In California they don’t seem to worry too much about the energy crisis that is troubling the world. The increase in the price of oil decided by the OPEC producers, the closure of many nuclear power plants and the ensuing controversy (after the leakage of radioactive gas at the Harrisburg plant in Pennsylvania) in the United States itself, appear to be far-off events, unable to touch the well-being and tranquility of those in a region rich in resources, dominated by the desire to live and have fun. Here the pumps for the extraction of oil - scattered almost everywhere - extract the black gold with haunting rhythm, day and night.
The incredible sixteen-lane highways on two carriageways continue to be crossed round the clock by endless rows of huge cars; the locals, restaurants, hotels are full of people coming and going. No wonder, then, that the organizers of the US West Grand Prix, the fourth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, have officially announced that they have already paid to Foca, the association of manufacturers headed by Bernie Ecclestone, the large sum of 875.000 dollars as a contribution to the expenses to be incurred. Of this money, $600.000 will be distributed for prizes and $275.000 will be used to pay transport and travel expenses for the association’s member teams. A record, this (never until now had been paid such a figure for a single Grand Prix), which makes us understand the importance that has reached this race.
The organizers have exposed themselves to such a high expense as they are convinced that they can leave the business with a good margin of profit, although they have given another 165.000 dollars for the preparation of the city circuit. In addition to having found a significant number of rich sponsors, who have already counted on the presence of about 100.000 paying spectators. And, in view of the fact that there are tickets that cost even 100 dollars each, it is easy to understand how the accounts can go into surplus.
The organizational merits (everything has been improved and it seems that even the timing, which last year was a source of many problems, is perfect) are to be added to those on track safety work, which has always been considered very dangerous. Protective nets, stacks of old tires, a wall of concrete blocks that practically surrounds the entire track have been flanked by a faster service for assistance along the route, with the possibility of intervening from new exits and entrances. Everything, in short, seems to have been carefully prepared for the fourth act of the World Championship.
Fourth act that presents as top players still Ligier and Ferrari, since the new Lotus 80 tested in recent weeks in Spain has highlighted several problems and will debut only on the track in Madrid, in about a month. Ligier, which has undergone several minor evolutionary changes, just after the tests carried out in Spain, has proved to be always the car to beat, despite the setback of South Africa. The sports director of the French team, Gerard Ducarouge, says that the Kyalami race does not make sense, that Laffite and Depailler will start to win and to consolidate the position at the head of the world championship.
Equally valid are the reasons brought to the balance by Ferrari to be considered among the favorites of the race: the success with the new T4 in South Africa, the favorable tradition of the years spent in Long Beach, The adoption of Michelin radial tires on these types of city circuits, are facts that can not be underestimated. The House of Modena has brought to the United States three T4, one of which is completely new and will still have to be tested. Unfortunately, due to an internal transport strike in New York, the cars remain blocked for a short time at the airport in the North, but the problem should be solved within a few hours and the mechanics can begin their work in the short term. Mauro Forghieri confesses of the modifications made to the cars:
"Compared to the cars that debuted at Kyalami, the cars now have about seventy small and large modifications. It starts from the change of the body that had cracked in the attachment points of the small chassis that supports the front suspension, the adoption of a larger version of the braking system up to additional air intakes for cooling the rear discs. But the most important news will be aerodynamics. We will try an advanced spoiler, mounted immediately ahead of the axis of the rear wheels, which will have the advantage of a larger size to obtain a great grip in the curve".
In the weeks leading up to the US West Grand Prix, on Tuesday, March 13, 1979, the Executive Committee of the Italian Automobile Club confirmed that the Italian Grand Prix was held in Monza. The following day, Bernie Ecclestone announced the possibility that, since 1980, cameras could be mounted on Formula 1 cars, in order to allow the viewer to see the race from the driver’s perspective. However, this is not the only expected change: in fact, the great increase in the performance of the cars, due to the introduction of the ground effect, pushed FOCA and FISA to try to change the technical regulation, for future seasons. For 1980 it is proposed to increase the minimum weight of single-seaters, as well as to limit to 1,000 cc the maximum displacement for turbocharged engines; it is proposed for 1982 the abolition of miniskirts.
Wednesday, March 14, 1979, is presented at the Circuit of Brands Hatch the new Lotus 80. However, the car will not be used in the United States West Grand Prix, where Copersucar-Fittipaldi will use the F5 again, while Wolf will bring, for the first time, the WR8. At first it is also proposed the debut of the new Renault car, but it will not materialize.Williams will present, during the Grand Prix weekend, its new single-seater, the FW07, which will debut in the Spanish Grand Prix.
There was also talk of the possible debut of the new Renault turbo with ground effect, but the debut was postponed to Spain. Still waiting for the start of the race weekend, Niki Lauda becomes for the first time a father. His wife, Marlene Lauda, gave birth Tuesday, April 4, 1979, in the morning, a beautiful boy who enjoys excellent health. The Austrian driver has the news of the birth of his firstborn son as soon as he arrives in California, where he is to participate in the US West Grand Prix.
"I’m happy but I still don’t know what I’ll call it. I haven’t had time to think about it. We’ll see when I get home".
The former World Champion, apart from the happy news, these days he is very interested in aviation, his favorite hobby and also his work for the future when he leaves the competitive activity. For this reason, he visits the Douglas workshops and asks for the price of a DC 10.
"They want $45.000.000, 15 months waiting. That’s incredible".
As time goes by, the wait gets feverish. While riders enjoy the last hours of relaxation, playing tennis and doing footing along the beaches, mechanics work day and night to fine-tune the cars. This Grand Prix engages teams and technicians in a careful work of finishing the mechanical parts of the machines because on the street circuit, slow and tortuous, aerodynamics will be less decisive. Together with the preparations for training that will start on Friday at 10:00 a.m. with a one-hour practice session, and will continue at 12:30 a.m. with the first qualifying round, the usual American side initiatives flourish.
The election of the Miss Grand Prix, the parade of competition cars, a parade of majorettes and folk groups are the corollary of the automobile event. Also this year the mayor and the organizers of the race have decided to help those citizens who live in the houses located in the immediate vicinity of the track. Those who can’t stand the noise and confusion can spend three days of vacation in nearby Las Vegas, with all the expenses (less obviously those related to gambling) paid.
There are also those who take advantage of the opportunity to get some publicity as the organizers of a race from coast to coast, that is from Florida to California, which takes part 43 cars, two motorcycles and an ambulance. The race is won by a Jaguar XJS, the latest model, which takes 32 hours and 58 minutes to complete 3.000 miles, an average of about 90 miles per hour, less than the 88.5 miles with which last year Carlos Reutemann won the US West Grand Prix with Ferrari.These facts do not interest much the circus of Formula 1 engaged, as has been said, in the last preparations for the race.
Ferrari mechanics, for example, do not even have a free moment for distractions as the three T4 blocked at New York airport on arrival arrive in Long Beach only Wednesday night, forcing them to a real tour de force for final preparation. Around the Italian cars is accentuated the greater attention. Last year’s victory, as well as the double in South Africa, make the Maranello cars considered as the main favorites of the race. There is only doubt as to which of the two drivers - Scheckter or Villeneuve - you should aim for. The South African has no doubts:
"I want to get to the world title and then I will try not to miss the opportunity. In Kyalami I missed the victory because I was also unlucky".
Gilles Villeneuve appears much more moderate. Despite the appearance of a little boy, the Canadian - who is always followed by his wife Joanne and the two little children - is now a temperate and mature man.
"At this point I know what my chances are. I know I can also win and this race adapts to my driving characteristics. The tight 90-degree corners, the type of track, I is a kind of circuit I’ve always raced on. But I do not have too many illusions because I know that. will be very hard".
Some say that there will be a great rivalry between Villeneuve and Scheckter.
"For the moment there are no problems. We have equal cars, equal engines. We fight on equal terms. Only later in the season, when the situation in the standings will be clearer, we will see who can aim high. Now I know that Jody is the first driver, that if, due to an unfortunate situation, two cars were to break, I would have to stay on foot to watch the race. But that doesn’t bother me".
Who will be the main favorites for the race?
"Together with Ferrari I would put, it is clear, the two Ligiers of Laffite and Depailler and also the Brabham-Alfa of Niki Lauda. I am convinced that the Austrian will have a good race because he has a great desire to win and a car that is competitive on this circuit. I also see the Tyrrells. As for the Lotus, however, I would not put them among the probable winners. Otherwise I would have to name other machines".
In the shadows there are also the Italian drivers who will be in the race, Elio De Angelis with the Shadow and Riccardo Patrese with the Arrows. The Paduan, in particular, has proud intentions of revenge.
"He will soon be able to win a Grand Prix. The Arrows design engineer has prepared a new car that will most likely debut in Belgium. An extraordinary car that I have already been able to admire in the projects, which has really unthinkable solutions. A car that will allow me - I repeat - to finally win a race".
Patrese doesn’t think he’s exaggerating by saying these things. He is convinced that Southgate, the designer of his team, is a real phenomenon and that in terms of aerodynamics and chassis is second to none.
"When others see my car, they will be surprised. Not even the new Lotus 80 or Brabham 48 have such original solutions. Especially in the back, where my engineer invented a spoiler that has no equal in Formula 1. The car will have a top speed of about twelve percent higher than that of the other machines currently built and I have confirmed that the curve will be much faster than the Lotus 80. With this car I count on winning my first Grand Prix".
But the machine for the moment exists only on paper. Patrese is sure that what you saw is really something so valid?
"Of course. The data provided by the wind tunnel is more than comforting. We are sure that the new Arrows will have no rivals. That’s why I’m calm now, even if I have to race a car. too old and uncompetitive. There has been no mention of me so far because I was too old-fashioned and difficult to drive. Be assured that when the race arrives in Belgium you will hear the name of Patrese again. I’m not saying this because I want to get free publicity, but because I’m perfectly sure of what I assert".
As for the Long Beach race, what do you think?
"I believe especially in Ferrari. Scheckter and Villeneuve with Maranello cars and Michelin tyres will have no rivals on this street circuit. I think that Ligier can give some annoyance to the two Italian cars but nothing more. As for the others, however, I think they are too far behind these two machines. The T4 is a very competitive car that I think will adapt perfectly to the tight corners of Long Beach and has the acceleration needed to win with a certain confidence. The trouble for the Italian car will come mainly in Europe, when the Lotus 80 will finally make its debut and especially when there will be on track my Arrows. I may seem presumptuous in saying these things, but I assure you that is not so. The demonstration will come…".
Bets are divided into two. Thousands of dollars on the Ferrari, a little less on the Ligier. These are the two favorite cars for the Grand Prix which will constitute the fourth act of the World Championship. But in the Formula 1 environment there are many chances also for Niki Lauda’s Brabham-Alfa. Why is the Austrian again in the limelight? Many argue that the car is particularly suited to the type of street circuit, slow and tortuous. The Alfa engine, bright and elastic, would give Niki those advantages that do not offer aerodynamics on the fastest tracks. Moreover, for too long, the former World Champion no longer has the satisfaction of a victory.
"It’s time to regain lost time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to fight for the world title, but I want to at least get back to winning once. My last success was at the Monza race last year. But I don’t even want to remember it. It was a tragic day. The antecedent was in Sweden, when we adopted the famous fan. No clear success, therefore, for a long time for me. I hope this is the right time".
Lauda is convinced he can make a good run. He doesn’t say who his biggest opponents will be, but the question is implied. The only one who does not believe much in the Austrian is the engineer Carlo Chiti, in charge of Autodelta, the sports section of Alfa Romeo that supplies the engines to Brabham.
"Niki doesn’t seem the same as he used to be. He seems less focused and even in the tuning of the car is not as precise as he used to be. I hope that this is a temporary crisis because of the lack of results. And I hope that a possible success on the Long Beach track will bring Niki back to the top of the rankings among the best drivers".
For the race scheduled for Sunday, starting at 12:55 a.m., a record crowd is expected: there is talk of over 100.000 spectators coming from all over the United States and also from abroad. The hotels in Long Beach are complete and the wait seems great. All teams have defined the tuning of the machines and the first official practice will start on Friday. Even Ferrari solves, in the meantime, all its problems. On Wednesday evening the cars arrive in Long Beach, while on Thursday the equipment and spare parts arrive. The mechanics underwent an authentic tour de force, but in the end they managed to fine-tune the cars for Scheckter and Villeneuve. So the battle is open. Ferrari, Ligier, Brabham: who will win?
Formula 1 changes the scenery. From the South American heat to the Kyalami high. and now to the city streets of California. And, once again, the different placement of the race causes upheavals in the subtle game of balancing forces on the field. In qualifying Lotus suddenly reappeared to act as an intermediary in the speech that seemed limited to Ligier and Ferrari. The most surprising fact is that it is not the new car of Colin Chapman, but the now old 79. Carlos Reutemann also reappeared in Long Beach, on the circuit that has always been congenial to him.
The Argentine gets the best time in the first day of practice, characterized by extreme uncertainty, with many drivers very close to each other in the best positions of the ranking. This result gives a more human dimension to the world of the Great Prizes and also places the emphasis on a certain validity of the circuits built in the city, in the streets normally crossed by everyday traffic. Here the sophistication, the ground effect, the miniskirts, the tires, assume a less decisive importance. The driver, with his courage, with his skill, with his technique returns to be the protagonist. But as Carlos Reutemann says:
"These are just the tests, but the race will be something else".
A sentence that can mean that on Sunday the thirty-six-year-old South American will try to enforce his sudden return to the top, or perhaps that he thinks he can not repeat in the race the exploit of qualifying. However, the fact remains that Lotus is again in the running as Andretti is also able to fight to win. Much depends on Ferrari and Michelin tyres that on Friday, in truth, disappoint expectations, as it was thought that they would have a considerable margin of advantage over those Goodyear.
During the first races, however, the Maranello team does not have the opportunity to work thoroughly due to two accidents that occurred since the first laps in Villeneuve and Scheckter. The Canadian collided with a guard, in the morning, a minute after the start of the free practice. His car, the same one he won in South Africa, got caught, because of an uncontrolled skidding, in a bunch of used tires, located at the exit of a corner, as a safety barrier. The blow is so violent that the right front suspension of the 312 T4 bends and for Villeneuve the tests end here. Shortly after, on the seventh lap, it was Scheckter’s turn. In braking, Jody hit Pironi’s Tyrrell.
"It was my fault: I was going at least 50 km/h stronger than the Frenchman and I thought it would brake later, as I had intended to do: instead it slowed down suddenly and I was not able to avoid the collision. Too bad because I ruined the new car".
In fact, this 312 T4, which Scheckter should have used in the race, with all the changes, including aerodynamics, made after the last tests in Fiorano, appears in poor condition and can only be used as a reserve car. The impact is violent, so much so that the left front wheel gets stuck, crushing into the body, ruining both the side and the upper dome, something that had never happened before, even in more spectacular accidents. These two episodes force the mechanics of Ferrari to work extra to repair the cars, but, obviously, the time available for a new tuning and to look for the best solutions is very limited. Scheckter and Villeneuve will probably have to run with the T4 of Kyalami.
The Formula 1 World Championship looks set to an exciting season. The fight between the different teams for technical supremacy and that between the drivers for the title is very uncertain and very tense. It takes a little to change seemingly unassailable situations. Two examples can give a fairly real picture of what is happening: the defeat of Ligier in South Africa, when it seemed that the French car could not have rivals, and the return of Lotus to the top when no one believed in the old cars of Colin Chapman. Obviously, these facts have an explanation.
The success of the new Ferrari 312 T4 at Kyalami was determined by several components. The competitiveness of the car, its best performance at high altitude of the circuit, the skill of the drivers, the validity of Michelin tires. As for the reappearance in the very first positions of Ruehlemann and Andretti with the Lotus 79 (and with them other drivers like Patrese and Ragazzoni) the reasons are simple. And in this regard we must reveal a background regarding the qualifying tests.
Ligier, despite not shining in these first qualifying sessions, seems to have overcome the psychological backlash of the defeat in South Africa very well. The French team is convinced that the United States West Grand Prix will be the occasion for the third victory of the season. Jacques Laffite, who due to a tendinitis in the right arm, has to undergo a series of intensive treatments and runs with a showy rigid bandage, continues to say that there are no problems and that in the end the Ligiers will come to the fore again. The Parisian driver also finds time to joke, playing down the rivalry that divides him with his teammate Depailler:
"First I had to be a pilot and a test driver. Now. Instead, I can rest by limiting myself to the effort of the races, as Patrick takes care of the tests".
Not everything, however, runs as you would like to believe, in the transalpine team. The machines report some problems. Incredibly, the fact of being so fast brought inconvenience to the brakes. In essence, the system is no longer suitable for the needs of a car that at every turn arrives very quickly and must slow down in a few meters. Says the Ligier sports director, Gerard Ducarouge:
"This is currently our biggest drawback. We have already tried new carbon fiber brakes, aeronautically derived, but we have not yet been able to use them. We can probably mount them on the cars for the Jaraim race. And from that moment we will be able to use one hundred percent of the resources of our car".
The brake problem justifies the not brilliant behavior of Laffite and especially of Depailler in the first day of tests. Depailler. in particular, at a certain point, he no longer knows how to behave and tries to correct the braking by himself with the adjustment system located in the passenger compartment, which allows to increase or decrease the braking effect on each of the four wheels, one independently of the other.
The move, however, does not seem to give good results, as Depailler inadvertently unbalances the car, which slips fearfully in every turn of the circuit, where it should slow down. At the end of the tests, Ducarouge will pronounce very harsh words for his driver, asking him to advise the technicians before acting on the adjustment of the car. Laffite also has problems, but with the gearbox that breaks and does not allow him a regular training.
The leader of the world ranking, however, has the intention to get a very cotnpetitive car prepared for the race. After finding that the forklift had a more valid engine than the racing car, the Frenchman asked that an exchange be made between the two Ligiers, taking from each the most efficient parts.That means his intentions are belligerent. However, Saturday, April 7, 1979 overturns the qualifying result, as Gilles Villeneuve marks the best time.
The pole position obtained by the young Canadian is the result of his maturity; after just two years of Formula 1, the Ferrari driver shows that he has learned well all the lessons he has been given. Since Gilles' exploit deprives Reutemann of the chance to start with the best finish, it can be said that the student beats the master, who had had last year at Ferrari. The secret of Villeneuve is not exceptional but it is enough to show how the little boy from Montreal has understood perfectly how to exploit every possibility that is presented to him on Saturday, after trying all the aerodynamic and set-up solutions that he has available.
Gilles asks just in the last rounds to have the possibility to remove the engine’s rev limiter at the end of the straight, raising the engine up to 12.600 rpm, giving it enough thrust to improve Reutemann’s time by 6 cents. A few moments after qualifying ended, however, it was worth the risk. Also because Villeneuve had noticed that in some corners the second gear was too short and he would have needed to push something more to get the fastest Tomaini, technical manager of the team, gave his approval. The Canadian’s car is back on track and after two laps Villeneuve overtakes rivals with a brilliant timed lap in 1'18"32, marking the new track record.
"I realized that this was the only chance I had of improving my performance and I risked it. It went well because in the next lap, maybe because of the excessive vibrations due to the speed, or because of a jump, the transmission shaft broke and I had to go back to the pits pushing the car. I can really say that I was lucky".
The fate of Carlos Reutemann is different. The Argentine had also tried to set the lap time again but twenty minutes from the qualifying line was stopped by the break of a semi-axle of his Lotus.
"At first I thought I had run out of gas because, to be as light as possible, I had very little in the tanks. Then I realized that it was a problem at the broadcast and so I was forced to arrest myself. Too bad, because I still had almost half an hour left and I could certainly have improved. This is a circuit that allows you to remove fractions of a second on every lap when you know it well".
The fact remains that Villeneuve was smarter than him and that this earned him the pole position with which he will face the USA West Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Colin Chapman, with Reutemann and Andretti, wants to develop the new Lotus 80 as soon as possible. The car was scheduled to make its debut at the Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder, but to accelerate the time, Andretti will start testing the week after the Grand Prix, probably on Thursday at the Belgian track. If the workouts will give positive results, it is not excluded that the Italian-American driver also participates in the Race of Champions, scheduled at Brands Hatch and not valid for the Formula 1 World Championship.
In the Sunday morning warm-up Jean-Pierre Jabouille breaks a joint of his Renault to the long curve of the Shoreline Drive, flying in the barriers to 290 km/h. A dislocation in his arm forced him not to leave. A stronger version of the coupling, manufactured by the team in the garage, breaks down on the car of team-mate René Arnoux. To avoid a repeat of the accident that occurred at Jabouille, Renault decided to withdraw the second car from the race; this allows two unqualified, Derek Daly on Ensign and Héctor Rebaque on Lotus, to take off. 100.000 people will be the backdrop to the afternoon race, characterized by the sun arriving for the start. So, like the previous year, the start is given on the Shoreline Drive, to give more space to the group of drivers in the sgranare after the start and until the first corner.
With that the field was sent to form up on the grid from the pits, although only 23 of the 24 starters would make it to the their grid slots. The lone casualty would be Carlos Reutemann, whose Lotus had suffered an electrical failure and needed to be towed back to the pits. The Norfolk squad quickly diagnosed the problem and cured it, but the Argentine was forced to start from the pitlane as per-FIA rules regarding the closing of the pitlane prior to the start. That left Gilles Villeneuve on his own on the front row, with the Canadian duly leading the field away on the formation lap without issue. As they passed the pits midway around the tour, however, Reutemann burst out of the pits and slotted in behind Daly, hoping that no-one would notice. Unfortunately for him Villeneuve would mess up his positioning on the grid, overshooting his grid slot having received no guidance from the marshals.
With no other course of action left available Villeneuve decided to start another formation lap, taking Jody Scheckter, Patrick Depailler and Mario Andretti with him. Jacques Laffite, meanwhile, would try to go with them, only for his gearbox to lock the rear-axle solid and spin him around, blocking the circuit. The top four were left to circulate around on their own, while the rest of the pack slowly trickled past the stranded Ligier, before being stopped at the pits and put back in grid order. Once Villeneuve and co. returned the field were sent on their way once again, this time heading from the end of the pit-straight to the start-line. Laffite was not among them having jumped into the spare Ligier, while Reutemann had been dragged back into the pits and told not to try and join the field again on pain of disqualification.
After all that the race finally got underway, with Villeneuve streaking into Queen's hairpin barely ahead of teammate Scheckter, who tried an ambitious move on the outside of the corner. Depailler went with them and duly tried to squeeze inside Scheckter as he ran wide, causing the rest of the pack to bunch up as they hit the brakes. Somewhat inevitably this would cause a collision, with Patrick Tambay shooting into the back of Jan Lammers and launching his McLaren into the air, before crashing down on top of Niki Lauda's Brabham.
Both the McLaren and the Brabham were out on the spot, sending cars scattering around to try and find a way past. That resulted in some major changes at the lower end of the pack, and meant that Laffite and Reutemann had a longer wait than expected as the backmarkers took a long time to complete the first half-lap. Fortunately, the scene of the accident was clear by the time the leaders returned to the hairpin, still on the official opening lap, with Tambay and Lauda already walking back to the pits.
Come the end of the opening tour and Villeneuve had already built a small lead over Depailler, whose move on Scheckter had been overshadowed by the collision behind. The South African ace himself was in third ahead of Andretti, with Jean-Pierre Jarier, Riccardo Patrese, Alan Jones and Nelson Piquet completing the lead group. They were being chased by the next bunch held up by the Tambay accident, miraculously led by Héctor Rebaque from the back of the grid, while James Hunt was already out with yet another driveshaft failure.
The early stages would see Villeneuve, Depailler and Scheckter pull away from the chasing pack, aided by Jarier attacking and passing Andretti on the second tour. Yet, the Frenchman simply lacked the pace of the lead trio, and duly began to slip a few tenths a lap away from them, with Andretti, Patrese, Jones and Piquet glued to his tail. Behind, Rebaque began to slip back down the order as the rest of the field sorted themselves out, while Reutemann was casually carving up the order after his pre-race issues.
Back with the leaders and Jarier began to get into the rhythm of things in his Tyrrell, and duly closed onto the back of Scheckter on lap seven. One lap later and the Tyrrell was scything inside the Ferrari on the brakes for Queens, before shooting away to harass the second placed Tyrrell. Another lap and another dart on the brakes and Jarier was through past his compatriot, leaving Depailler to defend, unsuccessfully, from Scheckter.
Yet, try as he might, Jarier simply could not catch Villeneuve out front, with the French Canadian maintaining a three second lead over the Tyrrell without much issue. Elsewhere, Laffite had already given up in the spare Ligier, which had not been touched at all during practice or qualifying, while Reutemann suddenly found himself a whole lap down while harassing Rebaque. Arturo Merzario was another early casualty with an engine failure, while Emerson Fittipaldi dropped out with yet another Ford Cosworth related driveshaft failure. By lap twenty Jarier's hopes of victory were over, for Villeneuve had begun to push hard and opened out a healthy lead, leaving the Tyrrell to be harassed by Scheckter. Depailler, meanwhile, had dropped into the sights of Andretti, although the American ace was not able to launch an attack on the Frenchman, for Jones was glued to his tail and threatening a lunge.
Piquet would chase them hard until he had to stop for fresh tyres in the sole-surviving Brabham, while Reutemann's race was over a lap later with (as expected) a driveshaft failure. Tyre wear would soon become the order of the day for the leaders, with Jarier having burned through the best of his Goodyear rubber by lap 29, effectively gifting Scheckter second. The Frenchman duly slipped back to Depailler and co. before half distance, although Jochen Mass had more serious trouble, seeming to lack any grip at all on the rear of his Arrows. Indeed, the German racer was barely able to keep his car in a straight line on the straights, and would eventually gift Rebaque a position as he swung perilously close to a concrete wall.
Back into the fight for third and Jarier's troubles were allowing Andretti to attack, the American ace slipping ahead of Depailler just before half-distance, before an aborted attack on the Tyrrell. That allowed Depailler to retake fourth, before Jones sent his Williams skating past Andretti's Lotus on the brakes at the hairpin on lap 39. Indeed, it was a beautifully timed move by Jones, for not only did it put him ahead of Andretti, but it was completed right in front of the team's sponsors as they were being entertained at the Queens hairpin.
Jarier, meanwhile, would be forced to abandon third place on lap 46 with a trip to the pits, the vibration from one of his tyres becoming too much for him to cope with. Depailler duly inherited third, although that position was up for debate as Jones and Andretti remained glued to his tail. Jarier's disappearance also promoted Rebaque into the points, the Mexican ace having picked up more places as Patrese, Pironi and Clay Regazzoni all hit mechanical trouble mid-race.
Into the closing stages and the fight for third was the only real source of entertainment, although there seemed scant hope of Jones actually making a move stick on Depailler. However, an opportunity finally arose when the trio came up to lap a group of back markers on lap 61, a huddle which included Jarier's freshly shod Tyrrell. In the sudden flurry of overtaking that followed Jones slipped the Williams ahead of the Ligier to grab third, while Andretti got caught behind a reinvigorated Jarier and slipped back. With that the race seemed to be over, although three late issues would shuffle the order in the points with a handful of laps to go. The first saw Depailler's Ligier suddenly lose fourth gear, a breakage that mutually allowed Jones to disappeared up the road and Andretti, now with Jarier glued to his tail, to close up and ultimately snatch fourth place from him.
The other incident saw Rebaque trip over fellow back-row starter Daly while attempting to lap the Ensign, sending the Mexican's privately owned Lotus skating into the barriers. The final points were hence set to be handed to Jarier, although with Depailler's pace suddenly nose-diving after the loss of fourth gear it seemed as if another position was up for grabs. As such, Pironi and Elio de Angelis began fighting hard on very worn tyres, resulting in some seemingly harmless contact, only for Pironi's suspension to suddenly collapse and send him skating down an escape road. He was subsequently pushed back onto the circuit and disqualified, although the Frenchman only managed to limp back to the pits with his ruined suspension.
Out front, meanwhile, Villeneueve truly was in a class of his own, collecting fastest lap with a new lap record en-route to a dominant victory, thirty seconds clear of teammate Scheckter. Third went to Jones after his combative performance in the Williams, while Andretti was a relatively lonely fourth after letting Jarier escape up the road. Depailler ended the race in fifth, his gearbox just surviving to the checkered flag, while Jarier himself claimed sixth having lost a lap due to his stop.
Another double from Ferrari, another victory for Gilles Villeneuve. The Canadian driver achieved his third success in the Formula 1 World Championship, the second consecutive, at the end of a race conducted in an exemplary manner, always in the lead, without a single mistake. In second place, Jody Scheckter with the other Ferrari. The Italian team responded to the amazing results that Ligier had achieved in the first two races of the season, in Argentina and Brazil. Then the French car got a first and a fourth place in Buenos Aires, and a first and a second in Interlagos.
Ferrari does even better: first and second in Kyalami, same result in California. However, it is a fairly complicated race, especially at the start. But once the Grand Prix kicks off regularly, Villeneuve has no more problems even in the numerous overtakings, in which he performs with extreme confidence. Only five cars finish full laps, after 80 laps on the short circuit of Long Beach: besides, of course, in Villeneuve and Scheckter the talented Alan Jones, who always emerges on this kind of tracks, Mario Andretti, combative as ever, and Patrick Depailler. All others are irretrievably detached or eliminated by numerous inconveniences.
As we said, the race has a tricky start, difficult because of a not perfect start. Sunday, April 8, 1979, the cars start from the short straight of the pits to line up on the other side of the circuit, on the only long straight of the track. After completing the reconnaissance lap, at the start, which is almost launched, Villeneuve sees Depailler side by side and makes a sign to continue. The Canadian interprets the French sign as an invitation to go ahead for another round of reconnaissance and then takes off. Almost everyone follows in the wake of the Canadian driver, but the traffic light is not green. For this reason the start must be repeated.
About half an hour after the start the head of the race commissioners, John Barnholdt, warns the managers of Ferrari that there is a possibility of a penalty for Villeneuve; in essence, race director Burdett Martin notifies the Maranello team that he has reported to the sports stewards of the alleged infringement of Villeneuve (and also Reutemann) for early departure. In essence, an additional survey is requested. This takes place around 1:30 p.m., half an hour after departure. The notification, however, is exorbitant after 2:00 p.m., when there is no longer any chance to intervene.
With this possible penalty, Villeneuve leads in the lead until about half the race, when Chris Puch, chairman of the organizing committee, says that there would be no penalty and that at most a fine would be imposed on the Canadian, as it will happen. Just in the first lap of reconnaissance Reutemann had accused trouble to the electrical system of his Lotus and Laffite, who faced the race crippled by a right wrist tendinitis, transmission problems to Ligier. The two drivers had stopped in the pits and for this reason, at the second start, they were forced to start at the tail of the group, starting directly from the pits after the passage of all the other cars in the first lap. Laffite starts with the forklift because his racing car is broken, but his race lasts very little, as the ninth step stops permanently for boredom at the brakes.
Even Reutemann (who will be fined as Villeneuve 10.000 Swiss francs for not having complied with the orders of the race commissioner starting from the pits before the deadline) will not go very far. At the twelfth lap he is forced to stop with the front tires completely damaged, and his race ends later while he is trying a comeback, exactly on the twenty-first lap, for the breakage of a semi-axle. On the first pass of the second start Niki Lauda bumped into Tambay. In fact, the Austrian was inside the hairpin that ends the longest straight and had the Frenchman on the outside.
Making the turn. Niki has an enlarged leg, he leaned with his Brabham on McLaren and the two cars collided. Tambay turned half on the track and immediately stopped on one side, while Lauda was able to proceed for a few meters and then stopped in turn. Stopped in the pits almost immediately, on the third lap, also James Hunt, who announced himself as one of the protagonists: for his Wolf a mechanical failure.
Meanwhile Villeneuve continues to lead with extreme determination, without ever giving up the pace, and progressively detaches all rivals. Scheckter gets upset with Depailler, and drops from the third position to the fourth, but then gradually gets closer and overtakes Jarier on lap twenty-six, who is in second position excellently placed, putting himself behind the team-mate. With the two Ferraris in the lead from lap twenty-six, the fight is limited to the recoil positions. Patrese, who had a great start and is in sixth position, is forced to retire after the fortieth lap for boredom on the brakes. Little by little Jones emerges, who first overtakes Andretti and then Depailler, and then moves on to fourth position in favor of Andretti.
After the race, Gilles Villeneuve celebrates his third victory in Formula 1 traveling by plane. The Canadian, in fact, due to an urgent commitment in Montreal, is forced to leave California immediately after his success in the United States West Grand Prix. A clear success, without arguments, even if troubled by a nervous and confused race from the beginning. The statement of the small Canadian driver, as mentioned, is completed by the second place of Jody Scheckter. A real triumph for Ferrari that leads, with Villeneuve, in the World Drivers' Championship and, with its own cars, in that of manufacturers. Villeneuve, at the end of the race, before leaving, releases some polemical jokes against the organizers. The fact that he was fined 10.000 Swiss francs for not stopping at the start after the reconnaissance tour literally made him furious:
"I’d be willing to pay that after every race if I won them all. But it’s very unfair to me. I didn’t commit any infractions. When I left, the commissioners did not tell me to stop and I thought I still had to make a lap before the authentic start. I was also deceived by Depailler who signaled me to continue. However, there was no departure, and only the second one was valid. I don’t understand why they wanted to hit me at all costs. Maybe to show that they are strict. But I don’t think they would have penalized me by a minute".
In fact, during the race, there was a rumor that the Canadian would take sixty seconds of penalty for this somewhat rash gesture. Then, instead, everything returned to normal and in the end Villeneuve only suffers the fine that he will have to pay personally. Nevertheless, it is useless to say of the irrepressible joy of the little Canadian driver, who however continues to retain all his modesty and his seriousness. Villeneuve has made many friends in a short time. Ferrari mechanics consider him a great guy, many other drivers admire him.
"It wasn’t a tough win. I only got the most in the first six laps. When I realized that I had already detached everyone, I just kept a certain rhythm. There was a lot of confusion at the start. The signals for the exact deployment were missing. Also, I shouldn’t have had anyone on the side, as Reutemann started from the pits. I was tricked by Depailler instead. I saw the Frenchman flanking me and signaling to move on. So I left. From that moment I had no more problems. Only a little understeer at the end, but the car went, on the whole, very well. I am very satisfied".
On his position as world championship leader, Villeneuve has very clear ideas.
"It’s very nice to be at the top of the leaderboard, but it’s too early to make any ambitious plans. For now I’m going to keep on living the day. I’m a bit afraid for the Spanish Grand Prix. Last year at the Jarama track we had trouble with the tyres. I hope that the situation has changed and that the progress we have recorded also applies to the Spanish circuit".
Jody Scheckter seems quite pleased with the second place, but on his face there is not too convincing a smile.
"Gilles was very good: once again he won thanks to a careful choice of tires. He trusted a softer guy who allowed him to be faster. I thought he had to stop at the pits to change tires and I was convinced that I had the victory at hand. That’s why I chose a harder and stronger compound. Instead, he was right. My race was pretty smooth. I bumped into someone when I left, but I don’t know who he was. The bump bent the front wing of my car, but this inconvenience did not give me any problems".
Scheckter says he doesn't know who hit him, but there are many who say that the South African, in the heat of the start, moving from one side to the other of the track, would have even touched Villeneuve. Neither driver, however, confirms these rumors. Of course, looking at the line-up, with the Canadian in the front row and Jody behind him, one wonders what other driver might be the one hit by Schekter. In any case, fortunately, the accident did not cause irreparable damage. The victim of a bad collision was instead Niki Lauda, eliminated after 300 meters of competition. The Austrian left Long Beach for Salzburg nervous.
According to television footage, it appears that there was at least one guilt match between Lauda and Tambay. In fact, it seems to see the Brabham-Alfa turn in the hairpin bend inside and then widen and push the McLaren outwards, making it rotate on itself. However, the images, unclear, would have done a wrong to Lauda. It is the same Tambay to take the blame for what happened.
"I miscalculated the trajectory and hit Niki’s Brabham. I’m very sorry".
Lauda’s explanation is sarcastic.
"I suddenly saw a car flying under mine and only when I could observe it well, I realized that it was the McLaren of Tambay".
Its version seems supported by the fact that the Brabham is presented with the rear wing completely torn and with the exhaust pipes bent at the top. The fourth place seems to satisfy Mario Andretti, who however does not spare the accusations to his countrymen.
"The American sports stewards behaved like real amateurs. They made us line up like sheep. Amazing thing. I could not make a great race, because of problems with the electrical system I could not take all the laps to the engine. At the beginning, when my Lotus was still good, I was about to put in Jarier and Depailler, but I found myself in front of Daly who was already voiced and I had to give up. Then I tried only to finish, bringing home those few points that I could grab with the fourth place".
Even Reutemann, protagonist of a very unlucky race, suffers the same fate for not respecting the order to stay in the pits until the end of the passage of all the competitors after the first lap. The Argentine had stopped during the reconnaissance and had returned to the stands to repair the electrical system. According to the rules he had to stop, but Carlos, in the heat of making a good race, did not, had waited for the report of the commissioners of the route. Apart from these two episodes, the race was dominated in full by Ferrari who had no problems, thanks also to the radial tires of Michelin, to line up all opponents. Surprising instead the third place of Alan Jones, with the old Williams. On this street circuit, his was one of the most beautiful battles of the whole race.
A race that has reserved surprises all the time, from the beginning. Dramatic the elimination of Niki Lauda, immediately after the start. The Austrian saw the McLaren of Tambay flying literally on his head, which first flanked him and then climbed over him destroying his car. Now Formula 1 will move to Europe. Apart from these two episodes, the race was dominated in full by Ferrari who had no problems, thanks also to the radial tires of Michelin, to line up all opponents. Surprising instead the third place of Alan Jones, with the old Williams. On this street circuit, his was one of the most beautiful battles of the whole race. A race that has reserved surprises all the time, from the beginning. Dramatic the elimination of Niki Lauda, immediately after the start.
The Austrian saw the McLaren of Tambay flying literally on his head, which first flanked him and then climbed over him destroying his car. Now Formula 1 will move to Europe. The extra-European adventure of the World Championship ended in this way: after four races Gilles Villeneuve is in charge of the classic drivers, while Ferrari is in first place in that of the constructors. A result that before the debut of T4 in Kyalami no one dared to hope for, especially after what Ligier had shown in South America. Drivers, technicians, mechanics and - why not? - also the stimuli that Enzo Ferrari continues to give, a man who never lacks the desire to win.
Ferrari triumphs by repeating the double obtained in South Africa, but the fight is always open. It was confirmed that T4 is a competitive car, that Michelin tyres are in further progress, that the car-tire combination is winning especially on slow and winding tracks. But the next race, April 29, 1979, in Spain, at the Jarama. will kick off new battles because all propose immediate revenge. From now on, there will be no stopping for anyone. Andretti will test the Lotus 80 starting from Thursday, April 12, 1979 at the Zolder. circuit in Belgium.
If the tests are positive, he will compete on April 15, 1979 at Brands Hatch. In the same race, the Champion Race, dedicated to raising money for the Gunnar Nilsson Foundation for Cancer Research, Brabham will debut a completely renovated BT 48 in the bodywork. The same Ferrari has registered Villeneuve with the T3A (the last model of the old car), but in the following days will be at the Jarama for tyre tests. In short, we are at the first signs of a fight that will flare up throughout the season. That in Formula 1 there is a lot of excitement, an increasingly exasperated competition has shown the race on Sunday that was nervous, full of accidents, fortunately not of serious importance and without consequences for the drivers.
Villeneuve and Reutemann, however, paid the price of this situation, punished with a fine of 10.000 Swiss francs. Also on this occasion, sporting authorities and drivers behaved with little professionalism, then launching accusations against each other. The facts are soon explained. The regulation states that, once the starting line-up has been completed, all competitors must make a reconnaissance lap, then recompose the grid, and wait for the start signal to stop. When, completed the round of reconnaissance. Villeneuve and his team-mates came back to the starting area, but they did not find the usual signals that indicate to each driver the exact point from which he must start row by row.
The Canadian saw the red light, but he also noticed that he had Depailler side by side while the Frenchman should have been behind. So you thought you should do another round of reconnaissance. For this reason, for not stopping to complete the deployment, he was fined. Different speech for Reutemann. The Argentine, stopped on track with problems to the electrical system at the first false start, by regulation was forced to start from the pits after the passage of all the competitors on the first lap. He anticipated this return and, quite rightly, was punished. Aside from this confusing, dual episode, the United States West Grand Prix was linear.
After the extra-European tour, Formula 1 can draw the first balance of the season. After the dispute of four races we are a quarter of the world championship, which is divided into sixteen tests, divided into two groups of eight each. Under the current regulation, pilots will only be able to count four results in each of the two periods. Gilles Villeneuve and Jacques Laffite, with two wins each, are on track but it is still too early to make predictions that are not risky as they could be reached and surpassed by rivals in the title race. While waiting for this fight to develop it is also interesting to check the situation of the main teams that, little by little, we are discovering all their abilities. With the construction of the T4, Ferrari did not take rash steps, but it went on the safe side. When engineer Mauro Forghieri sent the new car to Kyalami he already knew that he would get good results.
The improved adaptation of the new car to Michelin radial tyres and the progressive improvement of the same based on the experiences already made are the confirmation that the road taken is the right one. All that remains is the unknown of the fast circuits, which the T4 of Villeneuve and Scheckter have not yet faced. But in any case, Ferrari is ready for a possible further evolution of the car. Maranello technicians are always working to find new solutions. In Long Beach, for example, T4 has adopted for the first time an automatic timing system, based on a radio system located with a mini antenna in the nose.
By applying very thin aluminum strips on the track’s asphalt at each pass there is the possibility to control the time with absolute precision. The aerodynamics has also undergone continuous variations. This is proved by the increased spoilers, advanced with respect to the rear wheel axle. The idea did not give particular advantages on this slow circuit, but could offer positive results on other types of track. Ligier, however, after a resounding debut, has fallen in performance, but the problems are about to be solved. We have already talked about the new carbon brakes and a small change has also been made to the lubrication circuit of the gearbox that has given trouble in recent days.
Laffite and Depailler in Spain on April 29, 1979 will be able to return to be the protagonists. As for Lotus, the hope of victory depends on the new 80 model. Colin Chapman said that the Lotus 79 took almost six months of testing before the car was developed. Now he hopes to be faster. His work, however, will be very difficult. Andretti argues that the 80 has major roadholding problems and that changes will be needed to take advantage of the revolutionary solutions it has adopted. Given that the new 60 hp Alfa engine offers advantages over the Boxer version, the fact remains that the new Brabham BT 48 suffers from a very difficult set-up in terms of aerodynamics and chassis.
In the Race of the Champions scheduled on April 15, 1979, Ecclestone will present a totally renewed body with the hope of being able to solve the problems of Niki Lauda. A Lauda that appears increasingly discouraged and that perhaps begins to regret having made certain decisions. Among the manufacturers who have taken the path indicated by Chapman with the ground-effect cars, probably the team of Ken Tyrrell is the one that has been able to copy best. With two drivers of different temperament, the regular Pironi and the impetuous Jarier, Tyrrell will be in every race a dangerous outsider. Instead, the McLaren team lives in a delicate situation, whose designers have mistaken all the shares.
The McLaren M28 has some incredible set-up problems and Tambay and Watson often look like they are incapable because of a car that is not on the road. It will be very difficult for him to recover within a short time. The prospects of the other teams are for Arrows of Patrese, for Wolf of Hunt and for Williams of Jones and Regazzoni. For the Italian and his teammate Mass, Tony Southgate has prepared a car that - the drivers say - should be exceptional, very competitive. The new Arrows will debut in Zolder, Belgium. Hunt seems to have found a good balance for his Wolf and although he was unlucky in Long Beach, breaking a semi-axle in the early laps, he should rise to the top in the next races. The same prediction applies to Williams who built a new car, ground effect, but without too many fantasies and then concretely.
Finally, in the days leading up to the Grand Prix a rumor had spread in the Formula 1 circus that Michelin would be ready to withdraw from racing next year if it were to win the world title with Ferrari. According to these rumors, the French tyre manufacturer wanted to take advantage of a winning image to leave a business that is very expensive and technically demanding. However, the Michelin managers have categorically denied a similar hypothesis:
"We started a certain conversation with Renault and Ferrari and we certainly cannot abandon them halfway. Our Commitment will last a long time".
It seems that, contrary to what was leaked, Michelin intends to expand its range of action considering itself in conditions of inferiority, with only four machines available, against the Goodyear that has all the others. If next year he had to give his radial tyres to another team, Michelin would do it with an important company, with a real industrial activity. Probably with Alfa Romeo, if he continues his commitment to Formula 1.