1978 Formula One season
FIA Formula One World Championship season
|Races by country • Races by season|
The 1978 Formula One season included the 29th FIA Formula One World Championship which commenced on January 15, 1978, and ended on October 8 after sixteen races. Mario Andretti was the season Champion and the last American to date to win a Formula One race. There was also one non-Championship race in 1978, the XXX BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone, the last time that this formerly famous event was run to F1 rules. The race was won by future Champion Keke Rosberg, driving in only his second ever Formula 1 event. The season will also be remembered for the death of Ronnie Peterson, who would finish second in the Championship standings despite a fatal first lap accident at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix.
Drivers and constructors 
The 1978 season started in Argentina, where Mario Andretti took pole in his Lotus, with Carlos Reutemann's Ferrari joining him on the front row and Ronnie Peterson in the other Lotus third on the grid. The start was uneventful, with Andretti and Reutemann easily keeping first and second, with John Watson in the Brabham taking third from Peterson. Watson took second from Reutemann on the seventh lap, but Andretti was uncatchable. Reutemann ran third for a while, but then began to drop down the order, and so reigning world champion Niki Lauda took third in his Brabham, which became second with ten laps left when Watson's engine blew up. Andretti motored on to a crushing victory, with Lauda second and Patrick Depailler's Tyrrell taking the final spot on the podium.
Brazil was the country where the drivers traveled to for the second round of the season, and it was Peterson on pole with James Hunt driving for McLaren beating Andretti to second. At the start, it was Reutemann who beat the trio into the first corner, with Hunt and Andretti following, as Peterson got a bad start. Hunt ran second until he had to pit for tyres, as a result Andretti took the place until late in the race when he suffered gearbox issues. Reutemann was never headed at the front and went to win comfortably, with double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi in his brother's team finishing second, and Lauda third, with both overhauling an ailing Andretti towards the end.
After a long break, the season resumed in South Africa, where defending champion Lauda took his first pole for Brabham with Andretti alongside and Hunt next. Andretti took the lead at the start, and set about building a gap, whereas Lauda dropped behind Jody Scheckter's Wolf. Young Italian Riccardo Patrese was on a charge in the Arrows, passing Lauda for third after 20 laps. As the race went on, both Andretti and Scheckter began to suffer from tyre issues and were passed by Patrese. Depailler was up to second ahead of Lauda, but the latter's engine failed handing third to Andretti. Patrese however, seemed to have the race in his pocket until his engine failed, and Depailler took the lead but his Tyrrell began to trail smoke. Andretti was up to second but he had to pit for fuel, and thus his teammate Peterson took the place before catching and passing Depailler on the last lap to win after some wheel-banging. Watson completed the podium.
The next race was in the famous Long Beach circuit in the US, and the Ferraris dominated qualifying, with Reutemann taking pole ahead of teammate Gilles Villeneuve, with defending champion Lauda and home hero Andretti on the second row. When the race started, Watson in fifth late-braked all into turn one, through he ran wide and Villeneuve took the lead, whereas Reutemann dropped down to fourth behind Lauda. The Ferraris, with the two Brabhams in between ran together until Watson's engine failed. Alan Jones's Williams was up to fourth and closed in on the now lead trio, which became a duo when Lauda went out with an electrical failure. Villeneuve and Reutemann ran 1-2 with Jones putting both under pressure, before Villeneuve also retired after colliding with a backmarker. Jones then suffered from fuel pressure problems and began to drop back, handing second to Andretti to the fans delight. The rest of the race passed without incident, and with all challengers out of contention, Reutemann won comfortably ahead of Andretti and Depailler.
Round five took place in Monaco, and once again Reutemann started on pole with the Brabham duo of Watson and Lauda second and third. Watson had a good start and led into the first corner, whereas Reutemann collided with Hunt and had to pit for repairs, which left Depailler and Lauda second and third. For the first half of the race, the top three remained the same until Watson had an off allowing Depailler and Lauda through, but the latter then suffered a puncture and had to pit for tyres before charging back up and retaking second from Watson towards the end of the race. At the front, Depailler took his first career victory with Lauda second, and Scheckter third after Watson made another mistake in the final laps.
The main news before the Belgian GP was that the new Lotus 79 is now ready to race, and immediately Andretti showed its pace by taking pole comfortably from Reutemann and Lauda. He converted it to a first-corner lead, whereas Reutemann had a bad start and got swamped by the field, causing a chain reaction in which Lauda was hit by Scheckter and had to retire. This left Villeneuve second and Peterson third but neither could keep pace with Andretti who was able to drive away.
The first 40 laps went without incident until Villeneuve suffered a puncture and had to pit which dropped him back down to fifth, and a few laps later Peterson also pitted for new tyres leaving the charging Reutemann second ahead of Jacques Laffite's Ligier. Peterson on the new tyres was much quicker and was able to pass them both in the closing stages, and Laffite made an attempt to pass Reutemann on the last lap but they collided and Laffite was out. Andretti cruised to an untroubled victory, with Peterson making it a Lotus 1-2, and Reutemann completing the podium.
The next race was in Spain and once again the new Lotus 79 demonstrated its speed, with Andretti on pole again with Peterson alongside, and Reutemann having to settle for the second row. It was Hunt who got a great start, and he led into the first corner from Andretti and Reutemann, with Peterson dropping all the way back to ninth. Hunt led for seven laps before Andretti passed him and pulled away. Reutemann ran third until he had to pit for tyres, and so Watson inherited third until he was passed by Laffite, but soon the recovering Peterson passed both of them. Hunt now suffered from tyre problems and he also began to drop back, and so Peterson was able to take second and Laffite third. That was how it stayed to the end, Andretti winning from Peterson in another Lotus 1-2, and Laffite getting the final spot on the podium.
Before the Swedish GP, the Brabham team had developed a new "fan car" much to the indignation of the other teams, but the FIA allowed it to race. However, it did not stop Andretti from continuing his run of poles, but it was able to get Watson to qualify second and Lauda third. When the race started, Andretti led into the first corner, with Lauda getting second from his teammate. Riccardo Patrese got up to third in his Arrows until he was passed by home driver Peterson, but by then Andretti and Lauda had escaped. Peterson began to struggle with a slow puncture, whereas Andretti and Lauda battled with Andretti making a mistake just after mid-distance allowing Lauda to take the lead. Lauda went on to win the race, his first for Brabham after Andretti's challenge ended due to an engine failure, which left Patrese and Peterson to take second and third.
After the race, the "fan car" was declared illegal, but since Brabham were allowed to race with it for Sweden, Lauda's win stood but they had to revert back to their previous car from the next race onwards.
Brabham were forced to revert back to their previous car again, but it did not deter them, with Watson on pole and Lauda starting third behind Andretti. At the start, Watson led into the first corner, with Andretti following, and Patrick Tambay putting his McLaren in third, but that order did not remain for long as Andretti took the lead from Watson on the first lap. Lauda and Peterson were on the move as well, as they passed Watson and Tambay to jump into second and third, but Lauda suffered another engine failure. This left the two Lotus cars running 1-2 and they finished like that with Andretti taking his third win in four races, and the podium was completed by Hunt who passed Watson mid-race.
The field went to Britain for the next round, and this time it was Peterson who beat Andretti to pole, as Lotus took the front row, with Scheckter next up on the second row. Andretti took the lead at the start from Peterson, and the two Lotus cars quickly pulled out a gap until Peterson retired with an engine failure. Andretti had a big lead to Scheckter and continued to extend it until he had to pit with a puncture, and he eventually retired when his engine also failed. Scheckter inherited the lead, but Lauda put him under pressure and took the lead before Scheckter went out with gearbox problems. This put Reutemann up to second, and he then closed down and passed Lauda in the late stages of the race to win. Lauda had to settle for second, and his teammate Watson took a podium in his home race.
The West German race was next on the calendar, and there were no surprises in qualifying, with Andretti on pole and Peterson alongside him, with Lauda third. At the start, Peterson got off better and took the lead from Andretti, but he held it for only four laps before Andretti retook it. Lauda ran third in the early stages but he was passed by Alan Jones, and the duo battled until Lauda's engine failed yet again. The two Lotus cars were cruising at the front and Jones ran third comfortably until he retired with a fuel vaporization problem. Lotus's hopes of a 1-2 ended when Peterson's gearbox failed, but Andretti was unaffected by that and cruised to his fifth win of the season, with Scheckter second and Laffite third.
The crowds for the Austrian GP were full of Lauda fans; but however for them Lauda qualified only 12th as the Lotus cars again took the front row, with Peterson on pole. The surprise in qualifying was Jean-Pierre Jabouille who qualified his turbocharged Renault third. The start saw Peterson lead into the first corner, with Reutemann snatching second from Andretti. Andretti tried to get the place back later in the lap, but the two collided and Andretti retired after his car spun into the barriers while Reutemann lost a couple of places to Patrick Depailler and Scheckter. On the fourth lap, a heavy rainshower hit the track and Reutemann spun off and was beached but the marshals push-started his car as it was in a dangerous position, while Scheckter crashed out, and the race was stopped.
The race restarted after the rain relented, and once again Peterson led followed by Depailler and Lauda. As the track began to dry, Peterson started to pull away, and behind, Reutemann was on a charge and passed Lauda for third but he was black-flagged for receiving outside assistance, and Lauda crashed out soon after, leaving Gilles Villeneuve third. The drivers changed to slicks but the top 3 remained the same and stayed so till the end; Peterson winning ahead of Depailler, with Villeneuve taking his first ever podium.
The drivers went to the Netherlands for the next race, and qualifying was as expected, Andretti taking pole with Peterson alongside in the all-Lotus front row, and Lauda heading the second row. At the start, Andretti led with Peterson following, whereas Lauda was challenged by Jacques Laffite. The Lotus cars quickly built up a good gap, while Laffite challenged Lauda early on but then began to drop down the order with tyre issues. The race was quite uneventful, and Andretti went to take victory, with Peterson completing another Lotus 1-2 leaving Lauda to take third.
The Italian race was host to round fourteen, and as usual Andretti took pole with Gilles Villeneuve pleasing the Ferrari fans by qualifying second, ahead of Jabouille's turbocharged Renault. When the race started, Andretti and Villeneuve got away comfortably with Lauda and Jabouille following, but the rest of the field was bunched up.
Riccardo Patrese's Arrows was pushed to the grass, and as he rejoined, James Hunt veered left and hit Peterson, who spun off into the barriers, whereas up to seven other cars were collected, including Reutemann, Depailler, and Clay Regazzoni. Peterson's car broke in two on impact with the barriers and caught fire, and Vittorio Brambilla who was in the Surtees was hit on the head by a flying wheel. Peterson and Brambilla were taken to hospital, the former with a broken leg, and there was concern for the latter who was unconscious after being hit by the wheel. The rest of the drivers were uninjured, and most of them were able to take the restart.
The race restarted almost four hours after the original start. Again there was confusion as the front-row starters Andretti and Villeneue went too early, but the rest of the field did not follow and both Andretti and Villeneuve were handed one minute time penalties as a result. On the track, Villeneuve led ahead of Andretti and Jabouille, until Jabouille retired handing third place on the track to Lauda. His teammate Watson battled with Reutemann and Laffite, and eventually was able to pull away. The battle on the track was between Villeneuve and Andretti, with the Lotus driver passing Villeneuve with five laps left. Andretti crossed the line first, with Villeneuve close behind, but when their one-minute penalties were added, it was Lauda who emerged the victor ahead of Watson and Reutemann.
In hospital, Peterson had a clot forming in his blood stream after undergoing an operation on his legs, and slipped into a coma overnight, and died the next morning. This made Andretti the world champion, although he did not celebrate it, and mourned for Peterson along with his fellow drivers. Brambilla was able to recover from his injuries.
The penultimate round of the season was in the US, and Lotus had hired Jean-Pierre Jarier to replace Peterson, and Patrese was unable to race because the Grand Prix Drivers Association had deemed him responsible for the accident which ultimately killed Peterson.
New World Champion and home hero Andretti was shaken up more than most drivers due to Peterson's death, but it did not stop him from romping to pole ahead of Reutemann, with Alan Jones's Williams heading the second row. Andretti kept the lead at the start, with Reutemann and Villeneuve following, ahead of Jones. Andretti however was suffering from an ill-handling car which also had brake troubles, and was soon passed by both Reutemann and Villeneuve, and later Jones. Reutemann and Villeneuve ran 1-2 for Ferrari, until Villeneuve's engine blew up. This left Jones second and Andretti third, but Andretti's engine blew up, handing third to Lauda until he too suffered the same fate, thus leaving Scheckter third before here was passed by a charging Jarier, however Jarier ran out of fuel with four laps left, giving the place back to Scheckter. Reutemann took a comfortable win from Jones, with Scheckter completing the podium.
The season finished off in Canada, and in qualifying it was Jarier who starred, by qualifying on pole ahead of Scheckter and home hero Villeneuve. Jarier was able to easily lead into the first corner, with Jones jumping up to second after a brilliant start, also dropping Scheckter down to third. As Jarier began to pull away, Jones suffered a slow puncture, and dropped down the field as the race progressed, promoting Scheckter to second and Villeneuve to third, and then Villeneuve passed Scheckter mid-race to take second. Jarier continued to dominate until he retired with an oil leak, leaving Villeneuve to take his first career win in his home race ahead of Scheckter, with Reutemann taking third.
Season review 
1978 Drivers Championship final standings 
Drivers Championship points were awarded on a 9-6-4-3-2-1 basis to the top six placegetters in each round. The best seven results from the first eight races and the best seven results from the remaining eight races were retained.
1978 Constructors Championship final standings 
Constructors points were awarded on a 9-6-4-3-2-1 basis to the top six placegetters in each round with only the best placed car from each constructor eligible to score points. The best seven results from the first eight races and the best seven results from the remaining eight races were retained.
Non-Championship race results 
Another Formula One race was also held in 1978, which did not count towards the World Championship.
|Race Name||Circuit||Date||Winning driver||Constructor||Report|
|XXX BRDC International Trophy||Silverstone||March 19||Keke Rosberg||Theodore-Cosworth||Report|
- Mike Kettlewell, The Champion Book of World Championship Facts & Figures, 1982, Page 34
- Automobile Year, 1978/79, Page 236
- Mike Kettlewell, The Champion Book of World Championship Facts & Figures, 1982, Page 40
- 1978 World Championship race classifications and images at f1-facts.com
- Video F1-Season 1978 & Driver Portraits