When Ferrari doesn't win, the fans grumble. But the one who is most upset is an old man who lives between Modena and Mannello. His name is Enzo Ferrari. He is a man who loves discretion or skillfully lets his truths about the joys and sorrows of the Ferrari team be known. This time, Ferrari must have been really angry watching the Austrian Grand Prix on TV and reading certain statements from drivers and technicians. So angry that he made public a letter sent to Gilles Villeneuve in response to the telex in which the Canadian reported on the Zeltweg race. In the letter, in summary, Ferrari thanks Gilles for the loyalty with which he acknowledges that the off-track incident was his mistake. He urges technicians and drivers to refrain from making public accusations against Michelin tires, expresses hope that the turbine crisis will soon disappear, and analyzes the on-track behavior of Villeneuve, Pironi, Laffite, and their cars, with references to chassis, weight, gearbox, and engine. Interesting topics, but even more interesting is the publicity given to the document. Something quite unusual, unless Ferrari, for clarity, wants to let its fans know what is happening in Maranello from now on. In reality, Ferrari has chosen a new path to shake up his men. A warning, if you will. So Ferrari is irritated with Villeneuve, whom he probably reproaches for getting carried away after the successes in Monaco and Spain and for lacking modesty and concentration, making serious mistakes at Silverstone and Zeltweg and demanding too much from the car. Secondly, he admits to the existence of some technical problems, such as the turbines (being solved), the chassis (the new one will be ready for the end-of-season races), and the excessive weight of the car (40 kg too much). Thirdly, he urges his team to talk less and act more. Villeneuve, who publicly accused the brakes on Sunday, must have made him tremble. And Pironi, who drives in pain because he tore a muscle while boating with his offshore (let's hope the Frenchman recovers quickly, or else...!? And Forghieri talking so much about tires? Ferrari has shown character. Certain embarrassments do not suit him. As if that were not enough, after the ninth place in Zeltweg at the Austrian Formula 1 Grand Prix, Pironi worries Ferrari. The Frenchman is suffering from a back muscle strain he got while boating on the French Riviera with his offshore.
If Gilles Villeneuve dares to declare at Zeltweg that the Ferrari brakes didn't work well and that this is the reason for his off-track excursion (only to later admit it was his fault), Didier Pironi faces the Austrian Grand Prix in compromised conditions due to a muscle tear obtained at sea. In the past, Enzo Ferrari would not have limited himself to the paternal rebuke inflicted on the Canadian and the discretion about the Frenchman's behavior. But Villeneuve pleases the Modena constructor for his daring and courage, for that extraordinary ability never to give up, which, however, often plays nasty tricks on him: and Pironi, another purchase wanted by Ferrari, cannot be immediately put on punishment. However, Pironi must not be very calm. The young man made a very serious mistake from Maranello's point of view: getting injured while privately practicing a lively sport like offshore boating. Do you remember the more or less underground controversies in the 70s for a football match that ended badly for Clay Regazzoni (broken arm) or even for the accident that involved Niki Lauda while working with a tractor in his villa in Salzburg? Ferrari drivers have the obligation to be well, not to hurt themselves foolishly, and always be in perfect shape to put Maranello's cars on the track. And it is ultimately a logical demand from Ferrari, which has always denied its men the opportunity to participate in other types of races or risky sports precisely because of the fear of accidents. In Zellweg, Pironi's behavior was impeccable. The Frenchman, if he skillfully defended himself against Jacques Laffite's attacks in the early laps of the Austrian Grand Prix, then had to surrender due to the lower competitiveness of his car. But no one can know how much it cost Didier to finish the race. An F1 driver must also be an athlete, and an athlete in perfect shape to withstand the physical (talking about 1.5-2 g of gravity, just to give an example) and nervous demands of a modern competition. And driving with painful back twinges can also be a risk from the concentration point of view. Ferrari, therefore, must consider the Pironi unknown in the upcoming races. If the Frenchman recovers quickly, no problem. But if the treatments that the Friulian-born driver undergoes do not yield positive results, the problem could be addressed decisively in Maranello. Of course, another driver in place of Pironi would only be a makeshift solution to avoid going on the track with just one car. We hope Pironi gets well quickly and thoroughly.
In this not-too-happy moment, Ferrari really needs every man to return to the top of Formula 1. On Thursday, August 20, 1981, in Monza, an unusually large audience (about 30.000 people) is present to witness the first of two test days desired by Michelin, which is in high demand for tires with the right compound for the Monza track ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. The greater attraction is naturally given by the presence of the Ferrari turbo still struggling with some ailments for which a cure is difficult to find. This is also a difficult day, and when asked for an impression on the tests, Gilles Villeneuve, spreading his arms, replies:
"Poorly, two engines broken after just a few laps, I hope it goes better tomorrow".
There is no time for other questions, the Ferrari driver disappears while the technician Tornami is concerned to specify that the problems with the car are simply power drops: nothing serious, in short. However, Tornami acknowledges that the day does not satisfy him and that there are still many problems to solve.
"The only one that has no problems is Villeneuve himself".
Laffite is not satisfied either, who runs for about three hours concluding with a fused engine. For Renault, on the other hand, it is a fairly positive day. Led by Prost, they set the fastest time. The next day, Friday, August 21, 1981, Ferrari leaves the Monza track early, interrupting the tests it is conducting in preparation for the Italian Grand Prix. It seems that there was a lively exchange of words between Gilles Villeneuve and the technicians of Maranello after the Canadian driver was forced to return to the pits with another broken engine. It's 11:00 a.m. Villeneuve has just completed an hour of testing with the 126 CK. At this point, the Canadian must have been resentful of the continuous troubles, and at 12:30 p.m., he decides to leave the racetrack with his helicopter to return to Monte Carlo, while the technicians would have liked to continue in the afternoon. A disappointing approach, especially for the fans who, even on this occasion, spread out around the Autodrome. Dario Calzavara, deputy sports director of the Ferrari team, says that for the Monza track, the turbo is new, there are no reference points, previous experiences, data, in short, an engine to be tested. However, the troubles have been too many, and the technicians themselves in Maranello admit that there are many problems still to be solved. The date of the Grand Prix is not far away, and Ferrari seems still far from having found a cure for its cars. A bad day also for Osella. Beppe Gabbiani works a lot without giving great concerns, then, at 5:40 p.m., he destroys the car in a spectacular accident. In tackling the Lesmo curve, the Piacenza-born driver goes off the track, performs three spins and a series of somersaults, and finally stops against the safety barrier: miraculously unharmed, but seriously damaging the car. Osella comments:
"Too bad, it's a distraction we didn't need. However, we will be back to test on September 1st and 2nd".
Everything is fine for Renault, which continues the tests with Alain Prost (in the morning) and René Arnoux (in the afternoon). The latter tests with a full tank and in race trim. Everything is also fine for Talbot. Jacques Laffite is satisfied both with the tires and the car. And what about Ferrari?
"That the Monza track is too long and difficult for a turbo engine. I doubt it will make it".
Unexpected is the presence of Alfa Romeo, which was supposed to start testing only on Saturday. Engineer Carlo Chiti says:
"We wanted to save time and prepare the two 179 cars for Andretti, who will drive for two days. We will also bring a third car onto the track".
The cars from Arese are entrusted to Giorgio Francia, the Milanese test driver laps in 1'38"73. Long faces at Michelin. The specialists of the French tire company say:
"Too many troubles for the cars and a lot of time lost for the engines. We have tried few tires, so the indications were not many".
On Saturday, September 22, 1981, the tests on the Monza track, ahead of the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix, continue with Alfa Romeo. Throughout the afternoon, the Arese factory, which had carried out some tests with test driver Giorgio Francia in recent days, has Mario Andretti on the track, who arrived from the United States in the morning. Numerous tests on the tires, to which Alfa seems to pay much attention these days. Andretti himself, at the end of the first day of tests, says he has not yet found them right.
"Certain things are still to be sorted out".
As known, Andretti and Bruno Giacomelli have repeatedly stated that the problems with the 179 stem from the difficult agreement between the chassis, suspensions, and tires. Andretti is trying to convince the Milanese team to return to Goodyear, leaving Michelin. The technical director, engineer Carlo Chili, is quite satisfied:
"In these two days, we have worked a lot, and I would say well. Andretti has completed at least forty laps and set a good 1'37"8, only eight-tenths slower than Laffite. In the upcoming tests, we should do better".
Indeed, on Sunday, Andretti will return to Monza, probably with the same setup as France. In early September, Giacomelli is also expected to test the circuit. A circuit, by the way, that is almost deserted today, confirming the low confidence or the little love that fans have for the Alfa Romeo cars. In reality, for better or worse, only Ferrari seems to truly excite Formula 1 fans. Alfa Romeo has brought two cars to Monza, to which the renewed version should be added. It is a single-seater with a barrel shape. On Saturday, Williams also joins, starting its tests in the coming days, from Sunday to Wednesday. The anticipation for the white-green cars is considerable: it is desired to see how the British machines can compete against the rising Brabham of Piquet and the Talbot Ligier of Laffite. In the following days, while Alfa Romeo and Williams conduct positive tests at the circuit that will host the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday, September 13, news about Italian drivers arrives. It seems now certain that Riccardo Patrese has signed to race in 1983 with Brabham. The rumor is indirectly confirmed by the World Champion Alan Jones, who speaks with a Bernie Ecclestone team executive, met at London airport. The Italian driver's move to Brabham means that next year Patrese will be able to compete with a competitive team and, in all likelihood, that Nelson Piquet will vacate his seat. Unless it is the Mexican Hector Rebaque who leaves, whose financial contribution would be replaced by the arrival of Ragno, which would leave Arrows. Regarding the driver market, the transfer of Elio De Angelis to Alfa Romeo in replacement of Mario Andretti seems certain. Being contracted by a team that is not a member of FOCA, the Roman driver will not be required to pay a penalty to Colin Chapman. If this transfer takes place, one of the English constructor's cars will become available. Andretti, who on Monday, September 24, 1981, laps with satisfaction for the technicians (including the Frenchman Ducarouge) in 1'36"66, does not make statements about his probable departure. Alfa completes about sixty laps, solving several problems reported in the last races by the Milanese car. Jones, on the other hand, laps in 1'36"5. On Tuesday, August 25, 1981, Carlos Reutemann is expected to climb into the Williams. Meanwhile, news arrives from England that Fittipaldi will test Pirelli tires at Donington. The South American driver's team is expected to return to the race in the Netherlands. On Wednesday, August 26, 1981, after finishing the Williams tests and recording a time of 1'34"46 in his best lap, Carlos Reutemann is the protagonist of a humane gesture. The Argentine driver, taking advantage of the proximity, goes to visit the parents and relatives of Giovanni Amadeo, the young Osella mechanic who was killed in Zolder on May 13, run over by Reutemann's car in the pits.
In Caslino al Piano, near Como, the South American embraces the mother of the poor boy, spends a couple of hours, and brings a bouquet of flowers to the cemetery, placing it on the grave. On Thursday, August 27, 1981, we go from the Monza circuit to the white sand dunes, the long queues of the gray and icy North Sea, bathers enjoying the warm sun, sheltered from the gusts of wind, crowded on the Dutch beach. This is the unchanging picture that accompanies, in an atypical climate, the penultimate race of the Formula 1 World Championship. But if outside the circus there is the relaxation of the end-of-season holidays, the same cannot be said inside, within the various teams, especially among those whose drivers are candidates for the world title. The impression that the fight is fierce, with no holds barred, that a high-tension wire has touched the team leaders, emerges clearly in the afternoon when they come out of one of the usual technical meetings held before the races. Distorted faces, blackened faces, moods that belong more to a tragedy than a comedy, as a representation that, while collecting great interests, is still only a sport. On these secret meetings, nothing should be known. However, there is always someone willing to talk. And so it emerges that Williams and Brabham clashed, there was shouting, accusations, and counter-accusations. The fear of being beaten in a heated finale leads to discussions about side skirts, which for some are irregular, about cars underweight, and a thousand other subterfuges that some teams never forget to adopt to be at the top. And so the guiding theme of the Dutch Grand Prix, a race that could be decisive, also emerges. Reutemann defending his leading position, Piquet, Laffite, and Jones attacking. This at least as far as the title fight is concerned. And then all possible outsiders, starting with Renault, which on the Zandvoort circuit should not miss at least the starting pole position. The most important news concerns the leaderboard.
Frank Williams seems to have finally understood that he must help Carlos Reutemann, that his winning card is the Argentine driver. So the English constructor, while continuing to fully support Alan Jones (the Australian has not at all given up on repeating last year's success and openly says he wants to win in the Netherlands to relaunch himself), prepares a new car for the South American. A chassis just out of the workshops, some small modifications, everything to allow him excellent defense. The peace reached is determined more by the need not to make mistakes than by an actual change of intentions. In such a context, the Italians are unfortunately just watching. Not because the competitive spirit has waned, but because there is no possibility of assuming more important roles. At the moment, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo are only seeking their own identity and, above all, to climb back up from the downturn in the last races. It would be positive (but not easy) to make some small progress in the qualifications. The same goes for the drivers, especially Patrese and De Angelis. The Paduan confirms that he will leave Arrows in 1992, avoiding, however, to comment on his move to Brabham. The Roman is waiting for the decisions that Lotus will make. In the meantime, both promise that they will do everything possible to stand out on Sunday. If commitment, seriousness, and concentration were enough to win in Formula 1, Ferrari would always be in the front row, but evidently, these qualities are not enough. So, on Friday, August 28, 1981, in the first qualifying session of the Dutch Grand Prix, despite the technical staff in Maranello doing everything possible to improve the performance of the 126 CK and the drivers displaying all their driving skills, the cars from Maranello only achieve the fourteenth time with Villeneuve (three seconds behind Arnoux, the fastest with Renault) and the seventeenth with Pironi. This further infuriates the team members. The Canadian driver, after the tests, simply grumbles:
"What do you want me to tell you again? Nothing has changed".
Pironi takes refuge in a joke:
"We're not in pole position, but we're not even at risk of not qualifying".
The technicians meet for a long time in the motorhome to solve the many problems that emerged on the track, so much so that three hours before the end of the timed tests, they are still discussing among themselves.
Engineer Mauro Forghieri says, in front of sheets full of drawings and notes:
"We are reviewing everything; unfortunately, there are many mistakes to fix. We are working to solve the problems; we hope to do better in the decisive qualifying round. We had a car that ran better than the other two. Unfortunately, Pironi went off the track due to pumping defects, that is, the bouncing of the car, and damaged it. The other two recorded insufficient results, and we didn't have time to fix them".
The problems are those already known: lack of grip, limited ground effect, difficulty in setting up curves due to poor adhesion. It is difficult to say if all these troubles can be remedied in just one day. However, even if the Ferraris were to make a leap forward, it is highly unlikely that the race could hold any surprises. Ferrari finds itself in one of the least brilliant situations of the season. Consider that only in the last lap, Villeneuve managed to overtake Jarier's Osella (with a four-hundredths of a second advantage), while Pironi is behind the car from Turin's constructor. Much more positive, however, is the result of Alfa Romeo, which, in one go, placed both its cars in the top ten. Andretti in eighth and Giacomelli in ninth are not a miracle: it was enough for the new technical consultant, the Frenchman Gerard Ducarouge, to change the inner wing profile for the Autodelta single-seaters to travel perfectly. Ducarouge, with the experience gained at Talbot-Ligier (and with the schemes of the French car well fixed in his mind), noticed that there was a miscalculation in the wind tunnel studies conducted at the beginning of the season. The calculations were made for cars positioned with the sidepod six centimeters above the ground, and the adoption of variable shock absorbers had completely changed the situation. Behind the two turbos, the battle is fierce among the drivers aiming for the World Championship victory. Currently, Alan Jones' flair prevails, with breathtaking braking in all corners, leaving behind, in order, Reutemann, Piquet, Watson, and Laffite. However, the Williams cars demonstrate problems, while the Brabhams (even though the Brazilian broke an engine) run securely, so much so that Rebaque sets the tenth time. As for Laffite, even in Zeltweg after the first day, the Frenchman was seventh and then managed to start in fourth position. However, a claim looms over his car. Frank Williams announces that he considers the side skirts of the Ligier-Talbot irregular, and it is not excluded that he will request an intervention from the technical commissioners. Finally, news for the driver market. It now seems certain that Eddie Cheever is destined to replace Patrese at Arrows (the Paduan has reached an agreement with Brabham). Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo, given the difficulties in signing Elio De Angelis, has also contacted the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier. On Saturday, August 29, 1981, the theme is the usual one, the same as in the last races. Everything depends on the turbo engines (from Renault). If Prost's and Arnoux's cars don't have problems, they will race for third place. The superiority of the French cars in qualifying is not as evident as in previous races, but it is enough to once again conquer the entire front row, with Alain Prost in pole position and his teammate, René Arnoux, in second place. Experience teaches, however, that turbocharged engines are still not entirely reliable. Alain Prost says:
"I start in the lead, and I hope to stay there until the end, however, I must admit that I am not very calm. Our advantage is minimal, and there are many points on this circuit where our rivals can attack us and possibly overtake us".
Behind those of Renault are the drivers fighting for the world title. They are all within a few tenths of a second, one behind the other: Piquet, Jones, Reutemann, and Laffite in that order. The battle is so intense that Saturday morning the start of the free practice had to be delayed. Unknown individuals penetrated the circuit at night and smeared the track with numbered writings in the Panorama turn. The white paint used for phrases like Forza Loie or Piquet sei il migliore constituted a danger for the cars, which could slip on it. Piquet is the driver who had the opportunity to attack the most with his Brabham. You can see the carbon fiber brake discs of his car becoming incandescent for breathtaking braking at the Tartan turn. And if there are no surprises, the Brazilian can earn valuable points, although he will have to deal with Jones' anger, Reutemann's regularity (who is grappling with a new Williams and therefore not completely tuned), and Laffite's enthusiasm, who smells victory after what happened in Zeltweg.
Behind the top six, finally, an Italian car. It is the Alfa of Mario Andretti, to whom Ducarouge's care seems to have given new life. The different internal aerodynamic wings, the front rims 15 millimeters wider, and a new type of side skirts have worked a kind of miracle. Giacomelli remains further back, but the Brescia-born driver currently has an older car, not completely updated. And Ferrari? Pironi advances to twelfth position in the last laps, while Villeneuve slips to sixteenth. Modest results for the cars from Maranello, which continue not to shine. The handling problems persist. Mauro Forghieri says:
"Fortunately, we didn't break the engines. There was only the seizing of a turbine bearing on Pironi's car".
The newfound reliability of the engines has been paid for at the expense of power (two seconds behind the Renaults), although in pure speed Arnoux records 290 km/h, and Pironi 266 km/h. After qualifying, there is a dramatic turn of events in the McLaren camp. After their second driver Andrea de Cesaris crashes his McLaren car during the session, the team refuses to rebuild De Cesaris's car despite the driver qualifying thirteenth. The team is tired of De Cesaris continually wrecking their cars throughout the season and refuses to let him race following his latest entry. This means the first of the non-qualifiers, Michele Alboreto, is granted entry into the race. In the warm-up, the Williams cars of Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann are notably quicker than the Renault's on a race set-up, boding well for the competitiveness of the race. The first lap turns out to be highly eventful. Alain Prost and René Arnoux maintain a Renault lead, while behind them, Gilles Villeneuve hopes to make up for his bad start. His Ferrari sprints up through the midfield; however, he gets sandwiched between Riccardo Patrese and Bruno Giacomelli. Villeneuve clips Giacomelli's car and spins dramatically down the straight, luckily not hitting any cars before coming to a rest in the gravel, ending his race. A couple of corners later, Mario Andretti hits the rear of Carlos Reutemann's car, damaging his front wing. At the same time, further down the field, Didier Pironi's Ferrari and Patrick Tambay's Ligier collide. Tambay limps back to the pits to retire, while Pironi continues for a few laps before he crashes out due to the damage. In the first few laps, Prost begins to open up a gap to Arnoux behind him, who is beginning to hold up the cars of Jones, Piquet, Laffite, and Reutemann behind him. Jones quickly disposes of Arnoux, and soon Piquet and Laffite are also past the Renault driver. Arnoux is evidently struggling, and by lap 13, he has dropped behind Reutemann and Watson as well.
Prost has opened a substantial lead in the opening laps; however, Jones's Williams is quickly baring down on the Renault driver. The two soon engage in their second great duel of the season, following on from Hockenheim. A little bit behind the pair, Laffite and Reutemann duel for fourth position. On lap 18, Reutemann performs a wild move down the inside of Laffite, sending both cars into the gravel and out of the race, eliminating two of the major championship contenders from the race. A couple of laps later, Arnoux's poor pace is confirmed to be engine trouble as he pulls out of the race when his problem becomes terminal. As one Renault faults, the other soldiers on in the lead with Prost continuing to hold a marginal lead over Jones behind him. Jones has relentlessly attacked Prost lap after lap but can find no way past. Eventually, Jones's tires begin to degrade from his continuous attack, and he can no longer keep pace with the Renault. Lap 62 sees Mario Andretti suffer a spectacular tire failure that pitches him into the barriers. The American former champion receives minor injuries as the marshals have to assist him in getting out of his stricken Alfa Romeo. Jones begins to drop back as Prost is left with a comfortable lead out front. Jones continues to fall back, and soon Piquet's Brabham has caught up to the Williams driver, where he soon goes past as Jones drops back down into third position. The order remains the same until the end, and Prost takes his second Grand Prix victory. Nelson Piquet finishes second, and the result means that he is now tied for the lead in the world championship with Reutemann, who failed to finish at Zandvoort. Jones takes third place, while rounding out the minor places a long way behind the leaders is Héctor Rebaque in the second Brabham, Elio de Angelis's Lotus, and Eliseo Salazar of Ensign, who scores his first points from second last on the grid. The Formula 1 is tinged with yellow. We have reached the crucial moment of the season, the decisive races, and every driver must prove something, either to renew their contract or to show that the recently signed deals were successful.
If you add to this a title fight that becomes more intense and uncertain with each passing race, you can understand why in the Dutch Grand Prix only three cars completed the race at full laps, and ten were classified. Imprudence and malice have mixed in an explosive cocktail that made the day dramatic, full of incidents and twists. The canary-colored car of Alain Prost won for the second time. The twenty-six-year-old Frenchman's Renault turbo, one of the best and most careful drivers of the moment, resisted all attacks on this occasion, thanks also to a perfect choice of Michelin tires (medium-soft), keeping the unleashed Piquet and Jones behind, who finished in that order ahead of Rebaque, the very skilled Elio De Angelis, and the surprising Chilean Salazar, who surprisingly entered the points zone. However, these placements, at least from fourth to sixth, were determined by eliminations that occurred from the early laps. Gilles Villeneuve has accustomed us to his recklessness. This time, however, he crossed the limit, putting not only himself but also everyone else at serious risk. The Canadian started with the usual eagerness, oblivious to what could happen, although he was in the eighth row and had no hope of having a great race. While the two Renaults started in front of the group and immediately pulled away, the small, fiery driver slipped his Ferrari between Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo and Patrese's Arrows, which were almost side by side, the first on the left, the second on the right. Unaware of this daring overtaking, to say the least, the two Italian drivers found themselves involved in an incredible collision. When Giacomelli, to set up the first right turn, moved slightly towards the inside, a contact was triggered between the wheels of the three cars. Villeneuve's Ferrari reared up with the front down and the rear up, and the aviator of bygone times took flight again. Five or six spins at full speed, an incredible pile-up that only miraculously did not cause a tangle of cars and drivers. After digging deep grooves in the terrain outside the track, the Ferrari stopped on the embankment beside the Tarzan curve entrance. Gilles was quick to leave the car and immediately reached the pits on foot, where he followed the entire race near the timing post. His comment is laconic:
"I saw a gap and went for it. Unfortunately, Patrese and Giacomelli moved, and the collision was inevitable".
When asked if it was his mistake or a chance event, the Canadian driver replied curtly:
"Do you want me to start with the brake pedal pressed instead of the accelerator?"
Patrese's judgment was harsher:
"I don't want to talk about responsibility. But look at the recordings of all the starts this year. And tell me who is wrong, who crosses the track demarcation lines, who doesn't care about safety".
Giacomelli, on the other hand, didn't understand much of what happened.
"I only know that I heard a big impact".
Two hundred meters later, the second Ferrari also went off. At the exit of Tarzan, Pironi tried to overtake Tambay. The Talbot driver resisted on the outside, remaining slightly ahead. The Maranello car was seen swaying, and the front left wheel hit the Frenchman's car. Tambay retired, Pironi returned to the pits, where the wheel hub was replaced, but then Didier had to retire because the car was no longer balanced. At the front of the race, Prost pulled away, followed by the great Alan Jones, who tried to overtake the Frenchman as long as he could. He succeeded for five hundred meters on lap 23, but on the pit straight, Prost overtook him again. Previously, however, on lap 19, behind the two leading drivers, two dangerous competitors eliminated themselves. While Arnoux had already lost ground because his Renault seemed uncontrollable (René also went off the track), Reutemann attacked Laffite in front of him.
The Argentine, at the end of the pit straight, appeared faster and alongside the Talbot on the inside of the usual Tarzan. Jacques tightened the trajectory, the Williams ended up with two wheels on the ground, and it slightly spun, touching the Talbot that flew off. Reutemann couldn't even finish the lap as his front left wheel had completely come off and turned inward. Prost held on until the end, but Jones couldn't secure the second position. The rear tires of his Williams deteriorated, and the Australian had to give way to Nelson Piquet. Watson, who was now in fourth place, retired. In the end, not even the two Alfas, from which much was expected, finished the race. Bruno Giacomelli went off in a curve from fifth gear due to the burst of a rear tire. A lot of fear, but no harm to the driver. Almost at the end, the same adventure happened to Andretti, who was chasing because he had to stop to change the front wing after a collision with Reutemann at the beginning. The Italian-American had a tough time. Due to the strong impact, the panels bent, and he had to be extracted from the car. Now the battle for the world title starts again from scratch. On paper, seven drivers can still aspire to Alan Jones's legacy, but in practice, the two big favorites always appear to be Carlos Reutemann and Nelson Piquet, tied at 45 points. The Brazilian took advantage of the misfortunes of the Argentine to catch up, inadvertently helped by Jones himself, who had to give up the second position in the end. Reutemann, eliminated in the incident with Laffite, left with a black face, so nervous that he even tried to open a car that wasn't his. Still in his racing suit, Carlos whispered a few words before running away, like all the other drivers, perhaps to avoid accusations and evade responsibility.
"It was a braking maneuver that could have meant the title. Both of us tried to pass. Laffite closed the trajectory for me. I don't know if he did it on purpose; I'm sure he saw me. Maybe he took the inside of the curve, and I also put two wheels on the grass to avoid the collision. More than that...".
The biggest beneficiary of this situation was Nelson Piquet, author of a race, otherwise accountant-like, conducted with great intelligence.
"I was afraid of deteriorating the tires, and for this reason, I hadn't attacked from the beginning. The tactic proved me right. Jones, to try to counter Prost, ended up ruining his tires. And the world championship? Now we are on equal terms. At the beginning of the season, I made several mistakes, and honestly, I didn't think about it anymore. Now that I'm ready, I want it, to make up for last year. There are still three races, and anything can happen. But I believe that the battle will end in Las Vegas, in the last race".
Alan Prost, although he arrived in the lower part of the World Championship standings, is not thinking about the world title.
"I'm happy for myself and for the Renault executives. I also celebrated the birth of my first child in the best possible way, which happened in the past few days. The race? It wasn't too difficult. Only in the first part, I had to defend against Jones' attacks".
Andrea De Cesaris was sidelined by McLaren as a punishment and could not take part in the race, leaving the place to the first of the excluded, the other Italian driver Michele Alboreto with Tyrrell. The decision was made by the English team after the young driver went off the track on Saturday afternoon, ruining his car, which collided frontally with the barriers at the Tarzan curve. The front part of the car's chassis bent. To be fair, McLaren would have had the opportunity to offer De Cesaris the reserve car, normally available to John Watson. But evidently, the team owner, Teddy Mayer, and the manager Ron Dennis wanted to punish the Roman in an exemplary way, after his seventeenth incident since the beginning of the season. De Cesaris justifies himself by saying that the brakes failed him. Then, understandably shaken, he says:
"They hate me, they try to kick me out. I just wanted to go faster".
Honestly, it must be acknowledged that the damage and work caused by the young Andrea have not been indifferent this year. But it must also be said that when a driver goes off the track, he does so in an attempt to achieve a good time and often risks an accident. Staying on the topic, Mario Andretti's tan suddenly disappears, revealing a pale, almost gray face. The accident that ended his race was frightening, one of those that can leave a mark. When on the television screens, the semi-destroyed car and the marshals, after extracting the driver with difficulty, laid him on the ground, there were fears in the pits.
"This time Mario doesn't get away with it. He's hurt".
When the race concluded, as the news became confusing and concerns escalated, Andretti arrived at the stands in a car. He stepped out of a limping car and was escorted to the Alfa Romeo motorhome. It took a few minutes before the media were allowed to speak with the Italo-American.
"A bad affair. I was checking the left front wheel because I noticed holes had appeared in the tire. Suddenly, in fifth gear at around 250 km/h, the car veered off, and I collided head-on with the barriers. I feared the worst, but some saint assisted me. I've been through many accidents, even more serious ones. I'll recover soon. Now I'll rest for a few days in the United States and will be back on track at Monza".
Giacomelli had also gone off the track, about fifty meters ahead.
"I felt the car tilting to the rear left, and I lost control of the vehicle. I think I knocked down about fifty rows of metal fences. It sounds simple when you tell it, but I assure you it was dramatic".
So, is Gilles Villeneuve a Formula 1 champion, a responsible driver, or a madman risking his life and that of his colleagues with extreme recklessness, driven by the desire to stand out? It's not a new question, as the Canadian, with his Ferrari, has had exhilarating races (like in Monaco and Spain) but has also been involved in spectacular accidents, both in the past and this year: remember the pile-up in Silverstone, the off-track incident in Zeltweg, and now the dramatic collision with Patrese and Giacomelli at the start of the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort. Some defend him, while others attack him. The former claim that Villeneuve tries to compensate for the lack of competitiveness of his car with determination and heart. Sometimes it goes wrong. The latter argue that a driver must also use his brain and not try to exceed every limit. Prudence (and intelligence) is needed on the track. In the race, Villeneuve covered only a few meters before trying to squeeze between Patrese's Arrows and Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo for a lightning, unpredictable overtaking. So unpredictable that the two Italians, without even noticing Villeneuve's arrival, closed the gap. And the accident happened. What does Villeneuve say? Gilles has no doubts.
"I certainly can't start by stepping on the brake pedal. We race to go fast, not to go slow. I don't consider myself a madman or a circuit pirate. When you're on the track, things like this can happen. It's normal".
Mauro Forghieri would tell the story a few years later:
"In August 1981, I was in Zandvoort, where if I remember correctly, Villeneuve qualified even in the sixth row. The others were faster than us, had better chassis, and, moreover, had engines with higher pressure: they had an average of 100 HP more, even 300 in qualifying. We had reduced the wing's incidence, further worsening the situation in corners, but at least we could match the speed of the best".
"A experimental engine was in preparation, not yet ready for Holland, but it was finished on the Friday morning before the race: Commendatore Ferrari called me and said, 'That engine is ready, I'm sending it to you, you mount it on Villeneuve's car and explain to him that I don't care what he does, I just want to know how it performs after the race".
And he continued:
"The engine arrived on Saturday evening: the next day Ferrari called me at four or five in the morning while I was in my room and said, 'Tell Villeneuve I want to know how it goes.' Don't worry, I replied. So I took Villeneuve aside and explained everything. Not sure if he... I don't say he understood, but at least accepted the instructions. On the starting line, I went back to ask him if he remembered everything, and he replied: 'I'm not stupid, you've repeated the same thing four times".
"Gilles overtook at least four or five cars and then ended up in the sand at Tarzan corner. He hadn't hurt himself while the car was only a bit damaged, as he always said. A marshal said: 'He's walking back.' But actually, we didn't see him; he was afraid to come back. I only saw him in the evening; we talked for a long time. Patience, this was Villeneuve".
Ferrari's people (executives, sportsmen, technicians, even the mechanics themselves) defend him. After the Zeltweg incident, Enzo Ferrari sent him an open letter with a gentle rebuke. After all, it was the Modenese manufacturer who chose Gilles in 1977 and kept him on the team despite an impressive number of wrecked cars. It was a bet: to show that any driver with a bit of talent could become a new Lauda.
"Villeneuve has an incredible charge, he never gives up. Accidents like this at the start have happened many times and to drivers considered calm. Let's not make a scandal out of it".
A curious voice from Canada is inserted into the story, bouncing off Zandvoort. It is said that Villeneuve might leave Ferrari at the end of the season, breaking the contract he has already signed for 1982. With great imagination, there is talk of an exchange between Gilles Villeneuve and Alan Jones. To support this sensational hypothesis, it has also been pointed out that Frank Williams did not attend the race and that the Australian driver, finishing third behind Prost and Piquet, did not toast with the usual orangeade but with pure champagne, despite the Arab sponsors' ban. The conclusion would be that the English constructor left to establish the terms of a new contract, and Jones is about to change teams. These rumors have not caused any concern at Ferrari. There is full confidence in Villeneuve, and his honesty and professionalism are cited as examples.
"Gilles is not a fool. He knows what gratitude is, and, above all, he knows that serious work is done at Ferrari. When he renewed his contract with us, he had many offers from teams where he might have earned more and had many technical guarantees. Instead, also because of the affection that binds him to Ferrari, he chose to stay. There are no problems: Villeneuve will stay with us".
But how is he considered by his colleagues and Formula 1 technicians? Bruno Giacomelli was involved in the collision with Villeneuve. The Brescian claims not to have noticed anything.
"A moment before, there was no one next to my car. He must have arrived like a rocket. Honestly, I don't feel like stating that the responsibility is all his. At the same time, it must be said that Gilles is a peculiar driver. He takes many, too many unnecessary risks. Fortunately, we are not all like him, or else every race would be a slaughter. Each of us has had serious and less serious accidents; they are inevitable. But there is a limit beyond which the brain should intervene. Apparently, the Canadian has not reached this limit so far. And it has always gone very well for him. The day he gets hurt - I hope it never happens - he will change his behavior on the track".
Among team managers, Villeneuve is admired. There is no doubt: everyone would like to have him. Engineer Carlo Chiti, in charge of Alfa Romeo, declares:
"I would take him immediately; he's a phenomenon. He goes faster than anyone. And many drivers provoke accidents. Look at De Cesaris... and maybe they would achieve the same results. Our Giacomelli occasionally goes off the track, giving a show but without showing the same determination. I don't condemn Gilles. He has it in his blood. Either you accept him this way, or you erase him as a personality, and he would become someone else".
Some call for punishments, some ask for stricter regulations, especially for the start. These discussions are easy to have but difficult to implement. Cars more spaced in the lineup, penalties for those who move, there are many proposals. But it's a utopia: how can you compress, control the start of 34 unleashed 100-horsepower cars? It would end up clipping the wings of Formula 1. The only hope is that Gilles Villeneuve finds himself with a competitive car again. With a Ferrari in the top positions, the Canadian would not be forced to perform circus tricks to stand out. And Ferrari promises that the 126 CK turbos will be faster already at Monza. How is it possible to make such a promise? Technicians say that the Italian track is more suitable for Maranello's cars, that the flat surface, without jumps, does not force the chassis into strange twists, and that the side skirts wear less. And then, it is argued that the engine problems have been solved. A modification made to the pistons after the Dijon race would be the cause of the recent troubles. Now Ferrari has gone back, and at Zandvoort, the engines didn't break. It's the only positive note of this last trip.