The 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, otherwise officially known as the XIV Svenska Grand Prix, was the eighth round of the 1978 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Scandinavian Raceway on 17 June 1978. The race would go down in F1 folklore for the exploits of Niki Lauda, whom won the race in the infamous, and subsequently banished, Brabham-Alfa Romeo "Fan Car".
Indeed, the Brabham squad under the command of F.O.C.A. leader Bernie Ecclestone decided to field the novel design in Sweden, hoping to counter the all conquering "ground-effect" Lotus 79s. Unfortunately the two "fan cars" would be beaten by Lotus' Mario Andretti to pole in qualifying, the American racer qualifying seven tenths faster than Lauda's teammate John Watson. Home hero Ronnie Peterson would put the second Lotus into fourth behind Lauda's "fan car".
A group of teams would protest the Brabham design after qualifying, although those complaints were rejected by the officials, meaning both Lauda and Watson would start. The start itself would suggest that those moaners had potentially complained too soon, for Andretti swept into the lead ahead of Lauda, while Riccardo Patrese shot past Watson early on.
Peterson would also battle past Watson, before engaging Patrese in a duel for third, ultimately snatching the position on lap ten before pitting with a punctured tyre. He rejoined outside of the top ten and battle back through the field, as Watson dropped out with a broken throttle.
Out front, meanwhile, Andretti and Lauda were running nose-to-tail, the "ground-effect" Lotus just managing to prevent the "fan car" at bay, with the pair streaking clear of Patrese at an alarming rate. Indeed, it seemed as if the two were destined to duel until the chequered flag, until Andretti made his first mistake of the weekend and slithered wide, gifting the lead to Lauda.
Lauda duly blasted clear at the front of the field, aided by the fact that oil had been dumped around the back of the circuit by a backmarker, which meant everyone bar the Austrian racer had to slow down. Lauda, in contrast, only had to change to a higher gear through the affected corners, for that was how the Brabham's fan system underneath the car operated.
Furthermore, any hopes of an Andretti comeback were ended when the American's engine detonated itself, leaving Lauda with a huge thirty second lead. He duly cruised home to claim victory, while Patrese had to fend off Peterson for second in the closing stages.
Ultimately the Swede would just fall shy on the final lap, crossing the line less than a tenth behind the Arrows. A quiet Patrick Tambay was next ahead of Clay Regazzoni, while Emerson Fittipaldi claimed the final point in sixth.
After the race, Lotus and Tyrrell put in an official appeal against the result, once again declaring that the Brabham was illegal due to the use of the fan at the back of the car. Ultimately the FIA rejected their appeal, although in a bid to keep F.O.C.A. united behind him, Ecclestone agreed to withdraw the cars at the end of July.
Formula One made its annual visit to Scandinavia for the eighth race of the 1978, heading to the Swedish town of Anderstorp for the Swedish Grand Prix. The Scandinavian Raceway, situated on the Anderstorp airfield, had been remoulded for the 1978 visit, with the Norra curve re-shaped to slow the field down at the end of the runway, adding a few metres to the circuit. However, it was not the modified circuit that caused a stir upon arrival in Sweden, but rather the modifications made to the Brabham BT46 by Gordon Murray and Bernie Ecclestone.
Indeed, the South African designer, at the behest of F.O.C.A. supremo Ecclestone, had been granted permission to install a fan to the rear of their BT46s, designed to "aid cooling". To ensure that the fan managed to extract as much air from around the engine as possible, Murray deemed it necessary to add skirts to the underside of the car, while all other cooling systems were mounted around the engine itself. The result was a much more angular design to the front of the new BT46B, with a dust-bin like growth underneath the rear wing to house the fan.
However, a side-effect of Murray's design was that the fan managed to suck almost all of the air from the underside of the car, creating a large low-pressure zone underneath the BT46B. At high speed, for the fan was driven directly from the gearbox, the BT46B would be literally sucked onto the tarmac, much akin to the revolutionary "ground-effect" design promoted by Colin Chapman and Lotus. Yet, unlike Chapman's use of aerodynamic wizardry to create a low-pressure zone underneath the Lotus 79, Murray's design was almost entirely artificial.
Indeed, Chapman would inspire a quintet of teams to protest against the Brabham creation, declaring that the fan was "primarily" a moving aerodynamic device, a concept outlawed by Article 1, Item 5 of the FIA's technical rulebook. Murray would, however, defend his design by stating that the fan was '70% to cool the engine, 30% to affect the down-force', hence its "primary" function was to cool the car, not affect aerodynamics. The organisers duly ruled in favour of Murray, Ecclestone and Brabham, although Chapman would protest their decision both after qualifying and the race itself.
Regardless of being granted the all-clear, at least for the Swedish Grand Prix, the Brabham squad had prepared two "fan cars" for Niki Lauda and John Watson. For Lauda, an entirely new BT46B had been built, while Watson was given an upgraded BT46 featuring all of the updates. Both had approved of the design after some private testing, with Lauda particularly enthusiastic about the potential of the new car.
Yet, however much potential the new Brabham concept had, it would have to beat the star of the F1 field in 1978: Chapman's Lotus 79. Indeed, Mario Andretti and home hero Ronnie Peterson arrived in Sweden as the pre-race favourites, having scored two one-twos on the bounce in dominant fashion. Indeed, the fact that Peterson was in a dominant car was of particular interest to the home nation, with the organisers hoping that that fact would attract a large crowd.
Away from the "ground effect" class and Ferrari arrived with their usual trio of 312T3s for Carlos Reutemann and Gilles Villeneuve, with neither driver expecting the challenge the Loti. Likewise McLaren, a key supporter of Chapman's protests, had little change to their cars, with Patrick Tambay declaring himself fully fit to partner James Hunt. Tyrrell were also unchanged with Patrick Depailler and Didier Pironi at the wheel, having also supported the Chapman cause, as had Surtees and Williams. Those two teams were also unchanged arriving in Sweden, with Rupert Keegan and Vittorio Brambilla in action for the former, and Alan Jones in the hot-seat again for the latter.
Elsewhere, ATS had made another change to their driver line-up, having poached promising Theodore racer Keke Rosberg to partner Jochen Mass in their modified Penske PC4s. The bickering Shadow and Arrows teams were also unchanged, despite the former preparing legal actions against the latter over the design of the Arrows FA1. Renault were also unchanged, with Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the wheel, as were their compatriots Ligier-Matra for Jacques Laffite.
Fittipaldi remained stubbornly dedicated to their lone driver Emerson Fittipaldi, as did Wolf with Jody Scheckter in the cockpit of their updated design. Jacky Ickx was also back in the field at the wheel of the Ensign, while Arturo Merzario had decided to ship his self-built creation to Sweden as well. Completing the field were familiar privateers Brett Lunger and Héctor Rebaque, with Theodore, Martini and Hesketh not making the trip.
Into the Championship and Andretti's third demoralising victory in Spain had established a commanding lead for the American racer in the World Championship hunt, leaving him with a ten point advantage. Second upon arrival in Sweden would be his teammate Peterson, with a further three points back to Depailler in third. Reutemann was an additional point back in fourth, with Lauda slipping further back in fifth.
Like their lead driver Andretti, Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth had gained a huge advantage in the International Cup for Constructors in Spain, a twenty point lead having been established. Their closest challenger in Sweden in terms of points would be arch-rivals Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth, with Ferrari and Brabham-Alfa Romeo tied for third. Ligier-Matra were a distant fifth, the final team in double figures, while Wolf-Ford Cosworth had finally overtaken Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth.
The full entry list for the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice/qualifying for the 1978 edition of the Swedish Grand Prix would be staged across the Friday and Saturday prior to the race, without the need for a pre-qualifying session to restrict the field. As such, the two days were split into four sessions of running, with the whole of Friday, and the afternoon session on Saturday, dedicated to deciding the grid. As for a target time it was believed that the old circuit record of 1:25.404, set by Mario Andretti in 1977 would be beaten, despite the revisions made to the Scandinavian Raceway to slow the field.
In spite of the near-universal concerns about the new Brabham-Alfa Romeo, it was Ferrari, with their "conventional" design that ended the Friday morning as the team to beat, with Carlos Reutemann recording a 1:23.838. Indeed, the Argentine's pace was somewhat of a shock, with Ronnie Peterson the closest man to him on a 1:24.652 in the second of Lotus 79s. The first of the fan cars was next, John Watson beating Gilles Villeneuve to third, while Andretti failed to break out of the 1:25.000s.
Friday afternoon was therefore deemed to better represent the "scene" in 1978, for Andretti finally got up to speed, and duly recorded a stunning effort of 1:22.058 to claim provisional pole. Indeed, it was a stunning effort from the American ace, with teammate Peterson 1.652s off in second, and the only man in the afternoon session to break into the 1:23.000s. The two Brabhams, meanwhile, would spend the majority of the afternoon in the pits, simply having their "cooling system" adjusted.
Those adjustments to the Brabham "cooling system" ultimately proved very effective during Saturday's final qualifying session, although there was no threat of either Watson nor Niki Lauda toppling Andretti's time. Indeed, the American ace would again end the session as the fastest man in the field, albeit with a 1:22.158, with Watson his closest challenger on a 1:22.737. Lauda was somewhat upset to have been beaten by his Ulster born teammate, this time by 0.046s, while Peterson ended the afternoon in fourth, the first of those drivers still in the 1:23.000s.
The full entry list for the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix is outlined below:
|1||5||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:25.010||1:22.058||1:22.158||—|
|2||2||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:24.900||1:25.522||1:22.737||+0.679s|
|3||1||Niki Lauda||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:25.410||1:24.833||1:22.783||+0.725s|
|4||6||Ronnie Peterson||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:24.652||1:23.710||1:23.120||+1.062s|
|5||35||Riccardo Patrese||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||1:26.290||1:25.196||1:23.369||+1.311s|
|6||20||Jody Scheckter||Wolf-Ford Cosworth||1:25.306||1:23.628||1:23.621||+1.563s|
|9||27||Alan Jones||Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:26.476||1:25.375||1:23.951||+1.893s|
|12||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:26.150||1:24.259||1:24.203||+2.145s|
|13||14||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||1:26.742||1:25.419||1:24.274||+2.216s|
|14||7||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:25.955||1:24.761||1:25.575||+2.703s|
|15||8||Patrick Tambay||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:25.432||1:25.683||1:24.986||+2.928s|
|16||17||Clay Regazzoni||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:27.551||1:26.123||1:25.007||+2.949s|
|17||3||Didier Pironi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:28.790||1:27.462||1:25.813||+3.755s|
|18||19||Vittorio Brambilla||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:26.856||1:26.618||1:26.895||+4.560s|
|19||9||Jochen Mass||ATS-Ford Cosworth||1:28.153||1:27.820||1:26.787||+4.729s|
|20||16||Hans-Joachim Stuck||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:27.504||1:27.546||1:27.011||+4.953s|
|21||25||Héctor Rebaque||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:27.350||1:27.139||1:27.973||+5.081s|
|22||37||Arturo Merzario||Merzario-Ford Cosworth||1:27.479||1:27.546||1:27.667||+5.421s|
|23||10||Keke Rosberg||ATS-Ford Cosworth||1:27.560||1:27.677||1:28.816||+5.502s|
|24||36||Rolf Stommelen||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||1:27.812||1:28.791||1:27.922||+5.754s|
|DNQ||18||Rupert Keegan||Surtees-Ford Cosworth||1:28.282||1:28.331||1:28.479||+6.224s|
|DNQ||30||Brett Lunger||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:28.388||1:28.999||1:28.495||+6.330s|
|DNQ||22||Jacky Ickx||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:29.438||1:29.051||1:28.400||+6.342s|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a test/spare car.
Raceday arrived with another political cloud hanging over the F1 paddock, with Lotus leading a quintet of protests against the Brabham cars. Their protests were, however, to be waved away by the organisers without hesitation, meaning both Niki Lauda and John Watson would take the start. They duly lined up betwixt the two Loti of Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson, with the American racer awaiting the flash of the starter's lights from pole position.
Unfortunately for Watson his hopes of a victory were instantly destroyed, for a mix-up with his gear selection saw him limp away from the grid. The Ulsterman's poor getaway duly baulked Peterson, but did gift Lauda some space on the outside of the circuit to challenge Andretti around the outside of turn one. The American realised this and subsequently allowed his Lotus to run out wide, while Riccardo Patrese sneaked his Arrows into third as Watson got himself together.
The rest of the opening tour passed without issue, meaning Andretti still lead Lauda at the end of the first lap and a half at the Scandinavian Raceway, with a noticeable gap opening up between them down the straights, only to close to nothing through the corners. They already had a fair gap back to Watson, whom had smuggled his Brabham back into third, although Patrese and Peterson were hounding him relentlessly. A few yards behind them came Jody Scheckter leading the two Ferraris and Alan Jones, while the two McLarens were still running outside of the top ten.
Early on the second lap and Patrese slipped the Arrows back ahead of Watson's Brabham, the Ulsterman seeming to be lacking top end speed at the end of the straights. Peterson would also slip past the Brabham, with Watson ultimately running wide trying to respond and duly filled his radiator with gravel. That would hamper his attempts to get back into third, with Patrese and Peterson still fighting hard.
Indeed, all the action during the early laps would come from the three way tussle for third, for Andretti and Lauda at the head of the field had simply disappeared. Both the American and the Austrian were pushing as hard as they could to try and break the other's car and/or confidence, and were pulling almost a second a lap ahead of Patrese and co. with every tour of Anderstorp. The pair seemed to be evenly matched, with the Lotus seemingly superior in a straight line, while the Brabham was able to sweep back onto its tail through the longer.
Peterson, meanwhile, would eventually force his way ahead of Patrese, lunging past the Italian into turn one before trying to sprint clear. Unfortunately for the home fans, however, the Swede would pick up a puncture during his escape, and duly dropped to seventeenth as he had a new set of Goodyear tyres applied. He soon began to battle back through the field, while Patrese continued to defend third from Watson.
Elsewhere Jones was putting in a terrific display, battling past both Gilles Villeneuve and Carlos Reutemann to claim fifth once Peterson disappeared. The young Australian racer was soon out of reach from the two scarlet cars, leaving Reutemann and Villeneuve on their own. Behind them, Scheckter was steadily slipping down the field, while Vittorio Brambilla and Didier Pironi removed each other from the race by bouncing into one-another.
Scheckter soon dropped out of the race with his engine so hot it was literally melting its internal components, before one of the Brabhams suddenly went bouncing off the circuit. That BT46B proved to be that of Watson, whom managed to trash his "cooling system" as he ran onto the dirt attacking Patrese. The Ulsterman should have been able to keep going, but a lot of muck had managed to jam the throttle slides shut, leaving the #2 car without any power.
Out front, meanwhile, it seemed as if the Andretti/Lauda fight would go on until the chequered flag, with both in fine form. That was, until Andretti drifted wide through the re-shaped Norra curve, gifting the lead to Lauda on lap 37. The American ace tried hard to get back on terms with the Brabham, but his race was over just eight laps later as his Ford Cosworth expired in a dramatic cloud of smoke.
Lauda was therefore left on his own out front, while Patrese was running in a lonely second. That was, until Jones went charging past the Arrows, only for Patrese to nudge the back of the Williams on the brakes into turn one. That put Jones into a spin, with the Australian racer recovering just ahead of an interesting brawl for fourth.
Indeed, with the Ferraris making another double pitstop for fresh Michelin tyres, Patrick Tambay led a terrific fight involving six drivers. That number soon became five when Peterson scythed through the pack, the Lotus simply able to brake later and harder then those in the Tambay train. His subsequent disappearance left Tambay, Jacques Laffite, James Hunt, Clay Regazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi all fighting for fifth as the race wore on.
Into the closing stages and Jones' impressive race had come to a premature end when the Williams suffered a wheel bearing failure, promoting Peterson to third. The Swede was rapidly closing in on Patrese, although Lauda looked imperious out front, trying hard not to look too quick. Unfortunately the true pace of Brabham was being highlighted by the track conditions, for an oil leak from one of the cars had left the second half of the circuit covered in oil. Everyone else therefore had to tip-toe through the slick to keep on track, while Lauda simply changed to a higher gear and pressed on unhindered.
The source of that oil was revealed to be Laffite, whom had fought to the front of the Tambay train, only for his Matra V12 to begin coughing with a handful of laps to go. That allowed Tambay, Regazzoni and Fittipaldi to sprint through, while Hunt got caught behind the hiccoughing Ligier. Indeed, the Brit had had his McLaren roughed up throughout the race, and was unable to seriously pressure Laffite into a mistake as the final laps ticked away.
With that the race was run, with Lauda sweeping home to claim one of the more controversial victories in F1 history. Patrese, meanwhile, would just managed to hold of Peterson across the line, the Swede having literally crawled all over the back of the Arrows as the pair came to complete the final lap. Those two were also the only drivers to remain unlapped by Lauda, as Tambay led Regazzoni, Fittipaldi, Laffite and Hunt across the line for fourth.
After the race Team Lotus launched an appeal against the result, re-instating their belief that the Brabham fan contravened Article 3 Item 7 regarding aerodynamic devices. This appeal was, however, rejected by the FIA, prompting Colin Chapman to storm back to Norfolk, already beginning to devise an upgrade for his Lotus 79s given that the FIA seemed to have given teams permission to use fans to aid downforce. Indeed, it was rumoured that the first of Chapman's proposed designs was on a testbed within a week of the chequered flag falling in Sweden.
Brabham boss Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, would observe the storm that his team had created, and duly arranged a meeting of the major members of the Formula One Constructors Association to ensure he did not lose his power-base.
The full results for the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Merzario was unable to be classified as he failed to complete 90% of the race distance.
- Rolf Stommelen made his 50th Grand Prix start.
- Mario Andretti claimed the 80th pole position for Lotus.
- Sixteenth victory for Niki Lauda.
- Brabham secured their nineteenth victory as a constructor.
- Lauda also recorded the 25th fastest lap set with a Brabham chassis.
- Alfa Romeo powered a car to an eleventh win.
- It was also the 30th podium for an Alfa Romeo powered car.
- Riccardo Patrese claimed his maiden podium finish.
A first victory of the season for defending Champion Niki Lauda ensured that the Austrian ace moved into the top three, although he was still a whole win behind Championship leader Mario Andretti. Indeed, the naturalised American maintained his lead atop the table despite failing to score, with only teammate Ronnie Peterson within striking distance. Behind Lauda, meanwhile, would be Patrick Depailler and Carlos Reutemann, with three points covering that trio, while Jacques Laffite left the mid-season race a long way behind in sixth.
In the International Cup for Constructors it was still Lotus-Ford Cosworth who led the way, the Norfolk squad's lead growing to eighteen points at the head of the field. Their closest challengers proved to be Brabham-Alfa Romeo after Lauda's questionable victory, with the FIA opting not to disqualify the Austrian from the results retroactively. Elsewhere, Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth had remained ahead of Ferrari, while Ligier-Matra completed the top five.
Images and Videos:
- F1-history, '1978 Swedish Grand Prix Start', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 11/10/2012), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/1978-Swedish-Grand-Prix-Start-331869550, (Accessed 13/08/2018)
- F1-history, 'Niki Lauda (Sweden 1978)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 22/12/2012), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/Niki-Lauda-Sweden-1978-344122648, (Accessed 13/08/2018)
- F1-history, 'Ronnie Peterson (Sweden 1978)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 19/11/2012), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/Ronnie-Peterson-Sweden-1978-338616602, (Accessed 13/08/2018)
- 'Swedish GP, 1978', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2015), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr305.html, (Accessed 13/04/2018)
- D.S.J., 'The Brabham-Alfa Romeo fan', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/08/1978), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1978/33/brabham-alfa-romeo-fan, (Accessed 12/08/2018)
- D.S.J., 'The Swedish Grand Prix: Brabham-Alfa Romeo win under a cloud', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/07/1978), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/july-1978/25/swedish-grand-prix, (Accessed 13/08/2018)
- 'Sweden 1978: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1978/suede/engages.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2018)
- 'Sweden 1978: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1978/suede/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2018)
- Holger Eckert, 'F1 1978 swedenGP comment : Heinz Prüller', youtube.com, (YouTube, 11/02/2014), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYVHa5HBwkU, (Accessed 14/08/2018)
- 'Sweden 1978: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1978/suede/classement.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2018)
- '8. Sweden 1978', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1978/suede.aspx, (Accessed 12/08/2018)
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