The first pole position in his career, the fastest race lap and the victory of the Grand Prix: Gilles Villeneuve was the protagonist in Long Beach of a memorable weekend in 1979. On Saturday he managed to stop the chronometer at the wheel of his Ferrari 312 T4 in 1’18 “825, 61 thousandths faster than former boxing mate Carlos Reutemann, who completed the front row with his Lotus. Third on the starting grid was the other Ferrari driver Jody Scheckter, then the two Ligiers, with Patrick Depailler ahead of Jacques Laffitte, winner of the first two races of the season in Argentina and Brazil. The reigning champion Mario Andretti completes the third row. Villeneuve’s pole position, also obtained by disengaging the engine rev limiter which had risen to the bottom of the long fast section at 12,600 rpm, was number 88 for Ferrari, which thus returned to first place in the constructors’ standings reserved for pole positions, bypassing the Lotus. , ‘stops’ at 87.
In front of 100 thousand spectators i twists on Sunday they started well before the start of the Grand Prix. Jean-Pierre Jabouille, in fact, had an accident in the warm-up at 290 km / h due to a broken joint in his Renault, causing the dislocation of his arm. For safety reasons, the French company also decided to withdraw René Arnoux’s twin car. During the formation lap, then, the engine of Reutemann’s Lotus fell silent due to problems with the electrical system, forcing the Argentine to take off from the pits with the ‘forklift’. Two reconnaissance laps were needed, because Gilles Villeneuve – deceived by a gesture by Patrick Depailler inviting him to continue – overtook his starting position at the end of the first warm-up lap. Another positioning lap was therefore necessary, with World Championship leader Jacques Laffitte who in the meantime had also found himself forced to start from the pits like Reutemann with the reserve car after his Ligier had stopped in the middle of the track due to problems. to the transmission. For Villeneuve there was therefore a great chance to take the championship lead after winning the third round in South Africa at Kyalami by beating Schckter in front of his audience.
Al via Villeneuve defended the leadership with Depailler who entered second position between the two Ferraris of the Canadian and Scheckter. Patrick Tambay exaggerated the braking of the Queen’s Hairpin and flew over Niki Lauda’s Brabham causing both of them to retire. Depailler, who had gearbox problems, missed a gear on lap nine and was hit by Scheckter, with Jean-Pierre Jarier taking the opportunity to overtake both of them with his Tyrrell. While Villeneuve stretched in command, the fight for the place of honor raged, with Jarier who despite strong vibrations at the steering was able to keep behind him a very fierce train made up of Scheckter, Depailler, Andretti and Alan Jones. Halfway through the race for Villeneuve the last opponent also vanished and he was not a driver. Chris Puch, president of the organizing committee, has in fact made it official that the Canadian would not be sanctioned with a minute of penalty for the misunderstanding on the starting grid and that at most a fine would have been imposed on the Canadian, as was the case (10 thousand Swiss Francs).
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Gilles Villeneuve thus conquered the second consecutive success of the season, the third in his career in F1, also obtaining the fastest race lap thus signing the first Grand Slam personal. The Canadian at the end of the US race was also the new leader of the World Championship with 20 points, two more than Laffitte, stuck at 18 after his second consecutive retirement following that of Kyalami. Through an excerpt from the volume of Machina ‘Heart of Gilles’ we report the words of Villeneuve who commented on a perfect weekend: “I only pulled to the max in the first six laps. When I realized that I had already disconnected everyone, I just kept a certain rhythm. It is very good to be at the top of the table, but it is too early to make ambitious projects. For the moment I will continue to live for the day. I’m a little scared for the Spanish Grand Prix. Last year on the Jarama track we had some problems with the tires. I hope that the situation has changed and that the progress we have recorded also applies to the Spanish circuit ”.
Villeneuve for the third consecutive race had beaten his teammate Jody Scheckter, who after the retirement of both in Argentina had always finished behind the Canadian in Brazil, South Africa and the United States. Scheckter in Long Beach had completed the double for Ferrari for the second time in a row, ahead of Alan Jones’ Williams who completed the podium. Back then, no one could imagine that at the end of 1979 to celebrate the title of World Champion it would have been Scheckter and not Villeneuve.