South African GP 1979

South African GP, 1979

The battle for control of the sport between the Formula One Constructors Association and the newly-formed FISA under Jean-Marie Balestre was heating up but the South African race went ahead.

Since the dominant Ligier performances in South America the opposition had been working hard to perfect ground-effect technology and Ferrari had two of the new 312 T4 chassis ready for Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve. There were no changes in the driver lineup but after practice there was the rather surprising sight of the old Renault RS1 of Jean-Pierre Jabouille on pole position. This was largely due to the extra horsepower the car had at high altitude. Jabouille was ahead of the Ferraris of Scheckter and Villeneuve. Niki Lauda was fourth fastest in the Brabham while the two Ligiers were fifth and sixth, Patrick Depailler setting a faster time than Jacques Laffite. The top 10 was completed by Didier Pironi's Tyrrell, Mario Andretti's Lotus, Jean-Pierre Jarier's Tyrrell and the second Renault of Rene Arnoux.

It was overcast when the race started but Jabouille stayed ahead of Scheckter and Villeneuve. Within a few moments however a cloudburst resulted in the race being stopped but before that happened Villeneuve had managed to get ahead of Scheckter and Jabouille. As a result he was on pole for the restart. The weather was still uncertain and several drivers (notably Scheckter, Depailler, Patrick Tambay (McLaren) and Nelson Piquet (Brabham) decided to race on slicks. At the restart Villeneuve was able to build up a lead but as the track dried it became clear that the men who had gambled on slicks were in a much better position and Scheckter took the lead when Villeneuve pitted on lap 15. He rejoined second ahead of Tambay and Piquet. Villeneuve charged after Scheckter. Piquet began to suffer engine trouble and fell behind Jarier and Andretti and a few laps later the pair were also ahead of Tambay. Jabouille then moved back up to fifth with Reutemann and Laffite following him until the Renault engine failed again. With Laffite having spun off because of a puncture, Reutemann moved to fifth.

On lap 52 Scheckter pitted for new tires and so Villeneuve took the lead with Scheckter now chasing him. The gap closed to within four seconds at the flag but victory went to Villeneuve. Jarier was a distant third with Andretti fourth, Reutemann fifth and Lauda sixth.

12 Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari  78 1h41m49.960s  
11 Jody Scheckter Ferrari  78 1h41m53.380s  
Jean-Pierre Jarier Tyrrell-Cosworth  78 1h42m12.070s  
Mario Andretti Lotus-Cosworth  78 1h42m17.840s  
Carlos Reutemann Lotus-Cosworth  78 1h42m56.930s  11 
Niki Lauda Brabham-Alfa Romeo  77  
Nelson Piquet Brabham-Alfa Romeo  77  12 
20 James Hunt Wolf-Cosworth  77  13 
28 Clay Regazzoni Williams-Cosworth  76  22 
10 Patrick Tambay McLaren-Cosworth  75  17 
11 29 Riccardo Patrese Arrows-Cosworth  75  16 
12 30 Jochen Mass Arrows-Cosworth  74  20 
13 14 Emerson Fittipaldi Copersucar-Cosworth  74  18 
14r 31 Hector Rebaque Lotus-Cosworth  71 Engine 23 
16 Rene Arnoux Renault  67 Puncture 10 
27 Alan Jones Williams-Cosworth  63 Rear Suspension 19 
John Watson McLaren-Cosworth  61 Ignition 14 
Hans-Joachim Stuck ATS-Cosworth  57 Accident 24 
15 Jean-Pierre Jabouille Renault  47 Valve Spring 
26 Jacques Laffite Ligier-Cosworth  45 Accident 
Didier Pironi Tyrrell-Cosworth  25 Throttle Linkage 
18 Elio de Angelis Shadow-Cosworth  16 Accident 15 
25 Patrick Depailler Ligier-Cosworth  Accident 
17 Jan Lammers Shadow-Cosworth  Accident 21 
nq 22 Derek Daly Ensign-Cosworth    25 
nq 24 Arturo Merzario Merzario-Cosworth    26