The mystery of Carlos

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I am sometimes asked about past Williams drivers and Carlos Reutemann in particular, who is always referred to as enigmatic because he was sparing with his true thoughts and often hard to understand.

We had reluctantly let Clay Regazzoni go at the end of 1979. He was a brilliant guy but he was nearly always a second a lap slower than Alan Jones in qualifying. He was often just as fast or faster in the second part of a race, which was OK when the cars were the class of the field, but Frank and I knew we wouldn’t be able to maintain that gap and Clay would slip further down the pack in 1980. So we took Carlos, who was not happy at Team Lotus.

He was an extremely talented driver but he had a singular way of working. At Monaco in 1980, for example, he was doing slow laps in practice while Jones was pounding round at high speed.

I took Neil Oatley aside and suggested he tell his driver to get his act together, or words to that effect, but Neil assured me Carlos knew what he was doing. Sure enough in final qualifying, bang, he did one timed lap and stuck it on pole. On Friday and Saturday morning he’d been doing parts of a lap, putting them together, to get it just right. He had the confidence to do things his way.

In 1981 Carlos was very negative after we switched back to Goodyear from Michelin during the season. I think he was keen on the Michelins and thought he should have been consulted, but then he came second at Silverstone to lead the championship by 17 points. After the race he told Frank he didn’t think he’d score any more points that season, but we got the car sorted on the new Goodyears and he could readily have won that year’s title.

He was sometimes negative like that, not very outgoing, but a great guy and of course he was very good-looking – tall, Latin and moody. The girls used to swoon around him but he didn’t know how to deal with all that attention – quite the opposite of Alan. Everyone got on well with Carlos, and the picture above believes the fact that he and Alan were enemies, although it was probably taken in 1980.

Las Vegas ’81 cemented Carlos’s reputation for being hard to understand. He took pole and his main title rival, Nelson Piquet, was suffering because of the heat and track conditions. But Carlos’s race was lacklustre and Nelson won the title by a single point. Afterwards Carlos disappeared back to Argentina. He had complained about the gearbox but we couldn’t find anything wrong except that we knew the clutch wasn’t releasing cleanly, and I suspect he could feel the dog rings. Between gear-changes there might have been a crunch, but they were undamaged.

If Carlos didn’t like the feel of the car mechanically it upset his whole approach. If the car was good he was stunning. He was an artist in the car really, and when things were perfect he could transcend what seemed possible. At Williams we were down-to-earth pragmatic types and it was hard to understand how he was.

Jones let us know very late in 1981 that he wasn’t going to drive in ’82 and we had no idea if Carlos was coming back. We’d tested with Keke Rosberg and he’d been very quick, so Frank called Carlos to tell him we were considering taking Keke and what did he think? Carlos said: “ah, I don’t know Frank. I mean the Gucci briefcase, the Gucci shoes, the gold bracelets, the Rolex – I don’t know if he is serious.” He probably knew Keke was pretty quick.

Carlos returned for the first two races of ’82, but when the British reacted to the Falklands invasion he went back to Argentina. He wasn’t frightened of Keke or anyone, I think he’d just had enough. Carlos certainly was enigmatic to us and I think also for all the other teams he drove for, but he was one of the most interesting drivers ever to have come to Williams. Every now and then, when everything was just as he wanted it, he was unbeatable. But we did not get into that zone often enough for him to win the championships that his talent deserved

Patrick Head