The 1978 Austrian Grand Prix was Ronnie Peterson’s 10th and last victory, a month before he was killed at Monza. It was a wet weekend – on and off – at the Osterreichring, as is often the case in the mountains of Styria.
It had been a summer dominated by the sleek black and gold JPS Lotuses of soon-to-be World Champion Mario Andretti and the popular “Superswede”, who had the ground-effect advantage of the superb Lotus 79, which rival teams struggled to understand. Lotus would wrap up the Constructors’ Championship in the course of the weekend, with four races still to run.
Peterson was on pole position and won the race while Andretti tangled with Carlos Reutemann’s Ferrari on the first lap. The race marked the first podium finish for a rising star by the name of Gilles Villeneuve, who finished third in his Ferrari.
The most unusual aspect of the weekend, however, was that one of the free practice sessions had to be red-flagged for the most eccentric reason in F1 history: a parachute display, which was supposed to have been cancelled because of the low cloud, went ahead as no-one bothered to tell the parachutists. As a result the Formula 1 drivers were faced with the additional hazard of men falling from the sky in an unpredictable fashion. The session was hurriedly stopped and the F1 drivers were less than happy.
The parachutists were none too pleased either…