Nelson Piquet spends his first days as Formula 1 World Champion watching three movies a day, sleeping at least ten hours, and dining at a good restaurant. To this, add silence, solitude, a serene life alongside the beautiful and stimulating Silvia. Since Saturday, October 18, 1981, after the fifth place that secured his victory, he has remained hidden until Wednesday in the Las Vegas hotel. Then a quick trip to Amsterdam (where his partner's parents are), and back to Monte Carlo. No triumph. In Brazil, they were waiting for him to give him celebrations worthy of a hero, similar at least to those Emerson Fittipaldi received in his time. But the twenty-nine-year-old champion from Brasilia doesn't like these things, they don't interest him. He's a strange South American: shy, introverted, with a rare smile. But if you take it easy, he opens up in a sincere, genuine speech.
"I am a pilot. I race because it's fun, the rest doesn't matter; I don't live for this. Just as I don't drink or smoke: because I don't like it, not because it's forbidden. I'm not afraid of criticism, I don't fear newspaper controversies, I can do without reading them. I chose motor racing for a specific reason: a subtle, psychological battle, with risk. It's like trying to beat oneself: sure, many times I'm damn scared. But not of dying, rather of hurting myself, of suffering. I can't stand pain. And I'm not crazy either; danger excites me, but I would never throw myself off a mountain with a hang glider. I'm religious but not bigoted. I believe, pray, and give thanks".
What are your relationships with your family?
"My father died in 1974, while I was coming to Europe to try my luck. He was an important man in Brazil, a politician. We never got along; it was a constant clash. He taught me one thing, though: never settle, always aim for improvement. When I raced in karts, he teased me if I came fourth or fifth. When I started with cars, he said it was something for children. I had tried tennis before; then motor racing took me completely. I spent two years at university, studying philosophy and engineering, but I didn't study, it was too difficult, too boring. Now, my mother is in Brasilia with two of my brothers, Geraldo and Alex. A sister, Gerusa, is married and lives in California. We all talk on the phone often. I'm separated from my wife Clara. We didn't get along. We have a son, also named Geraldo; I miss him, but I think he misses a father more. I've taken out a huge insurance policy to ensure him a future if something were to happen to me".
Now that some days have passed, do you feel the importance of having won the world championship?
"No. Nothing has changed. Coming first or second was the same for me. It was an advantage for the team, for the sponsors. In the end, I'm sorry Reutemann didn't win; it might have been his last chance. I think I raced better last year when I finished second. In any case, I would have preferred to beat Alan Jones. Reutemann is a bit slow. In qualifying, he goes slow for three or four laps and then explodes like a bomb with an incredible time. In the race, he's not that great, he doesn't scare me. In 1980, anyway, if Carlos hadn't helped Jones, I would have won. Now, the Australian hasn't returned the favor".
Speaking of drivers, what do you think of Gilles Villeneuve? Is he a phenomenon or a kamikaze?
"He's exceptional. He's a bit crazy in the head, but he has incredible talent. What he does is impossible for others. I've seen him on the track more than once, like in Canada: he was running the same time, with or without a wing. And the car was certainly not competitive".
However, after three years in Formula 1, you have already won a world title…
"Villeneuve threw one away in 1979 when Scheckter won. Gilles was faster than Jody. Every race, he threw away some points. He made many mistakes".
While Piquet learned quickly. Does the school with Niki Lauda at Brabham have anything to do with it? Did you learn from the Austrian how to calm down, to extinguish the aggression of the young?
"This is something you don't learn. I don't do any training; I have no secret to prepare myself. I just sleep well, preferably ten hours a night".
What do you think of Lauda's comeback?
"It's good for Formula 1, good for him, good for the sponsor, and good for me too...".
Do you think you will regain the world title next year?
"This cannot be said. Brabham will provide me with a very good car, perhaps still the best. We will have the one with the turbo engine you have already seen a few times, a new one always with the turbo, and another new one with the aspirated engine. They will be exceptional cars; I know it. Our designer, Gordon Murray, is a genius. Better than Ferrari's Forghieri and Williams' Patrick Head. Head is not able to invent something new like Murray; he just copies well".
Would you like to switch to Ferrari?
"No, I'm not interested. I'm fine with Brabham; Ecclestone doesn't bother me. However, I would really like to meet Enzo Ferrari; this great character intrigues me. I would even be afraid to meet him".
Ecclestone says that you're not good at business, that you don't know how to sell yourself, that you're not good at publicity?
"He says that? Well, good for me... he's paying now. I want to earn as a driver, not as a public relations man. I had two offers, both $1.400.000 per year from Arrows and McLaren. So I bluffed with Ecclestone. I said: I'm leaving. And now he's paying... In previous years, he had kept me with a crust of bread. Anyway, he gave me a little less than the others".
Next year, most likely, you'll have Riccardo Patrese as a teammate. Does that worry you?
"Patrese also has two arms, two legs, and a head, like everyone else. If he goes faster, I'll be the second driver... No problem for me. It will be an extra stimulus. If I don't like the crowd, if I'm not enthusiastic about celebrations, I love competition like crazy, fighting against rivals and against the clock. That's how I want races to be: a track, opponents, cars, a stopwatch".
On Friday, October 23, 1981, impeccable in his blue suit, as polished as ever, as combative as ever, sarcastic, with a voice that shifts from subdued tones to strong ones when the discussion heats up, Enzo Ferrari holds his usual end-of-season press conference.
After introducing his direct collaborators (all lined up beside him, except for engineer Mauro Forghieri, who was in Milan), defining them as the flour he has to make bread in 1982, the Modena constructor reviews the results of the just-ended Formula 1 season and talks about the future and the general situation for motorsport.
"When I made the decision to use a turbo engine, Forghieri pointed out that we would face alternating days of excitement and disappointment. And so it was. For all achievements in life, human skills and technical availability are necessary. The results were not entirely passive, considering that we embarked on a new path. The turbocharged engine and the electronic injection we developed led us to gain advantages: enormous power latitude, because if we want, we can have up to 600 horsepower, and a relative containment of consumption. At this point, I am convinced and happy with the turbo".
What will the new car for 1982 be like?
"The car will be presented in early December. It will have a completely new chassis, made with aeronautical materials from America. Our technicians will do their best to make it a car worthy of the Ferrari tradition. I hope it will be a competitive car, capable of finishing in the top six. It can have two types of gearbox, a transverse one, with dimensions smaller than the current one, and a new longitudinal one, suitable for certain aerodynamic needs".
Are you satisfied with your drivers?
"There has been much talk of Villeneuve's possible mistakes. I would like to know who works, designs, writes, drives without ever making mistakes. It may be that Gilles has made some naivety. When he won in Monte Carlo, someone said he had a world championship-winning car. In Canada, it was written that he had a Ferrari from Cambronne. Time, the American magazine with 7,500,000 copies, dedicated a cover to him. Villeneuve suits me like this, with his exuberance, with his merits and defects. He is also an actor who performs for applause. As for Pironi, he is an excellent driver. He ran this year under the sign of misfortune. I have great confidence in him, and I am sure he will make a lot of noise".
What do you think of the conclusion of the World Championship?
"If Reutemann had won, he would have done a good thing, he would have deserved the title, crowning a long career. He had already lost a championship when he was with Ferrari. And I don't think I was wrong when I called him a tormented and troubled driver. Piquet, on the other hand, alternated beautiful races with questionable ones. In any case, he was helped by a great car. I also liked Prost, more than a promise".
How do you judge the announcement of Lauda's return?
"When he retired suddenly, I said he had done an act of honesty and courage. Now he shows that courage is not lacking... I have nothing against him; I would even invite him to dinner at my house".
Recently, Eduardo De Filippo was made a senator. Someone would like to build a monument for you.
"I am not an artist but just a workman. It is Ferrari that makes the news, not me. When I see myself called names like the magician, the dragon, I smile bitterly. They are unnecessary, wrong adjectives. I am just a worker who at sixteen worked in the apprentice turners' workshop of the Modena fire brigade, who married his job. A Time journalist asked me similar questions about this cult of personality. I replied: I want to be remembered as an inventor, the inventor of hot water. Jokes aside, I am sorry when a member of the PCI (Italian Communist Party) like Antonello Trombadori says that Grand Prix races are only an 'expression of violence. On the other hand, I was pleased with the words of the secretary of the Communist Party, Berlinguer, whom I recently met".
Enzo Ferrari does not deny himself, defends his theses, names names, and reveals figures that have always been secret.
"Sport is polluted; even in motorsport, there is rampant inflation that needs to be stopped. The Constructors' Association is in difficulty; organizers do not pay. Costs are growing impressively".
To prove this, he reveals Ferrari's financial statements.
"In 1968, we produced 729 cars with 498 employees and a turnover of 5.162.000.000 lire. The burden for sports activity was 452.000.000 lire, 8.7% of our overall budget. In the last three years, sports management has reached very high expenses: 3.882.000.000 lire in 1979, 5.541.000.000 lire in 1980, 5.805.000.000 lire in 1981. This year, however, we will produce 2.550 cars with 1.600 employees for a turnover of 113.000.000.000 lire, which means that sports activity costs us 5.50% of revenues".
With these data, Enzo Ferrari responds to those who wanted to speculate on certain voices, insinuating crazy expenses and easy money.
"You have to be very careful because you can die at the same time from hunger and indigestion. And Formula 1 can be beheaded by sponsors".
The reference to certain sums recently discussed (3.600.000.000 lire for Lauda's return) is evident. The alarm also concerns the drivers.
"They are volunteers of risk, but which union could defend them?"
And there is a warning also for organizers who do not respect contracts.
"We will promote abstention from races if commitments are not fulfilled. Once, Monte-Carlo was accepted for its perfect organization, as it was a showcase for Formula 1. Now, there is a progressive shift towards artificial circuits. Races are held where there is money, and organizers prioritize financial solvency over technical evolution".
In short, it's a genuine appeal for a revision of certain trends. If things don't change, it's not excluded that, one day not too far away, Ferrari might dissociate itself from Formula 1 as it is now. While Ferrari meets the media, Alan Jones tries out the brand-new six-wheeled Williams at Donington. The constructor hopes to convince the former World Champion to reconsider his retirement from racing. Jones, originally departing for Australia to focus on family and his farm, cancels the trip to test the experimental car with six wheels of the same size, unlike the 1976-1977 Tyrrell that had four tiny front wheels in tandem with normal rear wheels, driven by Scheckter, Depailler, and later Peterson. Meanwhile, another Italian driver is ready to debut in Formula One. Riccardo Paletti, a 23-year-old accountant and executive in his father's real estate company, will race for Osella alongside Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier next year.
Paletti, after a stint in the Italian ski team, showcased his talent in Formula 2 this year, consistently among the fastest drivers, although race results didn't always match qualifying times. Driving a March-BMW, he secured second place at Thruxton and Silverstone. On Tuesday, October 27, 1981, in Milan, when Niki Lauda arrives a bit late, chaos ensues. Photographers and cameramen trigger a genuine brawl: elbows fly, feet are stepped on, amidst blinding flashes. Lauda remains calm, smiling, casually dressed with his trademark cap. Niki Lauda and his face, scarred by the Nurburgring fire, always make headlines. It's incredible how this slender 32-year-old Austrian, with 113 Grand Prix races behind him, two Formula 1 world titles, a series of dramatic accidents, and surprising decisions, manages, for better or worse, to captivate people, the crowds. Speculations about his return to racing, two years after the dramatic withdrawal in Montreal, only increase the charismatic driver's allure, renewing a popularity he never lost.
"Now it's certain, next year I'll be back on the track. I don't know with which team, I'll decide in two or three weeks. It will be either a McLaren or a Williams, anyway".
Returning to a demanding sport like Formula 1. With what role, with what objectives?
"It's not easy to answer. I hope to still be competitive. Racing without the hope of winning would be foolish. I'll give my best".
It's said that you're returning to racing for money because your airline is in trouble. Is this motivation enough to take such risks?
"It's not true that my company is facing problems. The story is this: two years ago, I no longer wanted to drive, I was tired of races, thinking about airplanes. Now Lauda Air is doing well; there's someone else in my operational role, I am the president. So, the love for cars resurfaced. Money has nothing to do with it; the feeling for racing came back naturally".
When did you make this decision?
"In Monza, in September. I went to talk to Ron Dennis and Frank Williams. They told me there was still a place for me. Then I went to test the McLaren at Donington and realized that everything was perfect, that there were no psychological or physical obstacles".
What did your wife say?
"She is calm, respects my ideas, my requirements. If I were to race in a two-seater, if a family member were to get on the car, I would ask for permission. But I'm the only one taking risks".
Aren't you afraid? Don't you fear the comparison with other drivers?
"Of course, I'm afraid. This is a dangerous sport. I know very well that at the beginning, I won't be the Lauda of old times. It will take a year to get used to it, at least five or six races to understand the car and know my current limits. I'm already preparing physically. From the second half of November, I'll start track testing, covering thousands of kilometers".
And if, after a few races, you realize that others are ahead of you…
"I'll try to press the accelerator pedal more".
Formula 1 has changed a lot in two years. Which drivers do you consider the most challenging opponents?
"I hope Jones goes to Australia and stays there. Piquet is very good: he would have become world champion even without racing alongside Lauda. He deserved the title in the last race in Las Vegas. Prost is an optimal combination with his car. I hope Renault develops its turbos so that they go slower... Jokes aside, when turbocharged engines run, there's nothing to be done. With McLaren or Williams, I'll have a traditional engine anyway. The only problem, however, is me, not the other drivers".
Ferrari's engineer recently said that Formula 1 is heading down a bad path, which could lead to running their cars in the Constructors' Championship...
"I don't think Formula 1 is in trouble. Besides, I think this is Ferrari's tactic. It always says it's quitting, then comes with an incredible car and wins everything. The current regulations are stupid. Let's hope that in Paris, they decide to make real cars, not go-karts".
So, you're ready for the big comeback...
"First, I have to think about choosing the team. There's a place at McLaren and another at Williams. If Jones leaves, alongside Reutemann. If the Australian doesn't quit, the Argentine will leave. I will evaluate all possibilities. But only the stopwatch will be my judge".
A clear, unpretentious speech. Lauda starts from scratch, like a beginner, willing to work hard to fine-tune the car and himself. The Austrian driver is in Milan for the presentation of a book written by Domenico Barili, commercial director of Parmalat, the sponsor of the Austrian driver.
"I tried to let the truth about Lauda be known: he's not a computer or a steering wheel accountant. He's an extremely human character, always intelligent but strictly rational".
A biography of the driver and the man. It's fresh off the press, and Niki Lauda is already preparing to write more chapters. Meanwhile, Formula 1 has another retiree: Carlos Reutemann, the oldest, in terms of races competed, still active. He had been in the Grand Prix circus since January 23, 1972, exactly ten years of races, tension, and risks. Only Graham Hill (176 races) had more starts than him. The announcement of his retirement comes on Friday, October 30, 1981, in Buenos Aires, from the official spokesperson of the driver:
"Reutemann has decided to leave".
Without a clear explanation, precise motivation. A real surprise because in Monza in September, the Argentine had stated verbatim:
"However the world championship ends, I will not retire".
What made Carlos Reutemann change his mind? On Saturday, October 31, 1981, his contract with Williams was set to expire.
Evidently, something had soured. Perhaps the English team did not renew their confidence, and probably the fact that his rival Alan Jones might reconsider his decision to retire influenced the South American's stance. Jones hadn't confirmed that he would stay, but there were conditions for a reconsideration: a salary offer of £1.000.000 and testing the new six-wheeled Williams might have convinced the Australian to continue racing. On Saturday, October 31, 1981, Carlos Alberto Reutemann was at his villa in Cap Ferrat, on the French Riviera, with his wife Mimicha and daughters Cora and Mariana. Naturally, he faced a barrage of questions.
"I no longer had any motivation to continue. I had already reached the highest goals; I don't think I could have done more".
Do you have no regrets? Do you not want to try once again for the climb to the world title that you couldn't achieve?
"I have nothing to regret. After the disappointment in Las Vegas, I thought a lot. And I realized it was over. I'm tired. I no longer feel like making sacrifices. I'll become a normal citizen; I'll look for a different job. I'm fine, but I'm not extremely rich".
Will you stay somehow in the world of racing?
"I don't think so. Right now, I need some rest. Maybe I'll come to see a race. But from the stands".
What is your fondest memory of Formula 1?
"The first victory, in 1974, in South Africa, and the best team, Ferrari, with Bellentani as chief mechanic".
How did you leave things with Williams? Do you think Jones will continue to race?
"I haven't spoken with Frank Williams. I just let him know my decision indirectly. I don't care anymore about what Jones will do. Let both of them go to hell...".
You had mentioned in the past that you would like to compete in some rallies. Will you participate in any such races?
"I don't think so, at least not at the moment. Now I want to enjoy my family".
Do you think Niki Lauda could take your place at Williams?
"Ah, I don't know, maybe. Anyway, I can already see the Austrian racing alongside Jones. Enzo Ferrari wrote in his book a famous phrase: a tormented and tormenting driver... I disagree with Ferrari. I have my character, my personality, maybe introverted, but I never tormented anyone. I just tried to have competitive cars. It seems to me a justified requirement in Formula 1. If some driver thinks differently, they can stop driving immediately. To use strong words, I'd say it will be the history of motor racing to judge".
The news of Carlos Reutemann's retirement from racing did not come as a surprise to Williams. For a long time, the Argentine had been contemplating this decision, convinced that he had found the biggest obstacle to winning the world title within his own team, which increasingly seemed to favor a victory for the Australian Alan Jones instead.
Bitter and disillusioned, Carlos had already threatened retirement at the end of the season. According to rumors in the English Formula 1 world, Reutemann made the final decision when he was informed that the Williams team was trying to convince Jones not to retire from racing. In addition to letting Jones test the brand-new six-wheeled car, Williams had assured him that in the next season, he would have a teammate of his choice. Jones is currently on the opposite side of the world, and before leaving England, he promised to announce his decision in about two weeks. Some in London now speculate that Jones may have already told Frank Williams, after testing the new six-wheeled car at Donington and receiving assurances about the team composition for the next season, that he would remain at the wheel to try to regain the world title that was once his. Consequently, Reutemann hurried to announce his definitive retirement rather than risk being refused a place at Williams to please Jones. These are, of course, assumptions. What is certain is that Frank Williams has already made a substantial offer to Niki Lauda to fill the vacancy left by Reutemann. Moreover, through its designer Patrick Head, Williams has decisively denied favoring Jones over Reutemann.
"I personally believe that Carlos has badly betrayed himself. I know nothing about his alleged gearbox problem, but I know that his car had a different setup than Jones's only because Carlos wanted it that way. He chose a different type of springs with which he achieved the best test time".
Regarding the team for the next year, Head responds:
"If Alan really wants to end his career, I wouldn't mind starting over, maybe with two new young drivers. Why not?"
Two months before the start of the new Formula 1 World Championship, the driver lineup still presents several question marks. Some want to leave the wheel (Reutemann and Rosberg), some are returning (Lauda), and some are grappling with Hamletian doubt (Jones and Andretti). Despite all its petrodollars, Williams is, at least for the moment, without drivers. In addition to the retirement of the Argentine, they are still eagerly awaiting news from Jones, who promised a decision by November 12, the same day McLaren will announce its team for the new season. Sports director Ron Dennis refuses to confirm the $3.5 million contract for Lauda, although Lauda's move to McLaren is taken for granted. Ron Dennis has limited himself to a terse no comment but confirms that he has been in negotiations with Watson. Despite the flattering offer and the possibility of becoming the number two driver for the prestigious Williams, Watson reiterates his loyalty to McLaren, where he will most likely become the number two to the Austrian. The transfer of Riccardo Patrese from Arrows to Brabham no longer seems so certain, despite the Paduan having signed an option for Bernie Ecclestone's team, which won the world title with Piquet. In London, it is said that the boss of Brabham would have given up getting rid of Hector Rebaque, as the Mexican has assured him a sponsorship with such a large amount of money as to persuade Ecclestone not to exercise the Patrese option. Brabham's sports director, Mike Blesh, confirms that Patrese's chances of joining the team with Piquet are only 50%. Consequently, the Paduan risks being left without a team, but according to rumors, Williams has come forward offering him the vacancy left by Reutemann (or Jones). Jackie Oliver of Arrows is, therefore, looking for a new driver to replace Patrese. Among the major candidates are Derek Daly and Mark Surer. In two weeks, the new partially carbon fiber car will be ready. Designed by Dave Wass, the prototype will be tested at the end of the month by Patrese in France, at Paul Ricard. Also, next season, Arrows will have Ragno as a sponsor and continue to use Pirelli radial tires. In search of drivers is Lotus, which can no longer count on De Angelis. Nigel Mansell will probably be promoted to the first driver; names like Roberto Moreno, Eliseo Salazar, as well as young Englishmen Dave Scott and Jonathan Palmer, are being mentioned for the second seat. The Frenchman Patrick Tambay is still on the market, having been left without a seat, having to make room for Eddie Cheever in Guy Ligier's team. Furious about the abrupt dismissal, Tambay confirms that he intends to stay in Formula 1, having already received two concrete offers.
Finally, Tyrrell confirms Michele Alboreto, while it has not yet filled the seat left vacant by Eddie Cheever. Fittipaldi's team accommodates Keke Rosberg, who will perhaps be replaced by Mauro Baldi (along with Chico Serra). On Friday, November 13, 1981, during a press conference at the headquarters of McLaren International, Niki Lauda officially announces his decision to return to racing after two years of retirement. Lauda tells the over a hundred journalists from various parts of the world that he wants to get back on track because of the joy of motor racing and the allure of perfection, stating that he chose McLaren because he believes the team has the greatest potential.
"There is no other reason for my decision; I just want to demonstrate that it is possible to win the title once again, even though they tell me it's an unrealizable dream. It is ambition that drives me".
Ambition is fueled by a Marlboro contract. According to the latest rumors, it would consist of £1.500.000, and Lauda would also receive additional money from Parmalat. At McLaren, Lauda will be partnered with John Watson, with whom he raced three years ago when both were at Brabham. To attend the press conference, Watson had specially flown in from the island of Mustique in the West Indies, where he was on vacation with the widow of Ronnie Peterson, the Swedish driver who passed away in the 1978 Italian Grand Prix. According to some rumors, Watson and Barbro Peterson are about to get married. There is no issue of numbers between Watson and me, whether I am number one or number five doesn't matter. Ron Dennis, McLaren's sporting director, says that Watson and Lauda will receive identical treatment.
"We will not differentiate between the two; this year we will have over $10.000.000 and more than seventy people. We will judge after each practice session which of the two drivers is faster, and that driver will have the better car if one is superior to the other".
Watson does not entirely agree with this point of view:
"For me, Niki will become number two when he has done his tests".
Lauda, on his part, adds that having only done a few laps at Donington, he cannot yet compare today's cars with those he raced until the time of his temporary retirement.
"I can express a more precise opinion after the tests I will do in France next week".
Lauda, who will be at the wheel of the McLaren on Monday, November 16, and Tuesday, November 17, 1981, at Clermont-Ferrand for Michelin tire tests before heading to the Caslellet circuit. His first Grand Prix will be in South Africa, opening the 1982 World Championship on January 23 at Kyalami. The most interesting news on the sidelines of the McLaren conference is technical. Teddy Mayer's team will adopt a Porsche 6-cylinder 1500 V turbocharger in the future. The new engine will be tested by McLaren towards the end of the next season and will only be used in races starting from 1983. It is also a comeback for Porsche, absent from Formula 1 since 1982. For the next season, McLaren will continue to race with the MP4 model (in an updated version). It is the first car to adopt carbon fiber construction material used in the aerospace industry. Its advantages are greater rigidity and strength, and less weight. Between Ferrari and Michelin, protagonists in Formula 1 of a sensational divorce, there is already controversy, albeit indirect. At the center are the reasons for the breakup: technical reasons, proclaims Maranello, economic reasons, says Paris. Each, in short, presents its truth. From Maranello comes a clarification from Enzo Ferrari: