Triumph and tragedy for Lotus
Mario Andretti won the title after a brilliant run with Chapman's wonderful Lotus 79. But it was a year of mixed feelings for Mario, as team-mate Ronnie Peterson died from injuries received in a first-lap accident at Monza.
Nobody seemed to cotton on to the secrets of the Lotus 78, and rival teams were in for a shock when Colin Chapman introduced the beautiful 79. He had a new second driver, too, with Peterson back at Lotus, eager to restore his name. Meanwhile, Nilsson left to join Arrows, but he never got to drive as cancer set in, leaving the team to sign up Riccardo Patrese. Another former Shadow driver, Alan Jones, also linked up with what was effectively a new team: Williams.
Newcomer Didier Pironi joined Depailler in the four-wheel Tyrrell 008, while Patrick Tambay replaced Mass at McLaren. Villeneuve landed a full-time seat at Ferrari, alongside Reutemann. The new 312T3 was a superb machine, and the team changed to Michelin.
Starting the season with the old 78, Andretti won in Argentina, Lauda coming second. In Brazil Reutemann won for Ferrari, and Fittipaldi finally came good with second in the "family car". Kyalami was a classic. The race culminated in a fabulous duel between Peterson and Depailler, Ronnie just winning. Villeneuve starred at Long Beach, leading until he hit back marker Regazzoni and allowed Reutemann to score. Monaco saw Depailler finally earn his first win. In Belgium Mario debuted the 79, disappeared into the distance, with Peterson taking second in the 78. They scored another one-two in Jarama.
By now the others were reacting. Scheckter had a proper ground-effect Wolf, and Brabham responded with the amazing "fan car". Lauda dominated in its only race at Anderstorp before it was abruptly banned. Andretti and Peterson scored a one-two in France. At Brands Hatch they both retired, and Reutemann passed Lauda to take his third win of the year.
Rain struck in Austria, and Peterson drove brilliantly to win the red-flagged race. At Monza, only Peterson could now beat Mario to the title, but he was happy to obey orders. He had to take the start in the old 78, and got in a massive pile-up. The race was restarted and Andretti won from Villeneuve, but both were penalized for jumped starts. Lauda took the honours. Peterson died the following morning and the racing world was stunned. Jean-Pierre Jarier replaced him, and was the star of the last two races, although he retired in both events. Reutemann held off Jones in Watkins Glen, while Villeneuve won on a new track in Montreal. There was more sadness when Nilsson succumbed to cancer 12 days after the Canadian race. He was just 29 years old.