#353 1981 Austrian Grand Prix

2021-10-13 01:00

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#1981, Fulvio Conti,

#353 1981 Austrian Grand Prix

Ten races have already been contested, with five more to go until the conclusion. The battle between Reutemann and Piquet (with the theoretical possib


Ten races have already been contested, with five more to go until the conclusion. The battle between Reutemann and Piquet (with the theoretical possibility of three or four other drivers entering) is highly uncertain. Even though the heir to Alan Jones is not known yet, teams are already preparing for the 1982 season. The driver market is in full swing. It is important to note that the transfer of a driver from one team to another is not as straightforward as in football, where transfers are regulated by the Federation. In essence, each contract in motorsport is unique, and each driver acts according to personal needs, driven by ambitions, sponsors, and the desired income. There are around thirty available spots in Formula 1. Considering that many drivers are tied to multi-year agreements (which can be terminated by paying penalties), the opportunities to change teams are limited. However, it seems that several champions will switch teams before the season's end. One of the most talked about is certainly Riccardo Patrese. The driver from Padua, mature and experienced, seems to be in demand by several teams. Arrows (and Ragno) would reconfirm him without hesitation, but Alfa Romeo and Williams are also in the running if the English team decides to part ways with Reutemann, with whom they are in conflict.


"I am pleased about the possible interest from Alfa Romeo. However, anyone who considers my move to the Milanese team as certain is moving too quickly. There are many evaluations to make. Personally, I would like to have the time to think. My great desire is to end up in a team that allows me to compete for the world title. Everything else is just talk".


It is clear, then, that a request from Williams could overshadow other possibilities. The moves, however, are interconnected. For Alfa Romeo, for example, Giacomelli is already under contract for 1982. A vacancy would only be created if Mario Andretti leaves. And this seems likely. Other recurring rumors involve Elio De Angelis. Contrary to Lotus, he would be of interest to Brabham and, in particular, Parmalat. However, Ecclestone has yet to resolve his doubts about Piquet, being undecided whether to reconfirm the Brazilian or let him go. For Ferrari, there are no problems; the lineup is already complete with Villeneuve and Pironi. As for Reutemann, with or without the world title, the Argentine has reportedly had discussions with Renault, which would replace Arnoux. Niki Lauda is returning to racing. He will be on the track at Zeltweg in Austria on Sunday, August 18, 1981. It was to be expected: not that the Formula 1 World Champion would reverse his decision, made in 1979, to retire from motorsport, but that someone would take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Austrian race to gain some publicity. The same move had been attempted by McLaren some time ago (or rather, the sponsor of the English team), and now one of the financiers of Toleman is trying again.


"To give a boost to the environment, we are contacting Niki Lauda to have him drive a Toleman in Zeltweg".


This is at least the summary of a statement in which, given the potential impact of this sensational revelation, not having anything better to convey, they have broadcast a detailed biography of the Austrian throughout Italy. Unfortunately, Lauda has no intention of returning to Formula 1 at the moment:


"I have become aware of the circulating rumors. I want to clarify that I don't know Toleman or its sponsor, and I'm not crazy enough to get into a car I've never seen. Assuming I decide to change my mind, I have contracts to fulfill with Brabham and Parmalat".


Returning to more serious matters, with five races to go, the Formula 1 World Championship is still wide open. In practice, the number of drivers capable of aiming for the title is limited to a few names, the leaders in the overall standings. In theory, even those who haven't scored a single point could become the heir to Alan Jones. In any case, despite Carlos Reutemann leading the championship with 43 points, the highest probability of success goes to Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian is the driver who has achieved the most victories (three), and with only five results so far, he is at 35 points. 


If the Brabham driver were to win all the remaining races, he could reach a maximum of 80 points, while his Argentine rival, with seven placements and only two wins, would be forced to discard. The regulations allow for a maximum of ten results to be accumulated throughout the season. Reutemann's limit, in the case of five more victories, would be 75 points. But, as mentioned, there are also chances for other drivers, from Laffite to Jones, Villeneuve, Prost, and Watson. Thus, there is a risk that the world title, given the uncertainty in the recent races, may only be decided in the last race. Unfortunately, the entire championship could be distorted by the absurd decisions made by the FISA and FOCA, the association of constructors chaired by Bernie Ecclestone, who, by mutual agreement, assigned the last race to Las Vegas. It is clear that the famous Concorde Agreement, which restored peace between the two organizations, served not only to resolve controversies and technical issues in Formula 1 but also, and above all, to reconcile the (economic) interests of both. Allowing the city of Nevada, the gambling capital, to host a race in the World Championship is a real scandal. There is talk of safety, criticism of city circuits like Monte Carlo and Long Beach, and then allowing racing cars to reach speeds of 300 km/h in a car park, which, no matter how large, is still anything but a real track. 


Truth be told, the Grand Prix has not even been awarded to the municipality of Las Vegas, which might have found a more suitable location for the race, but to a hotel, the well-known Caesar Palace, a hotel-casino with 1800 rooms, willing to invest 8.000.000 dollars, a good portion of which will go to FOCA. But the organizers of this powerful company, handling millions of dollars like peanuts, are not to blame. They are true professionals in entertainment and sports and will do everything possible to live up to the situation, given the success they have already had with repeated boxing matches or tennis. Setting up a square with stands is one thing, creating a racetrack from scratch is another. The track will be 3650 meters long, with 16 turns. There will only be seats (45.000, with prices ranging from 50 to 250 dollars), and all spectators will be able to see the cars up close. Do FISA and FOCA realize what could happen in the event of an accident? And there is also a technical issue: throughout the year, teams struggle to fine-tune their cars on well-known tracks, facing various difficulties, and now they are asked to decide the world championship practically on the stage of a grand theater. Apart from safety, which is undoubtedly important, it seems that the behavior of the authorities has once again been more than reprehensible, even criminal. For everything, Mario Andretti's comment holds true. A driver with extensive experience who, being American by adoption, would have every interest in not criticizing the choice. Mario Andretti says:


"It's hallucinating to make us race in a parking lot. On that track, at most, my son could compete with a go-kart, or better yet, with a pedal car. We will be forced to use third gear at the maximum, or we will fly into the middle of the spectators".


Meanwhile, however, the grand tour of the Formula 1 World Championship arrives in Zeltweg for the Austrian Grand Prix. It is the eleventh race, and starting from Friday, August 14, 1981, with the first day of qualifications, the hunt for the pole position is open. The challenge between Carlos Reutemann and his rivals is, of course, the dominant theme of the race. But since the Austrian race is traditionally a great event for Italian fans who always come in large numbers, the expectation also concerns Italian drivers and teams. Remembering that Zeltweg saw the last Italian victory in Formula 1 in 1975 (Vittorio Brambilla's victory in pouring rain), something positive can be expected from Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Osella, while Patrese, De Angelis, De Cesaris, and Cheever could take advantage of a fiercely contested race to achieve better results than those obtained so far. Obviously, the betting favorites continue to be Brabham and Williams (with some chance for Renault, which won last year thanks to a fuel-saving race by Jean-Pierre Jaboullle). But there is hope that, after many Sundays without glory, the Maranello and Arese teams have managed to address the problems that have plagued them. At Fiorano, Ferrari tried to solve the handling and fuel supply issues recorded at Hockenheim in the short time since the German Grand Prix. On Wednesday, August 12, 1981, Gilles Villeneuve completes the final tests, after which the three cars are loaded onto the transporter for transport. 


Two are updated models with the boxed and reinforced front chassis, like the reserve car, already used, and one is a traditional car. The tuning of the engines and the now famous electronic control unit, which seems to be the basis for the perfect functioning of the Ferrari turbos, has been particularly well taken care of. There are also innovations for Alfa Romeo, which will present another version of the car used throughout the season for Andretti and Giacomelli. This time, however, the modifications concerning the bodywork and, therefore, the aerodynamics are significant: the sinuous side pods (like those already seen on the Lotus) should guarantee greater downforce and higher performance. It seems impossible, but on Thursday, August 13, 1981, the circuit is already full of Italians. Cars, tents, trailers, all coming from Italy. There are even fans from Campobasso and Syracuse. These are the miracles of vacations and sports passion, for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, naturally. Perhaps recent disappointments have led fans of the Mannello team and the Arese team to stay closer to the cars and drivers of the national teams. The atmosphere is more festive than tense. Ferrari, as mentioned, has prepared very well. Engineer Mauro Forghieri, who arrived with the cars to carry out precise tuning immediately, explains the technical situation.


"The remarkable altitude at which the Osterreichring is located should allow turbo engines to have an advantage. The fast and uphill curves, manageable by our drivers in third and fourth gears, require a perfect setup. The entire car undergoes unusual and prolonged lateral accelerations. It's not a matter of straightaways here, but overall speed. So far, we have observed satisfactory competitiveness on mixed-slow tracks, while we have not yet achieved adequate aerodynamic performance at high speeds. The data collected in the recent races may be decisive in improving the performance of our cars in these specific conditions. Another consideration: the temperature and variability of weather conditions at Zeltweg constitute an additional unknown, capable of influencing the choice of tires for practice and the race".


Forghieri, however, does not make predictions. He is cautious. For Ferrari, the Austrian Grand Prix could be a real comeback, but unfortunately, negative results cannot be ruled out. Gilles Villeneuve himself moderates any enthusiasm.


"I don't have a good memory of this track. Last year, I had many problems both during practice and in the race. Zeltweg is a challenging circuit. The long bends typical of this circuit are taken at very high speeds, around 250 km/h. I think it will be very important for us drivers to provide the technicians with sufficient data during the qualifying sessions to achieve a balanced setup of the cars. Nevertheless, I hope that the engine power can compensate for any chassis deficiencies with aerodynamics".


Didier Pironi, on the other hand, is more optimistic, coming from extensive work at Fiorano.


"We have worked intensively on the cars, particularly on the body and setup. We conducted tests on springs and side skirts. The Austrian race, being at an altitude of 750 meters, should favor turbo engines, although the 180-degree bends could negate this advantage. It is, however, a track that I like very much because it has a natural configuration with its ups and downs that follow the terrain and allow the audience a good view. Racing at Zeltweg already puts me in the atmosphere of the Italian Grand Prix, with the pleasant presence of many Italian fans and here, in particular, my friends from Friuli who have warmly supported me in previous years. Imagine this year when I am behind the wheel of a Ferrari".


As for Alfa Romeo, no statements are made at the moment. The track test is awaited. Only one rumor: it seems certain now that the Frenchman Gerard Ducarouge, former technical director of Renault, has signed a contract until the end of the season, renewable for three years with the Milanese team. Formula 1 loses a team. Emerson Fittipaldi is absent; he leaves his drivers and cars at home. Officially, major reasons are cited (lack of engines), but the former World Champion would be in considerable financial difficulties. 


At the moment, it is not known whether the absence will be limited to this race or if it will turn into a permanent withdrawal. Speaking of the driver market, according to some rumors, Mario Andretti has been contacted by McLaren. The English team has the same sponsor (Marlboro) as Alfa Romeo. The Italian team, however, would be interested in hiring the Italian-American driver for another season if he withdraws from the intention to quit racing, at least as far as Formula 1 is concerned. Finally, almost certainly the new European Formula 3 champion, Mauro Baldi from Reggio, will perform a test with Alfa Romeo. On Friday, August 14, 1981, the slightly rarefied hill air is good for the health of turbo engines. And the 750 meters of altitude of the Austrian circuit give wings to Renault and Ferrari. They clearly stand out from the pack of competitors, with times that make people like Reutemann, Jones, and Piquet envious. The fastest of all is René Arnoux, timed at 1'32"6, at a respectable average speed of 230.819 km/h. It's not a record; the same car and driver did better last year when miniskirts prevailed. However, it is not excluded that in the decisive qualifying session, the record (1'30"27) will be approached. Behind René Arnoux, his teammate Alain Prost follows, while in third place, we find Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari. A remarkable feat, demonstrating intense work at Maranello. However, high-speed performances may have relative importance, as reliability, road holding, and, as always, tire characteristics will count for the race, determining the final results. 


The tire problem has indeed affected the performance of Brabham and Williams, the leading non-turbo cars. It seems that the tires brought to Zeltweg by Goodyear for some time are unsuitable for this track, and Reutemann and his colleagues found themselves in the need to qualify with race tires. This explains, at least in part, the gap in results and the approximately two seconds of lag suffered by the two English teams. It is undeniable, however, that turbocharged engines, with their extraordinary power on a track with very fast corners, offer significant advantages to Renault and Ferrari. Arnoux's car recorded a maximum speed of 314 km/h, twenty more than the cars powered by naturally aspirated engines. But Villeneuve barely exceeds 300 km/h, meaning that the chassis and aerodynamics of the Re 20 B are almost perfect. Despite having new rear suspensions, Mannello's cars still have handling problems, especially oversteer. Ferrari, which had never tried the turbo at Zeltweg, had to fine-tune its cars on-site, and in the morning practice, it was slow (thirteenth time). Pironi even went off the track, in the chicane after the uphill stretch that closes the pit straight, damaging the front part of his car. The Frenchman had to wait for the 126 CK to be rebuilt and had only 25 minutes to qualify, securing the ninth position. The Maranello team also had to solve the problem of adjusting the engine's fuel supply, completely different from other circuits. For this reason, Villeneuve broke an engine, and Pironi the left turbine. Engineer Mauro Forghieri will have to find quick remedies to avoid malfunctions like at Hockenheim.


"We have improved, but we still need to find the right balance. Among other things, our qualifying tires last only one lap at maximum speed, so we can't take many risks".


Villeneuve and Pironi, however, are reasonably satisfied. One who does not make progress is Alfa Romeo, fourteenth with Andretti and seventeenth with Giacomelli. The Milanese team has given up bringing the new car to Austria, the one with curved sides; it seems that it is not yet ready. Thus, the Italian-American and the Brescia driver found themselves dealing with cars that jump like crickets and cannot exploit the undoubted power of the engine. The hiring of Frenchman Gerard Ducarouge, who for the first time attends the meetings of the Italian team (he will assume the role of technical director directly under Chiti, although Alfa has not yet officially announced it), should provide new impetus. Another solution could be a return to Goodyear. Despite the efforts of many teams and despite eighteen drivers managing to lower their times, the decisive Saturday qualifying session does not substantially change the starting lineup for the Austrian Grand Prix. Among the top ten, Laffite makes a step forward, moving from seventh to fourth place, and Pironi advances by one position, taking it from De Angelis. While the two Renault drivers manage to improve (pole position for Arnoux), Ferrari faces many problems, so much so that Villeneuve and Pironi can only complete a few laps. Pironi's car has the engine replaced, but even the reserve one remains for about twenty minutes for repairs to a faulty turbine. 


The practice, held under scorching sun, is interrupted for about half an hour due to rather unusual reasons in Formula 1. Some deer enter the track from a forest at the edge of the circuit. The animals, terrified by the noise of the single-seaters, pose a great danger. The cars resume running only when the deer (with good manners) are driven away. Therefore, a surveillance service is instituted to prevent the incident from happening again. At the end of the qualifications, two surprises: the excellent placement of Jarier's Osella, fourteenth just 0.04s from the best of the Alfa Romeos (Andretti's), and the elimination of Eddie Cheever, blocked by a loss of engine power in the new Tyrrell and by the radiator failure on the reserve car. On Sunday, August 16, 1981, The race regulations have says the Grand Prix is to be over 54 laps, but this is a mistake and a correction is issued changing it to 53 laps, to keep it within the specified maximum race length of 320 kilometres. With the start due at 3:00 p.m. the warm-up half-hour is scheduled for ten minutes past mid-day on Sunday, by which time it is very hot indeed. Renault are particularly worried about their Michelin tyres, unconvinced that the left front one, which does most of the work on the long downhill right-hand bends, is going to stand up to the job. Jabouille is perfectly happy about the Talbot and its tyres, but the Ferrari drivers are not convinced about theirs. Villeneuve do only one lap before the right-hand turbine explodes, so while it is changed he goes out in the spare car, just in case something awful has happened. This means he has no chance to try his own car in full race conditions. Jarier comes in with smoke pouring from the left-hand exhaust of the Cosworth engine in his Osella, so the mechanics have a rush to change the power unit, and the Ensign is using oil badly but nothing can be done as they do not have a spare engine. Daly is going to have to race the spare March, as the previous day a tyre tread had come off a rear tyre while at maximum speed and damaged the rear end of the car, apart from giving the north-Irishman a very busy few moments keeping the car on the track. At the prescribed time everyone leave the pit lane and set off round the circuit to line up on the dummy-grid opposite the pits, but only 23 cars return. The Theodore (TY/03) of Marc Surer comes to a stop with ignition failure. A course car tows him the rest of the lap and the Theodore team falls on it to try and find the trouble, but starting time is approaching so they are forced to wheel the car back into the pit lane and miss the start. 


In the German Grand Prix report Surer is said to have crashed due to a moment’s inattention. It later transpires that the accident is caused by the collapse of the front suspension on one side. Also the car is TY/02 not TY/03 as stated, and the accident leaves them without a spare car for Austria as TY/01 is in the middle of a total rebuild to the latest specification. After returning home Surer discoveres he has broken a rib, and drives in Austria in some discomfort. The two Renaults lead the field round on the parade lap in good order and all twenty-three cars take up their positions on the starting grid, with Rene Arnoux in pole position on the right, Prost on the left and Villeneuve’s red Ferrari behind the Renault of Arnoux. Reutemann and Prost begin to creep forward as the red light came on, then Arnoux begins to inch forward, but Villeneuve do not move. As the green light comes on the Ferrari goes off like a rocket straight past both Renaults and up the hill into the lead. The large Italian element in the crowd are delirious and on the top straight we can see the red car well ahead of the two yellow, black and white ones, while another red car is in fourth place. Pironi has come through from eighth place on the grid, passing Laffite’s Talbot-Matra V12 and all the Cosworth powered cars ahead of him. At the end of the opening lap the order is Villeneuve, Prost, Pironi and Laffite. The car manufacturers are dominating the scene. Up the steep hill goes the Ferrari, but into the braking area for the Hella-Licht ess-bend it is all out of control and goes straight on through the escape road. Reutemann do the same thing and right at the back of the field Siegfried Stohr spins his Arrows car. Lap 2 sees a whole change of scene for Villeneuve is now sixth and Reutemann eighth, while the two Renaults just disappeares into the distance. Pironi is not only holding third place, but holding up Laffite and Piquet, who are anxious to get by and get at the Renaults, but the Ferrari driver is not interested. Down at the back of the field Daly has set off from the start with his engine only firing on seven cylinders and has returned to the pits, while the Theodore mechanics have found a broken rotor arm in the ignition system on their car. They get the car started with a new rotor and Surer joins the race from the pit road, only to have the engine die again within a few hundred yards; the trouble is deeper than just the broken rotor arm. Daly’s trouble is eventually traced to a duff sparking plug and the black March rejoins the race, but four laps down. 


The two Renaults are cruising away into the distance, while Laffite and Piquet are being held back by Pironi’s Ferrari, and after Jones and Reutemann have got past Villeneuve’s Ferrari, which is looking very unstable under braking, the two Williams cars join the queue behind the other Ferrari. Rebaque and Andretti both make quick pit-stops for minor engine problems and by lap 8 the Renaults are out of sight before Pironi and his entourage arrive. Then in one vicious thrust Laffite, Piquet and Jones all dive past the Ferrari and on the next lap Reutemann is by. Villeneuve is in trouble with his fore-and-aft brake balance, the warm-up trouble with the turbo-charger preventing him trying the car in race trim, and one by one other drivers get by him. First Patrese, then Mansell and next in line was Watson but before the Ulsterman have a go the Ferrari goes off the track at the Bosch curve and destroys itself against the barriers, all the corners being knocked awry, Villeneuve stepping out unharmed. On the face of things it looks as if the Renaults are going to have a runaway victory, especially as the sky has clouded over and the temperature has dropped dramatically, but Laffite has other ideas and slowly but surely he is reducing the gap between himself and Arnoux in the second Renault. At first it is not really clear whether the Renaults are perhaps easing off, having built up a large margin, but then the gap keeps reducing and Laffite is lapping consistently more quickly than the turbo-charged cars and the Talbot-Matra is not having understeer problems on the downhill bends like the Renaults and most of the other cars are having. The other Talbot in the hands of Tambay is into the pits on lap 16 with hydraulic trouble, its suspension staying up instead of down on the hydro-pneumatic cheating mechanism to dodge the 6 centimetre ground-clearance rule. Piquet, Jones and Reutemann can do nothing about the flying Laffite, and can barely keep him in sight, running fourth, fifth and sixth as they are. After a long pause Pironi arrives with Mansell, Patrese and Watson close up behind him and de Angelis catching them up. On lap 17 Mansell gets by the Ferrari and pulls away to good effect, leaving the others to find a way by. This put him in a firm seventh place, which he is holding well, only to have the engine fail on him on lap 24. Although Laffite is closing on the two Renaults steadily there is no guarantee that he would be able to do much about it if he catches them, but nonetheless the situation is interesting. 


As Prost gets to the top of the hill at the start of lap 27 the left front suspension on his Renault collapses and he skates to a stop and out of the race, leaving Arnoux in command, but now on his own against the ever-closing Talbot-Matra. Tambay has rejoined the race with the other blue and white French car, but he now has to give up as the car lost all its hydraulics but Laffite’s car is running perfectly. Watson has got past the Ferrari chicane but Patrese and de Angelis are so busy fighting each other that they are making no impression on Pironi and Salazar has come up from the back of the field and joined in the fun, while Daly is also in there with the March, even though he is a number of laps behind. Pironi is as imperturbable as ever, leading this bunch for lap after lap. The two Italians are getting very irritable with each other, and in consequence not concentrating on the job of getting by the Ferrari, and Daly and Salazar are enjoying themselves hugely, not normally having a chance to dice with a group of cars. The Chilean Ensign driver has a large blister on his left front tyre, so on right-hand bends, he is deliberately throwing the car into a big oversteer to reduce the load on the blistered tyre, and on one lap he overdid it while in the middle of a pack but manages to catch it. Laffite is now right behind the Renault but Arnoux is not going to give the lead away without a fight and for six laps the two French cars are nose-to-tail, with Laffite looking for an opening and Arnoux making sure there isn’t one. Patrese and de Angelis have finally got past the Ferrari and Salazar is now tucked in behind it, and when Arnoux comes up to lap them on lap 39 he hesitates for just a moment and that is all Laffite needed. The Talbot-Matra is through and into the lead. It is now all over, though Arnoux hangs on as best he can but the front end of the Renault is not holding the road like that of the Talbot. Behind these two is a pretty subdued precession of the Cosworth runners, in the order Piquet, Jones, Reutemann, Watson and de Angelis. Patrese disappeares with an expensive bang in the engine of this Arrows on lap 44 and at the same time the tired old engine in the Ensign cries enough. The fire-extinguisher in the side pod has come adrift and is blocking off air to the oil cooler, which do not help and it is running out of oil anyway. Waston’s McLaren splits an exhaust manifold pipe which sound awful, but did no harm, while miraculously his young Italian team-mate is still circulating and has not been off the road. 


Giacomelli arrives in the pit lane followed by an enormous firework display behind his Alfa Romeo, from burning magnesium caused by the base of the Alfa engine dragging on the ground and before the fire catches hold he jumps out while the fireman douse the car in extinguisher. After dominating the trials and more than half of the race, Renault yields to Talbot-Ligier. Even at Zeltweg, turbo engines disappoint compared to the old but reliable naturally aspirated ones. The Austrian Grand Prix, the eleventh and penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship, is won by the veteran, amiable, unstoppable Jacques Laffite. With this victory, the 38-year-old Parisian positions himself as a contender for the world title, as the two main rivals, Carlos Reutemann and Nelson Piquet, only secure a few points with their third and fifth-place finishes. The Brazilian narrows the gap to the Argentine (six points separate them, 45 to 39), but Laffite dangerously moves eleven points away from the leader. Times have indeed changed. Once the Formula 1 winner toasted with champagne; now, it's for promotional reasons. Jacques Laffite is forced to spray the crowd with sparkling wine produced by an Emilian winery better known for its Lambrusco. Nevertheless, the Frenchman expresses his joy for a victory that was overdue after a remarkable series of placements.


"This is the most beautiful gift for the great work done by the team. Even more exciting because this victory came unexpectedly, on a track that was supposed to favor turbo engines. Everything became easy when I passed Arnoux. Truth be told, before the overtake, I thought Reni was just managing the lead and letting me gain some ground each lap. I don't have big ambitions, but I have to admit that this win puts me in the running for the World Championship. Now, it's a fight I'm in too".


The battle for the title becomes increasingly uncertain. Nelson Piquet has gained two points on Reutemann, but the Brazilian is still doubtful about the final outcome of the race for the World Championship.


"The situation is getting more tangled. Now, there's also Laffite, only five points behind me. I think we'll have to wait for the last race in Las Vegas with all the uncertainties that come with it. In any case, I could have achieved something better. Unfortunately, in the early part of the race, while trying to overtake Laffite, I went to the right side of the track, off the racing line. I hit a bump, and my Brabham flew into the air, bouncing three or four times on the asphalt. The impacts caused a lateral strip to break, and the car became difficult to control".


Strangely, fifth place doesn't disappoint Carlos Reutemann, who still firmly leads the World Championship standings.


"Considering how things went, I can't complain. The engine in my Williams wasn't running well. I did everything possible not to let them pull away, but unfortunately, having to push, I made a mistake on the first lap—following blindly Villeneuve, who went straight into the chicane".


When asked why Jones didn't let him pass for more points, Carlos resignedly responds, spreading his arms with a wry smile:


"You know by now, there's no team play at Williams. So, I don't see why Alan should have given me room. All the knots, however, will be untangled at the end of the season. If I don't win the title, someone may need to admit fault".


Alan Jones provides his explanation for what happened.


"Let's not forget that soon, if he keeps placing well, Reutemann will have to discard points. For this reason, I still don't feel out of the fight, and I have to think ahead. I'm just sorry that Williams has become less competitive. In my opinion, the blame lies with Ferrari, which, by causing the abolition of the side skirts, forces us to drive cars that, with hydropneumatic suspensions, resemble go-karts. If they were dangerous before, now they are even more so, and they are also more difficult to adjust".


The multitude of flags and banners cheering for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, the signs with the names of Villeneuve, Pironi, Andretti, and Giacomelli are put away before the end of the race. Italian fans, taunted by Austrians and French every time Mannello or Arese's cars are overtaken, leave Zeltweg with anger in their hearts. The days of Monte Carlo and Jarama seem very distant. Yet, the cars and drivers are the same, the technical and organizational effort is still intense. Why so many difficulties, why aren't the expected results coming? The answers are always the same. In Formula 1, it's not easy to win, and it's not even simple to finish among the top. There are too many components that lead to the top. Engineer Forghieri says:


"With an ambient temperature of over 30°C, it's already a big problem to regulate turbo engines. If you add that the cars are constantly evolving, that there's no time to breathe between races, you can understand why there are these ups and downs. We're already happy with Pironi's ninth place. Didier is suffering from a back muscle tear; he should have skipped the race. He did well to finish with a car that showed difficulties in braking and handling".


What does the future hold?


"A lot of work. Likely on Thursday and Friday, we'll test in Monza. Here at Zeltweg, between turbine failures and various troubles, we did few laps; we didn't even manage to understand how to adjust the single-seaters. We chose a difficult path, that of turbos, and now we're paying the consequences, as always when entering unknown fields. However, I'm convinced that better times will come, possibly by the end of the season".


Gilles Villeneuve adds:


"In Montreal, in my city circuit, I will win again. Here, there was nothing to do: even if I had taken fewer risks, I wouldn't have gone far. The brakes, inexplicably, were locking irregularly. The only positive note is that we didn't break the engines".


While Didier Pironi retorts:


"It's true, even if we didn't have much power, the engine didn't cause problems. The car is not competitive for now. Someone accused me of defending myself in the race with too much aggression, but I am a Ferrari driver, and I cannot give up without a fight. My back bothered me a lot, but I resisted until the end".


On the other hand, Alfa Romeo did not bring a single car to the finish. Beyond the fire that caused Giacomelli's retirement and the engine failure that forced Andretti to abandon, there is the substantial lack of competitiveness of the Milanese cars. Now, there is only hope that with the help of the Frenchman Gerard Ducarouge, hired as a technical consultant, the preparation of the new cars and the eight-cylinder turbo will be accelerated. Andretti also tried to start with harder tires to gain advantages but had to change them with a pit stop. It's not excluded that the Italo-American driver, convinced that Goodyear can offer better results than Michelin on Alfa, will ask his executives to return to American tires. In such a negative situation, there are those who are satisfied, and it's Osella, tenth with Jarier. It's not an exhilarating result, but just a month ago, the cars of the Turin constructor struggled to qualify. At the end of the race, a strange episode involves Elio De Angelis when suddenly, in the press room, a statement on Lotus letterhead appears, revealing that the English team has renewed contracts with both the young Italian and Nigel Mansell.


"I know nothing about it; no one has officially informed me. I admit that negotiations are ongoing, but - I repeat - they are not yet concluded. We'll see next week".


It's not excluded that Lotus may have hastened to present Elio with a fait accompli. It's a dirty maneuver. De Angelis is also in the running for other teams, and his placement at Lotus would pave the way for drivers who want to change. Names like Piquet, Prost, and Reutemann are mentioned. Once the decisions of these three drivers are known, the whole puzzle can fall into place. According to some rumors, the reasons for the De Angelis case are that Lotus has an option for the Roman for the next year. If he doesn't sign with Chapman, he will have to pay a very high penalty because there is an agreement among the FOCA teams that they cannot poach drivers from each other.


©​ 2023 Osservatore Sportivo


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