The VIII Grande Premio do Brasil, otherwise known as the 1979 Brazilian Grand Prix, was the second round of the 1979 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Autódromo do Interlagos on the 4 February 1979. The race would see Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depailler complete an impressively dominant one-two for Ligier, with the former also claiming his first, and only Grand Chelem.
Qualifying would see Laffite sweep to pole for the second race in succession, beating teammate Depailler by almost a second as he had in Argentina. Carlos Reutemann was next leading an all Lotus second row, while the two Ferraris of Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter shared the third.
There would not be any formation flying at the start of the race, however, for Reutemann hooked his getaway up beautifully to surge ahead of Depailler. Laffite, meanwhile, was able to block a lunge from the Argentine into the first corner and so held the lead, with the rest of the field charging through without issue.
Ultimately, however, there would be no stopping the two Ligiers on the opening tour, with Depailler ousting Reutemann from second, a move which also opened the door for Mario Andretti to take his Argentine teammate. With that, the two blue-white cars simply pulled away from the pack, quickly leaving Reutemann to defend third once Andretti retired on the second lap.
Indeed, the Argentine was soon the centre of attention, having to defend heavily from home hero Emerson Fittipaldi in the Brazilian built Fittipaldi. It was an impressive run from the two-time Champion, whose charge would only come to an end just after half distance with a loose wheel.
Behind, Didier Pironi would spend most of the race harassing Jody Scheckter, briefly getting ahead only to spin having got ahead. The #3 Tyrrell eventually got ahead and sprinted clear, while Scheckter and teammate Villeneuve had to pit mid-race for fresh tyres.
Out front, meanwhile, the formidable Ligier's powered on unhindered, with Laffite also collecting fastest lap en-route to a lights-to-flag victory. Depailler dropped five seconds back in second, while Reutemann was almost a full minute behind in third. Pironi was next, the last man on the lead lap, while Villeneuve and Scheckter recovered to fifth and sixth respectively.
After an experimental visit to the Jacarepaguá in 1978 the Formula One circus returned to the familiar sights of the Autódromo do Interlagos in 1979. Since the previous visit in 1977 a fair amount of money had been thrown at the São Paulo based circuit, with some corners tightened and the entire circuit resurfaced. Unfortunately a brutal winter and typically excessive Brazilian summer had largely undone the work of the previous season, with the circuit becoming extraordinarily bumpy when the F1 teams arrived for the race weekend.
However, rather than tackle this potential issue, the FIA and new president Jean-Marie Balestre had decided to investigate the first lap incident in Argentina that had caused the race to be stopped. The result of this investigation, conducted by the Argentine stewards, would turn into an inquiry, and ultimately saw John Watson slapped with a CHF10,000 (c. £3,000) fine for causing the accident with Jody Scheckter. The Ulsterman, or rather his team McLaren were told that they had to pay the fine within two days in the inquiry, staged on the Wednesday before the race, or see Watson's entry revoked.
The main issue with this punishment was not, however, the fact that neither McLaren nor Watson had been invited to plead against the fine, which the FIA and FMSA, their representatives, did not have to do. Instead, the judgement would result in another barely contained fallout between the various bodies of the FIA and the Formula One Constructors Association, with many barely disguised insults passing between the two. Ultimately, however, those idle comments would evaporate during a pre-meeting test at the Autódromo, with McLaren reluctantly paying the fine.
With that the entry list was finally solidified, with Watson officially registered to partner Patrick Tambay at McLaren on the eve of the weekend. Elsewhere, Scheckter returned for Ferrari alongside Gilles Villeneuve, having recovered from the bruised hand he had sustained in the Argentina accident, while the Canadian got a new 312T3 to use. Also back in action was Brazilian born Nelson Piquet, who battled against the residual pain of a healing foot to partner Niki Lauda for Brabham.
Lotus, meanwhile, had cannily stayed out of the political fighting to focus on updating their Type 79s, with new rear suspension uprights shipped across the Atlantic. These, it was hoped by Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann, would improve the 79's handling on the new, larger, Goodyear tyres, introduced to maintain the American firm's near-monopoly against new comers Michelin. The older 79 in the hands of Héctor Rebaque, meanwhile, was not updated, with the Mexican's team instead having to replace the entire rear-end of his car after a mounting point failure in Argentina.
In contrast the early stars of 1979 Ligier arrived with no new parts for their new JS11s, with Jacques Laffite and Patrick Depailler content for the time being. Likewise, Tyrrell were happy enough with their new 009 after the opening round, although both Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jarier would be hoping for better reliability. Williams also had little show since Argentina, having only made minor repairs to Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni's cars, while home hero Emerson Fittipaldi arrived with a new, but otherwise identical, Fittipaldi to try.
Elsewhere, Wolf had deserted their impeller based cooling system after questions were raised in Argentina, bringing memories of the infamous Brabham "Fan Car" meaning James Hunt had to adapt to a change in the balance for the radiators had been mounted further away from the cockpit. Arrows, meanwhile, had managed to build a new spare car for Riccardo Patrese, the Italian partnered by Jochen Mass, while rivals Shadow had to swap to their spare car when Jan Lammers destroyed his race car in the pre-race test. The Dutchman would be partnered by Elio de Angelis in the sister car, which had been plastered in sponsor logos, although the long-term future of Shadow seemed far from secure.
The enigmas that were the yellow-black Renaults of René Arnoux and Jean-Pierre Jabouille also made the trip, with the two turbocharged cars likely to be ferociously fast as well as ferociously unreliable as usual. Completing the field would be the single car entries of ATS, Ensign and Merzario, with no major changes to report. Indeed, all three of their drivers, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Derek Daly and Arturo Merzario respectively, were expected to be fighting to qualify, with two drivers set to miss out on a spot on the grid.
Into the Championship and, unsurprisingly, victory at the opening round had handed Laffite the lead, the Frenchman three ahead of second placed Reutemann. Watson ended the opening race in third, and was hence third in the title hunt, ahead of Depailler, while World Champion Andretti had opened his title defence with two points in fifth. Fittipaldi was the only other scorer in sixth.
In the International Cup for Constructors new rules meant that both driver's points in each race contributed to each team's tally, meaning that Ligier-Ford Cosworth had a larger lead than would have been expected after the opening round. Indeed, the French squad left Argentina four clear of second placed Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth, with McLaren-Ford Cosworth in third. Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth were the only other scorers, with a solitary point putting them in fourth.
The full entry list for the 1979 Brazilian Grand Prix is outlined below:
Qualifying/practice would be held using the established four session format in Brazil, with Friday and Saturday afternoon given over to setting the grid. That left the Saturday morning session as the only period dedicated solely to race practice, although a pre-weekend test had allowed most of the teams to complete some long-running at the circuit. As for a target time the aforementioned test had seen James Hunt's old circuit record of 2:30.11, set in 1977, completely demolished, with the new standard likely to be a time below 2:27.00.
Indeed, it was not long before the early stars of the 1979 campaign dipped below the old record, while the majority were ahead of it before the end of the morning. Leading the charge would be Jacques Laffite, with an impressive effort of 2:23.07 leaving the Frenchman in control of qualifying before the end of the opening session. Indeed, Laffite's closest challenger proved to be teammate Patrick Depailler, although he failed to break out of the 1:24.00s.
Leading the counter-Ligier charge would be Jody Scheckter in the first of the Ferraris, although it was soon clear that this was due to the Italian squad's Michelin tyres. The French tyre manufacturer had brought along a very soft compound of "quali" tyres for their scarlet coloured customers, which could only last a lap before becoming virtually worthless. As such both Scheckter and teammate Gilles Villeneuve spent most of the morning slowly touring around the circuit to find space, before delivering a handful of single flying laps.
Into the less spectacular section of the field and Patrick Tambay endured a miserable start to the weekend, crashing the spare McLaren early on having already destroyed his race car in the pre-race test. Nelson Piquet would also fail to appear during the opening session, the Brazilian opting to sit out in fear of damaging his still badly bruised foot. His teammate Niki Lauda therefore spent the morning swapping between the various Brabham-Alfa Romeos, and would encounter minor issues with all three.
The afternoon session would ultimately prove to be rather pointless at the head of the field, with Laffite not even bothering to take to the track, with so much in hand. Indeed, teammate Depailler was the only man to break into the 1:23.00s in the afternoon, although his 1:23.99 still left him nine tenths off his compatriot despite using some updated rear bodywork. Behind, Villeneuve finally got in a clean lap on his one-shot Michelins to get ahead of Scheckter, while Jean-Pierre Jabouille impressed once again in the lead Renault.
Indeed, Jabouille was in a rather experimental mood in the temperamental yellow-black machine, completing a series of runs with the radiators completely blanked off. Miraculously his V6 turbo engine survived the ordeal, although the Frenchman failed to beat his best morning effort using the ultra-soft Michelins. Teammate René Arnoux had a more trying afternoon, blowing up his engine while still learning the circuit.
Elsewhere, Tambay had another costly spin in the repaired McLaren spare, although he did at least make it to the Cotovelo before doing so. Derek Daly, meanwhile, was the only other driver in major mechanical strife, Ensign simply lacking the parts to replace the Irishman's expired engine after its failure in the morning session. Piquet, meanwhile, completed a handful of laps with his bruised foot, although was by far the slowest man in the field.
Into Saturday's final qualifying session and any hopes of beating Laffite's stunning Friday time evaporated in the intense heat of the Brazilian summer, which finally arrived in full force. Indeed, even Laffite failed to come close to his Friday morning best, with the Frenchman instead focusing on race runs in the heat. Depailler likewise failed to improve, although was to benefit from the fact that no-ultra fast times could be posted.
Only Lotus managed to find significant pace during amid the heat, finally overcoming a variety of minor issues. Indeed, the two green-gold cars were able to leap ahead of the scarlet Ferraris in the final hour of qualifying, with Carlos Reutemann recording a 2:24.15 to edge out teammate Mario Andretti by a tenth. Their sudden improvement did suggest that they could have potentially challenged Depailler at the very least in cooler conditions, while any comparison to Laffite was academic given his decision to focus on race pace.
Back down in the fight to qualify and Piquet somehow managed to drag himself onto the grid, claiming the twenty-second fastest time in spite of his bruised foot. Daly also made the cut with a fresh Ford Cosworth engine, as did Hans-Joachim Stuck despite being over nine seconds off the ultimate pace with the ATS. Out therefore went Héctor Rebaque, another to find pace in the heat, and Arturo Merzario, with the Italian a long way off the pace of everyone else.
The full qualifying results for the 1979 Brazilian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||26||Jacques Laffite||Ligier-Ford Cosworth||2:23.07||—||2:29.55T||—|
|2||25||Patrick Depailler||Ligier-Ford Cosworth||2:24.31||2:23.99||2:24.48||+0.92s|
|3||2||Carlos Reutemann||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:26.55||2:25.91T||2:24.15||+1.08s|
|4||1||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:25.33||2:25.85||2:24.28||+1.21s|
|8||3||Didier Pironi||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||2:27.21||2:25.16||2:25.46||+2.09s|
|9||14||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth||2:28.69T||2:26.35||2:27.61||+3.28s|
|10||20||James Hunt||Wolf-Ford Cosworth||2:30.32||2:27.60||2:26.37||+3.30s|
|12||5||Niki Lauda||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||2:28.47||2:27.57||—||+4.50s|
|13||27||Alan Jones||Williams-Ford Cosworth||2:30.44T||2:27.67T||2:28.70||+4.60s|
|14||7||John Watson||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||2:28.66||2:29.35||2:27.82||+4.75s|
|15||4||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth||2:28.64||2:28.22||2:27.89||+4.82s|
|16||29||Riccardo Patrese||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||2:29.09||2:28.68||2:28.08||+5.01s|
|17||28||Clay Regazzoni||Williams-Ford Cosworth||2:28.88||2:29.20||2:30.66||+5.81s|
|18||8||Patrick Tambay||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||—||—||2:29.39T||+6.32s|
|19||30||Jochen Mass||Arrows-Ford Cosworth||2:30.32||2:29.99||2:29.42||+6.35s|
|20||18||Elio de Angelis||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||2:30.58||2:33.80||2:30.29||+7.22s|
|21||17||Jan Lammers||Shadow-Ford Cosworth||2:31.66||2:31.60||2:32.88||+8.53s|
|22||6||Nelson Piquet||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||—||2:37.08||2:31.64||+8.57s|
|23||22||Derek Daly||Ensign-Ford Cosworth||2:33.18||—||2:31.78||+8.71s|
|24||9||Hans-Joachim Stuck||ATS-Ford Cosworth||2:33.64||2:32.27||2:33.03||+9.20s|
|DNQ||31||Héctor Rebaque||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||2:33.74||2:32.86||2:32.66||+9.59s|
|DNQ||24||Arturo Merzario||Merzario-Ford Cosworth||2:34.08||2:36.44||2:34.86||+11.01s|
- 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|
Unfortunately for those who wished to see the Ligiers challenged, raceday proved to be much akin to Saturday in terms of whether, with sunny skies and high temperatures preventing the use of softer tyres. Indeed, only a bust-up during the pre-race warm-up threatened to upset the French squad, with Jacques Laffite staying out for four laps after the session concluded. This invoked a small fracas in the pits as Formula One Constructors Association leader Bernie Ecclestone and race organiser Robert Langford, although there would be no further sanction.
With that the field was ready to start, with Laffite set to lead the field away on the parade lap once the pre-race paraphernalia had been cleared away. However, as the Ligier pulled away the two green-gold Loti behind refused to move, with Mario Andretti's car bursting aflame. Marshals quickly covered the back of the car in extinguisher powder, while Carlos Reutemann had to get a push start after the rest of the field, including Andretti, cleared the grid.
Indeed, it proved to be a particularly controversial parade lap, with Reutemann allowed to carve his way back up to third, while Andretti carried on without any issue. The official, and Lotus' major rivals, quickly delved into the rulebook to investigate the various incidents on the parade lap, although no action was to be taken before the start. Furthermore, only 23 of the 24 qualifiers made it back to the grid to take the start, for Jean-Pierre Jarier would roll to a silent stop midway around with an total electrical failure.
In-spite of all that the actual start of the race would pass without issue, Laffite blasting clear of the rest of the field when the lights switched to green. He was chased by Reutemann, who also aced his getaway to jump ahead of Patrick Depailler in the second Ligier. The rest of the field piled in behind the now white backed Lotus of Andretti, with no major incidents at the first corner.
The rest of the opening tour would see Laffite dance away at the front of the field, while Reutemann's hold of second was lost down the Retao straight, with Depailler bustling past into Curve 3. Indeed, the Frenchman's move pushed the Argentine so wide that Andretti slithered through as well, with Reutemann just managing to sweep across in front of Scheckter. Elsewhere, Emerson Fittipaldi completed a stunning start to run in sixth, up from ninth on the grid, with the rest largely in grid order.
The race for victory was all but over at that point, for Laffite and Depailler simply pulled away from the two Loti during the early stages. They were aided by the fact that Andretti swept into the pits at the end of lap two, having noticed that he was losing both fuel and fuel pressure. This was traced to a hole in the fuel metering unit, which had been the cause of his pre-race fire and knocked out two of his Ford Cosworth V8's cylinders.
That failure promoted Fittipaldi into fifth, before the Brazilian ace put the home crowd into hysterics by diving inside of Scheckter on lap three. Indeed, the former double-Champion was more than capable of pacing Reutemann in the early stages, although both had been dropped by the two Ligiers out ahead. Elsewhere, Niki Lauda picked up a gearbox issue and hence began a slow tumble down the order, while the second Brazilian racer in the form of Nelson Piquet was moving steadily up the field in the sister Brabham.
Indeed, young Piquet was really throwing his Alfa Romeo engined Brabham at the Interlagos circuit early on, and soon found himself fighting Lauda's former teammate Clay Regazzoni for twelfth. It proved to be an intense scrap between the experienced Swiss and the enthusiastic Brazilian, and would come to an inevitable conclusion when the white Williams cut across the nose of the red Brabham into one of the hairpins. Piquet duly slammed on the brakes, hurting his already painful foot in the process, but only succeeded in sliding into the back of Regazzoni and spinning both around. Regazzoni would rejoin unhindered, while Piquet slowly crawled back to the pits with his nose out of joint and a lot of pain in his left foot.
The race soon settled after that point, with Reutemann managing to pace the Ligiers, which ran just out of sight, while also dropping Fittipaldi. Elsewhere, Lauda had retired as his gearbox continued to deteriorate, while James Hunt suffered a steering failure in the Wolf, the entire mechanism coming apart on lap seven. Indeed, the main source of entertainment through to half distance proved to be Jean-Pierre Jabouille, racing his way through the lower half of the field after a miserable start in the #15 Renault.
The only thing to distract observers from the Frenchman's charge would be the brief actions of his compatriot Didier Pironi, who threw his Tyrrell at Scheckter mid-race. Indeed, the young Frenchman succeeded in getting inside the scarlet car, only to misjudge his braking into the tricky turn ten hairpin, and duly sent himself into a triple-pirouette on the dirt. Miraculously Pironi would miss the guardrail on the outside of the corner, and duly managed to scramble back onto the circuit having only lost a couple of seconds to the South African.
Back with Regazzoni and the Swiss ace was about to get involved in his second accident of the race, this time with Patrick Tambay as Jabouille swept onto their mutual tails for twelfth. Indeed, feeling the pressure from behind Tambay would throw his McLaren inside the Williams at turn fourteen, and only succeeded in drifting wide into the side of the Regazzoni. The Williams was sent into a very lazy, but otherwise damage free spin, while Tambay's McLaren went flying into the catch fencing, resulting in the left-front wheel being ripped off the car.
Back with Pironi and this time the Frenchman managed to get his Tyrrell ahead of Scheckter's Ferrari without issue, aided by the fact that the South African racer was seriously struggling with tyre wear. Indeed, both the scarlet cars were feeling the pain of their Michelin tyres, although Gilles Villeneuve seemed to be having a stronger run as he crept onto the back of his teammate over the following laps. They would, however, both inherit a position just after half-distance, for a loose rear-wheel on Fittipaldi's car caused him to slow suddenly, dumping him down to the back of the field as he crawled around an entire lap of the Interlagos circuit.
Villeneuve would abandon his Michelins just after half-distance, and found that he had vastly more pace on fresh rubber and half-fuel, having felt like he was "on ice" with his old set. Scheckter stayed out longer and hence dropped back behind the Canadian when he rejoined, with both behind overtaken by Jabouille in the Renault. Indeed, despite using the same Michelin tyres as the Ferraris, and pushing far harder, Jabouille's tyres seemed to be performing far better, although he too would pit with ten laps to go, moments after teammate René Arnoux suffered a huge spin at the second corner and stalled.
With that the race was over, the only action of note being the steady rise of the two scarlet Ferraris back into the points, although they would be lapped by the flying Ligiers outfront. Indeed, Laffite would have time to record fastest lap as he cruised home to victory ahead of teammate Depailler, while Reutemann survived a post-race protest to claim third after his controversial push-start on the formation lap. He headed Pironi across the line by half a minute, with the Frenchman the last man on the lead lap ahead of Villeneuve and Scheckter.
The full results for the 1979 Brazilian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Jarier suffered an electrical failure on the parade lap.
- Third victory for Jacques Laffite.
- Ligier claimed their third victory and tenth podium result.
- Carlos Reutemann secured Lotus's 130th podium finish.
A perfect race for Jacques Laffite ensured that the Frenchman was on his own at the top of the Championship, eight clear of his nearest challenger Carlos Reutemann. The Argentine himself was one ahead of Laffite's teammate Patrick Depailler, with a five point gap back to John Watson in fourth. Didier Pironi completed the top five as he, Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter all added their names to the board.
Unsurprisingly, with Laffite having won two out of two races, it was Ligier-Ford Cosworth that led the charge in the International Cup for Constructors. Indeed, with both drivers' scores now contributing the the Cup, Ligier's one-two meant that they had a huge advantage, leaving Brazil with thirteen points in hand. Lotus-Ford Cosworth were their closest challengers, with an eight point gap back to third placed McLaren-Ford Cosworth.
Only point scoring drivers and constructors are shown.
Images and Videos:
- F1-history, 'Mario Andretti (Brazil 1979)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt,06/03/2013), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/Mario-Andretti-Brazil-1979-357984573, (Accessed 04/11/2018)
- F1-history, '1979 Brazilian Grand Prix', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 15/08/2012), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/1979-Brazilian-Grand-Prix-321287412, (Accessed 04/11/2018)
- F1-history, 'Jacques Laffite (Brazil 1979)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 26/05/2013), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/Jacques-Laffite-Brazil-1979-373910458, (Accessed 04/11/2018)
- 'Brazilian GP, 1979', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2015), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr315.html, (Accessed 31/10/2018)
- A.H., 'The Brazilian Grand Prix: Ligiers in formation', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport, 01/03/1979), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/march-1979/66/brazilian-grand-prix, (Accessed 01/11/2018)
- 'Argentina 1979: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/argentine/engages.aspx, (Accessed 26/09/2018)
- 'Brazil 1979: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/bresil/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 31/10/2018)
- 'Brazil 1979: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/bresil/classement.aspx, (Accessed 31/10/2018)
- '2. Brazil 1979', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/bresil.aspx, (Accessed 31/10/2018)
|V T E||Brazilian Grand Prix / São Paulo Grand Prix|
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