1981 Austrian Grand Prix


16 August 1981

The thinner air of this high-altitude circuit in the Alpine foothills favoured the turbo cars again, so as the teams made their way south from Hockenheim to Austria (minus Fittipaldi who, strapped for cash, couldn’t afford engines), the expectation was that the Renaults would be the class of the field again – and they were right. Arnoux and Prost made it an all-French front row, and an all-Francophone top four with Villeneuve and Laffite on the second row ahead of Reutemann and Jones. Nelson Piquet was seventh ahead of Pironi, de Angelis and Patrese. Eddie Cheever, meanwhile, had a rare DNQ, unhappy with the performance of his new Tyrrell 011.

Reutemann exits the pits to begin qualifying

When the lights went green, Villeneuve got a flyer and took the lead, while Pironi likewise leaped up into fourth. However, as so often this season the Ferraris had the power but not the handling to go with it. Villeneuve pushed too hard on lap 2 and went off the track, rejoining in 6th, while Reutemann did something similar. Pironi thus went up to third but couldn’t keep pace with the Renaults as they pulled away, and instead ended up fighting with the chasing pack composed of Piquet, Laffite, Jones and Reutemann; powering away on the straights but losing ground in the corners. After nine laps – by which time the Renaults had a lead of nearly 20 seconds – Laffite bullied his way past, followed by Piquet, and then Pironi dropped further back behind the Williams cars while Villeneuve crashed heavily three laps later. Laffite pushed hard in his Ligier, but couldn’t make much of a dent in the gap, only to be promoted to second anyway when Prost’s suspension failed.

Laffite enjoys the scenery
Laffite enjoys the scenery

By lap 39, Arnoux was alreardy among backmarkers and Laffite was able to catch up, before passing Arnoux as they approached a knot of slower cars. With Arnoux’s attempts to gain an advantage by exploiting his engine’s power to get past the backmarkers quicker than Laffite failing as he ran wide on one corner, the Frenchman was able to maintain his lead, while Arnoux was apparently happy to settle for second place rather than push his car too hard and risk a blown turbo.

Laffite thus took the Ligier team’s first win since 1979, with Arnoux second and Piquet third. Alan Jones took fourth after spending most of the race , followed by his team-mate, who coasted across the line with a dead engine. John Watson picked up the final point in the McLaren. Laffite’s win put him a solid third in the championship and closing up on Piquet who was now just five points ahead.

Drivers Championship
1 Carlos Reutemann 45
2 Nelson Piquet 39
3 Jacques Laffite 34
4 Alan Jones 27
5 Gilles Villeneuve 21
= John Watson 21
7 Alain Prost 19
8 René Arnoux 11
9 Riccardo Patrese 10
= Eddie Cheever 10
11 Elio de Angelis 8
= Hector Rebaque 8
13 Didier Pironi 7
14 Nigel Mansell 5
16 Marc Surer 4
17 Mario Andretti 3
18 Patrick Tambay 1
= Andrea de Cesaris 1
= Slim Borgudd 1
Constructors Championship
1 Williams-Ford 72
2 Brabham-Ford 47
3 Talbot Ligier-Matra 34
4 Ferrari 27
5 McLaren-Ford 22
6 Renault 21
7 Lotus-Ford 13
8 Arrows-Ford 10
= Tyrrell-Ford 10
10 Ensign-Ford 4
11 Alfa Romeo 3
12 Theodore-Ford 1
= ATS-Ford 1

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