THOROUGHBRED GP CARS: 1978
This ex Vittorio Brambilla car was
the last Surtees to compete in Grand Prix racing. Although the design was very aerodynamic
and well-engineered it lacked the ground-effect that was successfully introduced by Lotus.
That, lack of funds, tire problems and the poor health of John Surtees added up to the
withdrawal of Team Surtees from racing and the closing of the factory at the end of 1978.
John Surtees, a famous racecar and motorcycle driver, started racing car production in 1969 by adopting a Len Terry F5000 design which became the Surtees TS5 (four motorcycle projects preceeded this car). Before that he modified some Lola Can-Am cars for his own Team Surtees. In 1970 the new Surtees factory in Edenbridge produced its first F1 car, the TS7. Although Surtees' cars were successful in F5000 and F2, they could never make their mark on F1.
The FW06 marked the upturn for
Frank Williams in Grand Prix racing. It's the first Williams designed by Patrick Head and
its very sleek and arrow-like body, its lightness and the driving of Alan Jones (just one
car was entered) got Williams noticed as a constructor to be reckoned with. It didn't have
ground-effect, but the sound design of the car made up for it. Its best placing was a
second in the US Grand Prix in 1978. The FW06 was introduced in 1977 and was entered up to
the 1979 season, when it was replaced by the FW07 ground-effect car that won Williams'
first two (successive) world championships.
The introduction of the major sponsors Saudia and TAG at the end of 1977 proved to be the key to success for Frank Williams. His first cars were run on a tight budget and were no front runners to say the least. The FW01 to FW03 (1973-74) types were entered as ISO-Marlboros, the FW04 (1975) was the first "real" Williams and finished second place in the German GP (driven by Jacques Laffite) by sheer luck and the FW05 (1976) was a rebadged Hesketh 308C. In 1977 the Williams team entered March 761Bs without mentionable results.
Ground-effect or "wing cars" were introduced in F1 by Lotus in 1977
with the 78 (also known as the JPS MkIII). The sidepods of this type contained
"inverted wings" which caused a difference in air flow between the streams in
and under the sidepods that sucked the car to the track. In theory a wing car at speed
could drive upside down on a ceiling due to this suction.
Cars with ground-effect had much better roadholding than those without and that resulted in higher top speeds on the straights and less breaking and higher cornering speeds. To use ground-effect to its full advantage the track had to be smooth and suspension movement had to be minimal. To keep the vacuum under the car rigid sliding side-skirts were used that extended from the sidepods down to the track. These skirts had to slide because they wore off as they actually hit the track.
In 1977 Mario Andretti won four
races in the 78 and Gunnar Nilsson one, but both the drivers and the constructors
championship eluded Lotus. Nikki Lauda and his powerful Ferrari 312T2 won the titles that
In 1978 the shoe was on the other foot. Lotus became dominant and during the season the 78 was replaced by the 79 (JPS MkIV), a refined and even more elegant 78, in which Mario Andretti became world champion and Lotus won the constructors championship. Like most cars these Lotuses were powered by Cosworth DFVs.
The 78 was designed by Ralph Bellamy, Martin Ogilvie and aerodynamicist Peter Wright, but as usual sketches and principles came from Colin Chapman. On a sad note the 78 was also the car Ronnie Peterson lost his life in (in 1979 when he had to run it as an replacement car to his damaged 79).
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