Harman Patil (Editor)

1978 Italian Grand Prix

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Date  September 10, 1978
Weather  Sunny
Course length  5.800 km (3.6 mi)
1978 Italian Grand Prix
Location  Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Monza
Course  Permanent racing facility
Distance  40 laps, 232.000 km (144 mi)

The 1978 Italian Grand Prix was the 14th motor race of the 1978 Formula One season. It was held on 10 September 1978 at Monza. It was marred by the death of Ronnie Peterson following an accident at the start of the race.


With three races remaining, Mario Andretti (Lotus-Ford) led the World Drivers' Championship by 12 points from his team-mate Ronnie Peterson. Niki Lauda (Brabham-Alfa Romeo), in third place, was 28 points behind Andretti, and, with only 9 points for a win, could not overtake him.

Race recap and Death of Ronnie Peterson

Andretti took pole position alongside Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari), with Jean-Pierre Jabouille (Renault) in third place, Lauda in fourth and Peterson in fifth.

The race starter was overenthusiastic, turning on the red lights before all the cars had lined up, and several cars in the middle of the field got a jump on those at the front. The result was a funneling effect of the cars approaching the chicane, and the cars were tightly bunched together with little room for maneuver. James Hunt was overtaken on the right hand side by Riccardo Patrese and Hunt instinctively veered left and hit the rear right wheel of Peterson's Lotus 78, with Vittorio Brambilla, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Patrick Depailler, Didier Pironi, Derek Daly, Clay Regazzoni and Brett Lunger all involved in the ensuing melee. Peterson's Lotus went into the barriers hard on the right hand side and caught fire. He was trapped, but Hunt, Regazzoni and Depailler managed to free him from the wreck before he received more than minor burns. He was dragged free and laid in the middle of the track fully conscious, but with severe leg injuries. It took 20 minutes before medical help was dispatched to the scene. Brambilla — who had been hit on the head by a flying wheel and rendered unconscious— and Peterson were taken to the Niguarda hospital nearby Milan.

The race was restarted nearly three hours later, during which time on the formation lap for the second race, Jody Scheckter's Wolf lost a wheel and crashed at the second Lesmo curve, bending the Armco barrier that was situated right next to the track. Andretti, Hunt, Lauda, Carlos Reutemann and Emerson Fittipaldi all went to the spot where Scheckter crashed and upon inspection of the state of the barrier, they refused to start until it was repaired; upon which it was, causing more delay. Because of the amount of time between the first and second races; the distance was shortened to 40 laps. At the second start at nearly 6:00 P.M., Villeneuve overtook Andretti at the restart, but both drivers were judged to have gone early and given a one-minute penalty. Andretti re-took the lead with only five laps remaining. With Jabouille having retired, Lauda finished third ahead of John Watson (Brabham), Carlos Reutemann (Ferrari), Jacques Laffite (Ligier-Matra) and Patrick Tambay (McLaren-Ford). Since all of those finished less than a minute behind, Andretti and Villeneuve were dropped to sixth and seventh place. Andretti had won the championship, but with Peterson in hospital, celebrations were muted.

Following surgery, Peterson developed complications and died the following day of an embolism.


† Peterson suffered severe leg trauma in a multi-car accident and while in hospital the night following the race he was diagnosed with a fat embolism. He died the following morning as a result of the fat embolism.

Championship standings after the race

  • Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
  • References

    1978 Italian Grand Prix Wikipedia