On This Day in #F1: 15 January

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1978: Andretti and Lotus dominate Argentina

The Formula One circus descended on Argentina for the first race of the 1978 season.
Mario Andretti started from pole position ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Reutemann and Andretti’s new team-mate – Ronnie Peterson. The Braham-Alfas of John Watson and Niki Lauda qualified in fourth and fifth positions trailed by James Hunt and Gilles Villeneuve – who was about to begin his first full Formula One season.

Lotus

The Lotus 78 had been further developed over the winter because the Lotus 79 was having to be redesigned; its chassis was unable to withstand the aero demands of ground effect but as had been proved in 1977 – with Lotus winning five races – when the Lotus worked no-one had an answer to it. As Andretti would say: ” that car is painted to the ground”

At the start, Andretti and Reutemann kept their positions but Watson vaulted past Peterson. Watson would pass the second placed Ferrari on the seventh lap as the Argentinian’s conservative tyre choice gradually faded but could do nothing about Andretti in the lead.

By three-quarters distance, Watson was in trouble with an over-heating engine and was forced to retire ten laps from the end. This promoted Lauda up to second followed by an impressive drive by Depailler in the Tyrrell who having started tenth had passed Hunt, Jacques Laffite, Peterson and Reutemann.

With Peterson being fatally injured at Monza that year, it has become fashionable to suggest that Andretti’s title was not a worthy accomplishment. He demanded number one status and Chapman agreed but is this the complete truth?

Andretti had too much pride to have a team-mate run ahead of him and then move over before the flag and he was determined to prove himself in pace as well as contracted position.

Mario & Peterson

Popular myths suggest that when Peterson won; Andretti had either retired from the race or finished outside of the points, yet when Andretti took the flag, Peterson was dutifully following him and upholding his contracted position.

Yet the cold statistics don’t lend their weight to that perception. Of four 1-2 finishes, Peterson was ten seconds behind in Belgium, nineteen seconds behind in Spain, three behind after the French race.

It was only in Holland that he was less than a second to Andretti.

Andretti-Peterson_1978_Holland_01_BC

Yet like any other revision of history the facts are blurred to support particular agendas.

Chapman knew that to get the best out of Peterson, he would have to be partnered with a supreme development driver. When he was teamed with Fittpaldi in 1973, he would copy his settings then beat him in qualifying.

In 1976, Andretti returned to Lotus after Parnelli pulled out of F1. Lotus was at a low point technically with an out-dated Lotus 72, but Andretti’s ability to develop a car pulled Lotus back to the front of the grid. It was because of this that Chapman acquiesced to Andretti’s demands.

“A lot of people were very sniffy about that,” recalled Chapman, “but Ronnie wasn’t one of them. He knew damn well that Mario had worked hard to bring Lotus back to prominence, that he should have been World Champion in ’77 – that he’d earned the title. Ronnie was a very great driver, but he owed a lot to Mario, and he knew it – it was Mario who made the Lotus 79 the car it was, and Ronnie benefited from that, and knew it. He was a very honourable man.”

2 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 15 January

  1. This is always something I was curious about, Carlo, so thanks for the perspective. Ronnie was always fast it seems, but if lacking in development skills then that is fair enough. We could see his fallow patches at Lotus as evidence of this (1975?), where he could have led development if needed to do so. When he came into F1 in the March cars he was also the fastest of the lot (and there were a lot around).

    I wonder if we’ll see a dominant team in 2014, like how the Lotus led the way with Ground Effect (maybe the Red Bull exhausts could have constituted a modern version of this).

    • Dominance this year may be simply down to who has developed the best engine solution and as yet I’m not convinced anyone had a clear advantage.

      Mercedes originally had 100hp advantage, needed huge tyres and seemingly forgot that had to get it into a car – hence we’re now hearing they’re burning the midnight oil.

      Renault have the best fuel economy because Ferrari has been asking about having the limits raised, therefore Ferrari have the poorest solution.

      Or are they all double bluffing and we’ll see the Marussia’s finish behind the other Ferrari engined cars? etc…

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