On This Day in #F1: 31st May 1981 – Villeneuve

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1981: Gilles Villeneuve wins legendary Monaco Grand Prix

The 1981 Monaco Grand Prix started later than scheduled due to a fire breaking out in the Lowes Hotel, above the famous tunnel. Firemen had tended to it and put the fire out but the consequence was the water had leaked into the tunnel. The marshals managed to get the track as dry as possible but there still remained an element of danger.

1981_monaco_grand_prix_by_f1_history-d5f8jtcGilles Villeneuve had qualified second to the Brabham of Nelson Piquet – an incredible performance in a car that Harvey Postlethwaite would describe cumbersome. The powerful Ferrari turbo also suffered turbo lag – a delay in throttle response whilst the turbos spooled up – which all added up to a car that wasn’t suited to the short straights and multiple low speed corners of the Principality. Except no-one had told the French-Canadian…

At the start, Piquet and Villeneuve pulled quickly away and incidents behind them meant that Alan Jones – from seventh on the grid – was up to third by lap 14. He caught Villeneuve quickly who was struggling with his brakes. The harsh delivery of power from the Ferrari engine was needing heavy use of the brakes to rein the car in for the next tight corner.

alan_jones___gilles_villeneuce__monaco_1981__by_f1_history-d5uxoexAfter three laps of valiant effort, Villeneuve left the slenderest of gaps for Jones to drive through.

There was sound reasoning behind this decision, he knew that Jones and Piquet hated each other; in fact in the previous race in Belgium, they had touched and Piquet ended up out of the race. Afterwards the Brazilian was quoted saying “He’s absolutely crazy. The next time he does that I’ll kill him.” Jones was the archetypal no-nonsense Australian ‘bloke’ and found his threat laughable.

Jones began closing on Piquet whilst Villeneuve fell back with brake problems. The field became decimated against the unflinching Monaco barriers and by lap 53 only eight cars remained in the race. On lap 54 Piquet succumbed to the pressure from Alan Jones and crashed whilst trying to lap Eddie Cheever.

Villeneuve-G_1981_Monaco_04_PHCJones took over the lead – thirty seconds ahead and just 22 laps remaining. A problem had been developing and a misfire began to develop which brought the Williams driver into the pits. There were air bubbles in the fuel and nothing could be done to remedy it so he returned to the circuit merely six seconds in front of Villeneuve.

Just four laps from the end Villeneuve attacked the ailing Williams of Jones and passed him into Ste. Devote. With the crowd going wild he drove the last four laps to a 40 second victory over the Williams of Alan Jones.

“It was very hard to drive with the suspension so stiff it was like a go-kart. I bumped my head all the time on the rollbar and now I ache all over. it was one of the most tiring races of my life – but i am very, very happy with this win. when my brakes started to go I had to be very brutal with the car but it lasted ok. I am very lucky today.”

5 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 31st May 1981 – Villeneuve

  1. The engines in the 126C cars have quite a history. Originally designed to use a Comprex system for turbo-charging, which was abandoned, they went with Bosch KKK turbo’s and a Magnetti Marelli engine management system in the 021 which appeared in 1980. Ferrari discovered that the turbo-lag and power / torque curves were so bad they actually reduced the rev-limit by 1000 rpm for 1981 in an attempt to smooth out performance. So the engine that Villeneuve won Monaco with in 1981 was less powerful than the engine he used in 1980, something which seems odd considering the huge HP increases that happened during the first turbo era.

    • Thanks for providing that link Nigel. Refreshing to see footage without commentary over the top and interesting to hear more of the driver-pit wall communications during the (presumably) actual moments in the race they were made. I liked Vettel noting that he was “ruining other people’s races” – of course the BBC chose to cut out that more considerate comment and focused on the “come on guys!” bit instead.

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