immediately understands the reason. The Cosworth has an air intake for the water pump that pops up on the side and is wider than the chassis.
"I was hoping that Alan would win the first race".
Virginia knows that Clay is first, so she thinks:
"What should I do now?"
Beverley, who knows what Virginia is thinking, tells her to go to Frank Williams, because he is about to win his first race. And so he does: for Virginia it is great to see Clay winning, but she is sad for Beverley and Alan Jones, while Regazzoni’s track engineer, Neil Oatley, rightly celebrates the triumph. In the pits there are almost all the insiders of the Williams team. In the previous days Frank Williams had encouraged the entire team to come to the circuit: if he did not see them all there, he asked why they did not want to support the team. He really cares. He wants everyone to feel part of the team. A Williams was supposed to win and so it happened, but it was not Alan Jones who brought the white and green car to its first success. The British Grand Prix is won by the veteran Clay Regazzoni, an almost unexpected triumph for the thirty-nine-year-old Lugano driver (the Ticino driver will be forty years old on September 5th), because everyone was betting on his teammate, who was very fast during practices and dominated the first part of the race. A victory that did not bother anyone. Everyone seems happy for Regazzoni who, although with his Gascon manner (but how much sincerity there is often in his words, in an environment where many are even afraid to whisper), is surrounded by many sympathies. Compliments come from everywhere, even from the Ferrari team, that with the fifth place of Jody Scheckter strengthens the position of the standings leader, while the rivals in the fight for the title do not collect anything. It was not a particularly happy day for the Maranello team, even if after what happened in practice the result can be considered positive. The race also ended with a little controversy by the South African driver.
"Guys, take a picture of me while I drink orange soda because I cannot do anything else".
"I am happy to win again after three years. This success was too easy. I found myself in the lead and from that moment I could control the race without worries. I had a good start, but Jones and Jabouille were faster than me and on the first lap they detached me. I let them go so as not to compromise the whole race with a too fast pace. In the end, the facts proved me right".
"Simplicity above all. Then, lightness and excellent brakes. It is not a complicated car to develop: for this reason it is easy to adapt it to all circuits. In the race, until I was in third place, I used it at 80%. Then I slowed down, once in the lead, pulling the engine at only 10,200 rpm for maximum safety".
Was a team game planned with Jones?
"No, each of us was free to do our own race. Honestly, after Friday practice I thought I could win. Jones was faster than me on the straight, so much so that at the start, after I had managed to start first, he immediately overtook me".
When you passed the Ferraris, what did you think?
"It was an exciting moment, and I thought of the commander".
Silverstone’s victory will probably also lead to Regazzoni’s confirmation for the contract next season. Frank Williams said earlier:
"Last Thursday I renewed Jones’ contract. For Regazzoni we will see within a month".
Then, at the end of the race, to those who ask him if he has always the same opinion, the English manager responds instinctively:
"Regazzoni will stay with us".
A few words also from René Arnoux, who this time - without Villeneuve - managed to finish in second place.
"At this rate, third at Dijon, second at Silverstone, I hope to win the next race, in Hockenheim, in fifteen days".
Villeneuve, Laffite, Depailler (who is still hospitalised after the dramatic hang-gliding accident) and Reutemann did not score any point. The situation is therefore practically unchanged. In addition, for the game of scores that this year forces drivers to discard the four worst results over the eight races of the second round of the world championship, it is likely that Scheckter must eventually not count the Silverstone race. The two Ferrari drivers, however, remain at the top of the standings while, with the Ligier going backwards, the winners of the Grand Prix begin to alternate. Two weeks ago the Renault Turbo shone with Jean-Pierre Jabouille, now there is the Williams with Clay Regazzoni, who has not established himself since 1976 (United States West Grand Prix, in Long Beach, with Ferrari). After leaving the Maranello team he had not found a competitive car, overcoming disappointments and bitterness with verve and fighting spirit.
"By now the role of the driver has become secondary. To win you must have a good car and good tyres. Otherwise you’re a wingman, taking a lot of risks. But, for now I won’t stop, because I have fun, even if I can not aim for first place and even if in Formula 1 there are many things that do not work".
"You drive it like a bicycle, you don’t even get tired".
Regazzoni had almost won the race in Monaco, finishing behind Scheckter and Ferrari. At Silverstone he proved the validity of his thesis: give a competitive car to a driver and the latter will win. And if he also has some experience and drives intelligently, saving mechanics and tyres, which neither Jones with the other Williams nor Jabouille with the Renault-Turbo did. For Regazzoni it is the fifth success in 123 Grands Prix and nine years in Formula 1. A victory that he welcomed with a disenchanted smile, smoothing his moustache and without a drop of sweat on his face. Regazzoni - who is outgoing, a prankster, a protester - is almost ashamed of success. But the Swiss driver, Frank Williams and the design engineer Patrick Head must also thank Goodyear: it is thanks to the policy established by the American company that Williams has taken an advantage, while the other brands have had a discontinuous behaviour - just remember Ligier (not to mention Lotus). Since the beginning of the season the rear Goodyear tyres have had a larger diameter (28 inches instead of 26) and a reduced tread width (from 16 inches to 15): for that difficult alchemy of racing cars, the new Williams has found its best balance with these tyres. But there is something else, of course: first of all, the Williams is very simple (sophisticatedly simple, as its design engineer says), which makes it light, at the limit of the minimum weight required by the regulation (575 kg). Then, the aerodynamic part was made in order to obtain a valid solution with great unitary effects, rather than seeking many different effects. For example, the Lotus 80 and the Arrows. In the Williams there is only one big space under the car, between the miniskirts and the ground, without too many shapes.
The bodywork has an excellent downforce effect with a minimum increase in rolling resistance. This is proven by the fact that the average speed was much higher than that of the rival cars: Jones ran two seconds slower than the Ferrari. This will prove to be the most remarkable improvement that Frank Dernie, Williams’ design engineer, has ever seen in the wind tunnel. It is so interesting, that when he goes back to the factory - Williams uses the Imperial’s one - he immediately develops the project. The wind tunnel tests are carried out during the week before the French Grand Prix: on Monday the tests prove to be efficient, on Tuesday Dernie develops the project, and on Thursday they make the piece in the factory. Everyone is happy, it is a big step forward. One of the guys from Brabham will tell Dernie that on the BT49 they never managed to solve that problem. Patrick Head and Frank Dernie share the races 50% each because they have other jobs to do at the factory and there are not many engineers. So they have to divide the work on Jones’ car according to the workload. Patrick handles executive projects, Dernie handles theoretical issues. For this reason, Head usually participates in the first four races, while Frank focuses on problems such as overheating, in the wind tunnel if necessary. Dernie will not be at the British Grand Prix all weekend, so the English engineer will not be at the circuit until Saturday: on race day, Frank marks the lap times and takes care of the data collection at the end of the tests. The so-called trick is simply to seal the low pressure area at the bottom of the car, on the sides of the engine. In that spot, there was an opening through which much air passed. Head and Dernie had already thought of closing it, but for some reason it had not been done. These metal pieces are made by Bernie Jones, to whom Head asks:
"Can you make a panel to close that hole?"
It was therefore sufficient to seal the low pressure zone to improve the performance. In fact, when Williams ran some tests at Silverstone, Alan Jones improved his time by 1.2s.
"I just have to convince myself that I can go faster at Copse and at Stowe. When I’m halfway around the bend, I think, Jeez, Alan, why are you going so slow? I hope I can persuade my foot not to release the throttle".
"Unfortunately we have been naive, and we made a mistake by not checking what kind of fuel was provided for the race. We should always check everything, down to the smallest detail. But sometimes it is not possible, there is no material time. From now on we will ask if Agip can send us a technician".
But what happened exactly?
"In the days of testing we had used the same fuel that the other teams were using, the one taken in the circuit, which had not given rise to any problems. It was a super high-octane fuel, which is called five stars. For the race, however, we were supplied by our usual supplier that, for a mistake, gave us a poorer type of gasoline, called four stars".
"Apart from the damage due to the slightly lower power and different adjustments that should have been made, the problem occurred in all its gravity when the tank almost emptied. This gasoline with less octane is more subject to vaporisation. The liquid pumped is always higher than the need. The advancing one goes back to the tank through the recovery tube. It passes by the engine and of course heats up. In the first laps, with a lot of cold fuel in the tanks, this does not cause any disturbance, but with time, arriving heated liquid, the so-called vapour Lock phenomena are provoked, the steam forms bubbles in the pipes and the fuel supply becomes abnormal. Villeneuve’s car even stopped while Scheckter’s was slower, allowing Jarier and Watson to overtake the South African. The same inconvenience occurred last year in Hockenheim. We hope that it will not happen again".
The same inconvenience happened to Scheckter. The South African first had to give up third place to Jarier (lap 63), and then was overtaken by the wild Watson with two laps to go. The South African came back to the box like a fury. Then he got on the caravan, muttering:
Engineer Mauro Forghieri got on for explanations. It became known that Scheckter accused the team of not communicating with the pit board that Watson was about to overtake him.
"A lack of sensitivity, because I was racing with maximum concentration not to make mistakes and not to exploit the car too much".
This fact explains the strange behaviour of the Ferraris in the final part of the race. The loss of placings is due to the lack of fuel: it remains to be discovered why the 312 T4s were in any case (the practices prove it) slower than many other cars and not only behind the Williams and the Renaults. First of all it must be said that Michelin arrived at Silverstone without having much experience on the English track. While Goodyear was on its home track, the French team had no precise reference points. This is demonstrated by Jabouille’s problems and by the fact that Arnoux was not too competitive. Secondly, Ferrari has (like all other cars) a type of chassis, set-up, aerodynamics that does not fit all tracks. The same Lotus that dominated on certain circuits last year, had difficulties for example in Long Beach and Watkins Glen. The technical evolution of single-seaters is now so advanced that a model becomes old or obsolete after only three months (the same as Ligier). In order to win anywhere, it would be necessary to have three types of cars in a team: one with a turbo engine, a total wing car and a compromise one, like Ferrari. But the costs would be too high. Although sooner or later some teams will come up with this solution. For the moment, however, Ferrari must settle to try to win on those tracks for which it was built.
And so far it has proven to be more adaptable than many other cars, because it has won more than everyone else. Far from prying eyes (and photographers), Sunday, July 16, 1979 Clay Regazzoni celebrates his fifth victory in Formula 1 in Monte Carlo. Immediately after the success in the British Grand Prix, which launched the almost forty-year-old Ticino driver in his second youth and Williams in the role of the car to beat in the next races. Immediately after the race, Clay left by plane for Nice, from where he reached his beautiful apartment in the Principality. Now it is easy to imagine him aboard a yacht where he will treat himself to a glass of champagne, which for an agreement with the princes of Saudi Arabia can not drink publicly. Just one glass, though, because Regazzoni is not a food-excesses type of guy. His secret as an experienced driver is in fact linked to an intensely sporting life and to compliance with certain rules such as not eating too much or not drinking high quantities of alcohol.
"I feel like a kid. I dedicate this victory to Frank Williams. I know exactly how many sacrifices he had to make and what economic and technical difficulties he had to overcome. He deserved success for his perseverance and for the skill he showed in leading the team".
"As far as I am concerned, I think that there was no difference in emotion between my success at Silverstone and my first victory in 1970. It’s always a great feeling. I kept driving and taking risks because I still have fun. If it was not like this, I would have already retired as did Hunt who lately was getting a disappointment after another".
The Swiss says nothing else but his smile is full of allusions. His success in the British Grand Prix will most likely bring him the contract for next year’s Williams. And with the contract, petrodollars, popularity and girls will continue to arrive. We must not forget that Clay has made the motto women and engines, joys and sorrows a true principle of life. And, even at forty, a Formula 1 driver always finds how to put it into practice. Even Frank and Virginia Williams wished that day would never end. The two sit together inside the small camper and watch the sunset as they all leave. Frank Williams does not want to leave the circuit. It is an overwhelming feeling:
"We’ve won a Grand Prix".
Frank Williams will remember:
"When we took the car to Silverstone, we weren’t entirely convinced. The changes looked good, but nothing more. All of a sudden, the car started going faster than usual, and the lap times kept getting better and better. At one point, Alan went back into the box and said: You won’t believe what’s going on, it’s amazing how fast it is. At that very moment, my life completely changed direction. I will never forget that feeling. I was checking the rivals to make sure they didn’t do the same lap times, but they couldn’t. Everyone was watching the chronometers, and I remember the desperation on their faces. It seemed like God had sent us a miracle, but it wasn’t. It was just a discovery made in the wind tunnel".
But in the meantime, at Silverstone, Frank experiences an extraordinary, unforgettable feeling.