26 – 1981 Spanish GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

Winning as slowly as possible was not Gilles Villeneuve’s usual modus operandi. He had no option on this occasion, however, his truck-like Ferrari lumbering at the head of a 16-wheel trailer.

Attacking starts were much more him. Blasting from the fourth row, and bending the front wing of Alain Prost’s Renault in the process, he slotted into third on the run to the first corner. His wayward chassis at its best when anchored by full tanks, he then brazenly jumped the Williams of a surprised Carlos Reutemann for second place at the start of the second lap. 

This opportunism was rewarded when easy leader Alan Jones locked up and buried his Williams in the sand on lap 14. Not that Villeneuve expected his lead to last. Already he was struggling. The chasing Reutemann, his transmission jumping out of third gear, did not seem in the (right) mood, however; the Argentine was shadow boxing rather than looking to land the knock-out punch. 

View the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix on the Database  

In contrast, ‘Happy Jacques’ Laffite was fighting mad. Fastest in practice, a dragging clutch caused him to peck at the start and his Ligier reappeared in 11th place. By lap 62 he had recovered to second place, passing Reutemann, and bringing John Watson’s McLaren with him, when a backmarker intervened. 

Villeneuve, weakening as he wrestled his car in 100-degree heat, now faced his strongest opponent. For 18 more laps, the so-called Québécois wild man tiptoed clear of the marbles on the twisty back section before launching his boosted V6 rocket down the pit straight. So watertight was this defence that Laffite began to worry more about losing second, third and fourth places to Watson, Reutemann and the Lotus of Elio de Angelis, so closely coupled was this Spanish caravan.

The spread was just 1.24 seconds at the finish. But Villeneuve, a class apart, had been in a world all his own. PF

About 100 Greatest Grands Prix | From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

This was a special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

You can download 100 Greatest Grands Prix in PDF form in the Motor Sport app.

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