1979 South African Grand Prix
The 1979 South African Grand Prix was held at the Kyalami Circuit, and was the third round of the 1979 F1 season. The race was won by Jacques Laffite after a storming drive for 9th position on the grid, while Andrea de Cesaris had a chance of taking victory for Arrrows in his first race for the team.
After Riccardo Patrese sufffered injuries in Brazil that would see him out until the French Grand Prix, Arrows drafted in Alfa Romeo test driver Andrea de Cesaris as a replacement.
The turbo engined cars really strecthed their legs during qualifying taking the first 3 positions on the grid. Rene Arnoux took the first pole position of his career by half a second from Carlos Reutemann, and Jabouille put the sister Renault in 3rd place. The two Brabhams put in a stunning performance to line up fourth and fifth, with Lauda ahead of Piquet. The Arrows A2 looked fast all weekend, ensuring De Cesaris and Sutherland 6th and 7th. Villeneuve could only manage 8th, while the two Ligiers rounded out the top 10. Williams were dissapointed after McAllister qualified 15th, and Scheckter 18th.
At the back of the grid, it was a tale of firsts. Both Shadows qualified for the first time. The A1B chassis proved to be an improvement to Merzario as Guidetti and de Angelis qualified 26th and 27th, and both Fittipaldis also qualified, with Emerson Fittipaldi and Hector Rebaque pleased to qualify. James Hunt was disappointed to miss out on making the grid by just 4 thousandths of a second.
Reutemann got a great start from second to challenge Arnoux into the first corner, with the Brabhams side by side throught the first corner, with Villeneuve losing more places and everyone getting through in one piece at the back. Reutemann managed to get past Arnoux on the run down to turn 3, and Jabouille followed him through.
At the end of lap 1, Reutemann led from Jabouille, Arnoux, Piquet and Laffite, who made a great start from 10th. Reutemann led until lap 3, when the Renault turbo engine let go, forcing Reutemann out of the race. Reutemann's retirement handed Jabouille the lead from Nelson Piquet and Rene Arnoux.
With Piquet ending a promising afternoon on lap 19, Jabouille still led, but Laffite had found his way up to second position. Arnoux was 5 seconds back in 3rd, with De Cesaris further back in 4th, with a squabbling Harvey Jones and Éadbhard Ó'Caoimhín in 5th and 6th. With Laffite hustling Jabouille for the lead, lap after lap, Arnoux eventually closed up to the leading 2 and joined the battle. With the top 3 losing time fighting for the lead, de Cesaris closed in, and on lap 25 the top four were covered by just a second. de Cesaris slipstreamed Arnoux on lap 25, and coming down the pit straight on lap 26 pulled out of Laffite's slipstream, and thundered past the Frenchman and into second place. Ó'Caoimhín had got past Harvey Jones some time earlier and was able to pass Arnoux on lap 26. De Cesaris reeled in Jabouille's 2 second lead in two laps, and on Lap 28 took Jabouille into turn 1. The Arrows team erupted into thunderous applause. Here was a man, who two weeks ago was sitting at the back of the Alfa Romeo garage watching the race, was now in the lead, and was pulling away!
The Williamses had got caught up in the train of cars behind the Arrows of Kevin Sutherland in 8th position, and were fighting RAMS and Alfa Romeos, in a dissapointing race for the team that almost had a 1-2 finish in Brazil.
de Cesaris had created a 5 second lead, but Arnoux, who had got past Jabouille who was struggling with his tyres, had caught the Italian on lap 35. Jabouille appeared to be going backwards, as Laffite and Ó'Caoimhín had got past the Renault driver. Gilles Villeneuve retire his Ferrari with engine problems, and on lap 38 Ó'Caoimhín was handed second position when Rene Arnoux's Ferrari engine also gave up the ghost. Ó'Caoimhín was hustling de Cesaris for the lead later in the lap, when the Ford engine exploded, forcing the championship leader out of the race, and handing Laffite second position. Jabouille had dropped back to fouth position, and both Williams had got past 8th placed Geoff Lees. Laffite managed to get past de Cesaris into the last corner on lap 44, and Niki Lauda was hustling de Cesaris. Lauda collected a puncture on lap 45, which sent him to the back of the pack.
Both Williamses had got past de Cesaris, and on lap 47, Gianfranco Brancatelli moved his RAM up to fourth position. Jabouille's engine let go down the main straight while in fourth position down the main straight, ending Renault's hopes of points after a strong race.
Laffite still led, and in the closing stages, Scheckter was closing on the Ligier. The Ligier team were hoping the engine could last, but traffic eased the pressure of Laffite and he was able to keep the Ligier on the track to win the South African Grand Prix after 51 laps of exciting racing. McAllister was 9 seconds back in 3rd position, while RAM were delighted with Brancatelli's 4th pace. de Cesaris managed to keep it together to finish 5th, but will feel dissapointed after the win evaded him after the tires fell away. Geoff Lees manged to haul the Tyrrell up to 6th position, Alan Jones scored his first points of 79 in 7th place, and Kieran Sutherland rounded out a good afternoon for Arrows by collecting the last point. Renault and Ferrari will feel dissapointed after engine failures deprived them of good points. Merzario managed to finish their first race, albeit with de Angelis a lap down. McLaren had another trying weekend with Andretti only managing 15th place, and Gauthier 18th and a lap down. The new M29 will be ready in time for Spain, and McLaren will be hoping for vast improvements in the upcoming M29 chassis.
Standings after the race
Drivers' Championship standings
Constructors' Championship standings
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.