The 1980 United States Grand Prix West was a Formula One motor race held on March 30, 1980, at Long Beach, California. It was the fourth round of the 1980 Formula One season. The race was the fifth United States Grand Prix West and the sixth street race to be held at Long Beach. The race was held over 80 laps of the 3.251-kilometre circuit for a total race distance of 260 kilometres.
The race was won by Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet driving a Brabham BT49. It was Piquet's debut World Championship victory in just his fourth points finish and announced his emergence as a championship contender. Piquet won by 49 seconds over Italian driver Riccardo Patrese driving an Arrows A3. It was the best result for both Arrows and Patrese in two years after Patrese finished second at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix. Third was Brazilian driver, twice-World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi driving a Fittipaldi F7. It was Fittipaldi's best result since finishing second at the 1978 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Nelson Piquet took pole, fastest lap and his first career race win to dominate the weekend in his gleaming blue and white Brabham. The Brazilian's qualifying time was a full second ahead of the rest of the field, and he led all 80 laps of the race to win by 49 seconds and grab a share of the lead in the Driver's Championship. The race would be the last in Formula One for Swiss driver Clay Regazzoni, who suffered spinal damage when he lost the brakes in his Ensign and struck a parked car followed by a concrete barrier at 150 mph (240 km/h).
In Friday qualifying, Frenchman Didier Pironi recorded the fastest time, but getting a good lap on Saturday was a matter of using the soft qualifying tires at the right time and slotting in a good time before the track became too oily. Piquet was easily the fastest man on the circuit, using Goodyear tires, but Championship leader René Arnoux grabbed second place in his Renault with an early run on soft Michelins. The big surprise, however, was Jan Lammers, who put his ATS in fourth position while subbing for the injured Marc Surer. James Hunt nearly made a comeback with McLaren, asking for $1 million for the race. This opportunity came about when French rookie driver Alain Prost broke his wrist during practice for the South African Grand Prix, and was not fully fit to drive at Long Beach. The team's main sponsor, Marlboro, offered half the figure but negotiations ended after Hunt broke his leg while skiing. Stephen South substituted but South failed to qualify. Pironi slipped to ninth by the end of the session, while the Ferraris of Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter, so dominant here the year before, struggled to 10th and 16th, and Emerson Fittipaldi just managed to scramble onto the grid in the 24th and final spot. Americans Mario Andretti (Lotus) and Eddie Cheever (Osella), in his first full F1 season, were 15th and 19th.
The only mis-step of Piquet's weekend came in the Sunday morning warmup when he and Derek Daly collided entering the corner after the pits. The Brabham was vaulted into the air and landed heavily on all four tires, while Daly's Tyrrell went down the escape road. After careful examination, the Brabham crew decided that the car was fine and ready to race.
A race day crowd of 80,000 enjoyed a beautiful spring day in the California sun as the drivers assembled on the dummy grid in front of the pits. At the one-minute signal, when the cars were to move around for the start on the Shoreline Drive straight, John Watson's McLaren had to be push-started. He was not too disappointed to be sent to the back of the grid, however, as he figured it would help him avoid the inevitable first corner pile-up!
Entering the first corner, sure enough, Ricardo Zunino, Andretti, Jochen Mass and Jean-Pierre Jarier all made contact under braking. Zunino's Brabham and Andretti's Lotus were unable to continue. After one lap, Piquet led Patrick Depailler, who had gotten by René Arnoux in the hairpin. They were followed by Alan Jones, Bruno Giacomelli, Riccardo Patrese, Carlos Reutemann, Villeneuve and Daly.
On lap 4, Giacomelli lost control of his Alfa Romeo under braking for the hairpin, and slid sideways across the racing line. Reutemann, following directly behind, was the first to be collected. Jody Scheckter, Elio de Angelis, Cheever and Jarier also became involved. According to Reutemann, while Giacomelli's Alfa was facing the inside wall, he let a few cars pass, and then put his car in reverse, and backed onto the racing line, and Reutemann had to come to a complete stop to avoid hitting the Italian's Alfa, and then Giacomelli, realizing he had made a mistake, went back to where he was. By the time Giacomelli had realized what had happened, the 5 other aforementioned cars including Reutemann had created an accordion effect; although Reutemann and Scheckter had not hit anything, de Angelis (who was injured), Cheever and Jarier had crashed. The marshals decided to move forward Giacomelli and Cheever were able to continue for the time being, though both retired later in the race, and Reutemann had retired soon afterwards with gearbox problems. Fittipaldi just managed to squeeze through the carnage, and the marshals somehow got the track cleared before the leaders came around, avoiding a red flag to stop the race.
While Piquet continued to run unchallenged in front, Depailler was struggling with fading brakes on his Alfa Romeo. On lap 18, Jones caught and passed him on the outside of the hairpin to take second place. Meanwhile, Giacomelli was working his way back up through the field ahead of an extended battle between Regazzoni, Fittipaldi and John Watson.
After pitting for tires on lap 47, Giacomelli rejoined in 12th place, just ahead of Jones, but about to be lapped by the Williams for the second time. As Jones moved inside to pass the Italian entering the hairpin at the end of the straight, Giacomelli turned in and Jones struck the Alfa Romeo's rear wheel, bending the steering arm on the Williams and putting Jones out of the race. This left Piquet with a lead of more than a minute over Patrese and Arnoux, and he began to ease off, allowing some cars to unlap themselves.
The battle between Regazzoni, Fittipaldi and Watson, who started in the last three places on the grid, was now for 4th place! Fittipaldi had been trailing less than a second behind Regazzoni's Ensign for some time, but a locking front brake kept him from passing.
At the end of the straight on lap 51, Fittipaldi saw Regazzoni's car go straight on at the Queen's Hairpin. He turned the corner and then heard a huge bang above the noise of his engine from 100 yards away, and was sure Regazzoni would not survive the impact. Fortunately, he did, but injuries to his spinal column meant that the veteran Swiss would never regain full use of his legs, and his 132nd Grand Prix would be his last. The Ensign's brake pedal had been made of a lightweight metal alloy and simply broke. The car hit Zunino's parked Brabham, plowed through several tire barriers and hit the concrete wall behind the tires.
On lap 63, Arnoux had his right rear tire go completely flat, and by the time he was able to make it back to the pits for a replacement, he had dropped all the way to ninth place. Watson now began to challenge Fittipaldi for third, and even get around him briefly, but gearbox troubles allowed the Brazilian to retake the position and then pull away. Watson, in fact, came under fire from Scheckter's Ferrari. Braking into the hairpin, Scheckter tried to go around the outside, as Watson defended the inside line. He slid wide on the dirt and marbles, however, and thereafter, decided to settle for 5th place and his final points in Formula One.
For Piquet, it was the first of 23 career wins and pulled him even with Arnoux in the Driver's Championship. For Fittipaldi, who finished third behind a steady Patrese in the Arrows, it was his first podium in more than two years, and the last of his F1 career (both as a driver and as a constructor). The torch was passed from one Brazilian multiple World Champion to another.Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.