The Formula 1 season is back in full swing. We are now in the Netherlands, on a challenging circuit with many elevation changes, amidst the sand dunes. The race poses challenges for both cars and drivers. The reasons for these challenges are numerous. The first is the weather: wind or rain could make the eleventh race of the World Championship a real puzzle to solve until the end. And then there's the relentless fight for the world title. Jones attempts to break away, while others chase him. Five rivals for the Australian (Piquet, Arnoux, Laffite, Reutemann, and Pironi), but with little hope. Williams, last year on this same circuit, achieved a sensational victory ahead of Scheckter's Ferrari. Beyond the battle for the championship, this race offers countless storylines. Not least is the return to the track, to drive a Formula 1 car, by Vittorio Brambilla. The Italian driver, almost forty-three years old, a Formula 1 veteran, absent from the Grand Prix world for eleven months, resumes his journey. It will be a duel with himself, with those who think he's done, and with his teammate, the young Bruno Giacomelli.
"I'm forging my path and not looking back at anyone. I tested the car at Balocco for just one afternoon, but that was enough for me. It's a wonderful car, much better than what I had last year. I'm confident I can have a great race, a high-level performance. I won't say I'm aiming for victory because that would be exaggerated, but I don't despair of starting in the front rows. As for my teammate, it's up to him to try to outdo me. I'll give it my all, as always. For me, the only thing that matters is to step on the accelerator".
Brambilla is still the same: a guy over forty, generous, passionate, who would race even without getting paid. But the road is not so easy for the elderly driver: Vittorio has never driven a genuine wing-car and may face unforeseen problems. As for Giacomelli, the young Brescian is not worried at all. He knows he has gained significant experience, and his recent performances, fifth place in Hockenheim and a probable good placement in Zeltweg, give him confidence beyond expectations.
"Of course, I don't get impressed. I'll run my race without any special tactics, as I always have. Vittorio is a friend of mine, and I wish him a great race. The only thing I can say is that I won't have any regard for anyone because I have to think about myself".
The battle within Alfa, therefore, will still be there even if there are no controversies. As mentioned, a rivalry that doesn't cause problems for the team and might even be useful for progress. A rivalry that no longer exists at Ferrari, where Villeneuve always aims for the maximum, and Scheckter seems to have given up the fight. At Ferrari, moreover, at this moment, setting up the car and studying the situation for the future matter more than the result of the day. Unfortunately, because a duel between Alfa and Ferrari would further intensify the Grand Prix battle. And all this is just a preview of what could happen on Sunday, September 14, 1980, at Imola, for the Italian Grand Prix. Then, probably, the new Ferrari turbo will also be on the track. And the scenario could be different. Meanwhile, after winning a hundred bottles of wine as a prize for the pole position in Austria, René Arnoux is close to winning a hundred kilograms of cheese for the best time in the qualifying session for the Dutch Grand Prix. On Friday, August 29, 1980, in the first round of official practice, the Renault driver is the fastest with a time of 1'17"53. This is not an exceptional performance, as Arnoux himself had clocked 1'15"46 in 1979, but it should be considered that the track has been modified with a new chicane, slowing down the pace in the fastest part of the circuit. On the track, exactly at sea level and not among the brightest in the championship, Renault once again demonstrates the validity of its car and, above all, the turbo engine, with Jabouille (1'17"74) following Arnoux. The gap between the competing cars, however, is not significant; just over a second separates a dozen cars with all the top drivers, from Jones to Piquet and Laffite. The biggest surprise, a positive note, comes from Ferrari, which, for the first time since the South American races in early January, is not hopelessly behind and out of the top positions. Nothing extraordinary, but a small, commendable step forward, apparently due to the improvement in Michelin tires.
Villeneuve in ninth position and Scheckter in eleventh haven't been seen for a while, and today, in the decisive qualifying session, things could improve further if Michelin keeps its promise to provide even softer and more reliable tires. Villeneuve says satisfied:
"The characteristics of the track, which is more drivable than others, and finally, tires that allow us to have good grip, have allowed us to go a bit faster. For us at Ferrari, the Dutch Grand Prix could be the beginning of a more favorable period, even if we can't yet think of fighting for victory, barring sensational surprises".
The progress of the Canadians and the South African's T5s complements a good day for Italian cars and drivers. Bruno Giacomelli, with the Alfa Romeo, confirms the results of Hockenheim and Zeltweg with an excellent seventh place; De Angelis, with a Lotus in recovery, is tenth, while Cheever, despite small and big problems (breaking a half-shaft of his Osella), records the fifteenth time. Patrese (P20) and Brambilla (P21) are currently lagging behind, but the Paduan has practiced in the timed sessions with the reserve car after breaking the race car's engine in the morning when he was tenth. For the Monza native, it's about getting used to a car quite different from what he drove two years ago.
"I know it too little. I'm like a young apprentice and don't want to overdo it for now".
The day, in addition to the return to the race by the elderly Brambilla, marks the Formula 1 debut of the very young New Zealander Mike Tackwell (born on March 30, 1961, winner of the Monza Lottery Grand Prix in Formula 3 last year and protegé of Alan Jones). Tackwell is under contract with Tyrrell but has been able to test, obtaining only the twenty-seventh time, on Mass's Arrows. The German completes a few laps in the morning but is then forced to abandon because he is still in pain in the cervical vertebrae after the frightening accident in Austria. Speaking of accidents, almost at the end of free practice, John Watson goes off the track in the famous Tarzan corner, the most dangerous on the circuit. His McLaren, suddenly without brakes, crashes into the safety barriers with a loud bang, and only by a miracle does the driver come out unscathed. Jones also has troubles, ending up off the track at the Undzerung corner, Rosberg going straight at the Marlboro chicane, and De Angelis, who once again loses a wheel from the Lotus. Fortunately, the Roman driver notices the problem in time and stops in front of the boxes before anything more serious happens. Simultaneously, during Friday's informal meeting, Marco Piccinini and Gerard Larrousse, representing Ferrari and Renault, inform Bernie Ecclestone, president of FOCA, of their decision to comply with the regulations of the sporting authority. Regulations that have already been published and that foresee the abolition of skirts and an increase in the weight of the single-seaters for 1981.
For this reason, the constructor teams are already planning the new cars that will strictly adhere to the FISA rules. Along with Ferrari and Renault, Alfa Romeo, Ligier (which will run as Talbot from 1981), and Osella will undoubtedly follow suit. It seems that McLaren is also following the same indications. The dissident teams will register regularly for the Formula 1 World Championship organized by FISA and wait for the other teams to make decisions. At the moment, it's not known how Brabham, Tyrrell, Lotus, and all the other teams will behave, but the split is complete. Either the FOCA members backtrack and align with Ferrari and company, or we'll face a dual championship. There's hope that an agreement on all the issues that have troubled Formula 1 in recent times will be reached before the prescribed deadlines. Otherwise, it will be the end of this splendid toy. Returning to the Dutch Grand Prix, after South Africa and Austria, the Renaults will have the advantage of starting ahead of all rivals at Zandvoort. This will be the dominant reason for the race, the eleventh of the Formula 1 World Championship, which revolves around René Arnoux and Jean-Pierre Jabouille's attempt to stop Alan Jones. If the Australian were to win again, considering that the last race at Watkins Glen could probably be canceled (next Friday an inspection will be carried out on the American circuit to assess its suitability due to inadequate safety measures), the fight for the championship would be closed.
However, an eventual victory for Arnoux or Jabouille will not be enough to stop Jones in his race for the title. All direct competitors, especially the Brazilian Nelson Piquet and the Frenchman Jacques Laffite, placed well in the starting lineup (fifth and sixth) behind the two Renaults, Reutemann, and Jones, will have to unleash against the resilient leader from Melbourne. Only by taking points away from him can one hope until the end of the season. The impression that the Dutch Grand Prix could be a thrilling race, lit from start to finish, is not only given by the predictable competitiveness among the candidates for the world title but also by the fact that for the first time this year, the gaps between the cars in the first five rows are minimal, around a second or so. Between Reutemann and Jones, there is only a 0.01s difference, and Piquet is fifth at 0.04s. The last qualifying session doesn't bring significant changes to the starting grid, and only a few drivers manage to improve their performances. Arnoux definitively secures the pole position, and only an unleashed Gilles Villeneuve and John Watson make a leap forward among the top ten. In the first qualifying session, Watson had practically been unable to practice, having destroyed the race car in free practice. With Villeneuve, Ferrari manages to achieve a more than acceptable seventh place (but Scheckter slips to twelfth), and perhaps in the race, if the little Canadian is supported by the tires and doesn't have to pit to change them, he could once again join the contenders.
However, the tire problem persists (also for Renault) as Michelin has worked well lately but is still unable to guarantee a completely smooth race. Another factor to consider is the weather. Threatening on Thursday, decent on Friday and Saturday. However, rain has often come suddenly during the day, fortunately not during the practice sessions. If on Sunday, a flooded track is encountered, anything could happen, as the sand brought by water and wind on the asphalt would be a true and dangerous unknown for everyone. Behind the race for victory, another battle among drivers with many ambitions. There's a Giacomelli starting in the fourth row alongside Villeneuve, intending to show the Canadian that he's no less, there's a De Angelis who wants to secure the lead for next year at Lotus (the contract is almost signed, but the Roman driver is also of interest to Parmalat if they renew the advertising agreement with Brabham). There are Patrese and Cheever hoping to at least have a good race this time, starting fourteenth and nineteenth, respectively. And at the back, there's also Vittorio Brambilla, the Monza native who describes himself as an apprentice, had to pull out all the stops to qualify because he was out halfway through the last qualifying session. The foot pressed on the accelerator in the last laps, and in the end, the satisfaction of being in the race without big ambitions but with the conviction of not being a retiree yet. Meanwhile, at the end of the qualifying sessions, Jones appears very worried. Williams couldn't compete on equal terms with rival teams in the decisive qualifying session. Reutemann broke the engine in the morning, and Jones ran out of fuel during the session, only able to return to the track when the training was temporarily suspended due to Geoff Lees going off the track. Frank Williams says about his drivers:
"It's true; we had some slight difficulties. It can happen. Anyway, we still aim to win to close the title race as quickly as possible. However, much will depend on the endurance of Renault's tires. If they prove to be as good as they were in practice, it will be quite problematic to beat the French".
Even at Renault, despite the first and second times, there isn't too much euphoria. The two cars pitch a lot, and the cause of the problem cannot be found. René Arnoux says:
"It's my last chance, and I hope to be able to play it without too many problems, otherwise, it will be over. Unfortunately, not everything depends on me. Jones just needs a good placement to put us out of the game, even if mathematically he won't be the champion yet".
The meeting with gloomy faces continues among Italian drivers. Riccardo Patrese, one second faster than Friday, doesn't seem happy.
"The car doesn't go bad now, but I had to push myself to the limit to get the fourteenth time. In short, with all my efforts, I'm in the middle of the pack".
The same can be said for De Angelis, who is in twelfth position. The Roman fears the sudden breakdowns of his Lotus. Even in practice, a wheel hub broke, and it's certainly not a pleasant thing at over 200 km/h on average. For Eddie Cheever, who qualified quite comfortably (P19), it's time to prepare the new Osella.
"Now the old car is no longer improvable. The engine is a bomb, it works really well, it's the most valid of all eight cylinders, but the car is too heavy".
When engineer Mauro Forghieri asked Gilles Villeneuve if the time he achieved was okay, the driver replied:
"No, because I'm not in pole position. The car is balanced, the tires work better, but I would like to win or at least fight for victory. If I don't have tire problems, I will try to get among the top drivers. I want to make up for the misfortune of last year when I lost a wheel and was violently criticized because I tried to go on. However, a driver must always try to go fast; otherwise, it's better to stay at home watching television".
To say that the rain comes down on Sunday morning would have put it mildly, you would have thought the sea had overflowed. The weather forecasters have promised that all would be sunshine and bright by mid-day, but no-one really believes them. In Holland you are not allowed to cause a public disturbance before mid-day on Sunday, and the noise of racing engines is considered to be a disturbance, so the pre-race warm-up half-hour can not take place until 1:00 p.m., the race being due to start at 3:00 p.m. Everyone hopes for no trouble, for they have enough problems trying to gauge what the weather is going to do and what tyres and gear ratios to use, for the strong wind has turned through 180-degrees and is now a head-wind on the main straight instead of the tail-wind it had been for the past two days. When the warm-up begins the rain has stopped and the wind is drying the track as you watch, so that though some drivers set off on wet-weather tyres they are soon in the pits to change over to slicks. Jones is still in the Williams T-car though the newly-built one is standing by ready to go, Piquet’s spare car has been converted back to a Hewland gearbox and appropriate rear suspension, Mansell is back in Lotus 81/B as the T-car has to be kept available for Andretti, in case of any last minute problems with 81/1 and everyone else seems to be in pretty good order. As predicted the sun appears, everything dries up and the wind settles down to a still breeze and there are sighs of relief all round as preparations have been made for a dry race, and some teams were having final thoughts on gear ratios.
Well on time the cars leave the pit lane one at a time and are driven round to the assembly-grid in front of the main grandstand, Piquet, Reutemann, Pironi and de Angelis all pulling off into the pit-lane either for a quick word with their staff, a minor adjustment, or merely to sneak in another warm-up lap. The front of the grid looks pretty orthodox, but it is a change to see Villeneuve and Watson so well placed, and Giacomelli’s position is something we are becoming accustomed to. As 3:00 p.m. approaches, engines are started and the green flag waves to set the field off on its parade lap behind the two Renaults, ready for the start of the 72-lap race. All twenty-four cars line up correctly on the starting grid, in two staggered rows, with Arnoux at the front and when the green light shines they all make superb starts, though some are better than others. Zandvoort always provides an exciting drag-race down to the right-hand sweeping hairpin of the Tarzan corner, the track being very wide all the way round, with quite a steep banking so that all manner of liberties can be taken in the opening rush, and they were. Arnoux is well away but Jabouille’s engine hangs-fire as he changes into second gear and Jones is past him on the outside and side-by-side with Arnoux as they turn into the corner.
Jones clings to the top of the slight banking, right round the outside of the Renault and dives down into the lead as they leave the corner. Laffite and Reutemann both pass the hesitant Jabouille and everyone streams round the hairpin behind the pits and up over the hill across the sand dunes. By the end of the opening lap Alan Jones has a surprising lead, surprising to him as well, for he expected the Renaults to power down the long straight. As he starts lap 2 and rounding the tight hairpin behind the pits he looks in his left-hand mirror to see where the Renaults are. That is his big mistake. While thinking about what is happening behind him he lets the Williams slide too far to the right as he leaves the hairpin and he skates over the bevelled kerb and smashes the right-hand sliding-skirt as he comes back onto the track. As he takes the next left-hand bend he can feel the car is unbalanced and realises he has done some damage. He still leads through the back sweeps and onto the straight, but then heads for the pit-lane, furious with himself as he watches Arnoux, Laffite, Reutemann, Jabouille, Piquet, Villeneuve, Giacomelli, Andretti and the rest go by. As they plunge off on the third lap Jones stops at his pit, pointing to the right side of the car, and his mechanics go into action removing the side panels, detaching the damaged skirt and its spring mechanism and fitting a new one. On lap 3 Laffite overtakes Arnoux, while Jabouille overtakes Reutemann as did Piquet and Giacomelli, so we have French drivers and French cars in the first three places. Arnoux challenges briefly for the lead on lap 4, but fails and then settles into second place and as the leaders go by at the end of lap 5 the Williams mechanics finish their work and Jones fairly rushes back into the race. Not with the intention of some professional drivers in the past, who cruised round after such a long stop, but with the determination to drive like hell and have a go. He is a full three-and-a-half laps behind when he rejoins the fray and lesser men would have given up and gone off for a beer. While all this has been happening there have been disasters all round. Rebaque has retired at the pits at the end of the first lap with gearbox trouble, de Angelis has been forced to dodge Patrese and in doing so he has collided with Pironi and Jabouille’s Renault is feeling very unbalanced and he has pulled into the pits at the end of lap 6.
All four tyres are changed and he sets off again to see if the Michelins are the trouble. This lets the remarkable Villeneuve into third place, the Canadian driving with all his natural vigour even though he knows the Ferrari will use up its Michelins before very long, while immediately behind him Nelson Piquet is settling in nicely, his Brabham BT49 feeling absolutely right. On lap 7 he takes third place from Villeneuve and pulls away to join Laffite and Arnoux and by ten laps these three are out on their own and Giacomelli now passes Villeneuve and Reutemann lines himself up to do the same. With the race barely settled down we have lost Rebaque, de Angelis and Pironi, while Fittipaldi is in the pits with brake trouble and Jabouille and Jones are far behind. Laffite still leads from Arnoux and Piquet but then there is a gap before Giacomelli appears in fourth place, leading Villeneuve, Reutemann, Andretti, Watson and Jarier, then another gap to the odds and ends at the back of the field, led by Patrese with Scheckter, Daly, Prost, Cheever, Surer, Mansell, Lees and Brambilla following. As Scheckter comes in to change tyres Piquet moves up into second place and at the end of lap 12 the young Brazilian driver sits it out side-by-side with Laffite down past the pits into the Tarzan braking area. He is on the bumpy inside line and the Brabham is pitching horribly but Piquet is determined and as they stand on the brakes he is in the lead and away, after a brave and decisive manoeuvre. Arnoux is not completely happy for his Renault has more brake balance to the rear wheels than he would have liked, which means he can not take liberties under braking. Although there is a cockpit control for altering the front-to-rear brake balance he has been warned severely not to use it, because the last time he had altered it during a race he had got muddled and turned it the wrong way. Consequently, when he is pressured by Giacomelli he has to give way, which drops him back to fourth place, ahead of Reutemann and Andretti. Trouble is still rife back down the field, Mansell has spun off when his brakes have failed on the Lotus 81/B, Watson’s brief moment of glory faded when his Cosworth V8 starts to vibrate dramatically, forewarning of an imminent blow-up, so he retires immediately, Jabouille has tried yet another set of tyres with no improvement to the handling so now the differential is suspected as being the cause of the trouble, and Fittipaldi comes creeping back into the pits still in trouble with brakes.
Right under his rear aerofoil is the Ferrari of Villeneuve, eager to get to his pit for another set of Michelin tyres. Meanwhile Alan Jones is pounding on really hard and is amongst the tail enders who could have been excused for thinking he was leading at a furious pace, if they had not seen him go into the pits. He is still three laps behind the leaders, but it does not diminish his pace. Once past Laffite’s Ligier the Brabham team-leader pulls away relentlessly, driving beautifully and looking supremely confident, while Gordon Murray the designer and his pit-crew watch with satisfaction and keep their young star fully informed of his progress. For once Andretti is feeling happy and confident in his Lotus 81/1 and he has shown this by passing Reutemann on lap 20 and then closing up on Arnoux to challenge for fourth place. Laffite is beginning to drop back a little and this encourages Giacomelli to greater efforts and he begins to close up on the Ligier and can see second place as a distinct possibility. As Surer goes by on lap 29 making an awful noise from a split exhaust manifold on the ATS, Patrese retires his Arrows with a blown-up engine. Alan Jones is now closing up on the mid-field runners, but still three laps behind, and Reutemann makes an attempt to outbreak Andretti for the Tarzan corner and fails miserably. By half-distance, 36 laps, Piquet has it all sewn up barring trouble, for he is something like twelve seconds ahead of Laffite and running the race at his own pace. Giacomelli is within striking distance of second place and Arnoux is still holding fourth place ahead of Andretti, and Reutemann, while Jarier is keeping up with them. Then comes Daly, Frost, Cheever and Surer, the two Ferraris being a lap behind due to their pit stops and Jones still three laps down. On the next lap Giacomelli is right up with Laffite and on the back of the circuit he tries to outbreak the Frenchman going into the second chicane, gets all crossed up and bounces over the kerbs damaging the side-skirts. Meanwhile Reutemann has made another abortive attempt to outbreak Andretti going into the Tarzan corner, the Lotus driver being in fine form and refusing to give way. Giacomelli’s mistake drops him back to seventh place and the damage caused is to slow him up and eventually cause his retirement. While first and second places look secure, third place is still wide open between Arnoux, Andretti and Reutemann and to add spice to the situation Alan Jones now catches up with this trio.
For a while he sits behind Reutemann and then goes by on lap 44 and Andretti thinks he's got double-vision when he sees a green and white Williams car in each mirror. While Reutemann seems content to follow the Lotus, Jones has other ideas and makes to overtake, but Andretti is having none of it. He has no idea that Jones is three laps behind, he could have been on the same lap, and any Williams car is opposition to his fourth place. For three laps we have a good old battle, with no quarter given and none asked for, which must have upset some of the ex-drivers who now act as television commentators. At the end of lap 48 Jones gets it just right and gets by Andretti, wagging a finger at him as he does so, but it has been good clean racing, with both drivers having implicit faith, as you must do when you run that close to each other. Having been shown how to do it by his team-leader, Reutemann passes Andretti as they start lap 51, thus taking fourth place, but with little hope of doing anything about Arnoux in third place. Scheckter has stopped for another set of tyres and a few laps later Villeneuve also stops for another set, it seeming odd that the Ferraris need three sets of Michelins to do the race distance while Renault can run through non-stop on what appear to be the same tyres. We are now approaching lap 60, with only twelve to go and Piquet is so confident out in front that he is able to ease off and take his time. At the end of lap 58 Giacomelli gives up the unequal struggle with his damaged Alfa Romeo and retires at the pits, while Daly goes out of the race in his Tyrrell in a more spectacular fashion than he had done at Monaco earlier in the season. As he breaks for the Tarzan corner to start lap 61 the left front brake disc shatters and tears one of the calipers from its mounting; the errant caliper flows out radially and punches a hole in the alloy wheel rim and goes into the tyre. With no front brakes and a flat tyre the Tyrrell ploughs off across the sand, the wheel and hub assembly break off, the left front corner digs into the sand and the car spins upwards to an incredible height and crashes down on top of the tyre barrier, fortunately the right way up. A rather shaken Irishman is helped out, with a slight cut on his leg and lots of bruises, justifiably wondering what has happened. With ten laps left it now becomes noticeable that Arnoux is closing the gap between his Renault and Laffite’s Ligier, for now that most of the petrol load has been used up the Renault feels more stable under heavy braking so the wiry little Frenchman is piling on the steam.
Jones, Reutemann and Andretti try to stay with the Renault, but they can't and the turbo-charged car draws away in pursuit of the Ligier. It all begins to happen rather quickly and the Ligier pot does not alert their driver so that by lap 69 the Renault is in Laffite’s mirrors. At the end of the next lap it powers past into second place, Arnoux wisely waiting until the end of the long straight before he goes by, thus preventing Laffite from diving into his slip-stream. Arnoux is now braking to the maximum and it is all over. Piquet comes home a worthy winner, having taken the lead from the opposition rather than inheriting it and once ahead no one has looked like troubling him. A chirpy Arnoux finishes second, half-a-second ahead of Laffite and with a twinkle in his eye tells his rival that he has turned up the turbo-boost in the closing laps but everyone knows the Renault runs on a fixed boost pressure. Reutemann is fourth and we wait for Andretti to finish a good fifth, but he never appears. Betrayed by his nerves, Alan Jones has completely shaken up the Formula 1 World Championship. A sensational mistake by the Australian driver gifted victory to his most dangerous rival, the Brazilian Nelson Piquet, and distributed points to all competitors in the upper part of the overall standings. The final result reignites the battle for the succession to Jody Scheckter's title and makes the upcoming Italian Grand Prix at Imola on Sunday, September 14, 1980, even more interesting. At the same time, the race, certainly one of the most beautiful and lively of the season, breathed new life into a motorsport that had disappointed and even bored in recent times. Jones's error, in the second lap while he was already in the lead, with an incredible passage over the curbs that cost him a broken side skirt and a long pit stop, does not diminish the merits of Piquet, who drove flawlessly, like a champion with a steady heart. The Brazilian is often considered a somewhat inconsistent driver and not resistant to fatigue. However, this time, he showed no weaknesses and, above all, seized the opportunity in the best possible way.
Certainly, if Jones had remained in contention for the top positions, the battle would have been tougher and perhaps with a different outcome. The fact remains that both Piquet, now only two points behind Jones, Arnoux, who staged an exciting finale to finish second, and Laffite, overtaken in the final laps by the Renault compatriot, gained valuable points. The Dutch Grand Prix offered endless episodes and emotions, including some on-track incidents and a dramatic off-road excursion that miraculously didn't cost much to Derek Daly, back in the spotlight with a spectacular flight after the one he experienced in Monte Carlo. Now the challenge is open. Before the Dutch Grand Prix and Nelson Piquet's impressive victory, few honestly believed that the Formula 1 World Championship could escape Alan Jones. Instead, a setback by the Australian driver was enough, and his rivals took advantage. Now the coveted championship is theoretically within reach of six drivers, but in reality, three have the chance to succeed Jody Scheckter. Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet, and René Arnoux are the drivers who will ignite the season's finale with their exploits. Of this trio, the mysterious man is certainly Nelson Piquet. About Jones, the perfect professional, we know almost everything. An anti-character par excellence, good and approachable, but without a prominent personality, the young Brazilian is a bit of a discovery in the world of Grand Prix. Shy of any form of publicity, reserved, reluctant to converse, sometimes too timid, Piquet lives in a world of his own. He has something of the South American Indian, the reserve of someone who feels torn from a forest to be brutally inserted into a civilization of confusion, of noise. Yet Nelson, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1952, scion of a bourgeois but not wealthy family (his father is a politician and has been the Minister of Health), is a pilot driven by passion and is experiencing the same path as many of the most famous champions of the past and present, like his compatriot Emerson Fittipaldi and Jody Scheckter.
"I have always had a great attraction to machines. I started racing in 1970 with karts, and in 1977, without much money, I ventured to Europe".
In that year, he stood out in the European Formula 3 championship with a March Toyota, and the following season, he won the BP Trophy in England with ease, still in Formula 3. Subsequently, he was given the opportunity to make the big leap, making his debut in Germany with an Ensign. His debut was positive, and he continued until the end of the season with a private McLaren.
"When Ecclestone asked me to drive for Brabham alongside Niki Lauda, the world fell on me. I couldn't believe in myself. And that's why I signed a contract for a few million, the salary of a good employee".
Indeed, Nelson, trapped by the skillful English manager, is certainly the lowest-earning Formula 1 driver. He lives in Guildford, England, and his entire capital consists of a beautiful car, a Mercedes.
"I earn some dollars by participating in the Procar series races. And then, I receive substantial support from my Italian sponsor, Parmalat".
The gratitude of the Parmesan company is not free. Piquet, with his exploits in Brazil, is already more loved and famous than Emerson Fittipaldi. His photo appears in newspapers every day, and television broadcasts footage of his victories and placements continuously. The Brazilian, whose only frivolity was to change his father's surname (Sautamajor) to his mother's, which he finds easier to remember, concludes:
"But I don't feel like a champion yet. Driving in Formula 1 is very tough; winning the championship and beating Jones will be very difficult. I have confidence in the car and my abilities. However, I still have a lot to learn. Lauda's school was very useful to me; Niki was my great teacher. I just hope to be as cool as him until the end of the season and not make mistakes".
At the end of the race, Alan Jones gets out of the car like a fury. Without even taking off his helmet, he enters a motorhome, and no one can talk to him for a good half-hour. When he comes out, he honestly admits to making a mistake.
"I can't understand it, but this weekend in Holland, all I did was make mistakes. Maybe I'm too nervous; I feel the weight of the responsibility to fight for the championship. I'm sorry because the team, as usual, worked very well, and I ruined everything. Now, nothing is compromised for the championship, but I made a big gift to my opponents. Everything will become more difficult in the next races".
Jones's behavior and also that of Reutemann are harshly criticized by Frank Williams. The constructor expresses harsh words for his drivers.
"Alan behaved like a child, and his mistake cost a lot, especially the nine points handed on a silver platter to Piquet. As for Reutemann, he slept through the entire race. He could have at least tried to snatch victory from our rivals. It would have contained the damage".
Obviously, Nelson Piquet is beside himself with happiness. The Brazilian, finally with a cheerful smile, sprays everyone on the podium with champagne for a long time and eventually engages in a duel with the very satisfied René Arnoux with sprays. When asked to whom he dedicates the victory, the Brabham driver says:
"I thank above all Clay Regazzoni".
The unfortunate Swiss driver, hospitalized in Basel on Saturday when he learned the qualifying times, had predicted Piquet's victory, ahead of Giacomelli and Laffite. He hit the mark with the talented Nelson and missed the top three ranking by a little, as Giacomelli could well have finished second ahead of the Frenchman.
"Now I can't help but go visit Clay. In my opinion, Rega has already found a second job. From now on, he can be the Formula 1 fortune teller. Jokes aside, this success gives me confidence again, and I hope that the story can be repeated at Imola".
The race was very much liked, of course, also by Arnoux, who, with the six points for second place, feels authorized to hope for the World Championship victory.
"I had a cautious race because I had chosen very hard tires, and at the beginning, I lacked grip. Over time, I felt more confident and had no difficulty passing Laffite. Now the championship becomes beautiful. Better for me and also for the fans, who will certainly witness a heated finale".
The clash on the track and in words between Riccardo Patrese, Elio De Angelis, and Pironi, who collided with each other in the second lap, was also fiery. The Roman tried to overtake the Paduan on the inside, touched Riccardo's Arrows, and hit the unaware Pironi who was slightly ahead, engaged in a turn. The Frenchman, for some reason, accused Patrese of being the sole responsible for the accident. In any case, says Riccardo Patrese:
"I was following my trajectory when De Angelis tried to overtake me on the inside. He passed over one of my wheels, and I saw that he already had the front suspension bent. A sign that he had rear-ended me. I was only the victim of the incident. I was defending my position, and that's why I had placed myself in the middle of the track".
Elio De Angelis, in turn, replies:
"Riccardo could have widened and let me pass. Instead, he stayed in the middle and even anticipated the braking. In these conditions, the collision was inevitable because I couldn't overtake him either on the right or on the left".
The two young drivers then accuse each other, and despite a private explanation, each remains firm in their position. A brief mention, finally, of Vittorio Brambilla's race. The Monza native, being a good apprentice, did not force things at the beginning, staying at the back of the group because, in the early laps, he had been slightly bumped, and he feared his car might have suffered damage. When he realized that the car was fine, he caught up with Geoff Lees, who was ahead with the Ensign, and attempted to overtake. When the Englishman saw the Monza driver beside him, he closed the trajectory, and the two cars collided. The Alfa suffered a broken suspension, and the Ensign had damaged gearbox. A breakdown also sidelined Cheever's Osella. A faulty injector led to engine failure. For a few minutes, just a few minutes, yesterday in the Dutch Grand Prix, a duel from a bygone era was reproduced: two red cars, a Ferrari and an Alfa Romeo, fought at the front of a Formula 1 race. Gilles Villeneuve with the Ferrari and Bruno Giacomelli with the Alfa Romeo recalled events and incidents that belong to the legend of motorsport. Giacomelli's overtaking on the long straight at Zandvoort must have sent a thrill to Italian fans. One can only imagine what would happen in two weeks at Imola, during the Italian Grand Prix, if Ferrari and Alfa became protagonists of the race. Unfortunately, there's an "if" that dampens hopes and enthusiasm. The situation is not exhilarating for either of the two teams, albeit for different reasons, as confirmed by the Dutch Grand Prix. Alfa Romeo is undoubtedly on the rise (about time), but Patrick Depailler's drama risks affecting the results. Vittorio Brambilla must get used to these frightening wing cars, and Giacomelli does not yet have the composure and experience of a seasoned professional. And so, bitter slips like the one in Zandvoort happen. On Bruno Giacomelli's face, one can see all the signs of deep disappointment. What could have been a triumphant day once again turned into a negative episode. Also because Alfa tried to explain the incident as a driver's naivety.
"We were on lap 37, and I was significantly catching up with Laffite's Ligier, after easily passing Villeneuve at the start. In the straight before the second chicane, I stretched until I was almost level with the Frenchman. I wanted to make him understand that I was faster, that he should prepare for my overtake, which I would probably attempt at Tarzan. When it came time to get back on the right trajectory, I braked, but the car started to spin with the front end backward and the tail forward. There was nothing I could do to keep it in line. I absolutely don't think I made a mistake. Too bad because I could have at least finished second, and even with Piquet, given how things turned out, it would have been all to see. I just hope to make up for it at Imola, now that the car is truly competitive".
Is Bruno's explanation genuine, or was it really a mechanical issue that deprived him of a significant satisfaction? Some remember that in three previous instances, the Alfas had inexplicably spun. Both cars at Long Beach and poor Depailler at Zolder. It was then said to be an imbalance between the braking of the front and rear wheels. Villeneuve, once again admirable for his grit and commitment, was humiliated once again by the unfortunate combination of tires and car that characterizes this 1980 Ferrari championship. Some progress has been seen, but too little to ignite passions. The 312 T5 is not competitive, Michelin lost the battle to Goodyear, and in Maranello, amid concerns about Fiat's funding for the next season, they only think about the future. After many pit stops, Engineer Forghieri, also very nervous, at some point, according to some witnesses, reportedly said:
"Enough with Michelin".
The technician denies having uttered this phrase at the end of the race, stating that he only got angry because the wrong tire was mounted on Villeneuve's car. In any case, the head of the Maranello team had a verbal clash with Engineer Dupasquier, the director of the French company.
"Among collaborators, it sometimes happens not to get along. But this does not mean that there are ruptures between us".
Fortunately, the future of Ferrari is represented by the 126 C, the turbocharged single-seater. After thousands of kilometers of tests, the new car will debut on the track for the first time at Imola, certainly in the trials, perhaps in the race. A debut that, at least for Enzo Ferrari, combines technical and human values since it takes place on a track named after his beloved son, Dino Ferrari. To this circuit dedicated to the son so loved and to the turbo, the Modena constructor entrusts a message of hope and revenge. Years go by, amid joys, sorrows, and a thousand battles, won and lost, but Ferrari looks forward even if this is a time he doesn't like. Speaking of the Milanese team, according to the latest rumors, negotiations between Alfa Romeo and Mario Andretti would be in an advanced stage. On Sunday, the Italo-American driver talks at length with Engineer Carlo Chiti about a possible engagement next year. However, the price asked by Andretti would be rather high: 1.000.000 dollars, but with the suit available from the Milanese team, which could thus recover part of the expense. The former World Champion will make a decision next week. Among the difficulties in signing the contract, there would be Andretti's unwillingness to carry out continuous tests at Balocco. Alfa, in any case, does not lose sight of young Italians and, in particular, Roman Andrea De Cesaris, who will test the car at Balocco or Imola on Thursday. The latter would be particularly welcome to Marlboro, the sponsor. Alfa has also asked Milanese Michele Alboreto not to commit to anything for the moment. In difficulty, however, is Vittorio Brambilla, who could find himself without a ride again if Alfa, as rumored, decides to have the last two races of the season in Montreal and Watkins Glen run by De Cesaris if the agreement with Andretti falls through.