1981 Argentine Grand Prix

Autódromo_Oscar_y_Juan_Gálvez_Circuito_N°_15.svg12 April 1981

Autódromo Municipal del Parque Almirante Brown de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires

The teams moved on to Argentina and the impressively-monikered Buenos Aires circuit for the third and final of the three flyaway races which began the season. The two main talking points over the intervening two weeks had been the relationship between Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann and how this might affect the otherwise dominant Williams team, and the ongoing controversy over the Lotus 88, which was still banned, and Brabham’s new hydro-pneumatic suspension, which wasn’t.

Jean-Pierre Jabouille made his much-awaited debut for the Ligier team, finally feeling his legs sufficiently healed to risk a full race.

Jabouille25. Jean-Pierre Jabouille fr

Jabouille got his start in hillclimb racing , before entering the Renault 8 Gordini series which gave many young French drivers their start in racing during the late 60s, working as his own race engineer alongside his friend and later brother-in-law Jacques Laffite. 1968 saw Jabouille driving Formula 3, and moving up into Formula 2 and sportscars with the Matra works team, then with his own ex-Alpine chassis when Matra quit motorsport in 1975. His personal sponsorship with Elf fuels got him a one-off Tyrrell F1 drive in 1975, and when he won the F2 title the following year he was recruited by Renault as an engineer-cum-driver to develop their new Formula One Turbo project. After a couple of frustrating years, Jabouille gave the team their first win in 1979, but by the end of 1980 he was being overshadowed by teammate René Arnoux and decided to move to Ligier, the other successful French team on the grid.

Once again, Lotus brought along a pair of 88 chassis, and once again they were denied permission to race them – a frustrated Colin Chapman walked away from the circuit before a wheel had turned.

Nelson Piquet
Nelson Piquet

Nelson Piquet took pole, with Alain Prost alongside in the Renault, the powerful Turbo engines suiting this fast circuit with long straights. The Williams duo started from the second row – a seething Jones outqualifying Reutemann – followed by Arnoux and Rebaque in the second Renault and Brabham respectively, a huge improvement for the Mexican in particular. Villeneuve was fifth in his lacklustre Ferrari, Rosberg an excellent sixth in the underfunded Fittipaldi, and Patrese and de Angelis completed the top ten. Perhaps understandably, Jabouille was off the pace in his Ligier and didn’t qualify, joining the March and Osella drivers on the pitwall for the race, while Ricardo Zuniño again took the last space on the grid in the Tyrrell.

Alan Jones got a great start and leaped into the lead from third place, but Piquet quickly got back past and began to pull out a commanding lead. Jones, meanwhile, seemed to be struggling for pace, losing second to Reutemann on lap 2, then dropping behind Prost and Rebaque. The long straights of the Buenos Aires circuit had a reputation as engine-breakers and so it proved again in 1981; Pironi’s Ferrari Turbo gave up after just 3 laps, as did Mansell’s Ford DFV, Rosberg’s fine qualifying came to naught with a fuel problem a lap later and Surer’s Ford-powered Ensign would not repeat its Brazilian heroics, touring off after 14 laps.

Villeneuve on his way to another retirement
Villeneuve on his way to another retirement

Hector Rebaque in the second Brabham was going well in the controversial car and was up to second before his distributor arm packed up on lap 33 and he was out – a disappointing result for Hector, who had now scored just one point in ten races and retired from every race in 1981 so far, while Jacques Laffite had retired a couple of laps earlier complaining of his Ligier’s handling. Everything remained more-or-less the same at the top after that; Reutemann finished second, Prost third, Jones fourth and Arnoux fifth. The final point went to Elio de Angelis in his Lotus after a three-way fight with Patrese and Patrick Tambay that was the highlight of the afternoon.

Piquet celebrates his win
Piquet celebrates his win

The Brabhams had shown that the movable suspension was certainly conferring an advantage on them, which only served to heighten Colin Chapman’s frustration, despite another point for de Angelis.

The European season would open with the inaugural San Marino Grand Prix in three weeks time, an event that many regarded as the “real” start of the season. Two of the sport’s biggest names – Ferrari and McLaren – had both failed to trouble the scorers so far, and Ferrari’s 1980 woes showed no sign of abating as they had yet to even finish a race.

Jones’ poor showing saw Reutemann take the championship lead and Piquet close to within 5 points of the defending champion.

Drivers Championship
1 Carlos Reutemann 21
2 Alan Jones 18
3 Nelson Piquet 13
4 Riccardo Patrese 4
= Alain Prost 4
6 Marc Surer 3
= Mario Andretti 3
= Elio de Angelis 3
9 Eddie Cheever 2
= René Arnoux 2
11 Jacques Laffite 1
= Patrick Tambay 1
Constructors Championship
1 Williams-Ford 39
2 Brabham-Ford 13
3 Renault 6
4 Arrows-Ford 4
5 Alfa Romeo 3
6 Ensign-Ford 3
= Lotus-Ford 3
8 Tyrrell-Ford 2
9 Ligier-Matra 1
= Theodore-Ford 1

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