The fever for Formula 1 is growing, fueled by the great uncertainty prevailing in the fight for the world championship title. The British Grand Prix, scheduled for Saturday, July 18, 1981, presents topics of absolute interest, both for the characteristics of the high-speed track where it will take place and for the situation in the championship standings, open to any solution. And amid the tangle of foreseeable possibilities, a novelty that is certainly welcome to Riccardo Patrese's fans is introduced on Wednesday, July 15, 1981. The driver from Padua, testing Pirelli tires on his Arrows for the first time, sets the record for the Donington Park circuit, thus increasing the number of contenders for success. Patrese, in great form and euphoric after winning the previous Sports World Championship with Lancia, clocks a time of 59.5s, a record-breaking time that anticipates his entry to the top. On the same circuit, Plquet with the Brabham only manages 59.8s, while Reutemann driving the Williams records a time of 1'00"2. A notable result that bodes well. However, it is difficult for Riccardo to say now that the Italian tires will be a winning weapon. Donington and Silverstone are not comparable tracks, and sometimes a different type of asphalt or a change in ambient temperature is enough to overturn the results. Moreover, Pirelli could prove to be very effective with qualifying tires and less efficient with race tires. Nevertheless, the record serves as a warning for everyone, and it is believed that Arrows will be among the leading cars. The battle between tire manufacturers (four companies in the field: Goodyear, Michelin, Pirelli, and Avon) will therefore be the guiding theme of a race that was already promising.
We are at the turning point of the season, and the contenders for the title, both the known ones and those who still harbor hidden aspirations, will have to come out into the open. And it won't only be the drivers at the top of the championship standings, Reutemann and Piquet, Jones and Villeneuve, trying everything. There is Watson with McLaren MP 4, the Renault turbo of Prost, the Talbot of Laffite, to which Patrese with the Arrows is added. And let's not forget Ferrari. Upon their arrival, the cars from Maranello immediately attracted the attention of many curious onlookers at Silversione. The 126 CKs appear in a partially renewed guise. Externally, in the aerodynamic part, a front wing is noticeable, higher than the previous one, which should allow greater penetration into the air and better load on the wheels. On Thursday, July 16, 1981, the magical moment of Renault continues. After winning at Dijon, the French team sets the fastest times in the first qualifying session for the British Grand Prix. The powerful turbocharged cars of Arnoux and Prost dominate the practice: the small René covers the 4719 meters of the fast circuit, consisting exclusively of short straights and barely hinted curves, in 1'12"15, at an average speed of 235 km/h. His teammate is only 0.08s slower. Only Nelson Piquet, with the Brabham, manages to keep up (1'12"32), but all the others are visibly behind. It's a day full of events. Cold weather and dark clouds, a few raindrops. Jones, Watson, Reutemann, and De Cesaris follow the two French cars: Ferrari only reaches eighth place with Pironi and tenth with Villeneuve. The Maranello team has to solve new problems. The cars, modified in the body, chassis, and aerodynamics, can run very little and almost always remain in the hands of the mechanics in the pits. Mauro Forghieri says:
"We have achieved a greater load on the wheels. Unfortunately, an unforeseen inconvenience occurred: the air pressure crushed the sidepods that act as wings on the cars, breaking them. Now we will try to remedy it with reinforcements in fiberglass".
Among the (numerous) novelties of the day, it is worth noting the return of Jean-Pierre Jarier to Formula 1. The strong French driver, after almost a year of inactivity, has been hired by Osella to replace the injured Angel Guerra. The result of Riccardo Patrese's Arrows with Pirelli tires is good but lower than expected. Although there are still some problems with the setup of the car, the Paduan driver manages to set the fourteenth time. In the meantime, the FIA defeats Colin Chapman once again. The Lotus 88, judged irregular in Long Beach at the beginning of the season, is definitively condemned by the FIA Appeals Tribunal, so it will not be able to participate in the British Grand Prix. The decision is made on Thursday evening by the English sports commissioners, who, despite themselves, are forced to accept the regulations. But the issue, delicate and controversial, has risked breaking Formula 1 into many pieces again with controversies, threats of sanctions, and shows of strength.
What is behind these events, behind Chapman's stubbornness, considered one of the minds of motor racing, is not known. If this 88 with the double chassis were a performance phenomenon, if it were faster than all the other single-seaters, perhaps so much presumption would be justified. But in the qualifying session in which the car was driven by Elio De Angelis and Nigel Mansell, it almost failed to make it into the top twenty-four times and demonstrated that it is not better than the previous model. Some argue that it is a political maneuver (Chapman's success would have significantly undermined the already precarious throne of Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, favoring other candidates); some say that Chapman, to convince his sponsors that the money invested in designing and building the aforementioned car has been well spent, wants to show that he is on the right track and, above all, omnipotent. The fact remains that De Angelis and Mansell, innocent victims of the British constructor's presumption, continue to develop and test this car instead of taking care of the one they are supposed to race with. And they also expose themselves to embarrassment, like the ones they experienced on Thursday, forced to drive a car that they themselves know is irregular. Before reaching the final solution that excluded the 88 (if it wants to race, Lotus will have to present the 87 models on the track, which, moreover, it will send to Silverstone overnight), everything happened. On the one hand, Chapman displays confidence, protected by the Royal Automobile Club; on the other hand, FISA threatens sensational punishments. After the English technical commissioners had judged the incriminated cars regular on Wednesday, there was a complaint from three teams, namely Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Talbot. On Thursday morning, three Lotus 88s with the black colors of Courage, a beer brand that is part of the John Player Special group, were still sent on track. FISA then issued an official statement requesting organizers to respect the rules, under the threat of the most severe possible sanctions such as the cancellation of the upcoming world races in England, the suspension of Lotus, the elimination of any points earned, and other measures. Faced with these prospects and the firm stance of the sports authorities, the commissioners present at Silverstone are forced to back down and declare the Lotus 88 illegal again. As an excuse to justify the presence of outlawed cars in practice, it is said that the communications from the Federation arrived too late.
This confirms how, to reach a solution to the problem and also not to hit Chapman too hard, a compromise has finally been reached. However, it is now time for the English constructor to decide to build a new car if he thinks that the 87 model is not up to the situation. Hoping that this time - if the lesson has been learned - he concentrates his genius on interpreting the regulations in the best way and not on trying to find only a way to circumvent them. This is not a happy period for him, after all. In recent days, Chapman had to pay $67,000 to the old Shadow team. As you may recall, when he brought De Angelis into his team, he snatched him from the rival team. Shadow sued and won in court: the penalty was precisely the request for $67.000. Moreover, paying this amount allowed De Angelis to come to England without risking going to jail. The English court had made it known that if the sum had not been paid, it would have had to put the Italian driver in prison. Before the start of the season, it was said that the abolition of skirts would reduce the speed of Formula 1 cars. Nothing could be more wrong: with the removal of movable side skirts, the adoption of plastic appendages attached to the sides, and variable suspensions that lower the cars, they go even faster. This is demonstrated by the fact that on Friday, July 17, 1981, the Renault Turbos took the first and second positions for the British Grand Prix lineup with exceptional times, both well below the record for the very fast track. René Arnoux, who will start in pole position, records a time of 1'11"00 at the fantastic average speed of 239.220 km/h, and his teammate Alain Prost is only 0.046s slower. A performance that certainly represents the highest speed recorded in Formula 1 in recent times, surpassed only by the averages (about 250 km/h) achieved at Monza in the 1970s when racing on the Monza banking and at Spa, another high-speed circuit. Considering that the Silverstone circuit, despite everything, is almost composed of one curve after another, it can be concluded that today's cars - thanks to aerodynamics and the power-to-weight ratio - have reached unprecedented levels, and turbo engines in certain conditions have clearly taken the lead over naturally aspirated ones. Behind the Renaults, but almost a second behind, is Nelson Piquet's Brabham, a car that, despite using a conventional engine, can compete with turbos, at least in acceleration if not in top speed.
The Brazilian could also have the advantage of greater reliability in his car, which is also significantly lighter than the Renaults and has brand-new carbon fiber brakes that seem exceptional. An important factor in the race (which is expected to be an elimination race with a hectic pace) will also be the choice of tires, as the French cars use Michelin while the British one adopts Goodyear. However, this problem troubles almost all teams. Ferrari, for example, has difficulties with its tires due to abnormal wear on the front left one because of the characteristics of the circuit with all right-hand turns. The Maranello team, however, is recovering and achieves an unexpected fourth place with Didier Pironi and an acceptable eighth position with Gilles Villeneuve. The cars, tuned in the short time available, have been reinforced with special plastic applications on the body. Pironi says, just out of the car, unaware that he is in the second row:
"We have made progress. The Ferraris are more stable and adhere better to the ground. I will try to make a good start to be in the lead for at least a few laps. Of course, the Renaults are fast, not just in terms of the engine but also due to excellent aerodynamics and a chassis that allows them to fully exploit the long curves of Silverstone".
Villeneuve is a bit slower than his teammate because he is also testing the reserve car, one of the previous models. However, the engine immediately loses power, and when the Canadian switches to the other car, he no longer has tires available to attempt the impossible. Nevertheless, Gilles does not despair for the race:
"We won't perform miracles, but we won't just stand by either. If there are opportunities, we'll try to be in the right place at the right time".
In the right place for a possible victory are also the McLarens of Watson and the young Roman Andrea De Cesaris, in fifth and sixth places, respectively. Further back, though still formidable, are the Williams, which seem to have some trouble with the engines and are not as fast as the cars ahead on the straight. In tenth position is Riccardo Patrese. Perhaps not what the Paduan expected, but having Pirelli behind (or rather on the wheels) is reassuring, although the race still awaits to confirm it. For lovers of statistics, it's worth mentioning that the Italian tire brand returns to Formula 1 (Tolman has not yet managed to qualify) after twenty-three years: the last to use Pirelli was Juan Manuel Fangio in the French Grand Prix of 1958. And speaking of Tolman, it must be noted that on Friday, despite showing some progress in performance, both cars catch fire with overheated turbo engines. Brian Henton's car, which had a small fire at the entrance to the pits, almost looks like a smoke bomb, filling the entire circuit. After the controversies on Thursday regarding the 88 model, Lotus concludes the trials with the old 87. Only Elio De Angelis qualifies, and with great difficulty, while Mansell, racing at home, remains out. The Italian driver says:
"In this way, the Lotus pays for the adventure of the 88".
Alfa Romeo is also not experiencing a happy moment. After positive results in the final stages of the 1980 season, the Milanese team has struggled to stand out. The best result of the year (the only one) was Andretti's fourth place in Long Beach. On Friday, the Italian-American and Giacomelli qualify in eleventh and twelfth positions. The new car, the modified 179, brought to England (completely changing the rear suspension, lowering the entire body by four centimeters), is not yet ready and has had to be shelved for the time being. However, Alfa Romeo still has a weapon to launch in the battle: the Turbo 8-cylinder engine is practically ready. In fact, it will almost certainly be tested shortly at Balocco. It will be a sort of appeal: mounted on the latest type of car, it should give new momentum to a team that appears quite disheartened. For the supercharged engine developed by Autodelta, considerable power near 600 HP at acceptable speeds is mentioned. However, this is a difficult path: before reaching the top, Ferrari and especially Renault paid the price of novices.
On Saturday July 18th, is warm and dry. The British Grand Prix is undoubtedly the biggest motor sporting event of the year in Great Britain and though it costs spectators a small fortune to attend they cannot complain of lack of entertainment, especially on race day. For three hours in the early morning there are coach trips around the circuit, then there is an hour and half to walk about in the pits, for those prepare to pay extra. At 10:00 a.m. there is a 20-Iap Formula 3 race, rather spoilt because practice which is in two parts has had one session in the dry and the other in the wet, so that some drivers are not as well placed as they should have been. At 11:00 a.m. there is a 20-lap Saloon car race and this is followed by a parade of the winning cars from the previous day’s race for sports/racing cars of the sixties. Just after midday the Formula One cars appear for their half-hour warm-up session and then there is a long lunch period, during which there are parades, air demonstrations, superkart demonstrations and a surfeit of eating and drinking. At 3:00 p.m. the Grand Prix takes place and when that is over there is a 12-lap race for historic cars. After that, if you are in a car, you join the queue to get out, or if you are in a helicopter you raise vertically above it all, or if you are on a motorcycle you wiggle your way between the cars in the traffic jam and disappear down the Buckinghamshire lanes. Ferrari abandon their experimental car. Cheever is committed to his Tyrrell 010, Surer is in the new Theodore, Andretti has his Alfa Romeo engine fail, and De Cesaris spins off in the McLaren MP4/1 wiping off the aerofoils front and rear. Piquet is using the carbon-fibre brake discs on BT49C/11 for the first time in a race and is obviously well in with a chance against the turbo-cars. The BT50/BMW is on display behind the pits, unfortunately with the engine covered up, and Silverstone is well packed to capacity for what looks like being a good race. While the Alfa Romeo mechanics change the engine in Andretti’s car and the McLaren mechanics dust off the car of de Cesaris, all the drivers and teams are given two very important warnings. One is that the race will run for 68 laps, come hell or high water, rain or shine, storm or tempest, and the other is that in the case of accidents and yellow flags anyone seen overtaking under the yellow flags will be hauled into the pits very smartly by use of the regulation black flag and racing number of the culprit. It is all very straightforward and very clear.
Right on time the twenty-four Formula 1 cars leave the pits and go round to the form-up grid, everyone being in good order and ready to go with Piquet and Pironi ready to jump the Renaults if they hesitate at the start, while Jones and Villeneuve will be sure not to miss any opportunities once the green light has come on. Arnoux leads them all round on the parade lap. They formed up on the grid, the red light is on, then the green and they are away amidst the wonderful noise that only twenty-four engines pushing out 500 plus b.h.p. each can make. It is Pironi that got between the Renaults, with Piquet close behind, followed by Villeneuve as they appear out of Copse and stream away up to Maggots Curve and Becketts. Twenty-three cars go by and then Alboreto appear going slowly with the clutch of his Tyrrell slipping madly. Before the end of the lap Stohr has crashed his Arrows, so as the race ends lap one, we are already down to 22 cars. Not a good start to the 68-lap race. Villeneuve is briefly past Arnoux on lap 1, so the order is Prost, Pironi, Villeneuve and Arnoux. Piquet is leading the rest and driving really hard, followed by Jones, Watson and de Cesaris. The lead that Prost has is already staggering and by the end of lap 2 it is almost unreal, he is just running away from everyone and with total ease. Arnoux has gathered himself up and snatches back his third place from Villeneuve and is hard after the other Ferrari, which he passes on lap 3. It now seems to be all over, the two Renaults are in full command and leaving the rest behind, and making it all look very easy, but Piquet is fighting hard, passing Villeneuve on lap 3 and Jones is really leaning on the Canadian as they go into Maggots on lap 4, but just failing to get by. As they pour through the Woodcote chicane to end lap 4 Villeneuve’s Ferrari hits the kerb with a rear wheel, which put it into a full-lock slide, but then its hard suspension makes it bounce on its soft tyres and then it is spinning in a cloud of rubber smoke. In the confusion the closely following Williams of Alan Jones hit the Ferrari fair and square as they skate into the catch-fencing, while John Watson stands on the brakes and pray. His prayers are answered for he comes to a virtual stop without hitting anything, but poor de Cesaris has little option but to dodge to the left, and that spins him into the retaining wall with a thump. Reutemann, Andretti, Giacomelli, Tambay and Laffite all go by Watson as he is regaining his breath, so that he drops from seventh place to tenth.
Jones and de Cesaris get out of their cars at once and end their race, but Villeneuve, who has kept his engine running during the accident, re-joins the track after everyone has gone by and tries to get the Ferrari back to the pits, because you never know, it might be possible to mend it and go on racing. It expires at Stowe Corner. On the very next lap Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo go off with gearbox trouble so with only five laps gone the field is down to eighteen cars, and of those Daly is already two laps behind after coming into the pits on lap 2 with gear-lever linkage trouble. At 6 laps order is regained, with the two Renaults sailing round in the lead and Piquet driving his heart out to keep them in sight. Pironi is fourth, Reutemann fifth, Andretti sixth and Watson already back to seventh place, the McLaren MP4 disposing of the two Talbot-Matras with consummate ease. Following come Rebaque, Patrese, de Angelis, Rosberg, Cheever, Borgudd, Jarier and Surer, with Daly a long way back but now going well. The troublesome opening phase is obviously going to continue for Tambay’s Matra V12 suddenly went flat, and he is into the pits for a change of plugs and then on lap 12 as Piquet approaches Beckett’s the front left tyre deflates on the Brabham and the car careered straight on into the barriers. Piquet is extricated by the marshals and removed by ambulance with suspected leg and/or ankle injuries, but while this is going on de Angelis overtakes Laffite and nearly collects the ambulance in so doing, so it is no surprise that he is very soon given the black flag. He storms into the pits and disappears from the scene pretty smartly, not waiting to be told what a naughty boy he has been. While this is going on Pironi’s Ferrari expires in a cloud of smoke and Watson, having passed Reutemann to great cheers from the crowd, suddenly inherits third place, to an enormous roar of approval from the crowd. Tambay disappears with a very flat-sounding engine and then a great stir goes through the crowd, for Prost is into the pits with his turbo-charged V6 engine off-song. Nothing could be done, either the ignition or the injection timing has gone awry, so the car is retired. Only seventeen laps have been run and the whole scene has changed, Arnoux is in the lead, Watson is second, but a long way back, followed by Reutemann and Andretti.
So soon and the top aces have gone out, Piquet, Jones, Villeneuve and Prost, while Patrese and Laffite are simply not keeping up the pace. Not surprisingly, after so much excitement and turmoil the whole scene settles down with Arnoux majestically in the lead, Watson in a tenuous second place for Reutemann is not far behind in third place and no-one knows what goes on in the great Argentinian’s mind when he is racing. Andretti is a lonely fourth, followed by Patrese, Rebaque, Laffite, Cheever, Surer, Borgudd, Rosberg and Daly. A long way back after a pit stop to reset the rear aerofoil on the Osella is Jarier. For many laps nothing happen, the cars circulate regularly with the gaps between them gradually widening, and Arnoux lapping the tail enders. Rebaque stops for a tyre change, which drops him to the back of the field and Patrese eventually catches and passes Andretti, but it is hardly significant. Surer is having a real go in the Theodore to catch Cheever, and Daly is still going exceptionally well in the new March but handicaps by his long pit-stop. For lap after lap the leaders drone round becoming more and more space out, with onIy Watson, Reutemann and Patrese now on the same lap as Arnoux. The sunshine is warm and the whole scene peaceful and tranquil and few people notice Rebaque goes into the pits for another tyre change. The laps tick by and it is obviously going to be a rather dull Renault walk-over, with victory for Arnoux. On lap 50 he records his best race lap in a leisurely 1'15"067, but on lap 51 everyone seats up and a roar comes from the crowd. The Renault exhaust note suddenly lost its edge and two laps later the yellow, white and black car is slowing visibly. The crowd raises and cheers Watson on to greater effort to catch the ailing Renault, to which he responds magnificently. By lap 57 he has the Renault in sight, but Arnoux is not giving up despite feeling totally depressed. He is really scratching round the corners, but it is all over for him, the McLaren simply gobbles up the gap and as they go away on lap 61 Watson is alongside and the cheer from the crowd says it all. Watson is in the lead on lap 61, with only seven to go and the designer of the MP4, John Barnard, with his two assistants head back to the pits from Copse Corner looking remarkably cool outwardly, but no doubt elated within. Poor little Rene Arnoux is desperately nursing his sick Renault along in second place, but as he starts his sixty-fifth lap, with only three to go, the engine gave up the ghost and he pulls off at Copse.
A malfunctioning in the injection system has upset the mixture and some vital part inside the engine has cried enough. While everyone is jubilant to see John Watson ease home the winner, real sympathy goes out for Rene Arnoux. This leave Reutemann second and Patrese third, but only a lap after the Renault goes out the Arrows engine gives up and Patrese is out, so that as the chequered flag begins to be unfurled Laffite, who is a lap behind, finds himself in third place for Andretti has stopped when a clevis pin falls out of the rear end of the throttle cable on the Alfa Romeo, and within sight of the finish Marc Surer is forced out when the Theodore loses all its fuel pressure. Almost unrealises Cheever nearly catches Laffite as they cross the finishing line, both a lap behind Watson, so moved is everybody to see Watson win the British Grand Prix.
"It was a lucky race, but let's not talk about the World Championship. On the contrary, it's time to bow our heads and get to work. Our car is not as fast as before, others are now beating us. I wouldn't have been able to keep up with Watson even if I had wings. Not to mention the Renaults that were flying".
Carlos Reutemann, the leader of the World Championship, has a 17-point lead over Nelson Piquet and already half the championship title in hand, but, by nature, he prefers to avoid making winning proclamations. Yet, this result could be decisive in becoming the heir to Alan Jones, now cut off from the fight, unless there are miraculous recoveries. Also modest is the victor of the day, John Watson, with his second Formula 1 victory after the one he achieved in Austria back in 1976. Eight years of Grand Prix races, several team changes, once considered one of the fastest drivers, the captain of McLaren had been almost forgotten by everyone until the appearance of the new, revolutionary MP4, which Ferrari engineer Forghieri himself describes as a true jewel.
"I was helped by good luck because six cars retired in front of me. But how many times have I had to retire when I could have finished first? This victory gives me morale and compensates for the skill of the team and technician John Barnard who designed the car. But for now, I'm not thinking about anything; I want to take it one day at a time, maybe win some more races. The Championship is now in Reutemann's hands".
Without championship ambitions but with the intention of at least scoring points, Ferrari leaves Silverstone disappointed. Villeneuve, the protagonist of the dramatic crash at the beginning of the fourth lap, smiling, quickly leaves the circuit.
"The car was going great. It's my fault, I'm sorry. I hit the first curb and thought I could pull out of it well because the same thing happened to me in practice. Instead, I ended up on the second curb too, the car took off, I tried to regain control by counter-steering, but there was nothing more to do. Again, I'm sorry for Jones and De Cesaris. And also for myself".
For Pironi, however, the problems were not only due to the turbine that stopped the engine of his Ferrari in a puff of smoke.
"I would have had to return to the pits to change the tires anyway because I wasn't staying on the track. It's a day to forget. It's better to go back to Maranello right away and get to work for the next races".
If the Ferraris stalled in the first part of the race, Patrese had to wait until the penultimate lap before sadly stopping on the side of the track while securing an excellent third place.
"What do you want me to say, that I'm a lucky driver? I haven't broken an engine in two years. I always have trouble when I'm in the top positions. When I'm in the rear, everything goes well. The only satisfaction came from the Pirelli tires: they worked great and were the ones I had already used in practice, covering about 120 kilometers. Maybe it's better for me to change jobs; I would probably have better results".
Like his car, like the flag that the stewards displayed to stop him while he was in sixth position, Elio De Angelis' mood is also black at the end of the race.
"I wanted to punch those stewards because they can't make me throw away a race and perhaps even a podium place for a hasty decision. I had Laffite in front of me, and suddenly the Frenchman slowed down visibly. I pulled alongside him, and we took the corner together. I saw the yellow flags and also an ambulance on the track. From that moment, I slowed down, but they still showed me the black flag. An authentic injustice. In Formula 1, there are people who do crazy things, and they think about punishing drivers like me, without any fault, for a triviality".
It took just one day and the dramatic race incident to bring Gilles Villeneuve down from the pedestal to the dust. In a few minutes, the Canadian, the hero of Monte Carlo and Jarama, the crowd-puller, returned to being the famous aviator of times past when people were used to seeing him fly with his car over the heads of opponents. Controversies arise against the Ferrari driver, a confessed culprit, guilty of the crash that eliminated Alan Jones and Andrea De Cesaris in one fell swoop. His detractors say:
"He's always irresponsible, the same car wrecker. Certain people can't change".
Ferrari fans are once again divided between accusers and defenders.
"He could have been more careful".
say the first.
"Only he has courage and puts on a show".
Reply the others. But this time, what are Gilles's true responsibilities? Undoubtedly, the little North American, as he himself admitted, made a judgment error entering the chicane. He hit the curb at the entrance, hit it again on the exit. Too much confidence, perhaps excessive aggressiveness. However, there are also facts to consider. It is clear that Villeneuve demanded too much from a car that he himself knew was not perfectly balanced. The pumping problems (that strange and deadly up-and-down movement that was very evident in the television replay) that the Maranello car had shown, especially during practice, had not completely disappeared. For this reason, Gilles might have been more cautious. But at the same time, it could be seen that other cars in similar situations behaved normally. The Canadian is asked to win, to go faster than the others. And he, by temperament and vocation, tries. It doesn't always work.
"Risk must be calculated. If your car is perfect, it's limited. If the car is not right, there are problems".
At this point, it's evident that the Ferrari at Villeneuve's disposal was not at the same level as the Brabhams, Renaults, McLarens, and Williams. How can one think that a team like the one from Modena is subject to fluctuating results like the recent ones?
The answer is quite simple. Choosing the path of turbo, the Modena-based team was forced into an extraordinary effort to prepare a competitive engine. Continuous modifications, updates, races that leave no breath. The cars return to the workshop after races, and in just a few days, they must be ready for another race on ever-changing tracks. Formula 1 is so sophisticated that a slight change can radically alter performance. For this reason, sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't even reach the finish line. There's nothing to be surprised about; it's not a case for controversy. Let's not forget that sometimes Ferrari has given up probable victories to ensure the safety of the cars. The best demonstration of this theorem comes clearly from Villeneuve's spectacular accidents, yet he remained unharmed. Saturday went wrong. In Maranello, however, they are already working to remedy it, for the future, both near and distant. The Silverstone race has provided interesting data for the technicians. Data that will certainly be used to allow Villeneuve to perform with the least possible danger. Meanwhile, immediately returning home by plane after the Silverstone incident (a spectacular head-on collision with the safety barriers), Nelson Piquet seems not to worry too much about the suspected tibial plate fracture diagnosed in the medical center at the English circuit. On Sunday, as if nothing had happened, the Brazilian driver spent the whole day on a boat sunbathing with Eddie Cheever. It seems that he didn't even go to the hospital for a check-up or undergo the necessary X-rays to determine the extent of the injury to his left leg. Obviously, this behavior (Piquet also refused to be taken to a clinic near Silverstone or London) means that the damage may not be serious. Otherwise, he would be truly reckless. However, it is not excluded that, under pressure from his team's executives, Nelson will accept in the coming days to be examined at the Rizzoli Hospital in Bologna. A boyish face, very short-cut hair, eyes full of tears. Andrea De Cesaris, a 22-year-old Roman, the youngest Formula 1 driver, cries with anger and fear on Saturday morning. In the free morning practice, half an hour on the track to fine-tune the car for the race, the Italian driver goes off the track, damaging his beautiful McLaren. Immediately afterward, he says, apologizing to Teddy Mayer, an American lawyer who looks like a clerk, the owner of the English team:
"It's not my fault: a side skirt suddenly came off. I flew into the grass without realizing it, without being able to do anything to remedy it. I was going slowly, cautiously, but when the ground effect suddenly disappears, these cars behave like wild horses. I swear, I won't do it again".
The McLaren executives took him aside, giving him a speech like:
"The first time you do that, I fire you, and you leave".
His position as the second driver alongside John Watson was already precarious. Envy, pressure, many drivers who would like to see him sacked to take his place. McLaren itself, technicians, mechanics, consider him just a car wrecker. "He breaks one or two in every race, and we're tired of repairing the wrecks that are brought back to the pits with a tow truck." Then the race, the incident in the early laps, De Cesaris' McLaren flying into the barriers amid the dust and smoke caused by Villeneuve and Jones. Television frames the face of the youngster, again sulking. Andrea throws his helmet, clenches his fists. The car is again, more than dented, unusable. The driver reaches the pits, no one looks at him. In the McLaren clan, everyone is intent, nervous and excited, on following John Watson's pursuit. Andrea De Cesaris steps aside, still with the dusty suit on. He makes faces, bites his nails. But when approached, he almost smiles. He's not worried, he seems content. The media looks at him in amazement: has emotion, so many fears, turned his brain?
"No, I'm not crazy. I'm satisfied, happy to have ended up in the barriers. I don't care about the wrecked car. I could have killed someone. Maybe I saved Jones' life. I took the McLaren off the track, on the inside, consciously, to avoid causing more damage. Probably, I could have hit Watson's car, which was stationary in front of me. If I hadn't gone out, even John could have lost the race".
A chivalrous gesture, if these words are sincere. The young driver risks his position to save a teammate. Immediately after the race, someone whispers:
"For De Cesaris, it's over. In the next race, at Hockenheim, they'll replace him".
The talk is about the Finn Keke Rosberg, but there's also the Swede Stefan Johansson. Is it true? For now, no confirmation. If there are these rumors, however, it means that something is happening. But would it be right to get rid of De Cesaris without giving him another chance? Ferrari has confidence in Villeneuve and continues to have it. A 22-year-old who goes directly from Formula 3 to the challenging world of Grand Prix must pay for inexperience. It's dangerous for him and others; the regulations should be changed, not allowing such leaps without having results behind. But at this point, considering also that De Cesaris is a fast driver (in the Silverstone qualifying, he was alongside Watson), it would be more humane to give him a few more chances. Ultimately, at the end of the British Grand Prix, the accountant Carlos Reutemann, thirty-nine years old, from Santa Fe (Argentina), is clearly in command of the Formula 1 World Championship. The second place in Great Britain behind John Watson brought the South American double points. Among his hypothetical rivals for the title, only Jacques Laffite made a leap forward, while John Watson has just brought himself to an acceptable position. What matters to Lole is that his three most dangerous pursuers failed the race completely. Seventeen points ahead of the second in the standings are not few after nine races (there are seven more to go to the end of the season), especially considering that in his accident, Piquet fell victim to an injury that could have negative consequences for the Brazilian driver both physically and psychologically. Certain blows, if you're not unconscious, have consequences, and on another occasion, the Brazilian might not feel like risking. Saying that Reutemann already has the succession to Alan Jones secured would be hasty. The regulations stipulate that a driver can accumulate only ten useful results out of the fifteen scheduled races. For the Argentine, if he continues to place but not win, the issue of discards will come into play. In theory, however, the Williams driver has the credentials to achieve the goal he has been pursuing for nine years. His great regularity, maturity, and experience (138 Grand Prix races) accumulated, with his undeniable speed skills (when the car is at full speed, at least in practice, Carlos is certainly one of the fastest drivers) should allow him to fend off all attacks.
But probably, the Argentine will have to risk something more, try overtaking that he has never attempted this season. And at this point, the qualities of soul, courage, and composure will come into play. On Saturday at Silverstone, Reutemann found himself in second place, without a scratch, without making a single overtaking maneuver. Ninth at the start and ninth after the first lap (Villeneuve, thanks also to the power of the Ferrari turbo and especially to his recklessness, had started in eighth place and was already third at the initial passage), the South American went to fifth place on the fourth lap due to the elimination of the Canadian, Jones, and De Cesaris and Watson's forced stop to avoid the incident. He later went to fourth place for Piquet's exit, third for Prost's exit, and finally, second for Arnoux's disappearance. Someone might object that with the Williams in the current conditions (the English car is not currently a winning machine), Reutemann's accountant-like calculations are fine. Nothing more true. However, it is legitimate to remember that this is a very uncertain championship, where anything can happen. So far, out of nine races, six different drivers have won (Carlos himself, twice, along with Villeneuve, Jones, Piquet, Prost, and Watson) and five teams (Williams, Ferrari, Renault, Brabham, and McLaren). No one has yet taken absolute supremacy, and changing tracks and environmental situations make it difficult to predict how things will end. Turbo cars for the moment don't seem to have great chances but rather play the role of troublemakers. In terms of performance, they might be unbeatable. In races, however, the lack of reliability of these highly stressed turbo engines (remember that they are 1500 cc, albeit turbocharged), hindered by a 1/2 ratio compared to the naturally aspirated 3000 cc, ends up playing nasty tricks. On the very fast Silverstone track, where everyone expected the turbo engines to be super favored, not even one made it to the finish line. Apart from the two Toleman cars that didn't qualify and Villeneuve, who was stopped by his mistake, the two Renaults of Prost and Arnoux and Pironi's Ferrari were put out of action precisely by engine failures. In the next races, further progress may be made.