When the first Grand Prix of San Marino is mooted for 1981 a lot of people scoff and say it is absurd for the tiny Principality near the Adriatic coast to have a Grand Prix on the International Formula One calendar. You can hardly drive a Fiat Panda round the mountain-top town, let alone race Grand Prix cars round it, but the San Marino Automobile Federation has no intention of holding their Grand Prix in the ancient city, they plan to use the Imola Autodromo between their Principality and the town of Bologna, and to get the Automobile Club of Bologna to run it for them. This year sees the running of only the third Grand Prix of San Marino, but the whole affair has taken off so well that you would think it was the 30th. It is like the Austrian Grand Prix when it was held for the first time on the newly- built Osterreichring, it got off the ground immediately, and the San Marino race at Imola has done the same thing. It is all a matter of having the right ingredients, the right reasons for the event, the right circuit, the right atmosphere, the right organisation. The third Gran Premio San Marino is a superb event. Grand Prix racing is alive and well and lives in Italy. Although we have had Formula One races already this year in Brazil and California they can never witness a total commitment by the teams as they are too far from the home base. The French Grand Prix at the featureless Paul Ricard circuit recently was a bit unreal and you felt that most people did not really believe they were back in Europe, but by the end of April when official practice begins on the Imola Autodromo everyone has their feet firmly planted back in Europe and there is a very exciting atmosphere about the pits and paddock on Friday morning as engines are warmed-up, tyres fitted, adjusunents made to aerodynamic tweaks, refuelling and wheel changing equipment set up, spare engines unloaded and new designs of tyre assembled.
A quick look down the row of large and well-equipped pit lane garages shows that the three Ferraris (065, 064 and 062) all have the new rear suspension that appear briefly in practice at Brands Hatch, and has since been thoroughly tested at Fiorano, Spa and Imola. This has wide-base wishbones and an inboard mounted spring anit operated by a pull-rod working on a swinging link on which the spring is mounted. The whole affair is much more rigid and controllable than the old rocker-arm system and provides improved geometry to keep the tyres in better contact with the road. The cars are carrying enormous rear aerofoils and have huge fibreglass air ducts to the front brakes as braking on the undulating Imola circuit is of prime importance. In the Brabham pits is a brand new BT52, number four, which is destined for Patrese, while Piquet has BT52 / 3 and number one is the spare car. Still with carbon-fibre brake discs the cars has extra air ducts to the rear ones, these being clipped onto the normal cooling ducts. Renault also has a new car, RE40/03 for Prost, the Frenchman’s Paul Ricard-winning car taking on the position of spare car for him and Cheever, the prototype car RE40/00 being scrapped. The ATS team are finishing off a new car for Winkelhock, to the same design as the previous car, with carbon-fibre composite monocoque and BMW turbocharged engine, but a bit lighter overall by attention to details; this is D6-02. Surprisingly the Arrows team finds the monocoque of Serra’s car, which goes upside down at high speed in practice for the French GP, almost undamaged and the whole car is rebuilt and back in service. At the end of the pit lane the Osella team, under the direction of Tony Southgate, is finishing off a new car made from old bits for Ghinzani. The whole point of this project is the V12 Alfa Romeo 3-litre engine supplied to Enzo Osella by Auto Delta, complete with gearbox, transmission and rear suspension, which Southgate has grafted onto one of the old Osella aluminium monocoques as a test-car, before embarking on a new one.
With three spare Alfa Romeo V12 engines in the van it is probably a better bet to have obsolete Italian engines than obsolete Cosworth engines. All the other teams seem to be in good order, Lotus with their two Renault V6-powered cars for de Angelis and the two Cosworth-powered cars for Mansell, with a DFY unit standing by to replace the DFV, while McLaren has three DFY engines for Lauda and Watson, but only as a stop- gap until the Porsche turbocharged engines are available. The Toleman- Hart team has revised their suspension front and back, to give more travel and the engine in Warwick’s car is Brian Hart’s latest with two sparking plugs per cylinder; the normal one in the centre of the combustion chamber and the second one between the two inlet valves lying almost horizontally in the side of the monobloc casting. These extra plugs are fired from a second distributor on the back of the engine, below the normal one. The electronic fuel injection system is the work of Hart and Lucas. Judging by the quantity of tyres about the place Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli are not pulling any punches and their competitive battle is as hard as that of the engine manufacturers. In spite of what some people think about handling, road-holding, aerodynamics and driver skill, the engine of a Grand Prix car instill the most important part, other factors merely being used to try and make up for an engine deficiency. Imola is the spiritual home of Ferrari, the Autodromo being named after Enzo’s son Dino, and it is only 55 miles from Maranello so it can be considered to be the heart of Ferrari country. From the word go it is clear that Renault, BMW and Alfa Romeo are out to trounce the cars from Maranello on their home ground. The Alfa Romeo team, run by Paulo Pavanello’s Euroracing team, are a bit like a ship without a captain as the Frenchman Gérard Ducarouge has been sacked from his position as team co- ordinator following the fiasco of the exclusion of the Cesaris’ car at the French Grand Prix practice reported last month. However, there is no shortage of Alfa Romeo mechanics and staff, nor of the compact V8 turbocharged Alfa Romeo engines.
"That’s it, it is all over we’ve cancelled the Sunday activities".
No-one would complain, no-one would go away feeling they have been cheated. Everyone has had their money’s worth, but the organisers don’t say that and through the night cars pour into the area from all directions and a crowd of 110.000 is estimated to be assembled around the 5 kilometre circuit. After a drive round in the early morning with Derek Ongaro, the FISA track inspector, I would not argue with the estimate, and there are some superb spectator vantage points on the sides of the hills through which the circuit runs.
The morning has started with clear blue skies, but before the warm-up half-hour begins some ominous clouds have appeared, but the rain keeps away and the cool atmosphere is absolutely ideal for racing. There is little doubt that Ferrari uses special tweaked-up engines for practice and qualifying and they often blow apart, whereas their race engines are models of reliability, and there is an air of confidence about the team. BMW knows they have got the red cars on the run and Piquet and Patrese are completely confident in Gordon Murray’s sleek Brabhams, the Brazilian out to win yet again on this circuit that he likes and the Italian out to win on his home ground even though he would be labelled a traitor if he does so. The Renault team has had so few problems in practice, apart from not being fast enough, that they are not over-confident for the race. Alfa Romeo are thrown into a panic during the warm-up when de Cesaris has the throttle pedal stick down and skates off the road on the uphill Acqua-Minerale corner and rolls the car upside down onto the wall of old tyres. This is the spare car, and it is only damaged superficially so it is dusted down and repaired in time for the race. The ATS team has intended to race their new car but the fuel tank sprung a leak so they are kept hard at work fettling-up the old car for Winkelhock. The Toleman team are still in trouble for Warwick’s twin-plug engine is still having electrical trouble due to a fault somewhere in the chassis installation, so he is going to have to race the spare car. On the previous afternoon this car has broke its differential output shaft after one flying lap so Giacomelli do not get a drive, but even so he has qualified comfortably with his Friday time. The new Osella-Alfa Romeo V12 is too new to even qualify, but Fabi Junior has qualified the Cosworth DFV powered car.
Piquet feels his BMW go off- song and the Brabham is snatched away to have a new engine installed, while he goes out in the spare car and before the end of the half-hour Prost’s Renault dies on him with the injection pump seized up, but a new one is soon fitted when the car is towed back to the pits. With the first five rows of the grid occupied by turbocharged 1½-litre engined cars, two Ferrari, two Brabhams, two Renaults, two Alfa Romeos, and one each from Lotus and ATS, the Cosworth brigade are wondering why they are there. With 120-degree V6 from Ferrari, 4-cylinder from BMW, 90-degree V6 from Renault and 90-degree V8 from Alfa Romeo there is more than enough technical interest for most people, and by mid-season they should be joined by 80-degree V6 engines from Porsche and Honda. There are small Formula car races and saloon car races to keep the enormous crowd amused, but in reality they are happy enough with their wine and picnics in the pleasant countryside, waiting with anticipation for the sort of race that Saturday’s qualifying has suggested. They are not to be disappointed. At 2:00 p.m. the pit lane is opened and you do not have to look to know that a Ferrari has accelerated away, the noise from the crowd tells you that, nor do you have to look to see that it was Rosberg on his way with the Williams, the whistles and cat-calls tell you that. Italy hasn’t forgiven him for punting Tambay’s Ferrari out of the lead of the Long Beach race. Afraid that somebody might have an unfair advantage everyone who is in with a chance, and some that aren’t, are planning pit stops for petrol and tyres, Ferrari, Brabham, Williams, Renault, Lotus, Alfa Romeo and Ligier all being geared up for stops, starting the race on soft sticky tyres and with only 25-27 gallons in the tank instead of the maximum permitted 55 gallons. In consequence of this the pit lane is kept commendably clear of unnecessary people, including some sponsorship people who seem to think they own Formula One.
After the clouds of midday the sun has returned, but not with unbearable heat so all is set for a good race, but not for everyone. As the cars complete their warm-up lap and assemble on the grid a plume of smoke is seen heading for the pit-lane and under it is the Lotus 93T/1 of Elio de Angelis, the Renault engine has devoured a turbocharger before the race has started, as it has done in Brazil. The Lotus mechanics hurriedly wheel the spare car 93T/2 onto the grid and a dejected de Angelis transfers himself to it. As it is not fitted with a large quick-action petrol filler the idea of a rapid pit-stop has to be abandoned on the spot. Away they all go on their parade lap, following Arnoux’s red Ferrari, while the crowds cheer and wave. While the two Ferrari drivers know who is being cheered some of the other drivers must have been thinking that they would put a stop to the cheering if they possibly could. One of these is Nelson Piquet, in second position on the grid. All twenty-six cars arrived back in formation and line up in staggered pairs, the Alfa Romro GTV fire cars and the doctor’s 400i Ferrari are in place at the back of the grid. The red lights come on, then the green and with a roar twenty-five cars shoot forward, the twenty-sixth stall. It was Nelson Piquet’s Brabham-BMW on the front row on the right and as he crouch down in the cockpit waiting for a repeat of the ghastly accident at Montreal last year, everyone miraculously avoid the stationary car, and each other. After everyone have gone the start-line marshals push-start the Brabham and with the BMW engine giving the rev-limiter a hard time Piquet takes off in a cloud of smoke from spinning rear wheels. It is joy day for Italy all round the first lap with Arnoux leading from Tambay, Ferrari first and second, and again on the next lap, with Patrese, ProSt and de Cesaris following. Cries of derision greet the sight of Cheever’s Renault heading slowly into the pits with smoke pouring from one of the exhaust pipes.
A turbocharger has destroyed itself and Cheever is out on only his second lap. Cecotto has also stopped on the second lap to have his visor cleaned as he has collected a lot of oil from Cheever’s ailing Renault and that done he rejoins the race. There is every chance that we are in for a goodly bout of tigering from Piquet as he makes up for his muffed start, but it is not to be for he has taken the fine edge off his engine as he over-rev once he gets going, possibly damaging a valve seat or valve tip, but whatever it is he can barely match the pace of the leaders let alone make up any ground on them. On lap three the crowd becomes a bit subdued for Patrese has overtaken Tambay’s Ferrari, and on lap six there is a stony silence round the circuit for the Brabham-BMW driver overtakes Arnoux’s Ferrari and is leading the race! You would expect the Italians to cheer an Italian driver in the lead of a race in Italy, but to the 100.000 and more at Imola Patrese is a traitor, driving a foreign car and actually leading the Ferraris. In Italy drivers are relatively unimportant, it is the cars that count, and the red ones in particular. Almost unnoticed Guerrero and Sullivan have had a coming-together, leaving the Colombian driver’s Theodore flange along the guard rail and the American’s Tyrrell still in the race. Alboreto comes to rest in the hills in the other Tyrrell with a broken gearbox and a lap later Lauda joins him with the front of his McLaren smashed up, having made a mistake at the chicane on the highest point of the circuit, and on the same lap Cecotto slides off the track into retirement. The race has barely started and five cars are out. There isn’t much enthusiasm for watching Patrese lead the race and no doubt there are many spectators putting the evil-eye on him as he goes by in a safe and secure lead.
Arnoux is keeping the blue and white Brabham in sight, but he is not menacing it, and Tambay is dropping back a little but is firmly ahead of Prost. Then came de Cesaris (Alfa Romeo) all on his own and already a long way back comes World Champion Rosberg in his Williams, driving his heart out as always, passing Baldi’s turbocharged Alfa Romeo and Winkelhock’s turbocharged BMW-powered ATS that is proving to be a bit of a handful, having been hastily built up during the lunch hour. There do not seem to be any solution to this unsatisfactory state of affairs, but as all the front runners are planning to stop for more petrol and new tyres all is not lost for the huge crowd. Arnoux is the first to stop, at the end of lap 20 or exactly one third distance and he is away in 16 sec., but it has dropped him down to fifth place and given Patrese an even bigger lead. Piquet in the other dart- shaped Brabham-BMW is still working his way through the field, but not at an exciting rate and is now in eighth place, behind de Angelis in the Lotus-Renault. While Arnoux is regaining his pace Giacomelli retires his Toleman when a badly fitted bolt in the left rear suspension sheares and about the same time Corrado Fabi spans off the road and out of the race. All round the circuit the corners are becoming covered with rubber chips off the tyres, mixed with road surface chippings in places, and any inattention on the part of a driver, or misjudgement, can put a car onto these “marbles” and then all would be lost. In the time towards half distance not very much happens at the front of the field and Patrese holds an untroubled lead from Tambay, Prost, de Cesaris, Arnoux, Rosberg, Piquet, de Angelis, Baldi, Laffite, Watson and Mansell, all spread out with the only excitement being a little scrap between Watson and Mansell before they are lapped by the leader.
At the end of lap 27 Prost peels off into the pit lane, followed by de Cesaris, and the Renault team gets their man back in the race in 16.4 sec. but the Alfa Romeo team takes much longer as their driver overshot his pit and has to reverse back. These stops naturally let Arnoux by up into third place but Prost rejoins before Rosberg appears, so the order now is Patrese, Tambay, Arnoux, Prost, Rosberg, de Cesaris, Piquet, de Angelis, Baldi, and Laffite, the rest now being a lap behind. On lap 30 Rosberg is in and out of the pits with more petrol and new tyres in 14.1 sec., but even so Piquet and de Cesaris go by while he is stationary and on lap 32 Tambay is into the pits. Petrol went in, the four wheels are changed and he is away in 15 sec. without losing his second place. On lap 34 it is Patrese’s turn to stop and he misjudged his braking and overshoots by about three feet which is not serious enough to justify reversing but it means that the 11 mechanics who are poised and ready for action have to move their positions. It still isn’t serious, but then one of the air-lines to the pneumatic wheel hammers is stretched and pulls off its connection and though the Brabham mechanics recover the situation very quickly 23.30 sec. has elapsed before the car is away. This has let Tarnbay go by into the lead and joy breaks out again all round the circuit. All eyes are on Brabham number six to see if it is gaining on Ferrari number 27, and almost unnoticed Piquet makes his scheduled pit stop in an incredible 11.2 sec. but even so it lets de Cesaris by into fifth place. Laffite has made his stop in 14.0 sec. and now the second half of the race is being run. While all the excitement of the pit stops have been taking place Warwick has got off line at the Rivazza corners at the bottom of the hill on the back of the circuit and has skated off into the tyre barriers, and ten laps later Sullivan does the same thing and his Tyrrell destroys the back end of the crashed Toleman.
Jarier has retired his Ligier with an overheated Cosworth engine when a stone punctures a radiator and lest all the water out and de Angelis withdraws after a stop to try another set of Pirellis. On lap 42 a sad Piquet comes slowly into the pits his BMW engine broken and de Cesaris goes out when his Alfa Romeo V8 expires. At the front of the race Patrese is giving it all he knows and is catching the leading Ferrari slowly but surely, and though Tambay responds he cannot match the Brabham lap times for his engine is beginning to misfire on left-hand bends as if there is a fuel pick-up problem being aggravated by centrifugal force in one direction only. Although everyone is urging him on the Brabham is closing relentlessly and for three laps they are nose to tail. Then the Brabham is alongside as they disappear round the very fast left-hand curve after the pits to start lap 55 and with the Ferrari engine misfiring at peak r.p.m. Tambay has to resign himself to watching the BMW M-Power car go by into the lead. Another stony silence falls over the entire circuit. Round the Tosa hairpin the Ferrari loses ground; it is all over and Tambay resigns himself to second place for team-mate Arnoux is a distant third, never having got back into his stride after his pit stop, and Prost is an even more distant fourth struggling along with an engine that has lost its sharp edge and a gearbox that is reluctant to engage fourth gear. Everyone else has been lapped by the leaders, even World Champion Rosberg who is still driving his heart out in the uncompetitive Williams-Cosworth DFV. Suddenly a cheer goes up that Enzo Ferrari must hear in Maranello.
Patrese has crashed, unhurt but the Brabham is a smoking wreck against the tyre barrier on the outside of the Acqua Minerale corner. Only three corners after taking the lead Patrese has gone a fraction too fast through the chicane at the bottom of the hill, the tail has flicked right, he catches it but it has then flicked left, he catches it again but this puts him off line for the uphill right-hander of Aqua Minerale and he gets on the marbles and under-steered off into the tyre wall and it is all over. While marshals are running to the crashed Brabham and yellow flags are waving Arnoux arrives, gets off line and spans off onto the grass. He keeps the Ferrari engine running, rolls down the hill on the grass and rejoins the race, but not before Prost has gone by into his third place and Tambay has re-appeared to put him a lap behind. While the crowd waves and cheers and fete Patrick Tambay all round the circuit on his last five laps there is a lot of drama behind him. The four-tier rear aerofoil on the Lotus 92 of Nigel Mansell suddenly breaks off and sends the car into a series of spins on the fastest part of the circuit and he is lucky to escape unhurt when it crashes into the barriers. Mauro Baldi’s Alfa Romeo engine blows up and Winkelhock’s BMW engine expires just as he starts his fifty-eighth lap. An expectant crowd waits at the pits and start line area for the arrival of the winner but he never appears! Arnoux arrives, Prost arrives, Rosberg arrives and the tail-enders trickle in but no #27. The Ferrari has died half-way round on the slowing down lap, apparently out of petrol and eventually Tambay is brought round in one of the Alfa Romeo course cars and takes his place on the winner’s rostrum with Prost and Arnoux and the rejoicing begins.
Maria Ginevra Ferretti