Car lost it for Carlos

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Sir,

Thank you for the wonderful article on Carlos Reutemann (August issue). Your readers might be interested to know that two Argentine biographies have been published in recent years, one with Reutemann’s cooperation. They offer an alternative to the picture painted by Alan Henry at significant points.

According to these accounts, Reutemann was not wooed away from Ferrari by Lotus at the end of 1978. Ferrari hired Scheckter and was enamoured with Villeneuve, so Reutemann had no choice but to leave. Although he was accustomed to racing under pressure — President Peron and other leading Argentine political figures often called him before and after races — he felt betrayed by Ferrari and poorly treated by the Italian press.

The reason Reutemann took Henry’s bet that he would not win the 1981 championship despite his large points lead after Silverstone was apparently due to the Williams team continuing to give Jones superior equipment and, indeed, practically shunning him in retaliation for his breaking team orders by beating Jones in Brazil.

Reutemann said he hoped that his victory at Rio de Janeiro would swing the team behind him as Arnoux’s 1980 victories had done for him at Renault Despite a number of red-mist mistakes from Jones that squandered his own shot at the 1981 title, this never happened. Add to that what Reutemann took to be Williams’ inexplicable decision to switch tyre companies in mid-season and there would appear to have been good reason for his pessimism.

Both of Reutemann’s Argentine biographers accept what they claim is testimony from Carlos’ mechanics that he was missing three gears during his loss to Piquet in the 1981 Las Vegas finale, whereas this is usually portrayed in the British press as a loss of nerve. The biographers acknowledge Patrick Head’s denial that Carlos had gearbox problems, but they generally discount his word.

Another factor in the 1981 Williams debacle from this point of view was the panicked search for a new driver when Jones, at Monza, unexpectedly (and perhaps vindictively) announced his retirement. Carlos was incredulous at the amount of effort that went into searching for a new driver to the detriment of his own chances in the championship. His decision to quit two races into 1982 after being coaxed out of retirement by a desperate Williams was his revulsion at the ground effects cars and, even more, at the same dismal politics of the team, even with his clear status as number one.

One is left with the impression that Reutemann was in his element as the dominant number one at Brabham in 1974, where he scored two of his three favourite victories at Kyalami and the Osterreichring (the other was Monaco 1980), but never came to grips with a team not built around him. His relations with team-mates of comparable talent, whether Lauda, Andretti, or Jones, were always terrible by his own account, and Reutemann, with his quiet dignity and less-than-perfect English, did not excel at team politics.

Still, as Henry concludes, he certainly deserved to win a world championship and remains a hero in Argentina. President Menem asked him to enter politics after realizing he was the only man in Argentina who could draw a crowd of 50 while pumping his own gas. And that was eight years after the grim day in Las Vegas.

I am, Yours etc,

Eric Arnett,Bethesda,Maryland, USA