In 1969, Frank Williams ran a car in the British Grand Prix for the first time. It was a Brabham BT26, driven by Piers Courage, and it finished fifth. The late and lamented Piers twice finished second for Frank that year, and no one could have guessed that 10 years would pass before one of his cars would triumph in a Grande Epreuve. But last Saturday the dream became reality when Clay Regazzoni's Saudia-backed Williams FW07 scored a conclusive victory. In the space of a fortnight, two teams have had their first Grand Prix win - and Clay's was the first for a British car since Monza last September.
A pivotal moment in Williams's story © LAT
The entire meeting was dominated by the white and green cars, with Alan Jones taking pole position very comfortably and leading with equal facility until his development Cosworth expired soon after half-distance. At the time of Alan's retirement, he had lapped all but the first six cars! With Jones gone, Regazzoni took over for the second half of the race, topping off the victory - his first since leaving Ferrari in 1976 - with a new lap record of almost 142mph.
The only threat to the Williams team came from Renault, for Jean-Pierre Jabouille qualified second and ran there until his retirement, and an excellent performance from Rene Arnoux gave him second place, comfortably clear of Jean-Pierre Jarier's Tyrrell. In fact, Rene was the only man in the race not lapped by the winner!
Despite a tyre stop, John Watson brought the new McLaren M29 home in a very gratifying fourth place, having overtaken Jody Scheckter's fuel-vapourising, understeering, Ferrari about a mile from the flag. And sixth, pleasingly, went to Jacky Ickx's Ligier.
It was an odd race - and odd weekend altogether. The supremacy of the Williams chassis was almost beyond belief, and Jones looked set to score the most conclusive grand prix victory this year. None of the leading world championship runners were ever in serious contention, for Ferrari, Ligier and Lotus were all distinctly off the pace. Mario Andretti retired from fifth place after only two laps, Jacques Laffite from third at half-distance, and Gilles Villeneuve lost fourth with tyre and vapourisation problems. On the pace in qualifying, both Brabhams were nevertheless out of the race very early, Nelson Piquet spinning and Niki Lauda losing his brakes.
The result apart, it was not a memorable race, not a great grand prix. But it did bring victory for Frank Williams, and, like the Renault win at Dijon, it was clear-cut, the result of superiority and not good fortune. There was tremendous sympathy for Jones, whose race this should have been, but when the cards were dealt on Saturday, the ace went to Clay, and he made no mistake with it. There was no need even to play it...
ENTRY AND PRACTICE
Ferrari struggled at Silverstone © LAT
Strange, is it not, how nothing is constant in Grand Prix racing? More and more, it seems, the only answer is to get all your sums right on a given weekend. Ligier had it right at the beginning of the year, but are currently in the wilderness. Ferrari have been frontrunners consistently since the introduction of the T4 - four Grand Prix wins, no less... or rather they had been frontrunners until they got to Silverstone. On the fast, open, sweeps of the Northamptonshire airfield, Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter were in trouble from the beginning of practice. "No grip," mused an unusually morose Villeneuve, "we've just got no grip."
So was it a Michelin problem? "I think for sure the Goodyear qualifier is better here," Gilles continued, "but our problem is more than that. After all, Renault have exactly the same tyres as us..."
True enough, there was little apparently wrong with the Renaults. From the outset, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Rene Arnoux were among the very quickest, but their weekend of domination came at Dijon the other week. No, at Silverstone, it was the turn of Alan Jones and Frank Williams. For once, the testing times provided an accurate barometer. The Australian had been conclusively quicker here, and he continued the pattern in official practice.
You had no need of a stopwatch to identify the pole man. Five minutes of watching at the entry to Copse or Stowe - or anywhere else on the circuit where the road turned - told the story far more graphically. The Williams was measurably, demonstrably, visibly quicker into, through and out of the turns than anything else in the place, its particular strength its turning-in ability. The sheer adhesion of the car was breathtaking, and drivers unfortunate enough to be driving something else were bemused. John Watson described it perfectly but his remark falls outside the bounds of family reading...
Jones had been round in a 1m12.77s during testing, and that, Frank Williams had been at pains to stress, had been set on control tyres. On qualifiers, Frank had said, who knew what the car might do? Alan did not keep us waiting long. On Thursday afternoon, while all about him worked away at breaking the 1m14s barrier (and there were very few who managed it), he flew round in an unbelievable 1m11.8s, and the question was already settled. Laps at around 1m13s seemed almost a matter of routine for the little white car. For the first time, a Williams would start from the pole.
The day had not started well, however, for during the untimed morning session Jones went off at Copse - "It was just brain fade" - and damaged the skirts and the rear wing. Late in the timed session on Thursday, he 'buzzed' his engine, which, he said, took the edge off it. On Friday, therefore, Alan was somewhat hampered, for the DFV had not been changed overnight. Nevertheless, it was good enough to propel him once again to the top of the lists, albeit with a slower time than on the previous day. On the pole for the first time in his grand prix career, Jones was understandably uptight at the weekend, for the pressure was squarely on him. He had been expected to dominate, and so far it had all gone to plan. "I never want to say I'm confident about winning," he said on Friday afternoon, "but it all seems to be going well at present."
New on the Saudi-backed cars last weekend was an aerodynamic cowling to clean up the airflow around he base of the engine, and it clearly worked well. Fitted only to Jones's car on Thursday, it was also on Clay Regazzoni's the following day. The smiling, relaxed Swiss qualified fourth, and reckoned he might have gone faster still, had it not been for tyre problems in the last session. In no time at all, he said, the left front was blistering. It happened with several sets. Nonetheless, he would start from row two, directly behind Jabouille's Renault and ideally placed to move in behind his team-mate into the first turn. After practice was all over, Gianclaudio was still available around 10/1 and at the betting shops around the track there were many takers.
Elated still from his Dijon victory, Jabouille conceded the Williams's superiority at Silverstone, but thought that the margin might be less pronounced on race day: "I am sure Goodyear have a better qualifying tyre here, but on race tyres it might be different." Jabouille encountered no major problems until the latter stages of the last session when he had to pull off at Stowe with a broken distributor.
In the first timed session, Jabouille was only two-hundredths of a second quicker than Arnoux, but the second Renault was unable to improve on Friday, and finished up fifth. Arnoux had missed virtually the whole of the morning session, the team awaiting the arrival from France of more ceramique for the trailing edge of the skirts.
Joining the two Williams and the two Renaults in the first six were the Brabhams of Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda, the Brazilian quicker yet again than his team leader. On Thursday morning, Lauda's Alfa V12 blew up in a very big way, which brought out the red and yellow flags everywhere, and put Scheckter's Ferrari off the road at Stowe, without hurt to driver or car, fortunately. Thereafter, the Austrian had no major problems, but was unable to improve significantly on the time he set in testing a month ago.
Piquet, on the other hand, was really wound up on Friday afternoon, for a time looking set to start from the front row. In the end, he was pipped by Jabouille, but many had their money riding on him for the race. Nelson gets better with every race. His two days were mainly uneventful, although his car, like Lauda's, had to have cracked exhausts replaced.
McLaren was moving forward again © LAT
For the McLaren M29, it was a very encouraging first appearance, for John Watson qualified seventh, his best grid placing since Argentina, and was happier than for many a day. With very little testing behind it, the car needed all the track time it could find, and Watson was very unlucky to lose nearly all the first untimed session, thanks to a blown engine. "There's no real problem with the car," he reported at the end of practice. "It's still suffering from 'newness', that's all. We tried several tweaks on it on Friday, most of which didn't seem to work, but that was simply because we'd had no other opportunity to try them. There really is a lot more grip from this car than the M28." Watson climbed onto the fourth row quite late in the last session after fitting some of Goodyear's 'D' compound (the very softest) qualifiers. He reckoned they were worth a second over anything else!
Patrick Tambay, of course, was still at the wheel of an M28C - for the last time, he hopes. Although comfortably in the race, the Frenchman was back on the ninth row, 18th overall.
For Watson and his M29, the 'D' compound Goodyears were just the ticket, but Carlos Reutemann found them far less efficacious on a Lotus 79 - a second less so, in fact, than the harder 'C' compounds. Different strokes for different folks, obviously, or for different chassis, anyway. Lotus, as is the current norm, were in trouble during practice. Reutemann had tested at Silverstone a week earlier with gratifying results: suspension revisions at front and rear had worked well, allowing Carlos to get round in 1m13.90s, a second and a half quicker than any previous 79 lap of Silverstone. But while the suspension tweaks had worked admirably with the Goodyears on offer during testing, it was a different matter altogether with those available during official practise and Lole had to work the car through some lurid moments before eventually getting down to 1m13.87s, just a ha'p'orth quicker than in the tests.
Immediately behind Reutemann on the grid was Mario Andretti, this time paying but scant attention to the willful Lotus 80. "There's no point in wasting more time and races on it the way it is at present," said the world champion before practice started. "In Spain it was OK, and at Zolder, any place with slow and medium-speed corners, but it just doesn't want to know about quick ones. Coming up on the schedule, they're all fast tracks. If we were somewhere close with the 80, I'd persist with it in the races, but at the moment there's just no way. In effect, I've been doing all the testing, and Carlos has been finishing all the races. At the moment, the 79 is a better race car, no question about it..."
So, while Bob Evans was busily pounding round Snetterton in the 80/2, Mario concentrated on the older car, briefly trying the original 80 (with high rear wing) on Friday morning during the untimed session, but making no attempt to run it when the watches were running. "The 79 doesn't feel too bad," he remarked at the end of practice. "We can't hack it on the qualifiers, but I believe we'll be in better shape for the race."
As we said earlier, Ferrari were in a similar predicament - only more so. Rarely does one see Scheckter radiantly happy during qualifying, but it was a surprise to see the normally chirpy Villeneuve with a frown on his face. At no stage did the Italian cars look like serious competitors in the British Grand Prix meeting. Despite its previous pace and success, the T4 is not a genuine ground effects car, and Silverstone was the first circuit it had encountered which lacked any of the slow corners to which the flat-12s torque lends itself so well. Villeneuve has always said that the car's superiority over its predecessor was not so much in sheer lateral grip as in its predictability of handling and ability to go easier on its Michelins.
"The cars just aren't balanced here," reported Scheckter, "and we can't make any progress with them." What was the biggest problem? "The biggest problem is that I'm not doing 1m11.8s! No, seriously, it's really bad here. Oversteer, understeer..." Jody had a bad moment during the first untimed session when he arrived at Stowe moments after Lauda had gone through, the Brabham at that point giving a fair impression of the Amoco Cadiz. The Ferrari hit the oil at a daunting speed, and waltzed off the road, Scheckter being fortunate not to hit anything solid.
Scheckter and Villeneuve compare notes © LAT
Villeneuve's grim expression was gone on Saturday morning: "Practice was 'opeless, really. Our quickest qualifiers were only a fifth quicker than our race tyres. I feel better today, and I think we'll be more competitive in the race than in practice. We have to be! It will be important to make a good start, I think, a very good start..." In the last session, when he would have hoped to improve his time, Gilles's oil pressure began to sag, and he had to take the spare car. Scheckter and Villeneuve, the first two in the world championship, would start from rows six and seven, 11th and 13th respectively.
One can only imagine the reaction of the Commendatore upon learning from his minions that the two Maranello representatives had Elio de Angelis's Shadow between them on the grid! Indeed, we may presumably expect a renewed hue and cry from the Italian press that one of their countrymen be drafted into the Ferrari team immediately etc, etc. De Angelis, in fact, did an extremely good job with his DN9B in practice, the car benefiting greatly from revised rear suspension, designed by Trevor Harris.
But there were rumblings of discontent. Only de Angelis's car had been modified, Jan Lammers having to make do with the original set-up. Samson Shag, the Dutchman's sponsors, are said to be less than thrilled with the success of the operation, and there were murmurs in the pits that Lammers would fail to qualify, this enabling the sponsors to invoke the financial penalty clause in the contract, valid in the event of non-qualification. All good clean fun. In the end, Lammers got into his team-mate's car in the last few minutes of practice, and qualified, thereby pushing out Hans Stuck's ATS.
Only three or four races ago, we spoke only in terms of Ferrari or Ligier (or maybe Williams) as possible winners, but last weekend the French team was in little better shape than the Italian. All the early-season advantage has been lost, and this, sadly for Jacques Laffite, has precisely coincided with the absence of Patrick Depailler. In fact, it is almost certainly a matter of coincidence and nothing more. During practice, Gerard Ducarouge frankly admitted that the team had lost its way since Monte Carlo. Much has been changed and modified since the halcyon days of South America, but no chassis has remained in standard trim for purposes of comparison. At present, the team is searching for the original, magic, set-up.
"If I knew what the problem was, I would tell you," commented Laffite, whose familiar grin just about had the upper hand on his disappointment. "All we know is that the car will not turn in as it did." On Friday evening came a breakthrough, the mechanics discovering a tiny amount of play where the steering arm bolts onto the upright. In effect, what had been happening was that a good wrench on the steering wheel was sufficient to destroy the front suspensions settings. Modifications were effected at the Hesketh workshops on Friday night. The cars of both Laffite (10th in practice) and Jacky Ickx (17th) would go much better on race day.
For Keke Rosberg, there was a new Wolf chassis, WR9, as well as WR7 as back-up. The latest car, which has revised rear suspension and outboard rear brakes, was plagued with fuel feed problems on Thursday, and by an elusive misfire the following day, and Keke opted to stick with WR7 for the race.
The two Tyrrells were holding hands yet again, monopolising the eighth row, Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jarier. Neither car looked happy out on the circuit, however, and both men were frequently seen with locked brakes and a good deal of oversteer. Jean-Pierre was a little despondent - "The other teams seem to have made much more progress than us since the start of the year" - but reckoned the blue cars would be more competitive in the race than in the qualifying tyre-dominated squabbles on Thursday and Friday.
Together also were the sheaf of Arrows, Ricardo Patrese ahead of Jochen Mass, unhappily situated on row 10. Both drivers missed nearly half of the first untimed session when their aircraft was unable to land because of the mist at Silverstone, and it was their loss because the cars very obviously need all the testing they can find. During practice they experimented with conventional high rear wings, just as Brabham and Lotus had done before. On Friday afternoon, Patrese went off at Becketts, doing quite a lot of damage to the front of the car, but the mechanics were able to repair it in time for the race.
The new Copersucar F6 (revised version) was still not quite ready for Emerson Fittipaldi to drive, the Brazilian lapping in 1m16.68s with the old F5A - a pretty respectable time for a non-ground effects car. On the back row were Hector Rebaque, who really should have gone quicker with his Lotus 79, and Patrick Gaillard, who brought a smile to Mo Nunn's face by qualifying the Ensign N179 for the first time. The Frenchman's efforts were extremely brave, and he did very well indeed to get down to 1m17.07s, by far the quickest time the car has ever set at Silverstone. The days of practice were fraught for Mo Nunn and his men, however, for Patrick went through the Copse catch fencing in the timed session on Thursday, taking a corner off the car and involving the mechanics in an all-nighter at the factory in Walsall. His qualifying the following day was their due reward.
Arturo Merzario, who has now (for reasons unclear to this writer) purchased the two appalling Kauhsen chassis from their former owner, did very few laps in practice, and failed to qualify, as also did Hans Stuck and the ATS. That was a surprise. Following Gunther Schmid's unfathomable decision to withdraw the car from the French Grand Prix (a move which hurt no one but ATS), Fred Opert has now resigned as team manager, and one can understand why.
An interesting race was in prospect, with warm, dry, weather promised and a record crowd expected. James Hunt or no. If you needed proof positive that Formula 1 alone brings in the crowds these days, you needed to look no further than the incredible queues into the circuit during the late evening of Friday, the extraordinary number of motorhomes and campers lending an air of upstate New York to the Northamptonshire countryside. It was like the Glen with decent weather.
Were the crowds going to see the first British (car, anyway) victory of the year? On paper, it looked like a Williams walk-away, with Renault a serious threat. We began the year with Lotus threatening Ligier, then Ferrari cleaning up, Ligier returning to challenge momentarily, Williams suddenly menacing everyone, Renault in a class of their own. Now, here at home, seemed to be Frank Williams's greatest chance for that first GP win. Renault had won in France. Now we longed to see justice done in England.
THE GRAND PRIX
The race day warm-up brought its usual share of strife. No matter how many hours mechanics have worked, there is always at least one major drama on race morning, and this time there were more than the norm.
After Laffite's Ligier was found to have a fuel leak towards the end of the final practice session, his mechanics had worked all night to prepare the spare JS11 for their team leader, but Jacques found the car hopeless on Saturday morning, and there was no alternative but to set to on the race car again - and the work included a new engine.
Jabouille was quickly back in the pits in the warm-up session, the gearbox playing up. It was changed for the race. And then Gaillard blew up the Cosworth in his Ensign, which meant more last-minute work for the hard-pressed mechanics.
Ensign had a very busy weekend © LAT
Nothing, however, was wrong with the Williams FW07 on pole position. Overnight, the engine had been changed, and Jones went to the grid with the very best development Cosworth available. The Australian was ready.
After every conceivable type of acrobatic display (about the only permutation of man and flying machine untried was someone parachuting out of the middle of the Red Arrows' demonstration), it was time to go and race. There was a great deal of tension in the air, fuelled by forecasts of doom and disaster. Two years ago, at Silverstone, we witnessed the ultimate high-speed procession, where everybody was terribly close, and hardly anyone overtook anyone else throughout the 68 laps. The duel between Villeneuve and Arnoux at Dijon had a great many people very twitchy: overtaking, it seemed, was back, and at Silverstone speeds... well, you never knew, did you?
Although few are privy to the discussions of the Grand Prix Drivers' Safety Committee (which effectively banned Ricardo Patrese from the American Grand Prix last year), it seems that, for the most part, they took a dim view of the Villeneuve-Arnoux scrap, apparently regarding it as wholly irresponsible. Both Scheckter and Watson have condemned it in their magazine columns, and Lauda was very hot on it at the Safety Committee meeting at Silverstone. By contrast, Andretti regarded it as nothing to worry about - "just a couple of young lions clawing each other." It was a subject to which Mario would return before the day was out.
So to the start. A swift glance at the grid was enough to tell you that Regazzoni, directly behind Jabouille, would almost certainly make it past the Frenchman to follow his team leader, Jones, into Copse. Clay is probably the best starter in the business.
This time, however, he excelled himself, getting the revs absolutely right and moving clear of the entire bunch as the field headed into the first turn. Behind the Swiss were Jabouille, Jones, Piquet, Andretti (from row five!) and Arnoux. Further back in the pack, there had been a moment of dissension when de Angelis decided not to wait for the green starting light. By the time the rest moved off, Elio was up with row three and very much in the way of Carlos Reutemann and John Watson. Both men were swamped as the field got away, and de Angelis was penalised a minute.
As the cars streamed down Hangar Straight for the first time, Regazzoni still led, but Jabouille was intent on going by, the Renault powering past as they approached Stowe. And then suddenly Jones, in third place, calmly drove past both of them in a move which took the breath away. The number 27 Williams was at the head of the field - where it had been since the start of practice.
It was immediately clear that Jabouille was going to make Alan work for it. The Renault had gone to the line with softer tyres than those on Arnoux's sister car, and Jones must have been surprised at Jean-Pierre's ability to keep up. The two of them immediately began to go away from Regazzoni, who was equally clear of the two Brabhams behind him.
Towards the end of the first lap, Andretti, in sixth place, stuck the nose of his Lotus inside Lauda's Brabham at the flat-in-top Abbey Curve, and was rudely chopped so that he had to hit the brakes very hard. Even so, Mario's Lotus was hit by the Brabham, allowing Arnoux and Villeneuve to pick him off on the approach to Woodcote. A lap later, Mario was in the pits and climbing out, the Lotus's left rear hub broken. Another unlucky day for the world champion. His remarks about Lauda's tactics suggested that his previously immense respect for the Austrian had been diminished - particularly in light of Lauda's condemnation of the Villeneuve/Arnoux battle.
By then, however, the face of the race had undergone a radical change. At the end of the second lap, Piquet spun his Brabham at Woodcote, the car skating over the chicane island and coming to rest broadside across the exit of the corner. Well aware of the stampede at his heels, Nelson found reverse and banged out the clutch, a piece of commendably quick thinking. But all behind him had braked hard, and the pattern was broken. Jones, Jabouille and Regazzoni were gone, beyond reach.
At the front, Jones was charging round at a truly spectacular rate, lapping at around one-fifteen despite the heavy fuel load. For six or seven laps, Jabouille stayed right with the Williams, but then the gap began to open out dramatically. Already the Renault's soft tyres were beginning to go away. Provided everything hung together, Jones was home free.
Ten lap rundown: Jones, five seconds, Jabouille, seven seconds, Regazzoni, five seconds, Arnoux, three seconds, Villeneuve and Scheckter together, a great squabbling bunch comprising Laffite, Mass (going like hell after a 10th row start!), Rosberg, Pironi, Watson, Jarier and Ickx. Two laps later, Lauda was missing from the maelstrom and making for the pits, his brakes gone. The BT48, Lauda's spare, had gone to the line without its brake ducts, and in a matter of 12 laps the brake fluid boiled. Seventeen minutes into the race, and both Brabhams were out.
A missed gearchange by Villeneuve at the Woodcote chicane enabled Scheckter to gain momentum on his team-mate as they shot down to Copse, the Ferraris changing places as they turned into the corner. This was lap 12, and the Italian cars, although running solidly enough, were clearly being caught by Laffite's Ligier, its handling markedly better than during practice. Jacques had broken away from the group behind, now led by Watson's McLaren M29, which was going splendidly after its delayed start.
Renault's race went downhill from the pitstop onwards © LAT
Jabouille's spirited run began its conclusion at the end of lap 17 when he came in for tyres. The pitstop was disastrous. When Jean-Pierre let out the clutch to leave, the air-hammer hose was still under the front of the car, and the right-hand nose fin was whipped off. A minute and a half later, the Renault was back for a new nosecone, and shortly afterwards it returned with a broken valve spring.
Immediately after the Renault's retirement, de Angelis came into the pits, in response to a black flag. The rear wing mounting was coming apart, and a new one was fitted, as was the Shadow's left front tyre. Already out was Fittipaldi. The timing had slipped on his DFV, and Emerson shut it down before too much damage was done.
The biggest disappointment for the crowd at this point, however, came when Watson peeled off down pitlane at the end of lap 25 with a flat front near-side tyre. It was quickly changed, but John had dropped from ninth to 15th.
In the meantime, Jones and the Williams continued their spectacular pace in the lead. After only 23 laps, Alan was right in among the Rosberg-Reutemann-Mass-Jarier battle, calmly lapping them with extraordinary ease. It is a long, long time since one chassis so completely dominated a race, the Australian able to go into the turns astonishingly deeply, to run virtually any line he chose. By now his lead was well over 20 seconds, but there was no outward sign of letting up. Later, Alan would say that, at 1m14.7s or thereabouts, he really wasn't hurrying the car along. And, right enough, it was almost three seconds off his qualifying pace. Even with comparative dawdling, the Williams was in a race of its own.
Regazzoni was equally comfortable in second place. "I could have gone quicker," he said afterwards, "but there was no point. I knew I couldn't run at Alan's speed, and he was in the same team so I was very happy to be second. Also, I wasn't sure about tyre wear in the race, and I wanted to be sure of finishing." Behind Clay, tout seul, was the smooth and precise Arnoux, well ahead of the two Ferraris, which continued to circulate in tandem, uncompetitive but looking good for some points.
Laffite, however, was closing in on the red cars quite quickly now, and when he caught them, they were swiftly dispatched - on successive laps! The manner in which Jacques passed Scheckter into Copse drew a burst of applause from the crowd, but unhappily the JS11's fine run was nearing its end. Another good drive came to naught when Jochen Mass retired his Arrows with a broken rear suspension link after a very spirited showing, and simultaneously Reutemann rushed in to have his left front tyre changed.
A minute later came real drama. Jones was overdue, then seen making for the pits. For a brief moment, the two Williams - one on the pit road, the other on the track - were side by side. Regazzoni was in the lead, and Jones was in dire trouble. The development Cosworth - which Jabouille described as easily the quickest he had ever followed - had blown up. "A water pump seal failed," reported a glum Patrick Head, "and let some water out, seizing a piston." Alan's majestic drive was at an end. As he jumped up on the pitwall and wiped his face, he was asked how he felt. It was fairly obviously a question he didn't need just then.
After Jones retired, it was down to Regazzoni © LAT
So Clay was in front, and to celebrate the fact he immediately went round in 1m14.40s, the quickest lap of the race. Thereafter, he eased his pace, but even so his race speed reflected an average lap time of fractionally over 1m16s - nearly three seconds faster than the previous record...
On lap 42, it was Laffite's turn to stop, with a misfiring engine. Briefly he returned to the race, but a couple of laps later he was back for good. A faulty plug had caused the problem, which led ultimately to a dropped valve. Four urgently needed championship points were gone.
Rosberg had also looked set for his first points, richly deserved after a really gritty drive up to sixth place, but it was not to be. The Wolf WR7 was in after 43 laps with fuel feed problems, which had similarly afflicted the new WR9 during practice. There was nothing to be done, and the Finn's car was pushed away.
Last Saturday's race was truly dominated by action in the pits rather than on the track. It was busy in there. Villeneuve was the next caller, for four new tyres. The furious Canadian was sent out again on soft Michelins, but fourth had become seventh. And seventh does not pay any points. It seemed only a matter of time before Gilles caught and passed Ickx's Ligier, but after making an impression for three or four laps, the Ferrari began to fall away. A dark streak down the middle of his left front tyre told the story, and Villeneuve was also experiencing fuel vapourisation troubles, which halted him shortly before the end. A miserable end to an already unhappy weekend.
Fifty laps - Regazzoni, Arnoux, Scheckter, Jarier, Watson (catching up superbly after his stop), Ickx. But now it was obvious that the other Ferrari was hobbled. The mechanics prepared themselves for another tyre change, but Jody could live with his worn Michelins. The big problem, he said, was fuel vapourisation, although the car sounded clean enough out of Copse. Despite pressing on as hard as possible, the South African was being hauled in by Jarier, who went past with just six laps left.
Could Watson also catch the stricken Ferrari? There seemed a slim chance, nothing more, but Scheckter really slowed dramatically in the last half dozen laps, and John snatched fourth place at Stowe on the 68th and last.
In the meantime, Regazzoni had taken the flag. After all the years of trying, one of Frank Williams's cars had won a grand prix. And Frank, the most patriotic of men, could have wished for nothing better than victory at Silverstone. It was clear that his delight was tinged with sadness for Jones, but a victory is a victory, and Regazzoni had done a splendid job.
And what of Clay himself? Well, you never saw a happier winner. None of your blase, poker-faced, 'where's the cheque?' mentality from Gianclaudio. The mountain bandit grin was broader than ever. So you'd all written me off as a frontrunner, had you? Well, you've been doing that for years. I can still get the job done, thank you very much. That was what the expression said. And if the man from Lugano was joyful, so was the crowd, whose affection for him was amply demonstrated by their cheering.
Up on the victory float, in front of the Woodcote grandstands Arnoux quietly waited for Clay to make his way through the crowds. It had been another good result for Renault, another excellent drive by Rene, who had driven the last 20 laps with virtually no brakes. Determination had taken Jarier up from 16th on the grid to third at the finish.
Watson was pleased indeed with the McLaren M29's debut, which had brought him fourth place, but there was no smile on his face afterwards. On stepping from the car, his first words were to the effect that "if that's Grand Prix racing, you can keep it." He had, he said, never seen such dangerous driving by so many people in the course of a race. "In the early stages, it was ridiculous in the middle of the pack, people weaving around all over the place and blocking. I'm really unhappy about it."
For Scheckter, there were only two points in the end, but world championships have been won by less, and Jody considered himself quite fortunate to have finished at all. Only nine seconds behind him at the flag, Jacky Ickx drove well in the Ligier, and deservedly took a point from the day.
Fuel consumption at Silverstone is always a marginal thing, and Tambay's very respectable showing in the McLaren M28C ended when he ran out of fuel on the last lap. Indeed, Watson's car stopped on the slowing-down lap with the same affliction...
Reutemann's difficult race ended with eighth place, the Lotus's left skirt torn away by contact with the kerbs. And mention must be made of Gaillard, who finished 13th with the Ensign in his first race of anything like this length, made no mistakes and kept out of the way of quicker cars. A good drive.
The Saudi-Arabian princes flown in to see their cars run had plenty to celebrate, but this could not, of course, take the form usual on these occasions. Alcohol is not allowed, and this extends - when photographers are around - to the drivers. So Clay duly passed on the magnums of Moet et Chandon to Rene and Jean-Pierre, contenting himself with a can of orange. No matter. How had the day been? "Beautiful," he said, "very beautiful."