• French Grand Prix

Andretti prospers from Watson misfortune

ESPNF1 Staff
July 3, 1977
James Hunt leads away from Jacques Laffite at the start of the race, with Mario Andretti and John Watson side-by-side behind © Sutton Images

Mario Andretti moved joint second, one point behind Niki Lauda, in the drivers' championship with victory at Dijon, his third win of the season in the impressive Lotus 78.

The local media had been getting into a frenzy in anticipation of the first appearance of the new turbocharged Renault but the car was withdrawn days before the race after the team decided it needed more testing.

Although Andretti took pole, he threw away the advantage by getting so much wheelspin that he was almost rear-ended by his faster-starting team-mate Gunnar Nilsson. James Hunt, still struggling with the reliability of the new M26, raced into the lead before being passed on the fifth lap by John Watson and 12 laps later by Andretti. He eventually finished a lonely third.

As Andretti followed Watson's Brabham, Jody Scheckter, who had started the weekend at the top of the championship, suffered from fuel-feed issues which had dogged him all weekend and was sent spinning off the track by Clay Regazzoni's Ensign after suddenly slowing.

It was only when Watson began to suffer fuel problems that Andretti came close enough to mount a challenge, and halfway through the final lap the Lotus shot past the spluttering Brabham. Watson managed to nurse his car to take second, immediately abandoning it at the side of the track. He missed the presentations after suffering from stomach cramps.

"We'd calculated the amount of fuel we needed and thought we had plenty," he said. "I don't know whether it was the heat or whether we were going faster than we thought, but we were obviously using more than we anticipated. There was no way Mario could have overtaken me if I hadn't run out of petrol on the finishing straight. I threw a switch for the reserve tank and in that second he was past."

After Andretti had run out of fuel while leading the Swedish Grand Prix a fortnight earlier, he was able to empathise. "It was great to win but I feel for John as he drove a great race."

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