Lotus 79 - The legendary Black Beauty

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  • Lotus 79 formula 1978 Mario Andretti

The Lotus 79 was the car that won both Drivers’ and Constructors’ Formula 1 World Championship titles in 1978.

Built around its predecessor

Colin Chapman, the owner of Lotus Team, always was ready for the innovations and experiments on his F1 cars. Some of them weren’t glorious but many were revolutionary and extremely successful. The Lotus 79 definitely was one of them. After good try with Lotus 78, its successor took full advantage of aerodynamics and produced significantly more ground effect.

The Lotus 79 was built around its predecessor but went through many changes and modifications. Much of the honeycomb used for the chassis was replaced by more conventional sheet aluminium, even larger sidepods were fitted to the car while the rear suspension was also redesigned to allow the air to exit the rear more cleanly.

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Lotus 79 cutaway

The new car was powered by Ford Cosworth engine, the fuel tank became a single cell located behind the driver what helped in moving the center of gravity to the middle of the car. Additionally, the Lotus 79 was the first F1 car to be designed using wind tunnel and computer design aids. In fact, it was the first car in Formula 1 to use computers to analyze it in the pits during race weekends.

Lotus 79 was successful right from the start

The Lotus 79 was tested for the first time late in 1977 and before the season went through many modifications. However, it wasn’t fully prepared for the start of 1978 campaign. However, when it was seen at the racetrack for the first time, the new car immediately was named ’The Black Beauty’, after its famous and legendary John Player Special black and gold livery. This car is still considered as probably the most elegant in the history of motorsport.

Lotus 79 formula world racing cars 2017 series grand prix mario ford speed

Colin Chapman, Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson with Lotus team, 1978 Italian Grand Prix

The Lotus 79 had its racing debut at Belgian Grand Prix which was the 6th round of the season. Mario Andretti won the race and did the same in the following race in Spain where Lotus 79 scored 1-2 finish after Ronnie Peterson took the 2nd place at Jarama Circuit. The Swedish Grand Prix was the next race on the calendar but Andretti retired after starting from the pole position while Peterson finished 3rd.

The Lotus 79 confirmed its supremacy in the French Grand Prix where Andretti again was the winner and his teammate finished 2nd. The British Grand Prix was the lowest points of the season after both cars retired from the race. It was followed by another Andretti’s victory at Hockenheim while Peterson triumphed in Austria. Finally, in the Dutch Grand Prix, Lotus scored third 1-2 finish that year, again with Andretti on the top of the podium.

Lotus 79 Formula 1978 cars racing series

Mario Andretti & Ronnie Peterson, Lotus 79, 1978 Dutch GP

Andretti’s title was overshadowed with a tragedy

The American driver secured 1978 Formula 1 title by finishing 6th in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza but that race was marked with Peterson crash at the start of the race. Ronnie’s car hit the guardrail head-on after the multiple incidents. Both his legs were broken and although his injuries were not thought to be life-threatening he died of post-operation complications. Peterson posthumously finished the season as a runner-up.

Mario Andretti Lotus 79

The Lotus 79 was key to Andretti’s championship success, 1978 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama circuti

Andretti didn’t win any of the remaining three races in 1978, while Jean-Pierre Jarier, who replaced Peterson, wasn’t capable of pulling out the maximum from the car that was superior that season. Lotus finished the campaign with two trophies after winning the Constructors’ Championship, beating his nearest rival Ferrari by 28 points.

Lotus fall asleep on the laurels

After a fantastic season of 1978, Lotus team was probably overconfident. The rest of the grid caught the British team with their ground-effect cars and the title defender quickly dropped down. Lotus entered the new season with Lotus 79 driven by Andretti and Carlos Reutemann, scored some notable results but the results deteriorated when the Lotus 80 was introduced. That car was a complete failure and that was the end of an era. This amazing car entered 26 Grand Prix races and scored 7 wins, 15 podiums, 10 pole positions and 5 fastest laps

Lotus 79 formula cars racing series

Lotus 79 with the new Martini Racing livery at the beginning of 1979 Formula 1 World Championship

However, the Lotus 79 has a special place in the history of Formula 1, being the first F1 car to take full advantage of ground effects. The underbody aerodynamics, one of Chapman’s many great innovations still plays a vital role in the racing car design although the full ground effect cars are no longer eligible.

Lotus 79 technical specifications

Length4.420 mm
Width2.146 mm
Height965 mm
Weight610 kg
ChassisAluminium monocoque
Front suspensionUpper rocker arms, lower wishbone, inboard spring/damper units
Rear suspensionUpper rocker arms, lower wishbones, inboard coil springs over dampers
Wheelbase2.718 mm
Track (front & rear)1.730 mm / 1.630 mm
EngineFord Cosworth DFV 90º V8, 2.997cc, mid-engined, naturally aspirated, longitudinally mounted
Power475 bhp / 358 kW at 10.500 rpm
GearboxHewland FGA 400 5 speed Manual

Video – Mario Andretti in Lotus 79 at Anderstorp circuit

Photo: f1-history.co.uk, boxthislap.org, grandprix.compinterest.com, formula1.comjpslotus.org