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#333 1980 Belgian Grand Prix

2022-08-24 00:00

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#333 1980 Belgian Grand Prix

The race organisers have promised to have a medical helicopter on stand-by throughout official practice, to transport any injured driver to hospital i

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The race organisers have promised to have a medical helicopter on stand-by throughout official practice, to transport any injured driver to hospital in Bruxelles or Antwerp. The Zolder circuit is a bit out in the wilds and direct transport to a major hospital by helicopter seems a good idea. By 11:00 a.m. there is no sign of the helicopter so everyone agrees to wait until it arrives. And this proves to be well after 11:00 a.m. and it is 11:15 a.m. before the first car goes out on the track, so that the whole day’s proceedings runs late, but it doesn't seem to cause any problems. There are some changes on the driver front, but not among the front runners; Alain Prost is fit again and takes his place in the McLaren team, and Timothy Needell at last gets the chance he was waiting for, when he gets the offer to drive for Ensign. The offer has been made to young Mika Thackwell, with the proviso that he signed for 1981 as well, but he turned it down, not wanting to commit himself so early in his career. Brian Hem was also made an offer, but he too turned it down. Elio de Angelis is fit enough after hurting his foot at Long Beach and everyone else is in good form. Geoff Lees is driving the new Shadow 0N12 for the newly re-organised team, the cars now painted white, and Alfa Romeo are letting Giacomelli do some test running on the experimental Alfa Romeo with the new and smaller V12 engine. As always, brakes are of great importance on this circuit, not so much from hard usage, but consistent on-off, giving little enough time for pads and discs to cool down between applications. Some of the Goodyear supported teams are trying new 15" diameter front tyres, the aim being to achieve a better and more stable wear compared to the 13" tyres. In the paddock a brand new ATS is finished off and also a brand new Ensign. The Brabham team has a ncw car standing by in reserve, and Zunino’s car is using the Weismann gearbox and revised rear suspension.

 

A number of drivers give their spare cars a run during this untimed session, either to try some modification or because of trouble with their number one car. Among these are Jones (Williams), Depailler (Alfa Romeo), Watson (McLaren), Laffite (Ligier) and Mass (Arrows). Just before practice ends Cheever crashes the Osella, escaping unhurt but damaging the suspension pretty severely. It has been warm and dry, but very windy, all morning and it stays that way for the afternoon timed session. Watson is still in the spare McLaren as his own car has run very hot during the morning and is undergoing an engine change. Mass is still in the spare Arrows and Zunino is using the new Brabham, BT49/7 as the Weismann gearbox is being looked at. The new FISA rules about tyres, banning soft qualifying tyres, and restricting choice to two types, involve lots of extra marshals as tyre-scrutineers and the marking of all tyres, according to the driver’s choice and then a check on the markings before each car leaves the pit lane. A jolly little comedy that will probably stick out before the end of the season. From the testing form it looks as though 1'20"0 is going to be the lap time to aim for in order to be somewhere near the front of the grid, and the Ligers, the Williams, the Renaults and the Brabhams, are soon getting down near this mark, while others are five seconds and more off the pace. The first driver to break 1'20"0 is Didier Pisani and hardly has he done it that Arnoux is also under the bogey time with his Renault. Reutemann comes in with ominous smoke issuing from the engine breather, a sign that the Cosworth V8 is about to blow-up, so his car is wheeled away and he takes the spare Williams. While he is getting into the rhythm again Jones is in trouble, for his engine stops as if running short of fuel, though there are still three gallons in the tank. He zig-zags about as the car slows, hoping to get the fuel system to pick-up again, but nothing happens and the use comes to rest.

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It later transpired that the fault lay in the ignition distributor where the rotor arm was breaking up, but this was not discovered midi after the whole fuel system had been taken apart, inspected and found to be in perfect condition! He walks back to the pits only to find that Reutemann is out in the spare car! In fact the Argentinian has just set off with everything ready for some good laps and Frank Williams enquires of the engineer in charge of Reutemann: Is he going for a good hard run? When he gets the reply Yes. he replies: OK, five laps, and I want the car back. Meanwhile Jones is kicking his heels at the pit wall and time is ticking away. The pace is getting quite furious up at the front, for Laffite is up with his Ligier team-mate, out ahead of Arnoux. and Jabouille has joined the select under 1'20"0 group, with an identical time to Arnoux. Reutemann’s good hard run in the spare Williams results in a best lap of 1'19"79, neatly splitting the two Ligers from the two Renaults and then he comes in. Jonesey-boy responds with a lap in 1'19"12, to snatch pole-position from the Ligiers right in the last minutes of practice. There is only one thing the French cab say, and they said it: Merde, alors. Piquet doesn't quite make the 1'20"0 barrier and behind him the gaps are spread fairly widely. Elio de Angelis is a lot quicker than Andrerii, and really trying hard, and Rosberg is much quicker than Fittipaldi. The Shadows, new and old, are pretty hopeless, the Ferraris are nowhere, Needell has just scraped into the select twenty-four and Cheever has not practiced at all as the Osella is still being repaired and there is no spare car. On Saturday morning everyone is ready on time except the weather man, for it is pouring with rain at 10 a.m. The Zolder circuit in glorious warm sunshine is just about tolerable, but in the rain and gloom it is awful. For a while all the cars remain under waterproof covers and the drivers sit around in their motor-homes. The first one to brave the elements is Jan Lammers in the yellow ATS and he trashes round on his own in a big ball of spray.

 

After a while Piquet joins him and then Reutemann, followed by Jones and Prost and eventually nearly everyone goes out. There are two incentives, one being the weather forecasters who are predicting continual rain for the next two days, and the other the introduction of new Goodyear wet-weather tyres, which everyone is interested to try. The normal wet-weather tyre has a deep tread pattern to squeeze the water out, which means a large volume of rubber across the width and while the track is flooded everything is alright, but as the track dries the shoulder of the tyres heats up and there is a limit to how long you can run a treaded tyre at high speed on a drying track. The new Goodyear rain tyres have a tread formation that is deep in the middle of the tyre width and gets progressively shallower towards the outer edges, thus reducing the volume of rubber on the shoulders and reducing the heat build-up. They seem to work well and everyone is pretty happy with them. Goodyear’s Leo Mehl says: I’m delighted. Geez, I thought we were going to car this non design about all season without ever getting a chance to try it. The rain continues on into the afternoon so that practice as far as the grid positions are concerned is pointless, Friday’s times are the ones that count. This means that Cheever has no hope of qualifying with the repaired Osella and the Shadow team withdraw as they haven't qualified on Friday afternoon. Zunino, Mass and Reutemann haven't practiced, Arnoux has tried the spare Renault with the power-assisted brakes. Daly and Watson press on regardless in the wet, and Daly spins off. Jones is out in the spare Williams and the Brabham wam packs up early as the times being recorded are of no consequence. The whole scene is running ten seconds slower than the day before and the only thing gain is knowledge of what the track is like in the rain, in case the weather forecasters are right about Sunday’s weather. Before the timed hour ends the rain has stopped and there are signs of the track drying, but not sufficiently to affect anyone’s grid position, so the whole thing is decided on Friday’s practice.

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Fortunately the weatherman was wrong and Sunday is fine and dry though a cold wind is blowing all the time. The half-hour warm-up period before lunch is well used by everyone, Piquet trying his own car and the spare Brabham in quick succession, the spare car having different suspension settings to his own car. He decides to race his own car, 8149/6. Andretti is sticking with the spare Lotus, which is 81/1 in long-wheelbase form like that of de Angelis. The American has started practice on Friday with 81/2 in short-wheelbase form, but soon decided he didn't like it, but is not much happier with the spare car. Depailler’s Alfa Romeo has developed a persistent misfire which could not be traced so the spare car has been made ready for him. The engine in Laffite’s Ligier has blown-up and there has been a mad panic to change it, which has been done in 1 hour 20 mint. He doesn't take the spare car as the side-pods and skirts are different and he doesn't like the handling as much as his own car. Removal of nose fins is the order of the day for most teams and Brabham, Lotus, Williams, Ligier, Fittipaldi, Tyrrell and ATS have all removed them. Zunino is all set to give the new Weismann gearbox its first race and Needell is ready to make his Grand Prix debut. When the cars begin to line up to leave the pit, to be driven round to the start the spare Alfa Romeo is still being worked on, but Depailler is at the head of the queue in 179/03. He shoots off on the warm-up lap and returns down the pit lane, hoppes out and into the now-ready T-car 179/01, and quickly rounds the circuit again to join the starting grid. The start is due at 3:00 p.m. and shortly before this Jones led the field away on a parade lap, all 24 cars being ready for the 72-lap race.

 

Back on the grid they all stop, the red light is switched on, revs rose, clutches begin to bite and as the green light glows Pironi makes a super start and beats Jones away, leading the Williams comfortably down to the first left-hand corner. Laffite is right behind Jones, with Reutemann following. The middle of the grid has to indulge in some pretty desperate dodging because Jabouille’s Renault clutch has failed and he is creeping along with an arm raised. In the melee on the rather narrow track Andretti has to swerve to the right and this forces Giacomelli over into the pit wall, but everyone go, away. At the end of the opening lap Jones is the meat in a Ligier sandwich, with Pironi first in the lead. As the pack brakes heavily for the left-hander to start lap 2, the golden Arrows of Mass suddenly spins off into the catch-fences without collecting anyone, and meanwhile Jabouille creeps into the pits to retire. One lap gone and two cars out is not a good start. During the next lap, the Ligiers and the leading Williams pull out a small lead over Reutemann, who has Arno, (Renault), Piquet (Brabham), Jarier (Tyrrell), de Angelis (Lotus) and Villeneuve (Ferrari, hard on his heels. Zunino, NeedeII and Fittipaldi are bringing up the rear, with Giacomelli falling back among them, convinced that his Alfa is bad after its contact with the pit-wall. By lap 5 a pattern has developed, with Pironi, Jones and Laffite pulling away steadily and the leader actually getting away from the other two. Then Reutemann, Arnoux, Piquet, Tarter, de Angelis and Villeneuve. with a gap to the use bunch led by Lammers in the ATS, ahead of Scheckter, Daly, Depailler, Andretti, Patrese and Watson, with Prost, Rosberg, Giacomelli, Needell and Fittipaldi bringing up the rear, the total now being twenty-one cars, as Zunino has retired the experimental Brabham.

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Already the race has settled into a high-speed procession, the only changes at all likely being those occasioned by pit stops or trouble. Pironi is pulling steadily away, looking extremely confident, though Jones is driving as hard as he knows how. At Its laps the Frenchman has 4 seconds lead over the Australian, and it is increasing all the time, while Laffite is just hanging on to Williams. Reutemann, Arnoux, Piquet and Jarier are still tight together, the Tyrrell driver excelling himself and these four are pulling away from de Angelis and Villeneuve, while Jan Lammers is covering himself with glory by staying ahead of World Champion Scheckter and not giving way to some pretty heavy pressure from the Ferrari driver. Andretti is about to be passed by Patrese and John Watson has gone into the pits to have his brakes looked at. Prost is also lacking brakes on his McLaren, but keeps going. During the next ten laps we loose Giacomelli, who retires his Alfa Romeo when he spins off the track, blaming damaged suspension sustained in the start-line melee, Needell when the Ensign engine failed and Fittipaldi, whose yellow car lust died on him out on the circuit with what seems to be electrical failure. On lap 17 Arnoux has a big spin at the Bianchi-corner, but gathers it all up and keeps going, and dropps from fifth place to tenth place, just behind Lammers and ahead of Andretti. This damages the left-hand side-skirt, which affects the handling a bit, but it does not stop Arnoux getting on with his race. Lammers is now having trouble changing gear and he ends up finding only second and fifth gears and has to cane the engine to keep going with only two speeds. Arnoux and Andretti soon pass the ATS and it rapidly dropps back, but is still well ahead of the Arrows of Patrese which ia leading the also-rans, having clambered past one or two of the slower cars, while the brake-less Prost has dropped to the back of the field, and eventually retired when his transmission has broken.

 

For a brief moment it looks as though Pironi may have used up his tyres or brakes, for Jones has gained on him for a lap or two, but it doesn't last and there is obviously nothing wrong with the leading Ligier or the driver. However, there is something wrong with his team-mate’s car as Laffite is finding his brakes becoming less effective and is losing ground on Jones. Around this tune Villeneuve gets past de Angelis but the Ferrari is not doing justice to the French-Canadian’s driving ability. Depailler in the remaining Alfa Romeo is not having a very good race and is forced into the pits with a puncture on lap 22. Pironi ia now beginning to lap the tail-enders, one of whom is a very miserable Andretti. The other Lotus is still hanging on to Villeneuve’s Ferrari, basso lap 27 de Angelis gets very sideways and very nearly spins. In mid-field Reutemann, Piquet and Jarier are still keeping station on each other but the Brabham is wearing out its front tyres and to try and ease the strain Piquet alters the fore-and-aft braking ratio with his cockpit manual control. On lap 33 this catch him out as he brakes for her first corner, the rear wheels locked. The can goes sideways and slides into the catch-fences not far from the derelict Arrows which have crashed them on the second lap. The Brazilian walks back to the pits furious with himself for his own stupidity. This leaves Reutemann with no pressure on him, for Lee is not close enough to worry about, but third place for the Argentinian is almost a certainty for Laffite’s Ligier is slowing visibly and inevitably beheads for the pits after 40 laps. The brakes bleed and he comes storming out again, but he has lost nearly two laps.

 

Pironi is steadily lapping everyone, driving very consistently and not being troubled by back-markers. Jones is still pressing on as hard as he can and losing no time as he laps slower cars, driving down the inside of Andretti at one ‘ point and shaking his fist at him for not getting out of his way properly. Depailler and Andretti disappear almost unnoticed but Arnoux now begins to go really hard and moves up ahead of de Angelis and closes up on Villeneuve and they have a blood battle for few laps, but eventually the Renault gets by and pull away, the Frenchman setting his sights on Jarier blue Tyrrell now. Scheckter has run out of brake and is dropping back to be lapped yet again by Pironi and Lammers has his engine blown-up as he passes the pits standing lap 65 while Patrese has spun off in a cloud of dust. In the closing laps there is a flurry of excitement for Arnoux is right up behind Jarier and de Angelis is trying to pass Villeneuve. With two laps to go the Lotus driver gets his front just too close to the Ferrari as they brake for the chicane before the pits and runs up over a rear wheel, gets all sideways and goes off the road. Pironi has lapped everyone except Jones and Reutemann and as he completes his final lap Arnoux is outbraking Jarier as they go into the chicane on the back straight, to snatch fourth place as they finish one lap behind the winner. Pironi has driven a hard, faultless race, leading from start to finish and never putting a wheel wrong, while Jones has never given up, pressing as hard as he could all the way, but tons avail, though it is a worthy second place. Reutemann trails home in third place, almost a lap behind the winner, the rest are in a different race.

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Nicole Masi

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