USA East GP 1980 LURED BY THE HISTORY OF ALFA ROMEO, BRUNO GIACOMELLI JOINED THE ONCE GREAT ITALIAN TEAM. IT WAS THE SOURCE OF HIS GREATEST RACE AND BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT WATKINS GLEN 1980 WAS IN SOME WAYS A FANTASTIC RACE FOR ME, certainly the best race I ever did in FL Until an electrical fault cut the engine, I’d dominated all the way from first practice. But in another way I think it caused me to take a bad wrong turn in my career. Although I’d won the Formula Italia championship in 1975,1 came to Britain after that and I always felt that, in racing terms, I was more British than Italian. I drove in the British F3 championship, then won the F2 championship with March and my first Fl races were with McLaren. In terms of culture and my
approach to racing I was British.
But! will admit I was overwhelmed by the whole legend of Alfa Romeo when I joined them. They’d been away from Fl for 28 years, and it was seen as the return of this racing giant When I first went to the Alfa test track at Balocco to try the car, it was sitting in the garage and they had on the wall a huge black and white poster of Farina in the Alfetta from the 50s. It was a very emotional moment for me, as an Italian. One which I think coloured my judgement throughout that time. We did a kw races in ’79 but 1980 was our first full season. At the beginning of the year we were around four seconds slower than the top guys round Interlagos. But we made great progress, spectacular really, if you consider that we were on pole by nearly a second at Watkins Glen, the final race. My team-mate Patrick Depailler had been killed in the middle of the season but he’d already helped to improve the car. We’d lightened it a lot and made big advances with the
chassis particularly the skirts. But the biggest single improvement came when Goodyear went from a 13-inch front tyre to 15-inch. That allowed us to run a softer compound which suited the car very well. We just got stronger and stronger from that point. In Italy I’d qualified on the second row but was just behind Gilles Villeneuve when he had a big off. I ran over some of his debris, the tyre blew and I went off. Then at Canada I tried to take third from Didier Pironi, we tangled and I damaged the skirts. It seemed only a matter of time before we scored a big result Then came Watkins Glen. The weather was cool which really suited us because our V12 engine gained considerably more in these conditions than
the Cosworth V8s and the grip from a sliding skirt, ground effect car when it was working well like this was just unbelievable. Added to all that, the balance was neutral I could do anything with the car, it was just fantastic. Right from the moment practice began on Friday we were quickest. I set pole by 0.8s on race tyres! In the race everything was going perfectly. I took the lead at the start and built it up to about 12-15s over Alan Jones. I was already controlling the race I was using 500 revs less, the water was perfect, everything was
under control, I had a big reserve I could have gone a lot faster if I’d needed to. Then suddenly it just stopped at the end of the long straight at the entry to the fast right-hander, it just cut-out. I was going crazy with the switches but there was no way. I parked it at the side of the track. But I didn’t cry!
After the race they took the car bac.k to the pits, changed the coil and the engine screamed into life. We had trouble with coils about three times that year. Obviously it was disappointing but at the same time I felt very good about it. It promised so much for the next year. Because of the strong races I’d been having, there was some interest in me from British teams for ‘81.1 was hot property. There was even talk of me going to Williams and if I’d pushed maybe it could have happened. But I didn’t want to. As well as the emotional pull of being an Italian racing for the great Alfa Romeo, it seemed like we were on the verge of great things. Besides, I’d already driven a development of the car which we never raced at Balocco. It had the engine mounted further forward and aerodynamically was better. Within five laps I’d broken the lap record. It felt even better than the Watkins Glen car and I was sure we’d be chasing the world championship in 1981. So I stayed. But then skirts were banned, Goodyear pulled out of racing and we were in deep trouble we never caught up. Alfa had been away from racing for a long time and it just couldn’t adapt to sudden changes like this in the way the British teams could. Considering my racing background, it’s ironic that I over-estimated Alfa and under-estimated the British teams. It was the biggest mistake of my life. But you can’t go back. Cl