With the European Grand Prix season now in full swing the Formula One teams are kept very busy racing almost every alternate weekend and pre-race testing and development testing in between times, provided of course, that their financial budget can stand the strain. Some of the more successful and affluent teams are carrying on a development programme for their existing designs and also a development programme for their next design, at the same time keeping the cars they actually race up to scratch. For the less wealthy teams it is a case of trying to keep going on limited resources and not go under beneath the surge forward of the front-running teams.
Williams: The Didcot-based team is going through a bad patch at the moment, their fantastic success and reliability record of last year being sadly missing. Alan Jones is making a lot of driving errors, going off the track in Spain and hitting Andretti’s Alfa Romeo in France and Reutemann is suffering mechanical troubles, gearbox in Spain and apparent fuel starvation in France. In Spain they ran on Michelin radial tyres for the last time, for Goodyear decided to return to Formula One and the Williams team were the first to be offered a contract, which they hastily accepted. Alan Jones did a day of testing on Goodyear tyres at Silverstone prior to the French GP but the change-over from radial tyres to cross-ply tyres has not been an easy one. At Silverstone in testing he used FW07C/14, which has been the T-car at previous races, and in Spain, but in France FW07C/11, rebuilt after its Zolder accident, replaced it as the T-car. The drivers have been sticking with their own cars for the races, Jones FW07C/15, which was new at Monaco, and Reutemann FW07C/12.
Brabham: As one of the front-running, and winning teams at the moment, Bernard Ecclestone’s Brabham team were also offered a Goodyear tyre contract and like Frank Williams he did not hesitate to accept. They have been running three regular cars, BT49C/11 for Piquet, BT49C/12 for Rebaque and BT49C/9 as the T-car and the development car. It was car number 9 that Piquet used for the Silverstone test days, when they changed over to the Goodyear tyres, and it is this car that is fitted with the carbon-fibre brake discs. In their Brabham-Alfa Romeo days they experimented with steel discs with carbon-fibre inserts, but now the whole disc is a single piece of carbon-fibre. It is also this car which rival teams complain is under the bottom limit of 585 kilogrammes, which is being used in practice by Nelson Piquet to get pole-position. Certainly in Spain it only weighed 580 kilogrammes at the end of practice, and only passed the weight check by having the water and oil systems topped-up beyond the normal running limits; another Formula One rule fiasco. At the Silverstone test-session in June the Brabham BT50 was out on test, this being the new car powered by the turbo-charged 4-cylinder BMW engine, but not yet using the Weismann gearbox. The back-end at present is as on the BT49 with the Hewland transmission. The BMW engine has a single KKK turbo-charger unit low down on the left-hand side, with an enormous radiator in the left-hand side-pod to act as an inter-cooler and the inlet manifolding is on the right, with fuel-injectors squirting into a large rectangular box attached to the inlet ports of the twin-overhead camshaft cylinder head. You had to be quick to see it in action for on one day the engine blew up and the new one that was installed would not start! Stripped of all its pipe work the BMW power-unit doesn’t look like a Grand Prix engine, the way a Ferrari engine does.
McLaren: The John Barnard designed MP4 was showing distinct improvement in Spain, where John Watson drove the second of the new cars and in France this same car was very competitive. A brand new car arrived at Dijon-Prenois, MP4/3, which Watson tried out in the untimed test sessions, while de Cesaris continued to use the first of the Barnard cars. Apart from being remarkably well finished externally, and presumably pretty “slippery” through the air, the under-side of the car is a fine example of attention to detail as regards the way the various components blend into each other. Throughout the car the various fibreglass panels fit to perfection, allowing no drag to be caused by air disturbances and the carbon-fibre monocoque would seem to be entirely trouble-free. At Dijon they were still on Michelin tyres (quite good ones!) and were well ahead of those teams who were changing tyre manufacturers and suffering in consequence. The MP4 was remarkably well suited to fast corners, and was well balanced, which allowed Watson to get on with his driving and not worry himself about what was wrong with the car.
Lotus: With the Lotus 88B still in abeyance Team Lotus now sponsored by John Player continue to use the two Type 87 cars, with an 81 as spare, de Angelis and Mansell retaining the same cars throughout, 87/2 and 87/1 respectively. At the between-races test session at Silverstone Mansell did some testing with the 88B/1 and it was seen to sit very low to the ground at speed and looked pretty stable. At that test-session Roberto Moreno, a young Brazilian Formula 3 driver was supposed to have a trial test-run in a Lotus 87, but the car refused to start and after a lot of fiddling around he was finally sent out for two laps just as the track was closing.
Renault: In Spain a new car appeared, RE33 and this was raced by Arnoux, while Prost raced RE32. The spare car was from last year, RE27B, but at Dijon the team finally appeared with a full set of 1981 cars, RE31 being the spare, while the drivers kept the same cars. The engines still suffer from turbo troubles, especially in practice and in the heat of Spain Arnoux had trouble in the final hour with his race car and the 1980 spare. In the cool of Dijon things were better. Before Spain the team were testing at Dijon and Prost was driving the test-car RE30, the first of the 1981 cars, when a front wheel broke up on the fast right-hander before the long straight and in the ensuing accident RE30 was destroyed. Luckily Prost got away unharmed.
Alfa Romeo: The Milanese team seem to have got themselves in a bit of a muddle, the 179 and its derivatives suddenly goes well and nobody seems to know why. Then it goes badly and equally nobody knows why. On balance it goes badly. Giacomelli recalls his moment of glory at Watkins Glen last year when he led the race, though again nobody really knew why, and keeps asking for his 1981 car to be set-up like the 1980 car! Andretti seems to be living in hopes that Chiti and Marelli, the Autodelta engineers, will get everything right at the precise moment he is feeling good. A forlorn hope. At the start of the season they built new riveted-aluminium monocoques as the base for the 1981 cars and merely numbered them I, 2 and 3. Sometimes they refer to them as Type C, other times as Type D and more often than not they carry no reference type or number at all, so they have lost their identity and are merely Alfa Romeos powered by the V12 cylinder engines. If they ever win a race it will be more by luck than judgement.
Talbot-Matra: We have to keep reminding ourselves that in reality this is the Ligier team, and that originally the Ligier team was the works Matra team. All very confusing, but at least they still carry the JS identification of the original Ligier team, which stands for Jo Schlesser, who died in the air-cooled V8 Honda at Rouen in 1968, Schlesser being an old friend and partner of Guy Ligier. The 1981 cars, which are Type JS17, are called Talbots, since the French conglomerate of Simca, Chrysler and Rootes, bought a major share in the Ligier team. For Spain they produced a brand new car, JS17/04, for Laffite and he also raced it at Dijon, while between the two races an amicable driver change took place in the second car. Jean-Pierre Jabouille agreed to retire from racing and hand his seat over to Patrick Tambay, who has been showing his true worth in the Theodore recently. Jabouille remains with the team as test-driver and engineer; the car he raced in Spain, JS17/03, was raced by Tambay at Dijon. On the “mickey-mouse” Jarama circuit in Spain the JS17 performed well, but on the fast Dijon-Prenois circuit it was not so impressive. Laffite was up with the front runners, but only hanging on to them, not mixing it with them. Engins Matra continue to develop their V12 until such time as their turbo-charged engine is ready.
Ferrari: In Spain a brand new car appeared for Pironi, 126CK/053, while Villeneuve continued to use 052, his Monaco winning car. The spare car was 050, which Pironi used in testing and practice. Clearly the Scuderia have put all their efforts into perfecting the turbo-charged engine, at the expense of the chassis and suspension, which more often than not can be seen to be handling pretty poorly. Now that Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite has joined the Maranello engineering staff we can expect to see some changes in the chassis and aerodynamics of the 126C, but it is unlikely we shall see them before Monza in September. At Dijon the team used the same three cars but were mysteriously well off the pace of the Renaults. Could it be that we shall see a reciprocal “back-pedalling” by Renault at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix? If turbo boost-pressure is in relation to the position of the waste-gate adjusting screws then the engines were down to that of an average Cosworth DFV as regards horse-power. The 126C still weighs far too much, usually showing 630-635 kilogrammes on the weighbridge, but once they are satisfied with the engine performance it should not be difficult to get this down to 610 kilogrammes, but even then they are a long way off the Williams at 587 and the Brabham at 586 kilogrammes.
Toleman-Hart: A new car appeared in Spain, TG 181B/03, for Derek Warwick, using some of the the bits from TG181/01, while Henton’s car was modified to B-specification. This involved major changes, the mounting of the single Garrett AiResearch turbo unit on top of the engine, and making a new monocoque extension on the right hand side to allow the installation of a bigger inter-cooler. The top mounting of the turbo-charger made for a much neater and more efficient installation, but at the expense of an increase in the height of the centre-of-gravity. The same cars were used at Dijon and were fitted with hydro-pneumatic ride-height adjustable suspension, to cheat the 6 cms. rule along with everyone else. Progress in the team is positive, though slow, unlike some teams where progress is negative.
Arrows: At Dijon the car driven by Patrese had a new rear suspension with the bottom members using widely-based pivots on the upright, as used on the McLaren MP4. Between Spain and Dijon the team’s biggest headache was the tyre situation, being dropped by Michelin and not being picked up by Goodyear and being reluctant to join Avon. Eventually they got some Michelin tyres, but they were merely “round and black” and would have been good for a milk-float, provided the milkman was not too fussy about handling.
Theodore: Tambay drove his last race for the team in Spain, and at Dijon Marc Surer took over. The team had no choice on tyres but to join the Avon group and had a lot of trouble re-setting the car to the new character of the tyres. Surer adapted himself to the car quickly and went well, using TY/02 for the race, though he did quite a lot of running with TY/01 in practice.
The remaining teams of Tyrrell, ATS, Ensign, March, Firtipaldi and Osella were without any major changes of importance. – D.S.J.