Like Long Beach and Monte Carlo, there can be no pre-practice testing, for the roads are only closed for the three days of the Grand Prix, so when the track is opened on Friday morning, everyone is ready to go and there is a noticeable difference in the tempo during the first hour. Everyone seem to be fogging round and round without stopping, leaving the or Ian, remarkably empty, save for the odd T-car here and there. They are all out on the circuit remembering what they did or did not do last year, or learning it for the first time. There are no startling changes to be seen, though most people have bigger air scoops to the brakes, or bigger discs, or more calipers and so orti for brakes are pretty important on this circuit and come in for a good hammering. Williams are actually playing around with water-cooling for the brakes on their FWO7C cars, as Renault has done two years ago. The Arrows team are endeavoring to cash in on it being local hero time by dropping Siegfried Stohr from their team and signing on Jacques Villeneuve Sr. from nearby Quebec, though more importantly, he is the young brother of the famous / infamous (to taste!) Gilles Villeneuve, otherwise it is the same faces in the same places and in the same cars, except that Williams bring along their test-and-research car as well as their usual three cars, Piquet has a brand new Brabham, number 15, Watson has a brand new McLaren, number 4, Mansell is using the latest Lotus 87, number 5 winch was finished off at Monza, but not used, and Prost has the best Renault mods yet (see Notes on the Cars). Suddenly a red flag appears at the start/finish line and everyone stops. Brian Henton has spun his Toleman-Hart, stalled the engine, cannot restart, and the car is stuck in the middle of the track on the back leg. With 29 other cars circulating the 2 3/4-mile track the passing traffic is too busy for marshals to retrieve the car or restart it. What most drivers are discovering very quickly is that this year’s generation of hard-sprung go-karts are finding bumps on the circuit that did not exist last year.
Apart from the unpredictability of the way the cars bounce around, many of the drivers are suffering physically in their back and their neck muscles and everyone feels that the sooner the designers use some common sense and stop cheating the spirit of the regulations, the better it will be for everyone and racing car design might progress forwards a bit, instead of sideways as it is doing at the moment. Before the end of the morning session Pironi bounces off the road into the wet and soggy run-off and the car comes back on the breakdown lorry looking like an autocross car. Due to the morning delays, the afternoon timed-hour is late in starting, but once under way everyone is hard at it, for no-one believed it will stay warm and dry for the next day of qualifying, so it is now or never as far as grid positions are concerned. You do not need to look twice to see that Nelson Piquet is out to win. He is driving the Brabham T-car with its carbon fiber brakes and they are glowing bright orange as he brakes really late and hard for the hairpin before the pits. Laffite is also in a hurry and elbowing his way past slower cars in a pretty ruthless fashion, causing Serra to spin his Fittipaldi on one lap as he obviously thinks if Laffite can take the corner at that speed, so can I - he can’t. Reutemann, Jones and Laffite all change to their spare cars during the afternoon, either because they prefer the feel of it, or because it has a different suspension and aerodynamic set-up, all striving to get the best as soon as possible. Arnoux changes to the spare Renault, but he has little choice, for the RE33 arrives back at the pits with oil and water all over the car and very little of it where it should be. Pironi goes off the road again and bends his Ferrari, and as Villeneuve is out in the spare car, the Frenchman ends his practice sitting on the pit wall. Rebaque is in trouble with his gearbox, so blocks are fitted to the pedals of the spare car after Piquet has finished with it and the Mexican goes out in that for a few laps.
Henton ias out in the spare Toleman-Hart while mechanics fish for a broken-off end of a helicoil from a sparking-plughole thread in the monoblock Hart engine in his race car. They finally find it in the cylinder with the aid of a demon optical-fiber probe that the Renault team lends them. Altogether it is a pretty busy hour, probably because it is everyone’s first opportunity to go fast on the circuit, with no pre-race testing and with the added incentive of the possibility that the sunny afternoon is but a fleeting moment in a continuous rain belt. The outcome is that Piquet makes fastest time, which is no surprise after watching him out on the circuit, and Reutemann and Jones are hard after him, these three being the only drivers to get below 1’30"0. They are not only in a class of their own, but a ridiculously long may ahead of the fourth man, who is de Angelis in his Lotus 87, with 1'31"212, two whole seconds slower than Piquet. Rebaque is well up in fifth position, which team-owner Ecclestone puts down to the fact that for once the Mexican arrived at the circuit fresh and awake, having come easily up from Mexico, rather than arriving after the trans-USA and trans-Atlantic flight from his Mexican home. There are not too many surprises down the list, most drivers being where you will expect them to be at this time of the season. Local hero Jacques Villeneuve is not exactly causing any interest, apart from a spin or two, and spends a lot of time in the pits having the water system on his Arrows purged to try and overcome continual overheating, basis made little appreciable difference. The Renault team are in engine trouble caused by a new design of injector nozzle not sealing properly and the leaking fuel causing mixture weakness, but in spite of this Prost is up ahead of the Ferraris. Unbelievably, Saturday is another fine and sunny day, with a lovely autumn nip in the air first thing, but it heralds rising temperatures, which confuses all those who are expecting the worst.
The morning test-session sees all the usual with various brake temperatures, various aerofoil angles, and variations on all the other variables, in the attempt income up with the magic combination that spells success. To sort out their injector problem, Renault tries Arnoux’s car with them mounted in the normal position, inside the vee, and Prost’s car with them in the new position, outside the vee. Eventually they settle on the old-type injectors in the new position, all this being in the search for better pick-up from slow-speed corners, which is coupled with smaller turbines and the same site compressors as before. The Talbot drivers change cars, in their search for the best for Laffite, but soon change back again, all of which Patrick Tambay accepts philosophically. Pironi’s car is in trouble with its fuel pressure system, so he goes out in the Space Ferrari, the Ensign stops after only one lap when its fuel pump goes on the blink and young Villeneuve spins his Arrows and damages the nose. Everything seems to be going normally. Now that the second qualifying hour is warm and dry and not wet and impossible as everyone anticipated, it calls for renewed effort from everyone, for Friday’s times are no longer important. The three front runners, Piquet, Reutemann and Jones all set off in their T-cars, the first because the spare Brabham is something of a qualifying special and the two Williams drivers in order to save some wear and tear on their race-cars. The pace is hot all right and serious, and rather than swanning round saying after you, old chap it is possible to see a really hard bunch of hooligans having a good old go at one another, with no holds barred. Traffic problems are had at the best of times, with thirty, drivers trying to get twenty-four places, but there is also quite a bit of healthy inter-team rivalry and some pretty deliberate baulking and carving-up among the top runners
Such tactics the top drivers against the lesser lights or newcomers, is not on, but among themselves is completely valid and perfectly-safe because they all know the score. Reutemann is at his ruthless best, driving with that hardness that will intimidate the most brave-hearted, and he actually beats Piquet’s best time of the afternoon though it is not as fast as the Brazilian has gone the day before. Jones is simply Jones. Retiring at the end of the season or not, he is driving his hardest, and these three dominate once again, but joining them in the elite group in the under 1'30"0 is Prost in the Renault and the enthusiastic Mansell in a Lotus 87. At the height of the battle among the top runners Piquet is on the receiving end of some track-craft by Arnoux, which incenses the little Brazilian who is determined to go again near the end of the hour and foul up Prost, who is beginning to go too fast. By this time one of Piquet’s rear tyres is a bit worn out, and he has no more available, so Mr. Ecclestone let the mechanics put one of Rebaque’s tyres on the back of Piquet’s car. As all the tyres are marked before each qualifying hour, with the driver’s racing number the eagle-eyed Reutemann sees this. Car number 5 has a rear tyre marked number 6. Oh my! Cheating! Rules, regulations, numbers, restrictions, red tape. Did I say practice in 1981 is a farce? There is something of a subterranean fuss caused by Mr. Ecclestone’s team being caught cheating, but an equally subterranean smoothing-over merely ends in a reprimand and a slap on the wrist, with any times recorded by Piquet on his odd rear tyres being removed from the list. Presumably the real reason he goes out so equipped, to get one back on the Renault team, does not come up, otherwise the safety-committee and the do-gooders would have wetted their knickers.
This delays the publication of the Saturday afternoon times by some hours, but when they appear all was well, and combined with Friday’s times the starting grid is drawn up, with Piquet on pole-position, Reutemann next and pretty close, good old Jonesey-boy next, then the remarkable Mr. Prost in the Renault, followed by Mansell, Rebaque, de Angelis, Arnoux, Watson, Laffite, Villeneuve and the rest, the qualifiers ending at Salazar with the Ensign. Those left out are the two Fittipaldis (Rosberg and Serra), the two Toleman-Harts (Heaton and Warwick), the young Villeneuve (Arrows) and the rather despondent Gabbiani (Osella) who is beginning to realize that he is not going to make the grade in Formula 1. The qualifying hour has been enlivened by Gilles Villeneuve flying off the road in the high-speed S bend after the pits, which in itself is not new, but his explanation is. He has gone as fast as possible on his first set of regulation (marked) tyres and then goes out on his second set. Things seem to be going well so he tries harder, convinced that he could take the bends after the pits without lifting off and can see making a time that might even get him near to the front-running elite bunch. In simple words, he overcooks it, hits the kerb in the middle of the esses and spins, bouncing off the guard-rail to land up on the grass dishevelled but unhurt. He walks back to the pits to tell the Ferrari team he has goofed. As his second set of tyres are on the crashed Ferrari there is no way he can go out in the spare Ferrari, so that is that. You can’t say he doesn’t try. The most remarkable thing about the two days of practice is that Andrea de Cesaris does not crash his McLaren once, and still makes a very reasonable mid-field qualifying time, the difference being that he usually crashes due to inattention or poor judgement, not through overstepping the ultimate limit, in an area where few drivers are able, capable or care to tread, unlike Gilles Villeneuve who lives in that area.
We all know it is too much to hope for, that the sunny weather will continue, but there are degrees of cold and wet and nobody anticipated Sunday’s degree, nor the behind-the-scenes wrangling that nearly put paid to the race. On Sunday morning it is pouring with rain and the first change in the program comes with the postponement of the National motorcycle race that should have been run at 9:00 a.m. The Formula One warm-up half-hour is due at 11:25 a.m. but when that time comes there is an official car parked at right-angles across the pits exit road and no engines are running. Since the teams arrived in Canada there have been underground rumblings going on about the insurance cover for the event and the fact that it does not conform to the requirements as laid down in the Concorde Agreement. Public-liability and third-part cover are in order but there is disagreement over the insurance for the drivers and the teams in respect of claims against the organizers. This all blows up on Sunday morning as some of the drivers’ teams have not signed a waiver dealing with certain aspects of the insurance, and without their signatures the overall insurance is invalid, and the race cannot take place without insurance cover. For something like six hours, legal wrangling goes on between the organization and Bernie Ecclestone, representing the teams. At 11.25 a.m. come and go and nothing happened. 11:55 a.m. come and go, that being the time warm-up should have finished, to give the minimum of 1 hours before the start of the race, though in this case the start is due at 2:15 p.m. Then 1:00 p.m. pass and still nothing has happened, though at least the rain stopped and for a fleeting moment the sun shines. 2:00 p.m. approach and still nothing happens, except that the Television people are nearly delirious, for they are about to go on the air for the 2:15 p.m. start and have all booked expensive transmitting time on a space satellite, time which would not wait.
We all used to think that the great god Television was more powerful than Formula 1, but we were wrong. No insurance cover, no race, and Bernie and the organizers are trying to come to an agreement over what is covered by the insurance and what is not. Eventually agreement is reached and insurance is valid, but then comes the problem of catching up on time. More argument over a proposed 3-laps of warm-up, which is settled by an agreed 15 minutes of warm-up, but by now it is gone 2:30 p.m. and the race should have been running for 15 minutes. At this point the rain is not coming down and the track is dry enough for everyone to go out on slick tyres, but barely is everyone out on the track than the heavens open and drench everyone. Pity the poor paying public who has sat through all this since about 8 a.m. and there are a lot of them, for the race has attracted a good attendance. By now the Television commentators are gibbering wrecks mouthing away into their microphones incoherently. The 24 competitors rush in for wet-weather tyres and adjustments of roll-bars and aerodynamics to suit and then the 15 minutes is up. Now it is a question of how soon after the warm-up (or wet-up) can the race start. Luckily no-one has suffered mechanical disaster and Reutemann’s desire for a 2-hour break to psyche himself into race-condition is over-ruled. The rain is here to stay this time, so a new announcement is made. From 3:00 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. there will be a further test-session to allow teams to adjust their cars properly for a fully wet race. At 3:15 p.m. the pit road will be officially re-opened to start the 20 minutes count-down procedure, which includes laps round to the assembly grid, positioning of the cars, the parade lap behind the pole-position car and the final count-down for the start, which will now be given at 3:35 p.m., exactly 1 hour and 20 minutes behind schedule. It is officially declared that the race will be wet and that it will run for 70 laps as scheduled, or two hours, whichever comes up first.
All the Michelin runners are on regular Michelin wet-weather tyres, of radial construction of course, but the Goodyear runners are dickering about between 13 and 15 inch fronts, and different tread patterns for the rear. The Williams team has hastily changed the spare car on to 13 inch tyres, which means changing the brake disc assemblies to smaller ones to fit inside the smaller wheels, and Reutemann is dickering about over the choice, driving one can round to the assembly grid, climbing over the pit wall and then driving the other car round to the grid. With Alan Jones already there in his own car we have the unusual sight of three Williams cars on the grid! Eventually Reutemann settled for a combination of these-and-those on his own car and the spare car is wheeled away. Villeneuve is in the spare Ferrari, but otherwise all is remarkably orderly. The Avon-shod runners are thankful to the Avon boys who hand-cut treads onto the tyres, and the Pirelli-shod runners are equally grateful for merely having a supply of wet-weather tyres. Some of the non-qualifiers must have been grateful for being out of it all. 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 (Talbot-Matra), Villeneuve (Ferrari), Watson (McLaren), Prost (Renault) and Piquet (Brabham). In an incredible sixth place ias Pironi (Ferrari) having pulled himself up through the field after his first lap delay. Daly (March) 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” to more than 2’00”, 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. Chester (Tyrrell), De Cesaris (McLaren) and Prost (Renault) are all classified as finishers even though they have retired, as they have completed the required percentage of the winner’s distance to count as finishers. Cheever has coasted to a stop with engine failure and the other two are off the road.