On This Day in F1: 17 May

On this day in F1 – 17 May, brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs

 1733 England passed Molasses Act, putting high tariffs on rum & molasses imported to the colonies from a country other than British possessions…

1890 Comic Cuts, first weekly comic paper, published in London…

1895 WG Grace scored his 100th century…

1900 British troops relieved Mafeking…

1943 The ‘Dam Busters’ made an audacious raid into the industrial heartland of Germany – a significant boost to British morale but, a military failure…

1961 Castro offered to exchange Bay of Pigs prisoners for 500 bulldozers…

1965 The FBI concluded a formal investigation, and declared the lyrics of Louie Louie to be officially unintelligible… after an outcry from parents in 1964 asserted the lyrics to be pornographic…

1973 Senate Watergate Committee began its hearings…

1975 Mick Jagger punched a restaurant window, and received 20 stitches – for his pains…

1978 The coffin containing the body of Charlie Chaplin was found. Swiss police arrested two men – a Pole aged 24 and a Bulgarian aged 38 – who confessed to stealing the coffin and reburying it. Police described them as motor mechanics…
[And you thought there was no motoring connection with these things…! 😉 ]

and… in 1981, a month after John Lennon was fatally shot, Ronald Reagan took the oath as 40th President… and was also shot… as were: Pope John-Paul II; Queen Elizabeth II; and President Sadat, who was the only one to be killed… Thatcher gave in to the miners; Europe’s first high-speed, 236mph, passenger train began operating; Charles & Diana were married; and a mystery disease was named as the Aids virus…

McEnroe & Evert-Lloyd won at Wimbledon; Ordinary People received the Oscar; Taxi and Hill Street Blues were the top TV programmes; Sailing was record of the year; Andrew Lloyd Webber/TS Eliot’s musical, Cats, premiered in London; MTV started running 24hr. music videos, with Video Killed the Radio Star; and IBM introduced its first personal computer, running the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS)…

The 1981 F1 season began with the FIA fighting a battle with many teams over ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics, wanting to ban the skirts used to generate increasingly high cornering speeds and, by the time of the fifth race in Belgium, virtually every car on the grid failed to conform to the new regulations – most passed the scrutineers’ checks in the pit but were clearly illegal on track. In turn the new Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA), wanted to ban the powerful and expensive turbo engines…

Beneath all of this lay a power struggle for control of the sport between the FIA, led by Jean-Marie Balestre, and FOCA, led by Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone. The FIA were apparently siding with the manufacturer-run teams in an attempt to topple Ecclestone. Oh, what we know in hindsight…

Meanwhile, at Zolder, the Belgian GP was destined to go down in history as a fiasco…

Carlos Reutemann - Zolder GP 1981

© Williams/LAT

. . . a weekend that highlighted the dangers of F1’s over-crowded pit lane. Thirty-six cars entered the race, and during Friday practice Osella team mechanic, Giovanni Amadeo, slipped off the pit wall and was killed after being run over by Reutemann’s Williams.

The drivers threatened to strike over the poor safety standards, taking their cars onto the grid on race-day, and joining an impromptu mechanics meeting at the front of the grid… but the race organisers nevertheless flagged the warm- up lap at the normal time, leaving several cars delayed on the grid, either stalled or with their cockpits vacant.

The resulting chaos when the grid formed up again at the end of this lap was exacerbated when Nelson Piquet missed his starting position and was sent round on another lap, with the other cars being held in position.

As the cars began to overheat, several drivers turned off their engines, among them Arrows driver, Riccardo Patrese, expecting another formation lap due to Piquet’s error. However, the organisers (under Derek Ongaro) began the start sequence as usual once Piquet had regained his position. Patrese was unable to restart his car and waved his arms to signal that he could not take the start… but… incredibly, his mechanic (Dave Luckett…!) jumped over the pit wall to help… Crouched down behind the car, the lighting sequence had already begun, and the start went ahead.

Most of the drivers avoided the stricken Arrows, but Patrese’s team-mate Siegfried Stohr was unsighted and crashed into the back of him. Fortunately the mechanic escaped with minor injuries but when the field, led by Piquet, returned at the end of the second lap, with the track still partially blocked, all the drivers with the exception of Piquet decided to stop the race of their own accord.

Mansell Reutemann Zoler 1981

© Williams/LAT

Ultimately Carlos Reutemann took his twelfth and final career win… as Nigel Mansell took his first podium… in a race that was stopped early because it ‘started’ to rain… the organisers belatedly playing safe…

His car may have won, but Frank Williams was far from happy. He summed up the fury at the needless injury and bitter wrangling over the technical rules, saying: “Why do people part with money to come in and watch this bloody fiasco any more? Can you give me an answer to that? Because I can’t give you one.”

“And I’ll tell you something else. I can’t think of a good reason to persuade my sponsors to stay involved in it, either. You can only suppress hypocrisy and lies for so long in this world. Eventually it all bubbles to the surface, and we’ve got it now. We’re paying for the past.”


Dave Luckett

©Patron Highcroft Racing

It is not my desire to rubbish Mr Luckett on this site but to show how chaotic F1 organization used sometimes to be… and which now exists/still exists/will continue to exist.
[Delete as applicable…]

Nevertheless his action was foolhardy, at least, and I’m bound to wonder what caused such impetuous behaviour. Was it just the heat of the moment…? Was he just young and keen…? And what sanctions would be imposed on a team these days for such an action…?

Dave Luckett was an extremely able and experienced Chief Mechanic, who also worked with Alan Jones and Gerhard Berger, and has recently been involved with the American Le Mans series.

Start-line fiasco

This clip is better and clearer, and in Italian

17 responses to “On This Day in F1: 17 May

  1. Whaw, what a miserable race (weekend), only for tragedy @ Zolder to be even bigger in 1982… Quite gasthly to see Stohr’s devastation and body language after hitting the mechanic. Fantastic contribution BJF!

    • Hi BDP… Indeed, two tragic years – I just thought it was unfortunate that 1981 was comparatively forgotten… but at least GP organisation, at trackside level, has improved as a result. Does anyone remember Toto Roche…? Perhaps he’s for my next piece . . .

    • Great to read some insight into before I was physically able to be an F1 fan – thanks for the great research and thought provoking article for a Friday morning BJF!

      • Good morning Schumerak… not really very much research… because I was physically there…
        Only kidding… 😉
        But glad you enjoyed it. I’ll see what I can do for next Friday 🙂

        • Really enjoying reading your articles BJF. Thank you for taking the time to enrich us all a little more – especially on a Friday.

    • It is also a very somber looking Reutemann on the podium. Considering he killed a man on the Friday it is probably not surprising.

      • Certainly understandably somber – but the poor mechanic didn’t die until the day after the race… Imagine what would have then happened in Italy…

  2. On track F1 is now less chaotic, but behind the scenes its utter carnage at present.

    There is even a rumour today, some teams are asking to use modified 2013 engines due to the cost of the Turbo’s being prohibitive.

    • ‘but behind the scenes its utter carnage at present’
      That was my implication… but thought I’d let you deal with it… 😉
      But… I can remember Monday Morning Blues… but what is the significance of Friday mornings…?

      • Well Friday is the day before the weekend and you can’t go too hard otherwise you’ll be exhausted for the weekend, Monday is the first day after the weekend so rightly you will be tired 😉

        It could also be the fact that we don’t have a GP this weekend?

        • Nudge, Nudge. Wink, wink…
          Am I really too old to have worked that out… 🙂 🙂

      • Friday non-race weekends is often the worst day of the week for F1 news. So it’s good to have something quality of interest to read

  3. didn’t MSC cause something like this to happen at Hungary in 2011/12?

    • Dear Lloyd
      Just for that I might tell you my day job one day…
      Wasn’t it you who asked – a while back…?

      • Haha yes it was!

        That was ages ago… I’d forgotten, and also who the question was directed at!

        I’ll be waiting with baited breath 😉

  4. Dave Luckett received a compound fracture of his thigh, loss of a finger and concussion — minor?

    An inquiry into the accident deemed the actions of the starter to be at fault.

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