Apart from one or two minor sponsors changing teams or spreading their largesse in other directions, and the arrival of one or two for a one-race deal in advertising, everything is in pretty good shape on Friday morning when testing begins. It does not stay that way for long as Andrea de Cesaris crashes his McLaren MP4 and someone estimates that it is his nineteenth crash this season! The weather is heavy and sultry, as is the atmosphere in the McLaren team and they do not rush to repair it for the afternoon’s qualifying session. In fact, there are deep mutterings about putting de Cesaris out to grass and calling it a day. The qualifying hour has just got under way when everything stops as Pironi has gone off into the barriers in a very big way at the second Lesmo corner. Everything has seemed to be going perfectly for him, the speed feels right, the handling feels right and suddenly the front slides away and the whole of the left side of the Ferrari 126CK/054 is wiped off on the barriers. Pironi is unharmed and returns to the pits to say he has no idea what has happened. Quite unmoved he gets into his T-car (049/B) and proceeds to go even faster. Meanwhile Piquet is putting in his times in the spare Brabham with the carbon-fibre brake discs, and Reutemann is taking his time about going out and using up his two sets of tyres. In the morning Rebaque’s engine has broken and he is now waiting for the car to be finished off, after having the engine replaced. For the first time this year, in spite of an obvious Concorde Agreement rule, the Brabham cars have the drivers’ names written on them clearly, and Rebaque has his name on the T-car as well as his own, but does not use it. While Piquet is driving it, the Mexican’s name is taped over. The new Osella is giving a few problems of a teething nature, and Enzo Osella himself is helping the mechanics to bleed the brakes. Brian Henton has been going well in the morning test-session with number 5 Toleman-Hart, using the single-casting head-block-crankcase Hart engine, and looks a cert for qualifying within the chosen twenty-four, but a failure in the inter-cooler system forces him to transfer to the older spare car.
As is becoming familiar these days the qualifying hour lacks any sort of animation and it is no great surprise to find the two Renault drivers have done their job well and are first and second by a country mile being in a class of their own in the 1'34"0, while a very confident Reutemann is best of the rest. His team-mate, World Champion Alan Jones, is nursing a broken finger and some bruises and abrasions as a result of a public brawl in West London over a difference of opinion on driving manners in traffic. A look down the list of times makes an eyebrow or two rise when it is seen that Alboreto on Avon tyres is faster than Cheever on Goodyear tyres, both in 1981 Tyrrell cars. Not only do eyebrows rise in the Talbot camp when it is seen that Tambay is faster than Laffite, but the team management (Laffite!) decides they would swap cars for Saturday’s practice. On Saturday there is still no sign of Sunny Italy and the sky is very overcast, but at least the rain keeps off and it’s warm. To many people’s surprise the McLaren team repairs MP4/1 and de Cesaris is let out again and to his credit he covers 22 laps without an accident. Watson is soon forced to take over his T-car (MP4/2) as his race car (MP4/3) springs a leak of oil which necessitates removing all the underside of the car to get at it. In the pre-race blurb from Marlboro there is a great explanation about new megaphone exhaust pipes on the Alfa Romeo V12 of Andretti, which are said to give 15 bhp more and improve the pick-up from corners. During the morning Andretti runs with the megaphones, then stops and has a set of thin parallel pipes fitted in their place and tries again and that is the last we see of the trombones. In the Ferrari pits the Brembo brake men are giving a lot of attention to the brakes on Villeneuve’s car, though the Ferodo brake pad lining man is very happy with the temperature situation. Pironi is still in his T-car, his crashed one being beyond immediate repair, but he is in trouble with a failed turbo-charger bearing.
Considering that the KKK turbine/compressor unit is revolving at close on 100.000 rpm, and 90.000 rpm is quite normal, the plain sleeve bearings on which the shafts run need some very drastic lubrication to get rid of the heat. At the bottom end of the pits the Theodore team are in trouble as their number one car dies out on the circuit with ignition trouble, so Surer is having to use the spare car to decide on tyres and aerodynamic settings in readiness for the final qualifying hour in the afternoon. During the lunch-break (hard-work time for the mechanics and team personnel) the weather improves slightly and begins to get warm, though the air is hazy. After the total domination by the Renaults on Friday and the poor showing by Ferrari and Alfa Romeo (Villeneuve fifth, Pironi seventh and Andretti 13th) the crowd on Saturday is very poor and very quiet. Gone is the sight of the main grandstand (free on Saturday) full to overflowing, with screams and cheers every times Ferrari left the pits. The scene is very subdued and almost dull. Such is the slow pace of qualifying these days that seven minutes after the session started de Angelis is still preparing to go out, and Colin Chapman is not in a frenzy. This time last year they would have already got through two sets of qualifying tyres and the Goodyear depot mould have been hard at work to keep everyone supplied. Andretti’s Alfa is still running on straight exhaust tail pipes and Piquet is in his spare Brabham. The Theodore team has cured the ignition fault on their number one car and we have not been going long before Watson stops out on the circuit with an electrical failure. He gets back to the pits on foot and goes out in the T-car. In the Ferrari pits there is a certain amount of tension, for Pironi in his T-car (049/B) comes in saying the engine is vibrating badly and then goes off in Villeneuve’s T-car (052), whereupon the French-Canadian arrives in a cloud of smoke from a ruined turbocharger only to find he has not got a spare car any more.
He has to sit-out the rest of the qualifying time and watch Pironi trying to push him down the grid, which he finally manages to do. In the Williams camp Reutemann is in devastating form and has the Renaults on the run, eventually getting between them, though it must be admitted that Prost is thwarted by having a slight moment when overtaking de Cesaris, which results in the Renault bending a nose fin and damaging a wheel. Apart from the pain and inconvenience of the bandaged finger on his right hand, which hampers gear-changing, Jones is in further trouble when his engine blows up and he cannot get back from the far end of the circuit, to go out in his spare car. Like Villeneuve he has only used one of his sets of tyres, so we have the unusual situation of two drivers with tyres to spare. Giacomelli is in great fighting form and not only is he ahead of his team-leader, but he is also the fastest driver, which sounds good until you realise there are nine foreigners in front of him, from France, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada and Ulster. The first six on the grid are separated by two seconds, but the last six on the grid have only 1.3 sec separating them, and it’s supposed to be tough at the top! At long last one of the Toleman-Hart cars has scraped on to the grid, in twenty-third place, just ahead of Salazar in the Ensign. It’s fitting that it is Brian Henton who makes it as his enthusiasm has never wavered, even when the team has been in the depths of despair. Everyone in the team now realises that the real work now begins - qualifying for a race is the easy part! The six drivers who fail to qualify are covered by 2.3 sec and these are Surer (Theodore), Gabbiani (Osella), Warwick (Toleman-Hart), Stohr (Arrows), Rosberg (Fittipaldi) and Serra (Fittipaldi). In the closing minutes of qualifying Piquet disappears off the track in a cloud of dust with what seems to be a punctured right rear tyre, but later investigation shows that a stone has gone down the brake cooling duct, split the caliper and sliced into the wheel rim. Damage is minimal and it becomes apparent to everyone that Monza in 1981 is remarkably safe.
Jarier has given the new Osella a non-stop run on its first appearence, and Henton has raised the spirits of the Toleman team by keeping their car going for the whole race without a visit to the pits. With a turbo-charged car at the front, and a turbocharged car at the back, and another in the middle of the ten finishers the future for 3-litre unsupercharged engines does not look good, but doubtless the ubiquitous Cosworth DFV will survive to fight another day, and if Keith Duckworth has anything to do with it the fight will be a good one, but it cannot be ignored that the Cosworth has failed to win the last three races. Austria to Matra, Holland and Italy to Renault. The scene may not be wildly exciting but it does not lack interest.