The 1979 Race of Champions was a non-championship Formula One race, held on the 15th of April at Brands Hatch. The race, which consisted of entrants from both the Formula One World Championship and British F1 Series, was won by Gilles Villeneuve for Ferrari, having fought back from an early mistake to pass Mario Andretti in the closing stages.
The 1979 edition of the Race of Champions was also expected to be the last (to compete under F1 regulations at least), with the race not scheduled in 1980. Yet, the Race of Champions did appear on the calendar once more, this time in 1983. Keke Rosberg claimed what became the last Race of Champions and non-championship F1 victory.
With the field returning to Europe a week after the 1979 United States Grand Prix West, many teams were not able to attend the Race of Champions at the Kent circuit, with both cars and personnel still in transit. As such, only seven cars were entered from the World Championship, although the entry list did include championship leader Gilles Villeneuve (fresh from his victory in the States). His Ferrari was joined by two brand new Brabham BT48s (for Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet) and a Lotus 80 for Mario Andretti (although he would only try the new Team Lotus creation in qualifying).
With Elio de Angelis (Shadow), Jochen Mass (Arrows) and John Watson (McLaren) the only other entrants, the organisers were forced to allow the British Formula One Series cars (which were originally to compete in a support role for the race) into the Race of Champions. This gave the British F1 Series an opportunity to advertise itself (as well as it's talent) on a bigger stage, with several past and future F1 names, such as Rupert Keegan and even motorcycle legend Giacomo Agostini, allowed to compete against some of the best names in the business.
The table below displays information about the entrants in the 1979 Race of Champions. Bold information indicates an entrant in the 1979 Formuia One World Championship.
As was, rather predictable, with new equipment and experience at the top level of motorsport, the seven F1 drivers took the first seven places on the grid. Andretti took pole with the new Lotus 80, although he opted to switch back to the Lotus 79 for the race (a move that had already been cleared with the organisers), with Lauda pushing the new Brabham into second alongside him. Villeneuve claimed third ahead of the second BT48 of Piquet, while Mass claimed fifth ahead of de Angelis and Watson.
Of the British F1 cars, Keegan was the biggest pusher, taking ninth (eighth place was left empty to separate the two sets of cars) ahead of Desiré Wilson. Former F1 driver Guy Edwards was next up in eleventh, while other highlights included Agositini in sixteenth (beaten by promising rookie Tiff Needell in fifteenth), while Gerd Blechteler was the only man whom failed to qualify.
|1||1||Mario Andretti||Lotus-Ford Cosworth|
|2||5||Niki Lauda||Brabham-Alfa Romeo|
|4||6||Nelson Piquet||Brabham-Alfa Romeo|
|5||30||Jochen Mass||Arrows-Ford Cosworth|
|6||18||Elio de Angelis||Shadow-Ford Cosworth|
|7||7||John Watson||McLaren-Ford Cosworth|
|9||Rupert Keegan||Arrows-Ford Cosworth|
|10||Desiré Wilson||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth|
|11||Guy Edwards||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth|
|12||Emilio de Villota||Lotus-Ford Cosworth|
|13||Dave Kennedy||Theodore-Ford Cosworth|
|14||Phillip Bullman||Surtees-Ford Cosworth|
|15||Tiff Needell||Chevron-Ford Cosworth|
|16||Giacomo Agostini||Williams-Ford Cosworth|
|17||Gordon Smiley||Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth|
|18||Bernard de Dryver||Fittipaldi-Ford Cosworth|
|19||Val Musetti||March-Ford Cosworth|
|20||Robin Smith||Ensign-Ford Cosworth|
|DNQ||Gerd Biechteler||March-Ford Cosworth|
- * Bold indicates entrants in the 1979 Formula One World Championship season.
- † Eighth place was not awarded to keep the World Championship and British Championship cars separate at the start.
With Brabham only expecting to use the race as a test session for their new car, and Gilles Villeneuve in impressive form, it was expected that the Canadian would take an easy victory, with his only real challenger in the form of Mario Andretti. Interest would also lay in the British Formula One series drivers, and whether they could keep up with the World Championship cars over the fourty lap race. Dave Kennedy was the only man not to start, suffering a gearbox failure on his way to the grid.
A poor start for Andretti saw him slip to third, as Niki Lauda swung around the American to take the lead, beating Villeneuve into the Paddock Hill Bend. Nelson Piquet quickly got onto the back of the Lotus, while Lauda began to build a small lead over the trio. By lap eight, however, the trio caught up to the leading Brabham, with the quartet now battling at every turn for the lead. Their battle would only last a lap, however, as Lauda came into the pits for minor maintainence, with Piquet following him in a few laps later.
Villeneuve inherited the lead, although Andretti remained on his gearbox, putting pressure on the Ferrari for the lead. The pressure proved too much for Villeneuve, as he ran wide at Hawthorn on the eleventh lap, allowing Andretti to pass. Jochen Mass was also showing his pace, as through the Brabham stops and lead squabbles, he had pushed the Arrows into a comfortable third place.
On lap eighteen the only British interest (from the World Championship perspective) fell, as John Watson suffered a gearbox failure, while the British F1 cars battled over seventh place, Guy Edwards and Rupert Keegan leading the group. Meanwhile, the order at the front of the race remained the same, although the Brabhams were slowly drawing in Mass' Arrows. Villeneuve was also pushing hard, slowly closing the four second gap that his mistake had given Andretti.
With fourteen laps to go, Villeneuve made his move, sweeping inside the Lotus through Paddock Hill Bend, before completing his move at Druids. Andretti lacked a response, and soon fell into the hands of Piquet, whom took Mass at around the same time as Villeneuve took the lead. With a few laps to go, the Brazilian was second, with Andretti continuing to fall away, although the chequered flag dropped before Mass could catch him. For Villeneuve, the victory was his second in a week and first at Brands Hatch, while Piquet and Lauda (whom finished fifth) showed that the new Brabham would be a force to be reckoned with.
But what of the British Formula One series cars? Well Keegan, whom had dominated the pack, taking Guy Edwards with him, fell away with just five laps to go with an engine failure. This handed victory to Edwards, whom kept the final World Championship car of Elio de Angelis in sight for most of the race.
- * Bold indicates entrants in the 1979 Formula One World Championship.
- Last edition of the Race of Champions until 1983.
- First time that the British Formula One Series had raced against Formula One World Championship cars.
- First race for the Brabham BT48.
|Race of Champions|
|Circuits||Brands Hatch (1965 - 1983)|
|Races||1965 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1979 • 1983|
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