How Lotus dominated Formula 1 in 1978

The Lotus 78 had been the fastest car in 1977, only reliability issues and the amazing consistency of Lauda and Ferrari prevented Andretti from winning the World Championship. With the lessons learnt about what went wrong, everything was looking good for 1978. On the technical side, Chapman took note of the virtues and defects of his first wing-car, so that he had already been at work for several months on the new model, the car that would take even more advantage of the former and reduce the latter. On the sporting side he had managed to convince Andretti to stay with him and reject the tempting offer he had received from Ferrari to replace Lauda, who, as soon as he clinched the title had left the Scuderia, slamming the door behind him to join Brabham.

Since 1977 Andretti has been partnered by the popular Swede, Gunnar Nilsson who had won the Belgian Grand Prix in a 78, but the end of his season had been disappointing, possibly as a result of the early stages of the (then undiagnosed) cancer that would tragically take his life. As a result of this falling off in his form Chapman signed the fast veteran Ronnie Peterson to replace him. The Swede’s comeback to Lotus was perhaps surprising, given that five years previously, in 1973, his inter-team rivalry with Emerson Fittipaldi ended up with each taking away points from each other, easing the way for the clever and experienced Jackie Stewart to win his third world championship. This left doubts regarding what would be Ronnie’s position within the team in this new chapter of their previously troubled relationship.

Nevertheless, to have two drivers as fast and experienced was one of those ‘problems’ that many other teams would have killed for, especially because Mario and Ronnie got on very well, both on a personal and a professional level. The Swede was conscious that the Italian American driver was a key factor in the setup and development of the cars, so the last thought on his mind was to cause any friction. After all, he was more than happy to leave behind the frustrating season he had had at the wheel of the Tyrrell P34, a car that was never to his liking and that eventually has been far more remarkable for its odd looking shape than because of its results. The revolution that was arriving at the end of the seventies in F1 wouldn’t be the six wheeled cars, the future was in aerodynamics and the wing-cars that had begun with the Lotus 78.

This future became the present when its successor. the Lotus 79, appeared. The first pictures of the new car, designed by Colin Chapman, showed a single-seater with a purity of line never seen before. The wide sidepods that in the 78 looked like some eleventh-hour addition to the narrow chassis, were now perfectly integrated into the smooth shape of the 79. Totally streamlined, lower and more stylish, the new Lotus pushed the wing-car concept a big step forward and, especially it was taking far more advantage of the innovation that 'sucked' its predecessor to the asphalt, something that soon started to be known as ground-effect.

To achieve this, Chapman and his team put all the fuel in a central cell, placed between the driver and the engine. This way the sidepods were totally free to allow the air to go through the ‘wings’ located on both sides of the chassis which also were bigger than the ones seen for the first time in the previous model. The so called ‘skirts’, that followed the outer contour of the bottom of the sidepods were also bigger and their operation had been greatly improved to ensure the sealing of the whole area allowing a low-pressure area to be created under the chassis.

The striking bodywork, in shining gold-striped black, managed to produce the always difficult combination of beauty and functionality, so the visual impression of the car was wonderful, with each detail adding yet another reason to worry for the Team Lotus rivals whose cars were already looking old and obsolete even before putting a wheel on the track.


1 Mario Andretti LOT 1:37:04.47
2 Niki Lauda BRA + 13.21
3 Patrick Depailler TYR + 13.64
4 James Hunt MCL + 16.05
5 Ronnie Peterson LOT + 1:14.85
6 Patrick Tambay MCL + 1:19.90
1st Mario Andretti LOT 9 2nd Niki Lauda BRA 6 3rd Patrick Depailler TYR 4

However, for once the ever-impatient Chapman wasn’t in a hurry to run his new creation. The 78 was still competitive, with Andretti’s domination of the early opening round of the season, in Argentina, as clear proof. The first race of the year was held in mid-January, at Buenos Aires, and became a victory roll for Mario: pole position and win, leading from start to finish. Two weeks later, this time it was Peterson who was at the front end of the grid, but the hot Brazilian summer didn’t suit Goodyear’s tyres… or indeed it was far better suited to the new Michelin radials fitted to the Ferraris. Also driving the previous year’s model, Reutemann took a commanding win while Andretti, with gearbox issues, had to settle for fourth but importantly scored more points to keep him leading the Championship.


1 Carlos Reutemann FER 1:49:59.86
2 Emerson Fittipaldi COP + 49.13
3 Niki Lauda BRA + 57.02
4 Mario Andretti LOT + 1:33.12
5 Clay Regazzoni SHA + 1 lap
6 Didier Pironi TYR + 1 lap
1st Mario Andretti LOT 12 2nd Niki Lauda BRA 10 3rd Carlos Reutemann FER 9

Mario was still first overall after the South African Grand Prix despite not leaving Kyalami in the best possible mood. After leading the initial phase of the race, he lost ground because of tyre wear, but he was managing it in order to get to the end without having to pit. The strategy was working well, getting him back to second position in the final laps and closing on the struggling race leader, Depailler. But then Mario suffered the same fate familiar to a number of Lotus drivers over the years, he was the innocent victim of Chapman obsession for lightness. Just a few minutes before the beginning of the race, the founder of Lotus decided that Mario’s car was carrying too much fuel and he asked for some to be removed to save weight… and Andretti run out of petrol on the very last lap! At least the race win still went to the British team as Peterson, who was also coming back in the second part of the race, finished what his team mate had started, and he passed Depailler’s Tyrrell to score the first win of his second tenure at Lotus and, as a result, put himself second in World Championship standings.


1 Ronnie Peterson LOT 1:42:15.767
2 Patrick Depailler TYR + 0.466
3 John Watson BRA + 4.442
4 Alan Jones WIL + 30.986
5 Jacques Laffite LIG + 1:09.218
6 Didier Pironi TYR + 1 lap
1st Mario Andretti LOT 12 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 11 3rd Niki Lauda BRA 10

The next two races, on the street tracks of Long Beach and Monaco, were the last ones for the 78 model. The new Ferrari 312T3 was improving all the time with the Michelin tyres and its drivers dominated the Californian event. Only a mistake by the young Villeneuve prevented a 1-2 for the Scuderia which scored its second win of the year with Reutemann. However, Andretti, despite not being comfortable with the behaviour of his car for the whole weekend, was second and limited the damage done, keeping first position in the Championship, although level on points with the Argentinian.


1 Carlos Reutemann FER 1:52:01.301
2 Mario Andretti LOT + 11.061
3 Patrick Depailler TYR + 28.951
4 Ronnie Peterson LOT + 45.603
5 Jacques Laffite LIG + 1:22.884
6 Riccardo Patrese ARR + 1 lap
1st Carlos Reutemann FER 18 2nd Mario Andretti LOT 18 3rd Ronnie Peterson LOT 14

Things were far worse at Monaco, where the Lotus 79 was seen for the first time at a Grand Prix weekend. The new car has its maiden run a few days before, in the non-championship race at Silverstone, leaving its driver feeling positive despite ending up with a big crash after a huge downpour had totally flooded some parts of the track. Repaired just in time for the date in the Principality, Andretti drove it in practice but wasn’t sure about racing it on such a unique circuit and decided to start with the 78. It wouldn’t be a successful farewell to his old car as Mario never was in contention for the win and he had to retire near the end of a race won by Depailler. It was the first Grand Prix victory for the Frenchman, who also took the leadership of the Championship. The new Tyrrell 008, with its conventional layout, four wheels and no inverted wing shaped sidepods, was working very well and Patrick took advantage of it to score a very popular win.


1 Patrick Depailler TYR 1:55:14.66
2 Niki Lauda BRA + 22.45
3 Jody Scheckter WOL + 32.29
4 John Watson BRA + 33.53
5 Didier Pironi TYR + 1:08.06
6 Riccardo Patrese ARR + 1:08.77
1st Patrick Depailler TYR 23 2nd Carlos Reutemann FER 18 3rd Mario Andretti LOT 18

Neither Depailler with the new Tyrrell, nor Reutemann or Villeneuve with the ‘semi-wingcar’ Ferrari, or even Lauda, no matter how much he was improving with the Brabham-Alfa, would have almost any chance from then on. At the Belgian Grand Prix, held at the circuit of Zolder, the Lotus 79 was finally racing for the first time in a World Championship event. The decision was taken by Andretti after testing it in practice and being impressed with its behaviour. The car was totally glued to the track, it was even more ‘painted to the road’ than the 78. And the lap times were even more telling than the sight of the car taking each corner as if it were following invisible rails. Pole position went to Mario by almost a whole second, and he then led the race from start to finish. Only the stubborn Villeneuve was able to follow the impressive pace of that black car that looked like being part of the asphalt instead of running on it. Ultimately, the determined Gilles paid for his pace with the front left tyre falling apart, after being unable to cope with the torture its driver was putting on it in his ultimately futile chase. The Lotus 79 won its first Grand Prix, Andretti recovered the leadership of the Championship and, to complete the party, Peterson finished second at the wheel of the 78.


1 Mario Andretti LOT 1:39:52.02
2 Ronnie Peterson LOT + 9.90
3 Carlos Reuntemann FER + 24.34
4 Gilles Villeneuve FER + 47.04
5 Jacques Laffite LIG + 1 lap
6 Didier Pironi TYR + 1 lap
1st Mario Andretti LOT 27 2nd Patrick Depailler TYR 23 3rd Carlos Reutemann FER 22

The Zolder 1-2 was repeated, in a more commanding fashion, at the circuit of Jarama. The two Lotus drivers entered the Spanish Grand Prix at the wheel of the new world sensation, the fast and beautiful 79. The two cars painted in their black and gold livery filled the front row of the grid after dominating the qualifying sessions and, despite a somewhat chaotic start that allowed Hunt to lead for a few laps, Andretti soon overtook him and pulled away to win as clearly or even more so than the Belgian win a fortnight before. Once again standing next to Mario on the podium was Ronnie Peterson, who had managed to recover after a disastrous start to finish second. With nine more points Mario consolidated his first position in the championship standings and Ronnie became his closest follower. There was still more than half of the season ahead, but the superiority showed by the Lotus 79 in its first two races had totally changed the face of the Championship. Their rivals were scratching their heads in the quest for a solution that could allow them to compete with the new creation of Chapman’s genius.


1 Mario Andretti LOT 1:41:47.06
2 Ronnie Peterson LOT + 19.56
3 Jacques Laffite LIG + 37.24
4 Jody Scheckter WOL + 1:00.06
5 John Watson BRA + 1 lap
6 James Hunt TYR + 1 lap
1st Mario Andretti LOT 36 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 26 3rd Patrick Depailler TYR 23

No less of a genius was the chief engineer at Brabham, the young and a tad eccentric Gordon Murray. At that time, in mid-1978 everybody in Formula 1 was starting to know that ‘ground effect’ was the new frontier. The way to it was a wingcars with narrow chassis and profiled sidepods with an inverted wing inside them. But to do that, in the case of Brabham, carrying an engine as bulky as the Alfa Romeo 12-cylinder boxer fitted in the cars of the team owned by Bernie Ecclestone, was an impossible task. The engine width didn’t allow the necessary room on its sides for the air to go through as freely as it did around the narrow V8 Ford Cosworth mounted in the Lotus.

Brabham would have to find another way to achieve such ‘suction’ that stuck the car to the track. In fact, it already existed, someone had already experimented with it in a championship that was the dream of every engineer, Can-Am. With a technical rulebook almost free of restrictions, the series for the powerful American sportscars had left, at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, its fair share of imaginative designs, some of them with the same name on their bodywork: Chaparral. One of the models of Jim Hall’s team, the 2J from 1970, had the solution that Murray was looking for. Two vents placed at its back extracted the air under the car, producing the magic ‘ground effect’ in a totally different way as Chapman’s skirted and winged sidepods.

To everybody astonishment, at Anderstorp, the venue for the next round of the championship, the Grand Prix of Sweden, the Brabhams of Niki Lauda and John Watson showed up with a huge fan on their rear. When moving, its rotating blades extracted all the air under the wide bodywork of the car and sucked it to the track in an even more effective way than the one used by the Lotus 79. Despite Mario scoring his third consecutive pole position, as soon as the race started Lauda was right behind him. When the first chance arose, he overtook the leading Lotus in the same contemptuous way as the Italian-American had done to all his rivals in the two previous races. The Brabham ‘fancar’ won at its first attempt and Lauda scored his first victory with a car not built at Maranello. Immediately the protests from all the other teams, with Lotus and Chapman leading the outcry, didn’t take long to start. The fan blades were a mobile aerodynamic device, they all said, something totally illegal according the current rules. In his defence, Murray argued that the fan main purpose was to cool the Alfa Romeo engine, so it should be considered legal.


1 Niki Lauda BRA 1:41:00.606
2 Riccardo Patrese ARR + 34.019
3 Ronnie Peterson LOT + 34.105
4 Patrick Tambay MCL + 1 lap
5 Clay Regazzoni SHA + 1 lap
6 Emerson Fittipaldi FIT + 1 lap
1st Mario Andretti LOT 36 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 30 3rd Niki Lauda BRA 25

It was a typical case of interpretation, the classical discussion between the letter and the spirit of the rules. Finally, the letter won, helped by the desire of Ecclestone, owner of Brabham but also at the helm of the FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association), not to create dissent within the organization. Bernie’s commercial interests were bigger than his sporting ones, so he was satisfied with keeping the Swedish Grand Prix win and he agreed to retire the controversial device from his cars. Quite a relief for his rivals, especially the drivers, not only because the superiority showed by the curious design but also because a lot of them reckoned it was dangerous because, as well as extracting the air from under the car, it also expelled stones and whatever found there, turning the fan into a sort of rear gun behind which nobody wanted to run.

After the scare of Sweden all was back to normal for Lotus in France, even if Watson took pole position with a ‘fan-less’ Brabham and Hunt was in fighting mode at the wheel of the McLaren M26. The slender 79 didn’t suffer from the lack of top speed that hampered its predecessor the previous year on the long Mistral straight and, as a result, nobody could prevent yet another 1-2 for Chapman’s boys in the race, again with Mario in front of Ronnie. There were still seven Grand Prix to go but the superiority of the black cars was such that nobody was in any doubt that the title would fall to one of his two drivers who were now well ahead in the Championship standings. The logic pointed to Andretti as the most likely champion as he has been almost always ahead so far in the season, with his smooth style being more suited to take further advantage of the ‘ground effect’ than the exuberant driving of the acrobatic Peterson.


1 Mario Andretti LOT 1:38:51.92
2 Ronnie Peterson LOT + 2.93
3 James Hunt MCL + 19.80
4 John Watson BRA + 36:88
5 Alan Jones WIL + 41.81
6 Jody Scheckter WOL + 54.53
1st Mario Andretti LOT 45 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 36 3rd Niki Lauda BRA 25

Just in case there were still some doubts when, two weeks later, Ronnie beat Mario in the fight for pole position at Brands Hatch, the venue that year for the British Grand Prix, the Italian-American clearly stated to the press that there was a tacit agreement between the two since the beginning of the season: if both were at the front of a race and the win wasn’t at risk for the team, he would be the first to take the chequered flag. After all, Andretti had been working on the Lotus recovery for the last three years and his skills in setting up the car were one of the reasons for the competitiveness of Chapman’s creation. Peterson had arrived with most of the job already done and was more than happy to be back at the wheel of a winning car, taking advantage of his teammate’s work when finding the best adjustments.

Nevertheless, Mario didn’t want Ronnie having to let him win, both because of personal pride and respect to his friend, thus he made a great start from the inside of the downhill straight of the British track to get to the sharp right Paddock Hill Bend ahead of the Swede, who went to the outside line from pole position. However, it was to be a pointless effort for both men as neither of them would get to the end of the race, having to retire because of mechanical issues and leaving the win, their third of the year, to Carlos Reutemann and Ferrari.


1 Carlos Reutemann FER 1:42:13.39
2 Niki Lauda BRA + 1.23
3 John Watson BRA + 37.25
4 Patrick Depailler TYR + 1:13.27
5 Hans-Joachim Stuck SHA + 1 lap
6 Patrick Tambay MCL + 1 lap
1st Mario Andretti LOT 45 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 36 3rd Niki Lauda BRA 31

A fortnight later, at the very fast Hockenheim circuit, another track where the 78 had suffered the previous year because of its lack of top speed, the 79 was again untouchable. Andretti and Peterson painted yet another front row in black and gold. Blacker than ever, the ban on tobacco sponsorship in Germany meant the 79s were looking even more elegant without the big John Player Special lettering on their cockpit sides. Although Ronnie managed to pass Mario at the beginning of the race, the positions were soon back to their normal order with the number 5 ahead of the number 6. Evil minds inevitably remembered the team orders comments, but the two drivers had had a clean and free fight during the opening laps. Ultimately though it wouldn’t have mattered what position they were running in because gearbox trouble side-lined the Swede with nine laps to go.

Reaching that stage of the season it was only a matter of time to achieve enough points to make it mathematically impossible for Andretti to lose the title. He was 18 points ahead of Peterson, the equivalent of two wins. Next in the standings were Reutemann and Lauda, both with 31 points, 23 less than the leader of the championship with only 45 up for grabs in the remaining five races.


1 Mario Andretti LOT 1:28:00.90
2 Jody Scheckter WOL + 15.35
3 Jacques Laffite LIG + 28.01
4 Emerson Fittipaldi COP + 36.88
5 Didier Pironi TYR + 57.26
6 Héctor Rebaque LOT + 1:37.86
1st Mario Andretti LOT 54 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 36 3rd Carlos Reutemann FER 31

Nevertheless, Mario made things a bit harder for himself in the next round, held within the spectacular backdrop of the Austrian mountains. The bright green of the hills surrounding the Osterreichring circuit wasn’t accidental, it was due to the abundant rain falling over the area at almost any time of the year. So, despite the Austrian Grand Prix being run in mid-August the water-laden clouds didn’t miss the date, it was raining on Saturday and qualifying ended up with Ronnie again ahead of Mario for the second time in the last three racing weekends. Undoubtedly, the Swede was starting to get to grips with the driving style required by the Lotus 79, quite a distance from his natural instincts but to which he was now adapting thanks to his unquestionable class.

It was raining again on Sunday morning, although the rain had stopped when the time to start the race arrived, but the track was damp, not enough to go for the grooved tyres, but quite slippery for the slicks. Determined to not take any unnecessary risks and mainly thinking of the Championship, Andretti made a slow start and lost a position to Reutemann while Peterson started to pull away at the front. When Mario tried to regain his place the Ferrari driver wouldn’t concede it and the Lotus number 5 spun out of the race, a mistake that put a zero in Andretti’s point tally the same day that Ronnie added the second nine of the year to his account. Suddenly the difference between both men was halved, the agreement was still in place but any other mistake from the Italian-American or some mechanical problem affecting his car could mean throwing out of the window all the work that had been done in three years.


1 Ronnie Peterson LOT 1:41:21.57
2 Patrick Depailler TYR + 47.44
3 Gilles Villeneuve FER + 1:39.76
4 Emerson Fittipaldi COP + 1 lap
5 Jacques Laffite LIG + 1 lap
6 Vittorio Brambilla SUR + 1:37.86
1st Mario Andretti LOT 54 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 45 3rd Patrick Depailler TYR 31

This negative scenario was close to happening in the Dutch Grand Prix. It was a race weekend when the two Lotus 79s were dominant again with their already almost routine ease. Yet another black and gold front row saw Mario ahead of Ronnie and a perfect start for both men then setting a pace impossible to match by anyone else. The undulating track, running between the sand dunes at Zandvoort, was perfectly suited to the qualities of a car that enjoyed, far more than any other, the presence of consecutive fast flowing corners. With Andretti leading and Peterson stuck to his tail, the laps were going by with monotonous regularity… until something started to sound different, the engine of Andretti’s car was producing a discordant note. One of the intricate exhaust pipes that embraced the V8 Cosworth to leave room for the air flow on the sides of the car was broken. Luckily for Mario the problem didn’t worsen, and Ronnie also had his fair share of worries with another mechanical part whose position and function was compromised in the cause of maximum aerodynamic efficiency: the rear brakes. Embedded in the gearbox case to help with the narrowness of the rear part of the car, they had a tendency to overheat and loose effectiveness as the race went on and even more so on a track with just a relatively short front straight and after a lot of laps following closely in the slipstream of his team mate.

Even though the two Lotus held together and, despite their ailments, were still out of reach for their rivals, running in perfect formation to the finish line. For the eighth time in the season Chapman enjoyed the moment by throwing his black cap into the air when his two cars went past the chequered flag. It was the fourth time he did it to celebrate a 1-2 of his fabulous 79 model… and it was to be the last!


1 Mario Andretti LOT 1:41:04.23
2 Ronnie Peterson LOT + 0.32
3 Niki Lauda BRA + 12.21
4 John Watson BRA + 20.92
5 Emerson Fittipaldi COP + 21.50
6 Gilles Villeneuve FER + 45.95
1st Mario Andretti LOT 63 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 51 3rd Niki Lauda BRA 35

It seemed almost unimaginable that Sunday afternoon in Holland, after a race that had secured the title for Lotus. There were just 27 points available until the end of the season and Niki Lauda, third placed in the Championship, was trailing by 28. Since its victorious debut in Zolder, the 79 has won six of the eight Grand Prix run and had been first and second in four of them. Few times in F1 history has there has been such domination and never in the seventies, a decade marked by mechanical equality and the continuous variety in the names of the winners, both driver and team.

Then, as if the motorsport Gods weren’t happy with such domination, came the race that should have been the perfect closing party and instead became the cruellest anti-climax for the main actors of such great season. The European tour of the fastest show on earth ended up with a visit to its most historic scenario: Monza. And, for once, even the Tifosi were happy despite the title not being won by a Ferrari driver. After all, although the leader of the championship was driving a black Lotus instead of a scarlet car built in Maranello, he was ‘one of their own’. He not only had an Italian name and was of Italian blood, as a child he had also shared the same feelings from these grandstands and hills they were about to fill up once again. At the beginning of the 50’s, a young Mario was dreaming of one day being a World Champion while watching Ascari’s Ferrari at Monza. More than two decades later, close to being forty years old, the dream was about to become reality. If someone would have asked him to choose a place where he’d like it to happen the answer would surely have been… Monza!!!

Indeed, Mario Andretti, the Italian-born that become an American citizen was surely about to be venerated as Formula 1 World Champion in the temple of speed but, it was all about to go tragically wrong. A chaotic start produced a multiple crash that left his team mate, Ronnie Peterson, trapped in the flames of a stricken Lotus 78, the car he had to revert to after damaging his usual 79 in the ‘warm up’. The swift and brave help from Hunt, Regazzoni and Depailler get the Swede out of the inferno, he was still alive but suffering from two broken legs.

With such injuries it was obvious that Ronnie won’t be able to race in what remained of the season, so Mario was already the champion, no matter what the result of the race which was restarted with another confused getaway. Villeneuve’s Ferrari was moving ahead before the flag fell, followed by Andretti’s Lotus. The two began a long and close fight for the win, a duel between the new idol of the Tifosi, the young Canadian whose bravery and spectacular driving was being taken to their hearts, and the veteran Italian-born champion to whom they were so close as to forgive him for daring to overtaking a Ferrari at Monza, driving a black car whose colour was more sombre than elegant on that dark September afternoon which ultimately didn’t matter at all. Although Andretti was the first under the chequered flag, followed just a couple of seconds behind by Villeneuve, their final positions would be sixth and seventh. Both were handed a one-minute time penalty for their jumped start and the win ended up going to third across the finish line, Niki Lauda, who was seen then as a traitor from most of the fans in Monza’s grandstands for leaving Ferrari just after becoming World Champion there twelve months earlier.


1 Niki Lauda BRA 1:07:04.54
2 John Watson BRA + 1.48
3 Carlos Reutemann FER + 20.47
4 Jacques Laffite LIG + 37.53
5 Patrick Tambay MCL + 40.39
6 Mario Andretti LOT + 46.33
1st Mario Andretti LOT 64 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 51 3rd Niki Lauda BRA 44

All in all, the title went to Andretti on a very difficult day, with his team mate lying on a hospital bed and after winning a race only to discover that he had not won it. For Mario it was hard to celebrate, worried for his friend and angry about a penalty he reckoned unfair, but the worst was still to come. Overnight there were complications in Ronnie’s situation; he died the following morning. Sadly, often in life triumph and tragedy go hand-in-hand but, very few times they will be so closely tied as that weekend at Monza. Andretti’s dream was accomplished; he was F1 World Champion, like Ascari, but the price he had to pay for was very high, he lost his team mate and friend at the same time that he achieved his greatest success. It’s hard to imagine a victory with a more bitter taste.

The end of the season was a sad anti-climactic disaster for Andretti and Lotus. The next race was the second of the Grands Prix held that year in the United States, this one on the East Coast at Watkins Glen. Mario wanted to be the first American to win at the wheel of a F1 car on the New York state track. Despite scoring yet another pole position, a big hit in the warm up on Sunday morning left car and driver in less than the best condition. The race ended up being an ordeal for a sore Andretti driving a car that had lost its perfect balance and, for once, the engine trouble that forced him to retire was more of a relief than an upset.


1 Carlos Reutemann FER 1:40:48.800
2 Alan Jones WIL + 19.739
3 Jody Scheckter WOL + 45.701
4 Jean Pierre Jabouille REN + 1:25.007
5 Emerson Fittipaldi COP + 1:28.089
6 Patrick Tambay MCL + 1:50.210
1st Mario Andretti LOT 64 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 51 3rd Carlos Reutemann FER 44

Things were no better in Canada, where Mario qualified worse than ever before that year and finished an anonymous tenth after an eventful race. The Grand Prix held in Montreal’s outskirts was dominated by his new team mate for that final part of the season, the Frenchman Jean Pierre Jarier who took pole position and led the race with ease until an oil leak, with just a few laps to go, prevented him from scoring what will have been the last win for the fabulous Lotus 79.


1 Gilles Villeneuve FER 1:57:49.196
2 Jody Scheckter WOL + 13.372
3 Carlos Reutemann FER + 19.408
4 Ricardo Patrese ARR + 24.667
5 Patrick Depailler TYR + 28.558
6 Derek Daly ENS + 54.476
1st Mario Andretti LOT 64 2nd Ronnie Peterson LOT 51 3rd Carlos Reutemann FER 48

So fabulous, indeed, as to be so fondly remembered now, forty years later, as one of the most effective, influential and beautiful Formula 1 cars of all time. An innovative and dominant design from a genius that helped turn the childhood dream of a veteran driver into reality during a year hard to forget which has become one of the most memorable seasons in motor sport history.

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