Atlas F1   A Race to Remember

  by Marcel Schot, Netherlands

Every Grand Prix Venue has its most remembered race; that race where the mighty gods of Formula One diced and dodged to achieve eternal greatness and set the record books straight. But every Grand Prix venue also has remarkable races that were pushed aside in the history books, for no good reason. Atlas F1 writer Marcel Schot reviews, ahead of every Grand Prix this season, one race which should be memorised and valued; that one round in history which makes a Race to Remember

1981 Monaco Grand Prix

Gilles Villeneuve, Monaco GP 1981Every year when the time for the Monaco Grand Prix has come, both fans and drivers alike get a special feeling. Where normally a tight and twisty circuit almost guarantees a procession of cars on raceday, the principality always delivers for the fans.

Start-line accidents and rain have played a great part in the history of the Monaco Grand Prix. Who doesn't remember David Coulthard's Williams and both Ferraris of Alesi and Berger colliding in 1995 or Derek Daly's flight above the field in 1980? Rain brought Olivier Panis his only victory in 1996, while one of the most famous Monaco Grands Prix is that of 1984 in which two young men called Ayrton Senna and Stefan Bellof challenged leader Alain Prost until the race was red flagged because of the extremely bad weather. While on the subject of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian really was one with the track at Monaco. His five successive wins in the small municipality are a statue for his greatness.

However, this time we look at a great race which starred another crowd favorite. The 1981 Monaco Grand Prix was one of Gilles Villeneuve's six Formula One victories. In a time when turbos were just starting to appear in Formula One and were deemed uncompetitive on the short straights and twisting turns of Monaco, the French-Canadian outsmarted the competition to claim a victory that he normally couldn't have taken.

Before the race

John Watson, Monaco GP 1981Both Williams drivers were doing well in the championship, up to Monaco, with Carlos Reutemann comfortably in the lead with 34 points. Second was Nelson Piquet in the Brabham, 12 points behind the Argentinean. In third was Alan Jones, the other Williams driver, who - after a strong start of the season - had gone through two races without points, giving him 18 points in total before Monaco.

Surprisingly in fourth was Riccardo Patrese who had shown remarkable performances in the Arrows. Ferrari, with their turbo engine, had suffered a slow start of the season. Didier Pironi had scored his first two points at Imola, the fourth race of the season. Gilles Villeneuve, who had claimed pole in Imola, scored his first points at Zolder, but with five points after five races, Ferrari were far from competitive.

Those ho were also far from competitive, were the drivers who went out first: the pre-qualifiers. With 31 cars wanting to take part in the event, the organisation deemed the number too big for qualifying, so in an early session nine cars had to battle for four places in qualifying, reducing the number of cars in qualifying to 26 of which 20 would be allowed to start the race.

Six teams had to take the early wake-up call: ATS with pop-drummer Slim Borgudd in the cockpit; Ensign with Swiss driver Marc Surer; March with Eliseo Salazar and Derek Daly; Osella with Beppe Gabbiani and Piercarlo Ghinzani; Theodore with their only driver Patrick Tambay; and finally Toleman with Brian Henton and Derek Warwick.

Both Tambay and Surer were way ahead, claiming easy access to the actual qualifying sessions. Both Tolemans were firmly settled in the bottom two places, Henton being the better of the two some seven seconds slower than Tambay. Both Marches weren't quite up to par too, which left two Osellas and an ATS for the final two spots in qualifying. Ghinzani's Osella was the fastest of the three with his teammate six tenths slower and ATS' Slim Borgudd a full second behind, making the Swede the final victim of pre-qualifying.

Didier Pironi, Monaco GP 1981With the field now reduced to 26 cars, qualifying started. As usual the Ferraris were struggling with the power overdose of their turbo engines. Despite the problems Gilles Villeneuve put in an impressive second time in the first session, while Pironi's problems were only getting bigger by the minute. The Frenchman, trying to stay on par with his teammate, hit the barriers no less than three times. Luckily Ferrari was able to drive in a fourth car overnight, so Pironi wouldn't be without a car.

After the first qualifying session, Pironi had to settle for 16th place. As if that fact wasn't embarrasing enough for a Ferrari driver on its own, pre-qualifier Patrick Tambay put his Theodore two places in front of Pironi.

On the frontside of the grid, Nelson Piquet impressed in the Brabham, steering his car across the track a full second faster than anyone else. Championship leader Reutemann only set the ninth fastest time.

Some four seconds slower than Piquet were the drivers who were battling to get within the first twenty. After the first session, Marc Surer and Jean Pierre Jabouille (Ligier) were just on the good side of twenty, while both Fittipaldis (Rosberg and Serra), both Osellas, Arrows driver Siegfried Stohr and Tyrrell's Michele Alboreto were on the wrong side.

Carlos Reutemann, Monaco GP 1981The second session saw almost every driver improving his time. The only exceptions were Alfa Romeo's Mario Andretti, seventh in session one and only 15th in the second session, and both Brabham drivers Rebaque and surprisingly Piquet. However, only Rebaque really suffered. The Mexican ended up 23rd overall, disallowing him to take part in the race.

Stohr improved his time enough to claim one of the twenty starting places, as did Michele Alboreto. Beside Rebaque, Jabouille also moved outside the top 20. Most unfortunate was Keke Rosberg in the Fittipaldi. Despite improving his time from the previous session by as much as one and a half seconds, he failed to qualify, as Tyrrell driver Alboreto improved by an incredible 2.3 seconds to beat the Finn by less than one tenth of a second.

Two drivers starred at the front: Gilles Villeneuve just beat Nigel Mansell in the second session, the Canadian putting in a 1:25.788 and the Briton posting a 1:25.815. However, both remained behind Nelson Piquet, whose 1:25.710 of the first session was enough for pole. Reutemann had a good second session, claiming fourth on the grid.

  • View the full starting grid at FORIX
  • The race

    Mario Andretti, Monaco GP 1981The first incident happened even before the race had started. At the Loews hotel, above the famous tunnel, fire had broken out. While the firemen quickly put it out, their water caused a new problem: somehow the water had leaked into the tunnel, making it a slippery spot on an otherwise dry track. The start of the Grand Prix was therefore delayed for an hour, to get the tunnel as dry as possible, but the danger remained.

    When the race finally started, the top three quickly pulled away as the rest followed. The rest minus two, that is. Halfway through the field, Mario Andretti and Andrea de Cesaris collided at Ste Devote, ending both their races before they even got into the slippery tunnel. As the field approached the tunnel for the first time, everyone held their breath. However everything went allright and everyone got by safely.

    Gilles Villeneuve, Monaco GP 1981Carlos Reutemann was already all over Nigel Mansell, but as yet unable to find a gap large enough to squeeze through. However, the Williams leader made life very difficult for the young Lotus driver. As Mansell was busy fending off Reutemann, Piquet and Villeneuve struck a slight gap.

    By lap 14 Reutemann finally found his gap alongside Mansell. However, once the Argentinian jumped into the gap, he found out it was slightly too small. Since he was already there and there was no way back, only one option remained; Reutemann touched Mansell's Lotus with his front-wing, breaking the Briton's suspension and ending his race. Reutemann was able to continue the race, but not in third place like planned. Instead, his teammate Alan Jones, who had got by Riccardo Patrese and Elio de Angelis earlier on, move up to third.

    Jones immediately encountered Gilles Villeneuve, who was struggling in the Ferrari. The massive power delivered by the turbo engine made the car nearly undriveable, as the power was delivered with a slight delay after Villeneuve pushed the throttle and the brakes started fading quickly as the enormous power had to be nearly halted after every outburst on the short straights. Villeneuve then made the smart call and after three more laps of fending of the Williams, let the reigning World Champion by without much trouble.

    Keke Rosberg, Monaco GP 1981Alan Jones now was unleashed. At one point Nelson Piquet had been comfortably leading, but with the Australian closing in behind him, the Brabham driver couldn't relax anymore. Meanwhile, the track claimed one victim after the other. First out were the two Arrows, both with mechanical problems. The next team to pack their bags were Lotus. After Mansell had been put off the track by Reutemann, Elio de Angelis suffered a blown engine after 32 laps. On the same lap, Rene Arnoux in the Renault wrecked his second car of the weekend. 13 laps later, his teammate Alain Prost was the second to suffer a blown engine, also ending Renault's race early.

    By then Carlos Reutemann had had to end his struggle to keep the damage in the championship standings limited as his gearbox failed. Nelson Piquet was still leading Alan Jones and Gilles Villeneuve, but the Canadian was losing pace because of his car handling trouble. By lap 50, the field was reduced to only nine cars as Bruno Giacomelli and Michele Alboreto put eachother out of the race. The track proved to be a massive slaughterhouse again, as also John Watson's McLaren came to a halt after 53 laps with a blown engine.

    Elio de Angelis, Monaco GP 1981However, that wasn't the biggest drama of lap 54. As Nelson Piquet, fired up by Alan Jones ever closing image in his mirrors, tried to make his way past a backmarker, the Brazilian race leader spun off, handing Jones the lead and ending his race in anger. Jones now had a comfortable lead of 30 seconds over Gilles Villeneuve with just 22 laps to go. A win for the Australian looked certain. Then his luck changed. The Williams engine began misfiring and with eleven laps to go, Jones went into the pits to let the mechanics look at his car. The problem couldn't be fixed, as there were air bubbles in the fuel. Jones went back out again hoping for the best. When he left the pits, Villeneuve was still six seconds behind, but the sure win was now gone.

    Villeneuve was giving it all he had and when the two came onto the pitstraight after 72 of the 76 laps, the number 27 Ferrari pulled alongside the number 1 Williams. As Villeneuve dove into Ste.Devote first, a massive roar emerged from the crowd. Over the next four laps Villeneuve drove away on the wings of euphoria, finishing with a 40 second gap over Alan Jones. Jones, despite his problem, still finished second well ahead of Ligier driver Jacques Laffite, who was rewarded with a podium finish after driving in the shadow for the entire race.

    Villeneuve's teammate Pironi finished fourth, but a lap down, demonstrating his lack of speed over the weekend. Another lap down, Eddie Cheever finished fifth, followed by Marc Surer, who scored a point for Ensign, which was quite a performance as he was one of the drivers who had to pre-qualify. Another pre-qualifier who reached the chequered flag was Theodore's Patrick Tambay, four laps down he was the seventh and last to finish the race.

  • View the final classification at FORIX
  • Conclusion

    Gilles Villeneuve, under way to victory at the Monaco GP 1981This race proved that the power of will indeed can win a Grand Prix. Gilles Villeneuve demonstrated superb control of his car as well as a terrific understanding of when to push and when to preserve his car.

    Besides Villeneuve, Alan Jones also had a great race, starting from seventh, but fighting his way up to the lead. Ofcourse the race did not only have good racing, but also dramatics. Multiple collisions, costing one leader his race, and technical problems, costing another leader his race, made Monaco a place of few finishers once again. This allowed the hard workers to cash in for once. This race also made the championship a bit more interesting. Ferrari was now starting to go places and the leading threesome of Reutemann, Jones and Piquet got a little closer together.

    Marcel Schot© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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