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#357 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix

2021-10-09 01:00

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#1981, Fulvio Conti,

#357 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix

Official timed practice is scheduled to take place on the Thursday and Friday prior to the race, but to give the teams a chance to familiarise themsel

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Official timed practice is scheduled to take place on the Thursday and Friday prior to the race, but to give the teams a chance to familiarise themselves with the circuit the track is open on the Wednesday as well for untimed testing. From the outset both Williams FW07Cs of Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann proves to be particularly competitive and laps at an average speed of just on 100 m.p.h. When the first official qualifying session starts on Thursday. Reutemann, anxious to do well in this final race of the year and clinch the World Drivers’ Championship, takes advantage of the comparatively cool weather conditions. With a cool breeze taking the edge of the fierce South Nevada sunshine, the dusky Argentinian is well at home and leaves his rivals stunned with a scorching 1'17"821 best, an average speed of 104.917 m.p.h. Jones simply can’t match that, failing to break the 1'18"0. Barrier despite experimenting without the engine cover in an effort to improve the airflow over his Williams’ rear wing. But the Australian is quickest on Friday when the weather is much hotter, lapping 1'17"995. To ensure himself second place on the grid, using his race car for this task after the spare in which he begins practice breaks a valve spring. In this final session it was Reutemann’s turn not to be able to break 1'18"0 following a spectacular incident during the untimed session which can mark the end to both race and Championship prospects for himself and Nelson Piquet. Reutemann comes upon the Brabham team leader running slowly, just off the line, tries to squeeze through the gap and miscalculates the amount of room available. The Williams vaults over the Brabham’s rear wheel, spins in mid.air and comes crashing down onto the circuit again. Piquet’s car emerges relatively unscathed, but the FW07C is immediately took back to the garage for monocoque and suspension pick-up point damage to be examined. The car returns later to the pit lane for Retuemann to use during the final timed session, but after wearing out one of his two sets of qualifying tyres he stops to report that the morning impact has probably bent the suspension pick-up points, causing an aggravating amount of understeer.

 

Most of the competing cars are transported in convenient trucks from the previous race in Montreal, arriving at Las Vegas in notably clean and undamaged condition, which pleases the mechanics considerably. One man who has a fresh face machine is Gilles Villeneuve, for whom Ferrari 126CK turbo 051/B is sent out from Italy to replace the chassis which finishes a somewhat frayed third in the Canadian. Round the eight twists and turns of Las Vegas Villeneuve is, predictably, great entertainment as his Ferrari turbo swings from lock to lock and he indulges in couple of heart-stopping spins during the course of practice. He eventually squeezes a hectic-looking 1'18"060. Even in the circumstances at Las Vegas, Villeneuve feels he might even have broken the 1 min. 18 sec. barrier he hasn’t confronted by two slower cars immediately ahead of him at a point where his younger brother has parked on the brakes, destroying the prospect on an even quicker practice lap on his last set of Michelin qualifying tyres. Unusually, the Las Vegas Circuit is run in an anti-clockwise direction and the preponderance of left hand corners is causing some discomfort amongst the drivers. One such who suffers more than most is Piquet who seeks assistance from a boxing masseur to relieve cramp in his neck. The unfortunate side effect of this is a badly bruised back and Nelson has to return for several more massages during the course of the weekend. The pain is bad enough to stop him practising on Friday morning, but he forces himself into a fourth fastest 1'18"161. Lap on Friday afternoon. This is good enough to beat Alain Prost’s impressive Renault RE34, which runs the gauntlet of gear selection problems and a minor brake fluid leak, and qualifies fifth on 1'18"433, a time recorded on Thursday. John Watson’s McLaren MP4 lines up sixth although the Ulsterman is not without his problems, virtually has to abandon practice on Thursday due to a sinus problem attributed to his hotel’s air conditioning. The one other competitor with a chance of winning the World Championship title is Jacques Laffite, but the Frenchman complains of an engine pick up problem and dire lack of traction, so much that he commandeered team eats Tambay’s machine to record his 12th fastest 1'19"167 and decides to use that car in the race.

 

Tambay has already set an impressive seventh quickest overall time to place himself ahead of Bruno Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo and the Lotus 87 of Nigel Mansell. The Birmingham driver is comfortably the quicker of the two Lotus entries, despite having to transfer to the team spare in the final session after his race machine develops timing problems and a sticking clutch. De Angelis, unhappy with his 87’s handling and complaining that he is unable to get a clear run in the traffic, can’t improve on the 15th place. Rene Arnoux has a new Renault (RE35) to replace his chassis damaged at Montreal, this car equipped with carbon fibre aerosols front and rear as first see on Prost’s car. However, a new car brings Arnoux no improvement in fortune and following a turbocharger oil leak and consequent fire on Thursday, he spins off into a retaining wall damaging the rear wing, suspension and gearbox. The net result of these problems is a 1'19"197.  Best, only good enough for 11th place on the grid. Both Alfa Romeos qualifiy respectably enough, but Didier Pironi has continual handling problems and a turbo failure which contributes to his lowly starting position in the second Ferrari turbo. De Cesaris does a respectable for McLaren despite missing much of the first untimed session when his MP4’s engine drops a valve. Hector Rebaque suffers a front brake failure in Thursday, the Brabham coming to rest undamaged in one of the runoff area sand traps. He qualifies 16th eventually, one place ahead of Alboreto’s Avon shod Tyrrell while Cheever’s similar Goodyear shod machine is a couple of places back on this occasion. Dereck Warwick at last qualifies his Toleman-Hart for his first Grand Prix (and, indeed, his first motor race of any sort for more than a year!), a real white knuckles effort, but this time Henton fails to make it in the other car from Witney. Jarier is unexpectedly far back in the new Osella following engine failure on Thursday. Rosberg manages to struggle his precarious-handling Fittipaldi on to the grid despite steering that seems periodically to be seizing up on him while the final row of the grid comprised Surer’s Theodore and Salazar’s Ensign, both alter game practice efforts. Borgudd’s ATS and Daly’s, March 811 is numbered amongst the non-qualifiers, the popular Irish driver admitting that he knows his car has handling problems but they don’t really feel that bad! Jacques Villeneuve also fails to qualify on his second attempt at getting on to a Gran Prix grid at the wheel of the second Arrows.

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Race day is absolutely scorching and one can’t help feeling that it is one of those races in which the two Williams drivers are in a class of their own. One the 24 competitors line up on the dummy grid prior to setting off on their parade laps they are given a very firm lecture by the Clerk of the Course and tells them that they would be disqualified if the infringed any of the very specific regulations involving starting grid procedure. Thus when Villeneuve lines up in his Ferrari slightly too far to the left, the stewards takes the decision to disqualify him. The decision of the stewards takes some time to be communicated to the Ferrari pit, by which time of course, their driver had his head down in the thick of the battle. Jones stormes out through to lead into the first corner, as expected, leaving Reutemann to be swamped by Villeneuve. Prost and Giacomelli. By the end of the opening lap the incredible Jones has a two second advantage and he more than doubles that second time round. Reutemann is already down to fifth behind the aforementioned hard chargers, then come Watson, Laffite and Piquet. Mid-way round the second lap de Cesaris spins Tambay’s Talbot under breaking for one of the tight infield hairpins but both cars manages to continue. Unfortunately Tambay only manages to proceed about half a mile more! It seems that the tangle with the McLaren has damaged something on the Talbot for Patrick suddenly shots off the circuit on a fast left-hander, slamming into the protective tyre barrier. The whole front end of the Talbot is ripped off in the impact and Tambay is fortunate to be able to hobble away with a bruised leg and elbow. Jones is walking away with the race, his ever-increasing lead helped by the fact that Villeneuve has a great queue of cars banked up behind his Ferrari. On lap three Prost finds a way past Villeneuve and the Renault sets off after the fats-vanishing Williams, leaving Giacomelli to tussle with the Ferrari V6. Laffite is doing well in fourth place while Reutemann is only a few lengths ahead of Piquet, the Williams driver already experiencing some gear selection difficulties. Arnoux’s appalling luck runs true to form yet again and he stutters into the pits after 10 laps to retire with a mysterious fuel system misfire. Others in trouble early on includes Salazar’s Ensligh which stops to have a burst brake line replaced, Pironi who stops for fresh tyres on his Ferrari and Surer who make a succession of pit visits to investigate the Theodore’s strange handling and eventually gives up with a broken rear suspension rocker arm after 19 laps.
 
Completing lap 17, Piquet dives ahead of Reutemann under braking for the left-hander before the pits in a smooth and confident manoeuvre which looks absolutely absurdly straightforward when one considers precisely what was at stake. Meanwhile the Ferrari team management are debating what to do about Villeneuve’s disqualification, whether to let him continue and appeal later or withdraw him there and then. But their deliberations become of academic interest on lap 211 when he spins off and is unable to restart. Just as he did so them is a flurry of action as Laffite moves past Giacomelli for third and two laps later the Anil Romeo spins off, resuming tenth that put Andretti up to fourth with Piquet fifth and Watson sixth. As Jones proceeds on his blissfully untroubled way, Prost suddenly shots into the pits on lap 32 for four fresh tyres, dropping to fourth and promoting Laffite to second. The abrasive, dusty truck surface certainly seems to be causing problems for the Michelin runners and Laffite eventually falls victim to the same problem, stopping at the end of lap 52. By that time Andretti brings his Alfa Romeo to halt with broken rear suspension, rounding off a really foul year for the American driver, Thus, with 15 laps left to go, the real interest centred on whether Giacomelli can catch Prost for the second place - and whether Piquet can stay ahead of Watson (who also stops for fresh tyres) and the fast recovering Laffite who is really storming back towards the Ulsterman’s McLaren. In the event, Giacomelli is barely a length behind Prost in third place at the chequered flag. Then comes Nigel Mansell, fourth in his Lotus despite cramp in his left leg caused by an ill-fitting seat and Piquet, exhausted with fatigue from his neck and back takes two valuable points for fifth place to become the 1981 World Champion driver. Laffite squeezes past Watson for sixth going into the final corner and a thoroughly dejected Reutemann trails home eighth, fourth gear having long since ceased working on his Williams. As the remaining exhausted competitors struggles from their cockpits, Alan Jones strolls confidently to the winners’ rostrum clutching a can of beer. Whatever the outcome of the official World Championship, nobody leaves Las Vegas in any doubt as to who is the best driver in the business. And may people are just  keeping their fingers crossed that he doesn’t retire after all. 
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