• Swedish Grand Prix

Lauda wins amidst fan car storm

ESPNF1 Staff
June 17, 1978
The fan car won on its one and only Formula One appearance © Sutton Images

Niki Lauda secured his first win for Brabham, his new team, at the Swedish Grand Prix but it was a victory surrounded by controversy as it came in one of Formula One's most innovative and short-lived creations - the fan car.

Lotus boss Colin Chapman had revolutionised the sport by running skirts on his Lotus 79s which stuck the cars to the ground, In response, Brabham designer Gordon Murray wheeled out a car with a fan on the back to use the air to help the car grip the road better. Drivers became concerned that not only did it suck the rear of the car to the ground, it spat out debris at them. "It's like a bloody great vacuum cleaner," championship leader Mario Andretti said. "It throws muck and rubbish at you at a hell of a rate."

Chapman argued the fans were "ten times the size needed". Other manufacturers accused Brabham of deliberately holding back during qualifying so as not to attract too much attention to the cornering advantages the fans gave, and Lauda subsequently admitted this was the case. But Brabham boss Bernie Ecclestone brushed aside the complaints saying: "It's always the same whenever anyone comes up with something new in F1."

Away from the track - and overshadowed by the Brabham row - James Hunt was pursued by reporters after rumours emerged in the Italian media he would sign for Ferrari. Asked to comment, he quipped: "Sorry, I don't read Italian."

Four teams lodged protests against the Brabham before the race, and a fifth added its voice afterwards. But Andretti led off the line and maintained his lead until his Lotus started to lose power on the 38th lap and eventually forced his retirement. That allowed Lauda to take the lead through to the chequered flag. Ronnie Peterson received the loudest cheers of the day after a brilliant drive to take third, following a pit stop which had dropped him to 17th.

The arguments continued long into the night but the result stood. Within 48 hours the car had been banned for the next three races while tests were carried out, but it never reappeared in a grand prix, making it an expensive £200,000 gamble. Lauda admitted the car was "unpleasant to drive … it understeered massively, all the more so when you took your foot off".

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