#337 1980 German Grand Prix

2022-08-20 00:00

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#1980, Fulvio Conti, Nicole Masi,

#337 1980 German Grand Prix

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 th


The news of the South African pilot's decision to retire from racing at the end of the season has taken everyone by surprise, even though rumors of the Ferrari driver's withdrawal had been circulating for some time. It was thought that the speculation was fueled only by the team's negative period, attempting to disguise Scheckter's move to another team. Instead, it was all true, and on Tuesday, July 15, 1980, Jody officially announces his retirement. It was not a traumatic episode like Lauda's last year in Montreal, but it was still a sensational event, even though the thirty-year-old from East London would continue to race and give his best until the end of the season.


"I no longer have valid motivations to continue an activity that doesn't interest me as it once did. I've made money, have a happy family with a wife, a young child, and another on the way. I don't feel like taking risks anymore. I am concerned about the future of Formula 1 because with cars getting faster on every circuit, racing will become increasingly dangerous. But at the same time, I don't want to be involved anymore. I don't even intend to concern myself with the Drivers' Association of which I am the president, unless expressly requested by my colleagues. In any case, I will have to evaluate the proposals because from now on, I will exclusively focus on my affairs as a public relations man".


It is a bitter and quite incredible outburst considering that in the past, Scheckter had stated that he only thought about racing and winning. But it is evident that the fear of accidents and the instinct to get out before something irreparable happens have taken over. The best example for everyone is that of Jackie Stewart, the three-time World Champion who knew how to retire at the right moment, at the peak of his career, and now enjoys the generous earnings obtained from motorsport. Beyond the philosophical and psychological aspects of the story, however, Scheckter's announced retirement now poses a question that will disturb the thoughts of Formula 1 fans for some time, especially those of Ferrari. Who will be the replacement for the South African in the Maranello team alongside Gilles Villeneuve? There are many names in view of a probable vacancy at Ferrari. There is talk of Patrese, Didier Pironi, Alain Prost, and Bruno Giacomelli. On whom will Enzo Ferrari's choice fall? For Riccardo Patrese, the hopes are diminished, and even the candidacy of the young man of Friulian origin, the Parisian Pironi, seems to have faded with a confirmation at Ligier, also because Didier, at Brands Hatch, inadvertently let slip this phrase:


"I am in a team that fights for victory, why should I go to another that struggles for qualification?"


If the law of those who don't want me don't deserve me is always valid, Pironi should have burned every chance: Enzo Ferrari is certainly not the type to overlook such disparaging statements. The easiest solution would be to hire a young driver, for two reasons. First, because Villeneuve, who will become the lead driver, certainly won't need a teammate with demands; second, because young drivers are more motivated than old champions. Here, the name of Alain Prost comes into play, a fast, modest guy eager to learn. He is French, but in Formula 1, nationalistic barriers can be easily overcome. If, on the other hand, the Commendatore allows himself to be moved, who knows if there might be a surprise. Giacomelli has been mentioned, whose contract with Alfa Romeo should expire at the end of the year. His qualities are known. Unless a youngster (who is, among other things, from Reggio Emilia) comes in, ready, skilled, already highlighted in Formula 3 by winning several races, including the Monaco Grand Prix. We're talking about Mauro Baldi, a true promise of Italian motorsport. One thing is certain, Jody Scheckter's early resignation has, all in all, facilitated Ferrari's task. Until the end of the season, the Maranello team will know it has to focus on Gilles Villeneuve for testing and fine-tuning the turbocharged car, and at the same time, the Canadian driver can gain necessary experience on the new type of car for the next year. Meanwhile, Enzo Ferrari will have time to look for a worthy replacement for the South African champion. Certainly, the Modena constructor will have fairly clear ideas in this field and perhaps already made a preliminary choice. However, there will be all the necessary tranquility to carefully consider every possibility and finalize a good contract. By strict logic, the situation that has arisen should have cleared the field of certain solutions hypothesized in recent days. 


Having a fast, aggressive, and competitive driver like Gilles Villeneuve available to Ferrari, who in 1981 must inevitably be more mature and experienced, it would be a mistake to pair the Canadian with another prima donna, i.e., complete the team with a second ambitious driver to aim for the world title (assuming the cars allow it). Someone like Pironi would certainly create cohabitation problems with Villeneuve. The paths that will open up, therefore, could be two: either focus on a test driver for turbo tuning (as Renault did with Jabouille and Alfa Romeo with Depailler) or look for a young talent to launch, which, all in all, would also cost less. Ferrari, after all, has always been considered one of the best schools, in all respects, even in terms of professionalism. Pending to understand how the future decisions of the Maranello team will develop, on Tuesday, July 22, 1980, tests are carried out at Imola with Michelin-tired cars (Ferrari and Renault), after the previous day when Williams, Ligier, Alfa Romeo, Tyrrell, and Osella had tested. Both teams brought a car: for Ferrari, the T5 with Gilles Villeneuve, and for the French team, René Arnoux and Jean-Pierre Jabouille. Many laps were completed by the Canadian driver (over 100), fewer by the Renault. The tests begin at 10:00 a.m. and continue, after a break from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., until late afternoon. Enzo Ferrari arrives in Imola at noon and engages in a long conversation with journalists. When asked when he would announce the replacement for the South African, Ferrari defers everyone to after the Italian Grand Prix, or even after the Canadian Grand Prix (scheduled for October 5).


"The decision is up to me and no one else. Until I retire - only God will decide that - I will take care of these things".


At the end of the day, the best time is Arnoux's with the Renault, clocking 1'38"39 (1.6s from Pironi's fastest lap with Ligier, 1'36"79 at an average speed of 185.958 km/h). Villeneuve, who completes 113 laps, takes three hundredths more (1'38"42). In the fastest sections, the Renault reaches 277 km/h, and Villeneuve 275 km/h. Unfortunately, on Friday, August 1, 1980, Patrick Depailler is involved in an accident at the Hockenheim circuit while driving his Alfa Romeo in preparation for the German Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, August 10, 1980. The French driver crashes at a very high speed and succumbs during transport by helicopter to the Heidelberg hospital. Depailler, accompanied by teammate Bruno Giacomelli, was present at Hockenheim to perform some tests. Drivers and technicians of the Italian team had to test the most suitable gear ratios and various aerodynamic solutions: routine work, but precious to increase the competitiveness of Alfa on the fast German circuit. The accident occurs around 11:00 a.m. Depailler travels at maximum speed along the long straight in the forest that closes with the Ostkurve. It is a curve that drivers usually take in fifth gear, at 250-260 km/h. The Alfa Romeo inexplicably deviates from the ideal trajectory, crashing into a guardrail and reducing itself to a mass of wreckage. The French driver is extracted from the tangle of steel and plastic in desperate conditions. A helicopter takes off immediately, but the Frenchman dies before reaching the emergency center of the University Clinic of Heidelberg. One of the doctors says:


"The electroencephalogram was already flat".


It is specified that the cardiac arrest occurred at 12:10 p.m. Depailler, according to a statement from the Heidelberg Clinic, died from a skull fracture and numerous internal hemorrhages.


"The impact must have been of terrible violence".


The causes of the tragedy are not known. The Baden-Wurttemberg judiciary opens an investigation, and the Hockenheim police seize the wreckage of the Alfa Romeo. It is a procedure, normal in cases like this. The dilemma is only one: distraction, pilot error, or a mechanical failure (suspension, steering)? The first hypothesis leaves some doubt, considering Depailler's experience and the type of tests he was conducting. The possibility of a sudden illness of the driver is also advanced. 


On the asphalt of the track, at the point of the accident, no signs of braking or other traces of particular importance have been detected. In the coming days, however, the outcome of the investigation should be known. A spokesperson for the German Automobile Club states that the Grand Prix will take place regularly. In the past, the Ostkurve had raised concerns among drivers for its danger. And to think that the German Grand Prix had been moved from the Nurburgring to Hockenheim precisely for the greater safety offered by this circuit. The current leader of the Formula 1 World Championship, Alan Jones, had expressed concerns about the safety of Hockenheim in recent days. During a visit to the circuit earlier in the week, the Australian driver had particularly insisted on the difficulties inherent in the Ostkurve. Among Formula 1 drivers, Patrick Depailler was probably the one who loved the thrill for its own sake the most, the excitement of speed. He had been accused on two occasions of two spectacular accidents that had disrupted his career (one on a motorcycle in 1973 and the other in a hang glider last year), of being unprofessional and risking unnecessarily outside of races. But this was precisely his strength: exceptional determination, love for competition. Even when he rode a bicycle, another of his great passions, he raced like the wind. Ligier had let Depailler go last year: on vacation in his native Auvergne, Patrick had plunged into a hang glider, launching himself from Puy de Dôme. A terrible accident, with a series of impressive leg fractures. 


There were fears that he would never be able to drive again, and the French team had seized the opportunity not to renew his contract. But it wasn't so much Guy Ligier's anger at his driver's recklessness that determined the divorce. Depailler was perhaps too combative, too independent, and created problems in the team for teammate Jacques Laffite, then engaged in the fight for the world title with Jody Scheckter. However, Alfa Romeo believed in Depailler, who was looking for a driver both experienced and fast to accompany Bruno Giacomelli. Patrick's great commitment, his desire to succeed, his skills as a good test driver were necessary for the development of the Milanese cars. And Depailler, physically rebuilt in a miraculous way, thanks to incredible sacrifices and the moral support of his partner Valerle, had not disappointed. The 179, with his contribution, had grown significantly. Patrick Depailler, however, was not an easy man. Despite being the oldest among the many French drivers in Formula 1, he did not connect much with his compatriots precisely because of his determination, his desire to win. Rough manners, lively sarcasm, the habit of stating unpleasant truths had isolated him. But he had not been discouraged. Just during his slow march toward physical recovery, amid much suffering after the hang glider fall, we had spoken to him. And Patrick had explained what force pushed him to believe in a perfect recovery, not to have fears for the future.


"Driving in Formula 1 is my job and also my passion. Racing against the clock, against time, excites me, thrills me. No, I'm not afraid. Thinking about death... Perhaps I've faced it more than once. But truly, I've never dwelled on it. Because, in the end, it's a threat that applies to everyone, champions, drivers, or bank employees. No one wants to die, whether they think about it or not…".


Poor Patrick. He didn't know that destiny awaited him not in a race but in a simple training session. So much effort to climb back up, so many sacrifices, and then, this tragic end. If he had survived the accident, perhaps with some fractures, we would have certainly seen him start the struggle to get back behind the wheel. He never gave up. The news of Patrick Depailler's death brings deep dismay within Alfa Romeo. The president of the Milanese company, Ettore Massacesi, issues a statement in which, essentially, he leaves Giacomelli and Brambilla free to decide whether to race or to withdraw from the German Grand Prix.


"The news of Depailler's death has deeply affected and saddened me. Depailler was a serious driver, a deep connoisseur of automotive technology, a great test driver. I share the grief of his family and friends with whom he shared the passion for sports: Depailler was also a serene man. Death is always lurking in motor racing; I tremble at the thought of the risks our drivers face at the wheel of our cars. Now, Giacomelli and Brambilla should decide freely whether to participate in the German Grand Prix or not".


On Monday, August 4, 1980, it is announced that only one Alfa Romeo will participate in the German Grand Prix, the ninth race of the Formula 1 World Championship, scheduled at Hockenheim. It will be entrusted, of course, to Bruno Giacomelli. The decision is made, with a sense of responsibility, by the executives of the Milanese company, who at this moment do not feel ready to use Vittorio Brambilla again as a replacement for the late Patrick Depailler, who fell victim to the tragic accident on the same German circuit.


"Pierluigi Corbari, the sports director of the team, still deeply shaken by the loss of the French driver, says, 'In truth, at this moment, we haven't even thought about replacements or anything else. We're not letting Brambilla race because we don't have another car ready. We'll talk about Vittorio again, if necessary, starting from Zeltweg, Austria, on August 17".


Some had already mentioned the names of Arturo Merzario and Patrick Tambay to replace the thirty-six-year-old driver from Clermont-Ferrand, but these hypotheses have been officially denied. Most likely, engineer Carlo Chiti and his colleagues will want to take their time before reaching any solution, even waiting for the new car, the 180, whose final setup shouldn't take too long. Meanwhile, in Germany, the technical investigation continues to determine the causes of Depailler's tragic crash. Unfortunately, the condition of the completely destroyed car does not allow for an in-depth analysis of the mechanics of the accident. Nevertheless, the fact remains that no safety nets were placed at the location where the car went off at over 250 km/h. The car crashed directly into the guardrail, so the driver had no chance, whatever the reason for going off, be it a sudden illness, a driving error, or a mechanical failure. Before heading to Germany, the entire Alfa team will attend Depailler's funeral, which is expected to take place tomorrow in Clermont-Ferrand. However, there are issues regarding the extradition of the driver's body to France, and it is not excluded that the ceremony may be postponed to Thursday. On the sporting front, the German Grand Prix could prove decisive for the World Championship title race, in favor of Alan Jones and his Williams. A strong performance by the Australian driver could deeply trouble all his rivals. For this reason, Ligier and Brabham have prepared meticulously. Some progress may also have been made by Ferrari and Renault, which tested completely new Michelin tires at Imola. The record lap times at the Emilian track achieved by the French turbocharged car and Gilles Villeneuve's machine (on the second day of testing) were better than those of Pironi, the fastest in the tests conducted by cars equipped with Goodyear tires. 


It is not a festive and carefree atmosphere that will welcome the return of Formula 1 to the track about a month after the last race, the British Grand Prix, won by Alan Jones at Brands Hatch. The shadow of the tragedy that claimed Patrick Depailler's life (the funeral of the unfortunate French driver will take place on Thursday, August 7, 1980, in Clermont-Ferrand) hangs over everyone, even though in this now cruel and ruthless environment, it is implemented with too much zeal. It is true that the risks of serious accidents in motorsports can never be completely eliminated, but it is equally true that too little is done to try to limit them. The disputes between FOCA and FISA seemed to have yielded positive results, especially regarding the issue of reducing speeds in corners. The Constructors' Association had requested, to avoid removing the infamous skirts from the cars, a reduction in the size of the tires. However, tire manufacturers have already stated that they have no intention of modifying their plants to change the measurements. Therefore, we will have to start over to find a solution. There will be discussions again and perhaps even deleterious controversies like those that led to the invalidation of the Spanish Grand Prix. The drivers might assert the weight of their association, but even this is far from strong and united. The famous Formula 1 champions often earn millions of dollars but are treated by teams like mere employees and have no say, not even regarding their personal safety. Also, if someone were ready for dramatic actions, perhaps a strike, team managers would always find substitutes among the young or among those currently excluded, ready to race without too many scruples. Therefore, with all the baggage of problems that it has been carrying for some time, Formula 1 is preparing to compete in the ninth race of the World Championship, the German Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, August 10, 1980, at Hockenheim, one of the fastest and perhaps most dangerous circuits in the world. 


Alan Jones starts as the favorite, thanks to the 6-point lead he gained over Piquet and the 14 over Arnoux and Pironi. The Australian had won last year on the same track and has a good chance of repeating his success. In 1979, in pole position at Hockenheim, Jabouille started with Renault, but Jones immediately took the lead and held it for all 45 laps of the race, finishing ahead of his teammate Regazzoni, Laffilé, Scheckter, Watson, and Mass. On that occasion, Gilles Villeneuve set the lap record with a time of 1'51"29, at an average speed of 218.400 km/h. Starting from the qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday, Renault and Ferrari should have new, more competitive tires from Michelin. Therefore, the first timed tests will provide the necessary indications for the race. Alain Prost, 25 years old, French, with eight Grand Prix races under his belt, thinks that his big day will come for the German Grand Prix. The small but lively McLaren driver wants to have a great race. We are almost at the end of the season, and it's time for the driver market. Prost could move to a top team (the name of Ferrari is strongly mentioned, where he would join Villeneuve), and for this reason, he wants to perform well in the last races.


"The car is performing very well. Last year, on this same track, Watson finished fourth. Now I believe it's time to show what I'm really worth. I have no reverential fear of my rivals, and I hope to have a really good race".


For the small French driver, the right time has come. His teammate Watson is not doing very well, even though in England, in the last race, he had a good race. Alain has become the lead driver in the English team for some time now.


"At twenty-five, either you get to the front row, or you risk going back. I believe I have to show that what I learned in Formula 3 is not little. Some criticized me because I immediately made the jump to the top category, but I feel mature to compete with the strongest. It's not presumption on my part but a very specific conviction. I believe I'm not worth less than many others".


But if you were to go to a team like Ferrari, you would have to settle for being the second driver...


"Of course, I absolutely don't think of causing problems for Villeneuve. In any case, the races will provide their verdict. If they put me in a position to compete on equal terms, I will give everything with all my might. In any case, nothing is decided yet with the Italian team. They are just words published in the newspapers. I cannot say anything".


Prost's statement might almost seem like an admission, even though, for the moment, the French driver denies the move to the Maranello team. However, many believe that if he has a great race at Hockenheim, Prost will have a good chance to stand out and strengthen his position as a candidate for the second Ferrari seat. As for other market news, it is also rumored that the Modena-based constructor may be interested in signing an experienced driver. In this case, the favorite could be Jabouille, who boasts three years of driving the Renault turbo. Since the turbocharged car is currently the major concern, securing a driver like Jean Pierre could be a winning move. On Friday, August 8, 1980, at the same track where Patrick Depailler lost his life, twenty-six drivers return to press the accelerator, pushing their cars to about 270 km/h at the same, extremely dangerous, point where the car and the life of the unfortunate French champion shattered. There is no time to reflect, to think, to find remedies for the ever-increasing speed demanded from machines and men. Just the opportunity to say, as Bruno Giacomelli did, the teammate of the late, to be very sad, and then immediately with the head down on the steering wheel to risk again. The competitive atmosphere once again takes over, the fight for victory is back in the spotlight. The events of the first day of qualifying for the German Grand Prix provide several topics of discussion and distraction. A storm, during the qualifying session, is enough to change the hierarchy highlighted in the recent races. The wet track temporarily brings to the forefront the cars equipped with Michelin radial tires. René Arnoux with the Renault turbo sets the best time, clocking 2'00"15, followed by his teammate. 


Ferrari, while not returning to the absolute top, records the sixth-best time with Gilles Villeneuve and the eighth with Scheckter, something that hasn't happened in a while. Between the two French cars and those from Maranello, Nelson Piquet with Brabham, Laffite, and Pironi with the two Ligiers, and Alan Jones with his Williams, insert themselves in order. This is an anomalous situation that, if the weather conditions improve (the forecasts are quite favorable), will likely be substantially modified in favor of teams using Goodyear tires. In the morning, when the track was dry, Piquet set the best time, clocking 1'47"84, a new circuit record. The previous record belonged to Jabouille, who, last year with his Renault turbo, had clocked 1'48"48, securing pole position. It is therefore easy to predict that on Saturday morning, a violent battle will ensue to secure the best positions on the starting grid. It is unlikely that Renault and Ferrari can maintain the positions gained on the wet track. Although the two teams (plus the French one) have shown some progress (in free practice, Arnoux was fifth, Jabouille sixth, Villeneuve eighth, and Scheckter only seventeenth), thanks also to the adoption of partially modified tires. Piquet and his teammates still seem too far away to be caught. In any case, if Piquet manages to maintain supremacy, the World Championship will experience a new burst of interest just when the title seemed certain for Alan Jones. With Ferrari and Renault in more advanced positions and the expected battle ahead, the race could become one of the most exciting of the season. Much, however, depends, as mentioned, on the indications that will emerge in the Saturday qualifying session. In the available practice hour, Bruno Giacomelli, who set the last time not because of the excitement of becoming the Alfa Romeo's lead driver or the fears that Depailler's accident may have aroused in his subconscious but due to an error in fitting rain tires on his car, will have to recover. The Italian driver had 18-inch tires on 16-inch rims, preventing him from clocking less than 2'19"56, while in the morning, he was thirteenth with a time of 1'50"65. Some positions should also be recovered by Patrese, only twenty-second. On the other hand, Cheever with Osella, who is tenth due to the leveling by rain, would like to maintain today's starting order. Meanwhile, contrary to what was expected on Thursday, the results of the Mannheim police investigation into Patrick Depailler's accident have not been disclosed. 


Probably, the data will be provided on Sunday. However, judicial authorities inform Alfa Romeo that they can recover the damaged car on Sunday or Monday. This suggests that the investigation itself has not revealed any responsibility on the part of the Milanese house. Upset by some alleged statements from Alfa Romeo after Depailler's tragic accident, accused - according to interpretations - of not being physically fit, French journalists launch an attack against Alfa Romeo. This is because witnesses have been found who collected some pieces of the destroyed car several tens of meters before the impact point. It is mainly a piece of rubber from the shock absorber buffer. Alfa confirms in a statement the finding of these pieces but informs that they have made them available to the judicial authority. The hostility towards Alfa is provoked by some statements by engineer Carlo Chiti, director of Autodelta, who among various hypotheses also included a possible illness of the driver. However, Alfa cannot be accused of wanting to disqualify the figure of the poor deceased driver when it was the only team to believe in Depailler's recovery and hire him as the lead driver when no one believed in his full recovery. For the moment, before making accusations (a front suspension is mentioned as broken before the impact), it is better to wait for the police investigation, the results of which are postponed to the middle of the week following the German Grand Prix. A race that Alan Jones can win, practically securing the world title, becoming Jody Scheckter's heir. Another victory would not give the Australian driver the mathematical certainty of winning the World Championship, but it would certainly allow him to humiliate the ambitions of opponents who are still able to oppose his march towards final triumph. The top man at Williams has significant chances, as many factors play in his favor: Jones achieves a fantastic pole position in the last qualifying session, repelling, 19 minutes from the end of official practice, the desperate attack launched by Jabouille with his very fast Renault turbo. It's played on the edge of hundredths of a second, reaching thrilling averages, shattering several times the already spectacular circuit record. Melbourne's driver settles the scores with rivals, setting a time of 1'45"85, at an average speed of 230.863 km/h, the second-highest speed ever recorded in Formula 1, surpassed only by last year's Silverstone, a track where there are practically no tight curves. 


The increase in performance obtained on the German circuit where Jabouille was the fastest last year with a time of 1'48"48 is incredible. A percentage of 2.42% that gives an idea of how much the cars are traveling faster from one season to another. Indeed, nine drivers go below the old record. The final practices reaffirm Jones's supremacy but also bring Renault back into the spotlight, securing the second and third positions with Jabouille and Arnoux in the starting lineup. This will probably allow the French turbo cars to engage in a last-minute duel with Williams. Jabouille, having lost any hope of fighting for the world title, will be forced to try to race in the lead to force Jones to push to the maximum and possibly retire, favoring the entry of Arnoux who still has several chances to fight for the final victory. The return to the top of Renault was possible for two main reasons: the use of the maximum power of the turbocharged engine (about 80 HP more than the best aspirated engines) favored by the not too high temperature of the day and the adoption of a new type of tires made available by Michelin. At this point, one might wonder why Ferrari, which was able to use the same tires, did not succeed in similarly improving its performance compared to the recent races. Villeneuve, in fact, will start from the sixteenth position, and Scheckter, as unfortunately usual, will start from the penultimate row, with the twenty-first time. Mauro Forghieri says:


"We did our best, but as usual, our drivers had significant grip problems, both in terms of adhesion and acceleration and speed due to the lack of grip, as we continue to be unable to fully exploit the power of the engine on the asphalt".


Scheckter and Villeneuve take refuge in a 'no comment' and console themselves by eating a plate of pasta together with Lauda, an impromptu commentator for German TV, after the trials. Who knows what the three drivers will say about Ferrari while having lunch together. In reality, Ferrari still has the problem of not being able to use larger-diameter tires (15 inches) on the front, while other cars use them normally. But it's a detail that shouldn't justify such a gap. If the cars from Maranello haven't made progress, at least there is a positive influx of young Italian drivers. Patrese, driving an Arrows that is finally well-adjusted with a lot of determination, secures an excellent position, the tenth, while De Angelis with the Lotus - despite some tire issues - is almost on par with him. Just a little further back are Cheever with the Osella (P18) and Giacomelli with the Alfa Romeo (P19). The Italian-American doesn't drive much due to the breakage of three side skirts that cause him significant concerns:


"I never noticed these failures, and fortunately, they called me to the pits for the usual adjustments; otherwise, I might not be here to tell the story".


As for Giacomelli, who was last on Friday and couldn't set up the car properly, he is already good at climbing up, considering the shock that Depailler's passing may have caused him. On Sunday, August 10, 1980, any signs of rain disappear, which is just as well as four of the teams are properly equipped to make a sudden change from 16 inches wide dry tires to 21 inches wide wet tires, though Patrick Head of the Williams team smiles and says they will be all right. Some teams are visualizing having to hack the bodywork with tin-snips during the tire 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 is trying the new Tyrrell that has been built in the paddock, Piquet is 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 the 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. 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 a 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. 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. 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 flat tire just five laps from the finish prevented Alan Jones from achieving a third consecutive victory (the fourth of the season) and seriously securing the Formula 1 world title. At the end of the German Grand Prix, which he had led skillfully, the Australian driver had to yield to Jacques Laffite and his Ligier. Thus, the 36-year-old Frenchman, son of one of the most famous lawyers in Paris who gave up law for a passion for racing, could step onto the podium for the fourth time. This victory not only revitalizes Laffite's chances but also leaves some room for other contenders in the race for Jody Scheckter's title. It's a slim thread of hope for Jones' rivals because, despite the misfortune, the Australian managed to limit the damage, finishing third behind his teammate Carlos Reutemann. Jones still leads the overall standings with 41 points, seven points ahead of Piquet, 15 ahead of Reutemann, 16 ahead of Laffite, 18 ahead of Arnoux and Pironi. If the Williams driver had won again, the situation would now be difficult for everyone. Of the title contenders, only Didier Pironi (stopped on the eighteenth lap due to a half-shaft failure) failed to score points, while Piquet, finishing fourth, defended himself admirably despite a disastrous start that forced him into a thrilling comeback. The race, not particularly lively, unfolded with little action for the drivers, focusing mainly on pursuits. Among them, the exciting performances of Bruno Giacomelli, finishing fifth, and Gilles Villeneuve, finishing sixth. 


Elio De Angelis should have been in the mix, but the Roman driver was once again betrayed by his Lotus when he was about to savor the joy of fifth place. The post-race scene is perhaps more eventful than the race itself. The winner, elated, is chased after, attempts to talk to an increasingly unpleasant Jones, and two small incidents illustrate how things go in Formula 1 today, where everyone does as they please despite regulations. Let's start with the two disputed episodes. Alan Jones, the third-place finisher, doesn't show up on the podium. Some immediately think that the Williams driver has been penalized and demoted a few positions. In fact, after returning to the pits to change a deflated front tire, the Australian restarted with such fury that he forgot to check the flag displayed by the marshal at the pit exit. The flag was red because other competitors were passing at that moment. A one-minute penalty would have been justified. However, a sign was later displayed in the press room:


"No protest for Jones".


Jones's absence from the podium is due to the presence of Mr. Jean-Marie Balestre, president of the FISA, in the VIP stand. Jones hasn't forgiven him for canceling the Spanish Grand Prix, which Jones had won. In any case, if anyone should have protested Jones's irregularity in rejoining the track too quickly, it should have been Brabham, which, if the complaint had been accepted, would have seen its Nelson Piquet move up to third place. However, the British team evidently has its flaws to cover up and prefers not to attract attention. After the race, car #5 is weighed, and the scales show that the car has undergone an exaggerated weight loss: one kilogram less than the minimum allowed, i.e., 574 kilograms. Strict application of the regulations would have resulted in disqualification, but who dares to hit Ecclestone in his interests? Without Jones on the podium, with the melancholic gaucho Reutemann uncertain between being happy and grumbling about the misfortune of the second place, the ceremony is particularly sad. Also, the winner, Jacques Laffite, refrains from spraying champagne on the audience at the same circuit where his friend Patrick Depailler had died ten days earlier.


"It should be a special day for me; of course, I'm very happy about the victory, but how can I forget Patrick's accident? And then I achieved a success that I didn't really expect. I don't know if I would have been able to beat Jones if he hadn't stopped. I never had the chance to attack him. The only positive note is that the championship is not closed, although this first place for me has come too late, and the consideration that maybe we can do even better on the upcoming circuits".


The missed victory hasn't disappointed Jones and his team principal, Frank Williams. Both, as if they had learned the lesson by heart, honestly state:


"You can't always win. Other times it went badly for our opponents. A second place, Reutemann's, and a third are not to be despised".


In addition to the victory, as mentioned, another placement is dedicated to Patrick Depailler. And Bruno Giacomelli's fifth place. Bruno doesn't hide his emotion.


"I've been waiting a long time to finish a race. It wasn't difficult; the car performed well because we tuned it the right way, finding a better setup. In the past days, the car was too aerodynamically loaded. I must say that during the race, I gave my best without thinking about anything else, not even when I passed at the Ostkurve. I didn't have psychological problems or fears of any kind. If that were the case, I would stop driving. This doesn't prevent me from always being sad. It had never happened to me to lose a teammate in this way; it's a difficult experience to overcome".


All pretexts are good to create confusion in Formula 1. The FISA took advantage of the decision of the tire manufacturers (who claimed they were not ready to change the tire sizes and then tried to retract, stating that their representatives' words had been misunderstood) to blow up the agreement with FOCA on June 24th at Le Castellet. On that occasion, the war that led to the rebellion of the English teams and the cancellation of the Spanish Grand Prix ended, with the presentation of a series of requests by FOCA pledging to respect FISA. Unable to study a reduction in tire sizes, on July 30th, FISA sent a letter to all teams stating that the agreement was no longer valid, and they were reverting to previous decisions, including the abolition of skirts. Now, FOCA issues a new statement in which, in essence, it says that the constructors (Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Osella are no longer part of the association) don't care if the tire manufacturers are not ready to change the tires; it's up to FISA President Balestre to find a solution for what was decided at Le Castellet to be respected. As if that weren't enough, at a GPDA meeting held on Saturday night, Formula 1 drivers finally decide almost unanimously to present a package of proposals on safety issues to the FIA and FOCA. In summary, here are the pilots' requests: abolition of skirts, greater protection in the front of the cars for the legs, construction of new cars with a flat bottom (without ground effect); possible reduction of tire sizes. The major innovation concerns the issue of skirts, which previously divided the drivers and now finds them all in agreement. The most determined are Scheckter, Laffite, and Andretti. Ferrari's South African driver is asked to confirm the presidency of GPDA for the next year even though he will leave motorsport. Alain Prost and Elio De Angelis do not participate. Alan Jones, who is no longer part of the association, makes only a fleeting appearance but declares that he doesn't feel the safety issue as he has the utmost confidence in Frank Williams. Alain Prost and Elio De Angelis do not attend the drivers' assembly because their managers didn't want to. Very democratically, Colin Chapman told the Italian driver:


"If you go, you're done racing".


Staying on topic, it now seems certain that there will be a divorce between Colin Chapman and Mario Andretti at the end of the season, while Alfa Romeo is looking for a driver to put two cars back on the track at Zeltweg. The names of two currently available drivers are being mentioned: Frenchman Patrick Tambay and Italian De Cesaris. However, there seems to be a lack of approval from the Marlboro sponsor for the French driver, while the Italian declares himself available. The Formula 1 season is entering a crucial phase. Jacques Laffite's success in the German Grand Prix interrupts Alan Jones and Williams' winning streak, bringing interest back to a championship dominated by the Australian driver and the English car. Certainly, tough Alan managed to contain the damage with a third-place finish, but another victory would have almost certainly sealed the deal in the title race. The hope that the battle can still be open comes from Ligier, which, after a fairly fortunate victory at Hockenheim, should be even more competitive on the circuits where the upcoming races will take place (Zeltweg in Austria, followed by Zandvoort in the Netherlands and Imola). According to Guy Ligier's opinion, his cars will be protagonists in the qualifying and concluding races of the championship. It also seems that the French team has studied a system with special valves to adjust the pressure under the cars according to their needs. This way, they could achieve maximum downforce in corners, where maximum grip is needed, and minimum downforce on straights, benefiting speed. The regulations prohibit the use of moving parts in the aerodynamic system, but in Formula 1, rules are often ignored. In any case, mechanics always cover Ligier cars very carefully when they are disassembled, and no one has yet been able to find out if the device has actually been adopted. The study and implementation of regulations are currently one of the most contentious issues in the racing world. Constructors and sporting authorities are still engaged in a harmful power struggle. We are five months away from the start of the 1981 World Championship, and it is still unclear how the future cars will be designed. The main point of discussion is logically about the side skirts. While the majority of drivers advocate for the abolition of these movable partitions, technicians and team owners are still stuck on their conflicting ideas. The problem is to decrease cornering speed for safety reasons. Colin Chapman doesn't even want to hear about abolishing the side skirts:


"It's a practical matter; I am against any limitation for Formula 1, which should be the field of the most advanced technological research. Anyway, I would like all changes in the regulations to happen with at least two years' notice to work seriously on them".


A different opinion is expressed by Carlo Chiti, head of Alfa Romeo. The Italian engineer states:


"If safety is to be increased, just reduce the power of the engines. Just bring them from 3000 cc to 2500 cc, and the game is done".


While Mauro Forghieri says:


"It's simple. Normal cars should be built, with a flat bottom, without many aeronautical systems. It would be easy for everyone to make them, and the races would be more beautiful".


At this moment, the races have lost much of their charm. The one with the best car is in the lead, and the second and third only win if those ahead retire. Overtakes are seen among the lapped or among the cars dragging at the bottom of the standings. Drivers no longer count for much, except over the years. Speaking of drivers, Didier Pironi, the prodigy of French motorsport, is going through a very difficult and delicate period. His overly aggressive temperament, selfishness, and driving style are contested by his own friends. On Saturday, after winning the Procar BMW race that the 28-year-old Parisian of Friulian origin won forcefully, Hans Stuck, who finished third, accused him of being a murderer. The German was literally thrown off the track by Pironi just before the finish line. In Sunday's race, his teammate Laffite, at the third lap, overtook him and passed in front of the boxes, raising his fists threateningly. At the end of the race, he said:


"Pironi kept me irregularly behind for more than one lap, even though he was slower, and made me lose contact with those who were in front. He is an immature boy".


Even Guy Ligier is not happy with Didier, with whom he has quarreled many times. Ligier is determined to confirm his driver ("I have the contract ready for Laffite and Pironi, they just have to sign it"), but he also wants to downsize him. After the race, among other things, he lets it be known that the team will bet everything on Laffite in the last races of the World Championship.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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