After a long period of excellent results, culminating in three world titles (1975 and 1977 with Niki Lauda, 1979 with Jody Scheckter), Ferrari is going through a negative season. It seems like we've returned to the early 1970s, especially to that 1973 when Jacky Ickx ended up at the back of the starting grid at the British Grand Prix. Similar to Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve last Sunday in France. It's not a scandal. It's evident that one cannot always stay at the top, especially in Formula 1, where the competition is ruthless, technical innovations are frequent, capable of altering solid equilibriums, and where a little is enough to turn success into disappointment, and vice versa. What is regrettable, rather, it's worth emphasizing, is that this downturn (contributed to by Alfa Romeo, incapable of taking off) coincides with a difficult situation for the Italian auto industry. Even support from sports would be valuable for promotional purposes. To explain this bitter season, the people at Maranello mainly talk about tire problems. Michelin would be lagging behind compared to Goodyear, and it would also favor Renault, the French team. All true, surely, but there remains a sense of discomfort. Even in those other years of bitter disappointments, we heard similar justifications. And indeed, Ferrari has changed suppliers several times: first Firestone, then Goodyear, and now is it Michelin's turn? This is heard in the Formula 1 circles. Just a rumor? Perhaps not. In any case, whether it's tires or not, one fact is certain: the 312 T5, presented as an entirely new car but actually an adaptation of the previous version - awaiting the turbocharged one - has proven immediately uncompetitive. Mysterious and dark issues were being sought while the reality was, apparently, simpler. And this shouldn't be a cause for scandal either: when you are looking for a truly new product, like the supercharged 126 C, it's evident that the old one has a less brilliant development. So, technical factors are at the base of the crisis, but human problems are also intertwined. For various, even tragic reasons, engineer Mauro Forghieri no longer has by his side elements of great experience, as in the years when Ferrari returned to greatness (remember the troika of 1974 with Rocchi, Salvarani, and the poor Bussi?). Now, more than bad, what is needed is teamwork, without leaders or followers.
In practice, there is a feeling that Maranello needs to develop an internal organizational discourse as well. But these, of course, are Ferrari's problems, and there is no one better than them to solve them. Will the crisis last long? For the trust that Ferrari and the Ferrari brand deserve, one must be optimistic. Turbo ahead, ready in 1981 to explain why Ferrari always wins. It would also be more fun. One of the most spectacular and challenging circuits in the world is about to host, on Sunday, July 13, 1980, the eighth round of the Formula 1 world championship. After Silverstone declared the last victory of the unfortunate Clay Regazzoni last year (still hospitalized at the paraplegic center in Basel with paralyzed legs), we return to Brands Hatch, the scene in 1978 of a splendid Ferrari victory. As you will recall, Carlos Reutemann took advantage of an uncertainty by Niki Lauda, who was dueling with Bruno Giacomelli, and outsmarted the Austrian, obtaining one of his most beautiful victories. Now, on the eve of the start of the British Grand Prix practice, the situation for the Maranello team and its drivers, Scheckter and Villeneuve, has changed profoundly. On Friday, July 11, 1980, when the first official qualifying session begins, it's possible that the T5 cars of the South African and the Canadian will contradict pessimistic predictions. But completely changing the poor competitiveness recorded in the last races by the cars from Maranello will be very difficult. Jody and Gilles, although giving their best, will have to fight to avoid some sensational negative results like non-qualification, something already narrowly escaped in the recent French Grand Prix at Le Castellet. Although it's unthinkable that Ferrari's decline has reached such a low point, there are all the prospects for not hoping for progress. The two drivers risk something more than in other races. There is indeed the danger that for the first time in history, they may be surpassed by a woman, Desiré Wilson, who has stood out in the current season for a victory in the Formula Aurora, some significant placements in the same category, and a couple of wins in the World Sportscar Championship with De Cadenet. Desiré Wilson, 26 years old, South African like Scheckter but residing in England, has married the director of Brands Hatch. For this reason, she knows the circuit in a particular way and becomes a formidable rival. Also because Desiré will have an updated Williams FW07, a car almost as valid as the current leader of the World Championship, the Australian Alan Jones, the great favorite of the race.
In the recent tests conducted by Goodyear at Brands Hatch, Wilson set the eleventh time among the 25 drivers on the track, clocking 1'15"85, a whole second better than the result achieved by Scheckter with the Ferrari.
"My goal is to qualify. If I can then manage to be ahead of the Ferraris, I would be over the moon. In any case, I will do everything to beat my compatriot Scheckter and that unleashed devil Villeneuve".
With the British Grand Prix, the season reaches a decisive turning point. And it is precisely for this reason, in an attempt to take advantage of the advantage of competing at home, that Williams will unleash a massive attack, putting four cars on the track. Frank Williams, once the poor relative of the motorsport circus, now a rich and envied constructor, friend of the powerful Arab oil sheikhs, bets everything on his protégé, the Australian Alan Jones, the leader of the world standings. At the same time, he prepares a smokescreen, as usual by pairing the South American Carlos Reutemann with the first driver and teaming up with Rupert Keegan and Desiré Wilson. Both will have updated 1979 Williams cars. Two more competitive cars that will certainly make qualification more difficult. However, attempts at a coup by Jones and his teammates will try to be opposed by many. Several cars have been renewed or modified, such as the Brabham, which has a new upper suspension to allow Piquet to compete on equal terms. Like Arrows, which has substantially restructured Patrese's car, like Alfa, which has a lighter car. Only Ligier apparently has no new weapons, but it should not be forgotten that with the French car, Pironi set the record time of 1'11"9 on this circuit in recent weeks. Ferrari, which did not shine in the tire tests last month, brings two cars with slight modifications for Scheckter and Villeneuve, the most visible of which is a three-plane wing that should allow better aerodynamic utilization. The two usual Shadow cars of Lees and Kennedy will not take part in the tests. The English team, which had not achieved positive results lately, had to close operations on the track due to a lack of funds. Instead, it is still to be determined who will drive the second Brabham. Ecclestone would like to replace the Argentine Zunino with the Mexican Rebaque and has offered him more than a billion lire for half the season, claiming that his current driver has not paid the last installment of the amount requested for 1980. On Friday, July 11, 1980, Didier Pironi's heavy foot surprises Williams, which hoped to dominate the first qualifying session of the Grand Prix.
Two factors lead the French driver to achieve provisional pole position with an exceptional time: 1'11"004, at an average speed of 213.259 km/h, a new track record, with an increase of about 7% compared to two years ago when the same circuit was last raced on. The first is that Ligier has adopted, like Williams, new larger-diameter rims, 15 inches, allowing for higher tire temperatures and therefore better grip. The second is that the French driver is experiencing a moment of great form, which makes him the fastest in Formula 1. Pironi seems to have (although race results are not always favorable to him) high morale. And there are those, in the environment, who say that this exaltation of the 28-year-old Parisian of Friulian origin is also due to the fact that many teams would have approached him to sign him for next year. There are even authoritative sources that, while recommending not to mention them, claim that Didier is already with Ferrari and will race next year alongside Villeneuve with the new turbos from Maranello. This is a speculation that comes, however, from people who, in this way, suggest that Ferrari might have at least one Italian driver in its team. This would also explain the bad mood of Scheckter, who, at the end of the tests, makes a gesture of furious anger and hurls a bottle of Coca Cola, shattering it against the gasoline drums. The South African, disadvantaged also by having the best tires available at a time when the track was crowded with cars, achieved the worst placement of the season with the twenty-first position, while Villeneuve, considering the current situation of Ferrari, obtained a brilliant thirteenth place. The continuous humiliations suffered by the small Canadian who always leaves him behind, the prospect of not renewing the contract with Ferrari and perhaps also that of not finding any good team for the next year (unless a direct exchange Pironi-Scheckter is made, and in this case, Jody would have the contribution of Ligier with the help of Talbot) have certainly annoyed the driver, who, after venting his nervousness, did not say another word. Gilles Villeneuve, on the other hand, is rather optimistic, finding tires that should allow him to run a regular race. The Canadian hopes to be able to insert himself in the top positions.
However, there is no talk in the Italian team of the possibility of success as in 1978. Suffice it to say that sensitive English bookmakers give odds for the race of Scheckter at 100 to 1 and Villeneuve at 66 to 1. The rookie South African girl could have done even better if, perhaps caught up in emotion, she had not ruined her own Williams in a collision with Laffite. Patrese is also in difficulty, who, to enter the top 24, must abandon the tests with the new Arrows. Quite well, as has been the case for some time in the qualifications, is Alfa Romeo, seventh with Depailler. Giacomelli fell behind (seventeenth) but broke an engine, and on Saturday, he should recover. The same problem makes Cheever's task with Osella more difficult, but, even though he has completed few laps for the moment (eighteenth place), he is not at risk of elimination. On the other hand, the debut of Emerson Fittipaldi's new car is disastrous, completing only one lap in over 6 minutes. On Saturday, July 12, 1980, Guy Ligier celebrates his fiftieth birthday in the best possible way. The French constructor blows out and lights red, white, and blue candles placed on two splendid cakes together with his drivers Pironi and Laffite. Then, he drinks half a bottle of champagne. The party is more than justified and double because on the day of his half-century of life, Ligier places two cars in the front row: Didier Pironi in pole position and Jacques Laffite at his side are a big guarantee for today's race. That victory that escaped in France and that had already been missed by a little on other previous occasions should not fail this time. The Ligiers demonstrate a fairly clear superiority, and not even the Williams, following in third and fourth places with Jones and Reutemann, should be able to cause too many problems. On the English circuit, unlike what happened in Le Castellet, there will be a fair fight, as the French cars now also mount larger front tires. It cannot be said a priori that Pironi and Laffite have already won, but based on what happened in the tests, if there are no surprises or unforeseen inconveniences, this time the Williams should not make it. Says Jacques Laffite, in his gawky manner:
"I am sure to win and get back into the fight for the world title".
Pironi replies with more subdued but equally determined statements:
"The car is going very well, and I don't see who could worry me".
The Parisian of Friulian origin does not even complain about a collision with Daly that gives him a painful blow to the wrist due to a backlash of the steering wheel, so much so that he is forced to resort to the care of a physiotherapist. He is calm and confident, not at all disturbed by the persistent rumors that would have him signed by Ferrari for the next year.
"There has been no contact, and besides, I feel very good at Ligier. I don't see why I should change a team that fights for pole position and for victory with another that struggles for qualification".
This statement, unfortunately for Ferrari, corresponds to reality. The T5s are becoming less and less competitive, losing positions on the starting grid race after race. Villeneuve will be in the tenth row (with the nineteenth time), and Scheckter even in the last, only ahead of Jochen Mass, the last qualifier. The World Champion, who was one of the five drivers who failed to improve their performances, obtained the penultimate place by 5 hundredths, and by 22 hundredths, he ran the risk of not racing. Such a situation had never occurred, not even in the worst moments. The two Ferrari drivers, as well as the technicians, continue to repeat the same things, denouncing an absolute lack of grip. There is reason to believe that the tire problem is more serious than one might think. In an attempt to set a valid time, Arnoux even spectacularly went off the track, destroying the front part of his car against the guardrails of Graham Hill's curve. Incidents, moreover, were numerous. De Angelis had a scare due to a tire burst that sent him into the safety nets; Piquet performed a spectacular series of spins at 200 km/h; Scheckter went off the track in free practice, damaging his car, and then there were various inconveniences for Keegan and Villeneuve.
Patrese, however, due to his Arrows, which doesn't even go fast enough to push it, qualifies (twentieth) in the last laps of the session, while Cheever with the Osella, despite facing many problems (including a gearbox failure), enters the lineup quite comfortably. On the other hand, the position of Alfa Romeo is brilliant this time, right behind the leaders. The main credit goes to Bruno Giacomelli, who secures the sixth position, while Depailler is eighth. On Sunday, July 13, 1980, during the interval between the end of the warm-up period and the preliminaries for the race, most people have lunch, but the mechanics are all busy with final preparations, filling the fuel tanks, checking everything, mounting the correct wheels and tires, preparing the spare ones, arranging tools and equipment for any emergency, and all the hundred and one other things necessary before a race. Meanwhile, the drivers all dutifully go to the official driver briefing as called for in FISA regulations, which is held in a coach at the end of the pits. They are then expected to climb into the passenger seats of a parade of MG cars for a lap of the circuit, and then find time for a sandwich and a glass of milk and prepare themselves for the 3:00 p.m. start, so it is not surprising that many of them opt out of the parade. The red light comes on, revs rise, clutches bite, and then the green light shines, and the drivers snap towards Paddock Bend with Pironi in the lead with Laffite on his left. Pironi's start is superb, but Jones is not as good, and as he tries to take the inside line, Laffite moves over on him, and they sit it out in good clean competition with the Williams right on the inside edge, until the Australian has to give in, and the second Ligier follows the first down the hill and up to Druids Hairpin. Pironi powers away, confident that Laffite will be doing his best to make things difficult for the opposition. By the end of the opening lap, Pironi has already pulled out a measurable lead, and it is quite obvious that Jones can do no more than hold on to Laffite, while Nelson Piquet is right with them. Reutemann is leading the rest, and Fittipaldi is bringing up the rear. By the end of practice and qualifying, it seemed that we were in for an exciting battle between the two Ligiers and the two Williams, with a Brabham in amongst them for good measure, but it needs only a handful of laps to show that this is not going to happen.
Pironi is running away into the distance, Jones and Piquet can only just stay with Laffite, and Reutemann is in a different race. For an exciting moment, it looks as though Watson is overtaking Jabouille's Renault, but then the French car coasts to a stop with a seized engine. Laffite is pulling away from Jones and Piquet, and by 10 laps, it is all over, or seems to be, with the two blue and white French cars with their French drivers out-speeding everyone and looking fast, safe, and steady. In third place comes the Williams of Alan Jones, with Piquet's Brabham in his wake, then comes Reutemann on his own, followed by the two Alfa Romeos in the order Depailler, Giacomelli. In eighth place comes Daly (Tyrrell) on his own, and teammate Jarier is in tenth place, just behind Andretti's Lotus. The two McLarens are next, and then there is a long gap before Villeneuve's Ferrari and the second Lotus appear. Keegan, Surer, and Rebaque are having a nice dice of little consequence, and Arnoux is doing the best he can under the handicap of bruised ribs. Bringing up the rear are Patrese, Scheckter, Mass, and Fittipaldi as Cheever goes into the pits to try different front tires. Elio de Angelis is unhappy with the feel of the spare Lotus and stops at the pits, as did Prost when he finds he cannot pass Watson, and he changes front tires. Then when Giacomelli realizes Daly is closing on him, he too stops to change tires. On lap 17, it looks as though Pironi is in trouble, for Laffite is closing on him, and on lap 18, he is quite close. On lap 19, Laffite goes by into the lead as Pironi slows drastically with a soft front tire, and by the time he reaches the pit lane, Jones, Piquet, and Reutemann have gone by. There has been some confusion in the Ligier pit, and they subsequently changed all four tires, but not in one smooth operation, so that by the time Pironi rejoined the race, he was down in last place, two laps behind his leading teammate. From a dominant 1-2, the Ligier team had gone to 1-21; but it immediately becomes 1-20 as Villeneuve pulls into the pits with a sticking side-skirt and ignition trouble on his Ferrari. While all this is going on, Cheever veers off onto the center grass patch of Clearways as the right-rear suspension rocker-arm broke, and the rear wheels took charge of the directional stability. Everything is falling apart now, for Depailler drops out of the running to change front tires, Villeneuve is back in again, and Mass has broken his steering wheel. Depailler’s Alfa Romeo breaks its engine, and Laffite is well on to lapping the mid-field runners.
As he laps Surer, who is in ninth place, he runs wide at Clearways and gets on the loose stuff with his left wheels, and shakes his fist at the young Swiss as he comes back onto the track. This is at the end of lap 27. Two laps later, his left tire is showing signs of deflating, and he is getting into some wild slides on right-hand bends. By the time he is on lap 31, he knows he has trouble, but it is too late, and the tire splits circumferentially near its outer edge, and the Ligier slides off into the run-off area at Hawthorn Corner and is out of the race. A smiling Alan Jones inherits the lead, and from a position of total dominance, the Ligier team has disappeared, except that Pironi has other ideas and is already up to twelfth place and going faster than anyone on the track. He catches and passes Depailler before he retires, Mass before his pit-stop, Fittipaldi, Arnoux, Patrese, Scheckter, and Keegan and is now after Prost. When Scheckter is lapped by Daly, who is running in a good fourth place by now, he goes into the pits to change tires. Arnoux is in the pits for a long time while a plug on a rear caliper, which is leaking fluid, is replaced. By half distance, which is 38 laps, any hope of excitement has gone, and it is just a case of watching Jones do a good master-driver’s job of work in a car that is going superbly; a real credit to the Williams team's preparation. Piguet is a distant second, and Reutemann a distant third. Daly, Andretti, and Jarier follow, in that order, all on the same lap as Jones, but not for long, and already laps were Watson, Giacomelli, Surer, and Rebaque while Pironi is charging up through the field as is Prost, albeit at a slightly diminished rate to that of the Ligier driver. Tailing along still are Patrese, Fittipaldi, Scheckter, Keegan, Mass, and Arnoux, and then Villeneuve disappeared from the end of the field when his Ferrari engine broke. Apart from admiring Jones’ smooth driving and the stability of the Williams, the only interest lies in Pironi’s progress. He has no hope of regaining the lead, but he can still pick up plenty of places, and between lap 38 and lap 48, he catches and passes Surer, Rebaque, Giacomelli, and Watson, which put him into seventh place, but he hasn’t finished. While Andretti is fumbling with a recalcitrant gear change, Jarier passes the Lotus, then Pironi passes it, and then Andretti retires at the pits. Jarier is easy meat for Pironi, which moves him up to fifth place, and then he comes up behind Daly, no doubt remembering what happened in practice. This time Daly is more than justified in not giving way, as fourth place is at stake and he knew it.
Knowing he is being hounded by Pironi, he can be excused for getting in the way when Alan Jones lapped him, but by lap 62, Pironi had the Tyrrell in his sights. Before he can deal with it, the left rear tire on the Ligier fails, and Pironi swerves onto the grass on the inside of Westfields Corner, at the far side of the circuit, and his race was run as he came to rest with the tire a tangled mess around the rim. While some drivers will charge up from last place with passion and excitement, driving right on the ragged edge of disaster and playing it right up to the line, as for example Arnoux and Villeneuve have done in the past, Pironi’s progress is cold, hard, ruthless, unemotional, and a bit spooky. It was supposed to be Ligier's day, but it turned out to be another triumph for Williams. Jones secures his third win of the season, putting a significant claim on the Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship. Only Nelson Piquet, finishing second, resists the Australian champion and closely follows him in the overall standings, albeit now with a six-point disadvantage. Completing the success for the team financed by Arab oil princes (present with an increasing number of flags at circuits) is the third-place finish of the consistently performing Carlos Reutemann. For everyone else, it was a real debacle, except for Tyrrell, which is improving and brought Daly and Jarier to the fourth and fifth positions, and the talented Prost, who earned a point. Last year, it was said that Ferrari's dominance was also due to reliability, with their cars consistently finishing races even when not winning. This time, the award for the most durable car goes to Williams, which, despite not proving to be the fastest at Brands Hatch, secured a hard-fought and well-deserved victory thanks to the tenacity of its drivers and the reliability of the mechanics. Once again, tire issues determined the outcome. Despite starting with the same Goodyear tires, Ligier and Williams had different fates: the French Ligier cars had to retire while securely leading due to tire problems. Repeated punctures sidelined Pironi and Laffite. Similar issues made the race challenging for Alfa Romeo as well, with both cars retiring after a promising start. However, it was not an exciting race: no thrilling overtakes, no noteworthy duels. Everything unfolded naturally, without a driver being able to do something to excite the large audience present. The machines dominated over humans, and the only thrills came from mechanical failures or cars going off the track.
This doesn't mean that the drivers didn't find it extremely challenging or didn't give their best effort, but the spectacle certainly wasn't the most entertaining. Once again, grip problems (and not only those, but everything stems from tire issues) plagued Ferrari and Renault, both settling for Jody Scheckter's tenth place overall, while Jabouille, Villeneuve, and Arnoux couldn't even finish a race that wouldn't have brought them much satisfaction anyway. Jody Scheckter, after the race, says:
"What a struggle, this was an incredibly tough race for me. I fought really hard to the best of my abilities. And I also had to fight mentally not to think that I was 'dueling with Keegan, Rebaque, and Surer, or else I would have retired".
Michelin has promised a series of completely new tires for the next German Grand Prix. One can only hope that the promise is kept and, above all, that the new tires can change a situation that is starting to become worrisome.
"For me, the world championship is over. I have no more chances. Alan Jones is running away, and only Piquet could stop him. Perhaps even Pironi could still say something, but after what happened in the British Grand Prix, everything has become difficult. This time we were unlucky: the car was doing great, we had a three-second lead per lap on everyone, and we couldn't win. It means it wasn't written in destiny. During lap 29, I felt that something was wrong. I thought it was a lifted mini-skirt, but it was the tires. When I realized it, it was too late. I heard a bang, went into a spin, and my car crashed into the barriers".
A bitter outburst from Jacques Laffite, the big loser at Brands Hatch. Then the driver continues to harshly accuse Surer, who just before his retirement forced him to risk going off the track to overtake him:
"He kept me behind for a whole lap while I was much faster. And then, when I passed him, he tried with a crazy stretch to pass me back. Great school, that of Formula 2; they should all be kicked out".
However, Laffite's accusations are overturned by his own team owner, Guy Ligier, who does not mince words for his drivers, perhaps disappointed by the result.
"Cars are made to go on the track, not on the fields like Didier and Jacques did. This is how races are lost".
It seems, however, that after the race, Ligier discovered that the tires were bursting due to a defect in the rims. Ligier later stated on French radio that both drivers have been confirmed for the next year. Regarding the driver market, it seems that Jones has already been confirmed by Williams. As for the day, there is still a veiled protest from Alfa Romeo.
"Goodyear forced us to use soft tires when we wanted less tenacious ones".
Impervious as an English gentleman, the usual Parmalat cap pressed on his head, wearing the uniform of the commander of his airline, Niki Lauda attended the first Grand Prix since retiring from racing. Pale as if he had stayed indoors all this time, the former World Champion allows himself to be interviewed, showing that he hasn't lost the spirit of the old days and the taste for jokes.
Would you have liked to race this race?
"How could I, I only had a Fokker that carries about fifty passengers...".
No regret, therefore, for Formula 1.
"I don't have time to think about it. I work a lot. But I must say that I enjoyed watching the race. It's a nice pastime to be a spectator".
What do you think of Ferrari's current crisis?
"Why, is Ferrari in crisis? Jokes aside, I think this is a very difficult time for Maranello, as they are developing a completely new car and, above all, an engine that no one has been able to consistently make perform at 100%".
Do you think Jones can easily win the world title?
"It seems to me that he is going very strong and that he now has the title in the bag".
But is it the driver who is fast or the car?
And, barely holding back a yawn (he exhibited signs of impatience during the race, but perhaps more than boredom, it was fatigue), he confidently walks away, as usual followed by a dozen autograph hunters.