30 August 1981
From the mountains of Austria to the sand-dunes of the Dutch coast went the Grand Prix circus – with the FIttipaldi team back among their ranks, having sorted out some sponsorship and an engine supplier. Laffite had been the seventh different race winner in eleven races so far, in what was turning out to be a cracking season of racing, and Zandvoort was another power circuit that might suit the Ferraris and Renaults, but sand blowing across the track often led to unpredictable grip.
It was an all-Renault front row again, Prost outqualifying Arnoux by just 0.079s, with Piquet and Jones on row two and Reutemann starting directly behind his main championship rival in fifth. Alongside sat championship dark horse Jacques Laffite, with Andretti’s Alfa Romeo unusually high in seventh ahead of Watson in the McLaren. The Ferraris were distinctly off-form with Pironi 12th and Villeneuve 16th. Sitting out Sunday’s race would be the Toleman team as usual, as well as the Fittipaldis and Gabbiani’s Osella – the Italian being thoroughly shown up by teammate Jarier once again.
After qualifying, Andrea de Cesaris had, in a startling turn of events, been withdrawn from the event by the McLaren team who had reportedly lost patience with his constant crashes and were unwilling to rebuild yet another chassis for him. Had the Italian been sacked? Rumour said that Niki Lauda had been seen testing the MP4/1 – would he step in as a replacement? At any rate, de Cesaris’ countryman Michele Alboreto was glad of de Cesaris’ misfortune, as he was promoted to the grid having been the fastest non-qualifier.
Prost and Arnoux got away well and raced each other down to the first corner, Tarzan, but Prost maintained his lead. Meanwhile Gilles
Villeneuve got his customary rocket start from mid-grid but tried to squeeze through a gap smaller than his Ferrari, clouted Giacomelli’s Alfa, took to the air, pirouetted on the track several time and ended up in the sand trap, game over but unhurt. Giacomelli’s car continued on its way apparently unscathed. Elsewhere in the pack, Andretti and Reutemann had a coming-together which bent the Alfa’s front wing but allowed Reutemann to continue, and Pironi and Tambay also collided, sending the Ligier into the pits to retire, and the Ferrari limping on damaged.
Over the first few laps, Prost pulled out a lead over Arnoux, who was leading a small train of cars; Jones, Piquet, Laffite and Reutemann, and the Australian was soon past, followed within a few laps by Piquet and Laffite as well. As in Germany, Jones had the bit between his teeth and set off after Prost and the lead, while Arnoux was in all kinds of trouble as he lost two more places to Reutemann and Watson before lap 13. Laffite and Reutemann, meanwhile, were engaged in a lively scrap for fourth place which ended on lap 18 when Carlos went for a gap that wasn’t there, did a bit of impromptu moto-cross, and banged wheels with the Ligier, sending both cars spinning out. Three laps later, the luckless Arnoux’s engine gave out and he retired,
Jones, meanwhile, had caught up to Prost and was harrying him mercilessly, trying to either get past or pressure the inexperienced Frenchman into a mistake, but in doing so he had wrecked his tyres and began to drop back, losing second place to a charging Piquet and that’s how it finished: a superb lights-to-flag win for Alain Prost – his second career win – while just as happy was Piquet, who with his second place had caught up to Reutemann and was now equal on points. Jones was third, Rebaque a solid fourth, with de Angelis (Lotus) and a delighted Eliseo Salazar (Ensign) picking up the other points.
A World Championship that looked sewn up for Reutemann a few months ago was now wide open, with seven drivers – Reutemann, Piquet, Jones, Laffite, Prost, Villeneuve and Watson – mathematically still in the hunt and just three races to go.
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