With a four-week break since the British Grand Prix the 1980 season seems to be starting all over again and this feeling is magnified upon entering the vast concrete stadium of the Hockenheimring early on Friday morning to find everything comparatively still and quiet and the vast tiers of grandstand seats empty and deserted. The whole scene is one of greyness, not unproved by the knowledge that Patrick Depailler had been killed while testing on the circuit the week before. The one-man Alfa Romeo team has an unhappy grey atmosphere over them. If there is not an uneasy atmosphere of guilt hanging over some parts of the Arrows team. The Williams team are counting themselves lucky they have not lost their number one driver in an almighty testing accident at Donington Park, the only damage being a sore wrist for their rugged Australian driver, Alan Jones, and a written-off test car. The Ferrari team are looking for a new driver for 1981 since Scheckter has announced he is giving up racing at the end of the season, and they are hoping he will give them good service for the remainder of his contract. Renault has got to the bottom of their piston failures, and are hoping for good results on the fast ring, and Ligier has convinced everyone that their tyre troubles at Brands Hatch have been caused by new wheels and that the problem has been solved. This unreal atmosphere is broken by the bark of the first Cosworth V8 being started up, followed by the flat-sounding turbocharged Renaults, the harsh bark of the Alfa Romeo V12 and the sound of the Ferraris. Instantly all is well with the world and the morning test-session is about to get under way. There are one or two changes in the familiar scene, Hector Rebaque is still replacing Ricardo Zunino on Bernie Ecclestone’s paying roll, and has been given the B-spec car with the Weismann gearbox.
Alain Prost has a new McLaren M29C, Harald Ertl is driving the second ATS, the Lotus mechanics were making an 81B out in the paddock, Renault had made a new car for Arnoux, Fittipaldi has the second of their new cars for Rosberg, the Williams team has a new car for Alan Jones, his regular one being moved away to replace the wrecked test-car, and Rupert Keegan has joined the list of hopefuls with an ex-works Williams. On the Goodyear tyre front everyone is on 15" diameter front tyres and some new narrower rear tyres are being used in view of the high-speed characteristics of the Hockenheimring, these new tyres presenting a lot less frontal area without loss of cornering power. Michelin are doing their best with Renault and Ferrari and hoping they have made up some of the leeway lost recently, making it pretty clear that they have enough problems to solve without worrying about FOCA/FISA suggestions as to what they should do about tyres for the future. The weather is very grey and cloudy and there are a few ominous rain spots as the first cars set off. It is not long before Watson is seen walking in from one end of the pits and Rosberg from the other. Watson’s trouble is terminal, his Cosworth V8 has blown-up in a big way. Rosberg is soon back in the car again, with the help of his mechanics to restart his engine. While Piquet’s mechanics change the brake master cylinders on his Brabham he goes out in the spare car, but Ertl has to wait while the ATS mechanics sort out injection problems. Andretti soon swaps from his new spec. Lotus 81/2 to his old spec. Lotus 81/1 and before the session ends the rain begins. Jarier goes off in a big way and crumples the monocoque of his Tyrrell 010/4 and the Tyrrell mechanics start making a pew car out in the paddock. Before the one hour session of timed practice begins at 1:00 p.m. the rain is beginning to fall and the great concrete stadium presents a foreboding atmosphere.
Many of the teams send their drivers out on slick tyres in the hope that the rain will stop, but instead it gets worse and within 20 minutes it is bucketing down. As everyone has made re-adjustments for the narrower rear Goodyear dry-tyres, some of them are in trouble fitting wet weather tyres as they only comes in wide-tread form. A team like Williams who has been forewarned of having to accommodate narrow dry-tyres and wide wet-tyres has made provision with suitable wheels with different hub-offset. For a time while it is just pouring down a lot of drivers go on splashing round, and it is noticeable that the two Ferraris are suddenly well up the list, but when it really begins to pour down the whole practice session stops for want of visibility more than anything else. By 1:30 p.m. it begins to ease off and eventually the rain stops, but it is still very wet. The best lap times possible are about 15 sec slower than in the dry, and it is a contest to see if anyone can break two minutes. Arnoux comes very close, with 2'00"15 and Piquet isn’t far off with 2'01"71, but for the rest anything under 2'05"0 is exciting. At one point a burly Brabham mechanic strides through the water carrying what looks like an enormous rag-doll. It is Nelson Piquet being delivered to the dry ground to keep his racing boots dry. Following the morning troubles Jarier has taken over the spare Tyrrell and Watson has taken over the spare McLaren. Although practice is not significant should it subsequently prove to be dry, there is always the uneasy feeling that the wet weather could go on. On Saturday morning the skies are still grey and a short sharp shower of rain falls just before the 10:00 a.m. test-session begins, but the track soon dries and then everything is underway properly.
The ambiance in the great concrete stadium changs completely, for many of the stands fill up with spectators and a pretty sizable crowd turn up to watch. The existing lap record of 1'51"89 set up in last year’s race by Villeneuve (Ferrari T4) is almost instantly beaten and it is soon obvious that if you can’t beat it you will not even qualify for this year’s race. The front runners have last year’s pole-position time to aim at which was 1'48"48 set up by Jabouille with the Renault. Everyone is getting into the swing of things, some more than others, and Rosberg spins off and damages the skirts on his new Fittipaldi, while Watson grounds to a halt with electrical trouble and has to take over the spare McLaren again. Villeneuve is in the spare Ferrari as his own car sprang a fuel leak in its rubber-bag fuel tank and Pironi has taken over the spare Ligier when his own car had engine trouble. Piquet’s car had the clutch go wrong and he has transferred to the spare car but Rebaque seems to be getting on all right with the Weismann gearbox. The usual fast drivers like Pironi, Piquet, Laffite, Arnoux and Jones are all down into the 1'47"0 bracket, but Reutemann is far from happy with the handling of his Williams. As it is all unofficial and the times being recorded does not count for the starting grid everyone is fairly relaxed and unworried, providing they are in this 1'47"0 group, but shortly before the test-session ends there is a flurry in the hen-coop! Pironi (Ligier) is fastest with 1'47"01, when Alan Jones comes in and steps straight out of Williams FW07B/9 into the waiting spare car FW07B/5 which is set up with the best of everything, including removal of all the drag-producing brake air-ducts. Jones goes straight out and does three flying laps in the 1'46"0 bracket, ending up with 1'46"02.
Although it doesn't count for the starting grid it is real enough and the Williams team has shown their hand. It makes the Renault, Ligier and Brabham timekeepers sit up and take notice. Right at the end of the test-session de Angelis has a rear wheel centre break and suffers an almighty series of spins in consequence, but escapes unscathed. By 1:00 p.m. when the official timed session begins, with everything hanging on it to decide grid positions due to yesterday’s rain, the weather is warm and sultry and gives the impression that if the cloud bank is to break there will be a heat-wave, and if it doesn’t there could be a thunderstorm. As it turns out everything holds fast. Piquet is in the spare Brabham, Villeneuve is back in his own Ferrari, the Lotus of de Angelis has been repaired, Arnoux is in the new Renault but Jones is still in the very fast spare Williams, much to everyone else’s consternation. During the morning the Renaults have been testing with full fuel tanks, but now they are set up for a five-lap dash and after only seven minutes Jabouille has shattered Jones’ morning time with a lap in 1'45"99, but the Williams driver responds almost immediately with a 1'45"90. After a short pause Jabouille goes out again and does 1'45"89 and the heat is really on. Arnoux can’t match these times, nor can the Ligier drivers, while Reutemann is being left behind, but Piquet is up with the Ligiers. Clearly Reutemann’s car just will not go any faster so he is called in and given Alan Jones’ race-car, the new one, and the Argentinian promptly gets in among the Ligiers and the Brabham. With 20 minutes left Jones is out again and retakes pole position with 1'45"85, to which Jabouille and the Renault have no answer.
Arnoux sticks at exactly 1'46"00, which gives him third overall and Reutemann runs him close with 1'46"14 and the rest are in a different sphere. Rosberg has done a courageous job and is eighth fastest overall, but even so is nearly two seconds slower than Jones, and Andretti in ninth place, with the Lotus 81, looks encouraging for Team Lotus until you realize he is nearly three seconds slower than Jones. It is now all over, but pole-position man has come to a stop out on the circuit in a shower of engine oil from a vast leak in the left-hand side-pod where the oil radiator is located, but it is not too serious. Thus the grid is settled within the space of one hour and reactions are very varied; the Williams team are quietly confident, the Renault team are satisfied but apprehensive, for Arnoux’s engine has broken a valve spring and it isn’t the first one during the two days, while the Ligier team are a bit nonplussed at not being up the front. Brabhams are very happy with their Brazilian ace and satisfied that the Weismann gearbox in the second car is still performing satisfactorily, Fittipaldi is delighted to see one of his cars so far up the grid and his own is well up too. Villeneuve has done the best he could, as always, but Scheckter is hoping not too many people will notice that Giacomelli with the Alfa Romeo is ahead of him. Ensign and Unipart breathe a sigh of relief that Lammers has scraped their car into last place and Tyrrell’s hopes for better things are not fulfilled, with his two drivers at the back of the grid. Keegan has failed miserably and Ertl has openly admitted that Formula One speeds are now way beyond his capabilities and he has been foolish to imagine he could qualify for the grid.
By Sunday any signs of rain has disappeared, which is just as well as four of the teams have been properly equipped to make a sudden change from 16" wide dry tyres to 21" wide wet tyres, though Patrick Head of the Williams team smiles and says they will be all right. Some teams are visualising having to hack the bodywork with tin-snips during the tyre change, if it suddenly rains. At 11:00 a.m. it's getting very hot and stuffy and there seems to be no air in the stadium, for any that has been there has been quickly absorbed by the 85.000 spectators in the concrete grandstands. In the 30 minute warm-up Daly has been trying the new Tyrrell that has been built in the paddock, Piquet has been settling to race the spare Brabham, Reutemann is in the spare Williams, as Jones is back in his own car, Surer has Ertl’s ATS as a stand-by, Andretti is in the oldest Lotus 81, Pironi is back in his own Ligier and Laffite is using the spare Ligier. It has been only a 30 minute warm-up but a lot has happened. Jarier’s engine has blown up and the hard-worked Tyrrell mechanics have got stuck in to do a lightning engine change on 010/1. Reutemann has had a small fire break out on the spare Williams, the Osella has broken its rear suspension and Arnoux’s Renault has been in trouble with a side-skirt and the gearbox has been taken apart as well. With the start due at 2:00 p.m. there is some feverish work going on during what would normally be a lunch break. The Osella has been repaired, the Renault has been put right and the rear engine has been put into the Tyrrell all right, but in the Williams camp the drama continues. The fire has been caused by a leaking petrol union and luckily Reutemann has stopped smartly out on the circuit, undid the engine cover with his penknife and directed the fire-fighters who were using inert gas extinguishers and not foam, so very little damage has been done. The repair has been effected but it has taken a long time as it was very inaccessible.
Meanwhile Reutemann’s own car, number 5, has been race-prepared but the Argentinian hoped the spare car, number 8, would be ready as he was so much happier with its handling. The minutes are ticking by and when the job is finished the air-line to the starter is plugged in and then the starter pinion refuses to engage. More frantic work with screwdrivers, WD40, long steel bars and finally the engine has fired and Reutemann has prepared to get in, but then a plug cuts-out. This is changed and once more the starter pinion refuses to engage. It is now time for the cars to leave the pit lane on their way round to the starting grid. A final decision has to be made; one more try, if it fires Reutemann will take it, if it doesn't he’ll take number 5. The air bottle hisses, the pinion doesn't go in so that is it, everyone drops their tools and rushes over to the pit lane and Reutemann is strapped into number 5 car. This hasn't been the only drama. In the ATS pit Surer was preparing to go off in the ATS D4/03 when one of the mechanics felt the rock in the rear wheel bearings, as a matter of course, and one was too floppy. It was too late to do anything about it so Surer has been bundled into D4/02, which he has not driven and has little idea of what its characteristics are like, but it is Hobson’s Choice. By diving into the pit lane at the end of the lap instead of pulling up on the grid Watson and Reutemann sneak in an extra warm-up lap, and then all 24 starters are lined up correctly on the assembly grid, with the Williams of Alan Jones on pole-position on the right. He leads them away on the parade lap and everyone is nicely positioned back on the grid. The red light comes on, then the green and a fantastic roar heralds the start of the 45-lap race. Piquet is in trouble almost at once with a clutch that will not grip and both Arrows cars have the same trouble as they change into second. At the back of the grid Daly is also in the same trouble, made all the more embarrassing by his engine stalling.
The Brabham and the two Arrows creep away with their drivers nursing the power and praying, and Daly free-wheels as far as he dare before he lets the clutch in and catches the engine. It is Jabouille who leads the opening lap, with Alan Jones right on the Renault’s tail, Arnoux, Pironi, Laffite, Rosberg and Reutemann in hot pursuit. Poor Marc Surer is finding the spare ATS handled nothing like his own car, and Piquet, Mass, Daly and Patrese bring up the rear. All four now have their clutches gripping firmly and are changing gear without using the clutch, so are out to make up for lost time. Piquet fairly storms away and from 21st on the opening lap he flashes up to 11th by lap six, aided by Rosberg and Rebaque going into the pits. The Fittipaldi driver has led Reutemann briefly, but then comes round with his rear aerofoil broken off and spends a long time in the pits having another one fitted. Rebaque sees a spume of oil in his mirrors and stops promptly at the pits, which is just as well for a bearing seal on top of the vertical selector shaft in the Weismann gearbox has failed and the gearbox oil pressure is open to the winds. There is nothing that can be done so it is the end of the Mexican’s race. Jones is hounding Jabouille but the Renault team leader looks safe and sure in the lead and providing everything holds together it doesn't seem as if the Australian is going to improve his situation, but with Alan Jones you never know. He doesn’t just sit behind another car in a resigned fashion, his crafty brain is working away at the situation. They have pulled a slight lead out on Arnoux, who in turn is comfortably ahead of the Ligiers, if a few feet can be considered comfortable! Laffite has passed his team-mate and Reutemann is shadowing them, but not pressing them. These six are away on their own and the rest are being led by the incredible Villeneuve in seventh place from a 16th place starting position. Behind him comes de Angelis, Andretti, Fittipaldi and Piquet, who is still making up places, followed by Cheever, Watson, Giacomelli, Surer, Prost, Lammers and Jarier, with Mass closing up on them.
Bringing up the rear are Daly and Patrese. In the pit lane the Fittipaldi mechanics are still working on Rosberg’s car when to their dismay they see their team leader coming in with brake problems. Eventually both cars rejoin the race. On lap eight de Angelis gets by Villeneuve, but Piquet is catching both of them and the hard-driving Brazilian is soon past the Ferrari, and then past the Lotus, which puts him into seventh place, but while he has gobbled up the tail-enders and battled his way past the mid-field runners he is not gaining on the leading six cars so seventh place is all he is going to achieve, but it is an heroic effort nonetheless. At the front of the race nothing has changed, Jones is not giving up and Jabouille is not weakening, but Laffite has broken clear of Pironi and Reutemann and is pressing Arnoux hard, but with no hope of getting by. The scene is very tidy with Renault v Williams, then Renault v Ligier and then Ligier v Williams and it is difficult to see how the situation is going to resolve itself. There is some hard driving going on at the front and new lap records are being set regularly, first Reutemann, then Jabouille, then Jones, then Laffite, then Jabouille again. The pits are still busy for Villeneuve is in and out like a flash for another set of tyres and Fittipaldi is back in again, then Scheckter is in for tyres and Pironi appears going slowly at the end of lap 18. A drive-shaft has failed coming down the back straight and as Jabouille and the others go on the Ligier limps through the escape road at the entrance to the stadium and made its way to the pits to retire. This is the first chink in the armour. Reutemann doesn't profit from the space in front of him so we still have Jabouille and Jones, then Arnoux and Laffite and then a gap before Reutemann appears and a long gap before Piquet appears, with de Angelis in seventh position. Andretti is leading Watson, Giacomelli and Cheever, while Mass has worked his way up behind the Osella. Since his stop for new tyres Villeneuve has caught and passed Jarier and Surer, but Scheckter is way back, and is lapped by the leaders.
As Jabouille enters the stadium to end lap 27 the Williams is even closer, if that is possible, and as they start the twists and turns the Renault suddenly slows and Jabouille waves Jones by. Valve spring trouble has hit the V6 engine again and poor Jabouille limps into the pits to retire. As if that wasn’t bad enough for the Renault team, Arnoux fails to appear at the same time, his engine suffering the same fate at almost precisely the same time out on the circuit. This leaves Jones with a very comfortable lead over Laffite, who in turn is well ahead of Reutemann, while Piquet is now a secure fourth, which is well deserved after his determined driving in the opening stages. Villeneuve has already caught and passed Prost, and now passes Mass and is after Giacomelli, but the little Alfa Romeo driver has other ideas for Andretti is slowing ever so slightly and Watson passes him, so Giacomelli can see hopes of moving up a place, and every one counts. Scheckter has had a moment of glory when he has caught and passed Jan Lammers in the Ensign, so that he is no longer last. Giacomelli passes the ailing Andretti, who has been over the kerbs and severely damaged the left-hand skirt on the Lotus, and the Alfa Romeo is now in a spray of oil that is coming from the back of Watson’s McLaren. On lap 34 Giacomelli gets by the McLaren and into sixth place, while Watson begins to slow until the McLaren engine gives up on lap 40. But that is not important. What is important is that Alan Jones can feel his left front tyre going soft and as he rounds the stadium to complete lap 40 he slows dramatically and heads for the pits. Without hesitation his mechanics change both front tyres and he is off again before the flagman at the pit exit can give him the all-clear. Jonesey-boy is in a hurry. Laffite and Reutemann have gone by so he is now third, with only five laps left to run. There is nothing he can do, but he doesn't give up and sets a new lap record on lap 43, at 1'48"49 (225.245 kph - about 140 mph).
On this same lap de Angelis loses a well-earned fifth place when a bearing breaks up in the right rear hub and he can do nothing but limp into the pits to lose two laps and be classified last. A very happy, but lucky, Jacques Laffite takes the chequered flag though no-one begrudge him his win as he has been the unlucky one with tyre trouble at Brands Hatch and now it is Alan Jones’ turn. Any ideas that Reutemann is making a last minute bid to save the day for Frank Williams during the closing laps are a bit misguided for it is all much too late, though the Argentinian did make his fastest lap on the penultimate lap, but so did Laffite and Piquet for that matter. In fact the first six finishers, Laffite, Reutemann, Jones, Piguet, Giacomelli and Villeneuve are all flat-out to the finish. It has not been a Grosser Preis von Deutschland, but it hasn't been a bad Kleiner Preis.