South African GP 1981: Carlos Reutemann's victory that was useless

The Santa Fe won in Kyalami, but the date did not award points due to a conflict between the FIA ​​and the teams.

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The best season of Carlos Alberto Reutemann in the F1 It was, without a doubt, the one from 1981. The Santa Fe, then pilot of Williams, was a great entertainer of the tournament from the beginning, but finally lost it to Nelson Piquet (Brabham) in the last race of the year, in Las Vegas (USA).

Carlos Reutemann Kyalami 1981The difference between the Brazilian and the Argentine was only one point. That is why what happened on 7 February of that year with a victory that Lole achieved, but that was not valid for the World Cup due to the confrontation between the International Motor Sport Federation (FISA), which was the sports arm of the International Automobile Federation; and the Formula 1 Builders Association (SEAL).

The reason for the dispute was the technical regulation, nothing less. Mainly, the measures that the entity wanted to take to eliminate the ground effect that had reached the category of the hand of Lotus in the late '70s.

FISA proposed various things like banning skirts -also known as “polleritas” - which allowed cars to be well glued to the floor, raise the ground clearance to six centimeters and stipulate a increase in vehicle weight of 50 kilos.

Carlos Reutemann Kyalami 1981The objective of the measure was to drastically reduce the speed of the fireballs to avoid accidents and deaths, such as the Patrick Depailler in August 80 during a test day at Hockenheim. The Frenchman lost control of his Alfa Romeo from a front suspension failure that took him straight into the guar-rails on the fast Ostkurve bend. That was decisive for his compatriot Jean-Marie Balestre, head of the FIA, gave the order to ban the ground effect for 1981.

The FOCA, commanded by the English Bernie Ecclestone, the owner of Brabham; opposed, considering that these measures clearly favored Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo, the only manufacturers in a championship full of teams without official support.

Such was the dispute between FISA and FOCA that the idea of ​​a Formula 1 parallel through the creation of the World Motorsport Federation, which was going to bring together those teams that were against the governing body.

In the midst of these controversies, the 1981 tournament began, precisely on February 7 with the South African Grand Prix after reordering the calendar and moving to March and April the United States GP's and Argentina, respectively. The South African GP promoter had been asked the same, as if to give FISA and FOCA more time to resolve their differences, but they opposed ...

Carlos Reutemann Kyalami 1981Although the two parties held intense meetings to smooth things over and there was even the illusion of solving everything just in time for the start of the championship, that did not happen. Unable to back down, the FOCA-aligned teams ran to Kyalami with little hope that that race would be taken into account for the World Cup.

Without the FISA / FIA seal, the South African Grand Prix was nothing less than a competition of Free Formula in which everything was allowed, legally speaking.

Ferrari, Renault, Ligier, Alfa Romeo y Osella, who supported FISA; they did not show up. Williams, Brabham, Lotus, Fittipaldi, McLaren, Arrows, Tyrell, March, Ensign, ATS y Theodore, all teams using motors Cosworth, They agreed to compete because if there was no agreement with the FIA, the South African GP would be considered for the dissident event.

Almost like an omen of what would happen several months later Piquet and Reutemann were the great protagonists of the competition, of which a total of 19 pilots.

The first round was qualifying and was won by Piquet by just two tenths of an advantage over Reutemann. However, in the competition the positions and reversed and the Argentine was left with the highest step of the podium. The award ceremony was shared with the Italian Elio De Angelis (Lotus).

The Argentine's work was brilliant. During the first twenty laps, he put all his talents behind the wheel to control his Williams, which was fitted with dry rubber tires, on a track completely wet from the rain. "I risked as always ... I won as if it had been a race for the World Championship", Reutemann summed up, who already presumed that this race was not going to be taken into account if the conflict was resolved.

No sooner said than done. FISA and FOCA agreed and the South African GP did not award points for the championship. That was the last test in which the controversial skirts were used that year, since they returned in 1982. The absence of these elements did nothing but sharpen the ingenuity of the teams, which found other solutions to maintain the floor effect that was so repudiated by the FISA.

Carlos Reutemann Kyalami 1981Brabham, for example, used a hydropneumatic suspension so that your car was well glued to the ground on the track and, at the same time, it would respect the 6 cm clearance measure during technical inspections. Lotus, on the other hand, achieved the same result with a double chassis.

"I would like all the gentlemen who discuss the safety of Formula 1 to be sitting today in the cockpit of a Formula 1 about to start and with raindrops wetting the floor", Reutemann said when asked about the conflict.

And he gave as an example the tests that Renault had carried out in Buenos Aires in which the French Alain Prost had done the same time as the Australian Alan Jones at the 1980 Argentine GP. “What did they gain by taking her skirts off her? How much did its speed decrease? Apparently in almost nothing. And in the meantime we are the ones who suffer the worst part in all this mess ”.

And that suffering for Carlos Reutemann included winning in his best year in Formula 1 a race that was useless.


1 Carlos Reutemann Williams-Ford 77 1.44:54.03 2
2 Nelson Piquet Brabham-Ford 77 + 20.2 1
3 Elio de Angelis Lotus-Ford 77 + 1: 06.03 5
4 Keke rosberg Fittipaldi-Ford 76 + 1 turn 4
5 John Watson McLaren-Ford 76 + 1 turn 15
6 Riccardo Patrese Arrows- Ford 76 + 1 turn 6
7 Eddie cheever Tyrrell-Ford 76 + 1 turn 12
8 Ricardo Zunino Brabham-Ford 75 + 2 laps 7
9 Boy Serra Fittipaldi-Ford 75 + 2 laps 13
10 Nigel Mansell Lotus-Ford 74 + 3 laps 8
11 Derek Daly March- Ford 74 + 3 laps 17
Right Alan Jones Williams-Ford 62 Skirt 3
Right Marc surer Ensign- Ford 58 Battery 14
Right Andrea de Cesaris McLaren-Ford 54 Accident 9
Right Desire Wilson Tyrrell-Ford 51 Accident 16
Right Eliseo salazar March-Ford 32 Gearbox 19
Right Jan Lammers ATS-Ford 16 Brakes 10
Right Siegfried Stohr Arrows- Ford 12 Engine 11
Right Geoff lees Theodore-Ford 11 Accident 18

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Diego durruty

Journalist with 30 years of experience. Worked in magazines STROKE, The graphic, Coequipier y Only TC, on the Internet sites SportsYa!, y and on the radios Rock pop y He covered the Dakar rally for the German agency dpa. He currently drives Two Daring Guys, a car magazine that is broadcast on Tuesdays from 18 to 19 by; is editor of motorsport in Red Bull Argentina, columnist on the show WorldSport (AM Splendid) and in Surf & Rock FM.  He is also a teacher in SPORTS. Now you can read it on his blog:

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