|Race 15 of 15 in the 1979 Formula One season|
|Date||October 7, 1979|
|Official name||XXII Toyota United States Grand Prix|
|Location||Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course
Watkins Glen, New York
|Course||Permanent road course
5.435 km (3.377 mi)
|Distance||59 laps, 320.67 km (199.24 mi)|
|Time||1:40.054 on lap 51|
The 1979 United States Grand Prix was a Formula One race held on October 7, 1979 at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course in Watkins Glen, New York. This event was also referred to as the United States Grand Prix East in order to distinguish it from the United States Grand Prix West held on April 8, 1979 in Long Beach, California.
This was the final Formula One race for the 1969 and 1970 championship runner-up Jacky Ickx.
By the time the teams got to Watkins Glen for the last race of the 1979 season, Jody Scheckter and his Ferrari team had already clinched the Driver's and Constructor's championships. It would be the South African's only title. The show at The Glen was stolen, however, by Scheckter's Canadian teammate, the legendary Gilles Villeneuve. He cruised to victory by a comfortable margin on the rainy track, and took second in the Championship.
On Friday, the rain was heavy enough all day that only a few cars even took the track, and fewer still made any serious attempt at a lap time. Of the six that did actually record a time, Villeneuve was fastest by over nine seconds! Scheckter, second fastest, thought he was mad, but was also quite in awe of the Canadian's performance in the conditions.
When Saturday started bright and sunny, however, it was clear Friday's times were out the window. Alan Jones topped the charts in his Williams for the entire session, setting and resetting the standard everyone else was chasing. He ended up 1.3 seconds quicker than the Brabham of Brazilian Nelson Piquet, who gained the front row in his first drive at Watkins Glen. The new World Champion, Scheckter, had trouble with the engine in his race car and traffic with his spare and ended up sixteenth, one spot ahead of American favorite and the previous Champion, Mario Andretti.
The forecast for Sunday was a fifty percent chance of rain. About twenty minutes before the start, the rain came. Just enough to make the track quite wet and cause all but two of the cars to start with rain tires. The two were Nelson Piquet, oddly risking the benefit of his excellent starting position, and Mario Andretti, who, in seventeenth spot on the grid, had nothing to lose by the gamble.
For the conditions, the start was excellent, though Piquet suffered with wheelspin on his slicks and was left behind. Scheckter played it safe, he thought, by taking an outside line through turn one, but he got pushed onto the grass and had to wait for the entire field to go by before re-entering. Keke Rosberg spun and recovered, but he forced Bruno Giacomelli off behind him and into retirement with a bent steering arm. After one lap, the order was Villeneuve, Jones, Carlos Reutemann, Jacques Laffite, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Clay Regazzoni, René Arnoux, Didier Pironi, John Watson and Jean-Pierre Jarier. After two laps, Villeneuve had extended his lead to five seconds.
By lap three, Jacky Ickx, in his last Grand Prix, had moved his Ligier from 24th to twelfth. As he closed on Derek Daly's Tyrrell approaching the turn before the pit entrance, however, he bumped Daly from behind and went off. His teammate, Jacques Laffite, running in fifth place, spun off on the next lap in exactly the same place! Reutemann crashed out on lap seven from third place when his fire extinguisher sensing unit came loose and interfered with his pedals. The other Lotus, driven by Andretti, decided his gamble to start on slicks had not worked and pitted for wets, since it was still raining. He returned in 20th, but retired soon after when his gearbox became permanently lodged in fourth.
The gap between Villeneuve and Jones varied, with Regazzoni quite a bit back in third. When the rain became heavier, the Ferrari's Michelins performed better; when it slacked off, the intermediate surface favored the Goodyears on the Williams. On lap 20, Scheckter, now in third after fighting his way back from last place, pitted for slicks, as did Regazzoni. Scheckter later said that it was still too early, as he began sliding around down the straight, but the lap time comparison with Villeneuve helped the Ferrari crew to decide when to bring Gilles in!
On lap 21, Rosberg caught up with Pironi and tried to overtake on the inside. He could not hold his line, and when he slid wide, he took the Tyrrell with him. Pironi was able to continue, but, while Rosberg made it back to the pits, he retired there with a damaged gearbox. Beginning on lap 25, most of the cars came in for slicks, except the three leaders, Villeneuve, Jones and Arnoux. As the circuit continued to dry, Jones cut into Villeneuve's lead, now taking off two seconds per lap. By lap 31, Jones was on his tail, and then quickly past. In two laps, he was 3.1 seconds clear. Villeneuve came in to change tires on lap 34, and returned 39.5 seconds behind Jones.
The Williams crew prepared to fit Jones' car with slicks as he came in on lap 37. After some difficulty removing the right rear, it seemed all was well, and the racing manager, in front of the car, waved the jacks away and the car out. As the mechanic on the right rear shouted and waved that he was not finished, the car sped from the pits. At the beginning of the back straight, the wheel came off and Jones pulled over, beside the track and beside himself with anger.
Villeneuve now led Scheckter by almost a lap. Arnoux lost two positions, to fifth, when he pitted for tires, but regained third place, ahead of Daly and Pironi, in just two laps. On lap 48, Scheckter felt his car floating about and thought he had a puncture. He decided to go one more lap, but never made it back. The tire shredded and he retired, leaving only nine cars still running. 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 just five laps from the flag.
Villeneuve coasted home, allowing Elio de Angelis and Hans-Joachim Stuck to unlap themselves, but finishing with a 48-second margin over Arnoux. Later, Villeneuve revealed that he had been nursing the car with failing oil pressure for the final 25 laps. The American Shadow team celebrated de Angelis' fourth place, his only points of the year. The win by Villeneuve was his third, matching champion Scheckter's total, securing a one-two finish in the driver's championship and a fitting climax to a glorious year for Ferrari.
Standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings. Only the best 4 results from the first 7 races and the best 4 results from the last 8 races counted towards the Drivers' Championship. Numbers without parentheses are Championship points; numbers in parentheses are total points scored.
- Rob Walker (January, 1980). "21st United States Grand Prix: Muddier Matters". Road & Track, 104-107.
1979 Canadian Grand Prix
|FIA Formula One World Championship
1980 Argentine Grand Prix
1978 United States Grand Prix
|United States Grand Prix||Next race:
1980 United States Grand Prix
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