The next 'wing car' to appear was the Arrows FAI, designed by Tony Southgate and Dave Wass and the product of an outfit born over the winter out of the Shadow team. The next wing car was the Shadow DN9, also designed by Southgate and Wass before their departure to Arrows. The remarkable similarity of the cars led to cries of plagiarism which landed Arrows in the High Court where it was deemed that FAI owed more to DN9 than just its parentage and FAI was promptly banned. It was quickly followed by the new Arrows AI which never quited lived up to the promise of the earlier car; nor, strangely, did the near identical Shadow.
The only car which presented a real threat to Lotus dominance was the Ferrari 312T-3, which appeared right from the beginning of the season shod with Michelin radials. The T-3'S record was rather chequered and the Michelins ranged from faultless to fragile with no apparent reason. Michelin did have the whip hand over Goodyear in that supplying only two teams they were able to try many more compounds on each without having to carry vast stocks of covers. Goodyear for their part limited their supply of special qualifying tyres to selected teams and those who showed most potential in practice.
They usually included the latest Ligier - the JS9 - and the beautifully simple and compact Williams FW06, designed by Patrick Head for Frank Williams' Saudi Arabian sponsored team. The Williams showed that it was still possible to be a front runner with a simple, well engineered lightweight car and a determined driver. With the departure of Derek Gardner back to the motor industry, the design onus at Tyrrell passed to Maurice Phillippe who rapidly shunned what was proving to be an expensive blind alley with the six-wheeler and penned a very straightforward successor, Tyrrell 008, distinguished mostly by its very low, flat monocoque and the fact that it won at Monaco.
Wolf brought a new shape to the circuits with WRS, a 'wing car' with the radiator sitting on the front of the cockpit over the driver's legs. After such a good start in 1977 the Wolf team sadly lost much of its impetus and although Scheckter put in some stirring drives, notably in Monaco, he was obviously losing heart and looking forward to a new challenge at Ferrari. There was little else of much import in a year in which Lotus superiority seemingly demoralised more than one team.
There were new names on the grids in the form of Martini (the French Formula i'Fwo championship winners soon finding Formula One to be a much tougher proposition and quietly fading away), the Theodore TR1 from Ron Tauranac and the crude, March-based Merzario AI for Arturo himself. A TS moved on from re-dubbing Marchesand Penskes to building their own cars - the D1 - which showed occasional turns of speed. The latest incarnation of the Hesketh team persevered with the 308E; Surtees traded in the TS19 for the equally mediocre TS20; Emerson struggled on with Fittipaldi FSA and Ensign did likewise with the N 177, which probably suffered more from a lack of finance than from a lack of technical promise; at McLaren, the M26 had an absolutely dismal season and the feelings of relief at Colnbrook when the season came to a close were doubtless mirrored in many other camps.
All thoughts of the invincibility of the Lotus 79 went out of the window as the 1979 season opened in South America; confirming its testing performances, the Ligier JS11 - now Cosworth powered, allowing it to make the most of a beautifully engineered ground effect chassis - simply pulverised the opposition. It was a spectacular demonstration of the importance of tire compatibility as, it seemed, the latest, slightly taller, Goodyears suited the Ligier to perfection but left the Lotus struggling for rear end grip. For once there was much of technical interest to be seen on the grids. A completely new engine was a rare happening and so there was much interest in the new V12 Alfa Romeo unit, around which Gordon Murray had designed the spectacular Brabham BT 48, taking advantage of the narrowness of the new unit to allow a proper ground effect chassis.
The new Alfa engine was a sixty degree V 12, retaining the heads and some of the internals of the boxer engine. It was used as a stressed unit, and had an up and over exhaust system in deference to ground effect requirements. Predictably, 1979 started with a good sprinkling of Lotus 79 look alikes on the grids, the most blatant of which were without doubt the Tyrrell 009, McLaren M28 and the Wolf WR7. It did not take a very gifted seer to predict the arrival of many more variations as the season progressed. There was some original thinking to be seen however. The new Fittipaldi F6, designed by Ralph Bellamy, appeared with very abbreviated side pods (through which passed the exhaust system) flanking the slimmest of monocoques, devoid (initially at least) of wings.
From Mo Nunn came a new Ensign, the N 179, which carried its water and oil radiators immediately ahead of the driver and over his legs. By cleaning up the side pod area the Ensign proved exceptionally quick in a straight line but its development was delayed by overheating problems, in an attempt to cure which the radiators were quickly moved back into the side pods! Best of all was the new Ferrari, the 312T -4, disproving the widely held belief that the flat-twelve precluded the use of a ground effect chassis. The T-4 moved all its fuel into a single central tank behind the driver and swept the exhausts up through the rear of the side pods.
The very slim front end was supplanted by a curiously shaped but apparently effective aerofoil section upper deck and the whole lot was wheeled out on its Michelin radials to take a convincing one-two on its maiden outing in South Africa, followed by the same result with apparently equal ease for Villeneuve and Scheckter at Long Beach .... Once again, however, Colin Chapman was aiming one step ahead; on a snowy March day at Brands Hatch he unveiled the Lotus 80, with not a wing in sight. In fact there were two wings, one was a venturi section - sealed by skirts - under the elongated nose, the other was the rest of the car. Now only the front suspension intruded into the side airflow, even the drive shafts being taken through the side pods which filled all the space between the rear wheels.
When the 80 began testing it soon became apparent that all was far from well, with the detail design if not with the concept. The sliding skirt system, on which the ground effect relied, proved troublesome and was redesigned, but sceptics could not entirely suppress an 'I told you so' attitude as the car donned wings during further trials. Such problems, however, are the stuff on which the Colin Chapmans of this world thrive and the Lotus, once again, was but the vanguard of a new philosophy. After years of sprouting wings a glimmer of hope was appearing that this most specialised of vehicles might yet have a few lessons to be applied to cars on the world's highways, which, in a way, was how it all began.