#343 1981 United States Grand Prix West

2021-10-23 01:00

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#1981, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alessia Bossi,

#343 1981 United States Grand Prix West

There is much work to do on Friday, during the test-session in the morning and the timed session in the afternoon, because the Long Beach circuit can’


Wednesday January 7, 1981 Jody Scheckter saves his driving license and gets away with just over two million fines, after being charged in Nice, France, with assault. The former world champion and Ferrari driver, who has lived in Monte-Carlo for five years, is found guilty and sentenced to two months' imprisonment and a fine of 10.000 francs. The South African does not even appeal, as his lawyer, the lawyer Pierre Joselet, assures him that the sentence of the court of Nice will certainly enter the amnesty that the French government will grant for the next presidential elections.


"They were quite severe, because I wasn't entirely wrong, as I had been provoked. Perhaps my reaction was too violent, but my nerves were on edge".


In reality, Jody saves himself with the payment of the damages and the fine as the counterparty, evidently satisfied in all his requests, renounces to join the civil action. Otherwise, the ex-pilot would have risked a heavier sentence and almost certainly the withdrawal of his licence. The fact had occurred on Thursday 10 January 1980 on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Scheckter was driving his Ferrari 400 along the seafront when he was seen slowing down by the car of forty-year-old Jean-Pierre Rusgalla. After trying in vain to pass, the South African had violently rear-ended the car of the other motorist, then got out and attacked him, breaking his glasses and injuring his nose, among other things. Mr. Rusgalla was treated in hospital and had to take fifteen days off work. Jody Scheckter, on the other hand, was stopped by the police and had to spend a night in jail waiting for an interpreter to arrive the next day and a hearing to be scheduled.


"That night in prison was one of the worst of my life. They didn't even give me food. I admit that I was too violent with that gentleman: however nothing would have happened if he hadn't provoked me. However, I hope never to be the protagonist of an episode like this again. It was too bitter an experience. I want to forget her as soon as possible to devote myself to my life as a public relations man and as president of the Formula 1 Drivers' Association".


Just Formula 1 continues to have no peace and the image of a fascinating sport, conquered over many years of racing and shows, is rapidly deteriorating. There is only talk of the war between the sports authorities (FISA) and the manufacturers' association (FOCA). The latest news concerns Ecclestone and his English partners: they will be hosting the South African Grand Prix on Saturday 7 February 1981. The drivers have already been summoned, the cars are on the starting foot. Is it still a bluff? Is it an attempt to demonstrate that you can race even without the legal teams (Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault, Talbot and Osella)? Difficult to answer. The race will probably be disputed, even if it will not be valid for any championship. After all, tests are often held that are not valid for the World Championship, such as the Race of Champions at Silverstone or the 1979 race at Imola. Despite this disheartening news, however, it seems that talks continue at all levels to get FISA and FOCA to an agreement before it is too late. In this regard, the most interesting indiscretion is the one that anticipates a meeting between Enzo Ferrari (with all the representatives of the FISA teams) and Ecclestone (with Williams, Chapman and Tyrrell) which would be scheduled in Maranello on Monday 19 January 1981. While waiting for this important rendezvous takes place and with the hope that it will have a positive outcome, the opinion of two Italian pilots is heard on the delicate issue. One is Bruno Giacomelli, legalist with Alfa Romeo, the other Riccardo Patrese, about to sign with March (and will probably try from Thursday 15 January 1981 at Le Castellet). Giacomelli claims:


"You can't run split into two groups, because we risk falling into ridicule. The English if they compete with each other, they will disappear in the space of a season. Nor can we do without Lotus, Brabham and company. In short, the agreement is essential".


The same thesis, more or less, is advanced by the Paduan driver.


"Racing one side or the other has no meaning. Unfortunately we pilots have no say in the matter, because, with a few exceptions, we would all be determined to settle the dispute. I hope that Enzo Ferrari will be able to convince Ecclestone (or vice versa) and that a serious championship and not a joke can be launched within a short time".


These are dark times for Formula 1, but there are those who look to the future with optimism, without worrying too much about the war between the sports authorities (FISA) and the British manufacturers (FOCA). If this were not the case, the entry into the world of Grand Prix racing of a new major automotive industry that joins Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Renault would not be justified. Since Friday 16 January 1981, Talbot, the French manufacturer which in the recent past has changed its name several times and which is now fully owned by the Peugeot Group, has had its own team to take to the track. In reality, Talbot didn't build its own single-seater from scratch, but took over Ligier en bloc, one of the most competitive teams in recent seasons. The marriage between the large French company and the small sports car craftsman Guy Ligier was not an easy one. But Talbot, which had previously been on the verge of racing with BMW's new turbocharged engines, could no longer hold back. Ligier, always looking for substantial capital, could not, for his part, leave an attractive offer. However, the yes cost him the name, which now no longer appears on the cars, and the return to an agreement with Matra for the supply of engines, renewing a relationship that Ligier had broken at the end of 1978 because it was unsatisfactory. The new Talbot Gitanes team thus had to give up the Cosworths and take back the old 12-cylinder engines manufactured by Matra, a modern aerospace company specializing in the manufacture of missiles, which makes racing engines solely for the passion of its engineers. It seems that Guy Ligier (who continues to manage the team on an organizational and technical level) has received a budget of 40.000.000 francs for this operation. With this sum he will be able to pay off his two jewels, the elderly and expert brothers-in-law of Formula 1, Jacques Laffite and Jean Pierre Jabouille. The latter is still on crutches after the serious accident in Montreal, but expects to be able to get on the cars for the first tests in about a fortnight. Jabouille is the most celebrated and most interviewed.


"I don't give a damn about the Renault I left. Among other things, I'm happy that the turbo engine is not yet ready to win a world title. Instead, Jacques and I can aim for the championship, because we have a strong team, very good cars, a lot of experience and the will to win".


It's strange to hear these words from a rider who until a few months ago spoke of the turbo as the only way to go faster than the others. In any case, Matra is also studying a supercharged 6-cylinder V engine which will probably be ready in September and which will be able to run starting next year. Jabouille. after belittling the turbo, he said he was impressed by the Comprex used by Ferrari, which he also tests on the track while the French driver is being interviewed. The tests of the Maranello team are at the beginning and we will have to wait to make a judgement. During practice, Pironi goes off the road and ruins a turbocharged car. Villeneuve has been urgently recalled to Canada due to problems affecting the Canadian Grand Prix. It seems that there are some difficulties and that the president of FISA, Balestre, is also there. After all, the whole World Championship is still on the high seas. FOCA wants to do - Saturday 7 February 1981 - its South African Grand Prix. But speaking of the situation in Formula 1, the most important news concerns the meeting scheduled for Monday 19 January 1981 in Mannello. There is a lot of optimism in the environment. In order to bring peace to Formula 1 and find a lasting agreement on a technical and organizational level for the next World Championship - it was said in recent months - it is necessary for those interested to lock themselves in a room to discuss and not leave it until they have solved all problems. Well, that's exactly what the exponents of the major stables of the two opposing parties do, i.e. the teams adhering to FOCA headed by Bernie Ecclestone, and those loyal to FISA including all the major manufacturers. 


Gathered in a hall of the old Scuderia Ferrari in Corso Trento e Trieste 31, in Modena, fourteen Formula 1 personalities discuss for hours and hours until late in the evening. The situation is so complicated and complex that at the moment it is not yet possible to know what the final result of this very important meeting is, basically the last chance to avoid a total split, disastrous for everyone. A certain optimism reigns in the environment, even if for the moment it is difficult to make predictions and it is possible that the discussions will continue on Tuesday 20 January 1981, before an official statement is issued. Certainly, from the Ferrari headquarters, communications via telex and telephone are constantly sent because, before taking any initiative, the sporting authorities in Paris and the majority of the organizers of the races must be consulted, as a definitive calendar of the competitions will also have to be established. The participants in the meeting arrive in Modena in dribs and drabs. Expected by Enzo Ferrari and Marco Piccinini, the legalists present themselves first: Larrousse and Sage for Renault; Chiti and Corbari for Alfa Romeo, Enzo Osella and Palazzoli for Osella, and finally Alex Hawkridge, one of the administrators of Toleman, the new English team that will make its debut this year in the world of Grand Prix racing. Around noon, arriving from Bologna where they had landed the previous evening with Ecclestone's private jet, transported by a Ferrari coach, the president of FOCA himself, Bernie Ecclestone, his legal secretary, the lawyer Max Mosley, the builders Frank Williams and Colin Chapman. Smiling faces, a few exchanges and then the long retreat. Some waiters come and go bringing sandwiches and drinks. And from this moment on, no one is seen anymore. The group begins to debate many issues. The abolition of miniskirts or the permanence of turbo engines is no longer brought up, but the stability of regulations, the distribution of tasks, the division of technical, political and economic power are discussed. In short, everything must then be officially (even if only formally) approved by FISA. To the problems that have already emerged during the season and which led to the breakup, others have certainly been added. Not least that of the qualifications for the races. 


In fact, new teams have arisen and at each race difficulties will arise due to the number of cars to put on the track, which will be at least thirty. Another issue to be resolved is that of the composition of the commission for Formula 1, which is currently formed, after the rift that occurred between the two parties, only by representatives of the legal teams. Someone maintains that the mediation attempted several times by Enzo Ferrari will this time have a determining weight. But since the Modenese manufacturer is one of the parties involved, its action is rather limited. However, the fact remains that, once an agreement has been reached, FISA will no longer be able to intervene negatively, as it will then risk being held solely responsible for a possible and definitive break. In these decisive hours, however, Formula 1 is experiencing delicate moments. Only a compact and clarifying action will be able to recreate, at least in part, an image deteriorated by the events, quarrels and controversies of recent months. If someone still tries to cheat, proposing regulations to his exclusive advantage or indicating technical and organizational solutions that he will subsequently try to overcome with clever manoeuvres, then it will certainly be the end of everything. Certainly one cannot believe that the only problem concerning the now famous miniskirts is at the root of the fracture. Many will have to give in to what they foolishly think are their prerogatives and rights. And it is not excluded, as has already been said, that the last one to pay, even if partially, is not Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, who believes he can manage everything from Paris. Once the full teams agree, he too will have to bow his head and accept the decisions made. Every doubt disappears during the evening of Monday 19 January 1981: the peace is signed. It is not a simple armistice, but a truce that should last for a long time and restore serenity in an environment that has been shaken by too many controversies in recent months. This is the result of the summit of the majority of manufacturers belonging to the opposing groups, those of FOCA and those of FISA. It is a very long day, in which the representatives of the various teams do not leave the meeting room for almost twelve hours. But in the end, Enzo Ferrari's secretary, Franco Gozzi, head of the Scuderia Ferrari press office, showed up and read the following press release:


"The manufacturers registered in the FIA world championship and the representatives of FOCA met today in Modena and reached an agreement in principle on the future of Formula 1. A restricted commission will agree on the text, definitive for a global solution, standardizing for four years, to be proposed to FISA".


This press release is signed by Enzo Ferrari and Bernie Ecclestone. Immediately after reading the text, the builders begin to leave the old headquarters of the Scuderia Ferrari, present in Modena: Williams, Chapman. Osella, Chiti, Larrousse for Renault, the representative of Toleman, all appear smiling and satisfied, even if rather tired from the long discussions and negotiations. Shortly after, Enzo Ferrari also arrives, who will be 83 in exactly one month. Ferrari appears in the best shape of all and undergoes an interview.


"I had been working on this result since 18 September. On the basis of the proposal we have launched, a restricted commission will meet from today to decide all the details. I hope that no difficulties will arise and that FISA will be able to look favorably on this document of ours. All the topics have been addressed and I can give you some clarifications. I don't know yet on what date the next World Championship will start, I can only tell you that the race in South Africa, scheduled for February 7, has been postponed. On the other hand, there will be a San Marino Grand Prix at Imola on May 3, valid for the World Championship, the proceeds of which, with rules to be established, will go to the earthquake victims. On the contrary, I hope that, from now on, two Grands Prix can be held in Italy, permanently at Imola and Monza, to avoid dualisms".


The Modenese manufacturer is asked why the representatives of the sporting authorities were not present.


"They weren't invited. It was a builders' meeting. However, it will be up to FISA to judge and decide".


Still bombarded by questions, Enzo Ferrari continues to answer without hesitation, fresh and lucid as always:


"I don't know when a final decision will be made and I don't know anything about the meeting that will be held in Monte-Carlo on January 30th. I never go there".


He is then asked if it was a very tiring day for him. The Modenese manufacturer replies that he has had many others like this one.


"I wanted to affirm the continuity of Imola, of the magnificent system that the city has. All the details will be discussed in the coming days. I am convinced that I have done a good job because I have spent a lot of time establishing principles that must be respected. The main result has been achieved and it is that of the unity of the teams and the championship".


Last question: how did the British, who up until now had opposed an agreement, behave?


"We wanted to run and run all together. This was important. I asked Chapman and Ecclestone to give me a present for my 83rd birthday. I must admit that they have overcome, understanding, many difficulties to meet me. I did my best and they were very helpful".


From today, therefore, Formula 1 is once again a sport, and no longer just an opportunity to make controversies. The restricted commission (it is not yet known who it will be composed of) will decide all the details. Of course, the side skirts will be abolished and the supercharged engines will be maintained. As for the World Championship, it could begin on Sunday March 15, 1981 in Long Beach, California. But who won the Formula 1 war? Did the rebellious British builders prevail or was FISA right in the end? Is the great loser Bernie Ecclestone, or was it Jean-Marie Balestre who had to give up? These are the questions that arise after the already historic peace treaty signed on Monday night in Modena in the old headquarters of the Ferrari team. 


On the one hand the legal constructors (Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault, Talbot, Osella and Toleman), on the other the FOCA teams (Brabham, Williams, Lotus and company), committed to resolving the conflict that had risked destroying the world of Formula 1. The answer, however, is only one: common sense won, neither thanks to Ecclestone, nor to that of Balestre. To say that it was sport and motor racing that established itself would be wrong. It was certainly not the competitive spirit of the teams or a pure sporting passion that advised this general agreement. As good businessmen, the protagonists of the Formula 1 war realized that they were harming themselves above all and that a return to normality was the only possible way out. FOCA and FISA were unable to organize an acceptable World Championship by themselves. That's all, even if the closure of the controversy was seasoned with rhetoric and the forced satisfaction shown on all sides. Because if it had been possible to organize a series of competitions of a certain validity, everyone would have continued on their own path, such was the bitterness (not to mention hatred) existing between the two parties. The excuse of miniskirts, of interpreting regulations, was just a screen to hide a very heated struggle for control of economic and political power. So much so that on Monday in Modena there was uninterrupted discussion for twelve hours, with an agreement already established, simply to decide the distribution of the money, i.e. the rich prize money for each race and to fine-tune the problem of qualifying, always linked in any case to the factor money. According to some rumors, the solution to each problem was found by placing all the teams on an equal footing for prizes (for example, if the Osella arrives first in a race, it gets the same amount as a Brabham or a Lotus, while previously there were different tables). Confirmed instead the rule on engagements, established on the basis of the scores obtained the previous year. Basically, the technical question has not even been touched upon. It will be the restricted commission of the builders gathered in these days to formulate the proposals that will be presented to the FISA in Paris. However, the solutions should not deviate much from those established by the regulation for 1981, i.e. abolition of side skirts, reduction of tire dimensions and maintenance of supercharged engines. 


A special commission of designers will be at work in London from Tuesday to analyze only the subject of miniskirts, as the minimum height of 60 millimeters from the ground required for the side walls still lends itself to misunderstandings. In fact, in a static position, the cars can comply with the regulations, but in motion at high speed, crushed by the air pressure, the measurements can be reduced considerably. Commenting on what was written on Monday and in relation to the declarations of the indefatigable Enzo Ferrari, who spoke of guarantees for four years of stability in Formula 1, a remark must be made: the Modena-based manufacturer, whose proposals presented on 18 September 1980 were accepted by the parties involved (in short, distribution of tasks with economic power at FOCA and sports technician at FISA), he managed once again with great skill to weave the strings. The most important result, general agreement aside, is the acceptance by FOCA of the dispute of two races a year permanently in Italy. Monza and Imola will each have one Grand Prix, the one on the Emilian track will be dedicated to San Marino. And the decision to donate part of the proceeds to the earthquake victims of the South for the race on May 3rd is a generous offer that makes up, at least partially, the protagonists of Formula 1 for having offered a truly squalid show in recent months. However, on Tuesday January 20, 1981 Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, is not in Paris. He is traveling abroad. We will therefore have to wait before having some of his statements (with relative stance) on the latest events in Formula 1. The French manager will only be able to ratify the decisions already taken, as the regulation is clear: faced with the unanimity of the manufacturers, the acceptance is practically automatic. On the carpet of Formula 1, however, a serious problem remains to be solved and that concerns the tyres. The official withdrawal of Goodyear from competitions has opened a big void. Just on Tuesday, one of Michelin's managers, engineer Dupasquier, admitted that for the moment the French company has the go-ahead to supply four teams (Renault, Talbot, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo). In the future it could reach up to seven or eight teams, if it has permission, because technically it can't do more. Toleman, who will make her debut in European races, will have the Pirellis. So what will the other teams do? 


It seems that the only possible solution is a return, albeit unofficial, of Goodyear. The loophole presents itself with the advent of a company (managed by Ecclestone) which will distribute the tires of the American company still in circulation (almost 4.000 tyres) and will build new ones. However, the situation is not very clear and will perhaps lend itself to possible new controversies. For these reasons, after finding the general agreement for the settlement of the well-known FISA-FOCA dispute, two conferences were held in London, on Thursday 22 January 1981, near Heathrow airport, in which Piccinini participated for Italy and Forghieri from Ferrari, Marcili from Alfa Romeo and Stirano from Osella. In the first meeting the normal technical questions relating to Formula 1 are discussed, and in the meantime it has been learned that following the withdrawal of Goodyear, the Irts (International Race Tire Service) which belongs to Bernie Ecclestone and is directed by the Frenchman Francois Mosnier, will to the supply of tires by taking over technicians from Goodyear and machinery from the Avon company. This supply will initially be made to two or three teams, and then to the others later in the season, possibly using the existing stocks of Goodyear tires in the meantime. The second meeting begins to examine the package of proposals to be submitted to FISA, on the basis of what was agreed in principle in the Modena meeting. As regards the calendar for next season, FOCA, which has signed a contract for the South African Grand Prix, hopes to convince the organizers to move the date from the start of the season to 10 October 1981, guaranteeing in return the participation of all the Formula 1 teams and not just the English ones. A couple of weeks later, on Monday 2 February 1981, the South African Grand Prix received the approval of the FISA. The race, announced the president of FISA, Jean Marie Balestre, will take place under the aegis of the sports authorities and is included in the official calendar. 


This is the first sign of real détente in the battle waged between FISA and FOCA. Obviously, the race will not be valid for the World Championship (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Renault, Talbot and Osella do not participate) and will be disputed under the open formula, that is with old cars, still with miniskirts. Meanwhile, in the FISA headquarters, the package of proposals presented by the manufacturers is being examined, a document which in all probability will be approved on Sunday 8 February 1981. Afterwards, the definitive calendar of competitions will finally be issued. Wednesday February 4th 1981, after the long controversies, the spites and the taking of positions which for months brought Formula 1 to court, the cars finally returned to the track. It is not the return that everyone hoped for, that is with all the teams, but rather a partial return, only of teams linked to FOCA. The agreement reached a few weeks ago between Ecclestone and Enzo Ferrari, and not yet ratified by Balestre, was not enough to cancel the race which, although devoid of major interests, has precise meanings. The first is to show Balestre that FOCA can have a good number of cars, the second to be able to organize an alternative championship. The South African Grand Prix does not want to be a threat but only a warning: if the FISA president does not approve what was agreed in Modena in the meeting with Ferrari, any possibility of closing the dispute will vanish at least until Jean-Marie Balestre is president of the motor sports authority. On the other hand, the controversies continue at a distance. When in Kyalami the news circulated in Paris according to which Balestre will ratify the agreement between Ecclestone and Ferrari only if FOCA withdraws all the lawsuits filed in the English courts against FISA, the response is immediate. Max Mosley, Counsel for the Builders Association, said:


"It's another useless move by Balestre to continue the war. At the Modena meeting with Ferrari this subject was also discussed and it was implied that legal actions by FOCA were automatically withdrawn as soon as the agreement was approved. Balestre clings to every quibble to delay peace, because in that case we would go back to talking about racing and drivers and he would leave the scene. However, we have already instructed our lawyers to give FISA, both verbally and in writing, all the guarantees they require".


Even the managers of FOCA realize that peace must return as soon as possible because Formula 1 divided into two would lose all the popularity it had created in just a few races and this South African Grand Prix is an example of this. In fact, with the official tests starting on Thursday February 5th 1981, a race gets underway that certainly cannot be defined as a Grand Prix, at least in the usual sense of the definition.


There isn't the festive atmosphere that marks the start of a new season, on the contrary, in some cases the air of demobilization reigns that is usually felt in the last few races, when everything is already settled. It's the same riders who will compete in the race who don't believe in this Grand Prix.


"It's a rush that I don't feel".




"Without the great teams there is no taste in winning".


These are the most recurring statements. In fact a race like this, without Ferrari, Alfa, Renault, Ligier and their drivers, is devoid of technical contents up to the point of seeming a one-make event if we consider that all the cars use the same Ford Cosworth engine and the remains of the Goodyear tires produced in the last season even if the American company sends some engineers for assistance. Even the cars are the same as last season and have miniskirts. The only novelty is represented by the March, which returns to Formula 1 with two cars driven by Derek Daly and the Chilean Eliseo Salazar. Among the most important drivers present, the World Champion Alan Jones stands out, who will compete together with Reutemann in the Williams, and Nelson Piquet, who will have Ricardo Zunino as teammate to replace the Mexican Ector Rebaque, who was struck by viral hepatitis. The group of the most numerous riders is the Italian one which boasts five appearances. Elio De Angelis, the first Lotus driver, will have the English Nigel Mansell as his teammate, while the young Andrea De Cesaris will join Watson on the McLaren. The Arrows team is entirely Italian and, thanks to the sponsorship of Ceramiche Ragno and Beta Utensili, is made up of Riccardo Patrese and rookie Sigfried Stohr. The situation has not yet been defined in Tyrrell, where, alongside Eddy Cheever, Destre Wilson will compete, the girl of South African origin, wife of the track director of the Brands Hatch circuit, who has demonstrated her qualities in Formula Aurora. For a third Tyrrell is predicated a certain Mike Domingo, a local pilot whose fame has never crossed national borders. In short, despite everything we race, and it's already a good result. Perhaps to respect the contract with the organizers of Kyalami or more likely to demonstrate to the whole world (and especially to Monsieur Balestre) that they can go it alone, the teams loyal to FOCA contest the first Formula 1 Grand Prix of the season. It can result in a very boring race or even an acceptable race. 


A duel between Italian drivers would give Ecclestone's supporters the cue to say that the South African Grand Prix demonstrated that it is possible to compete even without the legal teams adhering to FISA, i.e. without Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Renault, Talbot, Osella and Toleman. But that's not the point. In any case, the race is little more than a circus show, remedied with old numbers, appealing only to the inexhaustible passion of the fans. There is absolutely no technical content and - all in all - even the competitive one is missing, given that the test it does not apply to the World Championship. The real start of the season will take place, hoping that common sense will prevail both on the part of FOCA and on the part of FISA and that the Modena agreement will be ratified as soon as possible, on March 15th in Long Beach, with the US West Grand Prix. Only with the presence of all the stables, the situation will be different, in all respects. New chassis, unpublished machines, engines of all types (eight and twelve cylinders naturally aspirated, turbo) and even a greater number of drivers (as one can think today of a race without protagonists such as Villeneuve and Pironi, Andretti and Giacomelli, Laffite and Jabouille, Prost and Arnoux?) will guarantee entertainment and competition. Even if he doesn't want to admit it, the fresh World Champion Alan Jones must have dreamed of the race with which to inaugurate his title in a very different way. Instead, the Australian champion will start for the first time with the number one painted on his Williams in this South African Grand Prix which up to now has not kept, not even in part, what a Formula 1 race usually promises. Apart from a dramatic accident involving his team mate Reutemann, the race does not present particular reasons of interest.


To complete the work there is a light and annoying rain that ruins the last hour of practice, the one that usually contains one of the most exciting phases of a Grand Prix, when all the riders unleash every resource to gain a good position on the starting grid. departure. Barring a massive and unexpected turnout for the race, the South African Grand Prix amply demonstrates that Formula 1 can have no future if it continues to remain divided. A race that is not valid for the world championship and without prestigious manufacturers such as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault and Talbot-Ligier cannot stand and the public is the first not to respond. Friday 6 February 1981 Bernie Ecclestone does not show up in the Kyalami pits, perhaps so as not to personally witness the collapse of his ambitions to build a Formula 1 circus outside the sporting legality. Max Mosley, FOCA's lawyer, and Frank Williams are perfectly aware of this failure, and on several occasions they have the opportunity to admit that a race, let alone a championship, cannot hold up with Formula 1 split in two. Jean-Marie Balestre, the president of FISA, must also take into account this reality, which the managers of FOCA bitterly experience in South Africa, who in these days should approve what was established in Modena and who, clinging perhaps beyond measure to every regulatory quibble or judicial, continues to postpone the definitive peace. Balestre must bear in mind the fact that even the FISA races, albeit with more prestigious cars but always limited in numbers, would not be able to collect the successes to which Formula 1 is by now accustomed and in the long run only motor sport would pay. Trials don't provide thrills, but that doesn't mean we're necessarily going to see a dull race. Piquet, Reutemann and Jones, who set the three best times at the end of qualifying, are not types willing to give away a victory even if it doesn't count for the world championship. As outsiders, Keke Rosberg will start with the Fittipaldi and Elio De Angelis who with the Lotus sets the fifth fastest time overall.


"It's a pity that the car isn't perfect and that we have to pay the opponents the handicap of 30 extra kilos due to the reinforcements we had to bring to the car to stiffen it. Without this disadvantage, which penalizes us by about half a second per lap, I could have definitely aimed for victory".


Close to the first is also Riccardo Patrese, who has serious ambitions for the race to enter the fight for the first places. Of the other Italians in the race, ninth time for Andrea De Cesaris who despite some fuel problems is faster than his captain John Watson. Sigfried Stohr also did well, after being stranded due to engine failure, with the T-Car he was in eleventh place.


"It's my first Grand Prix and therefore I have no ambitions other than to finish the race. Formula 1 requires experience and I'm on the first day of school".


Cheever, on the other hand, falls, it is appropriate to say, into the nets because he crashed at full speed in a curve that had become wet from the rain. The American gets away with two spins, while a big scare is recovered by Carlos Reutemann who in the course of the morning, in the same corner, suffers a spectacular accident that could have had far more serious consequences. The Argentinian driver, having reached the Sunset curve, ends up in the nets at over 180 km/h and, after passing the first barrier, gets stuck in the second. A mesh of the net ends up lifting his helmet until it almost strangles it. Reutemann remains entangled in this awkward position for several minutes, until the marshals manage to free him. The Williams driver reports, in addition to worrying signs of strangulation, only a big fright. One last note on this South African Grand Prix: after ten years of Formula 1 one of the biggest characters in the racing world will be missing. It is Emerson Fittipaldi, who announces his retirement and is in Kyalami as director of the team that bears his name. Meanwhile, in Europe, for the first time in many years, sitting in front of the television to watch a Formula 1 race there will also be many drivers, protagonists of the most spectacular automotive specialty, forced to stay at home due to disputes between the sporting authorities and the builders. And among these special spectators of the South African Grand Prix from Kyalami there is also Bruno Giacomelli, Alfa Romeo driver, one of the candidates to fight for the world title. Bresciano is a quiet type, who knows how to wait his turn. 


But on this occasion Giacomelli feels defrauded, robbed of the possibility of winning a race. On the other hand, Alberto Cova's rising star has by now supplied too many high-performance tests for him not to be identified with that of the most probable protagonist of the World Championship. Bruno Giacomelli confesses:


"I really have to admit that we are unlucky. Last year, when we had the competitive car ready to ensure success, the season was over. Now that we could certainly have our say, we are forced to desert the race. I can't guarantee that we would have won, but we certainly could have been among the first. Then my hands itch from the desire to hold the steering wheel of my Alfa".


Is Bruno convinced this year that he can fight, together with Andretti, for the victory of the World Championship?


"That can never be said. But we will certainly be among the best, even if the recent tests in Argentina worried me a lot".


Do you think supercharged cars will have an easy time in the next World Championship which will officially start on March 15th in Long Beach?


"It is also difficult to answer this question. Turbo cars are very fast and get better as time goes by. However, there is always the problem of reliability and slower and more tortuous circuits. In any case, both Renault and Ferrari will have many advantages. A lot will depend on the tyres, as usual. I expect a good fight".


Will Ferrari be able to enter the top again?


"I have already said that the team from Maranello will be among those to beat. Among other things, he has two riders who are among the fastest: people like Villeneuve and Pironi don't give up badly. As for the car, I know that he has made a lot of progress. I was told just in recent days that the Maranello team is developing new things, such as an aluminum rear fairing which should give excellent results with the Comprex. It was tested at Le Castellet and the Ferrari technicians will certainly find the best solutions in the forty days until the start of the championship".


Ultimately, therefore, Alfa Romeo finds itself with a new handicap to overcome...


"For the moment. But soon we too will have the turbo, and then we'll see. We will fight on equal terms".


Returning to the South African events, Carlos Reutmann's first statement after establishing himself in the South African Grand Prix, the race that opens the season but which is not valid for the World Championship, is this:


"I fought, risked and won for nothing. I worked hard, at every corner I risked going off the track and all of this for nothing, because a victory in this race without points is a useless result. I'm a professional and in the race I gave everything because when the race starts, you forget about politics. But I would have liked to see the characters who talk a lot, those who decide our fate at the table, in our place, inside the cars with the rain beating on their helmets...".


A Grand Prix which leaves a profound disappointment in the winner, and which certainly could not have satisfied the other drivers nor, much less, the organizers who, despite being able to count on the turnout of 30.000 spectators (higher than all expectations), closed the budget as at least 50.000 people were needed to balance the score. The lack of global validity of the race and consequently the absence of prestigious teams such as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault and Talbot-Ligier weigh decisively on all of this. The monotony of the race was saved, at least in part, by the rain which, falling intermittently before the start, gave the drivers serious doubts about the type of tires to start with. Reutemann was right at the roulette wheel of choice who, adopting dry tires, struggled in the first part of the race but found himself with victory served on a silver platter when his direct rivals were forced to enter the pits to replace the tyres. This is the case of Nelson Piquet who with his Brabham had made a gap behind him in just a few laps and seemed to be heading for easy success.


"I was unlucky, because if the rain continued for 15 laps, nobody would have been able to catch me".


Elio De Angelis also climbs onto the podium. In the first part of the race, the Roman rider, while pushing to the limit, took care not to fall into the innumerable pitfalls that each corner presented to the riders who started on slick tyres. Then, when the track dried, he was the author of a valuable comeback that could, perhaps, finish in place of honour.


"Throughout the race I had to deal with the rear tires which had deteriorated to the point of forcing me to constantly use the anti-roll bar adjustment to try and improve the set-up. Voice-overs were the other problem with this run. I have Zunino and Desire Wilson to thank if I didn't catch up with Piquet. They hindered me for a long time and I missed a good opportunity".


Who can speak of bad luck is Sigfried Stohr, making his Formula 1 debut. The Rimini rider, who was one of the best in the wet with slicks, lost eleventh position because he was rear-ended by Lees and had to give up definitively due to engine failure. Lees, having gone off the track with his Theodore, is admitted to the clinic where a concussion is found. Honest race for Eddie Cheever who, after the morning's scare and with a car set up with little luck, had the sole objective of completing the race. Seventh place rewards his will and courage, if we consider that the American probably raced with a cracked heel. Will Formula 1 be united again in Long Beach, for the race which in over a month should inaugurate the World Championship? Absurdly, this is the question that the managers of the FOCA teams ask themselves after a South African Grand Prix which clearly demonstrated how the most important automotive discipline must be compact in order to offer the show which has thrilled millions of spectators in recent years . Unfortunately, the longed-for peace which, after the Modena agreement seemed only delayed by the bureaucratic formalities of ratification by Balestre and FISA, continues to be delayed to the point that new discontents are spreading within the English builders and there is talk of a split again definitive. In this regard, Max Mosley, FOCA's lawyer, states:


"The agreements stipulated with Ferrari in the last meeting in Modena involve a great sacrifice for us, and the tests recently carried out by Renault in Argentina have demonstrated this. Prost, with the car without side skirts, on a sea level circuit where the turbo engine does not have the advantage of altitude, set a new track record bettering the times set last year by cars with movable side walls. This means that today Renault and the other manufacturers that have powerful engines have a big advantage over the FOCA teams. If Balestre does not decide to sign, it is possible that the whole thing will be re-discussed. Because we are not willing to face a confrontation that immediately sees us as losers, without having guarantees of stability for the future. We want to be able to count on a technical commission that carefully and in due time evaluates the rules that will have to regulate Formula 1".


The record obtained by Prost threw the FOCA technicians and pilots into turmoil, who felt they were beaten from the start without even being able to count on miniskirts to counter the supremacy of super-powerful engines. Of this opinion is also Frank Williams, the team manager who last year won the World Championship with his cars:


"Without miniskirts and with tires that aren't up to Michelin, we have no chance of fighting with Renault, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo which have engines with over 530 horsepower. If we don't find other solutions, we will be forced to appear as extras".


Carlos Reutemann also takes a stand on the current crisis in Formula 1, and not even the night manages to make him lose his sadness for having fought to win a useless race.


"We risked our lives for nothing, because it was a worthless race. In recent months, many things in Formula 1 have expired. Even the safety systems in Kyalami weren't as efficient as last year and racing like this was an added problem. It's useless to talk about safety, about miniskirts, when we see that Prost has obtained the record in Argentina with a top speed of over 302 km/h. The new regulation is also wrong".


It is hoped that the end of this dispute will come as soon as possible because, for now, only sport pays off. The decisions of Balestra and FISA, meanwhile, are expected on Monday, February 9, 1981. Failure to approve the agreement would lead to complete chaos.


"Going back to Formula 1? I'd be a fool".


Niki Landa returns to racing. The news spread on Friday 13 February 1981 and immediately aroused a certain sensation. Too bad it's not true.


"I just don't think about it".


Says the former World Champion from his Vienna office of Air Lauda, his airline (35 employees, four aircraft, including a gigantic DC10, a turnover of about 100.000.000 shillings) .


"I simply said that I can't predict my future. In the next two or three years I might even go to the moon. But that doesn't mean I'll be an astronaut. No, today I have no intention of going back behind the wheel of a Formula 1. I have other interests, other thoughts. I'd be a fool to run during this time. Formula 1 has been reduced to a mess. FISA and FOCA threw everything away, they looked after their interests and not those of the sport. A war that serves no one and that has bored people. Bad business, really".


Lauda follows the events of Formula 1 with interest. Many years of work and painful successes cannot be forgotten. He saw the recent South African Grand Prix on television, he informs himself, he reads.


"But I have no particular nostalgia. At best, I feel a tinge of regret when my current job gets heavy. I started from scratch, I have many responsibilities, I fly from one country to another at the controls of my planes. It's difficult, more difficult than when I was driving a Ferrari...".


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