On This Day in F1: 01 March

On this day in F1 01 March, is brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Bart De Pauw

– Rene Arnoux wins 1980 South-African grand prix

– Death of Peter Walker

1980: Just one month after claiming his maiden F1 victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix, Frenchman Rene Arnoux continued his momentum to score his only back-to-back F1 success in the third grand prix of the 1980 season at the Kyalami circuit in South Africa.

Arnoux and his Renault teammate Jean-Pierre Jabouille unsurprisingly dominated from the moment practice opened with an unofficial three hour session on Wednesday as in the rarefied atmosphere of the Kyalami circuit, some 5,000 feet above sea level, the French team’s unique turbocharged cars enjoyed an enormous power advantage.

According to Renault’s chief engineer, all other normally aspirated engines lost about 8% of their power for every 1,000 feet above sea level, while the turbo’s only lost 4% thereby gaining the Renault’s RE21 and RE22 an overall advantage of over 100 bhp.

In fact, their power supremacy was such that qualifying tyres were not necessary for Jabouille and Arnoux to occupy the front row of the grid almost two seconds clear of their nearest rival. In the race the Renaults were able to counter Alan Jones’ lightning start from 8th on the run down to the first corner and then set off on their own with the more experienced Jabouille leading Arnoux until a right front tyre puncture forced the frontrunner to stop with 17 of the 78 laps remaining and allowed Arnoux to cruise to his second victory in just as many grand prix.

But even more so than Renault’s turbo-charged supremacy, the talking point during the 1980 South African Grand Prix was FISA’s one week old announcement to ban sliding skirts for the 1981 season. These sliding skirts, that were first seen on the 1977 Lotus 78 ‘wing car’ and that by 1980 were an integral part of the ground effect F1 racing cars and their escalating cornering speeds, became the first focal point in the long-lasting and highly political dispute between FISA (Federation Internationale Sportive Automobile, being a subcommittee of the FIA) and FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association).

In short, FISA – and its autocratic president Jean-Marie Balestre that was supporting the manufacturer teams Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo who all had a turbocharged engine ready or in the pipeline – wanted to ban the sliding skirts and ground effect cars on short notice under the pretext of safety reasons, but FOCA – guided by Bernie Ecclestone and his legal expert Max Mosley that were defending the non-turbo and mostly Cosworth-powered constructor teams – resisted as a speedy ban would clearly favor the turbo teams over the non-turbo teams as the latter would be condemned to a couple of years of playing catch up in order to cram their own turbo engines.

The whole affair become known as ‘FIASCO’ (‘FISA + FOCA = FIASCO’) and even Enzo Ferrari poured some fuel on the fire by stating that Ferrari, along with Renault and Alfa Romeo, were the ‘Grande Costruttori’ – or the ‘Great Constructors’ – whereas the others were mere ‘Assemblatori’, more-or-less translated as ‘the Kit-car Makers.’

In the below video James Hunt explains the nascent feud between FISA and FOCA while Murray Walker tries to keep an eye on the actual race.

The fight between FISA and FOCA – which is reality was a battle for the right to commercially exploit and technically regulate the sport (sounds familiar, no?) – would drag on for a couple of years and would see many unsavory twists. The ban on sliding skirts was effectively introduced for the 1981 season, but it was only respected in the first official and sole skirt-free F1 Grand Prix of that year at Long Beach in California, as the period until the next race in Brazil was all the time it took Gordon Murray to circumvent the ban by equipping his Brabham BT49 with an hydraulic suspension system that made the car comply with the newly introduced six-centimeter minimum ground clearance rule while in the pits but that also allowed the car to sink at speed so that its skirts were again within millimeters of the racing track.


1984: Peter Walker dies at the age of 71. Walker was a UK racing driver that participated in four F1 races between 1950 and 1955 and that won the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans together with his Jaguar teammate Peter Whitehead.


Together with Tony Rolt, Walker co-participated in the first ever F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950 but their green E-type ERA (English Racing Automobiles) was forced into an early retirement when it suffered a gearbox failure after only 5 laps.


Walker’s most heroic and also best F1 performance came in the next grand prix he disputed which was the 1951 British Grand Prix. During this race Walker drove the legendary BRM P15 that was fitted with a 1.5 liter V16 (!) engine. The car was so new that Walker and his BRM teammate Reg Parnell failed to make practice but the so eagerly-anticipated British cars were nevertheless allowed to start the race from the back of the grid. To everybody’s surprise both drivers made it to the finish with Parnell scoring BRM’s first ever world championship’s point in 5th while Walker secured 7th place. This performance was all the more impressive as towards the end of the event the two men suffered hand- and feet-burns in the BRM’s stifling cockpits that were heated by cracked exhausts.

The 1951 British Grand Prix in which Walker scored his finest F1 result despite being half roasted; see @ 3:58 for a suffering Walker being passed by Alfa Romeo driver Felice Bonetto.

And if you fear about next season’s engine sound you may want to remember this OTD to come and listen to the BRM P15’s 1.5 liter V16 that used Rolls-Royce produced centrifugal superchargers.

It took Walker until 1955 to participate in his final two F1 events, namely the Dutch and British Grand Prix of that year. Both races again resulted in early retirements, and after a heavy crash in the same year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans Parker decided to retire from racing.


7 responses to “On This Day in F1: 01 March

  1. “Parker”…?
    Fascinating 1951 GP video – no separate pit lane – pits full of people doing nothing, most with their backs to approaching cars – but do you see how many people are scattered around the circuit and apparently taking no interest in the race…?

    • oeps, too many Peter’s and Parnell’s surrounding Walker… I’ll ask TheJudge for absolution and a re-edit!

      It’s amazing how many footage there is to be found about these very first grand prix, I was watching like 20 minutes of images from the first 1950 British grand prix but couldn’t find a glimpse of Walker…

      And you are absolutely right, if you see the ‘safety’ measures that were (not) taken into account at the time it is a miracle that there weren’t more spectator drama’s, at almost any point of the circuit it seems impossible to make a mistake/exit from the track without mowing down a dozen of people…

      • Thanks Usher, and great article indeed!:-)

        Enzo Ferrari was known as a master manipulator but at the beginning of this Fisa-Foca dispute he himself got a bit carried away by Balestre and his smokescreen that was to hide his real intentions. But it only took ‘il Commendatore’ so long to see clear again as the comprimise between Balestre and Ecclestone that ended the war was very actively brokered by Enzo Ferrari.

  2. The 1951 Silverstone GP, I was bemused by the sylph like figure of Gonzalez compared to today’s heavyweights. 🙂
    Also on the lookout for Louis Stanley of BRM having read “Conspiracy of Secrets” by his stepdaughter it is odd to think that he was such a monster in most areas of his life whilst his persona at races was false.

    • Easy to see where Gonzales’ nicknames ‘The Pampas Bull’ and ‘El Cabezon’ (Fat Head) were coming from…:-)

      Think Stanley entered the picture a bit later as he only married his racing-connected wive in 1955, no? Would you recommend the book, if I understand well it’s more about Stanley’s dark personality and not so much about his involvement in BRM?

      • The book only mentions racing a few times in passing. His second wife (mother of the author) was in the Rubery Owen family who were heavily involved BRM. A lot of it is quite depressing, but if you are interested in politics and the upper class/debutant scene of the back end of the 19th and early 20th century then it is fascinating. The plot suffers from the very personal emotive view of the author in a few places and you probably need to draw out the family tree to follow the conclusion. But I won’t give away the result here.

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