|Date October 7, 1979|
Course length 5.435 km (3.377 mi)
|Course Permanent road course|
|Official name XXII Toyota United States Grand Prix|
Location Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course Watkins Glen, New York
Distance 59 laps, 320.67 km (199.24 mi)
The 1979 United States Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on October 7, 1979, at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course in Watkins Glen, New York. This event was also referred to as the United States Grand Prix East in order to distinguish it from the United States Grand Prix West held on April 8, 1979, in Long Beach, California.
This was the final Formula One race for the 1969 and 1970 championship runner-up Jacky Ickx and former Brabham driver Hans-Joachim Stuck.
By the time the teams got to Watkins Glen for the last race of the 1979 season, Jody Scheckter and his Ferrari team had already clinched the Driver's and Constructor's championships. It would be the South African's only title. Scheckter's Canadian teammate Gilles Villeneuve won at Watkins Glen by a comfortable margin on the rainy track, and took second in the Championship.
On Friday, the rain was heavy enough all day that only a few cars made any serious attempt at a lap time. Of the six that did actually record a time, Villeneuve was fastest by over nine seconds.
Saturday started bright and sunny, and Alan Jones topped the charts in his Williams for the entire session. He ended up 1.3 seconds quicker than the Brabham of Brazilian Nelson Piquet, who gained the front row in his first drive at Watkins Glen. The new World Champion, Scheckter, had trouble with the engine in his race car and traffic with his spare and ended up sixteenth, one spot ahead of the previous season's champion, Mario Andretti.
The forecast for Sunday was a fifty percent chance of rain. About twenty minutes before the start, the rain came, and all but two of the cars started with rain tires. The two were Nelson Piquet and Mario Andretti, who, in seventeenth spot on the grid, had nothing to lose by the gamble.
At the start, Piquet suffered with wheelspin on his slicks and was left behind. Scheckter took an outside line through turn one, but he got pushed onto the grass and had to wait for the entire field to go by before re-entering. Keke Rosberg spun and recovered, but he forced Bruno Giacomelli off behind him and into retirement with a bent steering arm. After one lap, the order was Villeneuve, Jones, Carlos Reutemann, Jacques Laffite, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Clay Regazzoni, René Arnoux, Didier Pironi, John Watson and Jean-Pierre Jarier. After two laps, Villeneuve had extended his lead to five seconds.
By lap three, Jacky Ickx, in his last Grand Prix, had moved his Ligier from 24th to twelfth. As he closed on Derek Daly's Tyrrell approaching the turn before the pit entrance, however, he bumped Daly from behind and went off. His teammate, Jacques Laffite, running in fifth place, spun off on the next lap at the same place. Reutemann crashed out on lap seven from third place when his fire extinguisher sensing unit came loose and interfered with his pedals. The other Lotus, driven by Andretti, decided his gamble to start on slicks had not worked and pitted for wets, since it was still raining. He returned in 20th, but retired soon after when his gearbox became permanently lodged in fourth.
The gap between Villeneuve and Jones varied, with Regazzoni quite a bit back in third. When the rain became heavier, the Ferrari's Michelins performed better; when it slacked off, the intermediate surface favored the Goodyears on the Williams. On lap 20, Scheckter, now in third after fighting his way back from last place, pitted for slicks, as did Regazzoni. Scheckter later said that it was still too early, as he began sliding around down the straight, but the lap time comparison with Villeneuve helped the Ferrari crew to decide when to bring Villeneuve in.
On lap 21, Rosberg caught up with Pironi and tried to overtake on the inside. He could not hold his line, and when he slid wide, he took the Tyrrell with him. Pironi was able to continue, but Rosberg retired with a damaged gearbox. Beginning on lap 25, most of the cars came in for slicks, except the three leaders, Villeneuve, Jones and Arnoux. As the circuit continued to dry, Jones cut into Villeneuve's lead, taking off two seconds per lap. By lap 31, Jones was on his tail, and then quickly past. In two laps, he was 3.1 seconds clear. Villeneuve came in to change tires on lap 34, and returned 39.5 seconds behind Jones.
The Williams crew prepared to fit Jones' car with slicks as he came in on lap 37. After some difficulty removing the right rear, the racing manager waved the jacks away and the car out. As the mechanic on the right rear shouted and waved that he was not finished, the car sped from the pits. At the beginning of the back straight, the wheel came off and Jones retired.
Villeneuve now led Scheckter by almost a lap. Arnoux lost two positions, to fifth, when he pitted for tires, but regained third place, ahead of Daly and Pironi, in two laps. On lap 48, Scheckter felt his car floating about and thought he had a puncture. He decided to go one more lap, but never made it back. The tire shredded and he retired, leaving only nine cars still running. Daly spun off from fourth, and Piquet, after setting fastest lap of the race in pursuit of John Watson's McLaren, dropped out with a broken driveshaft five laps from the flag.
Villeneuve coasted home, allowing Elio de Angelis and Hans-Joachim Stuck to unlap themselves, but finishing with a 48-second margin over Arnoux. Later, Villeneuve revealed that he had been nursing the car with failing oil pressure for the final 25 laps. The American Shadow team celebrated de Angelis' fourth place, his only points of the year. The win by Villeneuve was his third, matching champion Scheckter's total, securing a one-two finish in the driver's championship.