#357 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix

2021-11-01 00:00

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#Third Part, Fulvio Conti,

#357 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix

"The announcement of the Ferrari-Goodyear collaboration for the next three years in Formula 1 has raised various interpretations about the reasons tha


"The announcement of the Ferrari-Goodyear collaboration for the next three years in Formula 1 has raised various interpretations about the reasons that would have determined it. I personally want to clarify that the only reason that prevented us from continuing our relationship with Michelin was the impossibility on the part of the French company to ensure us an evolutionary collaboration for our new 126 C2, which is set until the expiration date of the Concorde agreement, that is, in 1984, while Goodyear's offer of a firm three-year commitment allows us to carry out the planned technical research".


Pierre Dupasquier, director of Michelin's racing service, commenting on the agreement, says that, in his opinion, the Modena manufacturer broke the contract with his company for financial, not technical, reasons.


"We did not want to embark on financial adventures; we opposed the three-year contract that Ferrari wanted to sign with us. Our goal is to develop our products to the fullest and not be World Champions at all costs".


Michelin has equipped Ferrari for four years. In the next season, it will supply material to the Alfa Romeo, Ligier, McLaren, and Renault teams. 


"The watch will be my first judge". 


Niki Lauda had said when he announced his return to racing. But to get this crucial timing result, you will have to wait. The fact that on Thursday, November 19, 1981, the World Champion takes to the track for the first time on a real circuit and marks lap times only a second slower than those achieved by his teammate Watson does not have a precise meaning. Only in a few weeks will the test results take on decisive importance and give an exact measure of the Austrian's possibilities. Before moving on to the chronicle of this day, which is equivalent to a second debut for the thirty-two-year-old driver from Salzburg (the tests at Donington a month earlier and at Clermont-Ferrand on Monday and Tuesday cannot be considered), it is necessary to underline an impression that is felt in seeing him behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car again. Lauda always seems like a fragile man, burdened with a very heavy load, perhaps unbearable even for a fresher driver with broader shoulders. If he succeeds in the extremely difficult task, not only of regaining a world title but even just returning to the top, he can be considered a genuine master of skill. The challenge that awaits him is grueling, and all of Formula 1 is waiting for him. But these risks, these questions, Niki Lauda does not calculate them, does not even consider them. At the moment, he is only interested in finding himself again, rediscovering his limits, knowing if he can still go fast as before.


"If I were here asking myself questions, I wouldn't have started again. I repeat: I have found the heart and the desire to drive, to race. That must be enough. At least until the end of the year when I will take stock. I don't want to challenge the whole world, only myself, for now. Then we'll see".


Anticipated like a prima donna by dozens of photographers and cameramen, who almost ignore Watson, Lauda begins his first real day as a driver two years after retirement around noon. Teddy Mayer, one of McLaren's bosses, has personally prepared the seat for him to insert into the car. Niki first tries the pedals, the steering wheel position, and the various controls that have been adapted to his measurements:


"Okay, we can go".


His initial laps are slow. Considering that the small Paul Ricard track record has belonged to Jaboullle's Renault turbo for two years, and it is 1'03"10, Watson is also going quite slow, but this is more than understandable. The Northern Irish driver, perhaps to show that he is not afraid of Lauda, pushes in some passages and once ends up in a spectacular spin at the beginning of the pit straight, and another time he dramatically misses a gear. His best time is 1'06"0. Niki starts with a time of 1'59"28 on the first lap from a standing start. Then, gradually, he descends to a very acceptable 1'07"0. As mentioned, only a second slower than Watson. In the evening, tired but satisfied, Lauda returns to the hotel.


"These cars are very physically demanding to drive. I have already said what I think: the regulation that allowed the construction of cars that are practically without suspension is stupid, and I hope it will be changed. Anyway, for now, I try to adapt. Only after three or four races will I know what I'm still worth".


As of today, the Austrian does not seem to be in top physical condition yet. He is training, doing workouts, followed like a shadow by his friend and trainer, Dr. Willy Dungl. The latter clearly states that much work and commitment will still be needed to achieve an acceptable resistance to face the fatigue of the Grand Prix.


"But this doesn't scare me as much as the psychological aspect. I like to try this adventure".


An adventure that will make its protagonist a nice sum. All the figures thrown around so far have been exaggerated, however. Lauda will receive $1.200.000 from Marlboro and about $400.000 for having the Parmalat logo on his suit. It's still a good amount, but there are also other drivers who surpass it, like Jones and Villeneuve and perhaps Prost. So, it may be that money alone did not truly bring him back to Formula 1. However, it must be said that in any case, Niki seems to have changed. He has not lost any of his concentration, nor his determination or personality, but - the power of advertising - now he smiles, poses for photographers like a beautiful model. Then, if he returns to the top, he can also be unpleasant. On Friday, November 20, 1981, the hiring of Riccardo Patrese at Brabham is announced. The Italian driver will race in 1982 alongside the World Champion, Nelson Piquet. It is the first time, since the disappearance of Lorenzo Bandini (1967), that an Italian driver will have a car capable of aiming for the title. The news of the Italian driver's hiring by Bernie Ecclestone's team is not new; it was already known for some time. But it was only rumors, indiscretions, albeit confirmed by several parties. Now, however, Patrese's transfer from Arrows is official. And Riccardo is the co-star (applauded) of the award ceremony organized by Parmalat, sponsor of Brabham, to celebrate Piquet (the success in the World Championship, the permanence in the racing world with Lauda on a personal level and with the English team as the sole financier). The ceremony goes very well. The two drivers, Bernie Ecclestone, his right-hand man Max Mosley, the designer Gordon Murray, and the mechanics are present. Everything takes place in the company's production plant among stacks of milk cartons, puddings, fruit juices, and so on. Workers and employees can now get to know those men they had only seen in photographs or on television up close. Piquet, Patrese (and before them Lauda) are the characters to whom Parmalat has entrusted its image and advertising. The sponsor in sport. In all sports, it is now, for better or for worse, like it or not, a necessity. And there are clear facts that speak for themselves: investing capital in this relatively new way pays off. Just seven years ago, Parmalat was almost unknown and worked in restricted areas. Now it has a turnover that approaches 450.000.000.000 lire and is known worldwide. The power of Formula 1. Patrese, radiant with happiness, finally freed from the constraint of not revealing his move, says:


"Finally, I hit a target I've been aiming for since I started racing. I'm in a top-notch team. But let's not talk about the world title. My primary goal is to win races and earn points. We'll assess the situation at the end of the season".


But you've always said you aim for the World Championship title...


"Winning the World Championship is difficult, and it will probably be even more challenging in 1912. Assuming the Brabham remains at the top, the competition will be fierce. I believe I'm the strongest, but it's a personal conviction yet to be proven. All drivers, after all, are sure they're better than the others".


Is racing alongside Piquet an advantage or an obstacle?


"I think it's always positive to have a strong team in every sense. We start on equal footing, and positions will be decided when the time comes. If Piquet has the chance to win the title and I'm out of the race, I'll be happy to help the Brazilian, and I hope it's mutual. A suicidal tactic like that between Reutemann and Jones would be foolish".


Patrese and Piquet, defined by Murray as the strongest pair in the world, will have a competitive car. In Collecchio, the new Brabham Turbo is presented, a streamlined car like a missile.


"Most likely, from the first race in South Africa, we'll be running with the BMW Turbo engine. It's a formidable engine, with an incredible number of horsepower. We can reach 700 HP in practice and 640 HP for the race. The throttle response is immediate. During a test at Silverstone, I passed Villeneuve's Ferrari as if it were standing still. Now it's just a matter of checking its durability and reliability. But I'm confident there won't be any problems".


Perhaps Piquet's declared powers are exaggerated (Murray talks about over 600 HP for qualifying and 580 HP for races). However, it's an engine that should give Brabham assurances of competitiveness. Nelson Piquet says:


"I am certain that a turbo will win the World Championship. Either us, Ferrari, or Renault. The others will be spectators if they don't adopt forced induction".


Challenging statements. But the proof will come soon. From Monday, November 23, 1981, Patrese and Piquet will be at Le Castellet for an extensive testing session. The comparison between the two drivers and the benchmarks for the car is only a few days away. In the meantime, on Friday, November 20, 1981, the piercing whistle of a P 104 S fighter from the 51st Wing shakes the runway of the Istrana military airport, just a stone's throw from Treviso. It is answered by the roar of a red Formula 1 car, Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari Turbo. The jet attacks, but it's the car, with a dazzling acceleration, that crosses the finish line of a thousand meters first. The plane takes off, the car stops, goes back; 100.000 people, a crowd that fills the stands, roofs of barracks and hangars, meadows, stirs, applauds. Formula 1 has won this singular contest with aviation. A duel reminiscent of the heroic days of motorsport, a duel that has achieved overwhelming success. The mechanism of the challenge, organized as part of the Italian Defense Minister's Open Barracks program, is simple: a measured base of one kilometer, two parallel tracks, one for the jet, the other for the car. Starting from a standstill. Only Villeneuve's Ferrari (without front and rear winglets for aerodynamic reasons) and Bruno Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo were supposed to race, but the Formula 1 World Champion, Nelson Piquet, and Riccardo Patrese, present with a Brabham, couldn't resist the temptation to participate. The heats (six in total) are exciting, although the fighters (with a takeoff power of 50.000 HP and a weight of 14.000 kg) prove to be clearly inferior to the cars (550 HP 600 kg) due to their relative slowness in the first few meters. 


Giacomelli is the first to press the accelerator, beating the F 104 S with a time of 18.5s against 19.26s. Then it's Villeneuve's turn, who immediately sets the record of the challenge with a time of 16.55s for an average of over 217 km/h. The Ferrari driver exits the base at a speed exceeding 330 km/h, a limit never reached by a Formula 1 car. Then it's Piquet's turn, then again Giacomelli, then for the second time Villeneuve. Finally, Patrese starts last, suffering the only defeat of the day. However, the Italian driver had never driven the Brabham before and is also deceived by the starter, who, after indicating a one-minute wait, immediately turns on the green light. The F 104 S in this duel has a minimal fuel load. It is estimated that the jets consumed about 25-30 liters of kerosene to cover the thousand meters, and Villeneuve and colleagues' single-seaters two liters of regular gasoline. The hero of the day is Gilles Villeneuve, whose mechanics had nicknamed the aviator a few years ago for a series of spectacular off-track flights. The Canadian, who usually travels with his own helicopter, is attacked by thousands of fans who overwhelm the security service. The driver escapes this excessive enthusiasm by taking refuge with Ferrari in a hangar. After an hour of siege, Villeneuve flees in a Campagnola disguised as an officer. The challenge is accompanied by the inauguration of a static exhibition of historical aircraft, including Francesco Baracca's 11 biplanes. And Baracca's emblem has always adorned Ferrari's cars: the Prancing Horse. Visits to Gilles Villeneuve's home are becoming less frequent. Now that he no longer has Walter Wolf's helicopter (he's thinking of buying a new one, but it's expensive even for him), he's forced to travel by car. And as fast as it is, moving from one place to another, from Fiorano to Treviso, from Treviso to Lugano, to Milan for various commitments, keeps him away from his family. The Canadian suffers from this separation, misses his wife Joanna and children Melanie and Jacques. It's fortunate to find him with a few minutes to spare, returning from Le Castellet where many of his rivals are testing for the 1982 World Championship.


"I accept everything because I understand my role. But certain time losses, like a televised trial to hear accusations that I find absurd, make me angry. It's better to work on the track to prepare for the next season. A season that could and should be the one to aim for the world title".


How can you say this, be convinced that Ferrari will allow you to compete at the top?


"The reasons justifying my confidence are multiple. First, Ferrari has never been out of the top positions for so long. And now it's been two years since we raced away from the best. Then there's the fact that the car and the engine are making significant progress. By mid-December, we'll have the new car, with the innovative chassis. Finally, I foresee that many of our opponents will face difficulties. Williams has developed a six-wheeled car that certainly won't be easy to handle. Brabham will use a turbo that, although it has been running for a long time, still needs on-track testing".


But we must not forget Renault...


"True. The cars from the French manufacturer were - in my opinion - the ones with the best chassis and aerodynamics in 1981. I've seen Williams or Brabham skid in races many times, never Renault. It will be - I believe - the toughest rival to beat. Unless, of course, there are surprises".


Do you think the regulations for 1982 could still change?


"I don't know. I hope so: without side skirts and with a normal shock absorber system, there would be less risk and more room for the driver's skill. And also more spectacle for the audience".


How do you judge Ferrari's decision to switch from Michelin to Goodyear tires?


"For me, it's a good choice. It's possible that in the four years I raced with radial tires, it was the car causing certain problems. In any case, out of 62 Grand Prix races I participated in, in at least fifty, I had trouble with the tires. There's no point in going fast in practice if then, finding yourself in front, you have to let others pass. It's better to start in seventh-eighth position and have the opportunity to climb back".


Has Villeneuve changed during four years in Formula 1?


"I have much more experience, that's for sure. And then, I've changed in the neck...".


In the neck?


"Yes, in the neck. It widened like that of a bull. Sometimes I look in the mirror and scare myself. It's because of the G-forces we have to endure in turns, a force that forces us to keep tendons and muscles stretched like violin strings. Otherwise, the head would go on its own. That's the biggest change I've undergone since 1977. For the rest, everything has remained unchanged, especially my desire to win".


Many of your colleagues argue that this desire to win is a danger for everyone...


"The same old talk. At this point, I think jealousy is also involved in my case. Risk is part of the game, and I believe I've already shown that I can calculate it well. Sometimes those who go slowly, stay in the middle of the track and don't let themselves be lapped are more dangerous than those on the edge. In any case, if Ferrari gives me a competitive car, I'll show that I can also balance the means. But don't expect a Villeneuve who deliberately aims for a third position if not forced. People, fans only remember those who win, and I like, more than anything, to finish first".


On Wednesday, December 2, 1981, at Le Castellet, in the South of France, on the plateau between Marseille and Toulon, Formula 1 carries out its major maneuvers. Almost all the teams participating in the 1982 World Championship are either currently on or will descend to the Paul Ricard circuit in these days. The reasons prompting teams to test cars during this winter period are manifold. These tests are intended to prepare the single-seaters for the upcoming season, check the work done so far, and, finally, study possible future developments. However, the truth is not only this. While many teams are conducting research and testing on the challenging French track, some have different purposes. Some are spying on what others are doing, some are trying out new drivers; others use performances, sometimes artificially enhanced, to woo uncertain sponsors. The shrewdest even use these tests to seek changes and solutions that bypass the regulations, as has happened many times in the recent past. While performance, aerodynamics, and engine power are the main concerns for the majority of technicians and drivers, team managers and team executives are still engaged in an internal battle within Formula 1. A violent war between different factions is still ongoing. The majority of English teams are calling for a reduction in the minimum weight of cars (currently 585 kg) in exchange for the abolition of the adjustable suspensions. Nothing has been decided yet regarding the minimum ground clearance (6 centimeters) and the arrangement of the side skirts. Other meetings are scheduled in the coming days, but some argue that an agreement is unlikely to be reached. If the regulations are not clarified within an acceptable timeframe before the start of the World Championship, scheduled for January 23, 1982, in South Africa, chaos may ensue once again. Ferrari - in case of uncertainties - might even decide not to participate in the first race. 


This hypothesis had been mentioned by Enzo Ferrari himself in his recent annual budget speech. While the political battle rages on, maneuvers continue on the track. Tricks that can be used for specific purposes have been mentioned. For example, some teams are running cars on the circuit that are much lighter than allowed. This results in faster lap times, and sponsors sign contracts. Others use irregular cars, which always touch the ground, with side skirts temporarily built in a prohibited manner. Of course, not everything is done underhandedly, even though the publicity stunt is always lurking. Some teams are working intensely and seriously. This is the case for Williams, which is experimenting with its six-wheeler with great conviction, and Brabham, which seems inclined to push forward with the turbo program. Nelson Piquet completes hundreds of laps to test two different types of injection, one electronic and one mechanical (the latter currently seems to work better than the former). New suspensions, different wing profiles, and innovative bodywork are being studied. The tests involve both the design of individual components and their composition. The fact that everyone is testing on the same circuit is of particular importance. There is a benchmark against others, which is impossible if testing is done at Fiorano or the Michelin track in Clermont-Ferrand. The atmosphere at Le Castellet is intense despite the chilly wind these days. A true Grand Prix: whoever wins now could already have a serious claim to the 1982 World Championship title. Meanwhile, Frank Williams, Constructor World Champion in Formula 1 for two consecutive years, cannot find peace of mind. He has the most competitive cars, guarantees a high-level season, and yet, he cannot find drivers of sure value. Carlos Reutemann has again responded negatively. After announcing his retirement and amid rumors of a possible change of mind, on Thursday, December 3, 1981, the Argentine holds a press conference in Buenos Aires, confirming his current lack of interest in competitive racing.


"I have no intention of continuing to drive because I am still nauseated by what happened this year".


From Australia, meanwhile, Alan Jones announces that the tempting financial offers from Williams could convince him not to abandon motorsport, but he would like a special contract. Jones would ask to participate only in races, avoiding any kind of testing or trials, i.e., the heaviest workload for a driver. At this point, the English constructor will have to solve this problem by hiring two of the drivers still on the market. It seems that the contract with the Finn Keke Rosberg is only a matter of hours, while for the second driver, Frank Williams is trying to lure Jean-Pierre Jarier away from Osella. Otherwise, he will have to rely on a young driver. There is also talk of a possibility for the elderly but experienced Mario Andretti, who has left Alfa Romeo. As for the Milanese team, there is confirmed interest in Andrea De Cesaris.


"I know nothing; I hope and pray".


But Engineer Chiti is in Lausanne negotiating with the Marlboro sponsor. Meanwhile, many teams continue testing at Le Castellet, while Ferrari announces that there will be two new cars with the chassis developed in collaboration between Forghieri and Postlethwaite at Kyalami. They were supposed to continue training until the end of the week, like the other drivers crowding the Le Castellet circuit to fine-tune the cars they will use in the upcoming Formula 1 World Championship. However, on Thursday, December 17, 1981, Niki Lauda leaves the French Riviera and returns to Vienna with his jet. The reason for this change in schedule is due to the serious accident he had on Wednesday evening while testing the McLaren on the French track. Niki, just after 5:00 p.m., went off the track at over 200 km/h while negotiating the Signe corner.


"Suddenly the left front wheel opened, and the car became uncontrollable. I could only crouch in the cockpit and wait for the impact".


This is Lauda's first major thrill since his return to motor racing.


An accident that does not seem to have caused trauma, although it was terrifying moments for the McLaren driver. The Austrian came out unscathed, while the car suffered extensive damage, and for this reason, the English team had to return home. While other teams on the French track continue to perform a great deal of work to verify new technical solutions, Alain Prost stands out, setting an exceptional time of 1'37"97 with his Renault, which is a new track record. Gilles Villeneuve's time is also good (1'39"16), ranking second for the day. Sophisticated equipment has been installed on the Canadian's Ferrari to transmit valuable data to a series of recorders while the car is in motion. The Tyrrell is also proving competitive, testing on this track for over fifteen days with Alboreto. On Thursday, Alfa Romeo arrives with Giacomelli (forced to an early stop due to a broken engine flange) and the debutant Andrea De Cesaris, who, after a few laps, stops on the track due to a lack of fuel. To everyone's surprise, Carlos Reutemann will still race in Formula 1 next year. Frank Williams announces the news: the Argentine driver will be the first driver for the English team, alongside the Finn Keke Rosberg, who has so far driven for Theodore, ATS, Wolf, and Fittipaldi. Frank Williams himself came to these decisions after a trip to Dubai, where he convinced Arab sponsors to increase their financial support for 1982. In the hours following the talks in the Arab Emirate, the British constructor got in touch with Reutemann, who was in Santa Fé, Argentina, and persuaded him to abandon his retirement plans. Previously, Williams had once again received a refusal from Alan Jones. The former World Champion confirmed his intention to retire from racing to focus on his family and his farm in Australia. These were the two conditions Carlos Reutemann apparently had set for staying at Williams: Jones's withdrawal and the South American driver's transition to the role of the team's number one driver, along with the acceptance of his financial demands. After learning that his rival Alan Jones had received an offer of over £1.000.000, Reutemann had also made it a matter of pride to demand a similar treatment. 


The exact amount for which he renewed his contract is not known, but it must certainly be an amount very close to that indicated for the Australian. It seems that Frank Williams decided to increase Carlos's salary also due to the pressures received from the Automobile Club Argentino, which declared itself willing to spend 300.000.000 lire to prevent the driver's departure. Without Reutemann, the Argentine Grand Prix, the second of the season, would certainly have been deserted by the public. It would have been a disaster for the organizers' coffers, which had even considered canceling the race. With Reutemann now in the drivers' market mosaic, the positions of all the other teams should be clarified in a short time. Only a few details concerning minor teams are missing, and then the 1982 picture will be complete. With Carlos Reutemann, Formula 1 regains not only a prominent figure but also an absolute protagonist: a name to bet on for the World Championship title, turbo engines permitting. On Friday, December 18, 1981, in a strangely idyllic atmosphere, Formula 1 reaches a technical agreement for 1982 in Paris. Immediately, one consideration arises: the return of the much-debated side skirts constitutes a defeat for the automotive manufacturers (Ferrari, Renault, and Alfa Romeo), which opposed them for so long, and a serious threat to safety, with the increase in cornering speed due to greater downforce. Then, an observation: this is a false peace. While the effort made by all teams and the FISA to find a common starting point can be appreciated, it must be emphasized that, once again, for political reasons, a more radical solution to the problems was not sought. In particular, no measures were taken to avoid situations that have made the performances and results of certain cars less credible. Only serious and responsible checks, not currently planned, can free the Circus from the heavy suspicions that have emerged in recent years: someone has cheated. A precise denunciation of what happened in the past and what may happen in the future is made in Milan by Gerard Ducarouge, the French technician now in charge of Autodelta for Alfa Romeo in Formula 1.


"The determining factors in a racing car are three: aerodynamics, weight, and engine power. Let's set aside whether anyone has tried to use larger-displacement engines; just consider the problem of minimum weight. On an average circuit of about five kilometers, the advantage for a car fifty kilos below the minimum allowed weight can vary from one second to 1.5 seconds per lap. If this element is not controlled, everything else is pointless".


In 1981, special cars for qualifying were seen, with carbon fiber brakes, smaller fuel tanks, reductions in every detail. In many circuits, after the Grand Prix, eyes were closed to the weigh-in results, results that left no doubt, and series irregularities were accepted.


"In particular, random checks would be necessary during practice. A scale is enough, it's not difficult. It's pointless to go crazy to gain a place on the starting grid with regular cars when someone can be in the front row thanks to those fifty kilos less".


The accusation is strong, but it corresponds to the truth. Formula 1 has taken some steps forward and will start on January 23rd at Kyalami with a certain tranquility, but now it would be better for the sports authorities to decide to close the door to those who intend to violate the regulations. Otherwise, we will find the usual endless controversies that have poisoned the world of Grand Prix. After completing the preliminary tests for the next World Championship, Gilles Villeneuve spends a happy Christmas. Near his wife Joanna and children Jacques and Melanie, he savors the intimate joy of a united family. But, knowing the small Canadian, sensing his thoughts, one of the reasons that allows him to spend peaceful days is that Ferrari is preparing a competitive car for him in 1982. Villeneuve, in fact, cannot, even if he tries, separate his private life from the world of racing. Driving in Formula 1 is living, breathing for him. And victory is his only goal.


"I have several elements to believe that 1982 will be a positive year. Don't misunderstand me. I don't want to claim that Ferrari will be a step above everyone, I don't want to deceive anyone, not even myself. The fight will be tough, even tougher than in past seasons. What I hope, what I think is that our cars will allow us to compete on equal terms, to go on the track with the conviction of being competitive".


Where does so much optimism come from?


"It's not just my optimism. Theoretically, it must be recognized that Ferrari is not a team to stay away from the top for too long. It can have ups and downs, like everyone else. And so, since we've already been down, we can only go up. It's purely statistical. But it must be taken into consideration. Secondly, on a practical level, I must confess that the last tests at the Le Castellet circuit have convinced me that we are on the right track".


What data should be considered?


"With the old cars, just modified, thanks to different aerodynamics, we ran into problems that only cars with excellent ground effects had last year. It may sound paradoxical, but it is so. For example, in the long straight before the fast Signes corner, my Ferrari bounced up and down like a Renault, a Williams, and a Brabham. This means that we managed to produce a ground effect that we didn't have before. With the new chassis and aerodynamically correct bodywork, the flaw should disappear to make way for exceptional handling".


Will there still be issues with turbo engines?


"Turbocharged engines with this 1/2 ratio compared to naturally aspirated ones will always have some reliability issues in certain conditions. But the experience gained, the relentless work done in the workshops of Maranello, both regarding material resistance and electronic injection and fuel supply, have made us progress".


So, do you foresee an easy year for Villeneuve and Ferrari?


"I haven't said that. It will be a difficult, very tough World Championship, but not less fun for that. The team to beat will once again be - in my opinion - Brabham. BMW, entrusting their turbo engine to the English team, made a clever move. There is an excellent, now well-tested chassis, and very successful aerodynamics. Gordon Murray's task with Piquet and Patrese is mainly tuning. They buy a good engine, a good gearbox, good parts, and then work on them. At Ferrari, on the other hand, everything is built, and that is much more complicated".


Is Brabham the only one you fear?


"No, that would be too easy. There is also a lady named Renault. This time the French team cannot fail to win the world title. The break-in years are over. In 1981, three victories also arrived. Now I believe that the Renault executives absolutely want to win the World Championship. And Alain Prost is a driver who can achieve that".


You haven't talked about Williams...


"I have the utmost respect for Williams. But I don't think that without the turbo, this team can aim so high. There is the six-wheeled car, it's true, but it's a question mark".


Do you also believe that some teams without turbo engines will try to circumvent the regulations to find themselves in an advantageous position, as some suspect?


"I hope not, but anything is possible. I fervently hope that the Federation enforces the rules and carries out rigorous checks. And if someone is caught cheating, I want to believe they will be punished".


What do you think of the regulations approved on December 18th by the FISA?


"I cannot pronounce myself yet. Of course, the return to skirts is not a positive development. We'll see. The only truly right decision was the abolition of the adjustable suspensions. Finally, we will drive cars, not bone-shaking go-karts".


What are Gilles Villeneuve's resolutions for 1982?


"If you expect me to say that I will drive cautiously, that I will not try at all costs to come first, forget it. I'd rather stop racing".


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