Argentine GP 1978
JANUARY 15, 1978
Argentine GP, 1978
During the winter of 1977-78 Team Lotus perfected the concept of ground-effect aerodynamics. with the Lotus 79, which would become the most successful racing car of Grand Prix racing up to that point. The year began, however, with the old Lotus 78. The team had hired Ronnie Peterson to replaced Gunnar Nilsson. Nilsson signed to drive for the new Arrows team but during the off season it became clear that he was suffering from cancer and would not be fit enough to drive in 1978. Arrows was a new team, led by a number of staff from Shadow, who had become disenchanted with the team. The new team, which included designers Tony Southgate and Dave Wass, designed the Arrows FA1 and Riccardo Patrese was hired to drive it. The formation of Arrows was a major blow to Shadow but the team had the new DN9 which Southgate and Wass had designed before departing and with Clay Regazzoni and Hans Stuck recruited to drive. Stuck had lost his place at Brabham because Bernie Ecclestone had lured World Champion Niki Lauda from Ferrari to join John Watson. Sponsorship had been found from the Parmalat company and designer Gordon Murray was working on a radical new BT46 new car.
Ferrari produced the new 312T3 for Carlos Reutemann and Gilles Villeneuve and took the decision to switch to Michelin tires, the French company having entered F1 in 1977 with Renault Sport. Ligier continued with one car for Jacques Laffite. McLaren dropped Jochen Mass and chose Patrick Tambay as his replacement, while the German moved to ATS which had bought the assets of the March F1 program and ran a new car called the HS1, designed by Robin Herd.
Having lost Peterson, Tyrrell (with Elf encouragement) hired a new young Frenchman called Didier Pironi. The team gave up the six-wheeler concept and appeared with a much more conventional 008. Wolf Racing retained Jody Scheckter and began the year with the old car while Ensign started the year with Danny Ongais and Lamberto Leoni as drivers. Hesketh struggled on but as Rupert Keegan had taken his British Air Ferries sponsorship to Surtees the team was in more difficulty. The year began with Hesketh running Divina Galica. Alongside Keegan at Surtees was Vittorio Brambilla. There were a variety of new teams in the course of the year, notably Merzario which produced the A1 chassis. Hector Rebaque concluded a deal to run a Lotus 78 while Williams Grand Prix Engineering hired Alan Jones and Patrick Head produced the FW06.
The field was completed by Brett Lunger in the BS Fabrications McLaren M23 and the new Theodore TR1, which had been designed for Teddy Yip by Ron Tauranac. It was driven in Argentina by Eddie Cheever, who had just turned 20.
Qualifying in Buenos Aires resulted in pole position for Mario Andretti (Lotus) with Reutemann second, Peterson third and Watson ahead of Lauda. James Hunt was sixth in his McLaren while Villeneuve continued to show extreme promise with seventh on the grid. The top 10 was completed by Laffite, Tambay and Patrick Depailler (Tyrrell). Rebaque, Cheever and Galica failed to qualify for the 24-car grid.
In the race Andretti took the lead at the start and led from flag to flag while Reutemann's hold on second place lasted only until the seventh lap when he was passed by Watson, who had worked his way up past Lauda and Peterson. Watson stayed second until three-quarter distance when he dropped back with overheating problems and retired. This left Lauda second with Depailler third, after an impressive early charge which took him past Hunt, Laffite, Peterson and Reutemann.