"I don't know how I feel about it. Ask me tomorrow!" Jody Scheckter could speak only in clichés on Sunday evening, and who could blame him for that? It has been a long road to the world championship, and the realisation of his ambition was hard to put into words. His day had been perfect. He had clinched the world championship by finishing first in the Italian Grand Prix in a Ferrari. Film script stuff.
The local fans, in fact, had a field day. In recent times, Ferrari have won at Monza every four or five years or so. The last man to do it for them was Clay Regazzoni, in 1975. Therefore their joy was complete when the Swiss finished third behind Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve, setting a new lap record along the way.
Although the Ferraris led most of the way, they were preceded in the early laps by Rene Arnoux's Renault, which looked uncatchable until an electrical problem halted it. Maranello's most feared rival, however, was Alan Jones, who was wiped from contention at the very start when he had to stop for a new battery. Thereafter he was magnificent, lapping consistently faster than any other car in the race.
Both the Williams cars ran out of fuel immediately after taking the flag, and Regazzoni might well have got among the Ferraris had his engine not started to cough in the last couple of laps. To Clay went the fastest lap, so both Frank's men did themselves ample justice.
In the points for the first time in a long time were Niki Lauda's Brabham, fourth, and Mario Andretti's Lotus, fifth. Had he not spun off, Bruno Giacomelli might well have defeated both of them with the new Alfa Romeo 179, which went extremely well. The final championship point was snapped up by Jean-Pierre Jarier's Tyrrell.
Nelson Piquet had probably the luckiest escape of this Formula 1 season when he stepped unhurt from the wreckage of his Brabham-Alfa after an accident on the second lap. The car was completely cut in two by repeated impact with the barriers, but the strength of the monocoque alone probably saved the Brazilian's life.
By and large, the Italian Grand Prix, although short at an hour and 20 minutes, was also somewhat processional, with little of the overtaking which characterizes races at Monza. The facelift which the circuit has received in the last year, however, was enthusiastically greeted by everyone, and one now begins to wonder if the Italian Grand Prix will move to Imola after all. Would a Ferrari victory be quite the same there?
ENTRY AND PRACTICE
It is Monza's misfortune that the Italian Grand Prix comes at a time when people are jaded after a long-season, ill-equipped to deal with the pressures peculiar to the place... Dear God, let it end soon. There is an air of that sort around Monza. Team managers are already thinking about the approaching season, to the new signings; this year has either been relished or passed from the mind, best forgotten. Tomorrow will be better. For some, it has to be.
For those on the crest, appreciated by the masses and hailed by them, there is maybe a charm about the tifosi hanging on the wall. But at Monza - more than anywhere else - you are aware of your immediate worth. Take Clay Regazzoni. Twelve months ago, he was earning his pension with Shadow, a faded star, a past winner here, an ex-Ferraristi even... but now a slightly sad, passé figure who didn't know when to quit. That was 1978. Advance the scene by twelve months and the random numbers of modern Grand Prix racing have put him back in the limelight, a potential winner once more. It is not lost on the ragazzi, and they chant his name until the cows come home. Regazzoni, 40 years old last week, smiles with pleasure and a tinge of cynicism. You can tell him nothing about the vagaries of Formula 1. He has been there. He has seen it all. He knows the phenomenon that is Monza.
Pass down the paddock - new and elaborate and modern this year - and you find the world champion Mario Andretti. A year back, "Mario!" was their only cry. Last weekend, well, there was respectful applause for successes past, old times' sake. But nothing succeeds like success and, for Martini Team Lotus, there has been precious little of that recently. Monza likes people who won last week.
And in between, as always the focus of their attention as they hang there on the fence, there is that red transporter and all it means. Gilles Villeneuve is the man in their hearts, a quiet, friendly, polite young man from French Canada, who nevertheless encapsulates all they could want from the most Latin of heroes. Not since the days of Regazzoni has a Ferrari driver wormed into their affections like Gilles. Jody Scheckter they admire - after all, he drives for them - but there is not the same affinity.
Mario Andretti © LAT
In practice, Scheckter was like a man haunted, always in a hurry to get somewhere, to do a TV interview, to avoid a stampede of people with programmes and pens. For the first time we was facing the pressures of being a Ferrari driver at Monza - as well as being the man touching the hem of the world championship. And he bore it well. There was strain in his face, but even the normally implacable Villeneuve seemed white and hollow eyed as he was led off for yet another spell in front of the cameras.
For Gilles, there might have been additional pressure from another source entirely. A lot of criticism has come his way recently after the controversial three-wheeled lap of Zandvoort. Interestingly though none has come directly from the other drivers, many of whom muttered darkly about it but did not confront Villeneuve. In hindsight how did he feel about it? "I haven't heard from any of the other drivers - yet," he said. "Having seen the TV, I can understand some of the criticism. In fact, on that basis, I would even criticise myself. On TV, it looked quite bad - not coming back on three wheels, because that was no problem at all. Many people have done that before now. But when the wheel was hanging behind, that could have caused a big accident for somebody else. But I had no idea it was there. I couldn't see it in my mirrors. If I had known it was there, for sure I would have stopped.
"On the other hand," he continued, "I have no regrets at all about trying to get back to the pits in the first place. As long as the car will run, I will try to get it to the pits, and I think if you don't do that, you are not a racing driver. After the spin, the car was in a very dangerous place, on the sand on the outside of Tarzan. If I had left it there, that would have been stupid because the marshals would not have moved it. So I set off, and the car was very easy to drive on three wheels, really. I used only third gear, but I could have used fifth, no problem. It was vibrating very badly, obviously, but halfway around the lap the vibration stopped suddenly, and I couldn't see the wheel in my mirrors. For sure, I thought, it has come off, and then I really backed off. I had no idea that it was trailing behind, but nobody bothered to ask me about it... People who do the criticising are the first ones to do the same things at the next race. Like, two years ago, do you remember the row about [James] Hunt and Mario [Andretti] at Tarzan? No overtaking on the outside they said. Now, it seems, that is acceptable after all. I took [Alan] Jones on the outside, but nothing happened, we didn't touch.
"I will always accept criticism if it is justified," Villeneuve concluded. "But the Zandvoort thing - however bad it looked on TV - that was different. My conscience is absolutely clear. And honestly I don't care what people are saying about that. I won't change my driving for them."
Bear in mind as you read those words that they come not from an arrogant, spoiled brat. Gilles Villeneuve is an intelligent man with more natural ability than half his colleagues put together, a born racer not about to be put down by any smear campaign. I have often heard him frankly admit to making a mistake - itself a rare phenomenon amongst grand prix drivers - and therefore believe his account of that lap at Zandvoort. Perhaps some of those flinging stones his way should first move out of their glasshouses.
Away now from the Quebec motorhome, and back to the track. Monza was obviously going to be ideal Renault country. Last year Jean-Pierre Jabouille qualified third, the turbo car blindingly quick in a straight line. And on Saturday, he put himself on the pole, his fourth of the season.
Riccardo Patrese qualified 17th in the sleek but slow Arrows-Ford © LAT
The time was set in his T-car. The race car, as at Zandvoort, stubbornly refuses to handle for reasons which the Renault personnel are unable to understand. "So far as we can tell," said Jean Sage after practice, "all our cars are identical. And yet this one, RS11, understeers very badly. We have no idea why, frankly, but nothing seems to help the problem." On Saturday afternoon, Jabouille was soon flying with the spare, nabbing the pole with only his sixth lap! The afternoon nonetheless finished unhappily at the first of the chicanes. "It was my fault, nothing else," he admitted. "I left my braking too late, that's all." The Renault whistled through the catch fencing and into the barrier beyond, writing off the right front corner and, disastrously, slightly damaging the monocoque. Probably, Sage reckoned, the car could have been repaired for the race - "but you never know for sure if everything will be in true or not. We will abandon it and concentrate on the original car again."
Next to Jabouille, right on the pace again, was Rene Arnoux, pole man at the Osterreichring and Zandvoort, and fastest at Monza on the first day. Arnoux might well have made it three on the trot but lost the last session when an engine leak was discovered. Rather than risk blowing the motor the team decided to take a chance and sit the session out. With Jabouille crashing his car, there was therefore no Renault out there for the last 50 minutes. And yet their front row positions held up. Jean Sage admitted a degree of cautious optimism and put his hands together for a cool day. For a while it appeared that qualifying had gone thus: Renault, Renault, Ferrari, Ferrari, Williams, Williams. However, a nice piece of symmetry was upset when Villeneuve's third fastest time was found to be erroneous, the Canadian thereby slipping back to fifth. In third spot now was Scheckter, who put in a tremendous number of laps.
Both Ferrari drivers had two cars each for Monza, a conventional T4 and the latest T4B, which has revised suspension geometry, a new exhaust system and twin-caliper brakes - those at the rear mounted onboard, unlike those of the original car.
From the outset Villeneuve decided to stick with the new one: "it's not really any better than the other car, but I thought I ought to concentrate on one or the other." After setting the third best time on Friday, Gilles did not improve the following day, and put it down to his engine, which seemed to be down on power. A new flat-12 was installed overnight.
Scheckter worked really hard for his quick time, even running for a while with very blanked-off ducts so as to keep the pads hot between applications of the middle pedal. Risky, but effective. He spent a lot of time in both his cars, finally opting to go with the older car. After practice he was very happy with it and full of confidence for the race. Next to the second-row Ferrari was the irrepressible Alan Jones, as ever right up there with the Saudia-Williams FW07. Second fastest on Friday, Jones' session was nonetheless marred by a shunt with Patrick Tambay at the Ascari chicane. He was closely following Reutemann's Lotus as they came towards the cruising McLaren. Tambay saw Reutemann and moved over for him, but failed to notice the Williams and swung back in its path, hitting the left hand sidepod. No serious damage was done, but Jones was not impressed with Tambay's attention to his mirrors.
The following morning, a leak was found in the race car's fuel bag-tank, so Jones had to run the T-car, which had been used the day before by Clay Regazzoni, who blew the engine in his race car early in the afternoon session. On Saturday, both men slightly improved their times, Jones qualifying fourth, Regazzoni sixth.
The Ligier-Gitanes team arrived at Monza in very high spirits, confident that they would be back to the competitiveness of Buenos Aires and Interlagos. Revised aerodynamics for Zandvoort had given them a quantum leap in downforce, but there was a new problem there: finding springs strong enough to live with that downforce. In Holland, the JS11 was bottoming everywhere.
Between races, new springs and shock-absorbers were made up, and Jacques Laffite went on to Dijon to test. The results were sensational. On race tyres Laffite got very close to Jabouille's French Grand Prix pole time. The problem, it seemed, had been solved.
Hans-Joachim Stuck in the ATS © LAT
Not so. After only a few laps, it was clear that the new set up, very effective at Dijon speeds, was far less so at really quick pace. The car was bottoming again. So there was the apparently absurd sight of a team actually seeking to reduce their cars' downforce! To this end, shorter skirts were fitted, predictably relieving the bottoming but hurting the grip. Lafitte qualified seventh, and was highly disappointed to be there.
It was something of a surprise to learn last week that the second Ligier would again be driven by Jacky Ickx. The Belgian's recent drives had been somewhat low-key, and there was a lot of speculation that Derek Daly would be in the car for Monza. However Ickx it was, and he went well in practice, a respectable 11th fastest.
The two Parmalat Brabham-Alfas - was this their last race? - took eighth and ninth positions on the grid, Nelson Piquet again saving his banzai lap for the dying minutes of practice. Niki Lauda had been the quicker of the two on Friday, but found his flat-12 to be down on revs in the last session and decided that there was little point in continuing with the car. Ermanno Cuoghi then strapped the Austrian into the T-car, but the engine refused to run. Up and down the pits they pushed him, to no avail. There was no fuel pressure. Lauda's first day time had to stand.
Next to Lauda, 10th, we found Mario Andretti, happier than for many a race. The world champion and team-mate Carlos Reutemann were in their usual Lotus 79s, the specification unchanged from Zandvoort. "It's been a long summer," said Mario with a rueful grin. "However, the car is definitely better here. For the first time in a long while I feel we're making some progress. It would be nice to have some success in the last races of this season but I guess the whole team is looking forward to 1980. I wish," he went on, "that I could have defended my title a little more effectively, but I never get too down. I still have faith in Colin Chapman, and I still believe that the 80 will work eventually."
Carlos Reutemann looks like being a busy man next year, for paddock gossip would have you believe that he will be driving for Lotus, Williams and Ensign! His practice was interrupted when the sandwich plate at the rear of the car - redesigned following previous failures - broke once more. On the grid Reutemann was 13th, alongside Patrick Tambay in the quicker of the two Marlboro McLaren M29s. John Watson, the Frenchman's team-mate, was back on the 10th row. For him, practice began well. After the first session on Friday morning running 'B' compound Goodyears (they get progressively stickier up to 'E'), Watson sad he was happy with the car. "Then we made a variety of changes, which all seemed the logical way to go, and they didn't work."
Didier Pironi was again the quicker of the two Candy Tyrrell drivers in practice, but both he and Jean-Pierre Jarier admitted they were scratching here. Hans Stuck, by contrast, was pleased with his ATS and is convinced that under Vic Elsford's management, it is really beginning to progress.
Of particular interest was the debut of the new Alfa Romeo 179 ground effects car, making its debut in the hands of Bruno Giacomelli. Reports had earlier come from Italy of the car's dire testing performances, and therefore its showing in official practice was something of a revelation. From the very start it looked a certain and clear-cut qualifier, and Giacomelli gave a good account of himself, putting the car on the ninth row, next to Riccardo Patrese's Arrows A2. The new Alfa gave very little trouble in practice, and Giacomelli's only serious complaint concerned the stability under braking. Otherwise he was happy and keen to do the right thing by his crowd - and his employers, who took a brave gamble to come to Monza.
Bruno Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo was not inspired to go faster by the home crowd © LAT
The earlier flat-12 car was also entered, and marked the sentimental return of Vittorio Brambilla, so grievously injured in this race 12 months ago. It was good to see the flat cap, mirror sunglasses and pugilistic face back once more, and good that Brambilla, 42-years-old and after a long absence, had no trouble in getting the second Autodelta car into the race. He was also alongside an Arrows, that of Jochen Mass, on row 11.
Monza has always been one of Emerson Fittipaldi's favourite circuits, but sadly it did not last weekend mark a return to competitiveness for the Brazilian. "We only had one set of 'E' compound Goodyears," said Peter MacIntosh, "and they were wasted because Emerson got held up behind Rosberg in the middle of his quick lap. He was getting a tow from Laffite at the time, and they both slowed up afterwards to let the tyres cool. Then he tried another quick one, but they blistered before the end of the lap."
An interesting aside: the engine which was installed in Emerson's Copersucar for the race was 056. Believe it or not, that was originally sold by Cosworth Engineering to Jack Brabham on March 16th 1970! It has spent the last two years of its life in the back of the McLaren M23 which is part of Fittipaldi's private collection in Brazil...
The slowest qualifier was Elio de Angelis, whose Shadow team-mate Jan Lammers did not make it this time. The real shock, however, was the position of Rosberg, who joined de Angelis on the back row. After the Finn's superb showing with Wolf in Holland, it was astonishing to find him so far back. "It won't turn in," said Keke. "I can't believe how bad the understeer is. At Zandvoort, we thought we'd cured the problem, but with the higher speeds here it's just impossible." Marc Surer's first Formula 1 race was something of a disaster. Simply, he did not get enough time in the Ensign. He had never driven at Monza before and only managed for or five laps on Friday before the engine blew up. "It's good," said Morris Nunn, ruefully, "that he's in the Procar race - at least he can learn the circuit that way!" On Saturday, more time was lost with suspension changes, and Surer never really truly looked like making the race. Sadly, he joined Lammers, Arturo Merzario and Hector Rebaque in the DNQs.
For many people, the Italian Grand Prix was almost incidental to the weekend. It was a time of conspiracy, with team managers superstitiously involved in earnest conversation with drivers on the move. There was amusement over the way the Stewart-Ecclestone story had achieved so much credibility, disgruntled discussion of the FISA's decision to retain the unsuccessful 'split' world championship scoring system for next year and, of course, much talk of that three-wheeled lap of Zandvoort...
For the revised Monza Parco however there was unanimous approval. The paddock is now a sensibly large area directly behind the pits. There are still spiked railings for the fans to hang on so they were quite happy, and these fences are in foundations of tarmac which rules out any question of digging tunnels, so much a part of the Monza scene for so many years. The mechanics, able to work in comparative peace, were glad of that.
The pits are now infinitely safer, thanks to the moving out of the wall, and the drivers professed themselves delighted with the vast amount of work carried out to the circuit itself. Visibility was better, for many trees had been felled, and new run-off areas were found entirely satisfactory - particularly that at the flat-in-fifth Curva Grande. No, the automobile club of Milan could not be faulted in the way hey had met all requests. The general chaos hadn't changed, but the surroundings had.
The start is always a late one at Monza, half past three. By then, the fans have been up on their portable grandstands (some built from the fences of the day before) for many hours. They are restless. They have had their fill of parades, aerobatic demonstrations, endless Alfasud and Renault 5 races. What they need to see now is the Italian Grand Prix, nothing less. They have consumed their Bardolino and salami, and they have whistled and jeered at the police cars around the track. Now they want to applaud something.
They get their chance when Alan Jones drives his Williams out of the pits to begin the warm-up lap. Italian fans know their motor racing. Monza is not somewhere to go for a day out. They appreciate what Alan has been doing recently, and they cheer him loudly for it. There is not a ripple when some cars go out.
Finally, the cheers build into paroxysms of delight when first Scheckter, then Villeneuve, emerge with the Ferraris, the bark of the flat-12s bouncing back off the pits to the stands.
Then they are back, all of them, and there is another half-hour before the start. The fever builds. There is consternation when the front of Villeneuve's car is put up on stands, a murmur of relief as it is lowered again, and the Canadian climbs aboard. Away they go on the final warm-up lap, the lights of the huge circuit diagram on the tower recording their progress.
Soon they return, engines revving aggressively now. After the dreadful disaster of last year, there is a new man on the start button, and he gets it absolutely right, waiting until all 24 cars are stationary before letting them go...
Formation start for Ferrari © LAT
Before the race, there had been fears of another chaotic start, for the Renaults are undeniably slow away from the line, and the pair of them were on the front row. In the event, both Jabouille and Arnoux got away fairly well, but Scheckter and Villeneuve simply rocketed through from their second and third-row grid positions, Jody taking the lead from Arnoux, and Gilles slipping past Jabouille as they streamed down towards the first chicane.
A minute and a half later, the crowd screamed with delight as a red car led the pack out of the Parabolica and down to the start-finish line. Scheckter was still leading, and that all-important first lap belonged to Ferrari - just. Right on Jody's tail as they crossed the line was Arnoux, and soon afterwards, before the first chicane, the little Frenchman calmly flicked his car to the left and drove past the Ferrari with insolent ease. The stands mumbled uneasily; this was not in the script.
Following these two at the end of the first lap were Villeneuve, Laffite, Jabouille, Regazzoni, Piquet, Andretti, Tambay, Jarier, Pironi, Lauda, Giacomelli, Reutemann and Ickx. Near the back, and going slowly, was Alan Jones. The Williams had made a bad start, getting away sluggishly from the second row. On lap five it would stop in the pits for a new battery and spark box, and one of the season's greatest drives would begin.
Before that, however, there was drama of a more immediate kind. As the cars went through the ultra-fast Curva Grande on the second lap, Regazzoni and Piquet, running sixth and seventh, touched, the Brabham hurtling into the barriers and ricocheting, like a bullet in a confined space, from one side of the road to the other. Finally, monocoque and engine parted company completely, Piquet and the front of the car finishing up on one side of the road, and the engine - ablaze - on the other. It was an accident of such horror and violence that serious injury, at the least, seemed inevitable for the driver, but somehow a very shaken Nelson climbed out, completely unhurt. He will never be luckier. After the race, the Brazilian complained about Regazzoni's driving, but the marshals at the corner said that it had been a straightforward racing accident, with no fault on either side. Nelson and Clay both felt otherwise!
Monza has always been a circuit where groups break away, with huge gaps quickly opening up. By the end of the third lap, the first five were clear of Regazzoni, and the Swiss, in turn, was a long way ahead of the rest, who were led by Andretti. At the front, Rene Arnoux was very comfortable and composed, the Renault clearly under no real threat from the Ferraris. Directly behind Villeneuve, in fourth place, Laffite was working tremendously hard with the Ligier, once or twice jinking out of the T4's slipstream and looking to go by into the first chicane. He never made it, but the thought was there. If Jacques's Word Championship hopes were not to die, he had not only to stay with the Ferraris, but beat them. Quite clearly, he was going to spare no effort.
Clay Regazzoni's was the first non-Ferrari home in third © LAT
On lap four, Tambay's spirited showing came to an end when his engine failed, which moved Jarier's Tyrrell up to eighth and team-mate Pironi up to ninth. Right behind this pair came Lauda, moving up the field quickly after a very poor start, and Giacomelli, whose Alfa was going beautifully and gaining places al the time.
Alan Jones's stop was not a very long one, but the Australian was almost two laps behind the leaders when he rejoined, and in a slightly angry mood. It was clear at once that Alan was not about to cruse round and collect his money. Soon the commentator was announcing that he had set the fastest lap, then again, and again... To watch a man drive his heart out, knowing that there will almost certainly be no reward at the end, is inspiring. We saw Villeneuve do it at Zolder, and Laffite at Monte Carlo. Now Jones was matching them at Monza.
Jabouille had gone to the start in an unhappy frame of mind, knowing full well that his car's understeer was as strong as ever, and that staying at the leaders' pace would be almost impossible. After only seven or eight laps, it was obvious that his fears were indeed grounded. The leaders were now a quartet, with the second Renault fifth and dropping away.
By contrast, Arnoux was without problems - "It was really very easy to lead. I had never been out in front of a grand prix before, but there was no pressure on me. I was sure that I had the quickest car in the race." In his wake, the Ferraris hung on grimly, with Laffite equally determined to stay with them. Behind them ran Jabouille - long gap - Regazzoni - long gap - Andretti - short gap - Lauda. The Austrian was now going really well. Whatever had been said harshly of the Alfa Romeo V12, it seemed to be performing well now, and the ease with which it dealt with Andretti's Cosworth in front of the pits seemed to say good things about its horsepower too. The two swapped places on lap nine.
A couple of minutes earlier, Pironi's Tyrrell had pitted for inspection after being clobbered by Watson's McLaren at the second chicane. After quickly checking the car over, the mechanics waved him on his way once more, but the Frenchman was now 20th instead of 10th.
By the end of the 12th lap, Arnoux, Scheckter, Villeneuve and Laffite were still running as a bunch, the Ligier now five seconds in front of Jabouille, who had a similar cushion to Regazzoni. Lauda, now an isolated seventh, was 13 seconds behind the Williams.
Rarely, however, does Renault's luck hold good for long. On the unlucky 13th lap, Arnoux's engine suddenly began to misfire badly, and he pulled over after the second Lesmo and waved the other three past. The lead lost, he suddenly found the V6 turbo on full song again, and came by the pits in fourth place, everything apparently in order. Next time around, however, the yellow car came slowly down the pit apron. The misfire had returned; sadly, the mechanics pushed the car away. Another fine drive by Arnoux had ended without reward.
The populace was oblivious to all this. For thee or four minutes now, the Ferraris had been running one-two. Laffite was still right there in third, and we had an altogether amazing situation now where the only men able to win the championship were first, second and third. Clearly, Villeneuve was not going to give Scheckter a fight, the whole point of Ferrari's Monza exercise being that the South African should win the world title. Throughout the weekend, Gilles put a brave face on it, presumably reserving his innermost feelings on the matter for his memoirs!
Laffite, though, was a different matter again. His only orders had been to go like hell, and he followed them to the letter. But problems were beginning with the Ligier that would seal the Frenchman's fate later in the race. The rear brakes were beginning to overheat, and Jacques adjusted his brake-balance bar to put more on the front.
Gone by lap 14 was Watson, whose McLaren climbed over the back of Jarier's Tyrrell at the first chicane and came to rest in the sand at the side of the track. The Frenchman was able to continue without delay.
Most eyes were on two men: Alan Jones, who was continuing to set a staggering pace in his lone drive, and Bruno Giacomelli, who was going like the hammers with his Alfa Romeo 179, moving it past Andretti's Lotus and palpably gaining on Lauda's sixth place. Surely there wasn't to be the embarrassment of an Alfa passing a Brabham-Alfa?
En route to the world title - Jody Scheckter © LAT
Lap 25, half distance: Scheckter, Villeneuve, Laffite, Regazzoni (who had passed Jabouille a lap before), Lauda, Giacomelli, Andretti, Jarier, Reutemann, Ickx, Patrese, Fittipaldi, Stuck (hampered by a broken exhaust), de Angelis, Brambilla, Rosberg, Pironi, Jones.
Laffite was now beginning to lose contact with the Ferraris. With the revised rear-brake balance, he was having to work harder than ever, and was now a couple of seconds behind Villeneuve.
At the beginning of the 28th lap, Giacomelli was only a second and a bit behind Lauda, and the dark red car had the crowd's attention and encouragement. Since leaving Ferrari, Niki has never been popular at Monza. His sixth place, though, went unthreatened in the end, for Giacomelli did not come round again. "As I came off the power for the Ascari chicane, my foot got caught under the brake pedal..." The Alfa spun off the road and out of the race, but its performance had shaken a lot of people and must have delighted the Alfa directors - or those who are in favour of grand prix racing anyway. It had been far and away Giacomelli's best Formula 1 drive so far.
By lap 30, it was apparent that Laffite's title challenge was over for 1979, for the Ligier was steadily losing ground now and there seemed every chance that it would fall into the clutches of Regazzoni, whose Williams was running superbly, and would probably have been up with the leaders had it not understeered early in the race. So, too, would Alan Jones, and we were left to ponder the sort of fright he would have given the Italians, had it not been for the flat battery at the start. Che sera.
The T4s were serene at the front of this short sprint race, and had only to keep going - a quality in which they are unrivalled. But Regazzoni was really biting into Laffite's advantage, and was almost on his tail by lap 41. Next time around, the Williams came through alone, to roars of Italian approval, and the Ligier slowly came back into the pits. For Laffite, it was over.
"It was very hard for many laps. I had to put on more front brake, and the pedal was going further and further down. Then I come up to the corner, change down for it, and the clutch is jammed down by the brake-balance cable and stays down..." In an instant, the revs had gone to 12,000 and oil was coming out of the exhausts. It was a sorrowful end to a magnificent drive. A lap earlier, Ickx's sister car had also retired with a blown engine.
In the last few laps, the race really came to life. Regazzoni was definitely catching the Ferraris, getting into one of his celebrated late charges. Were Scheckter and Villeneuve rolling it off a little too much for comfort? It looked that way, but such was not the case. As the results later showed, Gianclaudio was lapping at record speeds, faster than even his team-mate, and was pulling in the red cars at more than a second a lap! To beat the Commendatore at Monza was all Regazzoni could dream of; he has never forgotten the manner of his dismissal three years ago.
With two laps left, the Williams was two seconds behind, and we seemed set for an all-action finale, the crowds really frantic now. But unfortunately we were denied it: the Williams was running low on fuel and cutting out occasionally. At the start of the last lap, the gap was four seconds again. At the time, it appeared simply that Jody and Gilles had got the message and "put it to the wood", as they say in the colonies. In truth, it was not that way at all, and there was a great deal of relief in the Maranello pits when Clay dropped back.
Scheckter completed a fairytale story © LAT
In the last five laps, there were three more retirements; those of Rosberg, Patrese and, unhappily, Jabouille, who had fought well with a difficult car. Broken valve.
And so they got themselves ready for rapture and hysteria, climbing the barriers in anticipation of the moment. In the distance, the two cars came out of Parabolica, close together, down the long straight and up towards the line. Scheckter acknowledged the flag with a wave of his left arm, secure now in the office of World Champion. And Villeneuve continued to put on a brave face, thinking no doubt of what might have been.
Regazzoni made it to the finish, and ran out of petrol on his slowing-down lap. Jones, after a superlative drive in which he had to create his own incentive, stopped to pick up his team-mate - and promptly ran out of petrol himself! Lauda and Andretti, both ex-World Champions, claimed the points for fourth and fifth, and Jarier took the last one.
Down in front of the presentation platform, the scene was downright unpleasant, the crowds totally out of control, the police making ample use of their truncheons and riot shields. "Jo-dee, Jo-dee, Jo-dee," they chanted, one of them a hapless youth apparently oblivious to the blood flowing down his face.
Up on the platform, Jody was all smiles, waving both arms, then a Ferrari flag (they loved that), blowing kisses to the worshippers. Gilles got the same reception, and we had the strange sight of the winners showering the fans with Moet et Chandon. Strange? Yes - the last time that happened was at Dijon. Then Clay appeared, and through the stampeding and battering, the affection for him nonetheless got through. Ferrari-Ferrari-Regazzoni was all they could have wanted.
Soon afterwards, Scheckter left the circuit in a helicopter to begin his reign. Laffite, disappointed but philosophical, shrugged his shoulders and managed a grin. Villeneuve, thanked profusely by the team for the part he played, was also philosophical. "It wasn't a present for Jody, you know. I was driving hard..." The title settled, there will be no team orders in North America. He was going to win there, then? "Yes," he replied with a smile, "for sure."
Jody Scheckter has devoted this year to winning the World Championship rather than the races that comprise it. It has been won not in the manner the experts predicted when he first shot into the big league seven years ago. It has been canny and calculated, with the headlines going elsewhere. There has not been a single mechanical failure, and Jody has nearly always finished in the points. This year, consistency has beaten pace. "I'm going to Ferrari because I believe that will give me my best chance to be World Champion," Scheckter said, a year ago. The calculation was correct.
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