The Formula 1 World Championship will be decided on Saturday among Carlos Reutemann, Nelson Piquet, and Jacques Laffite in Las Vegas on a track that nobody knows. The circuit, set up in a large space near the Caesar's Palace hotel, has been constructed in a few months and is still being finalized: 3650 meters, 14 turns, resembling a go-kart track. Opinions about this impromptu track, where drivers will take their first laps on Wednesday, October 14, 1981, vary. Gilles Villeneuve, who inspected it with Piquet, claims it to be very interesting. The Canadian from Ferrari says:
"It will be a fast Grand Prix. The track surface is good, and there shouldn't be any tire problems. It's similar to some tracks in Europe without any scandal. The corners are numerous, but overtaking doesn't seem difficult to me".
Reutemann disagrees with Villeneuve. The Argentine drove the circuit in a touring car (Villeneuve walked).
"The Grand Prix will be decided in the qualifying rounds. Grid placement is likely to be decisive, as much or more than in Monaco or Long Beach".
Where else could the Formula One World Championship end this year if not in the gambling capital? In the city where the jingling of dollars swallowed by slot machines and the rustle of the ball rolling in the roulettes accompany you twenty-four hours a day, the final game, crucial for the title, takes place. Carlos Reutemann, Nelson Piquet, and Jacques Laffite sit around the hypothetical green table. No one can cheat; bluffs are not allowed. Whoever has more courage and better cards will win. And the game takes place in the dark, on a track that no one has tested in a race, on a circuit created from a huge parking lot, newly designed, newly asphalted. It must be said that the American organizers, beyond any consideration, have done things in the best way possible. Apart from some typically American flamboyance, such as the main entrance resembling the facade of a Roman temple (in honor of the Caesars Palace, the hotel-casino that organized the race), the circuit seems serious. The track is wide, like a serpentine, surrounded by protections in huge concrete blocks, nets, and tires in the escape routes. The only problem is the terrain where the cars have the possibility to go off: it is full of rocks, and this could be a danger in case of accidents. All drivers are carefully observing the circuit. The judgments are generally positive. Elio De Angelis says:
"It's a fairly fast track, faster than expected. Even the five turns are not very tight; they can be taken in full second gear, and there are passages where you will reach top speed. It will be very important to learn the right trajectories immediately. It seems suitable for cars with a lot of acceleration, so I also see turbocharged cars, Renault and Ferrari, doing well".
In the game, therefore, also enter Pironi and Villeneuve, Arnoux and Prost. But the race will be a platonic battle. Attention is reserved for the candidates for the World Championship victory. Carlos Reutemann, as usual, is tormented. He completes hundreds of laps with a production car from Wednesday and walks the circuit fourteen times.
"There is no discussion; here you have to keep the accelerator pressed to the maximum. It will be crucial to start in pole position".
Piquet, calm (but maybe it's just a mask), seems at ease. He arrives at the last moment.
"I have nothing to lose, and I know I have the most competitive car".
Laffite, on the other hand, playing the role of the third wheel, feels comfortable.
"Reutemann and Piquet will be busy checking each other. Who knows, there might be space for me too. I don't understand why Reutemann is so worried about trying it out; the track seems very easy to me".
While the verbal battle rages, the teams prepare. Brabham prepares a water cooling system for the brakes that Williams had used in Montreal. A special tank and a pump that vaporizes the liquid on the pads to cool the system, which will be subjected to considerable stress. Otherwise, on the technical side, there are no major innovations: most teams are already working for next year. The myth of Ferrari continues in the United States. Even though this year the Maranello team made a difficult technical choice, that of the turbocharged engine, which influenced its results, the red cars and its drivers are always in the spotlight. But can Ferrari defend its prestige on the Las Vegas track? The cars do not present major changes compared to those used in Montreal. Two have arrived directly from Canada and have been tuned with material brought from Italy. Another, instead, comes from Fiorano, where the last tests were conducted. It seems that some small modifications have been made to the turbines, and performance could be improved. Didier Pironi is the most optimistic. The Frenchman seems charged to the maximum, as if he had a presentiment of being able to achieve a brilliant result.
"We are at an altitude of 600 meters; the air is dry and quite rarefied. This situation should favor turbocharged engines. The characteristics of the track are not like Monte Carlo or Long Beach, but this is still a circuit with moderately high speeds. Having good acceleration will be very important, and in this field, we are second to none. Considering the progress made in terms of road holding and grip in Montreal, I believe that Saturday will be one of the best opportunities of the year for Ferrari. And then, I am quite superstitious: we have already achieved two victories, and there is a famous saying that could be respected".
Gilles Villeneuve's predictions are less favorable. He appears grumpy and annoyed, especially with the Italians. Apparently, he did not appreciate some compliments made about him after the daring race in Montreal. In any case, the Canadian does not commit.
"If we can repeat the results of Canada, both in practice and in the race, it will already be a positive result. Anyway, I will do my best, as usual".
A decisive importance for the race is given by the choice of tires. In the last race, Goodyear proved to be clearly superior on dry asphalt, but then, in the rain, Michelin took revenge by placing four cars in the top four positions. The technicians of the French company, to bridge the technological gap with the American one in normal conditions, have prepared new compounds. And it seems that about a month ago, they came to take a piece of asphalt from the track, to analyze it and develop the most suitable tires. At Ferrari, even if a positive result would be welcomed with great satisfaction, and everything has been done to favor it, they are thinking particularly about the future. Engineer Mauro Forghieri, as happened in Canada, stayed in Modena to work on the new car. The present technicians make no mention of the characteristics of the 1982 car. The order is only one: to keep their mouths shut. Almost certainly, the Las Vegas Grand Prix will be the last race in Formula 1 for Mario Andretti. The Italo-American driver does not seem to have found an agreement for the next season with Alfa Romeo (which should have already hired Elio De Angelis) or with other teams.
"If I had a competitive car, I could continue. But ending up in a mid-field team doesn't interest me. I wouldn't have enough motivation to continue, considering that physically and psychologically, racing in the World Championship costs me a lot of sacrifices, especially for continuous travel from the United States to Europe. This does not mean that I will abandon motorsport because I still feel like a young man. I will certainly continue in American races, where, among other things, I can earn very well. Maybe when the time comes, I will try to introduce my son Michael into Formula 1, who is making significant progress and achieving excellent results in Formula Ford".
For a former World Champion about to leave, there is another who instead stays. It is Emerson Fittipaldi, who remains as a constructor. The Brazilian had financial difficulties, and some said that at the end of the season, he would have to dismantle his team. Instead, Emerson found a new sponsor in his country, Calol, a bicycle and moped factory that will already appear with its inscriptions on Fittipaldi's cars in this race. Calol would guarantee him the season even next year. There is a rumor (after Lauda's return and the rumored return of James Hunt) that even Fittipaldi, for advertising reasons, will be forced to return to the track. Calol, in fact, could ask him to resume activity. But for now, it's just speculation. On Wednesday, October 14, 1981, three hours of free practice will be held, from which the first indications will be obtained. The race does not seem to excite Americans particularly. It seems that the tickets sold (quite expensive, up to $250 for the best seats) are not many. The organizers say they have already sold 15.000, but some claim that the purchased tickets are currently only 6.000. But it is not a concern. Caesar's Palace can bear any expense. The hotel has 1800 rooms and is fully booked. The hotel manager explains that an average customer leaves at least $40.000 on the gaming tables in a week. It is estimated that in the end, there will be a surplus of over $50.000.000. A little compared to the profit of $123.000.000 earned for last year's Clay-Holmes match and the approximately $700.000.000 reported as the company's assets for 1980. These are staggering figures that justify any madness, such as the twenty-four helicopters rented to transport spectators from other hotels to the circuit. Formula 1 is thus preparing for the race of the year. But what matters is that the race meets expectations. Expectations for an uncertain, thrilling race full of suspense. Reutemann, Piquet, Laffite: the ball is already rolling on the roulette wheel; on Saturday, October 17, 1981, we will know the number. The official inauguration of the Caesar's Palace track takes place on Wednesday morning at 10:45 a.m., with a 45-minute delay. The last works for protections and telephone communications were still underway on the circuit. Formula 1 cars take to the track for a first free test at a very moderate pace, and the times marked are not indicative, even though they are starting to approach those needed for qualifying. The fastest is Alan Jones, who with the Williams laps in 1'22"1, at an average speed of 160.037 km/h. To have an approximate idea of the characteristics of the track, it is enough to know that Monte Carlo, Long Beach, and Jarama are slower by about 10 km/h. Most drivers claim to be satisfied with the circuit, but there have also been some harsh critics. Jones, who despite all his faults is a consistent man, as soon as he got out of his Williams, says:
"It can also be fun to race on this track, but it's not a real circuit. There are the same dangers as a street circuit, and it's absurd to race under these conditions, between two concrete walls. There's a lot of talk about safety, and then everything is accepted".
Behind the Australian, but more than a second behind, Watson takes second place. Then there are Reutemann, 2.2s behind, Giacomelli at 2.6s, De Angelis at 2.8s. There are also several small incidents, and each time, the practice sessions have to be suspended to remove the cars from the track. The first to go off the track, almost predictably, is Gilles Villeneuve. After only nine minutes, the Ferrari driver flies off at turn number 8, without damaging the car. Then Jacques Villeneuve, his younger brother, performs a spin in front of the boxes. Almost all the drivers, while searching for the right trajectories, are involved in small incidents. De Cesaris makes contact with Rebaque, Giacomelli and Pironi go off into a embankment. In short, confusion reigns supreme, as could be expected from a track that nobody knew. There is hope that the situation will improve in the coming days. A rather modest audience attends the practice sessions; certainly, there are more people at the Caesar's Palace slot machines than in the stands. There is controversy over ticket prices, considered too high, as the cheapest one costs $35. On Thursday morning, the Ferrari cars, fine-tuned on the American track, significantly improve their performance. Villeneuve sets the second-fastest time, clocking 1'19"13. Among the title contenders, the best is Piquet, who laps in 1'18"37, a new track record, at an average speed of 167.647 km/h. The Brazilian's Brabham, perfectly tuned and equipped with Goodyear tires, is clearly the best car. Ferrari, however, is not far behind. Pironi is fifth, behind Jones (third) and Reutemann (fourth). The Alfa Romeo performances are also good, both at the same level: Andretti in sixth and Giacomelli in seventh.
The only one lagging behind the top performers is one of the title contenders, Laffite. The Frenchman sets only the eleventh time with his Talbot Ligier. However, for the moment, he is trying to balance the car, and only this morning will he try to move up in the starting lineup. Italian drivers like Alboreto are struggling, as his Tyrrell is not performing well. The Osella cars of Jarier and Gabbiani are also performing poorly, completing only one lap and then having to stay in the pits due to various problems. There is also a significant problem for the Arrows of Patrese and Jacques Villeneuve, found to be illegal by the American technical commissioners. Their cars have double skirts made of prohibited flexible material. They have to return to the pits to replace them. The three rivals in the fight for the world title don't talk to each other. Each one lives separately, trying to focus in the best way possible. Carlos Reutemann is preparing for the big challenge as if he were in a monastery, not at all attracted to the slot machines and roulettes of Las Vegas. He gets up early in the morning, exercises with some gymnastics and running, and watches his diet. Nelson Piquet, on the other hand, spends his time in symbiosis with his beautiful companion Silvia. He appears calm, but he must be consumed by nervous tension. In these days, he has experienced the discomfort (stomach pains, nausea) that afflicts him when racing on street circuits.
"I can't stand those walls that come at you when you're going 200 km/h. It feels like being in a continuous tunnel. The concrete blocks on the side of the track give the same impression. Anyway, I'm under medical control, and I'm convinced that there won't be any problems in the race".
Reutemann finds the track interesting, but even he doesn't spare criticisms:
"Overtaking, despite the width of the track, is almost impossible. It seems like you have enough space, but if you try a risky maneuver, you find yourself out or against a barrier in the blink of an eye. We'll have to be very careful".
For Jacques Laffite, the eve goes as usual. The Frenchman jokes, laughs, makes predictions.
"Fifty percent for Carlos, thirty for Nelson, and twenty for me, but I'm going all in on this percentage. I like the track, there's only one big difficulty, and it's the visibility in the turns. The concrete blocks, which are slightly less than a car height, prevent you from seeing if someone is stopped in the middle of the road. The risk of an accident could affect the title fight. And it would be a shame for everyone".
Meanwhile, the driver market finally starts to move, and after many rumors, the first official communication arrives: Eddie Cheever moves from Tyrrell to Talbot-Ligier. The 24-year-old American resident in Rome is hired by the French team, reportedly for $200.000 a year, as the second driver, alongside the confirmed Jacques Laffite. The news is communicated by Guy Ligier himself, who, at the same time, announces that Patrick Tambay will be released immediately after the race. A not very sympathetic way to dismiss the driver, whose results have not satisfied the team. Still at the rumor level, there seem to be ongoing contacts between Williams and Nigel Mansell. The English driver, however, is bound to Lotus by an even more restrictive contract than the one making life difficult for Elio De Angelis. It seems that Colin Chapman is asking for financial compensation to release him. In any case, the English constructor, who risks being left without drivers, already has names in mind for replacements: Teo Fabi, the young Milanese driver in the Can-Am championship, and the Swiss Marc Surer. There are also negotiations between Sigfried Stohr and Fittipaldi, who is also interested in the Argentine Miguel Guerra. Finally, Arrows is looking for an Italian driver that is pleasing to its current sponsor, Ragno. On Friday, October 16, 1981, Carlos Reutemann maintains the pole position after the final qualifying session for the decisive race for the world title. The Argentine does not improve the time he set on Thursday, but the heat, returning to the Nevada track, does not allow other drivers to get close either. Behind the South American, however, an incredible, intense battle unfolds, with Alan Jones prevailing over everyone else.
Two Williams cars, therefore, in the front row. Jones damages the great rival of his teammate, the Brazilian Nelson Piquet, by relegating him to fourth place. In third place, in a very brilliant manner, with a driving style as always daring, Gilles Villeneuve inserts himself with the Ferrari, which will certainly be one of the protagonists of the race. The Alfa Romeos also perform very well, placed respectively in eighth with Giacomelli and tenth with Andretti. Trouble is looming, however, for Jacques Laffite. The Frenchman sets only the twelfth time and is theoretically out of the fight, unless there are dramatic incidents. Laffite is even surpassed by his teammate, Tambay (seventh place). At the end of the sessions, Reutemann is quite satisfied but does not make a specific prediction.
"For the race, I will choose rather hard tires. My goal is mainly to finish and keep Piquet at bay. I don't care what the others will do. In any case, it's like playing in front of a slot machine".
Before the final qualifying session, a collision occurs between Reutemann and Piquet in the free practice. The accident happens at turn 11, due to Reutemann's fault. The Argentine, studying the trajectories, goes into a spin: his car spins, and Piquet, following him, collides with his car. The Williams sustains damage: the left front suspension breaks, and the car is taken to the garage, where mechanics work quickly to make repairs. The game is on, the wheel spins, ready to fall on the winning number. A roulette race decides the Formula 1 World Championship, at the end of one of the most exciting seasons in recent years. Three protagonists, Carlos Reutemann, Nelson Piquet, and Jacques Laffite, three cars, Williams, Brabham, and Talbot engaged in a challenge that admits no replays. Less than two hours of racing that will influence the careers of drivers who have been chasing the same dream for years, that of winning the world title. Three different characters with an identical denominator: none has ever experienced a day like the one that awaits them on the Caesars Palace track, that is, none has ever had the opportunity to become World Champion, playing everything in a single race. At the same time, however, they are drivers with vast experience. Reutemann and Laffite with a decade of Formula 1 behind them, Piquet with only three seasons of Grand Prix but with extensive previous activity in minor formulas. Carlos Reutemann is the great favorite, as mentioned, because he has one more point in the standings, because he has been the most consistent throughout the season, because his Williams has proven to be the most competitive even on this track. Laffite is the one with the least chance of winning theoretically: in fact, not only does he have to come first, but he also has to hope that his opponents do not place close. Finally, Piquet is the outsider, because on the psychological level, he has nothing to lose (he is young and probably will have other opportunities to redeem himself), and the Brabham has often proven to be the car to beat. But there is not only prestige and personal satisfaction. The title is worth gold, or rather, dollars. It is estimated that winning a World Championship guarantees about $2.000.000 to the winner between salaries and sponsorships. It is certainly the largest amount that can be earned in a single sporting event, excluding only some boxing matches. Carlos Reutemann says:
"Money? Of course, it's important, one of the springs that drive you to give your utmost. We are professionals even though almost all of us started out of passion. After all, today, nothing is done unless it's for money. However, during the race, I won't think about what winning the world title can bring me. I'll just be a driver trying to be better and faster than the others".
The Argentine spends the last hours before the race in a completely normal way, seen in an affectionate attitude with his wife Mimicha, who has been very supportive during this American trip. Lole has particularly fine-tuned the setup of the car. The Williams technicians have worked extensively on his car #2, and the constructor has assured full support to the driver.
"Unfortunately, in Formula 1, team orders are difficult and also dangerous. I don't expect any favors from Jones".
Jones, on the other hand, does not hide his rivalry with his teammate.
"I certainly won't commit any foul play against him, but at the same time, I'm not willing to give up a possible victory, perhaps in my last race. A second place or finishing ahead of his rivals may be enough for Reutemann".
This is one of the themes of the race. Tactics have been discussed, but it's like discovering hot water. The two South Americans just need to control each other and try to finish ahead of one another. Laffite explains:
"For me, however, there is only one hope: to win. And I will race with this goal. I don't care what happens behind me".
Each circuit in the Formula 1 World Championship has its technical characteristics. But what differentiates, race after race, is the crowd, the backdrop of spectators that, depending on the locations, creates a different atmosphere. The people, more or less, are always the same, motor racing enthusiasts who arrive by any means and camp around the track. In Monte Carlo, however, at the pits, you can still breathe a sophisticated and worldly atmosphere, in Montreal there is an orderly and patient audience, in Monza there is total chaos, an assault on the stagecoach. And even the Caesars Palace Grand Prix managed to present a new image of the Circus, a new color. The circuit, built mainly for television, quickly filled with spectators. All seated in the stands, all orderly, with no possibility of moving. Racing Car fans from all over the United States have arrived. They are immediately recognizable, whether they have arrived by plane and stay in the best hotels or their journey has been a forced one, in campers, on motorcycles, or hitchhiking. They are all labeled with stickers, decals. Overalls, jeans, colorful shirts, they look like a single collage of sponsors, automotive and motorcycle brand names, drivers, and tires. The festival of bad taste, of kitsch, but they are an integral part of the show. They also have different sports appetites than what we are used to knowing; it's not so much the beautiful overtaking, the braking at the limit that excites them, but the absolute performance, the lap record. It's a typical American mentality, one that applies to all sports. And it also explains the success of certain disciplines, such as baseball and American football, which are both competitive and numerical events. Caesars Palace, then, managed to give a unique touch to the race. Built in the style of ancient Rome seen through Hollywood eyes (the internal theater is called the Colosseum, the shopping area via Appia, the various rooms take the names of emperors), this large hotel transferred its choreography to the track. So, before the race, from the main door, designed like the entrance to a temple with columns, capitals, and so on, an absolutely unexpected, incredible parade starts.
Hunters, slaves, noble bearers, an absurd mix of costumes and styles, mingle with the classic majorettes, the flag bearers of the fourteen participating nations, and a procession of chariots pulled by fiery horses. The show is directed, on a float, by the former brigadier general Harry Wald, now president of Caesars, and singer Tom Jones. And to immediately excite the spirits, a record is set by uncorking the world's largest champagne bottle with a fountain that reaches twenty meters in height. Simultaneously, 5.000 balloons rise in the air, dazzling in the bright sun. In short, the Formula 1 Circus reaches the height of extravagance. And while about 45.000 present spectators await, drinking beer and Coca-Cola, eating sandwiches and hot dogs, the start of the race, just a hundred meters away, the immense rooms of the casino attached to the hotel continue to regurgitate players. Unaware of Formula 1, as if in a trance, in front of blackjack tables, at the roulette, with dice, engaged in the methodical gesture of pulling down the levers of slot machines, hundreds of people win and lose thousands of dollars. Race day is absolutely scorching, and one can't help feeling that it is one of those races in which the two Williams drivers are in a class of their own. The 24 competitors line up on the dummy grid prior to setting off on their warm-up laps. They are given a very firm lecture by the Clerk of the Course, who tells them that they will be disqualified if they infringe any of the very specific regulations involving the starting grid procedure. Thus, when Villeneuve lines up in his Ferrari slightly too far to the left, the stewards take the decision to disqualify him. The decision of the stewards takes some time to be communicated to the Ferrari pit, by which time, of course, their driver has his head down in the thick of the battle.
Jones storms out through to lead into the first corner, as expected, leaving Reutemann to be swamped by Villeneuve, Prost, and Giacomelli. By the end of the opening lap, the incredible Jones has a two-second advantage, and he more than doubles that the second time around. Reutemann is already down to fifth behind the aforementioned hard chargers; then come Watson, Laffite, and Piquet. Midway around the second lap, de Cesaris spins Tambay’s Talbot under braking for one of the tight infield hairpins, but both cars manage to continue. Unfortunately, Tambay only manages to proceed about half a mile more! It seems that the tangle with the McLaren has damaged something on the Talbot, for Patrick suddenly shoots off the circuit on a fast left-hander, slamming into the protective tire barrier. The whole front end of the Talbot is ripped off in the impact, and Tambay is fortunate to be able to hobble away with a bruised leg and elbow. Jones is walking away with the race, his ever-increasing lead helped by the fact that Villeneuve has a great queue of cars banked up behind his Ferrari. On lap three, Prost finds a way past Villeneuve, and the Renault sets off after the fast-vanishing Williams, leaving Giacomelli to tussle with the Ferrari V6. Laffite is doing well in fourth place while Reutemann is only a few lengths ahead of Piquet, the Williams driver already experiencing some gear selection difficulties. Arnoux’s appalling luck runs true to form yet again, and he stutters into the pits after 10 laps to retire with a mysterious fuel system misfire. Others in trouble early on include Salazar’s Ensligh, which stops to have a burst brake line replaced, Pironi, who stops for fresh tires on his Ferrari, and Surer, who makes a succession of pit visits to investigate the Theodore’s strange handling and eventually gives up with a broken rear suspension rocker arm after 19 laps. Completing lap 17, Piquet dives ahead of Reutemann under braking for the left-hander before the pits in a smooth and confident maneuver, which looks absolutely absurdly straightforward when one considers precisely what was at stake. Meanwhile, the Ferrari team management is debating what to do about Villeneuve’s disqualification, whether to let him continue and appeal later or withdraw him there and then. But their deliberations become of academic interest on lap 21 when he spins off and is unable to restart.
Just as he does so, there is a flurry of action as Laffite moves past Giacomelli for third, and two laps later, the Alfa Romeo spins off, resuming tenth, putting Andretti up to fourth with Piquet fifth and Watson sixth. As Jones proceeds on his blissfully untroubled way, Prost suddenly shoots into the pits on lap 32 for four fresh tires, dropping to fourth and promoting Laffite to second. The abrasive, dusty track surface certainly seems to be causing problems for the Michelin runners, and Laffite eventually falls victim to the same problem, stopping at the end of lap 52. By that time, Andretti brings his Alfa Romeo to a halt with a broken rear suspension, rounding off a really foul year for the American driver. Thus, with 15 laps left to go, the real interest centers on whether Giacomelli can catch Prost for the second place - and whether Piquet can stay ahead of Watson (who also stops for fresh tires) and the fast-recovering Laffite, who is really storming back towards the McLaren. In the event, Giacomelli is near behind Prost in third place at the checkered flag. Then comes Nigel Mansell, fourth in his Lotus despite cramp in his left leg caused by an ill-fitting seat, and Piquet, exhausted with fatigue from his neck and back, takes two valuable points for fifth place to become the 1981 World Champion driver. Three years in Formula 1, and here he is at the top of the World Championship. Nelson Soutomaior Piquet has fast-tracked through stages that others have reached only after long struggles. However, unlike many of his colleagues, he had the fortune to be in the right place at the right time. Brabham has been at the forefront for a couple of seasons and adopted adjustable suspensions well ahead of all competitors. Favored by the absurdity of regulations, Piquet still had the opportunity to showcase his great talent. In 1979, when Brabham signed him, everyone thought the decision was more driven by publicity needs than merit. The sponsor had significant interests in Brazil, and no one better than a Brazilian driver could protect them. When Lauda decided to leave at the end of the season, Piquet had already demonstrated that he was not only good at drinking milk and eating puddings on television but also at driving a Formula 1 car. He has a significant advantage over many drivers: he can always distinguish courage from recklessness. When possible, he goes on the attack but is ready to hit the brakes if aggressiveness might lead him off track. He has had many impressive races this year, always taking risks but with caution. Born in 1952 in Rio de Janeiro, Piquet is the son of a former Minister of Health of Brazil. Many enter Formula 1 based on their family wealth, but in his case, there were no fortunes to spend.
Bernie Ecclestone pays him little, perhaps because he convinced him that driving a Brabham and winning a World Championship is already a sufficient honor. He entered a world of wolves with the spirit of a lamb, and many, not just Ecclestone, took advantage of it. Last year in Canada, Jones forced him off the track in the decisive race for the World Championship, demonstrating that there are many ways to win races. Piquet learned the lesson. Always cheerful and friendly, he almost gives the impression of having chosen the wrong profession. He has not been swayed by the allure of popularity or wealth; he loves motorsports, not the show that unfolds around each race. After races, he seeks the tranquility he lacks on the track in a boat, and he certainly won't find the social obligations that inevitably follow a world title enjoyable. People like him for his simplicity, for his human warmth. Many will remember seeing him on television, sitting still in the cockpit after breaking the engine on the last lap of the Italian Grand Prix. And at that moment, they may have decided to root for him. Nelson Piquet's victory in his fight for the world title with Reutemann and Laffite was hard-fought. The Brazilian felt unwell during the race due to his nervous problems and fatigue. He experienced bouts of vomiting that tormented him for several laps. So much so that, after crossing the finish line, he did not do the victory lap but immediately slipped into the pit. Extracted from the car by weight, he was put on an open truck that was supposed to take the victory lap. But Nelson still felt unwell and jumped off the vehicle, running for about fifty meters. After that, he collapsed and had to be taken to the infirmary, where, after the initial care, he recovered in about half an hour. Later, refreshed, the Brazilian recounts:
"The race was very tough, even though I am very happy now. The most difficult moment? Overtaking Reutemann. The Argentine tried to force me out. I braked two hundred meters earlier than expected, forcing myself to a sudden interruption of the maneuver. Fortunately, I passed him. If we had collided, and the cars had been damaged, he would have won the World Championship. It was a very ugly action on his part. Now, however, everything is over, and I will try to enjoy a title that, honestly, I did not expect anymore after what had happened in the last races. This time, despite the troubles I had to overcome, I managed to race with reason. I reached the end with tires practically nonexistent, and it was a miracle that I didn't go off the track. Everything went well, and I am happy".
On the other hand, Carlos Reutemann, also exhausted from fatigue, looks very dark. The Argentine driver speaks very few words before walking away.
"I could never use the third gear, and the car was set with springs that were too hard. There was nothing to be done. Moreover, physical effort has literally destroyed me. I am exhausted, let me go rest".
The Argentine seems like the ghost of the smiling man seen before the start. The race winner, Alan Jones, on the other hand, is in perfect shape.
"I got what I wanted, and I managed to win this race. I showed everyone who is the strongest. The best moment? When I lapped Reutemann".
Always tough, the Australian then responds to those who ask if he would really quit racing.
"Me quit? Well, I don't know. Maybe we'll see each other next year in Argentina".
Double-edged words, with a double meaning. Perhaps he just meant that he would try again to beat Reutemann, or perhaps his statement was just a joke, and he will really leave racing at the end of the season.
Last words for Bruno Giacomelli, finally on the podium for the first time in two years, since he joined Formula 1 for Alfa Romeo.
"I finished third thanks to a well-thought-out choice of tires. I mounted the hardest ones I had available. Everyone had problems. Instead, I made it to the end. However, I went into a spin once because the tires were too hard. I'm happy with this result; finally, something went well. Last year I could have won, and I dropped out, now the third place suits me".
With only six victories out of 49 Grand Prix races since his debut in Formula 1 at Hockenheim in August 1978, Nelson Piquet has become the World Champion. Is he, therefore, a "calculating" driver? Certainly, the apprenticeship at Brabham in 1979 with Niki Lauda has shaped him a lot. Race strategy, tactical intelligence are among his best weapons, but he is also fast and combative. He earned the championship helmet in a race where he faced very difficult moments. He wasted nothing, did not make a gear change that was not strictly necessary. He overtook when he had to and, in the end, remained calm, without attempting risky adventures, settling for a fifth place sufficient to beat Reutemann and Laffite. The heir of Emerson Fittipaldi is a cheerful and calm man, almost modest. His first evening as World Champion does not end with wild celebrations. The Brazilian driver goes to a suburban restaurant (ironically called Da Carlos), along with Cheever and Rebaque, a few close friends, his brother and sister who came from Brazil, and his mechanics. He is not even recognized, nor does he signal any particular festivities. Only a blonde girl notices him and, bringing him a bottle of champagne, asks for a kiss, immediately granted. A spontaneous gesture that elicits a playful scene of jealousy from Silvia, the pilot's partner. Sinking into a chair, tired, with a face marked by the fatigue and discomfort that plagued him during the race, Piquet speaks calmly about his victory, about leaving the success in the battle to Jones to win the war.
"Honestly, I never thought of becoming a champion. I always believed that others were better than me. My goal this year was to learn something at all costs. Obviously, the school was good. Moreover, winning this title was more important for the team than for the undersigned. I already enjoy driving, experiencing indescribable emotions and sensations".
But, when you started competing, you left tennis, a sport in which you were already an established young man...
"Yes, that's true. But I had a passion for engines. In 1974, Brabham came to Brazil. At the circuit, I offered myself: I cleaned the cars, brought fuel and tires, accompanied the mechanics in search of good restaurants. Starting from the bottom is the only way to get into the right mindset. If I hadn't become a driver, I probably would have become a mechanic".
Now, however, you will earn a lot. It is said that the world title is worth at least 2.000.000 dollars...
"I hope to make a lot of money. So far, I haven't earned much. In three years with Brabham, practically, I haven't put anything in the bank. I had a slave contract with Ecclestone. If I complained, Bernie even had the option not to let me race. Now the situation is different".
Next year, you will almost certainly have Riccardo Patrese as a teammate...
"I don't know Riccanlo very well. I know he has a strong character. But it's not a problem: any teammate is fine with me. Didn't I accept to race alongside the great Lauda?"
Was it an easy championship?
"I wouldn't say so. Apart from the final thrills, it didn't start well. I was blamed for the wrong choice of tires that cost me a probable victory in Brazil. But the technicians also wanted those tires. The most exhilarating moment was the victory in Imola, the ugliest, the debacle in Spain. I also have to admit that I always had one of the most competitive cars".
Tell us about your race on Saturday.
"I did the first laps without risking anything. At the start, I let all the clever ones pass. When I found myself behind Reutemann, I waited for the right moment to overtake him. Then, since there was a car coming up quickly, Andretti's Alfa, I decided to overtake. Cartos braked earlier than expected. I managed to avoid him, and it was easy to move on. From halfway through the race, it became a Calvary for me. I was in great difficulty, both physically and mentally. The spring that supported me, giving me the strength to continue, was knowing that Reutemann, behind me, had bigger problems than mine. After that, everything was easy".
What will you do now?
"I will start preparing for the next season right away. Tomorrow I'll be in England, and on November 7th, I will race in Formula Atlantic in Australia, along with Jones, Laffite, Watson, and others. I just hope that now Brazilian fans don't expect too much from me. And I also hope that this title serves to stop the absurd controversy in my country against motor racing because of fuel consumption. The fuel consumption of a Jumbo jet is more than the entire World Championship".
When you crossed the finish line, you were exhausted. How did you feel knowing you were the champion?
"An indescribable sensation. I can't explain it in words. I only know that no one can ever erase it from my mind. I will always remember this day. I'm just sorry for the Argentine fans. But it's important that a South American has won".
What did Fittipaldi say to you?
"Of course, that I did well. We cried tears of joy together. I was moved: Emerson has been an idol for me; I have always tried to emulate him".
We saw that on the podium, Alan Jones was happy and talked to you for a long time...
"He told me that in 1982, he'll still be there. Maybe he was joking, but if he stays, Alan is a tough opponent, and with him in the race, regaining the title would be an added problem".
Nelson Piquet doesn't get excited; he remains the frightened gypsy of some time ago when he was unknown. But perhaps his strength is precisely this: to do great things with simplicity and modesty. Carlos Reutemann has been defined in Enzo Ferrari's book as an athletic Argentine, a driver of excellent abilities, conditioned by a tormented and tormented temperament, capable of solving difficult situations, even making up for occasional mechanical deficiencies but prone to squandering results acquired from the start. Was it the same on Saturday in the decisive race for the title? Did he lose or did he not have the chance to win? Questions that are difficult to answer. The only fact is that the Williams driver finished the race destroyed, physically exhausted, morally on the ground.
However, despite the heavy situation, Reutemann had the strength to make a deep analysis of what happened, of a season that cost him a lot and ended, as he himself said, on the saddest day of his life. The pilot's lament, bitterness, deep disappointment cannot be conveyed. But from his words emerges what was the dominant reason, the cause of the defeat, namely the great rivalry with teammate Alain Jones.
"It was the car that knocked me out. Look at my blistered hands. In practice, it behaved very well, then on my Williams, they adopted the safety solutions that Jones had chosen. Three hard tires and the front right even more solid. Note that I already had stiffer shock absorber springs than the other car. At the first turn, the car suddenly pointed to the left. A beastly thing. The race became hallucinatory. Jumps, crazy vibrations, I had to cling to the wheel. Even on the straight. Torture. And Jones, with the same car, the same setup, minus the springs, won".
Speaking of the just-concluded season, the Argentine pilot says:
"I prepared exceptionally. Ten months of sacrifices. Physically, nutritionally, vitaminically, organically. Every Monday, I went to a Cap Ferrat laboratory for a check-up. Blood tests, control of the loss of potassium, calcium, white and red blood cells. Everything studied, everything ready for a lion's year. And I started well. But my misfortune began in Brazil. In the contract, I had signed a clause that if I found myself leading a race with less than seven seconds advantage, I had to let Jones pass. They displayed the sign without showing me the time. I saw that sign very well. So I thought: be careful about what you do now. If you slow down, you have to stop and go back to the hotel. You're done with Formula 1. So I went on. And incredible antagonism problems arose. Jones's blow".
"In Germany, I arrived with 43 points, 17 ahead of the second, almost incredible. But immediately after Silverstone, Jones, who announced his retirement about a month ago, saying he had been thinking about it for six months, that is, since May, had renewed his contract with Williams. And then, in the team, it was thought that he could, he should be the one to regain the title. Alan confirmed his commitment to Williams knowing that he would probably leave at the end of the season. His was an unfair blow. And at Hockenheim, you know what happened. They did everything to make him win. The new wings of the car, the better engines, and so on. But in Germany, Piquet prevailed... And everyone understood that I was not untouchable".
Talking about relations with the team, he says:
"The problem, however, was not only Jones. There has never been professional esteem between me and Williams' chief engineer, Patrick Head. He doesn't like me, I go slow in practice, I have a particular way of preparing the car. He got annoyed during the free practice in Monza because Jones immediately marked 1'34"43. I, who had arrived the next day, went on the track with very old tires and turned in 1'37"-38". On a circuit I know very well because I've been there many times with Ferrari. The next day we crossed the tires, I made different setups, and I marked a time of 1'34"44. And Head was even more angry. He thought that if I had achieved that time at the beginning, in the end, we could have reached 1'31"0. There has never been cohesion in this team, unity of purpose".
In conclusion, speaking about the future, Carlos Reutemann says:
"I lost the championship. But I didn't make any mistakes. There wasn't a race where I could have overturned the result I achieved. I feel sorry for myself, for my family. My daughter Cora was keeping scores, calculating points. It was fate. Now it will be very tough. I don't know what I'll do; I'll give an answer to Frank Williams by October 31. If Jones stays, coexistence is not possible".
And he adds:
"I have always been a sportsman: it's normal to compete against each other in a race, for one to win and one to lose. But I don't laugh when my teammate is defeated. During the race, some drivers signaled me to go, that I could become world champion; many were cheering for me. Less so from Williams. I got a good deal. Now you ask me what I will do in 1982. I don't know, I don't know. If I have to eat shit every day, it's tough, very tough. I don't need that".
For the first time since its return to Formula 1 at the beginning of 1979, Alfa Romeo managed to place one of its drivers on the podium. Bruno Giacomelli's third place is the reward, perhaps a bit too late, for the work done in these two seasons by the Milanese team. Probably, the results could have been more promising if, at the end of the last championship, when the Autodelta cars had reached significant competitiveness (culminating in Bruno's pole position at Watkins Glen), the regulations had not changed. The abolition of the side skirts and the adoption of pneumatic suspensions forced Alfa Romeo's technicians to do extensive work, with continuous modifications, research, and tests that did not allow effective planning. And when you're banging your head on both sides to find valid solutions, taking into account the numerous factors contributing to the success of a single-seater, it's difficult to materialize certain values that this team undoubtedly possesses. However, now there is the opportunity to make progress, to pave the way for a coming championship that holds more than just placements. It all depends also on the atmosphere in which the team can engage in this new challenge. The conditions are all there, if only on Saturday, during the race, some conflicts that seem to trouble Alfa Romeo had not emerged. The recently hired French consultant, Gerard Ducarouge, was seen abruptly removing the team's shirt with the team's logos, tearing off the pass needed to enter the circuits, and leaving, visibly upset. What happened? No one explains. Probably nothing serious, a difference of opinions, normal things when acting in certain conditions of tension as during races. But it is a symptomatic episode. The arrival of a foreign technician, with a particularly tough character like the Frenchman, may have been instrumentalized by someone to play on controversies, to sow discord. Ducarouge is certainly not a miracle worker. No one is, at least in motorsport.
However, he is an experienced technician with a vast knowledge base. It is undeniable that his presence has led to positive results, confirmed by the fact that Toleman has shown interest in hiring him. So, it is not clear why the capable Gerard and the team's director, Engineer Carlo Chiti, should clash or be set against each other. Assuming each of them takes their responsibilities and uses their expertise, there is a chance to move forward in the best possible way. Especially since delicate times are approaching for Alfa Romeo. Probably, a new driver will have to be chosen to replace Mario Andretti (assuming a contract has not already been signed, for example, with Elio De Angelis). Ferrari's balance in the last race of the season ended in the red. After Gilles Villeneuve's excellent performance, starting in third position, the race ended with the Canadian driver's retirement and Didier Pironi finishing ninth, two laps behind the winner. Gilles withdrew while in third place due to a spin and subsequent electronic injection failure that prevented him from restarting the car. Didier, on the other hand, faced suspension problems, culminating in a pit stop to change tires. Later in the race, on lap 49, the Frenchman achieved a small satisfaction by setting the fastest lap time in 1'20"15, at an average speed of 163.929 km/h. To be honest, Villeneuve's withdrawal only anticipated a decision by the stewards who excluded him from the standings for moving to the right, towards the center of the track, at the start. Ferrari's official position defends the driver: the judges acted in a manner inconsistent with sporting rules because they wrote in the statement that they had disqualified him (which would mean withdrawing the license), while the exact term should have been exclusion. They also did not consult the driver at the end of the race, reviewing the start footage as prescribed. Behind the scenes, this new likely infraction by Villeneuve (who had been warned not to attempt risky overtaking at the start) will cost him at least a reprimand from the Maranello team's officials. On Monday, October 19, 1981, in a few hours of work, the Caesar's Palace circuit is dismantled.
What remains, in the immense parking lot next to the hotel-casino, is the strip of asphalt from the track, the holes where the poles for the safety nets were inserted, and some traces of the presence of the soon-to-disappear audience, taken away by huge cleaning machines. The world capital of gambling is getting ready to host other events. Soon, high-level boxing will return; for now, life revolves around all kinds of conferences, meetings, and weekends that roulette players never give up. Monday morning, this announcement appears in local newspapers:
"Caesar's Palace welcomes handicapped persons to the Caesar's Palace family".
The United Nations have declared 1981 as the year dedicated to people with physical disabilities, and this is also an opportunity for Las Vegas, (albeit with benevolent intentions and commendable initiatives) to create interest, a movement of thousands of people. So, the first Grand Prix held in Nevada was a success. The state tourism office's computers calculated the turnover generated by Formula 1. The global movement was $200 million. The spectators present during the three days of practice and the race were 88,000, not few considering that ticket prices ranged from a minimum of $50 to $250. Chris Pook, the race director, is enthusiastic about this trial, both here and in Long Beach.
"The circuit has withstood the impact of the World Championship very well. There was only one incident on Saturday, the one where Tambay completely destroyed his Talbot. But the Frenchman escaped with some bruises. Of course, there are many things to review, but in Las Vegas, the future for motorsport is assured. Next year we will change the design of a couple of curves, build walkways to cross the track, relocate a series of cranes to quickly remove the cars that will stop along the way".
The American specialist also talks about global plans for 1982.
"In the United States, there is a real boom of interest in Formula 1. We will certainly organize three races. Long Beach, despite some economic difficulties, is confirmed, as well as Las Vegas. Detroit does not want to accept FOCA's $2.5 million entry request, but I believe an agreement will be reached. Otherwise, there is the candidacy of New York, which recently joined".
The most exciting World Championship in recent years has just ended with Nelson Piquet's victory and Carlos Reutemann's incredible defeat. Already, the challenge begins again in the factories, in the workshops. While many protagonists of this world, living in an atmosphere of tension and frenzy, lament the misfortune of the Argentine, work is already underway to prepare another season of sporting battles. It was recently said that the World Championship was not just a matter between drivers but also, and above all, a confrontation between small teams and the giants of motorsport, namely Renault, Talbot, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari. This year, success went to the English, but there are signs of a prompt comeback. Soon, all four teams from the major car manufacturers will have turbo engines at their disposal. Even Alfa Romeo and Talbot are ready to follow the example of Renault and the Maranello team. Renault's program, which already in 1981 with Prost almost joined the fight for the championship title, is progressing rapidly. Prost and Arnoux will be continuously engaged in very long tests held at a fast pace at Le Castellet. The French team also took advantage of the American trip to conduct a secret test in a modern wind tunnel, where specific aerodynamic details can be studied under ideal conditions with the actual racing car placed on a conveyor belt simulating high speed. Renault is in advanced stages of designing a new gearbox with very rapid gear changes that would partially overcome the slow response of the turbo. Ferrari is not waiting either. The balance of the Maranello team was not very brilliant overall, but it can be considered positive in other respects. Says the sports director, Marco Piccinini:
"Two victories in the year we debuted with the turbo are at least surprising. But there is an important fact: we have collected a considerable amount of data and information that will serve us in the future, and we are already working on it. In Maranello, our technicians are preparing the new car with an unprecedented chassis, using materials like honeycomb (a very resistant and lightweight metal with a honeycomb structure) and carbon fiber. Testing also continues with turbines and the Comprex to improve response times and seek reliability".
The absence of Engineer Mauro Forghieri in the last two races, in Canada and the United States, means that the technical director of Ferrari, along with the Englishman Posthlethwaite, is accelerating the process. Maranello's team is also heavily involved in electronic developments, in collaboration with Magneti Marelli, as the regulation and turbo feed depend significantly on these control units, which constitute a new chapter in the history of motor racing and are already being applied in series production. Ferrari is also refining a new, narrower transverse gearbox and a longitudinally designed one. Gilles Villeneuve says before leaving Las Vegas:
"I firmly believe that next year we will also be in the running for the world championship. If we solve the grip and weight problems, we can compete with everyone. It's difficult to find a complete balance for a car powered by a turbocharged engine. But Ferrari is very close to solving the majority of the problems. I only hope that the technical heads of the teams can agree in the upcoming meeting on October 28 in Paris and approve clear and precise regulations. And that pneumatic suspensions, which have been a real torture for us drivers, are abolished, forcing us to race on vehicles more similar to an axle, a go-kart than a real car".
Saturday, October 31, 1981, is the date by which the composition of Formula 1 teams for the next season will be definitively known, at least for the most important ones. By that day, Frank Williams will announce his drivers. After Cheever's engagement with Talbot-Ligier, the field is partially clarified. Williams, who on Monday, October 19, 1981, talks extensively with Alan Jones to convince him not to retire, contacts - according to Reutemann as well - five or six drivers. Among these, there would also be Italians Elio De Angelis and Bruno Giacomelli. If De Angelis, who is also in talks with Alfa Romeo, is taken by Williams, a door will open for young Andrea De Cesaris at the Milanese team, who will be left without a seat at McLaren to make way for Niki Lauda. De Cesaris, despite the eighteen incidents he was involved in during the season, is in demand by teams for his sprinting abilities. He is also in contact with Tyrrell and Arrows. Analyzing the interesting data provided by Olivetti, the official timekeeper along with Longines for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, it was discovered that the twenty-two-year-old Italo-American driver marked the second absolute time on Saturday (1’20"302, against Pironi's record of 1'20"156) but was also the only one to go below 1’21"0 three times. Doing the math, passage after passage, and calculating an average of 1'23"0 per lap, if De Cesaris had not lost 9'10"0 for touching Tambay and a pit stop to replace a damaged suspension arm, he could theoretically have finished in second place, just 8 seconds behind the winner Jones. He's a guy to keep an eye on.