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.
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.
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.
|11||Elio de Angelis||8|
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||1|