On this day in 1979, Ferrari 312 T4 Victory at the US Grand Prix East
On this day in 1979, Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course hosted the XXII Toyota United States Grand Prix, also known as the US Grand Prix East. The fifteenth and final race of the 1979 Formula 1 season, by the time the teams got to Watkins Glen, Jody Scheckter and Scuderia Ferrari had already clinched the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship double. The main event became the duel for the runner-up position between Scheckter’s teammate Gilles Villeneuve or Williams-Ford’s Alan Jones. It was a rain-soaked and incident-filled occasion, with only seven cars from the original twenty-four car grid reaching the chequered flag.
After heavy rain all but cancelled practice on the Friday, Saturday started bright and sunny allowing for a quick qualifying session. Jones took first blood, qualifying 1.3 seconds ahead of Brabham’s Nelson Piquet and Villeneuve. Scheckter could only qualify sixteenth after suffering engine issues and having to use the team’s spare car. Come race day, conditions were treacherous, and the rain and wind began again in earnest just twenty minutes before the race start. Villeneuve started powerfully, blasting through to take the lead at the first corner. Scheckter took an outside line through turn one but was pushed wide onto the grass and had to watch the entire field pass him by before re-joining. Keke Rosberg, of Wolf, spun and recovered, but forced Bruno Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo into retirement with a bent steering arm in the process. After two laps, Villeneuve had extended his lead to five seconds.
Jacky Ickx, in his final Grand Prix, spun off on lap 3 after a tangle with Derek Daly’s Tyrrell, and his teammate Laffite compounded Ligier's misery by also spinning off just one lap later at the fast turn eleven. Lotus driver Carlos Reutemann crashed out on lap 7 from third place when his fire extinguisher sensing unit came loose and interfered with his pedals. The other Lotus, driven by Mario Andretti, soon joined the Argentine on lap 16, when its gearbox became permanently lodged in fourth. Jean-Pierre Jarier crashed his Tyrrell soon after, before compatriot Patrick Tambay’s McLaren retired with engine issues. On lap 21, Rosberg retired with damaged gearbox after a failed overtake on Tyrrell racer Didier Pironi saw him leave the track. Renault’s Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Brabham’s Ricardo Zunino became the latest retirees on laps 24 and 25 after more reliability issues affect the former and the latter spun off the track.
By lap 25, most of the remaining cars had pitted for slick tyres, except the three leaders, Villeneuve, Jones and Renault’s René Arnoux. As the circuit continued to dry, Jones cut into Villeneuve's lead, taking off two seconds per lap. Clay Regazzoni, in the sister Williams, crashed on lap 29, before more engine trouble retired the Ensign of Marc Surer. On lap 31, Jones pounced, quickly zipping past the Canadian and rapidly increasing the gap. In just two laps, he was 3.1 seconds clear. Villeneuve came in to change tires on lap 34, and returned 39.5 seconds behind Jones. Williams looked to respond but, during the pit stop, the racing manager waved away the jacks before the right rear tyre was fixed and Jones sped from the pits with a loose wheel. At the beginning of the back straight, the wheel rather unsurprisingly came off and Jones retired.
The Arrows car of Riccardo Patrese was next to fall, as suspension issues forced his retirement on lap 44. Villeneuve’s advantage was now almost a lap over his Ferrari teammate Scheckter who had manoeuvred himself back into contention. By lap 48, the new World Champion suspected he may have a puncture but decided push on for one more lap – a gamble that backfired spectacularly. His trye shredded and he retired, becoming the fifteenth retirement of the race. Just a few laps later, Daly spun off from fourth and Piquet, after setting fastest lap of the race in pursuit of John Watson's McLaren, dropped out with a broken driveshaft five laps from the flag.
Villeneuve coasted home for his third victory of the season, ultimately finishing with a 48-second margin over Arnoux. Later, Villeneuve would reveal that he had been nursing the car with failing oil pressure for the final 25 laps of the race. The win by Villeneuve secured Ferrari a one-two finish in the Drivers' Championship. It was to be Ferrari’s last Drivers’ Championship win for twenty-one years, until Michael Schumacher’s reign of supremacy began three decades later.
Ferrari 312 T4 at 1:8 scale
A further iteration of the hugely successful 312 T chassis that had already secured three Constructors’ titles and two Driver’s Championships in the last four years, the Ferrari 312 T4 was Ferrari’s entry for most of the 1979 Formula 1 season. The 312 T4 was Ferrari’s first ground effect Formula 1 car and was designed in response to the revolutionary Lotus cars which stole Ferrari’s crown in 1978. Based heavily on the previous 312 T3, the T4 was, in many respects, a compromise, given that the T series of cars had not been designed with ground effects in mind.
The 312 T4 replaced its predecessor after the first two races of the season, at the South African Grand Prix, by which Ferrari had secured just three points. The strength of the Ferrari chassis was clear immediately, as Villeneuve headed a 1-2 victory, before the duo repeated that feat in the US West Grand Prix a month later. Ferrari would win four more races that season, in Belgium, Monaco, another 1-2 in their home race in Italy, and the final race of the season in the US East Grand Prix. Overall the Ferrari 312 T4 claimed six race victories, a further seven podiums, five fastest laps and two pole positions, earning 110 points (3 points were earned by the 312 T3 chassis) and claiming the Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ Championship.
1:8 scale models of the Ferrari 312 T4 are available to purchase now. Contact our sales team for more information.
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