Lole's earliest F1 acquaintance
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W Christmas 2000 issue
- Carlos Reutemann - The team mate that everybody hated, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas/Nicolas Korzan/Hans Swart
Remember 'Lole' arriving on the F1 scene with a bang? His pole on his World Championship debut at the 1972 Argentine GP was remarkable indeed, but the bang was pre-emptied quite a bit by Carlos' real F1 debut the year before. In Joakim Bonnier's ageing McLaren M7C, in which the veteran Swede usually languished at the back of Grand Prix grids, Reutemann made known to his future competitors that he was definitely one to watch. With the surprising Surtees of Rolf Stommelen on pole, the young and confident Carlos used his home advantage to good effect to finish third - and effectively last - on aggregate after two heats of 50 laps on the twisty 2.119 mile track. Winning the race, incidentally, was Chris Amon who finally broke his duck - as did Matra with their glorious V12.
By the time Reutemann raced in the first World Championship Victory Race - the celebratory season-closer at Brands Hatch won by Peter Gethin that sadly was more remembered as the shortened race which took Gethin's team mate Jo Siffert's life - Carlos had indeed been noticed through his F2 accomplishments. The next year he would make his presence clear by taking pole in Argentina and winning his first F1 race in Brazil.
Reader's Why by 'Uechtel'
This man, Carlos Reutemann, the two pictures showing him in the early stages of his career, is certainly one of the hottest candidates for the title of "unluckiest driver ever" (perhaps only topped by Stirling Moss), as he is the one who scored by far the most world championship points without ever winning the title.
And there are two other facts why his name is so remarkable among all the other Formula 1 drivers of the present and the past. He is one of only three drivers who started their first Grand Prix (if you count world championship events only) from pole position and - as far as I know - he is the only pilot who used his popularity to start a successful front-line political career. Today he is governor of the Santa Fe province (at least he recently was) and his name has even been discussed from time to time as a possible candidate for the presidential elections in his country.
In between lay one of the most ungentle careers of any driver, accompanied by an inexplicably unsteady performance curve, internal team feuds and Reutemann's talent to be in the right team at the wrong time. In the end he even fell victim to global politics, an Argentinian in a British team with the Falklands war already imminent.
But back to the beginning: The son of a cattle-rancher started racing in 1965, soon becoming one of his country's top saloon-car drivers. In 1968 he stepped into Formula 2 and in 1970 he was chosen for the Argentine Automobile Club's traditional driver-to-Europe-programme. He ended the season well down in fifteenth place of the European championship table but had learned a lot about single-seaters.
Early in 1971 he managed to borrow Bonnier's old and battered McLaren M7 for his home Grand Prix (which did not count towards the world championship in those days). Unfortunately the picture does not show the real state of the old car clearly, on other pictures it is easy to recognize how crooked and twisted the front wing already was.
Reutemann showed a steady drive into third place, assisted by a relatively high rate of atrition among the other contestants. After that he engaged himself again in Formula 2, this time far more successful, and at the end of the season he finished runner-up in the European championship.
Of course this attracted notice from the Formula 1 team owners. So it was only pure consequence that he found himself in the cockpit of a Formula 1 car again before the end of the season. This time he raced a Brabham BT33, which can be seen here at the photo, in the so-called World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch (but as far as I know it had nothing to do with the championship at all). Reutemann finished ninth in the old car, the Brabham team being at a low point in its history after the departure of Jack Brabham. At the end of the season team-owner Ron Tauranac had enough, too, and sold the team to Bernie Ecclestone.
Bernie, who always seemed to have some kind of affinity to South American drivers, kept the services of Reutemann alongside Graham Hill and Wilson Fittipaldi and soon discovered what talent he had in his team. Reutemann made a sensational Grand Prix debut in Buenos Aires on his home soil, qualifying the unwieldy Brab-ham BT 34 for pole position. In the race only his wrong tyre choice prevented him from scoring also his first championship points, his start on soft qualifying tyres proved to have been a far too risky gamble by the un-experienced driver.
After this he also won the non-championship Brazilian Grand Prix, but after a nasty crash in the Formula 2 Brabham of Ron Dennis the rest of his season proceeded with no further highlights.
From the beginning of 1973 onwards the Brabham team began slowly to return into the game and so Reutemann's line of success pointed upwards again. With the new BT42 he regularily finished into the points and in 1974 he won his first Grand Prix at Kyalami in the superb new BT44.
During the rest of the season he added two more wins, at Austria and in the US, so the team began to think about his championship chances for 1975. But at the side of the competitive Carlos Pace he won only once, at the German Grand Prix.
In 1976 things turned worse and he was completely chanceless in the extremely unreliable Alfa Romeo-engined BT45. It was the year of Lauda's accident at the Nürburgring and as afterwards there seemed to be a vacant cockpit at Ferrari, Reutemann instantly joined the Scuderia in the middle of the season. But Lauda recovered unexpectedly quick, so it was Regazzoni who had to give up his cockpit. But all during 1977 Reutemann stood clearly in the shadow of Lauda, who found a big pleasure in humiliating the Argentine as often as possible.
So it must have been quite a big relief when Lauda, as soon as the title was in his pocket, surprisingly left the team even before the end of the season. Partnered by Gilles Villeneuve Reutemann suddenly found himself as a leader of the title-defending team. Inspired by this his performances improved again, winning four Grands Prix during the 1978 season. But again he fought a losing battle against Mario Andretti in the revolutionary ground-effect Lotus 79.
Therefore it seemed a good decision when Reutemann joined Lotus to replace the deceased Peterson, but it soon showed that this came one year too late. The Lotus 80 project ended disastrously and the old 79 was already outdated because of the fast technical development. He had some brilliant drives in the old car but the title went to the team he had just left - Ferrari!
During the second half of the 1980 season the Williams team came to the fore and this time Reutemann caught the right moment to jump on this train, signing for 1981 to replace Regazzoni for the second time. The situation was that Alan Jones clearly was the No. 1 driver and clearly Frank Williams' favourite. Somewhat neglected by the team Reutemann needed some time to come to terms while Jones won one race after the other.
His start into the next season was much better, as he was now now adding competitiveness to steadiness and by mid-season Reutemann was clearly on title course. But after disobeying team orders at Rio (where he won the race ahead of Jones) he lost the backing of the team completely and was exposed to the malevolence of his Australian team-mate. Finally at mid-season his series of success ended very abruptly. He had already scored enough points to keep himself in championship-leading position until the last race of the season, but then Piquet managed to snatch the title from his nose by just one single point.
After Jones' retirement Williams obviously could not afford to lose also their second driver, but after two races into the season Reutemann decided step out of the business. As he never really explained this move it was of course to a lot of speculations. Perhaps even the strained relations between Argentina and Britain in the dawning of the Falklands War were part of his decision.