The 1979 United States Grand Prix, otherwise officially advertised as the 22nd Toyota Grand Prix of the United States, was the fifteenth and final round of the 1979 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Watkins Glen circuit on the 7 October 1979. The race would see Gilles Villeneuve sweep to victory, after Williams threw away Alan Jones' chances with an awful pitstop.
Indeed, Jones would start the race from pole, beating the increasingly impressive youngster Nelson Piquet in a straight fight on Saturday. Third on the grid would go to the aforementioned Villeneuve, who had dominated Friday's practice/qualifying running which had been staged in heavy rain.
Villeneuve's Friday pace would be a key to the race on Sunday, for the Glen would be soaked by heavy rain shortly before the start. Unsurprisingly it was Villeneuve who stormed into the lead as the lights flashed to green, with Jones and a flying Carlos Reutemann slotting in behind.
Villeneuve soon established a lead at the head of the field, while Jones secured second place as the Ferrari disappeared ahead. Reutemann, meanwhile, would slide off the road all on his own, following the exits of Jacques Laffite and Jacky Ickx, the latter making his final appearance in F1.
Clay Regazzoni and Jody Scheckter inherited their positions, although they eventually abandoned them to pit for slicks on lap 28. Regazzoni would subsequently slide out of the race, while Jean-Pierre Jabouille suffered an engine failure having moved up into third, gifting René Arnoux the position.
Villeneuve would stop on lap 31, handing Jones the lead until he stopped at the end of lap 35. However, the Williams crew would release the Australian ace without a wheel nut on the right rear after a tricky swap, which duly came off as Jones powered through the boot.
With that the fight for victory was over, with Villeneuve duly cruising home to claim his fourth career win, and second in the Championship. Arnoux slithered home to second ahead of Didier Pironi, while Elio de Angelis, Hans-Joachim Stuck and John Watson survived a race of high attrition to claim the remaining points.
The final race of the 1979 Formula One campaign would see the field gather at the ever-picturesque Watkins Glen circuit in New York State, ready to battle for the final time. The circuit itself was unchanged after the series' previous visit in 1978, although the harsh winter after that race had caused the track to develop even more bumps and lumps than before. Regardless, all 30 entrants for the Canadian Grand Prix, minus Niki Lauda, would make the trip to the US, with the only major changes to the cars coming as a result of accident damage.
Indeed, Wolf had been the busiest team during the week between the Canadian and US Grand Prix, with the Canadian squad having to rebuild Keke Rosberg's car en-route. Indeed, Rosberg's WR9 had to be written off after his practice accident, although several components were salvaged from the remains. These were duly bolted onto the team's spare WR8 monocoque, creating a hybrid WR8/9 in what was rumoured to be the Wolf team's final race.
Elsewhere Brabham arrived with their new trio of BT49s, all with brand new Ford Cosworth V8 engines after their debut in Canada. Nelson Piquet arrived as one of the favourites for the race after his strong showing at the Circuit Île Notre-Dame, while Ricardo Zunino retained his role as second driver. Indeed, the Argentine racer was set to partner the Brazilian for the 1980 season following Lauda's sudden departure, with both cars still running in the maroon-dark blue livery of the older BT48s.
Renault, meanwhile, would find a new RS10 in their garage upon arrival at the Glen, the French squad having opted to hand Jean-Pierre Jabouille a new car for the season finale. This car had a prototype brake cooling system, which used water injection to cool the air entering the brake ducts, which was retrofitted to the other two RS10s fresh from Canada. René Arnoux's car was upgraded in time for the opening session, while the spare was uprated across the weekend.
Otherwise the field was as it had been in Canada, with no changes for Ferrari and their Champion duo Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve. Likewise, Williams had no new updates for their duo of Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni, amid news that their very impressive FW07 would be carried over for 1980. Lotus similarly lacked updates for their compliment of 79s, although neither Mario Andretti nor Carlos Reutemann expected to drive them beyond the end of the season.
Tyrrell carried on with their three driver experiment, with Derek Daly again joining Jean-Pierre Jarier and Didier Pironi in their compliment of 009s, all of which featured new rear ends. Alfa Romeo also had their inflated entry of Bruno Giacomelli and Vittorio Brambilla, with the former likely to be their listed driver if they were pressed to nominate a driver once again. Similarly, Fittipaldi committed to running two cars, with the veteran Emerson partnered by Alex Ribeiro.
Ligier were set to end the season on a whimper with no changes for Jacques Laffite and Jacky Ickx, the latter suspected to be starting his final F1 race. Arrows had revised the rearend of their A2s, although lead driver Riccardo Patrese ultimately nominated the spare A1B as his race car having preferred it in Montreal. Jochen Mass would therefore have his pick of the A2s, while rivals Shadow were unchanged with their duo of Jan Lammers and Elio de Angelis courting other teams.
McLaren, in contrast, were hoping to end the season on a high, with John Watson and Patrick Tambay both satisfied that the M29 would be capable of challenging for a podium at the Glen. ATS made the trip with no further changes to their car, the D3, or personnel, with Hans-Joachim Stuck set to continue with them into 1980. Completing the entry would be the new Rebaque of Héctor Rebaque, Arturo Merzario's Merzario, and the lone Ensign piloted by Marc Surer, all of which were unchanged after the Canadian GP.
Into the Championship and with Scheckter already crowned as World Champion in Italy, all of the attention in Canada had been on the fight for second. In that fight it would be advantage Villeneuve upon arrival at the Glen, the Canadian ace having his home race four ahead of Jones. Laffite had also remained in the fight, although with an eight point deficit to Villeneuve it seemed unlikely that the Frenchman could catch-up.
Like their driver Scheckter, Ferrari had already wrapped up the International Cup for Constructors well before the final visit to the US, with no major revisions to the field resulting from the battle of Montreal. Indeed, while Ferrari had broken the 100 point barrier, Williams-Ford Cosworth had all but secured second, with Ligier-Ford Cosworth only able to move ahead with a one-two finish in the US. The French squad themselves were a secure third ahead of Team Lotus-Ford Cosworth, who were already classified in fourth ahead of Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth.
The full entry list for the 1979 United States Grand Prix is outlined below:
Qualifying for the 1979 season finale would follow the format introduced during the series' last visit to the US, with four sessions across Friday and Saturday. The two morning sessions on each day were to be used for race practice, and were therefore untimed, leaving the afternoons of the two days free to set the grid. As for a target time the top drivers would expect to thrash the old circuit record, a 1:38.114 set by Mario Andretti in 1978.
Friday's running would be heavily restricted, with heavy rain ensuring that free practice in the morning was a near total washout. Eighteen of the field would eventually head out, although most only completed a couple of laps knowing that there was too much risk for no reward. This fact was to be highlighted by Bruno Giacomelli, who produced the only incident of note as he crashed his Alfa Romeo in the Boot after coming across a stream.
There would be even less running in the official qualifying session, with only a handful of drivers attempting to leave the pits. The earliest to set sail would be Giacomelli's teammate, and wet weather ace, Vittorio Brambilla, who danced his Alfa to a 2:24.957, before enduring a huge pirouette on the exit of the final corner a few laps later. Miraculously the Italian would avoid hitting anything and pulled away, although a second spin, this time at the back of the circuit, would see the Alfa limp back to the pits with rear-end damage.
With Brambilla out of the way a few more drivers ventured out onto the circuit, including Carlos Reutemann although the Argentine instantly abandoned his run and headed for the dry. Then, it was Gilles Villeneuve who appeared, with the Canadian putting together a mesmerising series of laps to claim a 2:01.437, the #12 Ferrari dancing around the circuit at speeds no-one could manage. Come the end of the session the Canadian was ten seconds clear of the rest of the field, with teammate Jody Scheckter his closest challenger, although the South African had tried to get the session cancelled midway through.
After the session Villeneuve would state when asked about his pace: "I could have gone faster, but I would have crashed."
Fortunately conditions would vastly improve overnight, with Saturday dawning dry, although a strong, and incredibly cold, northern wind made the cynical comment that snow was on its way. Practice would pass without note, although Clay Regazzoni would abandon his Williams out on circuit after an engine failure. Villeneuve's car would also require some attention when his Ferrari F12 went sick, while Jacques Laffite stopped late on when a wheel flew off his Ligier.
There would be a delay to the start of the second and final qualifying session, with conditions still very cold by crucially dry. Furthermore, the session would barely get underway before it was temporarily stopped, for Didier Pironi and Laffite stopped out on circuit in the opening minutes. An engine failure and an ignition failure respectively would leave the future teammates stranded on circuit, with a lorry sent to retrieve them.
Pironi was left to sit and watch the session when it restarted, for Tyrrell decided that Derek Daly should carry on in the spare car. On-track, meanwhile, Villeneuve would again set the pace, although he was being matched almost blow-for-blow by Alan Jones, before they were suddenly outpaced by Nelson Piquet. Indeed, the young Brazilian ace was flourishing as the Brabham team leader in their new BT49, and a 1:36.914 put him to the top of the timesheets just before the session time was extended by half-an-hour.
That news was heralded by an accident for Piquet's teammate, however, with Ricardo Zunino flying off the circuit at the final corner after misjudging his breaking point. Fortunately the Argentine was uninjured and magnanimous, accepting it was his fault, while a miserable Andretti had to swap to teammate Reutemann's car after an engine failure. Indeed, the out-going Champion was largely anonymous at his home race, barely keeping ahead of the fight to qualify, while Reutemann fought with the Renaults in the top ten.
Away from the incidents and accidents and the fight for pole was to be settled by Jones, whose 1:35.615 set in the closing minutes of the session would shatter his opponents. Indeed, Villeneuve had just been gearing up a last gasp run to get ahead of Piquet as the Australian charged across the line, with the Canadian ace seemingly distracted enough that he failed to best the Brabham. Piquet himself was unable to challenge, but very happy with second, while Laffite quietly delivered a 1:37.066 in the spare Ligier to claim fourth.
At the back of the field, meanwhile, it was Brambilla who narrowly missed out, falling shy of Jacky Ickx's 1:40.745 by just 0.044s in the dying moments. Indeed, he had looked set to qualify until Pironi appeared in Daly's car and duly rocketed into the top ten, although he could not best Zunino's effort. That left Brambilla as first reserve, joining Jochen Mass, Jan Lammers, Héctor Rebaque, whose session was ended prematurely by an engine failure, Alex Ribeiro and Arturo Merzario.
The full qualifying results for the 1979 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
- 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|
Raceday dawned grey and dark, while the northerly winds ensured that the temperature remained despairingly close to freezing. Fortunately the threat of sleet and/or snow would hold off through the warm-up session, which saw Gilles Villeneuve and Jean-Pierre Jarier require engine changes after picking up issues. They would both make it to the grid, by which time the temperature had risen high enough that heavy rain could sweep across the Glen. That would last until the formation lap ahead of the 2:02pm start time, with the entire field bar Nelson Piquet starting on wet tyres.
Piquet's gamble would, however, prove to be a massive mistake, for the Brazilian racer was left spinning his wheels on the grid as the rest of the field slithered past on their wets. That should have left pole sitter Alan Jones with a clean run to the first corner, only for a streak of red to go charging inside the Williams into turn one. Indeed, Villeneuve had got a demon start from third which allow the Canadian to dive past Jones on the brakes into the first corner.
Miraculously Piquet would not be collected amid the spray, with the Brazilian eventually scrambling away in fifteenth. Out front, meanwhile, Villeneuve was dropping Jones at a rate of knots, the Canadian's Ferrari dancing around the opening tour of the Glen unopposed. Jones was hence left to lead the rest of the field around the circuit, with Carlos Reutemann, Clay Regazzoni and Jacques Laffite glued to his tail.
It was much the same story at the end of the opening tour, with Villeneuve holding an already daunting lead over Jones, who still had Reutemann and Regazzoni on his gearbox. Laffite was to depart at the end of the lap, spinning into the catch fencing at the final corner, gifting Jean-Pierre Jabouille fifth. Elsewhere Jody Scheckter was deemed lucky to still be in the race having taken to the grass on the opening lap, while Piquet decided to carry on with his slicks in spite of the fact that the circuit was clearly too wet.
The early stages would see Villeneuve continued to streak ahead at the head of the field, while Jones slowly inched clear of his immediate challengers. His escape was aided by the departure of Reutemann, who spun out of third when a battery pack dropped between his legs while the Argentine was taking a corner. He duly slid onto the grass and out, following the departure of Jacky Ickx who crashed his Ligier at the final corner, coming to rest a few yards from teammate Laffite's wrecked car.
With his immediate pursuer gone, and teammate Regazzoni behind, Jones was free to find his feet in the conditions, and duly began to inch back towards Villeneuve before lap ten. Indeed, the only man now faster than the Williams pilot was Villeneuve's teammate Scheckter, who was scything his way back through the field after his bounce across the grass early on. A move on Jabouille on lap ten put the South African in fourth, before Regazzoni fell to his charge on lap thirteen, with more than three quarters of the race still to run.
Yet there would be no real change at the head of the field after Scheckter moved into third, with himself, Jones and Villeneuve matching one-another's pace. Attention therefore focused on an intriguing fight between the three Tyrrells running nose-to-tail, with Derek Daly rather rudely barging his way past teammates Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jarier. Jarier seemed rather upset by this and duly tried to re-pass the Irishman, only to send himself skating into the catch fencing after smacking into the side of Daly.
As the Tyrrells tried to take each other out the circuit was beginning to dry, with a clear dry line emerging from the tarmac as the race wore on. Scheckter was the first to gamble for slicks on lap twenty, sweeping into the pits from third, with Regazzoni following him in a few seconds later. The South African ace rejoined in fifth, Regazzoni seventh behind the damaged Daly, while Keke Rosberg, who had swept in with them, was forced to retire after gearbox damage prevented him from pulling out of his pitbox.
However, it quickly became clear that Scheckter and Regazzoni had jumped too soon, for Daly was able to sweep ahead of the South African with ease a lap after the Ferrari rejoined. Furthermore, the ATS of Hans-Joachim Stuck would dived past Regazzoni, before both the slick runners were lapped by Villeneuve and Jones. Indeed, the top two were now in a class of their own at the head of the field, dancing from wet patch to wet patch to keep their wet tyres cool.
A few laps later and Regazzoni was out of the race, trying an optimistic lunge on Stuck while not realising that Piquet, who was now on wets and two laps down, was just in-front of the ATS. The Swiss racer duly went skating into the back of the Brabham having gone off line to try and pass, before sliding into the catch fencing with front-end damage. Piquet, meanwhile, would carry on with only minor damage to the back of his car, although he would stop a lap later to have his wets swapped for slicks.
Indeed, in-spite of his acrimonious exit, Regazzoni's lunge at Stuck did reveal that the circuit was finally dry enough for slicks, prompting most of the field to come in after lap 30. Indeed, Villeneuve was now burning through his Michelin wets at a rapid rate, and having to seek out more wet tarmac than Jones. That allowed Jones to sweep into the lead with ease on lap 33, using third placed René Arnoux, who was being lapped by the duo, as a decoy to dive inside the Ferrari.
Villeneuve took that as a sign to stop for slicks, coming in at the end of lap 34 before rejoining after only 20 seconds spent stationary. Two laps later and Jones swept into the pits, with the Williams crew desperate to beat Ferrari's service time and get the Australian ace back out ahead of the Canadian. However, the right-rear wheel-nut was proving tricky to tighten, and before the mechanic could lock the nut on properly, Jones would release the clutch and sprint away.Half a lap later and Jones was out of the race, his Williams limping to a stop on three wheels to hand Villeneuve a commanding lead. However, all was not well with Villeneuve's Ferrari, for the hastily installed F12 was beginning to lose oil pressure, meaning the Canadian had to nurse his car for the rest of the afternoon. That meant his pace would drastically fall over the final third of the race, although he was still a lap ahead of his nearest challenger.
That challenger would briefly appear in the form of his teammate, who had pounced on Arnoux when the Frenchman rejoined from his slick-swap on cold tyres, before passing Daly and Stuck in the pits. The South African ace was then the only man on the lead lap other than Villeneuve, although that was only to last for a few laps before the left rear tyre on the #11 Ferrari exploded, demolishing his suspension. Arnoux, now back on the lead lap, was put back up to second, while Pironi and Daly were left to fight for third.
Yet, even that fight would not last until the chequered flag, for Daly would spin off the track with five laps to go as a result of the damage he had picked up from Jarier early on. Pironi was hence left on his own in third and allowed to get back onto the lead lap, with Elio de Angelis and Stuck following him through. Behind, John Watson would be promoted into the points, while quick fire retirements saw Piquet, Marc Surer and Riccardo Patrese all drop out at the back of the field.
With that the race was run, with Villeneuve limping home to claim a memorable victory for himself and Ferrari, later claiming that he had almost "lost it every lap" when fighting Jones early on. Arnoux was a satisfied second, still three quarters of a minute behind, while Pironi claimed third for Tyrrell on his last appearance for the team. de Angelis claimed his maiden points finish in fourth ahead of Stuck, Watson finished a lap down in sixth, while Emerson Fittipaldi was the only other finisher in seventh, five laps behind.
The full results for the 1979 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
- T Indicates a driver used their test/spare car.
- 114th and final race for Jacky Ickx.
- Hans-Joachim Stuck made his 74th and final start.
- Wolf started their 47th and final race as a constructor.
- Debut race for Marc Surer.
- Fourth career victory for Gilles Villeneuve.
- Ferrari claimed their 79th win as a constructor and engine supplier.
- Nelson Piquet recorded the first fastest lap of his career.
- Maiden points finish for Elio de Angelis.
- Arturo Merzario set a new record of failures to qualify in a single season (12).
Victory for Gilles Villeneuve saw him end the season as runner-up to teammate Jody Scheckter, four shy of the South African's tally once dropped scores were applied. Alan Jones ended an impressive second half of the season third, while early-season pace setter Jacques Laffite ended his campaign in fourth. Clay Regazzoni completed the top five, while out-going Champion Mario Andretti ended the season a miserable twelfth.
In the International Cup for Constructors it was Ferrari who were celebrating, claiming a record 113 points courtesy of the new scoring system. Williams-Ford Cosworth ended the season as runner-up, but as favourites heading into 1980, while Ligier-Ford Cosworth ended the season in third. Lotus-Ford Cosworth were a distant fourth having again failed to defend their crown, while Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth just stayed ahead of Renault to complete the top five.
Only point scoring drivers and constructors are shown.
Images and Videos:
- F1-history, 'Gilles Villeneuve (United States 1979)', deviantart.com, (DeviantArt, 14/08/2012), https://www.deviantart.com/f1-history/art/Gilles-Villeneuve-United-States-1979-321163367, (Accessed 17/01/2019)
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 'United States GP, 1979', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2015), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr328.html, (Accessed 12/01/2019)
- ↑ 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 2.45 2.46 2.47 2.48 2.49 2.50 2.51 2.52 2.53 2.54 2.55 2.56 2.57 2.58 2.59 2.60 2.61 2.62 2.63 2.64 2.65 2.66 2.67 2.68 2.69 2.70 2.71 2.72 2.73 2.74 2.75 2.76 2.77 2.78 2.79 2.80 2.81 2.82 2.83 2.84 2.85 2.86 2.87 2.88 D.S.J., 'United States (East) Grand Prix: The Williams team gives it away', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport Magazine, 01/11/1979), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/november-1979/39/united-states-east-grand-prix, (Accessed 17/01/2019)
- ↑ 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 D.S.J., 'Notes on the cars in North America', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport Magazine, 01/11/1979), https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/november-1979/43/notes-cars-north-america, (Accessed 17/01/2019)
- ↑ 'USA East 1979: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/etats-unis-est/engages.aspx, (Accessed 11/01/2019)
- ↑ 'USA East 1979: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/etats-unis-est/classement.aspx, (Accessed 11/01/2019)
- ↑ 'USA East 1979: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/etats-unis-est/classement.aspx, (Accessed 11/01/2019)
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 '15. USA East 1979', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1979/etats-unis-est.aspx, (Accessed 11/01/2019)
- ↑ '1979 United States GP', chicanef1.com, (Chicane F1, 2015), http://www.chicanef1.com/racetit.pl?year=1979&gp=United%20States%20GP&r=1, (Accessed 12/01/2019)
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