1981 Formula One season
|1981 FIA Formula One
World Championship season
|Drivers' Champion: Nelson Piquet
Constructors' Champion: Williams-Ford
The 1981 Formula One season was the 32nd season of FIA Formula One motor racing. It featured the 1981 FIA Formula One World Championship which was contested over a fifteen race series that commenced on 15 March and ended on 17 October. Formula One cars also contested the 1981 South African Grand Prix, although this was technically a Formula Libre race and was not part of the Formula One World Championship.
The 1981 championship was the inaugural FIA Formula One World Championship, replacing the former World Championship for Drivers. Nelson Piquet won the Drivers' Championship, claiming the first of his three Formula One titles and Williams won the Constructors' Championship.
- 1 Drivers and constructors
- 2 Season review
- 3 Season summary
- 3.1 Race 1 (Eventually stripped of championship status): South Africa
- 3.2 Race 1: United States West
- 3.3 Race 2: Brazil
- 3.4 Race 3: Argentina
- 3.5 Race 4: San Marino
- 3.6 Race 5: Belgium
- 3.7 Race 6: Monaco
- 3.8 Race 7: Spain
- 3.9 Race 8: France
- 3.10 Race 9: Britain
- 3.11 Race 10: Germany
- 3.12 Race 11: Austria
- 3.13 Race 12: Holland
- 3.14 Race 13: Italy
- 3.15 Race 14: Canada
- 3.16 Race 15: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
- 4 1981 Drivers' Championship final standings
- 5 1981 Constructors' Championship final standings
- 6 Non-Championship race results
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Drivers and constructors
The following teams and drivers contested the 1981 FIA Formula One World Championship:
Notes: The final race was originally supposed to be held at Watkins Glen, but this track was dropped from the calendar in May due to the circuit's financial difficulties. And the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami on February 7 was originally on the calendar, but difficulties from the ongoing FISA–FOCA war led to the event being run as a non-championship race; and it was contested only by the Ford-Cosworth powered teams all running cars that had aerodynamic devices which were banned for the 1981 championship season.
The 1981 Formula One season was an extraordinary season of Grand Prix racing for many reasons: it was effectively the first season that Briton and Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone and FOCA had the Concorde Agreement in place, which would set Formula One on a course to become a profitable business, thanks to the growing professional involvement of outside companies and professional sponsorship.
Race 1 (Eventually stripped of championship status): South Africa
The South African Grand Prix held on February 7 (an event which was a consistent mainstay on the Formula One calendar) at the Kyalami Circuit near Johannesburg, was originally supposed to be the first round of the 1981 Formula One championship- but it was eventually stripped of its championship status. The ongoing FISA-FOCA war resulted in Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) insisting on a date change which was not acceptable to the race organisers. Approval was ultimately given for the race to go ahead on its original date but as a Formula Libre race rather than as a round of the Formula One World Championship. The downgraded race was supported by the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) aligned teams but not by the teams of the manufacturers, whose allegiances lay with FISA. This race was run with the cars running in 1980-spec. trim, with the ground-effect wing cars of the time, equipped with sliding skirts that increased their downforce by ensuring the air under the car did not escape from under the car, where the most important airflow was. This race, run in wet conditions, was won by the Argentine driver Carlos Reutemann in a Williams-Ford/Cosworth.
Race 1: United States West
The first of two rounds in the United States of America started F1's Americas tour on March 15 at the Long Beach street circuit in southern California, just outside of the metropolis of Los Angeles. The cars were now running in new 1981-spec cars, with the sliding skirts now banned and cars required to have a 6 cm ground clearance, in order to reduce downforce. Australian Alan Jones won this race in Williams-Ford/Cosworth after pole-sitter Riccardo Patrese in an Arrows-Ford/Cosworth fell out and Jones's teammate Carlos Reutemann made a race-costing error that Jones took advantage of.
Race 2: Brazil
The Formula One circus moved from North to South America to start a 2-leg tour there. The first round was at the Jacarepagua Autodrome in Rio de Janeiro- only the second time F1 had been there. F1 had previously visited the 5-mile Interlagos circuit in São Paulo the year from 1972-1980; this circuit was effectively dropped after 1980 because of safety issues with the circuit and the growing slums around the circuit being at odds with Formula One's glamorous image. This rain-soaked race saw Reutemann disobey team orders to let Jones through, and a furious Jones did not appear on the podium afterwards.
Race 3: Argentina
The other half of the South American tour in Reutemann's home country of Argentina was usually held in January; this time it was in April. This race was a procession: at the varied circuit located in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, Brabham designer Gordon Murray had come up with a hydraulic suspension to get his BT49C closer to the ground, and therefore be faster. This proved effective- as Brabham driver Nelson Piquet took pole ahead of French up-and-comer Alain Prost and the two Williams drivers, he and Mexican teammate Hector Rebaque dominated the race, driving a car that was embarrassingly superior to all the others. The Brazilian won handily from home favorite Reutemann and Renault driver Prost. The Argentine GP would not return to the calendar until 1995.
Race 4: San Marino
Four weeks later, the GP circus returned to Europe to start the 4 month long tour there. The first race was a new race- a second Italian race called the San Marino Grand Prix at the Autodromo Dino Ferrari near Imola, just outside Bologna. Unlike the South American races, both of which had been uncommon disappointments- the inaugural San Marino GP was a humdinger of a race- exciting all the way through. Brazilian Nelson Piquet won again for Brabham.
Race 5: Belgium
In stark contrast to San Marino, the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder was a shambolic event filled with tragedies and frustration. Politics dominated this event- Gordon Murray's hydraulic suspension gave his Brabhams considerable performance advantages, and there were arguments about who was cheating and who wasn't. The tragedy, however, started with Carlos Reutemann accidentally running over an Osella mechanic, Giovanni Amadeo- who died of a fractured skull the Monday after the race. The race, however, was an appalling embarrassment by top motor racing standards- at the start, there was a driver's strike concerning mechanic and team personnel safety- which delayed the start. And when the race started, an Arrows mechanic, Dave Luckett, jumped onto the grid just as the lights went green in an attempt to start Riccardo Patrese's stalled car. Luckett was run over by the other Arrows driver, Sigfried Stohr- and as Luckett laid sprawled unconscious on the track with broken legs, the marshals were able to get him off the track, and the disorganization continued: as the drivers started their second lap with both Arrows cars still on the narrow start-finish straight, a number of marshals jumped onto the track- mere feet from the cars going at full racing speeds- and attempted to stop the race by waving at the drivers to stop, without the approval of the clerk of the course (who is the ultimate authority on the race's direction). The drivers continued on- because they had not been shown the red flag by the clerk of the course. But by the time they completed another lap, they decided to stop themselves without the clerk's approval. In the meantime, Luckett was taken to hospital, and survived. So the second race started, and Alan Jones took the lead, crashed out, Nelson Piquet also crashed out and Carlos Reutemann took the checkered flag after it was decided to call the race early.
Race 6: Monaco
The historic Monaco Grand Prix was the scene of an ultra-exciting race- as Piquet led for most of the race distance, and crashed out at Tabac. Jones took the lead, but had fuel feed problems, and Gilles Villeneuve in a poor-handling Ferrari took the lead and won.
Race 7: Spain
The narrow and tight Jarama circuit just outside of Madrid produced one of the best races of the year: after Jones crashed out, Reutemann took the lead, and then Villeneuve overtook Reutemann on the main straight at Jarama. Villeneuve, in a powerful but very ill-handling Ferrari, managed to keep 4 better-handling cars behind him in a car badly suited to the slow and twisty Jarama circuit. Villeneuve, Jacques Laffite, John Watson, Reutemann and Elio de Angelis were all separated by 1.2 seconds at the finish. This was to be the last Spanish Grand Prix until 1986, when it was moved south to the new Jerez circuit.
Race 8: France
The alternating French Grand Prix moved from the Paul Ricard circuit near Marseille to the fast, sweeping Prenois circuit near Dijon, located in the lush Burgundy countryside. This race was run as two races: it was interrupted by heavy rain, so the organizers decided to stop the race to wait for the rain to pass, which it did- and Alain Prost, who was to become one of the greatest drivers in Formula One history, won his first of 51 championship Grand Prix's at home in a Renault.
Race 9: Britain
The British Grand Prix, also alternating between 2 circuits (Silverstone and Brands Hatch) was at the very fast Silverstone circuit this year. The start was dominated by four turbos- and Prost effectively walked away from the field and dominated most of the race. After an accident at the Woodcote chicane involving Villeneuve and Jones, Briton John Watson in a carbon-fiber McLaren, who was affected by the Villeneuve/Jones accident- passed several cars, including Frenchman Rene Arnoux, who had taken the lead from his teammate Prost, whose tires had gone off. Watson won handily from Reutemann and Laffite. Arnoux's Renault had developed engine problems and he dropped out.
Race 10: Germany
The German Grand Prix at the very fast Hockenheimring produced an epic battle between Prost and Jones that went on for a number of laps- until Jones passed Prost in the stadium section, the only place the Australian could- Prost's more powerful Renault was faster than the Ford/Cosworth-powered Williams on Hockenheim's long straights and ultra-fast, flat-out Ost-Kurve. But Jones dropped out, and Nelson Piquet took the lead after he had passed Prost.
Race 11: Austria
The very fast and spectacular Osterreichring was once again the site of the Austrian Grand Prix, which produced an incredibly exciting race. The Ferraris of Villeneuve and Didier Pironi were to prove troublesome during the race- Pironi held up a number of Ford/Cosworth powered cars- up to 6 at one point. Although his Ferrari had very poor handling and always lost out through the high-speed corners, Pironi was able to keep his Ferrari in front due to its exceptional power on the straights. After Villeneuve crashed at the Bosch-Kurve, Laffite made a daring passing maneouver going into the first Texaco bend to take third from Pironi, and the other 5 cars- Piquet, Reutemann, Jones, Patrese and De Angelis all eventually made it past Pironi. After Prost had led for a number of laps, he dropped out with suspension damage, and Arnoux took the lead. Laffite, however, was hunting down Arnoux. Laffite eventually caught Arnoux and sliced by in his Ligier-Matra to take the lead and win the race.
Race 12: Holland
The beach-side Zandvoort circuit near Amsterdam provided Prost with his second win of the year after another intense battle with Jones, who finished 2nd. Championship contenders Reutemann and Laffite took each other out mid-way into the race.
Race 13: Italy
The second Italian and last European race of the year, the Italian Grand Prix, returned to the historic Monza Autodrome just outside of Milan after a year's stay at Imola. Prost won again, and Carlos Reutemann took 2nd and Piquet fell out on the last lap after running out of fuel.
Race 14: Canada
The 1981 Formula One season would conclude in October with a 2-round North American tour, starting in Montreal, Canada. This was a rain-soaked race in cold temperatures. This was a tough, gruelling race, with Alan Jones falling out of championship contention and Jacques Laffite managing to stay in contention by winning this race.
Race 15: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
After New York State's Watkins Glen circuit (not far from Montreal) being stricken off the calendar in May due to bankruptcy of the company running the circuit, the 2nd US race was moved across the country to a circuit located in a car park outside of the Caesar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, effectively named the Caesar's Palace Grand Prix. The championship was up for grabs, and it was between Reutemann, Piquet (the latter two being separated by a single point) and Laffite. After he took pole, the Argentinean Reutemann effectively fell back, and Piquet passed Reutemann and finished 5th, which was enough for Piquet to win his 1st of eventually 3 driver's championships. Jones went out on his final drive with Williams with the 12th and final win of his career in oppressive Mojave Desert heat- which caused Piquet to vomit over himself in the cockpit.
1981 Drivers' Championship final standings
Championship points were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race.
1981 Constructors' Championship final standings
Championship points were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race.
Non-Championship race results
A non-Championship Formula One race was also held in 1981, which did not count towards the World Championship. It was technically a Formula Libre race, since the cars did not conform to the current Formula One regulations. Although not a part of the Championship, the 1981 South African Grand Prix attracted high-calibre drivers and cars and was won by Carlos Reutemann in a Williams.
|Race Name||Circuit||Date||Winning driver||Constructor||Report|
|South African Grand Prix||Kyalami||7 February||Carlos Reutemann||Williams-Cosworth||Report|
- Mattijs Diepraam & Felix Muelas, The one that didn't count, forix.autosport.com Retrieved on 24 February 2013
- Mattijs Diepraam, 1981 – long live the FIA F1 World Championship, forix.autosport.com Retrieved on 24 February 2013
- Peter Higham, The Guinness Guide to International Motor Racing, 1995, page 6