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#352 1981 German Grand Prix

2021-10-14 01:00

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#1981, Fulvio Conti,

#352 1981 German Grand Prix

Many of the teams have to repair the ravages of the British Grand Prix in the short space between the Silverstone race and the time to set off in the

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Many of the teams have to repair the ravages of the British Grand Prix in the short space between the Silverstone race and the time to set off in the transporters for the German event. Some have to repair damaged cars, or replace them, others have to investigate engine problems or handling problems and modifications have to be made to suit the very high-speed parts of the German Motodrom. The car that Alan Jones crashes in his accident with Villeneuve’s Ferrari is FW07C/11, already rebuilt once after its accident at Zolder. It is repairable but rather than rush the job a new one is built up for the German race and this is FW07D/16. It is suffixed D as it is intended to be a new development car and the monocoque is thus labelled, but shortage of time means that it has to be snatched back and used as the basis for a new car in the C-series. Reutemann has FW07C/14 and these two cars have reshaped side-pods aimed at giving more down-force with less drag. The spare car is FW07C/15 and all three have alternative engine covers which incorporate two large air-collector boxes like ears on each side of the crash-bar behind the driver’s head. Investigation into the misfiring that occurred at Monaco and Dijon is being directed to vibrations caused by the rock-hard suspensions, used this season, on the batteries, but no conclusions have yet been reached. For the race Reutemann is forced to use the spare car, number 15, which cannot be fitted with the improved side-pods due to attachment differences between the monocoques. Piquet’s crash at Silverstone in BT49C/11 is not as serious as it looked, and the monocoque stands up to the impact remarkably well.

 

However, it is not repaired for Hockenheim and the team-leader has a brand new car, BT49C/14, which is fitted with solid carbon-fibre brake discs to start practice but these are later replaced by normal steel discs, which are retained for the race. The spare car is BT49C/10 which not only has carbon-fibre discs but is equipped with thermocouples to record brake temperatures, with two temperature gauges mounted above the instrument panel, one for Left and one for Right. Rebaque uses BT49C/12, his regular car. Just to confuse things the new car that Piquet is driving carries a plate saying it is BT49C/9, but the more important number stamped on the monocoque says that it is 14! There is no sign of the Brabham BT50 with the BMW turbo-charged engine, which is strange being BMW’s own home Grand Prix. It seems they are so lacking in confidence of the engine that they do not want to risk a monumental blow-up in front of the German public. The failures at Silverstone in the turbo-charged V6 engines is traced to valve-seat distortions caused by overheating, the overheating being caused by mixture or ignition variations. The team has the same three cars, RE32 (Prost), RE33 (Arnoux) and RE31 the spare, all three still using the central-pillar rear aerofoils as first seen at Silverstone, in place of the long-used rectangular rear aerofoil, which Patrick Head used to describe as a wind-anchor. The same three MP4 cars as used at Silverstone are at the German race, except that the aim now is to develop the latest one, MP4/3 normally the spare, into Watson’s race car and retain his Silverstone winning car, MP4/2, as his spare, but to get them so alike that even he will not be able to tell the difference. The much crashed MP4/1 is repaired once again for de Cesaris. As things turned out the engine in No.3 begins to use a lot of oil on Sunday morning and Watson has to revert to his Silverstone winning car, No2 for the race. 

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Once more the twin sprung-structure Lotus 88B has been laid to rest and the team has three cars in 87 configuration. 87/3 which has always been an 87 was for de Angelis, while 87/4 which has been an 88B but is converted back hastily in the Silverstone paddock has now been assembled more carefully and is for Mansell. The spare car is 87/2. During practice the name Essex is blanked out with white tape on the cars, the transporters and the mechanics overalls, presumably because Essex Petroleum and Team Lotus are at variance over something or other. Whatever it is it is settled on Sunday morning and the tape is removed for the race. The damage to Villeneuve’s car (054) at Silverstone is superficial and it is fully race-worthy once more in time for Hockenheim. Pironi has 053 again, and the experiemental car 051/B is the spare. Apart from having revised front and rear suspension layout the whole front of the monocoque is new and is supposed to be stiffer, but it still does not find favour with either driver. On the second day of practice the entire rear suspension, which uses tubular mounting frames instead of the cast alloy one normally used, is replaced by the standard layout. The front end cannot be altered as it is an integral part of the monocoque, whereas the rear end is bolted on to the engine and gearbox. All three cars are using the alloy spacer between engine and transmission, to give a longer wheelbase and to move the centre of gravity forwards. All three are running with KKK turbo-chargers. Biggest change in this team is the sacking of the team-manager-cum-technical director Gerard Ducarouge, his dismissal being summary when he returns from Silverstone, though no real explanation is forthcoming. With Jean-Pierre Jabouille being kept on in the team, following his retirement from driving, it is probably felt that his technical knowledge and race knowledge made Ducarouge superfluous.

 

The same three cars are used as at Silverstone, with Tambay’s car (03) uprated to that of the latest car (04) which Laffite uses. There is no real substitute for sheer horse-power on the long Hockenheim fast sections, and horsepower is something that the Matra V12 does not seem to have a surplus of, so the team try to make up by keeping drag as low as possible, but this reduces down-force which handicaps them on fast corners. It is all a matter of swings and roundabouts but the Talbot team seem to lose out on both. Although changes are continually made progress seems to be stationary with the Milanese team, but there is new hope on the horizon as their turbo-charged V8 engine has now been out on test, mounted on the back of a 179 monocoque as a temporary expedient. It is not expected to appear at a race until the Italian GP at Monza. The Hockenheim cars all have the new rear suspension that has been tried on one car at Silverstone. This features a more rigid wishbone layout and a large diameter radius tube from the top of the upright to the rear bulkhead of the monocoque on each side, which has meant revising the exhaust piping and this has given the cars a sharper exhaust note. There are three cars in the pits, the T-car numbered for Andretti, though it is not used. The car that Brian Henton crashes in practice at Silverstone is a virtual write-off so he is having to use the original car (TG181/01) which has been brought up to date as far as possible. Warwick is still using the fourth car to be built, and both have the top-mounted AiResearch turbo-chargers on their Hart 415R engines. The new car 011/1 which is damaged in the practice accident at Silverstone by Cheever, is repaired and made its race debut at Hockenheim. Two of the old 010 cars are also taken along, one for Alboreto and the other as a spare car. Siegfried Stohr’s crashed car at Silverstone is a virtual write-off and the team has to build up another car for him. The remaining teams of ATS, Ensign, March, Fittipaldi, Osella and Theodore are not radically changed, though Ensign has a spare monocoque in their transporter in case of disaster.

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As is the familiar pattern everyone is ready to go on Friday morning at 10 AM, to start the hour-and-a-half of testing time, preparatory to the hour for qualifying in the afternoon, but there is a strange atmosphere of lassitude over the whole scene. Nobody seems particularly eager and there is no atmosphere of urgency about the place, while the handful of keen spectators huddled in one corner of the vast empty stadium do not impart much sense of occasion. Like the stadium the weather is a bit grey and cool and there are spots of rain in the air which instilled a degree of uncertainty into the proceedings. With cigarette advertising totally banned at sporting events in Germany Team-Lotus, Talbot-Matra, McLaren, and Alfa Romeo are all covered in sticky tape or blank patches which give an unreal air to the pits and paddock for you felt that one good gust of wind and the awful truth would be revealed; that John Player, Marlboro and Gitanes cigarettes are paying for a lot of the racing. The morning sees all the usual dramas, of broken engines, cars which do not do what the drivers think they should do, lack of speed, lack of down-force (though how that is measured is not clear), spins and minor excursions off the road. There are no changes to the cast of actors while the only change in the management is that the AvD are once more responsible for the financial side of things, the Max and Bernie moneybags having opted out. Missing from the Talbot-Matra pits is Gerard Ducarouge of the immaculate hair-do and velvet trousers, as he has been made redundant by Guy Ligier and the patron spent most of the morning trying to explain why and to justify the decision. Meanwhile Ducarouge is swanning round the paddock on holiday, for having made Grand Prix racing your life it is difficult to give it up. The engine in Pironi’s Ferrari blows up and Villeneuve has a turbo-charger seize up, so the Ferrari mechanics are kept very busy during the break before the one o’clock timed session.

 

It is beginning to sink in to a lot of people that the hour of qualifying has become a bit of a waste of time, with drivers risking losing their fast times if their hydro-pneumatic suspension-raising mechanism does not work properly as they approach the ground-clearance check at the entrance to the pit road. Add to this the restriction to two sets of tyres for each driver during the hour and the whole affair becomes a bit of a sick joke, but the constructors and team owners all agree to these rules so no-one dares complain. Lotus are obviously taking the mickey out of the rules for the two 87s of de Angelis and Mansell are set up with something like 10 cm ground clearance before the cockpit lever is operated, and they go down the pit lane looking grotesque and comic as if on tip-toe. Once out on the track the car sits down close to the road, and though all the designers claim their cars do not touch the ground most teams spend an awful lot of time replacing the plastic rubbing strips along the lower edges of the side-pods. People refer to these rubbing strips loosely as skirts and it is pathetic to see a top driver waiting in the pits to have them changed, when he should be out on the track trying to improve his lap time. It is equally pathetic to see a driver pack up before the end of the hour because he has used up his two sets of tyres. 1981 is certainly the silly year even if the silliness has stabilised. In the morning Reutemann’s Williams FW07C/14 has its clutch operation fail, so he finishes practice making clutchless gearchanges. During the interval it is found that there is a fluid leak within the oil tank casting through which the operating line runs. As it is a major job to change the oil tank casting, which is situated between the engine and gearbox, the Argentinian has to use the T-car during the timed session.

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The Renaults are easily fastest, though Alan Jones is in a fighting mood and is right behind them, nobody else being in the same league, well over seven seconds separating the front of the field from the back, with a lap time that is long by today’s standards at an average of 1'50"0, while the average speed is high at more than 226 kph (140 mph). When it is all over three cars are towed in, Watson’s McLaren MP4/3 with a broken engine, Andretti’s Alfa Romeo and Arnoux’s Renault, both having run out of petrol. Saturday dawns very wet, but by the time testing is due the rain has stopped and the track is drying out. A very big crowd has turned out to watch and the stadium looks less bare. All morning there is rain in the air and skies are grey so that nobody really knows where they are going, undecided as to what tyres and what suspension settings to use and altogether it is a very muddly morning. Villeneuve tries the experimental Ferrari which overnight has turned into a half-B by having a normal rear end fitted to it, but it is little better. Mansell runs out of petrol at the end, the long lap and continuous full throttle work catching a lot of people out on their consumption figures. By 1:00 p.m. it is totally dry and quite warm and it could be an interesting hour of qualifying, but if rubbing-strips are not being replaced, tyres are being conserved or drivers are suffering frustration over the ground-clearance check. The Renaults are still fastest, but this time it is Reutemann who is close behind them and all the fast runners are up there behind them with no surprises as the starting grid takes shape. Not at the front at any rate, but down the back the Fittipaldi team are in despair, with neither Rosberg nor Serra qualifying, and Toleman are little better off as neither of their drivers qualify. On the Friday Henton qualifies a certain 24th and looks certain to get in on Saturday but his Hart engine makes a nasty noise and he is forced to give up before the hour is over. Jarier is well-placed in mid-field with one of the Osellas, but Gabbiani is left behind and the team has a mixed air about it. Just to keep the record straight de Cesaris crashes his McLaren MP4/1 and Villeneuve has a turbocharger go up in smoke.

 

On Sunday it begins to look as if the skies will turn blue and that it will get very hot, which would not be good for the turbo-charged cars, but it is not so and soon the sky is concrete coloured and the air becomes very heavy and sultry. There is half-an-hour warm-up from 12:10 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. during which time Villeneuve spins his Ferrari and wipes off the rear aerofoil, Watson’s N.o 3 McLaren shows signs of heavy oil consumption and Reutemann’s Williams begins misfiring as it had done at Dijon. Jarier’s Osella breaks its engine and it is noticed that Piquet’s Brabham has abandoned the carbon-fibre brake discs, but is sticking to 13 inch diameter front Goodyear tyres, whereas the Williams and Lotus teams are using 15 inch. Before the 3:00 p.m. start the engine is changed in Reutemann’s car but by the time the change is completed he has opted to take the T-car (number 15) as there is no guarantee that the misfire is not caused by a chassis installation problem. The Osella has a new engine installed and Ferrari straightens out Villeneuve’s car, while Watson opts to race McLaren number two. Although the standard Hockenheimring grid puts pole-position on the right-hand side, the Renault team request that Prost start on the left side of the road. During the parade lap of the 24 cars a few spots of rain fall, but insufficient to cause any sort of flap, though nobody is convinced it is going to stay dry. It is a good clean start and Reutemann is meteoric, getting between the Renaults as they all sweep into the first corner. Out in the country at the far end, Piquet’s left front nose fin slices into Arnoux’s right-rear tyre and before the end of the opening lap the tyre is in shreds and poor Arnoux is limping back to the pits at the end of the field. It is Prost and Reutemann, already clear of Pironi, Jones, Laffite, Piguet, Villeneuve, Andretti, Tambay, de Cesaris and Watson, with Stohr and Borgudd bringing up the rear. After they have all gone from the stadium Arnoux limps into the pits for a new rear tyre, but damage has been done to the right-hand side pod edge and though he rejoins the race he is totally outclassed.

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Pironi’s race ends on lap two when his turbo-charged Ferrari engine expires, just when we thought the engines were reliable, and this left Jones in third place. On lap three Piquet overtakes Laffite, while de Cesaris overtakes Andretti, and on lap four Salazar is into the pits with smoke pouring from a front brake on the Ensign. On lap five de Cesaris tangles with Tambay and comes off second best, ending up off the road with a stalled engine and bent steering tie-rod on the right. On this lap Jones passes his team-mate to take second place and attacks the leading Renault, while Reutemann is being attacked by Piquet. Laffite is not really keeping up, but is a long way ahead of the rest of the field which are lined up behind Villeneuve’s Ferrari, its antics through the stadium corners not encouraging them to get too close. Jones is tight behind the leading Renault for four laps, and looking for a way by, while Piquet finds his way past Reutemann on lap nine. Tambay, Rebaque, Patrese, Cheever and Andretti have all got past the wayward Ferrari, but now de Angelis, Daly and Mansell are in an unruly bunch trying to get by. Completing lap 10 into the stadium Jones is scratching to get by the Renault and gets inside it on the left-handed Sachskurve but Prost sits it out with the World Champion, wheel-to-wheel all round the corner with very little air showing between their tyres. This puts the Renault at an advantage for the following right-hand curve and Jones is forced to drop back, chastened but unabashed. Nobody thought Alain Prost would be that brave; it is a moment to savour. This slight moment allows Piquet to get right up with them and for a few laps this trio is nose-to-tail. It is obvious that Prost is not going to relinquish the lead very easily so Jones has to look for a way of out-foxing the little Frenchman, conscious of the blue and white Brabham on his tail.

 

The scuffling behind Villeneuve ends when Daly and Mansell tangle, the Irishman bringing the March into the pits with a flat right-front tyre, and as subsequently reveals itself, damage to the rear end. Mansell hits the Ferrari up the back and is into the pits at the end of lap 12 with a damaged front aerofoil mounting and Villeneuve comes in at the same time for a new set of Michelins. While running in tight formation behind the Renault and the Williams, Piquet suddenly finds them swerving one to each side of a piece of metal lying in the road, broken off another car, and he has no option but to run over it. It slices into the left-hand side pod and rubber edge, which makes the handling lop-sided, for already he is minus most of the front nose fin on that side. This allows Reutemann to regain third place and sit behind Jones while the Brazilian Brabham driver re-adjusts his technique to the changed feel of his car. These four are the only ones in the race, to all intents and purposes, and they are not going all that fast, lapping around 1'52"0 against the 1'48"0 of practice. There are still some spots of rain in the air and you feel that at any moment a steady drizzle will set in, but it never does. The second Renault driven by Arnoux is nearly 4 sec a lap slower than the leading French car and by lap 19 Prost is about to lap his team-mate, a situation to which Alan Jones is wide awake. As they all come into the stadium to complete lap 21 the moment came, Prost is forced to go round the outside of Arnoux whereupon Jones pulls his Williams in tight and shoots past both of them on the inside. It is one of those manoeuvres of which World Champions are made, and something you do not see at every race, so it is a joy to see it at this one. It is very obvious that Prost has been holding up Jones, for the Williams just pulls away and disappears, pulling out a 6 sec lead in four laps.

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Piquet has re-arranged his driving technique to deal with his lop-sided car, and soon hauls in Reutemann and retrieves third place just as the engine in the spare Williams blows up in a big way. Patrese has also disappeared with a blown-up engine in his Arrows, after having an almighty spin inside the stadium on the next-to-last right-hand corner. On this same corner on lap 30 Piquet has a breathless moment when the Brabham runs wide and skates along the verge for a long way before he can get it back on the road, but it does not lose him his third place, for Laffite, in fourth place, is a long way behind. Spots of rain are falling on and off, but insufficient to wet the road, but are no doubt worrying the drivers as they fall on their visors. As he completes lap 33 Alan Jones makes despairing signs to his pit staff as he goes by, and again on lap 35 and on the next lap it is clear what his trouble is. The engine in the Williams is cutting out intermittently, giving a great hiccough as he opens the throttle, either due to air bubbles in the injection system or short-circuits in the electrical system. It sounds as if he is driving switching the ignition on and off! As the power suddenly cuts off Jonesey boy’s head jerks forward, then all 500 bhp come in with a bang and his head jerks backwards, all of which must be straining his neck muscles to the limit, apart from the mental anguish of seeing victory slipping away. Meanwhile, behind him Prost is no happier, for his rev-limiter is playing up and he cannot get the permitted rpm, so that the lop-sided Brabham of Piquet is pressing the Renault and gets by on lap 37, with only eight laps to go. Talk about the walking wounded and it makes you wonder what is wrong with everyone else. Of all the back runners Hector Rebaque has been putting on a spirited show from a very lowly starting-grid position, and has worked his way up to fifth place, ahead of Cheever who is giving the new Tyrrell a good steady run.

 

There is nothing that Jones can do as Piquet closes on him and on lap 39 both the Brabham and the Renault go by the ailing Williams. On lap 42 Jones hiccoughs his way into the pits, where the ignition unit is changed, but to no avail, and he hiccoughs his way out again having lost third place to Laffite, which is inevitable, and given away places to Rebaque, Cheever, Watson, de Angelis, Jarier and Andretti. A very lucky Nelson Piquet reels off the remaining three laps to finish comfortably ahead of Prost’s Renault, knowing he is lucky to have survived three accidents and still finish first. A long way back comes an uninspired Laffite in a Talbot-Matra, his team-mate Tambay having succumbed to yet another broken rear wheel bearing, while the plucky little Rebaque has done another good drive once the race got under way. Cheever brings a smile to the face of Ken Tyrrell, which does not happen often these days, by bringing the new 011 home fifth and a very disgruntled Watson is sixth, complaining bitterly that his McLaren has been bouncing all over the road all the time, this being the car that was perfect at Silverstone. On the very last corner Villeneuve pips the sick Williams of Alan Jones, and finishes 10th instead of 11th, and two corners before the finish poor Marc Surer has a moment’s inattention in the Theodore and stuffs it into the barriers. After a long pit stop to replace a brake caliper Eliseo Salazar drives a consistent race to be still running at the end, but too far back to be classified, and so slow is the pace of the trouble-stricken leaders that he is lapping Ensign nearly as fast as some of them. Altogether the whole meeting is rather dull and overcast, like the weather, and no matter if it is a Max and Bernie Show or an Automobile Club von Deutschland Show the German Grand Prix is never going to be an epic event while it is held in the confines of the concrete prison camp called the Hockenheim Motodrom.

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