The XXXI John Player British Grand Prix, otherwise known as the 1978 British Grand Prix, was the tenth round of the 1978 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at Brands Hatch on 16 July 1978. The race was expected to be another Grand Prix dominated by the two Team Lotus drivers Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson, only for the old curse of the fragile Lotus to reappear at the marque's home race.
Indeed, it was another imperious start to the weekend for two John Player liveried Lotus 79s, with Peterson edging out Andretti in their private fight for pole. Behind, Jody Scheckter grabbed third for Wolf ahead of Niki Lauda, while the best of the British drivers would be John Watson in ninth.
The start of the race itself would follow much the same pattern, with Andretti and Peterson leaping off the line to build a daunting lead over Scheckter. Indeed, they would instantly engage themselves in a private duel for victory, Andretti having elbowed his way past Peterson through Paddock Hill Bend, with the rest of the field slipping back before the end of the opening tour.
That was, until Peterson's Ford Cosworth engine suddenly found itself starved of fuel, an incurable leak having drained the tank, meaning Andretti was, almost literally, in a class of one. He still continued to pull away, however, leaving Scheckter to defend from Alan Jones, Lauda and Riccardo Patrese as the early laps ticked away.
The race order remained fair stable during the following laps, before Andretti suddenly appeared in the pits with a puncture. He rejoined down in eleventh, but before he could seriously put together a charge, his Cosworth unit expired too, putting both Loti on the sidelines.
Scheckter inherited the lead, although his hopes of victory would only improve once Jones limped out of the race with a driveshaft failure. The South African racer then maintained a small gap over Lauda until he hit gearbox trouble, allowing the Austrian ace to sweep into the lead shortly before the halfway mark.
Attrition would determine the order during the following laps too, with Scheckter, Patrese and Didier Pironi all dropping out. That left Lauda with a small lead over former teammate Carlos Reutemann in the Ferrari, with Watson a distant third as the race entered its final throes.
Ultimately, however, Reutemann would snatch victory in the closing stages, taking advantage of the lapped Bruno Giacomelli to sweep into the lead. Lauda tried hard to retake the position but he ran out of time, leaving Reutemann as the victor, Lauda a frustrated second, and Watson a relatively content third.
It was the turn of Brands Hatch to host the British Grand Prix in 1978, with the legendary circuit unchanged, as ever, barring some minor upgrades to the barriers. Indeed, most of the facilities at Brands were undergoing an assessment ahead of a major overhaul, with a new timekeeping bridge erected in time for the F1's eighth visit to the Kentish circuit. The entry list likewise reflected the general health of the wider F1 circus, with 32 entries submitted for 26 positions on the grid.
In truth, the number of entries would actually total thirty, for the entries of Theodore Racing and Martini were rejected by the organisers, whom did not want to arrange a pre-qualifying session. This was not a problem for Keke Rosberg, whom had a seat with ATS regardless, while René Arnoux went testing instead. In their place, the R.A.C. accepted entries for a second Ensign for Geoff Lees, and British Formula One Championship leader Tony Trimmer, using an old McLaren M23.
Likewise, the R.A.C. would accept a third factory McLaren entry for Bruno Giacomelli, meaning he joined their usual duo James Hunt and Patrick Tambay for second race in succession. Their M26s remained unchanged for the battle of Brands, although one of the team's two spare cars had received some updates. Indeed, various revisions to the suspension, bodywork and experiments in ground effect had resulted in the "M26E", although there seemed to be little interest in running the updated design from either of the three drivers.
Brabham-Alfa Romeo would also appear with some more minor updates for their spare car, although this only served to bring the car up to spec with Niki Lauda and John Watson's race cars. Ferrari, meanwhile, had troubled themselves with building another 312T3 to serve as their spare for Gilles Villeneuve and Carlos Reutemann, although there were no evident changes made to the design. Instead they would be relying on an upgraded supply of Michelin tyres for an upturn in fortune, the French tyre manufacturer looking to get revenge having been humiliated on home turf at Paul Ricard two weeks earlier.
In contrast, pre-race favourites Lotus-Ford Cosworth opted not to bring any upgrades, deciding that their pair of Lotus 79s would be more than enough to beat the opposition. Indeed, the Norfolk squad barely saw fit to bring along their two old Type 78s for Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson, although they had already been put through their paces at Brands a week earlier during a tyre test. Furthermore, there was no sign of the Colin Chapman's prophesied 79 "fan car", with plans for that put on hold after the CSI's decision to ban the Brabham BT46B.
Elsewhere, ATS were unchanged once Rosberg's registration issues were resolved, leaving the Finn clear to partner Jochen Mass once again. Renault also made the trip to the UK with Jean-Pierre Jabouille once again, as did the Fittipaldi team, with Emerson Fittipaldi hoping to qualify for their 50th race. Surtees were likewise unchanged, meaning Rupert Keegan and Vittorio Brambilla had just the two TS20s to damage, while Jacques Laffite had his usual mix of old and new Ligier-Matras to fight with.
Shadow appeared at their home race with a spare DN9 for the first time, meaning Clay Regazzoni and Hans-Joachim Stuck could afford to push a little harder in qualifying. They had also arranged a court hearing against their former staff members at Arrows, resulting in the Milton Keynes based effort building a replacement for the DN9's almost identical twin, the Arrows FA1. However, their home race at Brands Hatch arrived too soon, meaning Riccardo Patrese and Rolf Stommelen would continue to race their gold FA1s.
Over at Wolf there had been some busy sales work, two of the team's older WR1 designs sold to Theodore, leaving Jody Scheckter with just the two newest Wolves. Williams also had two cars on site for Alan Jones, as did Ensign for factory driver Derek Daly. Completing the entry would be familiar privateers Brett Lunger and Héctor Rebaque, with their spare equipment bringing the total car count to 51.
Into the Championship a third victory in four races last time out at Circuit Paul Ricard had ensured that Andretti extended his Championship lead, the American ace arriving at Brands with a nine point advantage. His teammate Peterson had remained his closest combatant, with the Swede eleven points clear of third placed Lauda. It therefore seemed to be a two horse race for the title with less than half the season to go, depending on how Team Lotus wanted to manage their drivers.
Indeed, with the Lotus 79 clearly the fastest "legal" F1 car in the 1978 field it was unsurprising that the Norfolk squad extended their lead in the International Cup for Manufacturers in France. Indeed, their 58 point tally dwarfed that of second placed Brabham-Alfa Romeo, with 24 points separating the two teams. The latter squad were a clear second, nine ahead of Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth, with Ferrari and McLaren-Ford Cosworth completing the top five.
The full entry list for the 1978 British Grand Prix is outlined below:
- * Rosberg was submitted as an entrant for both ATS and Theodore Racing, but elected to race for the former.
The R.A.C.'s decision to limit the number of accept entries to thirty meant that there was no need to schedule a pre-qualifying session ahead of the race weekend. As such, the usual pattern of three "timed" and one "untimed" sessions were arranged, with two timed runouts on Friday, before qualifying was concluded on Saturday's third and final session. As for a target time the old circuit record of 1:19.05, set by John Watson at the 1977 Race of Champions, was expected to fall, with Ronnie Peterson having gone over a second faster during a tyre test a week earlier.
Friday morning saw the field greeted to a huge crowd around the Brands Hatch circuit, a large number of whom were supporting Lotus. They were therefore instantly appeased when Peterson and Mario Andretti completed some quick early runs, with both dipping under Lauda's old record early on. Peterson then went on a run of laps in the 1:17.00s, ending the morning with a 1:17.81 which was rewarded with a service for his Lotus 79 during the afternoon.
Andretti, rather surprisingly, could not match the Swede's pace, ultimately settling for a 1:17.36. That, however, was more than enough to end the morning second fastest, for Jody Scheckter, in third, was a huge 1.60s off of Peterson's ultimate pace, ending the session with a 1:18.76. Indeed, even the Wolf rider was in a class of his own, with the next best driver in the field, James Hunt ending the session with a 1:19.05.
Elsewhere, Jacques Laffite led the chase to get a "qualifying" set of Goodyear tyres for the afternoon session, his Ligier-Matra having run reliably and quickly to get him into the 1:19.00s. The two Shadows also got themselves in the running for Goodyear's "quali" tyres, as did their rival Riccardo Patrese in the Arrows. Alan Jones completed the top end of the field, with the two Michelin shod Ferrari in the group ahead.
Into the second Friday session and Team Lotus were noticeable for the absence, with only one Lotus 79 on display, albeit not for very long. Indeed, Peterson's service would last into the start of the session, meaning the Norfolk based squad dragged out his spare Lotus 78 for the afternoon, while Andretti only completed a handful of laps before he destroyed his gearbox. Naturally the American ace set the fastest time of the session, matching his morning time, before it broke, with the Lotus mechanics working quickly to get him back out onto the track before the end of the day.
Unfortunately their work would go to waste, for Andretti would rip off one of the sideskirts leaving the pits in the final minutes of the session, caused by a man-hole cover. Peterson, meanwhile, only completed a few slow laps in his 78, barely threatening to break out of the 1:20.00s, opening the door for Lotus' rivals to come to the fore. Yet, there would be no rise against the black-gold machines on Friday afternoon, merely a fight to be the best of the "also-rans".
Leading that fight would be Niki Lauda, who spent most of day fighting with teammate Watson over the position, until finding half a second to end the session with a 1:18.03. Scheckter also sneaked back ahead of Watson as the session drew to a close, recording a 1:18.29, with Watson settling for a 1:18.57. Elsewhere the fight to qualify seemed to be over already, Rupert Keegan having destroyed an engine and a gearbox, Tony Trimmer and Geoff Lees using out dated equipment, and Brett Lunger having an unusually quiet run.
Saturday morning's "untimed" session would see Lotus re-establish their dominance at the head of the field, although Peterson briefly tried out the spare Lotus 79, which had been fitted with Lotus' experimental, and rather temperamental, gearbox. James Hunt was also in an experimental mood, taking over the new McLaren M26E, which looked like a hybrid of the Lotus 78/79 and the standard M26. Most of the other drivers focused on finding more speed ahead of the final qualifying session on Saturday afternoon, with Goodyear issuing out their "quali" tyres to those they deemed good enough to beat the Michelin shod trio.
Ultimately, there would be no fight for pole during the final session, for Peterson settled the issue in the opening minutes of the session. Indeed, having returned to his original Lotus 79, the Swede set a couple of slow laps before blitzing the old circuit record, recording a 1:16.80 before most of the field had left the pits. He duly headed into the pits to sit and watch for the rest of the afternoon, with no-one, not even Andretti, able to match his effort.
Indeed, Andretti would have to settle for second, ending the afternoon with a 1:17.06 to leave him a quarter of a second off his teammate. Third would go to Scheckter in the youngest Wolf, the South African putting in a respectful 1:17.37, beating fourth placed Lauda by a tenth. Behind them came two of the Goodyear chosen few in the form of Patrese and Jones, whose efforts relegated the first of the Ferraris in the form of Carlos Reutemann down to seventh.
Other highlights saw Emerson Fittipaldi make it an all yellow sixth row, edging out Jean-Pierre Jabouille in the Renault for eleventh, while Derek Daly managed to match the third factory McLaren of Bruno Giacomelli in the Ensign. The non-qualifiers, meanwhile, came as little surprise, with Lees, Keegan and Trimmer all failing to make the grade with their well known issues. What did come as a shock was the appearance of Rolf Stommelen among them, the German racer having been relegated into the drop zone in the final moments of the session.
The full qualifying results for the 1978 British Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||6||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:17.16||1:20.16T||1:16.80||—|
|2||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:17.81||1:17.81||1:17.06||+0.26s|
|3||20||Jody Scheckter||Wolf-Ford Cosworth||1:18.76T||1:18.29||1:17.37||+0.57s|
|4||1||Niki Lauda||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:19.34||1:18.03T||1:17.48||+0.68s|
|5||35||Riccardo Patrese||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||1:19.95||1:19.61||1:18.28||+1.48s|
|6||27||Alan Jones||Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:20.58||1:18.98||1:18.36||+1.56s|
|9||2||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:19.38||1:18.57||1:18.98||+1.77s|
|10||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:20.21||1:19.21||1:18.73||+1.93s|
|11||14||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||1:21.17||1:20.34||1:18.78||+1.98s|
|14||7||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:19.05||1:19.23||1:19.27T||+2.25s|
|15||22||Derek Daly||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:19.98||1:20.37||1:19.13||+2.33s|
|16||33||Bruno Giacomelli||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:22.15||1:20.91||1:19.79||+2.99s|
|17||17||Clay Regazzoni||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:19.83||1:20.72||1:20.29||+3.03s|
|18||16||Hans-Joachim Stuck||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:19.98||1:20.43||1:20.21||+3.18s|
|19||3||Didier Pironi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:19.99T||1:21.20T||1:20.07||+3.19s|
|20||8||Patrick Tambay||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:21.36||1:20.14||1:20.74||+3.34s|
|21||25||Héctor Rebaque||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:21.10||1:20.24||1:20.39||+3.44s|
|22||10||Keke Rosberg||ATS-Ford Cosworth||1:20.94||1:20.56||1:20.27||+3.47s|
|23||37||Arturo Merzario||Merzario-Ford Cosworth||—||1:20.35||1:20.46||+3.55s|
|24||30||Brett Lunger||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:21.33||1:23.38||1:20.39||+3.59s|
|25||19||Vittorio Brambilla||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:20.77||1:22.09||1:20.70||+3.90s|
|26||9||Jochen Mass||ATS-Ford Cosworth||1:24.72T||1:20.71||1:21.39||+3.91s|
|DNQ||36||Rolf Stommelen||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||1:21.37||1:20.73||1:21.17||+3.93s|
|DNQ||23||Geoff Lees||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:21.40||1:21.05||1:21.43||+4.25s|
|DNQ||18||Rupert Keegan||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:22.19T||1:22.17T||1:21.10||+4.30s|
|DNQ||40||Tony Trimmer||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:21.99||1:22.03||1:21.41||+4.61s|
|WD||31||René Arnoux||Martini-Ford Cosworth||Registration refused|
|WD||32||Keke Rosberg||Wolf-Ford Cosworth||Registration refused|
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
It proved to be a pleasant day in the Kentish amphitheatre of Brands Hatch, with a large crowd gathering as the field headed out to complete a trouble free warm-up session. After that a long list of pre-Grand Prix entertainment was staged, including a Royal visit and a saloon car race for the Team Managers. After that, Ronnie Peterson led the field around on the formation lap, with all twenty-six qualifiers lining up on the grid to take the start without issue.
Tactical positioning on the grid ensured that it was Peterson's teammate Mario Andretti whom swept into Paddock Hill Bend in the lead, the American having used the camber of the circuit to dive past the Swede. Peterson himself would tuck his Lotus 79 neatly under the American's rear wing, with the pair untroubled by the pack behind. That pack was being led by Jody Scheckter, with a fast starting Alan Jones up in fourth in the Williamss.
The two black-gold Lotus cars would quickly establish a lead on the opening lap, with daylight between them and Scheckter before the field left the "arena" and headed onto the "Grand Prix loop". Behind there would be some excitement as Vittorio Brambilla suddenly lost control in the middle of the pack, miraculously managing to get back onto the circuit at the end of the Cooper Straight without hitting anything. That would, however, relegate the Italian to the back of the field, as the rest of the opening lap provided a seemingly ominous sign of things to come.
Indeed, despite the fact that the gap back to Scheckter had not grown to more than a second there was no sign that the two Loti were going to be denied, formation flying with Andretti still ahead of Peterson. The following laps would follow much the same pattern, with Peterson making no attempts to pass his Championship leading teammate as they inched clear of Scheckter behind. The South African racer himself was having an equally tame drive, with Jones having to defend from Niki Lauda instead of attack the Wolf.
Indeed, as the Loti started lap seven it seemed as if the chequered flag should simply wave, for there was no hope of the pair being challenged, and the group behind Scheckter had all settled down. However, coming out of Druids on lap seven Peterson's Lotus dramatically slowed, the Swede's race over with a fuel pump failure. That seemed to inspire the group behind that the Loti were not as invincible as previously perceived, prompting some actual racing to break out behind Scheckter.
It proved to be an intense fight for second as Andretti decided to open out his lead out front, with Scheckter having to defend heavily from Jones and Lauda. Those two were also being harassed from behind by Riccardo Patrese and Carlos Reutemann, while John Watson and Patrick Depailler were also in contention. The fighting was so intense that Emerson Fittipaldi and Derek Daly were managing to keep up with the lead pack, aided by the demise of James Hunt as the Brit suffered a suspension failure.
The following laps saw the fighting continue, although there were no changes to the overall order as the drivers ducked an weaved. Indeed, the only effect it did have was to allow Andretti to build a huge twenty second lead by the twenty lap mark, although that would be as big as the lead got. Many believed that this was Andretti's decision, opting to cruise knowing that he had a huge physical margin over the rest of the field, although the truth was revealed just a couple of laps later.
Indeed, as the 23rd lap came to an end Andretti suddenly darted into the pits, the Lotus' right rear tyre having picked up a slow puncture and finally deflated. It was an agonising few moments for the American as he sat in the pits waiting for the new tyre to be fitted, with the Scheckter mob flashing past before Andretti was clear to go. Andretti subsequently screamed out of the pits in a cloud of tyre smoke, rejoining right on the tail of eleventh placed Didier Pironi.
As Andretti set about picking his way up the order, the fighting around Scheckter intensified as they came to realise that they were in a fight for the lead. Indeed, the most active of those in the pack was Jones, whom launched three quick strikes at Scheckter in the space of a lap, all of which were swatted aside. The Australian then launched a fourth lunge at the South African into Druids on lap 27, only for the Williams to squirm to a stop on the exit with a transmission failure.
Back with Andretti and just four laps after losing his huge lead the American was on the back of the brawl for victory, the Lotus 79 simply cruising past Proni and Daly without hindrance. However, as the American moved to launch a dive on Fittipaldi, the Ford Cosworth engine in the back of the black-gold car suddenly began billowing white smoke out of the exhausts, signalling its expiration. Andretti duly rolled to a stop at the back of the paddock, leaving the hoard of Team Lotus fans in the crowd severely disappointed.
There was still a race to be won, however, and Scheckter, Lauda, Patrese, Reutemann, Watson, Depailler and Fittipaldi were all in contention, running nose-to-tail. There seemed to be very little between the group, until Lauda suddenly appeared to find a few extra horse-power in his Alfa Romeo engined Brabham and cruised past Scheckter to claim the lead just before half-distance. In truth, however, it was actually a sign of Scheckter's Wolf beginning to struggle, with the South African racer duly retiring a couple of laps later with a disintegrated gearbox.
Indeed, the furious pace in that lead group was causing quite an impact on the retirement list, with Daly having already disappeared with a wheel failure. He had been joined on the sidelines by Fittipaldi when his Cosworth engine expired, while Depailler had dropped out of the group with a puncture. That left just four in the group as the midway point passed, although it was still up in the air as to who out of Lauda, Patrese, Reutemann and Watson would claim victory.
A long way behind that quartet there was an interesting scrap for the final two points paying positions, led by Pironi and Keke Rosberg. Indeed, they were working hard to keep a charging Depailler, Jochen Mass, Patrick Tambay, Bruno Giacomelli, Brett Lunger and Hans-Joachim Stuck all at bay. Ultimately, Depailler would manage to elbow his way past and disappear up the road, while teammate Pironi disappeared with the bolts that held the engine to the gearbox having sheered.
Back with the leaders and Patrese suddenly slowed while running in second, the golden Arrows having picked up a puncture moments after passing the pit entry. The rest of the trio duly shot away, Lauda now leading Reutemann with Watson third, while Patrese limped on after them as fast as he could. Unfortunately that was the wrong move to make, for the tyre not only shredded itself but the left rear suspension as well.
Reutemann duly made his bid for victory one Patrese disappeared, pressing Lauda's Brabham hard as the pair slowly inched clear of Watson in third. However, for ten laps the Argentine could do no more than plot a move on his former teammate, with Lauda positioning his car expertly to deny and potential lunges. In the middle of their posturing the Renault disappeared in a more novel fashion than usual, a seal having failed causing oil to pour into the turbocharger, which duly ignited the oil, itself and the Renault engine.
With twenty laps to go Lauda and Reutemann came across a group of backmarkers, given Reutemann a shot of taking victory if Lauda made a mistake. Indeed, as the pair came to lap Giacomelli at the end of lap 60 Lauda dived inside the Italian at Clearways, just as Giacomelli moved to the inside to allow the pair to pass. Quick reactions from Lauda saw him briefly lift off the throttle and throw his Brabham around the otherside of the McLaren, only for Reutemann to come charging past both and take the lead.
The Argentine race duly weaved past Stuck and Tambay during the following laps without issue to establish himself in the lead, with Lauda dropping back a couple of seconds as they cleared the traffic. Indeed, that proved to be it for the race in terms of action, with Reutemann left to cruise home to claim a memorable victory for Ferrari, a second clear of Lauda in second. Half a minute back would come a lonely Watson in third, with Depailler the last man on the lead lap in fourth ahead of Stuck and Tambay.
The full results for the 1978 British Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Mass could not be classified as he failed to complete 90% of the race distance.
- Fittipaldi started their 50th Grand Prix as a constructor.
- First entry for Geoff Lees.
- Eighth career victory for Carlos Reutemann.
- Ferrari claimed their 71st victory as both a constructor and engine manufacturer.
- Also their 240th podium finish as a constructor and engine manufacturer.
Despite failing to score, Mario Andretti's lead at the top of the Championship was strong enough for him to retain his lead at Brands Hatch, which held at nine points. Likewise, Ronnie Peterson had held onto second despite his own dramas, although both Carlos Reutemann and Niki Lauda had moved within striking distance in third and fourth respectively. Patrick Depailler and John Watson had also made ground, although they were likely too far back to make a charge for the crown.
In the International Cup for Constructors it was still advantage Lotus-Ford Cosworth, with the Norfolk squad's lead hardly dented in spite of their double retirement. Indeed, Brabham-Alfa Romeo were still two wins behind the "John Player Specials", with just five races left to fight. They were instead looking at a fight for second with Ferrari, whom had overtaken Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth as a result of Reutemann's victory.
Images and Videos:
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- F1-history, '1978 British Grand Prix Start', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 30/12/2012), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/1978-British-Grand-Prix-Start-324266443, (Accessed 18/08/2018)
- F1-history, '1978 British Grand Prix', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 01/09/2013), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/1978-British-Grand-Prix-397350837, (Accessed 18/08/2018)
- 'John Watson (Great Britain 1978)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 12/12/2012), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/John-Watson-Great-Britain-1978-342460512, (Accessed 18/08/2018)
- 'British GP, 1978', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr307.html, (Accessed 18/08/2018)
- D.S.J., 'British Grand Prix: Simply Unreal', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/08/1978), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1978/29/british-grand-prix-simply-unreal, (Accessed 19/08/2018)
- 'Britain 1978: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1978/grande-bretagne/engages.aspx, (Accessed 18/08/2018)
- 'Britain 1978: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1978/grande-bretagne/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 18/08/2018)
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