• Argentine Grand Prix

Laffite wins as Ligier makes quick start

ESPNF1 Staff
January 21, 1979
Jacques Laffite led away at the first start but dropped to fourth on the restart © Sutton Images

Mario Andretti might have been the bookies favourite to retain his title, but Jacques Lafitte in a Ligier stormed to victory in the season-opening Argentine Grand Prix.

As usual, the grid contained a few new names and a number of old ones driving for new teams. James Hunt had left McLaren for Wolf and had in turn been replaced by John Watson. Carlos Reutemann had left Ferrari to replace Ronnie Peterson as Andretti's team-mate, while his Ferrari seat had gone to Jody Scheckter. As often the case with the early races of a new season, many of the cars were the previous year's models.

Lafitte, in the new Ford-powered Ligier, dominated practice to take pole alongside team-mate Patrick Depailler, and led into the first corner as eight cars became entangled behind him after Watson and Scheckter collided, causing the race to be stopped. The crowd were delighted that Scheckter had come to grief - he had been roundly booed for taking local hero Reutemann's seat at Ferrari. Five of those involved in the incident were not allowed to continue the race - including Scheckter whose sprained wrist fell foul of the doctor - but the remainder were able to take their places for the re-start.

At the second time of asking Depailler was first into the corner while Lafitte was relegated to fourth. Jean-Pierre Jarier, newly signed by Tyrrell, was briefly second before mechanical problems caused him to fall back, while Watson, who in turn moved into second, also struggled with suspension problems and was passed by Lafitte on the fifth lap.

"Whatever they've found, it's good," Andretti said of the Ligiers. "It's amazing to see a car so ahead of the others so early in the season."

Hunt's debut for Wolf was inauspicious as he battled with oversteer and on one practice lap the nose of the car ripped off and narrowly missed his head. He went round at the back before an electrical problem ended his weekend.

A week after the race Watson was fined for his part in the first-lap collision, but it was a decision badly handled by the officials. Watson and McLaren, who only had an hour to appeal, were not told of the outcome until it was too late to lodge any complaint.

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