Having closed the chapter of the San Marino Grand Prix, with the thrilling race held at Imola, Formula 1 reappears at one of its classic circuits, that of Zolder, situated in the middle of the woods about seventy kilometres north-east of Brussels. The hours leading up to the start of practice, scheduled with the first qualifying session, are fairly quiet. The recent decisions of the special Formula 1 Commission in Paris, although contrary to the spirit of the regulations, have partially clarified the situation. Cars will no longer be able to mount sidewall end pieces made of soft materials, but will have to adopt rigid bulkheads which, when stationary, will have to be 6 centimetres above the ground. Full freedom, on the other hand, for variable shock absorbers, along the lines of those put on the Brabhams. All the teams have worked, more or less, on these bases and, with the controversy hopefully over, the World Championship resumes as if it were at the beginning. The recent measures taken in Paris by the Formula One Commission therefore authorise all the teams to adopt systems similar or similar to those used by Brabham from the Brazilian Grand Prix onwards. Each car has a different one: the designers have indulged in copying the idea, at once simple and ingenious, of Gordon Murray, technical chief of Bernie Ecclestone's team. There are those who, late in the preparation, have fitted only variable excursion springs, very soft at the beginning of the lowering action and stiffer at the end. Then there are hydro-pneumatic systems using various liquids, others using only air pressure. Some have connected the four shock absorbers together by means of pipes and tanks, others have built an independent contraption for each spring. There are even those who envisage using electronics in the very near future.
A mini-computer will dose the height of the car in the best way, depending on the situation. In short, we have to review the values expressed so far in the race and wait to know who will have worked better. For the moment, Brabham, which has the most experience in this field, still seems to have the advantage. There are many questions to be answered. Interesting seems to be the situation of Ferrari, which could confirm its performance at Imola. The Mannello-based manufacturer has also fitted two of the three cars brought to Zolder with hydro-pneumatic suspensions and it seems that they could give good results. Among other things, the weather is favourable, as the sky is overcast and it is not hot: an extra guarantee for the turbocharged engines. The overriding motive of the Belgian race concerns the lead in the general classification. Will Carlos Reutemann resist attacks from Nelson Piquet, his closest pursuer? Much depends on the cars: if the Brabham of the astute Bernie Ecclestone demonstrates the superiority shown in Argentina and Imola and if the Williams has not closed the technical gap suffered in the last two races, there will be little for the Argentine to do. Also because Reutemann, this year appearing particularly fit and combative, will also have to contend with his team-mate Alan Jones who has sworn revenge after the snubs suffered, the three-way duel could reach very high spectacular levels. Piquet, Reutemann and Jones, however, will have to watch out for a fourth wheel, Ferrari. No one in Maranello has any illusions that they will be able to repeat the performance of Imola, to reach the pole position again. However, the red 126 C turbo cars seem to be progressing day by day and it would no longer be a big surprise if they found themselves in the front rows again. Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi worked at Fiorano to seek the tuning and reliability that are the only basis for seeking results. Says Villeneuve, before leaving for Belgium:
"The car is growing. And with the car my desire to win a race is also growing. I didn't like the missed opportunity at Imola. Luckily I'm a guy who always looks ahead and never behind, otherwise there would be a nervous breakdown. If Ferrari, as I believe, supports me, I will try everything to beat the favourites. I like the Zolder track very much, even though in past years it has never proved very favourable to my car. I really hope that Imola was not just an isolated episode, but the beginning of a new era for Ferrari".
The Canadian driver, despite being in great demand by other teams, who are willing to do crazy things to get him, would be very happy to stay at Maranello. Negotiations for his reengagement are ongoing and only in the days of Monte Carlo, at the end of the month, will we know anything new. A good placing at Zolder, however, would make everything easier because it would convince Gilles to stay in a competitive team and Ferrari to keep a driver who is going strong.
The two days of practice before the Belgian Grand Prix are not only waste of time, they are farcical. Partly because of rules and regulations and partly because of the weather, but at least it is not due to any fault of the drivers, who are all getting on with the job in spite of the difficulties. This year’s in-thing is adjustable ride-height in order to cheat the 6 cm. ground clearance rule and the only teams who are not cheating are those who could not afford the mechanisms, like Ensign, or those who have enough problems, without adding new ones, like Toleman. All the regular and serious teams are cheating so openly that cheating now seems to be accepted as being legal. Systems for lowering the car once it is under way vary from hydro-pneumatic, though hydro-electric, to simple mechanical means and everyone seems to think that the lowering of the car gives aerodynamic advantages, but one wonders whether the lowering of the centre-of-gravity of the car by 6 cm. doesn’t have as great effect. Because Team Lotus is back in the entry (after missing the San Marino Grand Prix) there are 31 aspiring competitors for this race and the recently agreed rules limit the number to 30 for practice, of which 24 can qualify for the race. The so-called four-year stability on rules appears to have been modified already to a four-day stability and before practice is through it looks like becoming a four-hour stability. Among the major changes to the scene is the appearance of the new Renault RE30 cars, which are lighter, smaller, neater and more compact than the RE20 series, and have the turbo-chargers located low down alongside the engine, one on each side. The handling can’t be made satisfactory, so they are abandoned in favour of the older cars, and various problems on Friday afternoon mean that Arnoux doesn’t qualify. Rain on Saturday stops all hopes for the unfortunate Frenchman. The teams of Williams, Brabham, Tyrrell, McLaren, Ensign, Fittipaldi, March, Alfa Romeo, Talbot-Matra, Ferrari, Arrows, Theodore and Toleman-Hart are not changed radically from the Imola race, but ATS has only one entry and puts in Borgudd instead of Lammers, and Osella puts in Piercarlo Ghinzani for the injured Guerra. Ferrari are still using KKK turbo-chargers, March has painted their cars all-black, Lotus are running modified (a continuous process) Type 81 cars, McLaren are restricting the MP4 carbon-fibre car, to Watson, Brabham are without Gordon Murray, who has contracted mumps, Fittipaldi are only running Rosberg’s car on Avon tyres, and Patrick Head is playing the role of spectator in the Williams pit.
During the hour of timed practice on Friday afternoon the cars are checked for 6 cm ground-clearance as they enter the pit-lane from the circuit, not in an attempt to find out if they are cheating, for that is self-evident, but to check that their cheating-mechanism is functioning properly! Anyone who is caught out has his lap-times for that period out on the track erased. Among those who are caught are Alan Jones, just as he has recorded fastest time to that point, which hands pole-position to his team-mate Reutemann. Also in trouble is Laffite who arrives at the check with his Matra V12 blown-up, which is embarrassing because the Talbot relied on an engine-driven pump to maintain regulation height. March is not visibly cheating, but Daly’s car fails the clearance test and he doesn’t realise it, so does not appreciate that he is not recording any times. The whole business is a sick joke and a rather poor circus-act. Add to all this the fact that Patrick Tambay is not allowed out in the Theodore due to the total mis-management of the rules by what is left of the Formula One Constructors Association, and you can see why practice cannot be taken seriously. The second qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix will certainly be characterised by a fierce fight: at the end of the first practice session none of the drivers was happy with the position they had acquired. Not so Reutemann, who obtained the best time; not so Piquet and Pironi, second and third; not so Villeneuve, only seventh, and above all very angry Alan Jones, relegated to the sixth place, after having been found with an irregular car by the stewards' controls. Everyone will try to start in the first positions, because the Zolder circuit is very difficult and does not allow for easy overtaking. It will be remembered that two years ago Gilles Villeneuve was held up for a long time, thirteen laps, by Riccardo Patrese and in the end, precisely because of this missed result (his car ran out of petrol four hundred metres from the finish line), he lost the chance to win the world title, which was then awarded to Jody Scheckter. Who, however, feels he has a great chance this time is Didier Pironi. So far the Frenchman has had to suffer, within Ferrari, the supremacy of the Canadian. But Didier is convinced that he can have a good race.
"Here at Zolder I won the first grand prix of my life. It's a track that I like a lot because it allows a driver to express the maximum of his driving ability and sensitivity. If the car, if my Ferrari, which has progressed a lot in recent times, will support me fully, I count on at least finishing on the podium. But a success would be the maximum, and maybe the beginning of a series of positive results. I am sure that I will be able to achieve that first place that narrowly escaped me at Imola".
So much optimism is quite justified, even though there are many rivals. Pironi's third time and Villeneuve's seventh are comforting, also because the Maranello team had no problems with engine reliability. Villeueve broke an axle shaft, Pironi a gearbox, but these are not worrying facts. Says Mauro Forghieri:
"We still have problems with the variable dampers that we are trying for the first time in the race and I don't know if we will fit them in the race. The cars are perhaps going faster now, but they have set-up problems".
Didier Pironi confirms:
"It's true, the car rises at the front. If we can get it right, though, we will be even better".
Villeneuve, who found himself with an engine that was not performing at its best, declares:
"I lapped a lot, and I should have achieved more. I only tried the trim shifter for three laps and I didn't feel good. I'm waiting for it to be tuned to make a judgement".
Ferrari really took steps forward and above all, throughout the day's testing, they had no problems with the engines. There were some other kinds of problems, due to the unbalanced set-up with the variable dampers, but they could be solved in a short time. Everything depends on what engineer Forghieri, who has promised to study the situation well, will be able to do. As for Villeneuve, the Canadian, for the moment, only hopes to advance in the line-up. Then we will see. He doesn't make predictions, but we are sure that in his heart he hopes for a victory. In fact, victory is the only thing he cares about. However, it seems impossible, but Formula 1 cannot get through a quiet race without controversy. In fact, between Saturday and Sunday, another bubble could burst that would plunge the whole environment back into those useless, long and boring discussions that have spiced up the entire pre-season and initial races of the World Championship. This time, at the centre of discussions are the pre-qualifications. Circuits are not allowed to accommodate more than a certain number of cars during official practice. It had been established, by common agreement between the FOCA teams and the legalist ones, that the limited number would be eighteen for the English teams and twelve for those including Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault, Osella, Talbot and Toleman (by the way, the nastiest surprise was Giorgio Francia, since the Milanese driver would have had to replace the injured Angel Guerra on the second Osella; Francia does not have a Formula 1 super-licence, so everything was done to get him accepted, but FISA from Paris responded negatively and so, at the start from Milan, poor Francia was presented with his replacement, Piercarlo Ghinzani). Now, however, the situation has changed. The return of Lotus to racing has resulted in a supernumerary of cars, which has become thirty-two. The legalistic teams do not want to know about admitting them to races, and at the same time they do not want to talk about pre-qualification. If anything, they say, it is a problem to be solved within FOCA. But in Bernie Ecclestone's opinion everything is fine, everything is going well. He could send thirty or forty or fifty cars to the track without any problems. The situation, however, is not so simple. The legalistic teams have no intention of putting up with that kind of pressure again.
And so on Friday and Saturday, two cars could be left out. Ecclestone, it is said, does not have the right to twist the agreements as he wishes. At Brands Batch, four years ago, he rightfully ousted Tico Martini, the French constructor, and his driver René Arnoux. It was an action of force that Martini had to endure, and everyone else digest without question. Now things have changed and the situation has reversed. With 31 cars entered (and it could have been 32 if the ATS at the last moment had not disqualified Jan Lammers, keeping only the Swede Slim Borgudd in the team) the problem of pre-qualifying arose, as no more than 30 cars could go on the track at a time. FISA and FOCA (for once) would have agreed for a derogation, admitting the thirty-first car, Tambay's Theodore, to the trials, but Ferrari and Osella objected. The former wanted the sporting and technical regulations to be respected at all times, the latter for fear of not qualifying. After much discussion it was decided to exclude Tambay's Theodore, which will, however, take to the track on Saturday, as Toleman has set aside one of its cars, that of Henton. The drivers, for their part, have made it known that they want pre-qualification and that the number of single-seaters will be a maximum of twenty-six. But Ecclestone intends once again to be vocal. Just as he got Brabham through with the hydro-pneumatic shock absorbers, he now intends to impose his will. How will it end? We already know: with polemics, discussions, boring meetings. Communiqués and counter-communiqués to bore everyone, to make Formula 1 lack that label of true, authentic spectacle that it had had until last year. It's another tough blow for the sport and one truly hopes that it doesn't reach another breaking point. Also because, unfortunately, a young Italian mechanic, from the Osella team, lies dying in the Leuven hospital. Giovanni Amadeo, 22 years old, from Lomazzo, in the province of Como, was run over by Carlos Reutemann's Williams during official practice for the Belgian Grand Prix. The accident happened after a quarter of an hour. Some witnesses reported that Amadeo was observing the cars from the narrow pavement of the markers at the side of the track strip, where the cars coming and going from the pits pass. At one point he went down: a moment, and the front wing of Reuteman's Willliams hit him in the leg, sending him flying through the air.
As he fell, Amadeo ended up between the rear tyre and the kerb step. The tyre crushed him to the ground. He was immediately rescued and transported first to the hospital in Ghent and then by helicopter to the hospital in Leuven, where he underwent a difficult brain surgery. His condition is very serious and the prognosis is reserved. On the Saturday someone else takes a hand in the tragi-comedy. One of the Toleman-Harts has conveniently been obliged to withdraw, which allows Tambay to join in and Arnoux is all set to go with the old Renault, when down comes the rain. Cheever (Tyrrell) is the first to brave the rain and then one or two others join in and even though the rain stops there is still a lot of water about and those brave men who are having a go make an awe-inspiring sight. Although the track dries in places it never becomes totally dry and Jones and Villeneuve are terrific and their times would have got them onto Friday’s dry-grid, had they not already qualified. Although Arnoux is third fastest he is not quick enough, and poor Tambay doesn’t really have a chance. Some of those who have already qualified well do not bother to go out, nor do some of those who had failed on Friday. To complete the total farce of practice, two hours after it is all over it is a beautiful sunny afternoon. But the rules have said qualifying would be at 1:00 p.m. and that is that. Some rules can be bent, some totally ignored, while others are inflexible. The paper-work side of Formula 1 is in an awful muddle and there are far too many rules and regulations. Nothing has changed. The usual, unfailing rain that seems to chase Formula 1 made the second qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix pointless. The water started to fall exactly ten minutes before the start of timed practice, and stopped when it was too late for the track to dry. Thus, because of the rain, René Arnoux failed to qualify. The Frenchman on Friday, bringing the new Renault 30 to the circuit for the first time, had not entered the top 24 times due to the usual set-up problems that a car at its debut had. Arnoux's exclusion is the most surprising fact of these two days of testing. For the rest, the race should repeat the themes of the previous ones, with a close fight between Piquet's Brabham and the Williams of Reutemann and Jones for the victory, with the Ferraris of Pironi and Villeneuve and the Arrows of Patrese in the role of dangerous outsider s. In pole position Carlos Reutemann will once again start: the Argentinean, although upset by Friday's pit-stop accident (late in the evening the Williams driver went to hospital to inquire about the condition of the young Osella mechanic he had run over), continues his fierce challenge with team-mate Jones.
Not to mention Piquet, who hopes to overtake Reutemann. Their cars, with the hydro-pneumatic suspension systems in place, seem more competitive than the others. The forces, however, seem more balanced, because Riccardo Patrese's Arrows is also competitive and the driver from Padova, on this circuit with its difficult overtaking where grit and determination are needed, can make his mark. Very important will be the start. Qualifying showed that the Ferrari Turbos can count on their great top speed (Villeneuve was the fastest of all with an average of 266 km/h, 10 km/h more than the Cosworth cars) and on a certain reliability. The current problem of the Maranello single-seaters lies in the trim shifters, which have not yet been tested enough. Says engineer Mauro Forghieri:
"We will start Pironi with the normal car, semi-hydro-pneumatic suspension, while for Gilles we may risk it. I will decide at the last moment".
At the end of the tests, the Formula 1 mechanics threaten a strike for Sunday, in protest against the conditions in which they are forced to work. The action is prompted by the accident involving one of their colleagues from Team Osella, who was run over on Friday in the pits by Reutemann's Williams. Giovanni Amodeo is admitted to the University Clinic of Leuven in a deep coma, with a flat encephalogram. He is kept alive by a special machine that makes him breathe automatically, but the injuries to his brain are possibly irreparable. It cost René Arnoux dearly for not qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. The French driver will, in fact, spend the night in a prison and will be tried on Sunday morning, getting off with a heavy fine, for an argument with a steward. The incident does not take place on the circuit, but in the immediate vicinity. Nervous about the bad luck that has haunted him over the last few days and which did not allow him to line up at the start of the race, the Renault driver returned to his hotel on Saturday evening. Having found a queue of cars, with his R5, the French driver performs a lightning-fast overtaking manoeuvre, rejoining the queue brutally, overbearingly. This does not please the other drivers and a car chases Arnoux's for a few hundred metres. Stuck near another queue, a guy in the orange tracksuit of the circuit marshals gets out and tries to pull the driver out of his car, shouting at him. Arnoux does not move, and when the young man leans on the car, he jumps out of the way: the unfortunate driver first hoists himself onto the bonnet and then onto the roof. Arnoux, without slowing down, thus carries him 2-3 kilometres to the hotel. More fighting ensues and then the young man goes to report the incident to the police, where he tells them, perhaps exaggerating the facts in his favour, that he has been badly beaten and injured. Shortly afterwards, the militiamen show up at the hotel and, after examining the documents of all the guests, pick up the French driver and take him to the city prison where he spends the night. Jacques Laffite, who is present at René's arrest, tries to defend him and refuses to show his documents.
Fortunately, the policemen will prove patient and eventually let him go. This unpleasant episode of intolerance comes on top of the serious incidents that occurred during practice, and is a sign that the Formula 1 environment is extremely tense. Beyond the situation of the moment, however, it has to be said that drivers are often involved in incidents involving road traffic. Sunday is anything but stable, there are rain showers in the offing and instead of concentrating on the job in hand a lot of people are letting their thoughts and ideas wander. Quite a few of the mechanics are getting very niggly over one of their number having been very badly injured [sadly, he subsequently died] in the pit-lane during practice, due to the ridiculous over-crowding and the totally inadequate size of the pit area, some of the drivers are ticking about the nonsense of the practice and entry rules which kept Patrick Tambay out, some of the relationships between teams and sponsors are not all sunshine and light, and Colin Chapman is busy trying to get people to understand about the Lotus 88. The warm-up session passes off reasonably well, apart from Renault abandoning their new cars completely, leaving Prost the choice of RE22B and RE26B, and Ferrari running Villeneuve with a long-wheelbase car (052) and Pironi with a short-wheelbase (050). Just as this session ends a short, sharp shower of rain drenches everything, and then the sun comes out. There is a really strong wind blowing so it does not need much imagination to see that anything nasty in the sky on the horizon will eventually arrive at Zolder. The 70-lap race is due to start at 3:00 p.m. and accordingly the cars leave the pit lane to do the lap round to the assembly-grid in front of the pits.
During the morning the newly-formed Grand Prix Drivers Association, under Jody Scheckter, has made it known that some of them are discontented and unhappy about 30 cars being allowed to practise and want a figure of 26 accepted. They also intimate that a protest meeting would delay the start of the race. The organisers promptly issue a written warning that the race will start at 3:00 p.m., no matter what happens. Meanwhile the mechanics are planning a token-strike on the assembly-grid over the inadequate and crowded pit lane with too many non-workers in it. When the mechanics made it clear from Saturday evening that they would protest before the start of the Belgian Grand Prix in order to make everyone aware of the disastrous conditions in which they work, the drivers, who were also unhappy, thought of joining in the temporary blockade of the race. The news of this alliance immediately reached Jean-Marie Balestre, President of FISA, and Bernie Ecclestone, President of FOCA, who after many quarrels now get along. The two executives, frightened by what might have happened and fearful for their advertising and television contracts, tried in every way to boycott the event. Pressure on the British mechanics and finally threats to the drivers. Balestre personally contacted all the team managers.
"If drivers get out of the cars after entering the track, they will be disqualified".
Ecclestone orders Piquet and Rebaque not to move, and Tyrrell does the same with Cheever and Alboreto, ordering them to start at all costs, perhaps slaloming between the stationary cars. Teddy Mayer, for his part, tells the young Andrea De Cesaris that he would fire him if he joined the protest. The boycott intentions, however, failed. Because Villeneuve, who is part of the drivers' safety admission, supported by Giacomelli, Pironi, Patrese, Laffite and Surer, abandons his Ferrari. Gilles and his colleagues join the mechanics in front of the starting line. The very civilised demonstration infuriates Balestre and Ecclestone. The FISA president repeats that he could have disqualified the striking drivers, because they were FISA members, but how could he have taken sanctions against the mechanics? At the end of it all, very disappointed, Balestre is forced to say:
"I am nauseated by Formula 1. I will probably never come to a race again".
A threat, this one, truly ridiculous, not least because the FISA president, who particularly likes to show off, is unlikely to give up the next race in Monaco, the most mundane race of the season. One should not, moreover, forget that behind the drivers is Jody Scheckter, a man of clear ideas as president of the association. It cannot be ruled out that sooner or later a more bitter confrontation with sensational consequences will really take place. The stop of the race lasts about five minutes, then the mechanics and drivers begin to flow towards the cars. Some linger to talk and this creates the first confusion. Some drivers, who are already ready, urged on by Ecclestone himself and Franck Williams, take off for the reconnaissance lap. The rules stipulate that this lap is to be done without leaving the positions, which must then be maintained at the start. However, as someone lingers, the line-up disperses. Piquet, who has started among the front runners, arrives rather quickly on the grid zone and, as the situation is not yet settled, who knows why he starts off for a second pass. The others arrive in their places, but some of the starting blocks are empty for latecomers. Reutemann, in pole position, does not see Piquet at his side and begins to worry, making gestures with his arms towards the Williams drivers. It is a well-known fact that single-seaters, being without traditional cooling systems like those of production cars, cannot stand still for many seconds with the engine running due to the danger of overheating. Patrese, in the second row, notices that the water temperature has in the meantime risen to 100 °C and is forced to turn off the engine, also because the Paduan, like all the other drivers, had been told by the race director that the entire starting procedure would be repeated. That is, cars stopped at the start, 5-minute sign. 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute and then a reconnaissance lap, then a new line-up and finally the final start. And therein lies the biggest snag because the starter Derek Ongaro, with the race director himself, turns on the red light that precedes, within 10 seconds, the green start light.
With all the engines roaring at 10.000 revs, Patrese, fearing that he will be run over because his car is stuck, starts waving his arms furiously to attract the starter's attention. The gestures are interpreted as a distress call from the Arrows mechanics, and 30-year-old team leader Dave Luckett enters the track to engage the compressed air mechanism in the rear of the Paduan's car to start the engine. At the same instant, Ongaro, who understood nothing of the situation (perhaps being under pressure, and fearing that the drivers would still get out of the cars in protest) triggers the green light. The cars sprint forward and Pironi immediately threads Piquet and Reutemann. Patrese remains stationary on the right side of the track. Behind him, Jones, Cheever, Mansell and Prost, who were on the same side, see the scene and skilfully move to the left over the obstacle. Siegfried Stohr, who was following six rows further back, tailed Rosberg and then, seeing that a gap opened to the right, slipped, without realising that there was a blocked car, right into his team-mate's car. The collision, a very violent one, is inevitable. Luckett is caught in the middle, struck full in the back, at leg height. As a result, an ambulance and emergency vehicles enter the track: one pulls Patrese's single-seater while the other Arrows fails to move. The yellow flags are therefore shown, but Piquet and Reutemann in that order continue to lap at a fast pace, while the mechanic remains on the ground and the marshals try to clear the track. It is finally Didier Pironi who, giving up the excellent position he has gained in the meantime, blocks the whole group, slowing down. And so, finally, the race director decides to show the red flag, which stops the race for a restart. he is transported to the university clinic in Leuven by helicopter: he has a double compound fracture of his legs and a mild concussion. It is serious, but in an official statement it is assured that his life is not in danger. A miracle.
"I killed him, I killed him".
Siegfried Stohr runs for a long time behind the pits in despair at the accident in which he was unintentionally involved. The Italian driver cannot believe that the mechanic who was hit only suffered fractures, albeit serious ones.
"If he is still alive it is a real miracle. I am very happy for him and also for me, because otherwise I don't know how it would have turned out. I hit him while he was kneeling behind the car. The blow was tremendous".
Stohr leaves the circuit before the end of the race, still in shock. First, however, he goes through the legal formalities, telling the police his version of events. And as he gets into the car that will take him to the outside of the facility, he says again:
"The real attempted murder, however, was to start in that way, when there were still mechanics on the track and the line-up was not completed. And to say that I was happy with the placing I had got in practice, and I hoped to have a good race".
At 3:40 p.m. a restart is given for the remaining 22 cars, the Arrows team like a lot of others, having lost all further interest in the Belgian GP. This time all is well and Pironi (Ferrari-turbo) led from Reutemann, Piquet, Watson, Jones, Villeneuve, Laffite, Rosberg and Mansell. The lone Renault slides dejectedly into the pits with its clutch slipping. Jones soon disposes of Watson and an interesting four-cornered fight begins, Pironi still leading with the turbo-Ferrari, followed closely by Reutemann, Piquet and Jones. Four hard-nuts with no love lost between them. This is going to be worth watching, for everyone else is being left behind, with Villeneuve not in the hunt in seventh place and a furious de Angelis being held up (or so he thought) by Cheever’s Tyrrell. At lap ten Reutemann is elbowed back unceremoniously into fourth place and on the next lap Piquet is given a bit of encouragement to take to the rough stuff, and Jones is second. But the turbo-Ferrari is still leading, but not for long as its brakes are overheating for the little 1 1/2-litre V6 does not have the over-run pumping effect of a 3-litie V8 engine. On lap 13 Pironi drops to fourth place, for Laffite has come storming up in the Talbot-Matra V12, and it is all over. Williams are 1-2 in the correct order and the rest of the race is obviously going to be a mere formality.
Behind the leading quartet Watson is leading Villeneuve in the second turbo-Ferrari and Mansell going splendidly in the Lotus 81/1, well ahead of his Italian team-mate. On lap 20 the unbelievable happens as Jones is rounding the fast right-hander leading on to the back straight. His car jumps out of fourth gear as he puts the power fully on and instantly it ploughs straight on into the barriers, wiping off the entire left front corner and injuring the driver’s leg slightly. Now it really is all over and Reutemann cruises along serenely, totally unworried by the Talbot-Matra in second place or the Lotus in third place, or for that matter the McLaren, Ferrari or Lotus that follow. Pironi has dropped right back to seventh place, with feebling brakes, and Villeneuve in fifth place is little better off. A rather dull procession now takes place, with little hope of anything changing, except that Pironi drops even further back, and Watson has trouble selecting fourth gear and also drops back. At lap 52 a rain shower starts, not enough to cause a tyre changing panic, and at lap 55 the chequered flag is flown and the whole sorry affair is closed down according to the rule-book which allows a race to be stopped after three-quarters distance, the results to be calculated on the positions at one lap before the cessation. A very unsatisfactory Belgian Grand Prix fizzled out, though nobody offered the spectators a quarter of their money back; in Formula One money only moves in one direction. Some things are noteworthy, however, in particular the challenge of the turbo-charged Ferraris and the fact that they both finished, the Renault debacle, the praise-worthy drive of Nigel Mansell and the two new boys Alboreto and Ghinzani, who not only qualified to start, but also finished the race.
Of the rule-breaking, the cheating, the chaos, the confusion, the mis-management and the accidents, the less said the better. It would be nice to think that the world of Formula 1 will learn from the shambles, but it is very unlikely. Carlos Reutemann's lucky streak continues. On the strength of a character that he had never previously displayed, of an amazing form and with nerves of steel (what happened to him personally and what happened at the first start could have unsettled even the coldest champion), the South American won the Belgian Grand Prix. It is the fifteenth consecutive time he has finished in the top six in World Championship races. Carlos had started in Zolder last year with a third place behind Didier Pironi, who was then racing with Ligier, and team mate Alan Jones. This success is very important for the 39-year-old driver from Santa Fé who has now clearly distanced his great rivals Jones and Nelson Piquet in the championship standings. Now Frank Williams will have to take him into account if he wants to repeat his climb to the world title. From now on, Carlos will be able to be a big voice in the team and no one will be able to hold up signs for him to let Jones pass, as had happened in Brazil. However, with a sadder face than usual, Carlos Reutemann climbed onto the podium to receive the applause of the crowd. He took cover with a bouquet of flowers, making no gestures of jubilation.
"How can one enjoy a victory when such serious events happen? I don't think I am to blame for what happened, but they are still episodes that leave their mark. I competed with maximum concentration not only so as not to make mistakes but also, above all, so as not to think about what I have seen over the past few days".
The Argentine did not want to say it outright, but he was also disgusted by the behaviour of his team-mate Jones. He made it clear that he had seen the Australian throw Piquet out.
"If this is Formula One, better to stop it now".
Immediately afterwards his thoughts returned to what had happened on Friday.
"The accident with that poor Osella mechanic is fixed in my mind. I dedicate this victory to him, even if it is of no use. I would like to meet his parents to explain to them what happened".
As for the race, Reutemann let it be known that he had some problems with the gearbox. However, this did not stop him from dominating the entire final part of the race with extreme ease. Someone asks him why he was one of the few drivers not to get out of the car when the mechanics stopped the race before the start. Carlos replies:
"I didn't agree to put this problem on the scales either. Formula 1 is very sick, and to bring in other problems seems immature to me at this moment. This does not mean, however, that I am not with the mechanics".
That it is a lucky time for Reutemann is also shown by the highlights of the race, which was only run over the distance of 54 laps, instead of the planned 72, due to the sudden arrival of rain. The regulations state that, if two-thirds of the race have already been completed, no tyre changes can be made: the Race Director, however, has the power to close hostilities early. Which he did for safety reasons. Had they gone all the way, Carlos might have been attacked by Laffite. The Frenchman, in the Talbot, was catching up. Thus, he had to settle for second place, ahead of Englishman Nigel Mansell in the Lotus 81. The Argentine's affirmation, the second of the season, was also facilitated by the self-elimination of his main rivals. Piquet, who was chasing Pironi in the lead on lap 10, was literally knocked off the track by Jones. The Brazilian was furious because the Australian touched him sideways, causing him to run into the safety nets, with the danger of even injuring himself. Back in the pits, Piquet went straight to Frank Williams and shouted at him:
"Tell your driver that the next time he comes between my wheels I will do everything I can to kick him out. This is the second time he's taken me out, and last year in Montreal he took the world title away from me by doing the same thing. He is among the most unfair I have ever seen".
Then Nelson had some kind of hissy fit and wouldn't talk to anyone. In any case Jones, carried away by his own eagerness, made a resounding mistake on the bend leading into the straight opposite the pits. The Australian, after having eliminated Piquet, had also overtaken Reutemann and was trying to pull away from his team-mate. Alan pulled too hard and lost control of the car. At about 230 km/h, he left the ideal trajectory and went straight onto the guardrail. The car was almost destroyed while Jones suffered a slight contusion to one foot.
"I went out of fourth gear and there was nothing more I could do".
But nobody believed this excuse. This time the World Champion was betrayed by Reutemann's desire for revenge. Too strong, however, were Williams and Brabham. The cars of the two English teams are currently the best because they fully exploit the ground effect, have perfect aerodynamics and chassis and are at the weight limit. The others have to be content with fighting for places of honour. From third place down the classification is all surprises. Third is Nigel Mansell in the old (and much mistreated by Colin Chapman) Lotus 81. Then, excellent fourth, is Gilles Villeneuve. The Canadian did not do anything crazy this time and took the car to the limit, but without risking too much. It is the first time he has entered the points this year. For Ferrari the balance is once again positive. Pironi was in the lead until lap 12, when he was overtaken by Jones, and eventually finished eighth. Both turbo engines held up very well. The Frenchman had to slow down as the brakes of his 126 gradually lost effectiveness and he was unable to fight back. Villeneuve, on the other hand, who had opted for the hydro-pneumatic spring system, slammed his side against a kerb and the car was stuck in the highest position at the front and the lowest at the rear. With the car advancing with its nose high, Gilles could do little more. Behind the Canadian was Elio De Angelis and Eddy Cheever, who were also rewarded with points. Both raced to the limits of their cars' capabilities. The American was accused by the Lotus driver of slowing him down in the early part of the race, causing him to lose contact with the leaders and consequently the possibility of a place on the podium. Cheever however was also lucky in the end.
The engine betrayed him just as the race director stopped the race due to rain. If they had gone on for one more lap, he would not have made the top six. Formula 1 cruel and inhuman, a mixture of stupidity and ferocity. What happened on the Zolder track gives the measure of the deterioration of this sport that is supposed to bring a splendid spectacle of technique and daring around the world. There is a spectacle now and then, but it is only flashes, flashes of light in a situation that is depressing, disappointing, deeply irritating. For months, for years, safety issues have been discussed, an incredible war has been waged between the sporting authorities and manufacturers, a fierce battle of interests has been observed. So much discussion, so much talk. Controversy, complaints, fines, suspicions, irregularities. And, in the meantime, a flourishing of sponsors, of fine presentations, of communiqués. Helicopter pilots, luxurious vans, an increasingly less genuine environment. The old heroes leave, replaced by young people who seem to have been born with helmets on their heads. One word fills the mouth: professionalism. Then, the Belgian Grand Prix, the fifth of the 1981 season. And modern Formula 1, that of professionalism, shows its true essence, beyond the shiny wrapping: disorganisation, confusion, chain errors, profound disregard for the most elementary safety rules, absence of the slightest common sense. The drivers (despite the despicable pressure to which they are subjected by managers who only think in economic terms) support the mechanics, who protest about the conditions in which they are forced to operate and who are exasperated by the tragedy of one of their colleagues, run over on Friday in the pits. All was well, but not for long. Once the sit-in is over, there is a hurry to start the Grand Prix: the racers throw themselves onto the track for the reconnaissance lap, the starting grid is formed in a confused manner, the engines of some of the cars are switched off. There is Riccardo Patrese waving his arms, signalling that he cannot start. Everyone sees him, but not the Race Direction, the stewards. One of his mechanics, with a gesture of mad generosity, leaps onto the track, red light-green light, go.
And that's the tragedy. One wonders: but why was the start given anyway? Why did nobody intervene? Again: drivers were seen speeding with yellow flags displayed, some continuing with red ones. Terrifying. And on the tarmac was a Circus man. It's not over yet: what about Jones, who throws Piquet off the track in his eagerness to win? But what values does this Formula 1 claim to exalt? Perhaps those of the desperately violent world in which we live and die today? Enzo Ferrari has written that he doesn't get it any more. And it's getting worse. Only by a miracle did the accident on Sunday at 3:10 p.m. not turn into a tragedy of uncontrollable proportions. But the fact that the mechanic hit on the track by Siegfried Stohr's car got away with severe shock and a few fractures should not make one forget the seriousness of what happened. It would have been enough for the Arrows of the driver from Rimini, for example, instead of getting stuck on the spot, to have ended up in the middle of the circuit to cause who knows what kind of drama. If action is not taken, we will soon risk being faced with similar episodes again. Under indictment this time are the organisers of Zolder and the men of FISA, with its president Jean Marie Balestre at the head. Their actions were not only unspeakable and amateurish, but also baffling and cynical. The communiqué issued by the organisers to justify the events is an exemplary document. They are indeed trying to cover up serious responsibilities behind the form. Regulations have been respected, they say. But how? With what courage can one say such a thing? True, the regulations state that no one can enter the track when the green light for the start goes on. But what if the starter sees that there are mechanics next to the cars and gives the start anyway? That's attempted murder. And if, at that moment, a helicopter had landed in front of the cars in trouble, would the green light have been triggered to comply with the rules? Sporting rules are sometimes interpreted. And then, at the root of it all is a very serious omission. This is the text of the official communiqué issued by the Organising Committee of the Belgian Grand Prix immediately after the end of the race to justify the events that occurred at the start:
"The starting procedure for the Belgian Grand Prix was applied according to World Championship regulations. After the composition of the provisional grid, the race director gave the green flag for a lap in formation. When all cars had found their final position on the official grid, the starter turned on the red light and started with the green light 5 seconds later. Article 13/3 of the Sporting Code stipulates that if, after returning to the starting grid, an engine stops and the driver cannot start, he must signal with his arms and after all the cars have started, his car must be pushed into the pits, from where he can then start. After the green light, access to the grid and the track is forbidden to anyone except safety personnel. Due to the accident at the start and the danger of an injured person and a blocked car on the track, the race has been stopped".
The organisers claim they have complied with the regulations, but forget to explain that, after the protest demonstration by the mechanics and drivers resulting in the blocking of the first grid at 3:00 p.m., deputy race director Jo Coopmans had told some drivers that they would repeat all procedures from the beginning. About this, says Gilles Villeneuve:
"Coopmans spoke to me personally and I was convinced that we would have to repeat the reconnaissance lap before the start".
This state of confusion, the uncertainty of the drivers, the fact that the starting grid was not complete because some cars were late (Piquet, who was supposed to be on the front row next to Reutemann, arrived at his place early, did a second lap so as not to overheat his Brabham by stopping and was waited for several seconds) caused the accident. The mechanic, incidentally, entered the track because, in turn, he was convinced that all the cars would stop. If it is then true that the official starter of the Grand Prix, the Englishman Derek Ongaro (a professional starter), had to give the start due to pressure from the race director who absolutely wanted to keep to the timetable of the world-vision link, then we really are verging on the criminal. This also means that sport and human values no longer count for anything, but everything moves for precise interests. Another fact to consider is the behaviour of Balestre, Ecclestone, some team owners and some drivers. The FISA president had the courage to threaten the drivers with disqualification if they got out of the cars. And this certainly caused no small amount of nervousness. The FOCA president, with thoughts of the dollars he would have earned with another victory for his Brabham, made Piquet start before the others, triggering the mechanism that eventually ended in the accident. Tyrrel and Williams, genuine examples of democratisation, forced their drivers to stay in the car while the others joined the mechanics because:
"They are just employees".
And World Champion Alan Jones, who feels himself to be a model employee, criticised those who took part in the event. Now the regional police in Zolder and the sports authorities will open the usual formal investigation. But everything will certainly end in nothing. There is no blame. Meanwhile, Balestre announced a press conference in Paris on Tuesday evening. The only positive note in the affair remains the good fortune - in the bad luck - of Dave Luckett, who took a great risk. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the young Osella team mechanic who had been run over by Reutemann's Williams in the pit lane during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix passed away on Sunday evening at 9:15 p.m.. The life of the unfortunate Giovanni Amadeo came to an end when the doctors, now without any hope of intervening, shut down the machine that kept his heart beating and breathing. The poor boy ends his life with a donation that will allow someone else to live: the doctors, in agreement with his family, will use his kidneys for a transplant. The passing of Giovanni Amadeo, although now sadly taken for granted, deeply saddens all the men of the Turin team. Says Enzo Osella:
"He was a simple guy, who followed racing with passion".
Twenty-two years old, a native of Lomazzi, in the province of Como, Giovanni Amadeo had begun his career as a sports mechanic when he was very young. He had spent a couple of seasons with Merzario and then, after completing his military service, had come to Osella. Much luckier was the chief mechanic of Arrows crushed between the cars of Patrese and Stohr. Dave Luckett's condition, in fact, admitted to the Leuven hospital is improving and the doctors have only found a compound fracture in one leg and three toes. If all goes well, he will soon be able to return to his seat.