The 1980 Spanish Grand Prix

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Illegal?

Jarama, June 1st

For the world of motor-racing politics, the Spanish Grand Prix will be remembered as a pretty momentous event, fur flying with all and sundry swiping each other with their handbags, but Motor Sport is here to chronicle events in predominantly motor racing terms. We also only appear monthly, so that if we seem to treat the off-track events at Madrid’s Jarama circuit during Spanish Grand Prix weekend merely in passing, it is basically because by the time you, the reader, digest this report, the political scene will probably have changed half a dozen times over!

We should remember that all the Grand Prix teams turned up in Spain primarily to contest the Spanish Grand Prix motor race over 80 laps of the tight little 3.404 kilometre circuit which lies alongside the main Madrid to Burgos road. All the regular teams were present, but owing to a major “who runs what” dispute, basically between the Federation Internationale Sport Automobile (FISA) and the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA), there were three teams who declined to take part in the event. Although keen as mustard about the business of motor racing, the Renault, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari teams decided that there was some valid doubt as to whether the race qualified as an officially sanctioned event under FISA auspices and chose not to run rather than jeopardise their many other motor racing and rallying involvements throughout the world. There is a tendency to get so wrapped up in the business of Grand Prix racing that one forgets that there are other legitimate areas of motoring sport, just as important in their own ways, outside the spectrum of Formula One.

The dispute between FISA and FOCA stems from the actions of FISA’s current President Jean-Marie Balestre and his attempts to bring the sport back under the direct control of a central governing body. As far as Balestre is concerned, this means reducing the power of FOCA which is “spearheaded” by businessman and Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone, but FOCA members are terrified that Balestre simply wishes to dismantle their organisation and assume total control of Grand Prix motor racing on an autocratic basis. With such an air of mutual suspicion pervading the general atmosphere, it is not surprising that everything “went too far” over the weekend of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Whether the race was legal or not, counted for World Championship points or not, is something which will have to be decided by some faceless committee some time in the months to come, but for the paying spectators the reality of the situation was no Ferrari, Alfa Romeo or Renault cars in the race and consequently no Scheckter, Villeneuve, Jabouille, Arnoux, Depailler, Giacomelli or Brambilla. Eddie Cheever’s entrant Enzo Osella “dithered” for a day, worried that his sports car programme might be jeopardised by participation in a “pirate” event, but by Saturday he decided that he would go with the hard-line FOCA members and take part. On each of the official practice days activity on the circuit was delayed quite substantially as arguments, discussions and political intrigue held the stage rather than Formula One cars, but at least the drivers knew what they had come for and that was to go motor racing, even though a grid without the three absentee teams looked somewhat strange.

Once practice got under way it quickly became clear that the battle for the leading grid positions would be enacted between the Ligier and Williams teams, both JS11/15 and FW07B respectively having a proven record of achievement at this track. The Ligiers were a joy to watch at Jarama, their drivers flicking them deftly from lock to lock as they swung into the tight first gear hairpins. Their front ends turned in superbly and their drivers appeared to revel in the total lack of understeer which inflicted an obvious and time consuming penalty on some of their less fortunate rivals. Laffite ended the afternoon highly content with a 1 min 12.657 sec best and, with Pironi only a short distance behind on 1 min 13.034 sec, French honour had been maintained in the face of a stern Williams attack. On Saturday afternoon, when temperatures were appreciably higher than they had been on Friday, Jones went some way towards redressing the balance by cutting a 1 min 13.021 sec, using the spare car, FW07B/6, to achieve this time and then having the suspension settings and adjustments transferred to FW07B/7 in time for race morning.

Laffite, of course, hung onto that pole position while Reutemann found himself in no position to challenge Laffite as he found his Williams’s Cosworth DFV running about 400 rpm down “from its peak” and his car was understeering too much for his personal taste. Just outside this “top league” was Brabham’s hard-trying team leader Nelson Piguet in the taut BT49 which had proved so impressive during earlier tyre testing at Jarama. Piquet’s best time was set on Friday, but the Brazilian driver was somewhat perplexed to find that his car was understeering a touch more than it had during those tests. Piguet managed a 1 min 13.604 sec, but designer Gordon Murray was rather disappointed at this and the Brabham crew took a long close look at the rear suspension on Friday night. To their frustration, they found that some of the settings had “slipped out of line” somewhat, causing this irritating imbalance in the BT49’s handling. The car was freshly set up again for Saturday when Piquet found the handling much improved. Although in what many people described as “slower” track conditions, he made no further improvement. Although it must be remembered that at least four or five highly competitive cars were missing from the line-up, Piquet’s quiet team-mate Ricardo Zunino did a very competent job qualifying in seventh place overall with a 1 min 14.180 sec lap on Friday, the Argentine driver looking as lhough he was “getting on top” of the business of driving a Grand Prix car for the first time this season.

In the McLaren camp an air of enthusiastic optimism prevailed, boosted when young Alain Prost took his M29C round in a heartening 1 min 14.036 sec on Friday. Unfortunately on Saturday morning, he chose to take-out the team’s spare machine M29/1C which had been extensively modified at the front end with the pick-up points for the suspension attached to a fabricated box section which had been glued and,riveted to the side of the monocoque. Braking hard for the re-profiled downhill hairpin on the “return leg” from the top of the circuit to the pits, the whole left front suspension collapsed, Prost found himself running over his own front wheel and the next thing the Frenchman knew was that he had been launched into the air. The McLaren virtually cleared the first two catch-fences in mid-air, spinning round as it came into land and slamming backwards into the guard rail. The car sustained remarkably little damage but Prost, who has already broken his wrist when a McLaren failed under him at Kyalami, was extremely indignant that such a breakage should happen. It in no way doused his raw enthusiasm, however, and he whirled his normal M29C round in a most praiseworthy 1 min 13.631 sec on Saturday afternoon to take eighth place on the grid. John Watson couldn’t manage to equal his youthful team-mate’s time, even when his car was set up to exactly the same specification as Prost – almost inevitably, the disappointed Ulsterman was complaining of his customary understeer.

For much of practice Mario Andretti was feeling pretty optimistic about his Lotus 81/2, although there had been problems with this car during pre-event testing at which it arrived directly from the Monaco Grand Prix. The front bulkhead started to un-rivet itself from the monocoque, but this was repaired in time for official practice. Andretti felt that the car was nicely balanced, but a suspension rocker arm broke on Saturday morning and this was replaced during the session with a “beefed up” version. During the lunch break the Lotus mechanics fitted a matching replacement on the other side of the 81, only for Andretti to complain that it was totally unpredictable as a result. The team didn’t realise that this was the problem until the end of the timed session, by which time it was too late to affect his grid position. Elio de Angelis put a great deal of energy into his driving, complaining about dire lack of grip out of the slow corners and generally feeling very glum about the whole situation. His 1 min 14.583 sec best was only good enough to earn him 13th place on the grid.

In ninth and tenth places on the grid came Jan Lammers in the ATS and Eddie Cheever in the Osella FA1, both very worthwhile efforts by the two youngsters who were doing a good job of embarrassing several of their “superiors”. Lammers started off on Friday using his normal machine but on Saturday tried the new D4/03 which features revised rear suspension to clean up the airflow under the cars rear end. The diminutive Dutch driver was obviously happy with the new car, improving by over half a second on his Friday time. Cheever missed Friday’s session, unsure whether he should participate in an event which might subsequently be declared “illegal”. Eventually he hit upon the novel scheme of “hiring” the Osellas to his Cosmetic company sponsors and renaming them Denim, hoping that this would circumnavigate officialdom in the event of a dispute. Even so, he had plenty of problems to cram into one untimed and one timed session. A blown-up engine in his lighter FA1/2 meant that he was forced to use the original, slightly heavier FA1/1 in the morning session, the Osella mechanics managed to install a fresh engirie for the afternoon session in which Cheever managed his time. Complaining about bad understeer, and with the Osella visibly porpoising on the straight, the young American nonetheless was happy with the result of his endeavours.

The remainder of the grid provided a somewhat predictable cross-section of the usual teams, none of whom seem able to regularly advance themselves into the front half of the grid. In the Arrows line-up Patrese came out best with 11th quickest time, 1 min 14.437 sec, despite problems with his car cutting out on the exit of the slowest corners, a snag traced to the fuel metering unit. Mass was 14th quickest with a 1 min 14.805 sec, managing as best he could with handling of which he didn’t really approve. Both Tyrrell drivers complained that they had no grip while local hero Emilio de Villata, fresh from the Aurora British Championship, brought along his RAM Racing Williams FW07 and baulked his way to a 1 min 15.046 sec, which was quicker than both Fittipaldis which prompted a lot of people to say that it certainly proved something although quite what they never got round to explaining. Villota’s efforts on Saturday morning in FW06/03 sent him slithering through the catch-fencing Prost was later to vault, and when he took over his spare FW07/01 he ran out of fuel. Rosberg drove his Fittipaldi as fast as he could, his enthusiasm resulting in a big spin which damaged the side skirts. Fittipaldi lost a lot of time when a fuel system problem prevented him from going out in his race car, F7/1 requiring three changes of electric pump before it would run. On Saturday be used this car to improve his best time to 1 min 15.414 sec, but this was still three-tenths slower than Rosberg’s best. At the back of the grid was Gaillard, who was back in the Ensign team but with little worthwhile effect, the patriotic red, white and blue of Morris Nunn sandwiched between the Shadow DN12s of Geoff Lees and David Kennedy, the Irishman having his first run in DN12/2, and qualifying for the race thanks to there being no Ferrari, Renault or Alfa teams to swell the ranks. Before it had been positively established that these three teams would not run in the Grand Prix, all three automobile manufacturers’ cars circulated briefly on the circuit on Friday morning. But, apart from that brief spell, they took no further part in official practice. They may not have been missed by their FOCA rivals, indeed their absence undoubtedly made it easier for Ligier and Williams, but in reality was a somewhat depressing sign of the times that political wrangling had resulted in their failure to participate in a Grand Prix.

Sunday’s untimed warm-up session passed off without undue incident and the crowds poured into the twisting little circuit in good time for the late, four o’clock starting time. Looking down on the grid laid out on the start/finish line the absence of the red Ferraris, red and white Alfa Romeos and yellow and white Renaults hit many seasoned observers with remarkable clarity; a classic case, of the old adage that one doesn’t perhaps fully appreciate something until one is obliged to do without it.

On the warm-up lap Jones noticed that the water temperature of his Williams FW07B was rising to uncomfortably high levels and his mechanics started to get the team spare ready in case he wanted to transfer to it. Unfortunately by this stage the pit lane was closed, so Jones simply crossed his fingers and stayed tightly strapped into his cockpit of FW07B/7.

Off on the “parade lap” they all went, the defiant Ligier of Laffite leading the 22-car grid, coming slowly out of the right-hander before the pits to creep gently towards the starting gantry, waiting for the green light to be given. But it was Carlos Reutemann, from fourth place on the grid, who made the best start. Needled by speculation in the Continental press to the effect that he “cruised” at Monaco, picking up a lucky win, the dusky Argentine driver was absolutely determined to demonstrate his true colours at Jarama. As the lights turned green, Williams number 28 pulled out to the left and went storming down the outside of his team-mate and the two Ligiers to take the lead going into the first corner. Jones dived in behind him and the two green and white Williams cars made an impressive sight as they disappeared up the Rampa Pegaso out onto the back leg of the circuit with the two French blue Ligiers hard in pursuit. At the end of the opening lap it was Reutemann and Jones, in tight team formation, who burst out of the downhill right-hander before the pits, then Pironi, Laffite, Piquet, Lammers, Zunino, Andretti, Cheever, Patrese, Mass, Watson, Prost (his McLaren’s engine already sick), Villota, Daly, de Angelis, Lees, Kennedy, Fittipaldi, Jarier, Rosberg and Gaillard. Going down into the corner at the end of the pits straight for the second time, Kennedy fumbled a downchange to second and his Shadow spun off into the dirt run off area. Unable to restart as the throttle slides were all jammed with debris, the Irishman’s race ended there and then.

For the first three laps Pironi hung on behind the two Williams machines, but his decision to run with a harder left rear tyre left him with unexpectedly vicious oversteer and, in any case, he was having to pump the brake pedal to get maximum effect. With this sort of pressure near the front of the field there was no way in which the Belgian Grand Prix winner could maintain his place and Laffite sliced by on the fourth lap. Prost’s McLaren stopped with five laps completed, its engine comprehensively broken, while Villota briefly disappeared, resuming right at the back of the field after a spin.

The first five cars were already pulling quickly away from the sixth place Lammers and then there was a further gap back to Zunino who was fending off Cheever, although the Argentine was having problems selecting gears as the linkage was playing up. At the end of lap nine Piquet found a gap and surged past Pironi, the Ligier sliding wide over the kerbing as it came onto the start/finish straight, just losing sufficient momentum for the Brabham team leader to get alongside the Ligier as they ran down to the first corner.

Jones, still casting a watchful eye in the direction of his Williams’s water temperature gauge, was beginning to experience some trouble changing from second to third gear, and suddenly missed a change as he went into the double apex right-hander which leads out onto the straight. The Australian ran slightly wide onto the dust and by the time he had gathered it all up, he was down to fifth leaving Laffite to pile as much pressure as he could on the undefended Reutemann. On lap 11 Rosberg found his Fittipaldi’s rear brakes were not doing their job properly, his F7 spinning off the circuit. The Finnish driver then found himself unable to restart the engine, so he was out of the contest. Two laps later Derek Daly’s Tyrrell repeated Kennedy’s performance and slid gently out of the race at the first corner. Daly complained that the rear brakes did not function properly and subsequent examination of the car proved his theory to be accurate.

With 20 laps completed the order was Reutemann and Laffite, in tight formation, then Piquet slightly ahead of Pironi and Jones watching from fifth place, his Williams still overheating. Fifth was Zunino, fighting gear selection problems as well as Cheever’s pursuing Osella the front end of which was visibly tramping up and down on the main straight. Then came Patrese, troubled by what was later found to be a leaking brake caliper, and relentlessly slowing his Arrows by brutal over-use of the gearbox, Mass in the other Arrows, Andretti, Watson fending off de Angelis, Jarier, Lees, Fittipaldi, Gaillard and Villota, who’d made a stop to have skirt damage resulting from his spin seen to. Lammer’s great drive came to an end when electrical problems forced him into the pits, dropping him to the tail of the field and he eventually stopped for good with 26 laps under his belt.

On lap 25 Patrese swung into the pit lane where an examination of his brakes took place and the leaking caliper concerned was changed. He resumed, but the damage had been done to his gearbox and it duly failed five laps later, putting him out of the race.

At the front end of the field Reutemann was not putting a wheel wrong, despite Laffite’s stern attentions and it was becoming clear that unless something pretty dramatic happened, the Ligier was going to have a hard job displacing the rugged Argentinian. Something “pretty dramatic” happened, mid-way round lap 36. Coming into the tight infield left-hand hairpin, Reutemann and Laffite came up to lap Villota’s private Williams, the race leader went to the outside of the corner and overtook the Spaniard on the right, planning to have the inside line for the hairpin that followed. Villota looked in his mirror and saw Reutemann coming, he then “obligingly” moved slightly to the left to make more room for the leading Williams. Unfortunately he was in no position to read desperate Laffite’s mind, for the Ligier driver was just making to pass him on the left. In fairness to Villota, it has to be said that the French driver was going far too quickly for the manoeuvre to succeed, the front right wheel of the Ligier colliding with the left rear wheel of the Spaniard’s Williams. Laffite was launched over the inside kerbing, flew across the front of Villota and “T-boned” the innocent Reutemann as he negotiated his wide line round the outside of the corner. The Williams and Ligier landed in a tangled heap against the guard rail, the angry Reutemann and crestfallen Laffite out of the race there and then. Laffite subsequently apologised to the Argentine driver for his error of judgement, but it didn’t alter the fact that a stupid error had cost them both a chance of winning the Spanish Grand Prix.

This little drama put Piquet into the lead, the Brabham driver performing smoothly and without drama. But his stint at the front of the field lasted only seven laps before his transmission packed up and he, too, dropped out. Villota limped round to the pits to retire with a bent rear wheel after his involvement in that major altercation, and Zunino’s promising run had come to an end with major gear selection difficulties. Piquet’s retirement meant that Pironi was now in the lead from Jones, Cheever, Mass and Watson who’d been fighting a tense and sometimes rather rude battle with Elio de Angelis. The young Italian eventually decided that he would have to ease his pace slightly if he wasn’t to ruin his tyres, so the McLaren driver edged away slightly from the sole surviving Lotus, Andretti having retired with a major engine failure many laps earlier. On lap 48 de Angelis was neatly presented with fifth place when Watson, shadowing Gaillard’s Ensign as he prepared to lap the French driver, made a drastic miscalculation under braking for one of the hairpins. The M29C hit the Ensign fair and square from behind, Watson’s car rearing up over its rear wing to leave tyre marks on the top of the bewildered Gaillard’s helmet before crashing down onto the infield, out of the race. Gaillard trundled round to the pits for a new rear wing to be fitted, resuming five laps in arrears. So now the order was Pironi, Jones, Cheever, Mass and de Angelis, the Ligier driver apparently now with the race in his pocket. Jones had been within four seconds of him in second place, but with 20 laps to go the Williams’s water temperature almost soared off the dial and Jones “rolled it off’, dropping to more than half a minute behind the Ligier. Suddenly, with 15 laps to go, the right front wheel on Pironi’s car started to wobble ominously as he approached the end of the main straight. Slowing the car as best he could, the Frenchman was pulling to one side as the wheel gently detached itself, bouncing away to the other side of the track as the disappointed Pironi slithered to an embarrassed halt on three wheels.

Now all Jones had to do was to nurse his Williams gently home to a convincing victory over Mass’s Arrows, a task he duly performed with little drama. The German driver had passed Cheever on lap 48 and cased away in second place by the time the Osella broke its gearbox with 13 laps left, a bitter reward for Cheever after an excellent showing. Thus the Spanish Grand Prix, a race which had looked so promising in the early stages, petered out with de Angelis taking over third place ahead of Jarier and Fittipaldi, both of whom merely “existed” within the race’s overall context, and Gaillard who was classified sixth despite losing all that time having a new rear wing fitted. It was a bleak and boring end to a turbulent, troubled weekend, the details of which are dealt with elsewhere. -AH.  

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