The 1979 Belgian Grand Prix, otherwise officially known as the XXXVII Grote Prijs van Belgie, was the sixth race of the 1979 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at Circuit Zolder on the 13 May 1979. The race would be won by Jody Scheckter as other drivers retired around him, including the new factory Alfa Romeo team which was returning to F1 for the first time since the 1951 Spanish Grand Prix.
However, neither Scheckter nor the new Alfa, in the hands of Bruno Giacomelli, would feature prominently in qualifying, with the former taking seventh while the latter claimed fourteenth. Pole, meanwhile, would go to Jacques Laffite after another duel with his teammate Patrick Depailler, while Nelson Piquet put his Alfa Romeo engined Brabham into third.
Depailler would grab the lead at the start as he had done so last time out in Spain, with Laffite slipping behind both Piquet and a fast starting Alan Jones. The Australian racer himself would emerge in second ahead of the Brabham-Alfa, with the rest of the field making it off the line without issue.
Indeed, all of the drama was reserved for the second lap, with Scheckter and teammate Gilles Villeneuve both bouncing into Clay Regazzoni, the former's collision causing the latter's smack with the Williams. Yet, while Regazzoni was left with terminal damage both of the scarlet Ferraris scampered away unhindered, although Villeneuve would have to pit for a new nose soon after.
Out front, meanwhile, Laffite would move back ahead of Piquet for third, before sweeping past Jones to claim second and harass his teammate. His task was made all the more easy when Depailler's pace began to fade, with the #26 car slipping into the lead on lap 19.
Depailler soon slipped behind Jones, who then managed to barge past Laffite and establish a small lead on lap 24, largely because Scheckter had caught the lead group after taking Mario Andretti. The Australian then led until he suffered an electrical failure on lap 40, handing the lead back to Depailler as the Frenchman had suddenly found some pace and re-passed Laffite.
Yet, Depailler's lead would not last very long, for the Ligier understeered straight into the barriers at the end of lap 47, gifting Laffite the lead. However, the #26 Ligier was looking very vulnerable, and when Scheckter attacked the Ligier on lap 54 there was little Laffite could do to resist.
With that the fight for victory was over, with Scheckter cruising home to claim his first win of the season, fifteen seconds clear of Laffite. Carlos Reutemann was set for third until Didier Pironi came charging past late on, while Riccardo Patrese and John Watson completed the points.
The Formula One circus of 1979 headed to the sights and sounds of the Zolder Circuit in Belgium for the sixth race of the campaign, with the ever-present Belgian Grand Prix arriving in mid-May. Although not the most popular circuit on the calendar, and a stark contrast to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps which was the former permanent host of the Belgian Grand Prix, Zolder was still deemed good enough to host F1, with no major changes required since the previous visit in 1978. In contrast, there were some modifications to the entry list, with the long-awaited return of a former, unofficial, Champion manufacturer the main attraction.
Indeed, Alfa Romeo, after 27 years of near-complete exile, picked the Belgian Grand Prix of 1979 to make their return, having spent most of 1978, and the opening months of 1979, preparing their first post-war Grand Prix car. This new creation, christened the Alfa Romeo 177, followed the now standard format of sliding side-skirts and swept sidepods to generate "ground-effect", although it did not use the new Alfa Romeo built engines used by Brabham. The result was a very soft lined, rounded machine painted in Alfa Romeo red, entered and run by the factory backed Autodelta squad with 1978 European Formula Two Champion Bruno Giacomelli at the wheel. However, the Autodelta squad were also keen to make clear that this was only the first step in their return to F1, with a new car already in development.
In terms of Alfa Romeo's engine customers Brabham there was a new BT48 chassis ready to race, which was arrived setup for lead driver Niki Lauda. He duly took that as his race car, his old car hence becoming the spare, while Nelson Piquet continued to use BT48/3. Otherwise, the team were unchanged, despite Gordon Murray's best efforts to evolve his original design for the BT48 during the pre-race tyre test.
Sticking with the Italian theme and Ferrari had been busy appeasing lead driver Jody Scheckter, who felt that his position as number one in the team had been forgotten amid the recent rise of teammate Gilles Villeneuve. As such, the Maranello squad duly delivered their latest 312T4 to the South African, while teammate Villeneuve inherited his old car. The Canadian's race winning 312T4 hence became the team's spare, with Villeneuve, nor teammate Scheckter, willing to comment further on the team's intentions.
Elsewhere, McLaren were enduring the most miserable period of their history, which would only be worsened in the build-up to the race after an accident for John Watson. The Ulsterman was piloting their updated M28B during the aforementioned tyre test at Zolder, only to spectacularly write off the car at the back of the circuit. What was left was shipped back to the team's base in Colnbrook and rebuilt around a new "B-Spec" monocoque, although that addition to team's workload meant that Patrick Tambay was forced to use a two year old M26 in Belgium.
Another team that had been busy since the battle in Spain, albeit for different reasons, were Lotus, whom were desperately trying to get their new Type 80 up to speed. Indeed, Mario Andretti's prototype 80 appeared with numerous revisions since its Spanish debut, with shortened skirts, a revised nose and some tweaked bodywork at the back. These changes were made amid news that the second "Type 80" would feature even more changes, including a change in the centre of gravity and revised sidepods. That, inevitably, meant that Carlos Reutemann was left with his old Type 79, as was lone privateer Héctor Rebaque who was still hard at work on his own "ground effect" car.
Ligier, meanwhile, had hoped to have a new JS11 built in time for the Zolder race, only for Patrick Depailler to delay things slightly by bending the front of his car during the tyre test. That rebuild meant that both he, and teammate Jacques Laffite, would use their usual JS11s, which remained the class of the Ford Cosworth engined field, if not the entire paddock. Indeed, various other teams were adopting Ligier-esque elements, although not on the scale that designers were taking "inspiration" from the Lotus 79.
Their compatriots Renault had, in contrast, arrived with updates for their new car, having slapped new double-caliper brakes to the front of Jean-Pierre Jabouille's new RS10. Unfortunately for them the race arrived too soon to introduce their new twin-turbo V6 engine, although the team were optimistic of getting it race-ready for the Monaco Grand Prix at the end of the month. Second driver René Arnoux, meanwhile, would continue to use his old RS01 test mule.
Elsewhere there were some good signs coming from Tyrrell, with their strong start to the season finally bagging them a new title sponsor after losing ELF to Renault. Indeed, Ken Tyrrell had negotiated a deal for Candy, an Italian white-goods manufacturer, to plaster their logo to the sides of Jean-Pierre Jarier and Didier Pironi's cars, partially restoring the squad back to their familiar blue-white livery. However, beneath the stickers, the cars were unchanged, although a new 009 was close to completion following the recent cash infusion.
Ensign also seemed to be rising above their money troubles, although as they were still waiting for their new bodywork to be delivered from an outside supplier for their new N179 they were forced to field two old N177s for Derek Daly. Fittipaldi, meanwhile, had opted to send their new F6 back to Brazil for further development, meaning Emerson Fittipaldi was left with just one F5A for the weekend, and very few spares. ATS, in contrast, would take even more drastic action, deciding to develop their pair of D2s on the fly with hacksaws and hammers according to the whims of sole driver Hans-Joachim Stuck.
Elsewhere, Shadow were unchanged, Jan Lammers and Elio de Angelis remaining with the team inspite of the latter's lack on sponsorship, as were arch-rivals Arrows with Riccardo Patrese and Jochen Mass ready to race. Wolf had two cars ready for James Hunt to run, although there were rumours that Walter Wolf was not paying all of his bills, while Williams were unchanged with their pair of FW07s for Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni. Completing the field would be Arturo Merzario in his eponymous creation, and the new uninspiring Kauhsen, with Italian rookie Gianfranco Brancatelli still at the wheel.
Into the Championship and victory for Depailler in Spain had catapulted the Frenchman up into second in the Championship, level on points with current leader Villeneuve. The French-Canadian ace was still adjudged to be ahead by virtue of his two wins to Depailler's one, with a similar distinction having kept Laffite in third ahead of Reutemann. Behind, Scheckter had slipped back down to fifth, while Andretti had held onto sixth and remained within a win's worth of points of the lead.
In the International Cup for Constructors a game of leap-frog had developed at the top of the table after the opening rounds, with Ligier-Ford Cosworth moving back ahead of Ferrari to retake the lead in Spain. The French squad ended the Spanish weekend two ahead of their Italian challengers, while defending Champions Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth held on in third, six behind the Scuderia. Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth, meanwhile, were becoming increasingly distant in fourth, the last team in double figures, with McLaren-Ford Cosworth, Williams-Ford Cosworth, Brabham-Alfa Romeo and Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth the only other scorers.
The full entry list for the 1979 Belgian Grand Prix is outlined below:
Qualifying would be staged across Friday and Saturday, following the new format of two quali-sessions in the afternoons, following two morning periods of "race" practice. This meant that there would be three hours of running to set the grid, with an additional two hours to allow teams to setup their cars for the race itself. In terms of a target time the circuit record of 1:20.90, set by Mario Andretti in 1978, was thought to be in the sights of the top teams and drivers.
After a near-pointless morning practice, which saw the circuit completely soaked by a constant drizzle, qualifying opened on Friday afternoon with a general sense of apathy. However, the drizzle had stopped, and after only a couple of cars had headed out onto the circuit it became clear that the circuit would dry fairly quickly if the majority headed out. Most subsequently did so before the end of the opening quarter of an hour, with a distinct dry line appearing in various parts of the circuit.
A couple of drivers would, however, opt to simply wait until the others dried the circuit, hoping that they could save their wets for the rest of the weekend. Indeed, several drivers would manage to get in a couple of early flying laps on slicks, with the two Ferraris leading the way, until the drizzle returned to wash away any hopes of a seriously quick time. That therefore meant that Gilles Villeneuve ended the session on provisional pole with a 1:24.06, having been the first to get out on dry rubber.
Almost unnoticed, at least until the rain stopped, however, would be Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who put the new Renault up into second behind the young Canadian ace. Jacques Laffite was next in the lead Ligier, teammate Patrick Depailler having missed out on the best of the dry track, while Mario Andretti got the new Lotus into the top four. Elsewhere, the new Alfa Romeo was conspicuous by its relative absence, with Bruno Giacomelli failing to set a clean time, while James Hunt was struggling with a braking issue in the newest of the Wolves.
In contrast to Friday, Saturday afternoon was completely dry, although there were a group of dark clouds hanging around the circuit as the pitlane opened. Instead, FISA had arranged for an extra obstacle at the pit-exit, with a group of scrutineers posted to pull random cars to the side of the circuit at random. The main aim of this random check was to ensure that drivers were running above the minimum height specified in the rulebook, to which every car was found to comply.
It proved to be a rather chaotic session in terms of incidents, with countless spins and trips across the grass as drivers pushed the limits. Fortunately, there were no major accidents or failures as a result of these spins, although most drivers would encounter brake troubles as they pushed hard for a sustained period. Furthermore, there were a lot of near-misses as drivers on hot laps came across drivers on out or slow-down laps, although complaints about all of these factors were kept to the minimum.
In terms of outright pace, however, it would be the two Ligiers that proved to be the stars of the show, although neither Laffite nor Depailler would beat the old circuit record. Ultimately it was Laffite who ended the session on pole, a 1:21.13, with Depailler unable to challenge after throwing his car into the catch fencing at the first corner having just set his session best of 1:21.20. That incident also damaged the Williams of Alan Jones, who smacked a kerb avoiding the spinning Ligier and destroyed the side skirts on the left side of his car.
Closest to the two Ligiers would be a scarlet car powered by an Italian engine, although it was not a Ferrari. Instead, it was the Alfa Romeo engined Brabham of Nelson Piquet, whose best effort of 1:21.35 left him in third, ahead of Jones in his hastily repaired Williams. Indeed, Piquet's pace was so impressive that many believed that he could have gone on to beat one of the Ligiers, had his Alfa engine not developed a water leak and forced him to swap to teammate Niki Lauda's car, which the Austrian had abandoned in the pits having decided it was down on power.
Elsewhere the only major incident of the session came late on, when Andretti and Jochen Mass came together, with both duly sliding off to meet Depailler's abandoned Ligier in the fencing. The new Lotus was left with heavy front-left corner damage, the Arrows had significant rear damage, and Depailler's Ligier was returned on a flat-bed with a cracked monocoque. Their mechanics quickly descended to upon the damaged cars to get them race ready, with Andretti furious with Mass having decided the he was to blame for the incident.
At the back of the field, meanwhile, there was little surprise that Gianfranco Brancatelli had failed to qualify in the Kauhsen, with the Italian a long way off the pace. The Ensign of Derek Daly was also out, the Irishman having had no real hope of qualifying after his engine failed early in the afternoon, while Arturo Merzario was half a second off qualifying in his self-built car. They were to be joined by a rather shocked Patrick Tambay in his old McLaren, the Frenchman having struggled for pace in his outdated machine.
The full qualifying results for the 1979 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||26||Jacques Laffite||Ligier-Ford Cosworth||1:24.52||1:21.13||—|
|2||25||Patrick Depailler||Ligier-Ford Cosworth||1:27.47||1:21.20T||+0.07s|
|3||6||Nelson Piquet||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:24.96||1:21.35||+0.22s|
|4||27||Alan Jones||Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:26.92||1:21.59||+0.46s|
|5||1||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:24.60||1:21.83||+0.70s|
|8||28||Clay Regazzoni||Williams-Ford Cosworth||1:24.57||1:22.40||+1.27s|
|9||20||James Hunt||Wolf-Ford Cosworth||1:28.05T||1:22.55||+1.42s|
|10||2||Carlos Reutemann||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:26.41||1:22.56||+1.43s|
|11||4||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:25.82||1:22.68||+1.55s|
|12||3||Didier Pironi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||1:25.55||1:22.85||+1.72s|
|13||5||Niki Lauda||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:24.65||1:22.87T||+1.74s|
|14||35||Bruno Giacomelli||Alfa Romeo||1:27.15||1:23.15||+2.02s|
|15||31||Héctor Rebaque||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:26.79||1:23.63||+2.50s|
|16||29||Riccardo Patrese||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||1:27.63||1:23.92||+2.79s|
|19||7||John Watson||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:26.60||1:24.37||+3.24s|
|20||9||Hans-Joachim Stuck||ATS-Ford Cosworth||1:28.50||1:24.62||+3.49s|
|21||17||Jan Lammers||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:27.72||1:24.76||+3.63s|
|22||30||Jochen Mass||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||1:27.79||1:25.08||+3.95s|
|23||14||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||1:28.48||1:25.18||+4.05s|
|24||18||Elio de Angelis||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||1:29.23||1:25.48||+4.35s|
|DNQ||8||Patrick Tambay||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:29.57||1:25.69||+4.56s|
|DNQ||24||Arturo Merzario||Merzario-Ford Cosworth||1:29.37||1:25.92||+4.79s|
|DNQ||22||Derek Daly||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||1:32.96T||1:27.83||+6.70s|
|DNQ||36||Gianfranco Brancatelli||Kauhsen-Ford Cosworth||1:34.48||2:11.75||+13.35s|
- 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.
|______________||Elio de Angelis|
Fortunately, after two miserable days affected to a greater or lesser extend by rain, raceday dawned bright and warm, with no sign of water in the skies. As such, a 75,000 strong crowd would gather around the Circuit Zolder during the morning, with the warm-up passing without issue. After that the field, plus Patrick Tambay, would line-up on the grid after a flawless formation lap, with the Frenchman hoping that someone would hit trouble at the start.
Unfortunately for Tambay there would be no such issues, as Patrick Depailler shot into the lead for Ligier as pole-sitting teammate Jacques Laffite spun up his rear tyres. That also allowed Alan Jones, following Depailler's cue, to shoot into second, as well as Nelson Piquet who was starting on a softer set of Goodyear tyres than the tyre manufacturer would have liked. The rest of the field charged off without issue, leaving Tambay to be pushed back into the paddock in his old McLaren.
The rest of the opening lap proved to be fairly tame, although Jones tried hard to slip his Williams ahead of Depailler in the spare Ligier. Piquet, meanwhile, found himself being harassed by Laffite, while Mario Andretti watched on with Clay Regazzoni glued to his tail. They remained in that order to the end of the opening tour, with the two scarlet Ferraris, Carlos Reutemann and James Hunt completing the top ten.
Depailler would manage to eek out his lead during the second lap, leaving Jones, Piquet and Laffite to squabble behind him. However, all eyes would be on a collision behind those two, for Jody Scheckter had tried an ambitious lunge on Regazzoni into the chicane, resulting in both skating across the gravel. Scheckter would scramble clear unhindered, while Regazzoni picked up a puncture when he smacked into Gilles Villeneuve when rejoining, taking the front wing off the Ferrari, forcing both to pit.
So began an epic drive back up the order by Villeneuve, with the Canadian throwing caution to the wind after dropping right to the back of the field. Out front, meanwhile, Laffite would clear Piquet as the dramas unfolded behind, and duly pulled his Ligier right underneath Jones' rear wing. Depailler, meanwhile, was running just out of reach of the Australian, while Piquet steadily fell away from the lead trio.
A few laps later and Scheckter again grabbed the attention, barging into the side of Piquet having elbowed his way past Andretti on lap four. Indeed, Scheckter's move saw the Brazilian's Brabham receive a huge whack on the left-rear, although miraculously neither car picked up damage. Scheckter duly roared off the catch the leaders, a few seconds up the road, while Piquet ultimately decided to abandon his soft Goodyear tyres once Andretti lunged past a lap later.
Back with the leaders and Jones tried a lunge on Depailler for the lead on lap twelve, although the Frenchman managed to swat aside the dive into the chicane. Another Australian lunge came at the start of lap thirteen, although this time Laffite would manage to sweep inside the Williams as Depailler ran Jones out wide. That left Depailler leading from teammate Laffite, while Jones doggedly stuck with them knowing that Scheckter was slowly catching them in the #11 Ferrari.
The race soon settled after that, with the only significant changes coming in the lower orders as faster cars sprinted back through the pack. Indeed, Villeneuve's progress was of particular interest, with the Canadian ace lapping at a far faster pace than even the leaders could in clear air. Up ahead, Piquet was also making a strong charge, having already cleared John Watson and Emerson Fittipaldi, while Reutemann was closing in on the back markers having been forced to pit with a badly blistered front left tyre.
Indeed, Reutemann's tyre problem would soon be seen across the field, although not to the same extent as his ruined example. Yet, even those minor issues would have a great impact, for both of the Ligiers would suddenly lose grip mid-corner, and duly had to ease off to regain control. The first instance saw Depailler slip wide and hence gift Laffite the lead, before both blue-white machines ran too-wide and opened the door for Jones to seize control.
With that the race looked to be over with two thirds of the distance still to cover, for Jones was able to simply pull away from the Ligiers as they continued to slither around the circuit. Scheckter, meanwhile, was making little progress in spite of the fact that the two blue-white cars were sliding wide and losing time, while Andretti was struggling with an increasing lack of brakes. Indeed, he would ultimately retire once he had to push so hard that he was actually managing to operate the accelerator, moments after Niki Lauda and Piquet disappeared with engine failures.
Half-distance came and went without major issue, with Villeneuve again serving as the centre of attention as he came barging past Reutemann and broke into the top ten. Yet, on lap 40 the entire race would be turned on its head, for Jones failed to return to the start/finish straight after an electrical failure at the far side of the circuit. That gifted the lead to Depailler, having re-passed Laffite in another wide-moment, although all eyes were on Scheckter as he suddenly saw a race victory grow in his sights every time the nose of the Ligiers drifted wide.
Behind, Hunt had been enjoying a quiet but otherwise positive day for Wolf, only to spin on the back straight and slide into the barriers having inherited fourth. A marshal quickly sprinted across the circuit to his aid, although Jean-Pierre Jarier had to take avoiding action and duly smashed the skirts on one side of his Tyrrell. He pitted for repairs but was told that nothing could be done, with the Frenchman soon dropping back out of the points at a much reduced pace.
Elsewhere, Villeneuve's charge had carried him onto the back of Riccardo Patrese, with the golden Arrows not expected to be much of a hindrance to the scarlet Ferrari. However, Patrese would have other ideas, and duly tried every trick in the book to keep the Canadian at bay, much to the ire of Villeneuve's supporters. Indeed, it would take Villeneuve a dozen laps and countless failed attempts to squeeze past the Italian, catching him off guard with an outside lunge into the chicane.
However, moments after Villeneuve tried to steal the show all eyes were back with the leaders, for Depailler had gone straight on at the first corner and into the barriers. He climbed out hugely frustrated at himself and his tyres, while teammate Laffite inherited his precarious lead. Indeed, Scheckter was now all over the back of the Ligier with twenty laps to go, and would duly sweep past the Frenchman on lap 54 as Laffite ran wide at the first corner.
Now all of the attention truly was on Villeneuve, for the Canadian ace was now bearing down on Didier Pironi in third, the Frenchman having had a quiet afternoon to that point. Indeed, with ten laps to go the #12 Ferrari swept past the Tyrrell with ease, and duly set a trio of fastest outright laps to claim a new lap record of 1:23.09. So strong was Villeneuve's pace that many wondered if he could catch Laffite in the time remaining, although after recording his best effort on lap 63 it seemed as if Villeneuve had settled for third.
With that the race was run, with Scheckter cruising home fifteen seconds clear of Laffite in second to claim the Championship lead. Villeneuve, meanwhile, would not get to celebrate his epic drive on the podium, for his Ferrari F12 drained the last of its fuel tank with half a lap to go, leaving him to walk back to the pits. Pironi therefore re-inherited third ahead of Reutemann, while Patrese and an unusually quiet Watson completed the points.
The full results for the 1979 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Villeneuve was still classified despite retiring as he had completed 90% of the race distance.
- Debut race for Autodelta as an entrant in Formula One.
- 25th start for Gilles Villeneuve.
- Eighth career victory for Jody Scheckter.
- Scheckter also secured his 30th podium finish.
- Ferrari claimed their 76th victory as a constructor and engine supplier.
- It was also their 250th podium finish.
- Didier Pironi earned his maiden podium finish.
With six races down and nine to go it was Jacques Laffite who led the Championship hunt, level on points with race winner Jody Scheckter, but ahead by virtue of having two wins to the South African's one. Gilles Villeneuve completed the top three, level with Patrick Depailler but ahead on countback, while Carlos Reutemann completed the top five. Indeed, just five points separated the top five after the opening six rounds, with defending Champion Mario Andretti next up but twelve points off the pace.
In the International Cup for Constructors it was Ferrari who led the charge at the end of the weekend, sneaking back ahead of Ligier-Ford Cosworth by a single point. Indeed, with almost two thirds of the season still to go it seemed as if those two would be in a private duel for the crown, although Lotus-Ford Cosworth remained in contention in third. Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth were next, with less than half the number of points than Lotus, while McLaren-Ford Cosworth were even further off the pace in fifth.
Only point scoring drivers and constructors are shown.
Images and Videos:
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|V T E||Belgian Grand Prix|
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