17 May 1981
Lotus returned to the paddock in time for the Belgian Grand Prix and, along with Toleman and the second ATS car, there were now 32 entries for the race. FISA thought this was too many and would lead to overcrowding in the pits and on the track, and pressured some of the smaller teams to take the weekend off. In the end, ATS withdrew Lammers but ran Borgudd, while Ensign withdrew their only car, leaving Patrick Tambay to sit the race out. Meanwhile over at Osella the injured Guerra was replaced with Italian rookie Piercarlo Ghinzani.
Born in Bergamo, Piercarlo Ghinzani had begun in Formula Ford and moved up to Formula Three in 1973, making slow progress with the small Allegrini team and a customer Brabham chassis. He finally came good, winning the European F3 title in 1977 for EuroRacing, but the opportunity to progress into Formula Two or One never materialised. Instead, Ghinzani remained in F3 developing Alfa Romeo’s engine and his patience was finally rewarded in 1981 when Enzo Osella asked him to deputise for the injured Miguel-Angel Guerra for the Belgian Grand Prix.
Renewed controversy over the 6cm ground clearance rule dominated the weekend until, during Friday practice, Osella mechanic Giovanni Amadeo stumbled from the crowded pit wall and fell into the path of Carlos Reutemann’s speeding Williams. Amadeo suffered a fractured skull and was rushed to hospital, and angry mechanics began to complain to the race organisers about the cramped conditions in the pit lane, exacerbated by the number of non-team personnel there to see and be seen. Although shaken by the incident, Carlos Reutemann rallied to take pole position, with Piquet lining up alongside. Pironi and Patrese took up the second row, and Watson and Jones the third. Once again, neither Toleman and neither March qualified, with Slim Borgudd and an unhappy Rene Arnoux joining them in sitting out the race.
When race morning dawned, the mechanics decided to protest that their views were not being considered, and staged a sit-in on the track, in which they were joined by several sympathetic drivers. Nonetheless, the race organisers flagged the warm-up lap at the normal time, leading to a shambles as some cars departed and others were vacant and unattended, which in turn led to long delays while the grid formed up for the start – not helped when Piquet missed his grid slot and had to go round again. By this time, some of the other cars on the grid were starting to overheat and some turned off their engines, assuming there’d be another parade lap after Piquet’s error. When the organisers instead began the usual start sequence, Patrese was unable to restart his engine and began to
wave his arm. His mechanic, Dave Luckett, jumped off the pitwall and began to start the car manually but the sequence couldn’t be stopped and the start took place. Patrese’s stationary car was avoided by most of the grid but team-mate Siegfried Stohr approached unsighted and collided with Luckett and Patrese’s car. Stohr, visibly anguished, leaped out of his car and ambulances were called, but meanwhile the race continued and as the field came around to finish the first lap they weaved between the various personnel on the grid, while marshals waved frantically for the cars to stop, the drivers waved frantically for them to get off the track. Eventually, some drivers pulled up of their own initiative and, eventually, a restart was called. Miraculously, Dave Luckett had suffered a broken leg and various cuts and bruises but was not seriously hurt, to the relief of all concerned (not least the traumatised Stohr).
The restart was taken with neither Arrows car present, and the race proceeded in somewhat subdued circumstances. Didier Pironi got ahead of Reutemann at the start, while Jones diced with Piquet until accidentally nudging the Brabham into the catch-fencing on lap 12. Shortly afterwards, he got ahead of his team-mate, and then past Pironi into the lead, but it wasn’t to last. On lap 19, his gearbox failed, putting him in the sand with a scalded thigh courtesy of a ruptured radiator, while Pironi had fallen back, so Reutemann took the lead from Laffite and Mansell, going well in the new Lotus, with Watson fourth, but the McLaren suffered gearbox trouble and dropped back, allowing Villeneuve to inherit the position with de Angelis fifth and Eddie Cheever sixth. On lap 54 the heavens opened and gave the organisers the perfect excuse to red flag the race and bring proceedings to a close.
Reutemann, Laffite and Mansell stood on the podium with plenty to celebrate – Reutemann had seen title rivals Piquet and Jones fall by the wayside, Laffite had finally had a good race after frustration so far in the Talbot Ligier and Mansell had his first podium finish. But after the events of the day there was no joy in evidence and on Monday the F1 world was saddened to hear that Giovanni Amadeo, the Osella mechanic, had died of his injuries in hospital.
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