Thursday, September 17, 1981, following the news of Niki Lauda's probable return to the world of Grand Prix, another equally sensational piece of news emerges: a retirement accompanied by rumors of a lineup of drivers that, if confirmed, would be sensational. So, Alan Jones, 34 years old, the 1980 World Champion with Williams, announces his departure from the world of racing at the end of the season. Didier Pironi, currently with Ferrari, would replace him, in turn replaced by Elio De Angelis, the Lotus driver. Jones did not make the announcement personally but through his manager, Andrew Marriott. The manager explains that the World Champion believes it is time to dedicate more time to family and his estates in Australia. However, the Australian driver will still participate in the last two races of the 1981 World Championship, the Grand Prix of Canada and Las Vegas. Alan Jones follows the example of other colleagues who, after winning a title, couldn't resist the stress of racing. The Australian Williams driver had started racing in Formula 1 in 1975. Since then, he has participated in 94 Grand Prix, achieving eleven victories (the first in Austria with Shadow in 1977). The news of the retirement surprises the Williams team. Frank Williams says:
"Alan's decision surprises us and puts us in a difficult position. At the moment, we are not in negotiations with other drivers".
However, the truth may be different. According to reliable sources, a chain transfer involving Pironi to the English team and De Angelis to Ferrari should be finalized within a few days. What is currently just a rumor seems to be supported by facts and strange coincidences. The rumor of a possible divorce between Ferrari and the Frenchman Didier Pironi has been circulating in Formula 1 circles for some time. There were also talks of Gilles Villeneuve leaving the team, but the Canadian denied it emphatically and signed a specific contract. Pironi, on the other hand, only has an option with Ferrari, which may not be respected. The results obtained this year and the possibility of joining a competitive team like Williams are two motivations that could convince Didier to change, even if leaving Ferrari is painful and can lead to regrets. In the midst of circulating news, the possibility of a switch, in exchange for Pironi, with the twenty-three-year-old Roman Elio De Angelis to the Italian team fits very well. The same driver confirms that he is unlikely to stay with Lotus and that negotiations with Alfa Romeo have not yet concluded.
"There are also other teams besides Lotus and Alfa".
But, knowing Elio's intentions, who aims to win the world title, where else would he go if not to Ferrari? Additionally, the young driver already has a lot of experience in Formula 1, has proven to be fast and balanced on several occasions. The results obtained this year, with seven placements in the top six with a non-competitive Lotus, confirm this. Furthermore, De Angelis is the Italian driver that Engineer Mauro Forghieri likes the most, and this also carries weight. Meanwhile, the tests conducted by Niki Lauda at Donington Park overall satisfy McLaren's technicians. The team's sports director, Ron Dennis, comments on the test carried out by the former World Champion, saying:
"Niki asked us to test our MP4. The main purpose of these tests was to prepare a car for him in case he really intends to return to racing. At the moment, however, no decision has been made, nor have we agreed on further tests. Lauda has only said that he needs more time to reflect, promising to let us know in due course. However, we are in phone contact with him".
Ron Dennis emphasizes that, given the results achieved in the 45 laps completed, Lauda is still the driver of the past. Regarding McLaren's intentions for the next year, Dennis is rather vague.
"No speculation should be drawn from the Donington tests. Niki is satisfied with the possibilities of the MP4, and on our part, we have confirmed those of Niki. As for De Cesaris, at this point in the season, all Formula 1 teams are considering alternatives for their lineup for the next year".
This means that the young Roman driver is 99% unlikely to have his contract renewed. A spot should be available at McLaren. On the other hand, the Brabham team is likely complete by now. According to reliable information from English sources, Ecclestone's team has renewed the contract with Nelson Piquet, alongside whom Riccardo Patrese will be added. There should be no chance for Lauda at Brabham. Never before has the Formula 1 driver market been so lively and delayed. Usually, at this time, teams for the next season were already defined. Now, however, Lauda's rumored return, Alan Jones's announced departure, and the uncertain situation in the fight for the world title have caused a standstill, a frenetic activity of managers, a series of negotiations conditioned by the positions of sponsors, creating complete chaos. However, clarification comes on Friday, September 18, 1981, from Ferrari. Or rather, the clarification comes directly from the two drivers of the Maranello team who confirm their commitment in clear terms. Villeneuve is tied to a contract until 1983, Pironi until the end of 1982.
"Following the recurring unfounded speculations reiterated by the press, we wish, in the interest of correct information, to confirm that in 1982, we will also participate in the Formula 1 World Championship with Ferrari cars, according to commitments made long ago and valid until December 31, 1982, and October 31, 1983, respectively".
The fact that Gilles and Didier are the ones communicating their situation is significant. The rumors of negotiations with other teams were too insistent for Ferrari not to desire a clear statement from the two drivers to avoid any surprises. While Ferrari is settled, the situation of other teams is currently quite unclear. Frank Williams, who has not yet received confirmation from Carlos Reutemann, has lost his protege Alan Jones. The English constructor will now have no doubts about who to aim for in the last two races of the season. In the meantime, many tests are being conducted on a small circuit in northern France to prepare the cars for the street races in Montreal and Las Vegas. Carlos Reutemann says:
"I have done very thorough preparation. Over 220 laps on a track that, in terms of characteristics, is similar to the two races we will face. Jones's announcement surprised me, but at the same time, I don't care about his decisions, just like the probable return of Niki Lauda. These are facts that do not concern me. I am focused on winning the title".
However, it seems that Frank Williams has put pressure on the Argentine driver to renew his contract for 1982. The English team still has one spot open. The number one candidate to fill the seat left by the Australian driver should be Eddie Cheever. The Italian-American driver, in addition to being appreciated for his skill and professionalism, is supported by Williams' financiers, the Arab princes who own Tag, with whom he has a long-standing relationship of sympathy and friendship. However, Cheever is also of interest to Arrows, and the next few hours will be decisive for his career. One of the main reasons why the candidacy of a young driver like Cheever might eventually be accepted by the English constructor is what has happened in recent years in Formula 1. Team managers no longer trust established champions, who, after pocketing millions of dollars, suddenly quit the activity. Alan Jones explains from London:
"I want to spend more time with my family and live in Australia, where I've been away from for eleven years. I haven't lost courage, although I must admit that races are becoming more and more dangerous. Already last January, while resting on a bed, I thought I should quit. So, as soon as I have fulfilled my commitments at the end of the season, I will leave. I don't think I'll want to return to Formula 1 later. At most, I'll have fun racing in some sports car category. But my main activity will be that of a farmer. In my farm in Yea, 100 kilometers from Melbourne, I will mainly dedicate myself to cattle breeding".
After milking the Formula 1 cows thoroughly, then, Alan Jones, with a few million dollars in the bank to invest, will be able to turn his childhood dreams into reality. While his colleagues try to follow the path opened by the Australian, the fight for the thirty available spots in Formula 1 is becoming intense. The destination of Elio De Angelis still needs to be defined, still uncertain between staying at Lotus or moving to Alfa Romeo, and numerous other cases. Meanwhile, on Friday morning in Volpiano, Osella should sign the contract renewal with Jean-Pierre Jarier. The chances of an agreement are given at 99%. The Turin constructor seems inclined to field only one car next year. However, if he changes his mind, it is not excluded that the second driver could be Milanese Riccardo Paletti, who raced in Formula 2 this year. In the meantime, however, we must not overlook the conclusion of the World Championship, which sees the current drivers engaged in a tight battle for the victory of the world title. Officially called the Canadian Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship. But in reality, it should be the Villeneuve Grand Prix, a race entirely dedicated to the two terrible brothers from Quebec, the established Gilles and the rookie Jacques. In the newspapers, on television, on the radio, the duel has already begun. Obviously, despite recent results, Gilles is considered one of the favorites for victory. A win, a second place, a fifth last year after starting in twenty-second position, indicate that the Ferrari driver is comfortable on the city circuit of Notre Dame Island. While the younger brother will only have Stohr's Arrows or perhaps Patrese's reserve car. However, that's not what matters; it's the comparison within the Villeneuve family that interests. Gilles preaches calm:
"Jacques is an excellent driver. He only lacks experience in Formula 1, and he will probably face fatigue difficulties because these cars are not easy to drive. I don't believe he can be as fast as me; he never has been, even though on snowmobiles, I would win once, and he would win another time. I wish him good luck".
Gilles is quite nervous, not satisfied with his situation, with the season coming to a close. He willingly talks to journalists about anything, hockey, small talk, but without making any mention of Ferrari. In some interviews given to local newspapers and in confidences shared with friends, however, the Canadian lets slip some criticism. He didn't like the fact that in Monza, during the last tests, the Maranello team entrusted his reserve car to Pironi at the decisive moment. And he also let it be known that Ferrari made mistakes, focusing too much on the turbo engine and too little on the chassis and aerodynamics.
"Perhaps the Maranello team has been presumptuous. They built the car and then sent it to the wind tunnel, instead of doing the opposite: first studies and then practical realization".
In essence, Gilles, despite signing a contract for 1982 and an option for 1983, gives Ferrari only one more chance next year. For Jacques, however, it's a general test. If the debut is positive, a place with Arrows or another team is assured. The younger Villeneuve (26 years old compared to Gilles' 29) is a bold type: in Montreal, he will compete in the two most important races, the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Formula Atlantic race, in which he is the championship leader.
"I have no fear because I am a professional. Do you want to know what the difference is between me and Gilles? Well, my brother likes to fly, with a helicopter and in other ways. I, on the other hand, have my feet firmly on the ground. I would be happy if he won, but I have to think about myself. Everyone has to make their own way. I think there is room for both. Brothers in life, even friends, but races, the track, are not made for hugs".
Jacques, married for five years, without children, is a different Villeneuve from the one we already know. Small like him, but with a more cocky look, more aggressive, with a challenging air that suggests a battle without mercy. Jacques Laffite says without smiling:
"A Villeneuve in a race was already a big problem for everyone. Now that there are two, anything can happen. We just hope that Jacques and Gilles realize that they are not alone, that the Canadian Grand Prix is not a head-to-head duel but a car race with twenty-four cars".
The Villeneuve fever has become almost madness. To celebrate their champion, the Canadians organize a triumphal parade through the streets of Montreal, similar to those reserved for politicians and astronauts. On Thursday, September 24, 1981, the Formula 1 circus parades in full ranks. Despite the adverse weather, the cold, and a few drops of rain, the single-seaters and drivers, loaded onto picturesque open vans, travel through the city, completely blocking traffic at high noon, in front of tens of thousands of enthusiastic spectators for the unprecedented event. Gilles Villeneuve and his brother Jacques, of course, represent the focal point of the show. Ferrari driver says:
"An incredible thing, I didn't think it could come to this. I'm stunned; I didn't imagine such passion. I really think I'll have to go all out on Sunday to win. It would be too disappointing for my fans if I didn't cross the finish line first".
The previous evening, the small Canadian had also been celebrated with the whole family in Berthierville, the town where the Villeneuves reside. All 5.000 inhabitants were present, and it was a great party. The highlight of the evening was a race with electric car models on a specially prepared micro track. And Gilles won his first duel with his brother. For the race, he chose a Ligier ("Perhaps it handles better than the Ferraris") and beat Jacques, thrilling the fans. Speaking more seriously later, Gilles once again hints at his relationship with Ferrari. While confirming that he is disappointed with his last two seasons with the Maranello cars, the driver specifies the reasons for his grievances.
"It's true that I am frustrated by the negative results. It's not something that can be hidden. But it's also true that I have confidence in Ferrari for the future. I've had excellent offers from other teams, and the fact that I stayed with the Maranello team is clear evidence of how optimistic I am for 1982. Our turbo engine had reliability problems in the recent races and, to seek greater durability, it also lost power. I am convinced, however, that it is absolutely the best turbocharged engine in Formula 1. Next year, we will have a new car, a new chassis, and I hope I can finally fight for the world title, which is my main and only goal".
An honest speech. Villeneuve will seek partial success on Sunday to recharge, even though he doesn't believe he will be able to secure pole position in the qualifying rounds starting Friday, but at least the second or third row. The favorite remains Carlos Reutemann, who on Thursday evening finally renews his contract with Williams after the announcement of Jones' departure at the end of the season. The situation for the South American, after Jones' announcement, has markedly improved. Frank Williams says:
"If in the race Jones is in the lead and Carlos is in second place, with Piquet out of the points, that is, if Reutemann has the opportunity to score decisive points for the World Championship, I will signal to the Australian to let his teammate pass".
Williams couldn't be clearer. For the moment, the English constructor puts aside the problems regarding the signing of a second driver.
"I have a list of five or six names, but it is evident that I want a top driver, a number one. Next year, I will have a completely new car, certainly competitive, and I want to continue fighting for the title. No experiments, therefore, but within the limits of the market, I will try to pair the best available driver with Reutemann".
On Tuesday evening, the rumor spread in Montreal that Niki Lauda had already signed a contract to race with McLaren from next year. When contacted by phone in Austria, the Austrian clarifies the situation.
"I haven't decided anything yet; there are important details to discuss. I will communicate the final decision next Thursday".
Lauda, even though his return is now 90% certain, still needs to reflect and, above all, resolve some issues regarding his current work with the airline and his relationships with sponsors. Tied by a public relations contract with Parmalat, Niki would like to please those who have supported him for several years. On Wednesday, September 30, 1981, he will be in Parma to discuss the possibility of keeping the writings of the Italian food company on his suit. This is an obstacle on which Marlboro, which has offered him $3 million for his entire image, could insist and ask for a reduction in the amount or the abolition of the link with Parmalat. Everything is still to be determined, and surprises cannot be ruled out. From Paris, Mike Horst, president of Philip Morris France, emphasizes that no contract has been signed by Marlboro McLaren International and Austrian driver Niki Lauda. However, negotiations with Lauda, adds Horst, have not been interrupted:
"Like most teams, we are looking for a driver".
Horst suggests that Lauda, despite having contacts with other teams, is not the only driver available to be entrusted with a McLaren or an Alfa Romeo. In two days of testing and just over an hour and a half of the race, glory, success, wealth, and everything a man can dream of for a lifetime will be at stake. But Piquet, nicknamed Nelson because his father liked the story of the famous British admiral, seems not to worry too much. Perhaps he is already rich (he owns, among other things, a BMW 745 turbo and a Mercedes 500, two of the most expensive cars in the world, a very costly offshore, and residences scattered in Brazil, Monte-Carlo, and London), and he doesn't seem to be bothered by fame. The fact remains that the Canadian Grand Prix for the twenty-nine-year-old Brazilian, who appears as half gypsy and half Indian, with the mysterious charm of both races, will be an important stage in his racing career. Perhaps the race could secure the world championship title, although, to be certain of winning, Nelson Piquet will have to wait for the last race in Las Vegas, as the three-point lead in the championship standings puts his rival Carlos Reutemann out of immediate defeat. Dressed in jeans and a splendid Missoni sweater ("I saw it in a shop window in Milan, it costs 900.000 lire, but they gave it to me as a gift"), Nelson Piquet speaks calmly before the tests about the situation of this eagerly awaited race, including himself.
"Tactics? What tactics? Here, you have to step on the accelerator, try to get to the end of the race, preferably ahead of Carlos Reutemann. Simple, right? If things had gone differently, I could have an eighteen-point lead and sleep with two pillows. Instead, it went wrong, and I really don't know how it will end. Of course, I want this title; I think I deserve it. My Argentine rival complains a lot, but he has been luckier. Just think about what happened in Monza. I stopped half a lap from the end while I was counting how many points I would have earned".
But you have also lost many points...
"If you're referring to Brazil, it's a mistake. Yes, I made a mistake in choosing the tires, but I wouldn't have won anyway, at most, I would have finished fourth or fifth. I can tell you something: my Brabham then had variable suspensions that worked with the aerodynamic pressure of the air. And in the rain, going slowly, it didn't lower and stayed off the ground. As for the other incidents, Monaco, Spain, Belgium, England, it wasn't all my fault".
And now you will also have the disadvantage that Reutemann will be helped by Alan Jones by order of Williams.
"I don't believe that. At most, I'll have two fierce opponents. Jones will fight to the end, and if Williams signals him to let Carlos pass, he'll pretend not to see it, as happened in Brazil in a similar situation. Even though it was the South American who disobeyed orders then".
But there are not only Williams. What do you think of Ferrari and Renault?
"I don't think the turbo cars will give us much trouble here. In any case, I just need to recover points on my direct title competitor".
You are the man who convinced Lauda to quit racing because you regularly beat him. What do you think of his likely return?
"For Formula One, it would be good to have a character like Lauda back. In 1979, I was ahead of him because I had to prove I was fast; I was nobody. Maybe he no longer had motivations to take risks. Probably he has found these motivations again, and I think he might even win some races. Once, I won because five cars in front of me retired. In England, Watson won because nine cars retired. Lauda won't be as fast anymore, but he's smart; he's someone who finishes races and takes advantage of situations. Anyway, it's certainly not my problem. I just have to avoid making mistakes. And then you'll see the title return to Brazil, where Emerson Fittipaldi had already brought it twice".
On Friday, September 25, 1981, a duel on the edge of tenths of a second is witnessed on the first day of practice for the Canadian Grand Prix, the penultimate event of the Formula 1 World Championship, between Nelson Piquet and Carlos Reutemann. The Brazilian, with the Brabham, laps in 1'29"21, while the Argentine in the Williams clocks 1'29"60; the two are the best while the Ferraris and Alfa Romeos are struggling. Piquet is extremely precise in his driving, lowering his time at will every time he takes to the track. Reutemann, on the other hand, is improving gradually, getting closer to his great rival. The day holds nothing exciting for the Italian teams, except for the fourth time of the great Elio De Angelis. The Roman driver, with a poorly competitive Lotus, places himself among the best. He is only preceded by Jones, who watches the duel between Piquet and Reutemann like a threatening shadow. The Renaults disappoint, delayed by several issues, as do the Ferraris and Alfa Romeos. The Maranello team is forced to face a bad day, marked by an accident for Pironi, who, after a spin, ended up with the car against the rubber protections of the track and could not continue the tests, and a spin for Villeneuve, who broke a wheel rim. Then the Canadian, who had already changed his car because he was not satisfied with the engine's power, is forced to return to the pits with the new engine out of order. The Alfa Romeos almost never take to the track. Andretti makes various aerodynamic choices, Giacomelli first complains about the fuel pump breaking on his car, and then on the reserve car, a side panel detaches. Nelson Piquet says at the end of the day:
"I did well; I am confident, but I think I can improve by another 0.2s or 0.3s. I believe Reutemann will not have the chance to catch me".
While Carlos Reutemann replies:
"I attacked, but I also had to deal with various setup problems. I hope to catch Piquet in the last turn. On this circuit, starting in pole position is very important because overtaking is not easy".
The automotive challenge of the year experiences one of its most interesting moments in the Canadian Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the Formula 1 World Championship. When the race starts, the two great rivals for the title will be there, side by side in the front row, staring each other in the eyes: Nelson Piquet and Carlos Reutemann. The last qualifying session does not substantially change the starting grid. The Brazilian, even though he fails to improve, retains the pole position, while the Argentine approaches the opponent without, however, achieving the goal of surpassing him. Between the two title contenders, a quarrel also flares up: Reutemann accuses Piquet of having hindered him in a lap where he thought he was very fast. Carlos says, clenching his fists in front of Piquet's car:
"You did it on purpose; you were traveling at a moderate pace, and when you saw me in the rearview mirrors, you positioned yourself in the middle of the track to block my path. Your behavior is not fair; you deserve a severe lesson. I will try to give it to you in the race".
And insults fly. Nelson does not reply but lowers his head, a sign that he knows he has committed a foul. Reutemann also protests because Piquet uses a set of Rebaque's tires. In the last timed test, most drivers try to improve their performances. Gilles Villeneuve risks a lot and ultimately pays with a spectacular off-track excursion in which he remains unharmed.
"I was using the second set of qualifying tires, softer than the one I had used before, which had lasted 4-5 laps. Apparently, in the second lap, the tires deteriorated, and the car went into a spin in the fastest corner of the circuit, the third. I was traveling at 275 km/h, and I got a good scare. I hit head-on against the guardrail, crushing the front of the car, which once again proved to be very robust".
I tires will be one of the determining factors of the race: on the very smooth asphalt of Notre-Dame Island, Goodyear has proven to be significantly more competitive than Michelin. In any case, the Italian cars have not been able to advance in the lineup: Villeneuve and Pironi are eleventh and twelfth, while the Alfas are fifteenth with Giacomelli and sixteenth with Andretti. Reutemann or Piquet? Who will win the World Championship? Perhaps by Sunday evening, the doubt will be resolved: if the Argentine were to win the Canadian Grand Prix and the Brazilian does not earn at least three points, the Williams driver will become the World Champion with one race to spare. The heated rivalry between the two leaders of the standings generates excitement and discussions, in an atmosphere of uncertainty that has been the dominant theme of the championship. But what do the other drivers think? Here's a kind of prediction from insiders, a World Championship guessing game. Gilles Villeneuve says:
"The title will go to Carlos Reutemann because he has a three-point advantage, because he has so far proven to always be up to the situation. I say it with my heart because I like Reutemann; he is very good. And I say it with my brain, as he has prevailed so far with intelligence in making the best use of his car's qualities".
On the contrary, Didier Pironi's prediction is different.
"Piquet will win. His Brabham is the fastest car, favored on circuits like this one in Montreal and perhaps even in Las Vegas. Plus, the Brazilian has nothing to lose, and this is an important psychological factor. If Nelson lets the 1981 title slip away, he can try next year or in two seasons. For Reutemann, the opportunity might be the last and unrepeatable, and he will experience the nervous stress of this situation".
Between two opposing predictions, the more uncertain and perhaps more reasoned one comes from the young Alain Prost, an emerging star in Formula 1:
"Honestly, I would prefer to answer that I am the favorite for the title. But I have to admit to having very little hope. It means I will aim for third place, even if it doesn't count for much. A precise prediction is impossible anyway; motor racing is subject to too many factors of uncertainty to name just one. An accident, a breakdown, and you're out. So I give each a 50% chance".
A World Champion, Mario Andretti, has a sure favorite.
"If there is someone who has to win the championship, it is Reutemann. He deserves it widely. For what he has done in his now long career and for how he raced this year, with the grit of a young man and the experience of an elder. And I am convinced that things will end in this way".
Much more blunt is Alan Jones, an interested spectator.
"Why should I limit the prediction to Reutemann and Piquet? I won't give up. There are still two races to be held, and I'm not willing to give up the title so easily. On paper, I still have chances, and I will play the few possibilities that remain in the best way. I will make life difficult for both of them".
However, there are those who, outside the fray, predict Reutemann, revealing themselves with the usual foresight of someone who knows everything. Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, states:
"The world champion will be the Argentine; I had said it since March, at the beginning of the season. Why? I don't know. A premonition. Piquet is good, admirable, and also likable, but Carlos will prevail".
On Sunday, September 27, 1981, finally, everything is ready, the red light comes on, then the green and they are off in the biggest cloud of spray you have ever seen. Reutemann gets the jump on Piquet and leads the pack into the first right hand bend, cuts across for the left hander over the brow of the hill and is hugging the inside line as he comes into my view. Round the outside of Reutemann comes Jones, past into the lead, and as he slices through the fast right bander leading on the first straight there is just time to see Piquet’s Brabham right up close under the Williams rear aerofoil, followed equally closely by Prost’s Renault. That is the moment that Reutemann gives up. As he disappeared into the spray of Jones, Piquet and Prost, de Angelis go by and then it is total oblivion and all you can hear is the sound of racing engines on full song, disappearing into a solid wall of spray. They are earning their money this time and even the hint man deserves a bonus rake plunged head-long into oblivion, even the regulation red rear-lamps being invisible. Half way round that first lap Villeneuve bumpes into Arnoux, sending him into Pironi’s Ferrari and while the Canadian continues on his way Arnoux is off the road and out of the race and Pironi is gathering himself up again, to finish the first lap in 21st position. Jones has a clear, but wet, road in front of him and is making the most of it, out to win, while Piquet is not going to let him get too far away. Prune is third, de Angelis fourth, Reutemann fifth, Laffite sixth, Mansell seventh, Tambay eighth, Watson ninth and Villeneuve tenth, and while they are on lap 2 the rain starts again. Reutemann simply gives up and tours round, dropping down to nineteenth place. The lads up the front aren’t giving up, there is a race on and that means a race to be won and most of them are out to win it, especially Alan Jones. For five laps he, Piquet and Prost draw away but it is raining hard and the Michelin tyres are better in deep water than the Goodyears. It is no surprise but sad nevertheless for the Jones’ fans, when he spins off on lap 6, causing Piquet to take avoiding action, which lets Prost by into the lead, followed by Laffite and Villeneuve. It puts Jones right out of the running, but Piquet hangs on to fourth place, even though the Michelin shod cars are pulling away from him. When Watson gets by into fourth place it is obvious to even the most casual observer that the Michelin tyres have something the Goodyears have not got, and the rain is still pouring down. Tambay, Patrese and Salazar are all victims of the conditions ending up off the road and out of the race and the overall scene comprises a Michelin race with the Goodyear-shod Piquet hanging on to them by his eyebrows, and the rest in which Daly is going great guns in the Avon-shod March and pulling through the murk from 20th place on the grid and seventh in the race, just behind De Angelis in the Lotus 87. At the front, Prost is unhappy about the feel of his brakes and is not prepared to take chances, apart from the unsuitability of the turbo-charged V6 to the impossible conditions.
Laffite on the other hand, in second place, is in terrific form and the wider torque-spread of the Matra V12 is giving him a much easier time. He overtakes Prost on lap 12 and then maybe goes by and pulls away here, is another courageous driver out to win the Canadian Grand Prix regardless of the conditions. Two laps later Prost is down to third place and this time it is the tenacious Gilles Villeneuve who forces his Ferrari past the Renault, the Ferrari engine popping and banging on part throttle opening, and not coming onto full song until he can floor the accelerator pedal, which is not often on the skating-rink of a circuit that is awash with running water in most places. Laffite is a joy to watch as he forges through the spray, the Matra V12 sounding perfect, and Jacques Laffite making the most of everyone else’s discomfort. Prost next falls victim to Watson, but manages to stay ahead of Piquet, so the order settles for a bit. Laffite, Villeneuve, Watson, Prost and Piquet. In an incredible sixth place ias Pironi having pulled himself up through the field after his first lap delay. Daly is leading the rest, having disposed of De Angelis. On lap 19, Pironi gets past Piquet and on the next lap he is past Prost, putting himself into fourth place, but before he can catch Watson the Ferrari engine blows up and that is that. He has only done 14 laps, and in the spray and confusion many people do not realize what a fantastic job he has done after his team-mate has caused him to drop to the back of the field on the opening lap. The rain has now stopped bucketing down, but it is still awfully wet. Jones has been into the pits trying a different set of tyres but the handling is no better and as he is now next to last, with no hope of going any quicker he decides to pack it in and try and dilute the water inside him with a glass of beer. By thirty laps a dry strip of track is beginning to appear in places and if this goes on one can foresee the wet-weather tyres wearing rapidly and a rush to the pits for dry-weather tyres, but we need not have worried for the rain returns after a while. For five laps Laffite finds himself stuck behind Andretti’s Alfa Romeo, the American driver seemingly oblivious or disinterested in what is going on behind him, while on the drying track Watson gains on Villeneuve and gets by the Ferrari on lap 37, into second place but a long way behind Laffite. Prost is still fourth, but Giacomelli ousts Piquet from fifth place, making it a clean sweep for Michelin-shod cars, the courageous Piquet still not lapped by the leader.
Lap times has been anywhere between 1'50"0 to more than 2'00"0, so clearly the race is going to stop at 2 hours, long before 70 laps are covered. In spite of slight drying-out on parts of the track Villeneuve is unable to take advantage of it and drops back, not enough for Prost to do anything about it but presenting no challenge to Watson who is firmly in second place and driving nice and smoothly. While lapping De Angelis, Villeneuve collides with the back of the Lotus 87, both cars spin and the Ferrari is away again with a flourish but with its nose aerofoil badly bent out of shape. It has been bent at an angle since the first lap incident with Arnoux and now it is totally useless, but Villeneuve presses on where others would have gone to the pits to complain about the handling or to have a new nose cone fitted. He leaves De Angelis gathering himself up and not a little upset. Of all the cars on the same lap as the leader, and there are seven of them, only Piquet is on Goodyear tyres, which says everything for his tenacity, but even so he cannot fend off Giacomelli, who goes by him and now even De Cesaris is looking for a way by the slipping and sliding Brabham. Meanwhile, a dejected Nigel Mansell has gone to the pits to complain about the poor handling of his Lotus 87 and a flat front tyre was found, but at this point the road past the pits looks pretty dry so his car is put onto slick tyres on the assumption that it is drying out all round. This is a very wrong assumption and Mansell has not gone far before he spins helplessly off the track, and as the marshals retrieve the 87 from the wayside and help it back on the track, the rear aerofoil gets badly bent out of shape. On his way back to the pits, Mansell changes from one side of the road to the other just as Prost arrives and the Renault punts the Lotus up the back. A very angry Prost goes off into the barriers and damages the nose of the Renault and loses fourth place, while Mansell limps to the pits. This lets Giacomelli up into fourth place, followed by a struggling Piquet and an excited De Cesaris, who can see fifth place was there for the taking. Behind them Laffite is waiting to lap them both and he watches spellbound as De Cesaris lunges to pass the Brabham, gets it all wrong, the cars touch and while Piquet controlls a wild slide the McLaren is off the road and into the grass and mud. A slightly qurizical Lather then laps Piquet and goes on his way, soon to lap Giacomelli.
Villeneuve has been driving round with the battered front aerofoil of the Ferrari getting tattier and tattier, until the wind pressure breaks the mountings and the whole thing folds up over the nose of the car, but still Villeneuve drives on. Peering round the side of the obstruction, for after all he is holding third place in this marathon of a race. Within a lap the battered aerofoil and the complete nose cone breaks right away and flies over the cockpit, while the driver keeeps his head down, and one of the Ferrari’s rear wheels run over the remains. With a clear vision once more but with very little holding the front wheels down on the road Villeneuve presses on at unabated speed. The rain has started teeming down again and at times you wonder how he gets the Ferrari round the corners when both front wheels seem to be off the ground. But he is still holding third place. As Laffite is on his sixty-third lap, the two-hour mark is reached, so as he finishes the lap the chequered flag is waved and eleven very relieved drivers lift off and tour round on the slowing down lap. Only Laffite, Watson and Villeneuve completed sixty-three laps, the rest being one lap, two laps and even three laps behind by this time. The unpredictable has happened. In the Canadian Grand Prix, everyone expected a victory for Reutemann or Piquet. However, it was Jacques Laffite who emerged as the winner. The Frenchman won a race that was at risk of being canceled due to the incredible attitude of the organizers, who did not have the required insurance coverage according to the regulations. The race, with the presence of rain, turned into a real gamble. And the number 26 of the French driver came up. A race in which the tires played a decisive role. While on dry asphalt during the two days of qualification, Goodyear tires had proven to be significantly superior, on wet ground, Michelin had the upper hand. Starting in tenth position, Laffite took the lead on lap 12, navigating through all the hazards of the Montreal track.
"This is my sixth victory in Formula 1, certainly the most beautiful and unexpected. I've never been a master in wet conditions, but a well-balanced car and exceptional tires allowed me this feat and a comeback in the World Championship. Am I thinking about the title? Of course, I am. But I don't think I have many chances. However, making predictions is pointless; we'll see on the track – me, Reutemann, and Piquet. It's a pity we're not racing on a normal circuit. Las Vegas will be an adventure for everyone. But, after all, I like adventures. Who knows, maybe this one will end well...".
While awaiting this uncertain conclusion, a brief analysis of what happened in the Canadian Grand Prix, which ended positively for Italian drivers and cars after several lackluster races. The third place for Ferrari was joined by Giacomelli's fourth place, who towards the end of the season proved to be a man of absolute value with an Alfa Romeo still dealing with minor issues but making progress. De Angelis finished sixth, becoming accustomed to this type of placement. The Canadian Grand Prix revitalized Ferrari. Whether it's the cold temperature, the characteristics of the circuit, or the continuous testing of new solutions in Maranello, with a bit more luck, both Villeneuve and Pironi could have won. The Frenchman had to retire due to an engine failure while making a comeback in sixth place, and the Canadian finished third. Both cars, perhaps due to the rain, experienced fuel supply problems, probably because the moisture caused the spark plugs to malfunction. Didier Pironi says:
"It was still the best Ferrari I've had".
Villeneuve showed that the car's performance is exceptional. When everything was in order at the start of the race, the acceleration of his Ferrari stunned everyone, including the other drivers. An encouraging result, hoping that next year they can finally aim for the title. The Canadian Grand Prix brought Reutemann and Piquet together in a chorus of complaints. If the Brazilian, at the end of a race conducted with great courage and skill, managed to limit the damage with a fifth-place finish, the Argentine was never in the race. Did nervous stress betray the sad gaucho? Or did Carlos show his limits in environmental conditions he dislikes, as he had lost several positions in the rain at Monza as well? Reutemann rejects these hypotheses:
"My Williams literally couldn't stay on the track. It was like being in a boat, rowing, but it felt like I was without a rudder. Mainly the fault of the tires. On such smooth asphalt, with the track flooded, our tires couldn't hold. It's proven by the fact that the first four cars all had Michelin radials. Even before starting, I knew I would have huge difficulties. Now everything starts again. I'm disappointed".
For once, Reutemann's explanations are supported by Alan Jones, who even retired for the same problems.
"I tried everything at the beginning, but after a few laps, my Williams was uncontrollable. Now I'm eliminated from the title challenge. I don't give up, though: before retiring at the end of the season, I want to win one more race, the last chance. Everything else doesn't concern me".
Nelson Piquet appears very concerned. The Brazilian does not blame the tires (the same as the Williams), but he rebels against bad luck.
"I know I still have excellent chances, but at this point, I wonder if it won't be bad luck that denies me the satisfaction of winning the world title. Every race seems like I have to take a walk, and then everything becomes difficult. On Sunday, I even risked going off the track in the last minutes because of that reckless De Cesaris".
Gilles Villeneuve, on the other hand, is calm and content:
"It's true that I couldn't see anything. First, the water spray forced me to find the trajectories by looking at the asphalt to see where the other cars had passed. Then the bent wing, practically on my face, forced me to twist my head. So losing it caused huge grip problems. At high speed, the car lifted in the front. But what do you want? That I stopped to change that damn wing? That I lost third place? I would never have done that. And besides, if I had made such a decision, many would now say that I'm an idiot".
As mentioned, the Canadian Grand Prix risked, until the last moment, not being contested. Another serious controversy, more total confusion, struck Formula 1. This time, a new issue emerged with problems related to the circuit's insurance. It's almost as if it were to snow in the middle of August for Formula 1 to find a new way to provoke discussions and controversies. The issue arose in the middle of the week when the Grand Prix organizers presented a document to team managers for signature regarding insurance. Some teams, without carefully reading the document, signed it; but others, more attentive, discovered that the overall insurance for the race did not meet the regulations. Essentially, each race in the World Championship must be globally insured for $12.000.000 by the organizers to cover all risks for cars, drivers, mechanics, and even the audience. However, the organizers of the Canadian circuit had contracted insurance for only $5.000.000. The exact reason is unclear: they actually spent only $15.000 compared to the $55.000 that would have been the total cost of insurance, but what savings is it if risking jeopardizing everything for $40.000 on a total event cost estimated at over $1.5 million? In essence, the first problems erupted on Saturday. Endless meetings, consultations among the various teams, and it continued until late at night. Sunday morning, the feverish meetings continued, delaying the usual warm-up phase (20 minutes) of the cars that precede the race start by more than two hours. The teams belonging to the old legalist group (Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Talbot, Osella, and Toleman) took a firm position, demanding that the entire expected insurance be covered. More lenient, however, were the members of the FOCA teams as well as FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre, who ultimately accepted, with an amendment to the document, to go out on the track as planned. The organizers made the modification, asking only for the disclaimer of responsibility for any negligence in the pits. Essentially, the only risk not covered was the case where, for example, a mechanic hurt his finger or something similar. But the other teams, the legalists, did not accept (also because it seems that the agreement reached between the organizers and FOCA removed all insurance coverage from FOCA members in favor of those from Ferrari and company). Lawyers intervened, sheets were circulated, signed and to be signed, and everything continued for hours until it reached 3:00 p.m.. To further complicate things, rain arrived.
In the morning, the track was already wet, then it dried, and just when the cars descended onto the circuit, a violent downpour occurred. More problems, more confusion about tire choices, a further delay of 35 minutes for the race start, also to allow the drivers to warm up their tires. Finally, at 3:35 p.m., the race started. But some argue that this race might not even be valid because it is not perfectly regulatory. This will be seen in the coming days, but this only complicates Formula 1's life, which seems to have returned to the early months of the year when it could risk a general collapse. Thanks to the drivers, the rivalry between Reutemann and Piquet, and the uncertain conclusion of the World Championship, Formula 1 has managed to forget a disastrous start to the season due to controversies and perhaps overcome one of the ugliest moments in its history. However, just because it's in a phase of revival, the leaders of the pinnacle of motorsport should introspect and try to resolve the enormous problems still looming, which are so important that any positive result will be rendered useless if not thoroughly examined and eliminated. We're talking about technical regulations, constructors, and sports authorities. Too often, the rules of this game are circumvented, partly because they are difficult to interpret (or rather, the regulations are not clear on many occasions), partly because cheating is done with extreme ease, and above all because federal officials and various commissions do not have the power or strength to strictly enforce what the code stipulates. The FISA bears the greatest responsibility for this situation. But not everything can be attributed to President Jean-Marie Balestre, who found himself fighting behind a legacy of errors and compromises that is now difficult to erase. It is still true, however, that the Federation president should, with the means at his disposal, seek a final solution for the great chaos reigning in Formula 1.