SEPTEMBER 6, 2019
Ferrari's famous double in Monza 40 years ago
By Carlo Baffi
Forty years have passed since September 9, 1979, which remains an unforgettable day for the Ferrari team and its fans. That was the day that Ferrari drivers Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve wrote a page in the Scuderia's history by clinching both the drivers' and constructors' Formula 1 world championships.
For the "Cavallino" - the Prancing Horse team - it was the celebration of a great season, and it was to be perfect destiny that the party ended up being staged in the "Temple of Speed" - the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza - and the 50th Italian Grand Prix - in front of the Ferrari's adoring "tifosi" fans.
From the beginning of the season, however, there were doubts about how the two "pilots" would get along with each other. Both were very aggressive, but soon these problems were solved because Scheckter had no problem admitting Villeneuve's speed qualities.
When Scheckter signed his contract he said he was in favor of having the Canadian in the team.
"In '79," the South African declared later, "I had a terrible adversary called Villeneuve. It was he who gave me the greatest problems. But with Villeneuve there was also the agreement that we would not have any battles on the track. And it was always like this."
Scheckter and Villeneuve could be considered a rare example of perfect and mutual esteem between teammates who normally fought on equal terms, and who saw each other as an opponent to beat. But, also, the Ferrari drivers were intelligently and well managed both by sporting director Marco Piccinini and by technical director Mauro Forghieri.
Ferrari ran the old 312T3 car in the first two races of the 1979 season, in Argentina and Brazil, but the team introduced its new T4 car for the next race in South Africa. Villeneuve won Scheckter's home grand prix at Kyalami, and won again at the next event, the U.S. Grand Prix in the streets of Long Beach.
Scheckter, however, picked up some useful points with second places at Kyalami and Long Beach followed by a fourth place in Spain. He then won in Belgium and Monte Carlo.
By now Villeneuve understood how valuable Scheckter's consistency was for the rankings in the drivers' world championship. By the midpoint of the season Scheckter led the standings and was six points ahead of Jacques Laffite and 10 points ahead of Villeneuve. That would be a difficult gap for the Canadian to close, especially given that in 1979 drivers only counted their four best points scores in the first and second halves of the season.
The French Grand Prix at Dijon kicked off the second half of the season. After Villeneuve qualified third and Scheckter fifth, Scheckter asked Piccinini if Villeneuve had accepted the role of the support driver, covering his back without attacking him. Although Scheckter's contract stipulated he was the number one driver, Piccinini replied that his request could not be fulfilled because Enzo Ferrari wanted the drivers to have a certain degree of autonomy, and had said that such choices would be made only later in the second part of the championship.
By now both the Williams and Renault teams were on the rise. The T4 was no longer winning races, but Scheckter consistently scored points.
The French Grand Prix was the site of the legendary battle between Villeneuve and Renault driver Rene Arnoux. Villeneuve ended up finishing second behind Jean-Pierre Jabouille who won and gave Renault its first F1 victory. Villeneuve repeated that second place in Austria a month later.
Villeneuve's acrobatic driving style endeared him in the hearts of his fans, and some started talking about "Villeneuve fever."
His acrobatics continued in the Dutch Grand Prix when he returned to the pits after getting a puncture. He covered a large part of the track at such a speed that when he arrived in the pits the wheel and rear suspension had been destroyed. He asked Forghieri if the damage could be repaired, and the engineer answered: "Of course, but on a new car."
The result: zero points for the Canadian and six for the South African who finished second in that race.
And so the stage was set as Scheckter mathematically could clinch the world crown in the Italian Grand Prix. He had 44 points. Laffite was second with 36 points, followed by Alan Jones, 34, and Villeneuve, 32. And with this premise in mind, the F1 "circus" set up camp at Monza.
Fans of the Prancing Horse believed that Ferrari was on the verge of winning the world championship, and over 200,000 people attended the race staged in the the splendid setting of the Monza park.
For the occasion the Scuderia asked Villeneuve to support Scheckter, and Villeneuve accepted the role willingly. In his heart he hoped that it would be his turn the following season - that was the order of things.
The front row of the grid for the 50th Grand Prix of Italy was occupied by the Renault of polesitter Jabouille and his teammate Arnoux. Scheckter started third ahead of Jones and Villeneuve. Laffite lined up in seventh place.
Scheckter grabbed the lead at the start of the 50-lap race ahead of Arnoux, Villeneuve and Laffite. Arnoux took over the lead on the second lap.
Arnoux, Scheckter, Villeneuve, Laffite and Jabouille ran nose-to-tail for the next 11 laps. Then, on lap 13, Arnoux's engine began to misfire, leading to his retirement. Scheckter thus regained the lead, with Villeneuve dutifully following him to fend off any attack from Laffite
Scheckter could clinch the title even if Laffite finished third. But in another twist of the plot Laffite had problems with his brakes, missed a gear change, and pitted after 41 laps to retire the car.
And so the red parade of Scheckter/Villeneuve began around the Monza circuit for the final laps of the race. Scheckter won and became the new world champion ahead. Villeneuve finished second ahead of Clay Regazzoni in the Williams.
The one/two finish also clinched the constructors' championship for Ferrari that same day.
After the race the tifosi flooded onto the track to celebrate Ferrari's double world championships.
The conduct by Villeneuve, based on teamwork, was a sign of the great friendship that bound him to Scheckter. It is strange in way, given Villeneuve's instinct that always pushed him to attack.
At the end of the 1979 season Villeneuve finished second in the Canada Grand Prix in Montreal and first in the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. In the final points classification Scheckter and Villeneuve were at the top with 50 and 47 points respectively. Jones was third with 40 points while Laffite finished fourth at 36.
The "red team" won the constructors' championship, 38 points ahead of Williams and 52 points ahead of Ligier.
And 40 year later fans still remember the day Ferrari clinched both world championships in the 50th edition of the Italian Grand Prix.