39 – 1981 Caesars Palace GP


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

For some, Carlos Reutemann represents the archetype of a Grand Prix driver. He looked the part, a moody, enigmatic figure who drifted in and out of focus through the 1970s and early ’80s with a languor that belied formidable talent and explosive speed.

Reutemann should be listed as the 19th man to claim an F1 world championship. That he isn’t only adds to his flawed magnificence, especially given the nature of his capitulation in Sin City, of all places.

The Las Vegas car park in which the ’81 championship came to a head was a shabby backdrop, perhaps suitably so for a stylish man who deserved better. Carlos arrived at the final race of the year with a slender one-point lead over ambitious Nelson Piquet, but that made it simple. Having already bagged a convincing pole, the Williams just had to finish ahead of the Brabham to claim the crown.

View this race on the Database and Archive

But by the end of lap one, Reutemann had slipped to fifth, and the drift continued. The moment of truth came on lap 17, Piquet making his move – and passing seemingly without resistance. “He made it easy for me,” said Nelson later. “Braked early, left the door open…”

As Alan Jones scored his final GP victory, the new world champion struggled to get to his feet, heat exhaustion Piquet’s only genuine rival when it mattered. Reutemann too had wilted, but this sporting tragedy – of almost Grecian proportions – had nothing to do with the weather. Surely the oddest title decider we’ve yet seen. DS

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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