Gilles Villeneuve does not accept the criticisms that have been directed at him after the dramatic incident at Zandvoort. The Canadian driver is convinced that he made no mistakes on the Dutch track and considers the episode insignificant, already forgotten. And it must be admitted that he has the support of the majority of fans in this matter. The supporters of innocence outnumber the accusers, even in the bars of Vedano al Lambro, the small town near the racetrack, where the errors of Formula 1 champions are generally emphasized harshly. The official forgiveness of the fans arrives punctually on Tuesday, September 1, 1981, when Villeneuve takes to the track to begin the scheduled tests for the Italian Grand Prix. Applause and shouts of approval from about 5.000 people greet him along the circuit. And he, Gilles, reciprocates with one of his favorite moves, a controlled spin in the tight space of the pit lane that thrills the crowd. Stepping out of the red single-seater for a short break, the small North American transforms into his own advocate:
"These controversies go in one ear and out the other. They don't impress me because I know I have a clear conscience. People want me as an entertainer. Formula 1 is also a show. So now don't accuse me of doing things they want me to do".
Do you not think you took excessive risk at Zandvoort?
"It's difficult to reconstruct the dynamics of the incident. It's easy to talk from an armchair. I saw an opening at the start. And when a driver finds space for an overtaking, he has only one duty: to go for it. If one has doubts, if one hesitates, it's better to stay home".
But you started in the eighth row; you would have had time to overtake opponents during the race...
"I didn't want to win the race at the start. In fact, I knew I didn't have many chances to have a good race. But gaining a position at the start forces opponents to chase, so it's an advantage. Of course, if I were in the front row, I wouldn't have had any incidents. When you're in the back, you take more risks".
Giacomelli and Patrese, involved in the pile-up, have said that your driving is not very regular, especially at the start.
"Riccardo and Bruno would do well to stay quiet. They have less brain than I do. It's the first time in four years of Formula 1 that I've had a start accident, out of sixty Grands Prix. But it's not important. And I've never accused other drivers. There's only one thing I want to let those who criticize me know because I try everything possible to overtake others. I will never respect the lines on the track. It would be foolish: the road is already narrow, and you have to use it all".
What did Enzo Ferrari say after Zandvoort?
"I haven't spoken to him. I don't think he has anything particular to say to me".
Not even hearing rumors of your move to Williams?
"This is a rumor deliberately spread to sow discord between us, to pit one driver against the other and against his team. I don't see why I should hide every time I talk to a team manager. On the circuits, it's customary to exchange opinions. I've talked to Williams as much as with others".
A determined young man who knows what he wants. And above all, a true professional behind the wheel, with a great ambition, to become the World Champion. At the cost of many sacrifices. For this reason, Gilles Villeneuve does not allow himself a moment of rest, completing 59 laps of the circuit. A satisfactory result considering that it was only aerodynamic tests, suspension adjustments, and side baffle adjustments. The car experiences only one problem with electronic injection. But the engine responds well. On Wednesday, the Canadian will be back on the track with Didier Pironi. The next day, Riccardo Patrese with the Arrows sets the fastest time (1'36"58) in free practice. The Paduan takes the opportunity to respond to the accusations launched by Gilles Villeneuve after the Zandvoort incident.
"It was his fault because he misjudged the possibility of overtaking in the middle of the track. The Ferraris are very fast at the start, and the Canadian should have anticipated that he might find cars in his trajectory. But to judge, two weights and two measures are always used: Villeneuve is allowed everything, while nothing is forgiven to me, even when I prove to be right".
Ferrari continues testing as well. Villeneuve, however, breaks an engine and cannot do better than a time of 1'38"16, completing about ten laps. Pironi also takes to the track, recording a time of 1'36"95. The Frenchman is optimistic about the upcoming race. In the following days, excitement for Formula 1 rises. Only on Friday, September 11, 1981, will the official tests for the Italian Grand Prix begin, but already on Thursday, thousands of fans gather on the access roads and inside the racetrack. Waiting to recognize a driver, to see the first team vans pass. Endless discussions, incredible scenes of passion for a sport that is more popular around here than football. The betrayal of last year, in favor of Imola, is enough to arouse an almost morbid interest, fueled by the uncertain situation at the top of the World Championship and, of course, by the exploits of Gilles Villeneuve, the most discussed and at the same time idolized driver of the moment. For this big occasion, the circuit undergoes a revolution. Flags and banners everywhere, countless stalls selling everything from flags to fireproof racing suits, a real carnival that falls between a local festival and an international event. There are also small improvements in facilities and services, but there will be time to talk about this in the coming days. The Reutemann-Piquet battle, the chances of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. These are the only topics. It must be immediately said that on the title challenge, the fans are divided. The favorites of the prediction are for the Brazilian, whose Brabham in the last races has shown to be slightly more competitive than the Williams. But the sympathies of the majority go to the Argentine, both because he raced with Ferrari and because of his distant Italian origins. His paternal grandmother was born in Castellazzo Bormida, in the province of Alessandria. It is clear that the bookmakers in Monza (bets are flying, and they are not just a few thousand lire) also bet on Renault, on Laffite's Ligier, and on Alan Jones, who is not yet considered out of the world title battle. However, there are also those who hope for Ferrari, for one of the usual miracles from the Maranello team. The team itself believes in the possibility of a positive result, and there are rumors from Fiorano, where Pironi and Villeneuve test three cars late into the night. Fairly optimistic voices are heard. And to give an idea of the importance given to the race, it is said that another car with different solutions, perhaps with some technical surprises, has been completed in the racing department of the Maranello team. Personally, Gilles Villeneuve is confident of being able to have a good race. The Canadian has forgotten the controversies after Zandvoort, although his anger has not completely subsided.
"I haven't had any luck lately. Last Sunday in Como, where I competed in a powerboat race, the usual unknowns stole a briefcase from me where I kept my license, passport, credit cards, and other materials. I will pay $500 to anyone who provides useful information to find the documents. To make up for so much misfortune, a nice victory would be needed, like those in Monte Carlo and Jarama".
These are determined intentions. Among other things, the 500cc Motorcycle World Champion, Marco Lucchinelli, pays a visit to Ferrari. And Jody Scheckter is also present, and both express their wishes (with the customary superstitions) to the two drivers of the Maranello team.
But neither of them tells Villeneuve and Pironi to go fast. In this sense, the Frenchman and the little Canadian do not need encouragement. Surprisingly, on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, in the Ferrari focus, a note that is normally distributed before races to explain the technical situation of the Maranello team, there is also a statement signed by Enzo Ferrari, which says:
"The Italian Grand Prix summarizes the dominant baggage of my memories and returns this year to Monza after the editions of Brescia, Livorno, Milan, Turin, and Imola. Sixty years ago, I was in Brescia, a young driver; today I find my cars at the start of the Italian Grand Prix, on that track that, desired by Arturo Mercanti and rebuilt by Luigi Bertett, has been for many years the only testing ground for the Italian industry, which through competitions has fueled the progress of the automobile. This Monza Grand Prix offers Ferrari the thirteenth opportunity to continue the development of the turbo-compressed car. We have embarked on the path of forced induction, enunciated sixteen years ago by international regulations, believing that it can realistically lead to concrete technical results of widespread utility. Ferrari will continue this commitment to work with the awareness and determination as always".
An autumnal atmosphere and a cursed rain that threatens to ruin the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix celebration welcome the fans on Thursday, September 10, 1981. The forecasts are not promising for the weekend either. There is a lot of turmoil in the teams. As in the Netherlands, the end-of-season tension is palpable, with the world title still undecided and many driver contracts yet to be finalized. Strangely, the only calm one, at least outwardly, is Carlos Reutemann. While his great rival Nelson Piquet prefers to stay in Monte Carlo until the last moment, the Argentine arrives early in Monza, available, not cheerful, but determined.
"I came to Italy 100% decided. I will race to the best of my abilities, as I have done since the beginning of the season. I have no intention of handing the title to Piquet. If he wants it, he'll have to earn it, with sweat on his brow, until the final race".
If you were an unbiased spectator, who would you bet on?
"I would be obliged to bet on myself. Just because I would be the only one. No one gives a penny for my skin, they don't want me. But I will fight like I've never done in my life. I have to win; I have to finish ahead of everyone".
Is peace with Williams made? Will you have the full support of your team?
"Honestly, I don't know. After the race in Austria, something has changed, improved. But I am not in the heads of Frank Williams or the chief engineer, Patrick Head. I have the feeling that they haven't given up all hope of bringing Alan Jones back to the world title. They are so cold towards me, so detached..."
Williams says you haven't signed the contract for next year yet. It is known that they have contacted other drivers. What are you waiting for to define your position?
"I'm waiting for October 17, when the championship will be over. Before then, I won't decide anything. I know very well that there is a line behind Williams' desk; many drivers would like to take my place".
But who will go there? Who wants Alan Jones as a teammate? Carlos Reutemann has finally revealed himself.
He has summoned the courage and deserves a prize. Now all that's left is to wait for him on the track. And the new Osella is also expected to perform on the fast Monza circuit, presented in the center of Milan, among thousands of curious onlookers. A car that promises a lot, light, compact, built with cutting-edge materials. Jean Pierre Jarier, who has asked to sign the contract for 1982, is enthusiastic about it. The tension of the eve plays a nasty trick on Andrea De Cesaris, who tries to enter the circuit without documents. Stopped by two policemen, the Italian driver tries to break through the barrier anyway. The officers are forced to pull out their weapons, two pistols, to stop him. So the Roman ends up in the circuit's internal police station and can only leave after the intervention of the facility director, Romolo Tavoni, and after apologizing. If a computer had predicted the result of the first qualifying session of the Italian Grand Prix on Friday, September 11, 1981, based on the data from previous races, it would probably have agreed with what actually happened. That is, Renaults leading the pack, then the great rivals in the fight for the world title, Reutemann and Piquet, followed by Villeneuve's Ferrari, Watson's McLaren, the other Maranello car with Pironi, and Jones' Williams. No surprises, just the confirmation of the current superiority of French turbo engines and the consistency of Brabham and Williams. Plus, the progress of Ferrari, which seems to have regained the top performance of a couple of months ago, even though not all problems are solved. Renault was expecting the circuit record. And the sunny day that dries the track, making it clean and smooth, helps René Arnoux. The Grenoble champion completes a remarkable lap in 1'34"02 at an average speed of 222.028 km/h, leaving his combative teammate Alain Prost behind. And Reutemann and Piquet? The Argentine states:
"For me, Prost and Arnoux don't matter. I have to stay ahead of the Brazilian. The car responds well, and I believe I have a good chance of victory".
For the Brabham driver, the assessment is more or less the same.
"We know very well that for turbo cars, it's enough to close the valve to have more pressure and reach very high speeds. The race is another thing: I can aim for victory. At most, I'll deal with Reutemann".
Behind the best, the two Ferraris separated only by a McLaren, Watson's, who has regained competitiveness shown at Silverstone. The two cars from the Maranello team lag behind by more than 1.5 seconds from the Renaults, demonstrating that not everything is going as they would like, even though there have been improvements. Villeneuve says laconically:
"I think I'll lower my result, but it won't be easy".
That it's not easy to go for the fastest lap is also understood by Didier Pironi. In an attempt to find the right trajectory, the Frenchman is involved in a spectacular off-track incident vaguely reminiscent of Villeneuve's at Imola the previous year. The Ferrari suffers severe damage, but Pironi remains unscathed, confirming his proverbial safety.
"I entered the second Lesmo turn in fourth gear. I was traveling between 220 and 240 km/h. Suddenly, the car veered off, and I ended up against a guardrail".
Result: a car to be discarded, with the entire left side crushed and torn as if it had been caught in a whirlwind. A reconstruction of the accident suggests that Pironi may have hit a curb with a strip; as it lifted, it would have caused the car to lose grip. Pironi, on the reserve car, remains stationary on the track, out of fuel.
Alfa Romeo remains in the shadows, but the Milanese team has some excuses: the cars were completed at five in the morning. Andretti's car has fuel and aerodynamic problems, making it faster with racing tires than with qualifying ones. On Saturday, September 12, 1981, Carlos Reutemann becomes a lion. Touched to the quick, at the end of a season full of moral suffering, the Argentine driver, 39 years old, relies on all his class and unleashes ancient anger. Reutemann, driven by the desire to win a world title that he considers morally his, secures a magnificent, crucial place in the front row of the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix lineup. And the cheers of the 100,000 at Monza will be all for him, for this sad gaucho who wants to put a serious claim on the World Championship. A simple gesture, a wave with his arm, is enough to unleash the people of Castellazzo Bormida, bound to the driver by a blood tie. But beyond the affections, Reutemann manages to place his Williams between the two powerful Renault Turbos. While René Arnoux maintains the pole position with a time of 1'33"46 (a new track record), Carlos Reutemann displaces Alain Prost to the second row, alongside a resurgent Jacques Laffite with his Talbot-Ligier. Alan Jones has to settle for fifth place. The Australian will start alongside Nelson Piquet, who fails to improve. This doesn't mean that the Brabham driver has given up on the fight; on the contrary, he will try to run an attacking race without losing sight of the opportunity to secure a good placement in case of his direct rival's victory.
"Three races are missing to close the matter. In any case, I won't consider myself defeated yet".
It will be very interesting, in this regard, to see what Jones' behavior will be. If the Williams driver, assuming his car is competitive, easily yields to Piquet, he will be guilty of foul play against his teammate. Jones claims he cannot force it because he has a dislocated thumb from a brawl in London a few days earlier. In practice, however, he breaks an engine and remains stranded on the track. The Australian, however, is uncertain about technical choices these days. While Reutemann seems very decided and wants the front winglets removed from his car, asking for more aerodynamic load on the rear wing, Alan cannot figure out the best solution. Watson also returns among the top drivers (seventh with McLaren), pushing the two Ferraris of Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve back. The Frenchman is faster this time, but the 126 CK Turbos run very little. Pironi stops almost immediately because the engine of his car vibrates. Meanwhile, Gilles waits for the track traffic to decrease. And he finally starts. Unfortunately, just when Didier, on the only reserve car adapted to his needs, leaves the pits, Villeneuve returns, after completing only two laps, with a turbine out of order. And there was no time to repair the damage. Villeneuve is very upset about what happened. As soon as he gets out of the car after completing only two laps, he throws his gloves and helmet on a wall at the edge of the track. Then, as he does when things go wrong, he watches the end of the qualifiers from the timing post, next to his wife Joanna. To talk to him, you have to wait some time and overcome a wall of fans surrounding his motorhome. Villeneuve, after the disappointment has subsided, is as affable and friendly as usual.
"I'm sorry; I could have at least reached fifth place. I couldn't even use the tires effectively. I'm sorry for myself and for the Monza crowd. A terrible but fantastic audience. I feel that people love me, even though it forces me to run away to avoid being suffocated and overwhelmed. I sign dozens of autographs, but as soon as I stop for a moment, the requests become thousands, and I have to escape. In any case, it's an exceptional and knowledgeable audience".
Do you feel tension before the race?
"When I'm in the car, I'm calm, thinking only about the race as coolly as possible. However, the Monza track is synonymous with Formula 1, like Monte-Carlo. They are loaded with glory; the great champions, Ascari, Clark, Stewart, have won here. It is certainly one of the most famous races in the world".
Are you aware that fans expect a good race from Ferrari and Gilles Villeneuve?
"I understand they are waiting for me, and they always want to see Ferrari in first place. But with the problems we've had, climbing from the fifth row won't be easy".
What do you wish for Ferrari fans and yourself?
"An exciting race, a battle from the first to the last lap with many twists and turns. Then a nice surprise. Villeneuve winning with Ferrari, as happened in Monaco and Spain".
For Ferrari, the race seems uncertain. The cars from Maranello are fast, almost as much as the Renaults on the straight, but they lose ground in curves. Mauro Forghieri says, "It would be positive if we could maintain our starting positions. Then the race will decide the rest".
Outsiders are the most they can aspire to. Behind the Maranello cars is an Alfa Romeo, driven by Bruno Giacomelli. The Brescia-born driver, leading the modified single-seater for the first time, says:
"This is another car; I would be satisfied with entering the points zone. Then, working hard, we can aim for something more in the last two races of the season".
Mario Andretti marks the thirteenth time. Elio De Angelis, as usual, holds the eleventh position, while Riccardo Patrese is only in twentieth place. However, even the Italian drivers, despite having less competitive cars, will be part of a great sporting spectacle. At least that's what is hoped for in one of the most anticipated races of the season.
"Carlos always gives his best in the race. I see him as a winner".
So, your team will support Reutemann with the best possible assistance...
"Yes, certainly, but he won't receive preferential treatment. I treat my drivers equally. Jones will have the same things as the Argentine. However, I hope Carlos builds a good advantage over Piquet, so he can face the next races, the decisive ones, with more peace of mind. At this point, I believe Reutemann and Jones will stay with me next year, but they have asked for a new car. I'll have to work hard even when the season is over".
Frank Williams remains consistent, maintaining an attitude that seems that of a disinterested observer. It seems almost as if he doesn't care about winning the Drivers' World Championship, being content with that for the Constructors, which is practically already his. In this uncertain situation, Reutemann moves quite well. He has expressed his character fully and feels confident:
"I am very happy with the car, which is well-balanced and has a powerful engine. There's no point in making plans, studying strategies, or waiting for opponents' mistakes. I've been waiting for the right moment my whole life. It has come: today, it's all or nothing in the race. I want to win. I've already said it in recent days, and now I'm comforted by the results of the trials. I want to race against myself, against my doubts, my torments. It's time to end it. I don't care about Piquet... for now, he's behind. Ask him how he feels".
The Brazilian is cautious and says:
"I live day by day, race by race. The World Championship will only end in Las Vegas. Making predictions is useless. My Brabham has improved, even though I had an accident and ended up in the sand. A front brake had locked up, and I skidded. Nothing serious. Does Reutemann want all or nothing? It's better if he gets nothing. For me, it's an advantage that he starts with this mindset because when you want to be first at all costs, you risk making mistakes".
Let's not forget that René Arnoux is in pole position with the Renault Turbo. What does the Frenchman think?
"I'm not interested in the fight for the World Championship. I hope to choose the right tires because that's one of the most difficult things and can determine the final result. Of course, a victory at Monza would be worth the whole season, which has been lacking in satisfaction for me".
Many are thinking, in various ways, about victory. And some, at the end of the trials, already consider qualification a triumph. It's the Toleman team, which ranks Henton in twenty-third place. The men of the English team celebrate as if they were the first to cross the finish line. It is the first qualification since the debut at Imola, and it is also the third turbocharged engine officially entering the race. This is also the last day of the year for the Rimini-based Siegfried Stohr, sidelined by Arrows to make way for Jacques Villeneuve. A sad farewell (perhaps a goodbye) from the Formula 1 psychologist.
"I had time to realize that the other drivers are not unattainable monsters. But when they don't give you a competitive car, there's nothing you can do. I never had it at Arrows".
On Sunday morning, the Italian skies are grey, and while a goodly crowd fills the Autodromo, it's nothing like it would have been had Ferrari or Alfa Romeo been on the front row. The half-hour warm-up does not take place until after midday, as the race is not due to start until 3:30 p.m. Pironi is back in his own T-car (049/B), but 052 is prepared with both drivers' names on it. When Pironi comes into the pits after a few minutes with a piston failed, there is no delay; the car is whisked away for an engine change, and the spare car remains with Villeneuve's number on it. Andretti's Alfa is showing signs of misfiring, and the electrical system is being fiddled with, and the Toleman team is a bit worried because a misfire creeps in after a few laps running. They are far more worried when Henton fails to reappear at the end of the half-hour, fearing the worst. The car is towed in at the end of the warm-up session, and Henton explains that in his excitement, he has locked up the brakes at one corner and slid off into the sand, but all is well. Reutemann has decided to race without nose fins, in the interests of reducing drag, but Jones decides to keep his on as it makes the car easier to steer into corners, and he wants all the help he can get to overcome his damaged right hand. The March team has made a little progress with their aerodynamic experiments and is happy to let Daly run without nose fins. The new Osella is quite good for a first time out and has qualified easily but needs better adhesion at low speeds, but the Renault team is quiet and confident, even though Reutemann is between them on the line-up. With very little warning or ceremony, the cars leave the pit lane on their lap round to the starting-grid, so that there is none of the usual feverish excitement in the packed grandstands. As the cars line up on the grid, they disappear under a shower of well-wishers, hangers-on, and publicity people, while long-suffering mechanics try to make any final checks that are needed. Jones is having his brakes bled. As 3:30 p.m. approaches, Arnoux, who is on pole position, is given the green flag to set off on the parade lap. When he reappears out of the Parabolica curve, the tail of the field can be heard going down the back straight, for the three artificial ess-bends introduced into the circuit in recent years have really spread the field out. It is actually Reutemann who is first back to the grid, strictly against the rules, for Arnoux is being very intelligent and creeping slowly towards the grid with an eye on the mirror, waiting for the tail of the field to catch up.
Twenty-three cars are lined up tidily, for Alboreto has disappeared into the pit lane, heading for the Tyrrell pit. Whether it is a product of the Renault turbo-charged engine, the Michelin tires, the Renault chassis, or the Renault drivers, or a combination of them all, I do not know, but the two French cars shoot off the line when the green light comes on, whereas Reutemann is the first to move but then hangs back with spinning wheels, but Pironi is away in the sort of start that Villeneuve usually makes. Only twenty-two cars leave the grid to start the 52-lap race, for Rebaque's Brabham dies on him and it's wheeled across to the pit lane for attention. By the noise and excitement, it's obvious that a Ferrari is doing well, and sure enough, it is Pironi in second place behind Prost at the end of the opening lap, followed by Reutemann, Arnoux, Jones, and Laffite. Then comes Villeneuve, Piquet, Giacomelli, and the rest, with Henton and Cheever bringing up the rear. Already by the second lap, Prost is pulling away, but the cheers are still for Pironi, who is holding on to second place, and when they have all gone by, Alboreto and Rebaque leave the pit lane to start their race. The Brabham sounds awful and sure enough expired halfway round the lap, while Alboreto settles down to a lonely race. As far as Prost is concerned, it's all over by lap 3; he is just motoring away into the middle distance, and Arnoux is gathering himself up to join him. He passes Reutemann on lap 4 and Pironi on lap 5 and has left them all behind by lap 6. On this lap, Villeneuve trails into the pits with smoke pouring from one of the exhaust pipes, and his race is run. Pironi's initial spurt is now beginning to dissipate itself, and Laffite moves up into third place, so we have French drivers and French cars from French manufacturers in the first three places, but it does not last as the Talbot-Matra is in tyre trouble and begins to slow visibly so that Reutemann moves his Williams back into third place, and Pironi moves briefly into fourth, but not for long as Jones and Piquet are moving up pretty steadily. Now a new factor appears in the form of a light rain shower on the back leg of the circuit, which makes the back straight and the Parabolica curve slippery, and Reutemann is finding he cannot cope with the conditions like some of the others, due to having a different tyre choice on his car. Jones is up into third place as Laffite and Borgudd slide off on the slippery surface.
On the next lap, Cheever spins his Tyrrell on braking for the Parabolica, and as his clutch operation has given up when he leaves the start, he cannot avoid stalling the engine. Prost has already lapped him, and as Arnoux arrives, he has to dodge to avoid the Tyrrell, and the slippery surface catches him out, and he slides off into the sand and is out of the race. The rain spreads across the corner of the circuit but does not cause any more problems, but on lap 14 Salazar has a big moment when a rear tyre goes down on the Ensign in the fast Curva Grande, after the pits, but it all comes to rest without harm. While others are being a bit cautious or sliding off the road on the slippery part of the circuit, Giacomelli is reveling in it and passes first Pironi and then Piquet, and when Reutemann drops right back because of the slippery part, Giacomelli moves into third place, to cheers from the crowd. Prost is way ahead and looking very secure, while Jones is equally secure in second place, but in the wet Tambay has moved up dramatically, passing Watson, then passing Pironi, and then passing Piquet, leaving the Brabham and the Ferrari locked in combat while the Talbot-Matra is in fourth place. From third place, Reutemann has fallen right back to eighth place, later blaming his tires vehemently. On lap 20 Watson is scratching to keep up with Piquet and Pironi, and leaving the second Lesmo corner, he runs a bit wide out to the left, gets two wheels over the edge, and promptly spins. The McLaren goes right round as it slides across the track and hits the right-hand guard rail backward, whereupon the entire engine, gearbox, and rear suspension are torn off the monocoque. There's an instant sheet of flame as the fuel pipes are torn off, then the automatic valves in the fuel lines snap shut, and the fire goes out. The mechanical components slide across the track, causing Reutemann and Alboreto, who have been lapped, some anxious moments, and the McLaren carbon-fiber monocoque slides to a stop with Watson more than somewhat dazed but entirely unhurt. All the kinetic energy has been absorbed by the engine/gearbox unit tearing itself off the monocoque and going on its way. If the monocoque has had to dissipate that amount of energy, Watson would have suffered badly. The near-miss puts Alboreto off the road and delays Reutemann so that Andretti goes by him.
In that part of the race which involves those who are clearly not going to win, there are various interesting things going on. The black Guinness sponsored March of Derek Daly is going extremely well and has avoided its usual early-race pit stop. From his position near the back of the grid, he has caught and passed both team Lotus cars, and while de Angelis puts up a fight and gets back in front again, Mansell goes into the pits to investigate some strange handling characteristics on his Lotus 87. This is on the lap on which Watson has his big prang, and after one more lap, the Birmingham driver gives up as the car is undriveable. Although the Toleman-Hart has been lapped within twelve laps, it's still running and has not made a pit stop. Henton's whole idea is to keep it going at all costs, no matter how slowly, for you never learn anything in the pits. The engine is plagued by a continual misfire at high rpm but Henton is learning to live with it. On lap 23 Tambay's valiant effort comes to an end when his left rear Michelin disintegrates and he's off the track, and as he walks back to the pits from the north, Cheever is walking back from the south. As half-distance comes up (26 laps) Prost is out of sight of everyone and simply cruising round, while Jones is firmly in second place. Poor Giacomelli sees his gallant third place go when his Alfa stuck in fifth gear and he heads into the pits for help. This leaves Piquet in third place, followed by Pironi, then after a fair gap, Andretti, Reutemann, and de Cesaris, the Italian with the funny eyes actually keeping his car on the track this time. Behind the McLaren comes de Angelis leading Daly, the Lotus driver beginning to drive with some enthusiasm and gain on the McLaren. Lapped by the leader are Jarier in the new Osella and Henton, and the unfortunate Giacomelli who rejoins when his gear selection has been sorted out. There is another brief shower of rain on the same part of the circuit, but it has no dramatic effect and Reutemann now begins to speed up again and catches and passes Pironi, the Ferrari hampered by a damaged skirt caused by running over a curb at one of the ess-bends.
Daly's good run comes to an end on lap 38 when his gearbox final drive unit gives trouble, and Patrese has already quietly gone after an unimpressive performance in his Arrows A3 also with gearbox trouble. Pironi's unbalanced handling is slowing him a lot, and Andretti catches up with him, but before the Alfa can go by its flexible coupling-cum-shock absorber in the flywheel breaks up and Andretti tours into the pits with an awful roughness going on behind him. As the laps run out, the Renault never misses a beat, but Jones is slowing a bit with his engine going off song ever so slightly, but second place seems confirmed. Piquet's third place is not so sure, for Reutemann is back in his stride and closing rapidly, but Piquet speeds up, actually making his fastest lap when he is alerted to the danger. De Angelis passes the ailing Ferrari of Pironi on lap 44 and as Prost starts his last lap, it all seems to be over, but halfway round the final lap Piquet's engine blows up very suddenly, oil pouring out of the bottom and smoke out of the top and he coasts to a stop with half a lap to go to the chequered flag. This lets Reutemann by into third place, giving Williams a 2-3 behind the Renault and making sure of the manufacturers' championship win. De Angelis comes home fourth after a not very exciting race, and Piquet is fifth. In sixth place should have been de Cesaris in the McLaren, but on the last lap, a tire has deflated and put him off the track, through no fault of his own this time. Because the remaining runners are two and more laps behind, Piquet and de Cesaris who only have lost one lap by their misfortunes are classified sixth and seventh. The image of Nelson Piquet, standing still inside his Brabham for several minutes, with the smoking engine, is the emblem of this Italian Grand Prix, brilliantly won by Alain Prost with his Renault. For Alain Prost, it's the third victory, the second consecutive one after the triumph in the Netherlands.
"It was a fairly easy race because I had no problems taking the lead at the start. The car was fantastic, and only twenty laps from the end, I had a little difficulty when I skidded at the chicane after the boxes as the track was still damp. From that moment, I preferred to control the gaps. I had a comfortable margin that allowed me to drive safely".
If the next races go well, I might consider the world title…
"Much will depend on the race in Montreal. The Canadian city circuit doesn't seem very favorable to our turbo engines, which have struggled on slow tracks so far. The problem could also involve Michelin tires, which have often encountered difficulties on the Notre Dame island track".
Fate, numerous accidents, and intermittent rain in the first part of the race played a decisive role in the final result. While Carlos Reutemann, author of a splendid race, was unlucky to see his attack blocked due to the wet track, his direct rival was even more struck by bad luck. While in a clear third position behind Prost and Jones, he was stopped on the last lap due to an engine failure and was relegated to sixth place. The fight for the world title has thus marked a good advantage for the Argentine driver, but it must be said that the race did not put an end to this highly contested duel. On the contrary, it heated it up, predicting a heated conclusion in the last two races overseas. Where, among other things - it is worth noting - the technical situation could change significantly because races will be held on city circuits. Even though he won an important round against Piquet and was fortunate in the end, Carlos Reutemann is not satisfied with the result and the third place. So much so that, using the excuse of being delayed by the fans' siege, he does not step onto the podium with Prost and Jones.
"I wanted to win, could have won, but once again I had to struggle like a dog to get a placement. I had done 110 laps of practice in the weeks before. About 1000 kilometers of grueling tests. Everything went well in qualifying. Then, three minutes before the start, it started raining. The Williams mechanics changed the left rear tire on Jones' car, fitting a softer one suitable for the damp situation. I was left with hard tires like a fool. And what I feared happened promptly. When the track got wetter, I was driving as if I were on ice, with the danger of going off. I lost a lot of positions, and then I was forced into a hopeless pursuit. Fortunately, Piquet stopped because I couldn't have caught him anymore".
This long and bitter confession also hides an accusation. Nothing has changed at Williams; Jones continues to be supported while the Argentine is treated as just another second driver. During the race, Reutemann also risked an accident. It was when he passed close to the wreckage of Watson's car.
"There was a barrier of smoke; I thought that more cars were involved in the accident, and there was no way to pass through the middle of the track. After a violent brake, I slipped through the space between the guardrail and the rear part of the McLaren. I was really lucky on this occasion".
Three points ahead, and the unexpected fortune of the engine failure on Nelson Piquet's Brabham half a lap from the end, do not satisfy Carlos Reutemann. The Argentine wanted to win the Italian Grand Prix, ardently desired to deliver a decisive blow to the direct rival in the fight for the world title. Instead, he now finds himself starting over, fearing not only the attacks of the Brazilian but also those of teammate Alan Jones, Alain Prost, and Jacques Laffite. A situation of extreme tension that the Williams driver thought he could avoid.
"The rain upset my plans. A few drops were enough to completely change the performance of my car, making it impossible for me to attack as I wanted and could. In the second half of the race, I had to improvise a chase that could have ended badly. All because of a tire. We had noticed, in practice, that the left rear tire was wearing more than the others. For this reason, I had a harder compound fitted. The wet asphalt, after the first laps, nullified this measure. It even put me in difficulty because the car was no longer balanced. These are the reasons why I am not satisfied".
And he continues:
"Just before the start, when it started raining, I asked to change the tire. However, the mechanics were not ready; they were doing the operation I requested on Jones' car. So I spoke right after the race of sabotage. There is no other explanation for Williams' behavior. As for the Australian, I don't care if he passed me while the yellow danger flags were displayed for the incidents that occurred, and overtaking was prohibited. I don't expect any favors from Jones".
Sabotage. A strong, very serious word. Is it possible for such things to happen in Formula 1? Is it possible that Frank Williams is so stubborn in supporting the World Champion, to the detriment of the other driver? Reutemann, just out of the cockpit, seemed to show fists to his team manager. And then he didn't go to the podium. There had been talk of peace within the English team. Instead, it's all-out war. A war that could favor Nelson Piquet. Now Alan Jones feels authorized to hope again for the title and will not spare Reutemann any more rebukes. At the same time, the Brazilian has not forgotten that the aggressive driver from Melbourne literally threw him off the track last year in Montreal to win the world title. Against each other, therefore, in a very heated atmosphere. And who could take advantage of the situation will also be Alain Prost, the Renault driver who obtained his third personal success in Monza. If Reutemann, Piquet, and Jones were to make more mistakes and not reach Canada in the points zone, the fierce battle for the title will have one more competitor not only in theory but also in practice. Anyway, even Piquet is in a very bad mood. Closed in his motorhome, besieged by fans, the Brazilian lets everything wait for a long time before speaking.
"It's a black day, being betrayed by the engine a lap from the end is a real mockery. I had set up my race on Carlos, and I must say that everything was going well. I was third in front of my rival and would have gained valuable points for the title. Besides, it was pointless to try to attack Jones. The Australian, in the rain, risked everything, was always sideways, but he needed a victory to stay in the running. I, on the other hand, would have been satisfied to finish ahead of Reutemann. Moreover, Jones overtook Reutemann while the danger yellow flags were displayed. I could have taken advantage of it too, but I wanted to behave correctly. And I was repaid with fake money. But I'm not out of the race yet".
The incident involving Watson, certainly the most spectacular among those that occurred at Monza, highlighted a highly positive aspect: the remarkable robustness of these monocoque chassis, translating into passive safety for the driver.
"I was trying to pass Pironi. Probably, I didn't have a good view, and I ended up on the curb. From that moment, I didn't understand anything; I only heard a deafening noise. I closed my eyes and lowered my head to protect myself. I realized that the car was broken in two only when I jumped out. I saw the engine and rear wheels on the other side of the track. An incredible thing. I only have a slight pain in my left foot. I believe I was very lucky".
The fact that Watson emerged unscathed from a high-speed spin with a subsequent impact at over 200 km/h is attributed to the robustness of the central part protected by external aerodynamic structures and the automatic fire extinguishing system. It was clearly seen how the flames emanating from the engine compartment were extinguished by the extinguishing gas cloud. It should be noted that at that very moment, an oxygen cylinder connected to the driver's helmet was supplying him with this vital element, preventing suffocation. It should be added that in modern single-seaters, another crucial element is the fittings of aerospace-type tubing, designed to automatically shut off the fuel flow in case of a pipe rupture. This is precisely what happened when the entire engine-gearbox-suspension assembly of the McLaren detached abruptly from the chassis as a consequence of the impact.
As we mentioned yesterday, modern Formula 1 cars (the McLaren being the most modern with its all-carbon-fiber structure) consist of a front box containing the driver and the fuel tank, and a rear powertrain group that also supports the suspensions. The great rigidity required for the monocoque for road-holding reasons essentially has beneficial effects on the driver's safety. It can be said that today, the only vulnerable point is the front part of the car because the driver is all in the front, with the feet practically beyond the front axle. The most dangerous accident, therefore, is a frontal impact, but in all other cases, there is considerable protection. Even in the event of a rollover, the two safety hoops (on the steering wheel and behind the head) ensure that the driver cannot be crushed by the car. Thus, thanks to special materials and refined calculations, it has been possible to build lighter yet more robust machines. It is likely, although it is only our hypothesis, that the carbon fiber structure has another advantage, namely that if it exceeds its resistance limit, it breaks and does not remain crumpled, trapping the driver inside, as happens with aluminum shells. In the regulation project for 1982, there is a further improvement in the safety factor for the driver, with the introduction of a vital cell, that is, a very protected space (particularly where it is currently lacking, i.e., in front) inside the monocoque. It is to be hoped that the negative element appearing on this year's cars, namely driver fatigue due to the lack of suspension, will also be taken into consideration. Returning to the Italian Grand Prix, only Elio De Angelis, with a fourth place obtained not without difficulty, gave joy to the many fans. Ferrari had to settle for Didier Pironi's fifth place. The Frenchman seemed quite satisfied because the turbocharged engine did not cause him problems.
"But the car was not perfect. I had understeer, and in the rain, I couldn't use the turbo well. During the reconnaissance lap, I damaged a bollard that was changed before the start. It's also possible that this caused my handling issues. Anyway, I couldn't do more than that".
For Villeneuve, immediately excluded, only a promise:
"When the engine fails, there's nothing you can do. But I think in Montreal, I'll have the opportunity to make up for it. I'll look for the third victory of the season there, at my home".
Some Italian fans, partly disappointed by Ferrari, were enthusiastic about Bruno Giacomelli, who reached third place. However, once again, the Brescia native could not conclude his exceptional performance positively due to the malfunction of the gearbox lever on his Alfa Romeo.
"The gear lever let me down; suddenly I couldn't take off the third gear anymore. So I had to slow down while behind Jones. I reached the pits slowly, and I lost a lap to fix the problem. I restarted, and the problem recurred. Another pit stop and then the chase, in precarious conditions. Eighth place doesn't satisfy me. It was a big opportunity to get on the podium".
Engineer Carlo Chiti adds:
"The only positive factor is that the cars have proven to be competitive. Giacomelli had a superb race, even superior to the capabilities of the car. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are on the right track".
Even Mario Andretti was stopped by a malfunction. While in fifth position, gained step by step after a quiet start, the Italian-American was blocked by the breakage of a rubber joint located between the transmission and the gearbox.
"I thought I also had overheating problems because the water temperature indicator was high. Instead, it was just the instrument that had stuck due to the shocks. We are still on the right track, and I hope to finish the season in the best possible way. As for my future, I haven't decided anything yet. Much depends on what other drivers will do".