South African GP 1979
MARCH 3, 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.