Puneet Varma (Editor)

1981 Belgian Grand Prix

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Date  May 17, 1981
Course length  4.011 km (2.492 mi)
Location  Zolder, Belgium
Weather  Wet/Dry
1981 Belgian Grand Prix
Distance  54 laps, 216.594 km (134.585 mi)
Scheduled Distance  70 laps, 288.792 km (179.424 mi)

The 1981 Belgian Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held at Zolder on May 17, 1981.


Mechanic safety and chaotic first race

The Belgian Grand Prix of 1981 was marred by two serious incidents involving mechanics, one fatal. In Friday practice a mechanic from the Osella team, Giovanni Amadeo, stumbled off the pitwall into the path of the Williams of Carlos Reutemann. Reutemann was unable to avoid the mechanic, who suffered a fractured skull. He died from his injuries on the Monday after the race. Before the start of the race the mechanics of all the teams staged a protest over the safety measures protecting them, which was soon joined by several drivers who left their cars. According to 1976 World Champion James Hunt during the BBC commentary for the race, the protest was largely over the narrow pits at Zolder and that the pits were overcrowded, especially with people who were nothing more than 'hangers on' who were there to be seen and not for the actual racing.

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 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. His mechanic, Dave Luckett, instantly came onto the track to restart the car from behind. But after he got onto the track, the lighting sequence to start the race had already begun, and the start went ahead despite the presence of Luckett and Patrese's gesticulations. In the confusion and likely unable to see Patrese's stalled car, the other Arrows driver, Siegfried Stohr, ploughed into the back of his team-mate's car, hitting Luckett. Luckett suffered a broken leg and lacerations but survived the incident. But even after this incident, the race continued, and as the field was about to start the second lap, with marshals and Stohr's disabled car still on the circuit, cars passed by with very little space on the narrow track, and the marshals frantically waved at the drivers to stop and the confused drivers waved back at the marshals, who were still on the circuit as the cars passed by. The drivers stopped themselves rather than being directed to stop.

As a result of these events, a new rule was introduced forbidding mechanics from being on the grid within fifteen seconds of the formation lap, and the race starter would use greater caution.

Race report

The race was fairly uneventful – Reutemann was passed by Didier Pironi going into the first corner. Then Alan Jones nudged off Nelson Piquet at the early stages of the race and Piquet crashed into some catch fencing at the chicane; and a furious Piquet stormed to the Williams garage in an altercation with Jones and the Williams personnel after Jones's gearbox failed, ploughed into the barriers and badly burned his left thigh after the gearbox oil leaked into Jones's cockpit. Pironi had fallen back and after Jones's accident, Reutemann took the lead, and kept the lead until the race was called off early because of rain starting to fall on the track. A somber Reutemann took his 2nd victory of the season and his 12th and what was to be the final victory of his enigmatic career after a weekend that was marked by frustration, politics and tragedy.

Championship standings after the race

  • Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
  • References

    1981 Belgian Grand Prix Wikipedia

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