#350 1981 French Grand Prix

2021-10-16 01:00

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#1981, Fulvio Conti,

#350 1981 French Grand Prix

Formula 1 makes a stop in Burgundy. On the Prenois circuit, a few kilometers from Dijon, the Formula 1 World Championship, reaching the halfway point


Formula 1 makes a stop in Burgundy. On the Prenois circuit, a few kilometers from Dijon, the Formula 1 World Championship, reaching the halfway point of the season, will experience another important event with the French Grand Prix on Sunday, July 5, 1981. On this track, two years ago, three significant events took place: the first victory of a turbocharged engine, the first success of Renault, and the first triumph of Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Now, the French driver is not there; he retired, making way for Patrick Tambay (himself replaced at Theodore by the Swiss Marc Surer). However, Renault is determined to return to the top. Now, on its path, there is Ferrari, coming off two surprising triumphs with Villeneuve in Monaco and Spain. The technicians from the Maranello team, however, are cautious with their usual warnings:


"Our chassis is not yet perfectly tuned. The type of circuit with fast corners does not suit our car".


It is difficult to make predictions, at least before the timed trials. The situation is further complicated by the usual controversies that invariably arise at every race. This time, however, at least one problem is real. It concerns the tires. Goodyear is back, equipping Williams and Brabham. The American company has arrived with a huge quantity of tires produced in the United States. These are carefully designed tires that could disrupt the Formula 1 World Championship if they prove, as seems likely, much more competitive than Michelin's radials. The French, so far, have been busy meeting the demands of all the teams rather than making technical progress. Michelin, to avoid appearing inferior to the competing company, will only supply its tires to its official teams (Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Renault, and Talbot) and to two top English teams, namely Lotus and McLaren. Other tires will be delivered to Arrows for Patrese and perhaps to some other teams, but they may not be equally valid. The remaining teams are supplied by Avon, which had already equipped the Fittipaldi in some races. However, these tires, produced in England, do not seem competitive for now. Pirelli, supplying Toleman, cannot quickly expand its customer base as it adopts different measures from the others. Another threat to the tranquility of Formula 1 comes from the possible protest that drivers could launch against FISA for the fines imposed following the solidarity demonstration with the mechanics before the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Thirteen drivers received a notice to pay a fine of $5,000 within 48 hours. Some promptly paid the amount (Villeneuve, Pironi, Sthor, and Surer). However, others, including Giacomelli, Andretti, and Patrese, absolutely refuse to pay. Bruno Giacomelli states:


"They are making fun of us; we didn't go on strike but observed a few minutes of silence for the death of a colleague, the mechanic from Osella".


Villeneuve is also furious about this incident and has already paid the fine. Yesterday, the Canadian was denied entry for his large motorhome, in which he lives during races, inside the circuit. The vehicle was made to park among sacks and dust outside the stands area. Arguing with the organizers, Gilles Villeneuve says:


"They fine me and kick me out, but it won't end this way. The sports authorities and FOCA are making another mistake".


The Ferrari team, the Ferrari stable, the Ferrari company, is again the soul, the heart, the brain, the most important organ of the Formula 1 Circus. In visits to the pits, in thoughts, in articles, in predictions, in greetings, in tributes, everything revolves around Ferrari. So after the races in Monte Carlo, after the Jarama race, before the Dijon race, in the Stade Automobile of Prenois, where the French Grand Prix will take place, Ferrari is once again the reference point. The world of cars changes around Ferrari after two consecutive victories for the Maranello team. But what changes within Ferrari? Sports manager Marco Piccinini, a young and articulate man who lives between Monte Carlo, Paris, and Mannello, responds:


"Nothing at all, we work as usual, if anything, we work harder to resist the temptations of relaxation".


The image is like Arcadia: fervent mechanics, engineering Anglicans of faith and eager for initiatives, asphalt instead of grass, the torment of engines instead of flutes, Japanese photographers instead of fauns. But it is Arcadia, in spirit, in poetics. The cook who announces pasta cooked in a can that once contained oil is also Arcadian, as is the rare steak seared with an oxyacetylene flame. Twenty men dressed in yellow are in the Ferrari pit. A chief mechanic and three mechanics for each car, plus two mechanics for the reserve car. An engine specialist, a bodyworker, a storekeeper, a cook-driver. In addition, Forghieri, Tornami, and Carletti. And the organizational staff: Piccinini, Calzavara, Degoli. The mechanics available in Maranello are sixteen, eight come to the races, rotating. Is there too much rhetoric about their work? In France, a Ferrari mechanic is seen putting his hands on a turbo engine that, still running, sends long flames. Piccinini and Forghieri say together:


"They are paid for how much and how they work, not for the successes that Ferrari achieves. If anything, certain drivers give gifts to the mechanics. Objects rather than money. For example, Scheckter was very generous".


The Ferrari spirit, the Ferrari work, Ferrari activism are adored and cursed, like any religion. Someone outside says there is much pretense; someone else says it's a regime of terror, that is, the immanence and on Mondays, even the imminence of the Grand Old Man of Maranello.


"There is no special, circumstantial physical contact between Enzo Ferrari and those of Ferrari. When you win, you work more because there is fear of a dangerous nap, of resting. But he certainly doesn't suddenly appear, with his joys or his rages".


Both Piccinini and Forghieri advance the idea of a holy, sacred routine, blessed by results: 81 Grand Prix, a record, 22 World Championships among Drivers and Constructors. Forghieri says:


"After two consecutive victories, we work and live as after ten consecutive defeats. Here in Dijon, there is no possibility of staying all together in the same hotel, and it's a pity. We want to form as homogeneous and normal a group as possible. Our only luck is the great racing experience".


But does he, Engineer Forghieri, feel privileged to work like this?


"Undoubtedly. With a serious industry behind us, 180 people working for races, and without having an occasional sponsor on our backs or an owner who imposes a driver with money in his mouth".


On Friday, July 3, 1981, ten minutes before the end of the timed trials, the Ferraris are not qualified. Forghieri is calm, like someone who knows that his job depends on work, not luck. Under the awning stretched by the mobile home, the cook boils water for the pasta. An hour after the end of the trials, Forghieri says:


"It is nice to work for Ferrari, for a fair salary and a clear idea. Without any advertising agent asking you to act foolish for him. I am privileged".


Fortunately, when the time comes to hit the track, Formula 1 forgets the controversies. The problems of fined drivers and those threatened with license withdrawal, and the more serious technical issues of the tire war, take a back seat to the results of the first qualification round of the French Grand Prix. It is a lively day due to the bad weather. Black clouds from the North bring rain to the Prenois circuit. 


Thus, in an alternation of wet and dry track, there are moments of panic in several teams fearing, for various coincidences, that they will not be able to achieve valid times for the race. Ferrari, for example, ten minutes before the end of the timed trials, is out with both cars and ends up with Gilles Villeneuve in fourth position and Didier Pironi in fifth. The fastest of all is John Watson, with the new McLaren MP4. It's not a surprise. Already in the debut of the English car in Brazil, it was understood that the McLaren driver possessed a very competitive single-seater and that with adequate tuning, it would climb to the top. This prediction is now confirmed, as Watson clocks in at 1'06"59, a time very close to the record set in 1979 by Jabouille with the Renault that then had miniskirts. If the weather conditions are more regular on Saturday, the situation may change. But the fact remains that McLaren is now a potentially winning car. Gilles Villeneuve says:


"In a straight line, my Ferrari is faster, but in fast corners, Watson gains about 2 seconds. His car sticks to the ground, while I still struggle with the usual chassis grip issues".


After this car with futuristic technical solutions (remember that the chassis is made of carbon fiber), the cars with Renault turbo engines of Arnoux and Prost follow. A fairly predictable result: the French team often trains at Dijon, and technicians and drivers know every secret. However, it will be necessary to see how the cars equipped with Goodyear tires will perform. In the first qualifying session, the American team lost the battle to Michelin, but it doesn't mean they lost the war. However, there is too little time to push to the maximum, explaining why Reutemann is only eighth, Piquet eleventh, Jones twelfth, and Rebaque fifteenth. Goodyear has other cards up its sleeve: according to some rumors, they brought 780 tires to France to supply four cars, compared to Michelin's 350, which practically has to support all the other cars. It seems that there are eight types of compounds for practice and five for the race. In any case, the impression remains that Ferrari is always on the rise, even though there was tension during the qualifying hour. Engineer Forghieri says:


“Pironi was unlucky again; at the beginning, with the dry track, he had a breakdown due to a short circuit. A minor thing, perhaps a loose contact. Then he restarted and broke a turbine. We put Didier in the reserve car, which has a modified rear suspension, and he immediately walked strong, almost like Villeneuve".


The Canadian had been credited with a superior time, but after Ferrari's protests, he was attributed the time of 1'07"60 actually obtained. The Alfa Romeos of Giacomelli and Andretti are lagging behind. But the Milanese team used only race tires, reserving the time tires for the last and decisive qualifying session today. On Saturday, July 4, 1981, Renault emerges in the open and rediscovers the brilliance of its best days. Ferrari, on the other hand, returns - according to the words of engineer Mauro Forghieri - into the darkest fog. Turbo engines dominate the qualifying rounds of the French Grand Prix, which will conclude the first part of the World Championship. However, it is the six-cylinder of René Arnoux's yellow-black car that stands out, celebrating his 33rd birthday with a pole position rewarding him after a long period of work without results. With this performance, Renault is a candidate for a victory exactly two years after the first success in the challenging world of Formula 1. The French Grand Prix, however, presents many uncertainties. Because if Arnoux, thanks to the speed performances of his car, will have the role of the hare, behind him, the pressure will be very strong, with at least ten drivers capable of fighting for the first position. The confirmation of McLaren (second time with John Watson), the entry of Prost, driving the other Renault, in the second row alongside a determined Piquet, guarantee spectacle and fierce competition. On the technical side, the tire war between Michelin and Goodyear may also be decisive, as it is not yet known how the American-made tires will behave in the race. Undoubtedly, the role of referee in this predictable battle could belong to McLaren. The English team can count not only on Watson but also on the presence of Andrea De Cesaris in the fifth position of the starting lineup. The young Italian driver welcomes the remarkable placement in the qualifiers with tears of joy. However, the Roman is annoyed that his team did not allow him to use the special qualifying tires. 


Despite De Cesaris's uncontrollable happiness and the moderate satisfaction of Elio De Angelis, who will start in eighth position, there is the setback of Ferrari, only eleventh with Villeneuve and fourteenth with Pironi. Full of problems, the Maranello team has shown that its 126 CK still has some (expected) limitations on circuits like this, where it's not just about going fast in straight lines but also and above all exploiting the fast curves that make up the most important part of the track. Ferrari's trials have been marked by several troubles: a spectacular off-track incident involving the Canadian driver in the morning (at about 230 km/h in the corner leading to the pit straight) and the engine failure on Pironi's car. Nothing serious, although Villeneuve admitted to having had a decent scare. The accident caused Gilles an abrasion and a bruise on his face: a wooden stake supporting the safety nets hit his helmet.


"We have difficulties both in terms of grip and road holding, so I don't think we can repeat the exploits of Monaco and Jarama. The car pitches a lot; the hydro-pneumatic suspensions are not yet in place. It will be problematic to enter the points zone".


That is, in the top six of the standings. Beyond these considerations, however, it can be believed that, despite starting far from the front, Ferraris can be protagonists of a decent race. Qualifying and the race are two different things, where the powerful turbo engine from Maranello can always offer comeback opportunities. In any case, it must be considered that in a straight line, the red cars of Villeneuve and Pironi travel at about the same speed as the Renaults (with peaks close to 300 km/h), while all the others are rather distant, at around 290 km/h. The same troubles afflicting the Maranello team also seem to worry Williams, which, for the first time in about two seasons, finds itself detached, albeit not too seriously. Reutemann is seventh, and Jones is ninth. The Argentine and the World Champion are preceded, among others, by Lafitte's Talbot (seventh). The Frenchman must be taken into consideration for the final result after the good races in Monaco and Spain. In short, a test full of suspense. Moreover, the tire war claims its victims. The intense rivalry between Michelin and Goodyear is resolved, at least in the qualifiers, with the success of the French company, with two Renaults and a McLaren in the top three positions. But if at the top some teams can benefit from this challenge, there are those who are practically abandoned, at the mercy of events and others' will. This is the case with Arrows and, in particular, Riccardo Patrese, who, disheartened by the situation, vents his frustration.


"We got the pole position at Long Beach, achieved exceptional placements, missed victories by a hair. We managed to bring the team from the B series to the A series, thanks also to the economic efforts of our sponsors. As a reward, now we find ourselves on the ground, set aside".


The game is quite dirty. To Arrows, which asked for tires like the others, Michelin replied that they could turn to Avon. But the English company is not at the level of the competitors, requires a long series of tests, and above all, wants its tires (not competitive at the moment) to be paid separately. An excessive cost, 15.000.000 lire per race. But let's go back to talking about today's trials. When Gilles Villeneuve goes off the track at 230 km/h and ends up against a pole, slightly changing his face, Dr. Jean Paul Richalet, from the University of Creteil (Paris), is very satisfied, almost happy. Not because of the accident, of course, but because he had convinced Villeneuve to bring with him, stuck to his heart, the heart rate monitor.


"I'll have a sensational value, an exceptional spike in tachycardia".


Richalet says, of course, after finding out about Villeneuve's survival. But he is disappointed with the reading of the track: just 170 beats, at the time of impact, that is 37 less than the maximum recorded by Didier Pirone with the same device, two-thirds of the Monaco Grand Prix, during an overtaking from twelfth to eleventh place. 


Villeneuve is either calm, or unconscious, or bradycardic, or all three at once. The rest of the track reveals an interesting and serious disturbance in Villeneuve's heart after the accident. Almost a posthumous realization of danger. His heart rate did not rise, but the track became denser with squiggles.


"Gilles must have had a terrible headache for five minutes; he must have been very ill. Then everything passed".


A certain fear remains in the doctor (who mainly works with Pironi) for today's Villeneuve, but he hesitates to express it. Official medicine is still seen in Formula 1 as an ugly and evil science that wants to impose rules on bodies whose greatest virtue is considered to be regulated in a sublime way. Pironi agreed to wear the heart rate monitor in Monte Carlo, weighing 750 grams, only because that Grand Prix did not smile at him: so let's go ahead with the experiment. Villeneuve is quite opposed to the scientific pollution of his talent.


"The Formula 1 driver is above all a natural creature who drives the way they do because they were born to drive that way".


Richalet will also try to fit his devices to Pironi and Villeneuve during the race. Millions are spent to gain a few tenths of a second for a car. Nothing is spent, not even time, to improve the driver, who could, if physically fit, drive better, i.e., go faster. Rafael Grajales, a Panamanian working in Germany, in Heidelberg, the doctor of Fittipaldi and now Reutemann, paid by a group of drivers mainly to oversee rescue equipment, states:


"However, something is changing. For example, Reutemann accepts the idea of jogging, diet, and also for this reason, he is living his best season as an old man".


Yet Pironi's experiment shows that Formula 1 imposes a heart rate like no other sport, for about two hours, not even the marathon. Pironi, young, athletic, strong in skiing and motorcycling as well, spent the two hours of the Monte Carlo race with a heart rate ranging from 178 to 207 (Villeneuve underwent the experiment in the Fiorano tests, never reaching the maximum of his teammate). A marathon runner settles at 160. Not only that: arriving at the pits, starting the engine, doing the warm-up lap, Pironi experienced many other heart rate excursions, starting from 70 beats (rising to 102 when he saw a beautiful girl he liked).


"Then there are accelerations and decelerations, up to 2.8 G, almost like astronauts, and there is a tremendous workload on the neck muscles. However, the worst enemy is dehydration, which also means a loss of reflexes, even a decrease in vision".


To defend themselves, drivers do little or nothing, even when the intense heat is officially threatened by the weather, as here in Dijon. Pironi sucks water through a straw from a thermos during the race. Others dehydrate to the point of collapse: 2% dehydration means a 10% decrease in performance. Piquet, a young driver, certain of having a perfect physique, usually finishes races in a semi-comatose state. And in the face of even a minor incident, he drains of strength. Sante Ghedini explains:


"The opposite of Lauda. Niki was a true athlete, complete, who now as a pilot of airplanes, first as a car driver, has built his career on sports health".


It is a fascinating territory, new for a world of people who consider themselves invincible like Achilles in magical water. Nor is there an authority capable of imposing jogging, which is the right exercise to get the body right, on the drivers.


"They play golf, tennis, it's of little use".


Says Richalet. Now the bearded doctor with a rather guru-like face will try to convince them with the alarming figures of high heart rate.


"But I have already tried to suggest a diet and sports exercises to Pironi. He has no time, no one has time; they all have to run even when they are not on the track, to make money".


The other doctor, Grajales, is more optimistic:


"They are starting to think that a fit body can mean saving their skin. And contrary to what happens in other sports, they don't think they can solve everything, reflexes and endurance, with drugs".


On Sunday, July 5, 1981, although the sun is shining when the cars leave the pit lane to go round to the assembly grid, it is not very warm and grey clouds are all around. Jones elects to race his spare car (No. 11) as it feels better on the fast corners; the Ferraris are running very low boost-pressure and there is an air of confidence in the Renault pits, but most people have their eye on Piquet who is lining his Brabham up behind Watson on the left of the grid, with the two Renaults one behind the other on the right-hand side. With very little fuss Arnoux leads the field on an orderly parade lap and back to the starting grid. The starter press the button to put the red light on, the green being due between 4 and 7 seconds later, but something is wrong with the electrics and the green light comes on with the red, they both flickers and without hesitating the starter hit the green button, which cancels the red. Poor Arnoux is bewildered by it all and muffs his start, but Piquet is off like a flash, swerving round Watson and into the lead. From eleventh place Villeneuve shuts down the outside and into fifth place. Many of the drivers are caught out by the erratic light signals, among them Alan Jones, and in the crowding away from the grid he hit Andrettis Alfa Romeo with a front wheel and bent a steering tie-rod. By the end of the first lap Piquet is already well away from Watson but Prost is closing on the McLaren. In fourth place is de Cesaris, keeping out of trouble on the opening lap, Villeneuve is still fifth, Laffite sixth, Andretti seventh, Reutemann eighth and Arnoux a furious ninth. Jones is finding his steering a bit odd and at the end of the third lap he is into the pits to have a new tie-rod fitted between the right-hand steering arm and the steering rack. Meanwhile Piquet is streaking away from everyone and Prost overtakes Watson on lap 3 and instantly pulls away from the McLaren. 


There are no changes further down the field and, in fact, they are drawn out into a procession, apart from Hector Rebaque who is down in fifteenth place, but picking off the mid-field runners one by one. First Tambay, then Giacomelli, then Mansell, then Andretti who drops back, then de Angelis; it is the only bright spot to a rather dull procession. Alan Jones rejoins the race but he is three laps down and he is now running between his team-mate Reutemann and Arnoux, who are fourth and fifth respectively, the Renault driver getting past Villeneuve on lap 7. Reutemann is closing slowly on Watson, but not quick enough for Jones and on lap 15 the two Williams cars take the long right-hander at the end of the main straight side-by-side and rubbing tyres! Just behind them Laffite does the same to de Cesaris in a do-or-die effort to get past, which succeeds. By this time the Ensign disappears with a suspension failure and the lone Fittipaldi has also gone with a broken rear end that is letting the rear wheels steer as well as the fronts. At 20 laps Piquet is so far ahead he is in a race of his own and equally Prost is a long ahead of Watson. In fourth place Reutemann is falling back as his left front tyre comes up in a blister and he is going gently on the right-hand corners and trying to make up time on the left-handers. Arnoux is still a fair way back in fifth place and Villeneuve is leading Laffite and de Cesaris. After a gap came Pironi being pressed by Rebaque, followed by de Angelis and trailing along behind came Andretti, Mansell, Giacomelli, Tambay, Patrese and Surer with Daly, Cheever and Alboreto already lap by the leader. 


Jones is into the pits again to change his front tyres, to try and improve the handling and a couple of laps later he is back again as he felt a front wheel nut is loose. It issnt so he rejoins the race but is now four laps behind and right out of the running. The race now becomes rather uninspired, the only spark being Rebaque still passing people down in mid-field, claiming de Cesaris on lap 28 and sitting it out wheel-to-wheel with Laffite on lap 30, which now put him in seventh position. Piquet is now in a spot of trouble for his throttle slides are not shutting instantly when he take his foot off the accelerator pedal, which does not cause concern when he is alone on the track, but make it tricky when he is lapping slower cars. In second place Prost is also in trouble as he cannot select fourth gear, but Watson is all right in third place, though Reutemann has lost fourth place to Arnoux and is still nursing his blistered left-front tyre. Villeneuves sixth place disappears when his engine cut dead on lap 42, with some sort of electrical failure, so this promotes the hard-working Rebaque up into a worthy sixth place. Piquets hesitancy in passing slower cars allows Prost to close up on him, but not dangerously so, and equally Prosts lack of fourth gear allows Watson to close up, while Reutemann repasses Arnoux. Down at the back of the field Surer has a spirited dice in the Avon-shod Theodore, racing wheel-to-wheel with Giacomellis works Alfa Romeo and getting the better of it. At 50 laps Piquet finally laps his Mexican team-mate, but has Alan Jones just behind, though four laps down, and Jonesey is all for going faster than the leading Brabham wants to, which is a bit unnerving for the little Brazilian, but he does not let it worry him. With 30 laps still to run victory seems pretty,assured, but there was a Joker in the pack. On lap 54 rain spots began to fall as a big black cloud approach the far end of the circuit and a deluge moves relentlessly up the long straight. It takes about three minutes to arrive and by lap 57 the straight is awash and Piquet completes his fifty-eighth lap at a crawl, the car immersed in spray, to be greeted by the red flag, with black ones all round the circuit, which means the race was being stopped. He, and those on the same lap with him, pull in at the end of their fifty-ninth lap as the rain virtually obliterates everything for a few minutes; then it is gone, the sun come out and people and the track dry instantly. 


But it is too late, the organisers  stop the race in a bit of a panic. The rules say that if 75% of the distance has been covered the race can be considered finished, but less than that means that the remaining laps must be run when conditions allow and the overall result will be calculated from the additions of times for the two parts. Two more laps would have seen the 75% and victory to Piquet and his Brabham, but that was not to be, a further 22 laps have to be run with a restart with the cars lined up in the order they had finished the first part. As the rain came down de Cesaris goes into the pits expecting to change to rain tyres, and is there when the race is stopped which drops him from eighth to fourteenth place. The result of the first part is taken at the end of 58 laps. In a matter of minutes the rain has gone and within 30 minutes everything is drying rapidly. Before the restart the Renault mechanics cure the gearbox trouble on Prosts car, the Brabham mechanics cure the sticking throttle slides on Piquets car, Reutemanns blistered tyre is changed and the leading Michelin runners are fitted out with a softer compound set of tyres that would nicely last about 25 laps. The restart is given at 3:05 p.m. with the cars lined up on the grid in staggered pairs, but it is all over before the green light came on. The Goodyear runners are committed to relatively hard 80 lap tyres, while the Michelin men are on soft sprint tyres, the Akron firm having nothing suitable for such a short race, while the French firm has something for every occasion, and this was one of them. From the start Prost, Watson, Arnoux and Pironi surge away and Piquet strive valiantly to hang on to third place. Watson actually tries to pass Prost on the opening lap and nearly gets away with it, but runs wide and drops back. The 22 laps are a rather pointless formality and poor Nelson Piquet has to watch victory slip from his grasp as Prost disappears into the distance and likewise Watson into second place. He cannot keep up with Arnoux or Pironi, but has sufficient time in hand over them from the first 58 laps that he is still ahead on aggregate times. If anyone pass anyone during the 22 laps it is not noticeable and the order at the end of part two is Prost, Watson, Arnoux, Pironi, Piquet, de Cesaris, Andretti, Jones, Mansell, de Angelis, Rebaque, Cheever, Surer, Patrese, Alboreto, Reutemann and Giacomelli. On the opening lap Laffite hitss the back of Reutemanns car, and deranges the front end of the Talbot, and Daly pulls out after seven laps when his engine begin to seize. 


From fifth place in the opening laps Reutemann has gradually fallen right to the back as his engine developes a chronic misfire with all the symptoms of a drastic drop in fuel-pressure, rather like Jones had suffered at Monaco. The Renault had to win, and so it happened. Two years after its first triumph in Formula 1 on the same track, the French team regained success with the small and likable Alain Prost. The speakers broadcasted the Marseillaise, and the audience was rewarded after a race that was, all in all, boring, confusing, and interrupted by bad weather. It can't be said that this was a clear victory like the one in 1979 with Jean-Pierre Jabouille. There's a suspicion of a regulatory robbery: the race management suspended the race at lap 59 due to a sudden downpour when Nelson Piquet and his Brabham were comfortably leading since the start and were heading for an easy victory. All that was needed was to wait for another passage of the cars (which was possible) at the finish line, and the current standings on the track at that moment would have been final. The regulations state that the race can be considered finished when at least 75% of the distance has been completed, in this case, 60 laps out of the planned 80. Instead, everything stopped, waited for the rain to stop, and a second part of 22 laps was started, followed by a final overall classification based on the cumulative times. This way, fate and the will of men determined Prost as the winner, who was second in the first part of the race. Piquet even finished in third place, surpassed by Watson with the McLaren. What a disappointment for the Brazilian and Brabham. Alain Prost, twenty-six and a half years old, son of a furniture dealer from Saint Chamond, married, achieving his first Formula 1 victory in Dijon on the Prenos circuit where he had always won in lower formula battles. All his races in the Burgundy Automobile Stadium had ended with a first-place finish. Today's race ended well, but in a convoluted way. Alain Prost says at the end of the French Grand Prix:


"Don't even ask me if I'm happy; I have a tumult of feelings inside me. I tell myself that I've learned that even Formula 1 Grand Prix is within my reach. But then I get emotional, and that's it".


The media ask him to make sense of his story:


"Well, let's start by saying that I hoped to win when I was chasing Piquet in the first part, and I knew his tires were degrading. He had started too fast; sooner or later, he had to pay. He couldn't keep that pace. When the race was interrupted, I first thought his position was secured, then even if we resumed, I wouldn't make it because Piquet had new tires, and with the naturally aspirated engine, he could have a better start compared to my Renault Turbo. But after the start of the second part, a miracle happened. Even the fourth gear, which was giving me trouble, started engaging regularly. And then I could do nothing but win".


Descending from the podium, after launching polemical champagne sprays towards Balestre, the president of the Federation, until forcing him into a kind of escape, Nelson Piquet responds, more to France than Prost:


"They stole my victory. If a Frenchman had been in the lead, they would have let him complete two more laps so that the ranking would be confirmed. For me, instead, the suspension, with forty-five minutes to fix the Renaults and, above all, to provide them with almost worn-out tires, valid for twenty-two laps or a little more. I only had race tires, let's say the right tires. I got demoralized; I suffered those forty-five minutes as an injustice. Moreover, there was the implicit risk in a second start, with that starter who, at the first start, had triggered the green light too early, then regretted it and returned to red".


According to Nelson Piquet's opinion, the defeat of his Brabham was written in the sky:


"Prost had the luck I had bad luck. I even remembered the Grand Prix of Brazil this year: I didn't know which tires to choose, I had decided on slicks, and down came the rain. So here in Dijon, I also had bad memories, doubts, and, in short, I tormented myself even before taking the damn second start".


Malicious rumors suggest that someone tried to help Renault right from the start. The professional starter Derek Ongaro made some mistakes when it was time to start the drivers. The regulations stipulate that, at the start, the traffic light must be on red first and then, 4-7 seconds later, on green. Ongaro pressed the red button, then, almost without interruption, showed the green light. A very serious mistake that could have caused accidents. Realizing the error, Ongaro lost his composure and pressed the buttons again, making the red light appear once again, followed immediately by the green light. In any case, the Renaults remained stationary, and Piquet, very fast, jumped from fourth place to the lead, ahead of Watson, Prost, De Cesaris, Villeneuve, Laffite, Reutemann, and Arnoux. The latter, despite starting from pole position, was the slowest of all and may have even collided with De Cesaris. Villeneuve's start was splendid, as usual, and Pironi had a good start too. The two Ferrari drivers moved up to fourth and tenth place in just two laps. Piquet ran his own race. Despite tires deteriorating with each lap (from the pits, you could see the tires filling with bubbles and holes), the Brazilian was not caught, despite Prost's efforts. The Frenchman quickly recovered second place ahead of Watson, Reutemann, and Arnoux, who battled among themselves, with the final success for the Argentine. Arnoux's Renault, involved in a minor collision at the start, had the front wing spinning almost like a propeller. Behind the leader, Villeneuve slipped to sixth place.


"I had no grip, and I had to perform miracles to stay on the track".


Villeneuve managed, as long as he stayed in the race, to defend himself well, then his Ferrari stalled due to fuel supply problems. This allowed Rebaque, Lafitte, De Angelis, and Pironi to pass. In the absolute monotony (Jones was also out of the race, immediately stopped at the box with the Williams steering box out of place due to a minor collision), the carousel continued until lap 58. The dark clouds that threatened rain since morning finally unloaded in a very violent storm. Race director Pavesi waited for someone to slow down and then displayed the red flag to suspend the race, practically at lap 59, when there was theoretically just over a minute to what could have been a final outcome. The cars returned to the pits, raising water clouds. Poor De Cesaris, who had stopped one lap earlier, felt called stupid. But the Roman had not stopped his McLaren (he was in eighth place) to change from dry to wet tires but to replace a deflated one. Meanwhile, the circus fell into the greatest confusion. Some drivers who thought the race was over were caught in the campers while changing into wet and sweaty suits. It was first said that half points would be awarded based on the 58-lap standings, then that the race had ended regularly, and therefore a second part of 22 laps would be contested after an hour. There was no time to change engines, but certainly, everything that could be repaired or replaced was done. The track was still wet, but the sun returned to shine very hot, and in a short time, it almost completely dried. The lineup was repeated with the positions earned at the time of the suspension. There was still some dampness on the asphalt, but Michelin technicians, who currently possess faster qualifying tires than Goodyear, took a risk by providing their teams with the 005 tires, the very special ones that don't last many laps but allow for very high-level performance. Brabham also tried to put Piquet in the best condition to stay in the lead. Ecclestone himself, with his men, dried the track with strips of paper where his Brabham was to resume, but it was in vain. At the end of the race, the first official words from the Ferrari team come from Marco Piccinini, sports manager:


"We are happy for Pironi, who will soon win a Grand Prix. The second part was his luck, a kind of tailwind, which brought him fifth place and two points".


Regarding the World Championship, while Prost formalizes Renault's ambitions and even the plans for advancement ("We are only slightly behind, due to a series of reasons that escaped the too approximate French criticism, on the program that envisioned the new competitive car at the beginning of summer"), Mauro Forghieri says:


"Our chances of winning the World Championship could only be talked about in the case of a miracle with a third consecutive victory. However, considering what happened to Villeneuve (sudden fuel distributor failure), we can be satisfied with the points gained by Pironi and the recovery of him and his car, all on a day when we certainly hadn't solved all the problems".


And Didier Pironi explains:


"In the first part of the race, I was handicapped by significant oversteer. Also, the engine has a kind of hesitation in acceleration, for one or two seconds. I couldn't think of keeping up with the others. In the second part, the adjustments made it appear as understeer, but overall things went better. I am happy with the two points, and to be fully satisfied, I look forward to achieving more milestones".


He is informed of Piquet's accusations. According to the Brazilian, in the second part, Pironi prevented him from overtaking with various irregularities, thus hindering an effective pursuit of Piquet and Prost.


"I don't think I committed any wrongdoing. I run my race for Ferrari, and that's it".


Villeneuve has some regrets:


"It wasn't difficult to stay behind the front-runners. A train had formed behind me, like at Jarama, and as for those in front, sooner or later there would have been weaknesses. Then I was betrayed by a trivial thing".


The bandage placed on Saturday on the wound from the impact with the post, in the off-track excursion, is no longer there, and Villeneuve shows his face with a small mark:


"No physical consequences, no driving problems linked psychologically to what happened to me in practice. I was physically and mentally ready to do well throughout the race, obviously with the handicap of a car that had, as expected, grip problems".


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