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F1 History 16

‘Clark-like’ Carlos Reutemann

Carlos Reutemann was a racing driver from Central Casting: blue eyes, chiseled jaw, dimples, brooding Brando brows, luxuriant hair, tanned.

To think, he shared F1 grids with Peter Revson, François Cevert and Jacky Ickx. Now, there’s handsome for you.

history  Clark like Carlos Reutemann

Forty years ago this Elvis lookalike – I’m thinking Comeback Special, not Vegas catsuits – joined Mario Andretti in an elite club: pole position on world championship debut. Only Jacques Villeneuve has joined it since.

Unlike the others’ – a 1968 Lotus 49B and a 1996 Williams FW18 – Reutemann’s ‘Lobster Claw’ Brabham BT34 was not the fastest thing in the joint. In theory. Graham Hill had driven it throughout 1971 and hardly been enamoured.

history  Clark like Carlos Reutemann

The car was old hat but the team had a new cap: Bernie Ecclestone. Having recently bought it from Ron Tauranac, he arrived in Argentina accompanied by Ralph Bellamy and Keith Greene, his new, ahem, designer and team manager. Another recruit was New Zealand mechanic Kerry Adams.

“Herbie Blash, who I worked with for Frank Williams, persuaded me and Bob Dance to join – and then left on our first day!” says Adams, today a renowned restorer and preparer of historic racing cars.

“He couldn’t get on with Tauranac.

“It was a difficult situation for Ron, but he kept interfering as we tried to prepare the cars and there was a chance that we might not be ready. Eventually Bernie banned him from the F1 shop.” Strong-minded men both, their partnership would soon be dusted.

Adams: “Bernie was the most straightforward guy I worked for. If you needed something to do your job properly – bang! – he got it for you. That’s how he ended arguments, and because you had nothing to moan about you had to just get on with it.”

Adams joined Scotsman Derrick Walker of subsequent Indycar fame on Reutemann’s car: “Carlos had finished third in an old McLaren M7C in the non-championship race at Buenos Aires the year before, but I’d been too wrapped up with Henri Pescarolo’s Williams-run March, which finished second, to take much notice of him. I did now. Impressive. Very calm. Never complained. Showed no emotion. You just knew that he was going to be good. And then he put the damn thing on pole.”

Reutemann’s confidence was high. He had finished runner-up to March’s Ronnie Peterson in the 1971 F2 European Trophy and to Lotus’s Emerson Fittipaldi in the subsequent South American F2 Torneio. At almost 30, married with a daughter, this cattle rancher’s son knew that he was ready.

history  Clark like Carlos Reutemann

The pressure was intense, however. Not since 1960 had his country’s race counted towards the world championship. And not since Fangio’s retirement had racing’s most fervent fans had something to cheer about.

Reutemann was on the pace immediately: fourth, 10th and sixth in the first three two-hour practice sessions on the afternoons of Friday and Saturday. Then it happened – with 20 minutes of the final hour to go. Fitted with Goodyear’s super-softs, his fourth lap was a second faster than anything that had gone before. Double-takes and cross-checks rippled along the pit lane.

Motor Sport was impressed and called his unflurried performance “Clark-like”. The crowd went berserk, while its beloved ‘Lole’ sat at the pit counter and watched the established stars flounder in his wake. Stunning qualifying laps and that calm assurance that he – and often no one else – could go no faster were to become Reutemann motifs.
Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell 003 – the runaway combo of 1971 – got within 0.22sec.

Adams: “The atmosphere was electric as Derrick and I pushed the car onto the grid: 100,000 people went ballistic. It was a magical moment rather than intimidating. I’d never experienced anything like it. Carlos simply gave a calm little wave.” He wasn’t going to be distracted.

“It was very hot. They had these strange devices that looked like sprayers for weedkiller but which dispensed Coca-Cola. Derrick and I got through about 34 cans. I didn’t pee once.”
Stewart got the jump at the start but Reutemann wouldn’t let go – until his soft rear tyres began to go off within 10 laps.

“I thought that we had been given bad advice,” says Adams. “But I’ve since read that it might have been a team decision. Perhaps Carlos could have treated them a bit better early on.”

Still, he adapted brilliantly and was holding fourth when finally he pitted just before half-distance. This dropped him to 14th, but fresh rear rubber – and talent – saw him recover to an eventual seventh.

Two months later he won the non-championship Brazilian GP at Interlagos. Three days after that he crushed an ankle when his Rondel-run F2 BT38 sheared a rear hub at Thruxton.

This wouldn’t be the last time that motor racing suddenly became difficult for the enigmatic man who could make it look so easy.

Add your comments

16 comments on ‘Clark-like’ Carlos Reutemann

  1. Piero Dessimone, 19 January 2012 18:07

    Dear Mr. Fearnley,
    Thank you for the article about Carlos Reutemann. In my opinion he is one of the drivers that should have been World Champion. The others are Stirling Moss, Ronnie Petrson, Jacky Ickx and Gilles Villeneuve.

  2. Claudio Navonne, 19 January 2012 22:37

    My father my brother and me were that day in the grandstands (like every Argentine GP from the on). I could hardly beleive my ears when I listened by radio that “Lole” had the pole position.
    Nice history Mr Fearnley.
    Claudio.

  3. Carlos Sanchez, 20 January 2012 09:12

    You mean ‘To think he shared Girls with Peter Revson, Francois Cevert and Jacky Ickx’…?

    Mmmmh… Nice thought indeed!?

  4. Paul Fearnley, 20 January 2012 09:53

    No. I didn’t think that.

  5. Joe Machado, 20 January 2012 14:10

    Carlos Reutmann paid the price for his personality. Yes, he was a big hit with the ladies, yes he could driver well on occasion, however, he was a very unhappy man. Nobody knew exactly what was missing or what was he really looking for. He went from team to team and never quite got it right. Losing the world championship to Piquet in Las Vegas in the last race was, in many people’s mind, the icing on the cake. I remember talking to him at the Brazilian GP in Rio and his back was killing him. The so called wing cars with virtually no suspension travel took care of whatever was left of his driving ability, Of course he was never in pain for the ladies…….. I hope he made it better as a politician.

  6. Paul Fearnley, 20 January 2012 15:13

    What makes you think that he was unhappy? A bit of a deep fish maybe. Unhappy? I’m not so sure about that.
    I had a bad back once and was as miserable as sin. Grumpy too. But it passed. Eventually.

  7. dave cubbedge, 20 January 2012 17:13

    Not a lot of Reutemann fans here. I must admit, I enjoyed his early successes, but by the time he was at Ferrari I wasn’t too keen on him – maybe it was because I was a Lauda fan and the two didn’t exactly see things the same way. No fault to Carlos, it was all Enzo’s doing. But, very few people win Monaco or at the Nurburgring with less talent than others and ‘Lole’ had talent to spare.

  8. Piero Dessimone, 20 January 2012 18:21

    I have read and seen a lot of interviews on the web (in Spanish) and I do not believe he is or was an unhappy person.
    Totally agree with Dave you do not win at Monaco or at the Nurburgirng unless you have talent to spare.

  9. A.S. Gilbert, 21 January 2012 02:27

    Carlos Reutemann is the Grand Prix driver from central casting, outwardly.
    I concur with Mr. Dessimone and Mr. Cubbage on Reutemann’s ability, it was there in spades.
    Few had his native ability, but he was a cerebral man too, perhaps quite out of his time.
    He was very gracious and generous to Gilles at Ferrari, likely they had a similar ethical centre.
    Alan Jones wouldn’t agree, and I sympathize with him over the “team orders” let down from Carlos in Brazil.
    Once in Buenos Aires I asked about Reutemann, his legacy and the local perception.
    We consider him “a second”, elaborated to mean lacking in fighting spirit. Losing his utmost title shot to a Brazilian, not helping the resonance, I suspect.
    I think he had short time for the pettyness and affront, and a very private, completely unique sense of accomplishment.
    On his day, and not necessarily in the best car, he could lay waste to a field in a way that defines “handing them their butt in a sling”.
    Just because he wanted too, pretty unique really.
    I recall after winning at Brands in “78 him saying “Yes, the British Grand Prix, I think, I like to take it..” or something close.
    Summed him up.

  10. Lewis Lane, 21 January 2012 20:55

    I’m sure there’s a dictionary somewhere that says Enigma: Carlos Reutemann. If Frank wanted a number two to AJ, i’ve never worked out why he took on somebody of Carlos’ abilities and character. I seem to remember reading (can anyone confirm?) that he was saying he couldn’t win the 81 title at the point he had a 15 point lead. If it’s true it may explain Las Vegas, and why Patrick Head always sounds (to me at least) a bit nonplussed when Carlos is mentioned,… For me he was one of THE great talents, but where it disappeared to some of the time is anyone’s guess. Personally, i’ve always been fascinated by him, because he seemed to have this air of mystery and depth. I’ve often wondered what a modern sports psychologist would make of him, and vice versa…

  11. António, 23 January 2012 23:05

    Wonderfull pilot, no doubt that he was one of the best of his generation.
    Another nice story was the one about is testing in the F1 Ferrari in Buenos Aires several years after he was retired and much more interesting were the lap times he did.

  12. Tony Geran, 24 January 2012 21:54

    “A riddle wrapped in a enigma”, “consistently inconsistent”, some of the accusations that were directed at his feet in his hey day continue now. As a Lauda and Jones fan I guess I wasn’t a fan at the time but I did admire his talent, after all he bested Villeneuve in wins in 1978 at Ferrari and should have been champ in 1981 but somehow lost all interest in the final race at Las Vegas, quite bewildering. If he hadn’t made that banzai dive on Laffitte at Tarzan perhaps he rather than Piquet would have been showcasing his car at Interlagos last year. Then again if Jonesy hadn’t have lost two races due to fuel starvation and two when he chucked the car off the track at Zolder and Jarama then he would be celebrated as one of the greats. F1 is “IF” spelt backwards, isn’t it?

  13. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 25 January 2012 15:29

    The word has spreaded that Reutemann didn`t do his best at Las Vegas race, but I don`t agree. The book “Los Dias de Reutemann” tells from interviews with Carlos that he got the pole using a chassis that he liked and used at most of the `81 races, and its engine also had different camshafts providing better acceleration, but in the next session he and Piquet collided and the car handling qualities were ruined forever. So he had to resort to an untested chassis built for the `82 season and with no time to set it up, he started the race with very compromised chances. Adding to the troubles, the gearbox`s 2nd, 3rd and 4th weren`t engaging well, so the car was a handful to drive and Piquet was getting harder to keep behind, so Reutemann choosed to let him pass to avoid a(nother) collision. But Carlos, ever the gentleman, never told the car`s problems and so he was blamed of loosing the championship on grounds of lack of determination, fight spirit and psichological weakness by outsiders. I can`t think of another title contenders who started the final race with so diminished chances.

  14. dave cubbedge, 25 January 2012 17:03

    Interesting Ivan, makes me wonder just how much effort was put into his ‘spare’ car by a team used to delivering the goods for its’ #1, Alan Jones.

  15. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 26 January 2012 11:49

    Some things were strange in that last race from the `81 season. Reutemann drove his spare car the day before and told Williams and Head that the gearbox was not working properly (a common problem of the cars through `80-`81).
    The real aim of FW in the last two races was not winning the drivers championship with Reutemann (the constructors title was the important one for him) but keeping Jones for `82 instead and so the Australian got a superb car that demolished the opposition at Las Vegas and should have convinced him to stay.. to no avail.
    After the race Carlos came to Williams and Head and just said “Gearbox”, took his handbag and departed to his hotel room, surely in anger because of the lost chance after ten years of F1…

  16. Juan Bustillo, 10 October 2013 02:37

    Like Mr. Ruchesi said gearbox problem , was the main reason of the losing of the 1981 championship , but also the JONES/REUT sign in the Brazil GP “helped” .
    Intresting is that he didn´t left Ferrari in 1978 like many people think , the truth is that ” the old man ” called Jody Scheckter to a meeting at the middle of that season , and offered a seat to the next season , so when Jody so Carlos , he told him that they go to be mates in 1979 . Carlos instantly realized that it wasn´t him the one to join Jody´s next year . He waited a while to Ferrari come and tell him so , but time passed with no news , this situation was leting him out from catching a seat on a top team , so when Peterson died in Monza he offered his services to Lotus .

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