On this day in F1 – 15th March

On this day in F1 – 15 March, is brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Bart De Pauw

– 1981: Alan Jones wins US Grand Prix (West) to make it three in a row
– 2001: Jacques Villleneuve blames Ralf Schumacher for marshal’s death

1981: F1 winters can be crazy at times. And so was the case for the period between the 1980 and the 1981 season. The battle over the commercial control of the sport between the governing body FISA and the association of the chassis building F1 teams FOCA reached its climax and ultimately also its conclusion.

The ground-effect creating sliding skirts were banned much against the will of most teams, the Argentinian Grand Prix – originally scheduled for January – was moved to April, the South African Grand Prix that took place in February without any of manufacturing teams was deprived of its World Championship status, a disgusted and frustrated tyre supplier withdrew from the sport and finally on March 4th 1981 the first Concorde Agreement was signed in Paris.
1981 United States Grand Prix WestAnd so by the middle of March everybody was ready and willing to race in Long Beach, California for the Toyota Grand Prix of the United States which was still being specified as ‘West’ despite the fact that as of 1981 the second American grand prix of the F1 season would no longer be disputed at the ‘Eastern’ Watkins Glen circuit near New York but rather around the Caesar Palace hotel in Las Vegas.

During practice it was Ricardo Patrese’s Arrows – without sliding skirts and with Michelins instead of Goodyears – that worked best and allowed the Italian to take his first ever pole position. However, the big talking point during official practice was the brand new Lotus 88, better known as the famous ‘twin chassis car’.

Colin Chapman’s most recent innovation featured an ingenious concept of having two chassis, the one inside the other: the primary and visible chassis consisted of the bodywork, sidepods, aerofoils and radiators, while riding independently inside that visible chassis was a secondary inner chassis carrying the wheels and holding the cockpit, fuel tank engine, gearbox and suspension.

The whole idea behind the Lotus 88 was for the inner chassis to give the driver a rather conventional braking, cornering and acceleration tool whereby the outer chassis was basically one big ground-effect concept to create aerodynamic downforce.

Lotus88 Twin Chassis

Elio de Angelis gave the Lotus 88 – that had successfully passed the pre-race scrutineering – its debut during Friday’s official practice. He didn’t set an exceptionally quick time, and would afterwards declare that the car wasn’t working yet.

But despite all that the protests from the other teams were mounting, and on Friday evening the stewards issued a statement saying that ‘in the matter of the protest against the Lotus 88, the stewards of the Meeting, after consideration of the rules and hearing all the parties to the protest decided to uphold the protest’.

Colin Chapman immediately appealed the stewards’ decision, and he was told that his Lotus 88 could run in the remainder of practice and in the race on the understanding that any championship points accrued could be withdrawn if the appeal was not upheld.

But during Saturday’s unofficial practice the Lotus 88 was finally black-flagged and notwithstanding some further attempts later in the year it would never actually participate to an F1 race.

Lotus88 Eliodi Angelis

On race day pole-sitter Patrese took a very good start, but it was the inimitable Gilles Villeneuve that with a stunning start from 5th position on the grid was to steer the rest of the pack into the first corner. But the most spectacular Ferrari driver would only lead the race for so long as he couldn’t force his red car into the apex and had to take a very wide line into and out of that first corner. Patrese regained his top spot and immediately opened a small gap over the Williams pair Carlos Reutemann and Alan Jones. After one third distance Patrese’s Arrows started to hesitate and he was easily overtaken by the FW07C’s. The Italian went into the pits but looked at the wrong gauge to mislead his mechanics about the cause of the misfire and a couple of laps later he was back into the pits to retire. Long Beach Grand Prix VilleneuveReutemann only kept the lead for a couple of laps, as the Argentinian made a mistake while lapping Marc Surer’s Ensign to allow Alan Jones into the lead. And so the reigning world champion made it three in a row by taking up where he had left off at the end of the 1980 season when he secured dominant wins in the final two grand prix in Canada and the US (East). Jones’ teammate was second and Nelson Piquet came third, albeit that Reutemann was lucky not to be punished for a rear wing that during the post-race scrutineering was found to be two millimeters over the limit.

Enjoy some good footage of the race, and look at the messy starting grid, Patrese’s jump start (?) and Gilles Villeneuve’s masterly car control that allowed him to outbrake everybody (including himself) at the start.

2001: Almost two weeks after Michael Schumacher’s victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, a victory overshadowed by the news that a marshal suffered a fatal injury from being hit by a wheel that detached from Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR Honda after a collision with Ralf Schumacher’s Williams-BMW, the 1997 world champion put the blame for the dramatic accident on Michael’s younger brother.

Following earlier comments from Ralf suggesting the Canadian missed his braking point on the fast run to Turn 3 of Melbourne’s Albert Park, Villeneuve countered the German: ‘Ralf was having problems with his front tires. He was extremely slow and he was braking earlier than everybody else on the race track. So if that happens, and you know that it is happening, you don’t stay in the middle of the racetrack, you stay on the left or the right ad give enough room for everybody else to react.’

The mutual accusations between Villeneuve and Schumacher were a sad spectacle to follow and left an even more bitter aftertaste of something that was really an unfortunate racing incident. Both drivers were very lucky to escape without any injuries from an incident that ended in so much tragedy after the wheel passed through a very narrow gap in the safety fence.

It was even more painful that all of this had to happen during the first 2001 grand prix as it was the first race for which the FIA required an extra tether to each wheel in order to try to stop the wheels coming off and causing injury to other drivers, marshals and spectators.

Judge for yourself if any driver was more responsible than the other for the massive shunt, and let’s all take a second to remember unfortunate volunteer marshal Graham Beveridge when we see the cars go through Turn 3 this weekend.

7 responses to “On this day in F1 – 15th March

  1. Hi Bart – having been an early advocator of this section may I say I much I enjoy the way it’s being developed – I very much like the way you are now giving potted historical background to set up your piece. Good for my memory – but also for those who are too new to remember… 😉

  2. Thanks BlackJackFan. Hanging around in the early ’80’s for a couple of OTDs now, and it helps to put things in their historical background, but now always easy to keep it potted…:-)

    • “. . . not always easy to keep it potted.”
      Totally agree – perhaps that’s where the artistry of journalism comes into play… You’re already infinitely better than the drivel that is the FIA Drivers’ Conference…
      [sorry Judge – it just slipped out again… 😉 ]

  3. I always thought it was a shame that the Lotus 88 wasn’t raced. Chapman’s last revolutionary F1 design, to take the Ground Effect era G-force off the driver, and he was livid it was banned. If I remember correctly from what I’ve read the FIA banned it saying the chassis constituted a moveable aero device or something such?

    • You are absolutely right, the FIA banned it because the outer chassis would constitute an illegal moveable aero device in the sense that it was not ‘fixed’ to the sprung part of the car which was the inner chassis.

      It was really the other teams, and in particular Frank Williams, that ‘convinced’ the FIA that the car was illegal, probably because already on its first ever test day it was a second quicker than one of the established manufacturer cars (Alfa)…

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