The 1981 Spanish Grand Prix was the seventh round of the 1981 Formula One season. The race was won by Gilles Villeneuve who took his final win in Formula One at the race. The race saw one of the closest finishes ever, with the top five cars within 1.24 seconds of each other.
Gilles Villeneuve's win in Monaco had promoted him to fourth in the championship. Ferrari had also returned to their winning ways, moving up to second in the constructors' championship, one point ahead of Brabham but still significantly behind the Williams cars. The two Williams drivers' led the world championship, Carlos Reutemann led the standings on 34 points, however his non-finish in Monaco and teammate and nemesis Alan Jones was now only 10 points behind. Nelson Piquet was a single point behind Jones whilst Villeneuve had closed to a point within Piquet.
Following the controversy surrounding the 1980 Spanish Grand Prix which saw the FIA strip the race of its championship standing, interest for Formula One in Spain had been significantly reduced and the turnout for the race was desperately low. To maintain Spanish interest, the Spanish race organisers had traditionally entered their premier racing driver Emilio de Villota as a private entrant into the race. Notably however, the signing of the first Concorde Agreement in January 1981 which was designed to keep the peace between the FISA and FOCA had banned private entries from making their entrance into Formula One races. This did not stop the Spanish organisers from trying though, they claimed that the ATS of Slim Borgudd had arrived late and De Villota's 'reserve entry' would be entered into the race instead.
Less controversially, Eliseo Salazar had grown frustrated in his place at the revived March team who had only once managed to qualify for a grand prix. He left the team and bought his way into the Ensign seat. Marc Surer who had produced some strong results for the little team in 1981 was unceremoniously sacked in favor of the better financed Salazar.
Elsewhere Osella had replaced Piercarlo Ghinzani with sportscar racer Giorgio Francia. Francia had previously attempted to qualify a Brabham for the 1977 Italian Grand Prix to no avail. Francia was originally lined up for the Osella seat at the beginning of the season but failed to gain a superlicense due to lack of single seater experience. Osella then attempted to get Francia back into the car in San Marino when Miguel Angel Guerra was injured, however once again the FISA did not approve his superlicense. Finally in Spain, Francia was approved to enter Formula One with the Osella team.
When Slim Borgudd's ATS arrived late for practice, the Spanish race organisers took full advantage of entering Emilio de Villota's private Williams FW07 into the event. The organisers ignored the request of the FISA to bar De Villota's entry due to it being illegal under the new regulations. Nonetheless as the other cars commenced practice, De Villota's engine would not start and he sat helpless in the pitlane. When ATS finally arrived at the circuit, their team manager Hans Günther Schmid began angrily demanding to the organisers that Borgudd's entry be aprroved for the race. Eventually after fear of having their race be removed from championship status for the second year running, the Spanish organisers conceded and ATS were back in the grand prix whilst local driver Emilio de Villota was excluded from further participation.
Jacques Laffite, the man who had claimed the past two pole positions at the Jarama circuit was once again at the top of the timesheets at the conclusion of qualifying in his Ligier. Behind him came the two Williams rivals of Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann. John Watson impressed for McLaren to line up fourth ahead of Alain Prost's Renault. Alfa Romeo did well to return to the top ten with Bruno Giacomelli in sixth, notably ahead of his teammate and former world champion Mario Andretti who started from eighth. Splitting the two Alfa's was Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari. An impressive result for Villeneuve on a circuit Ferrari were expected to struggle. Teammate Didier Pironi faired less well starting from thirteenth. Brabham were notably struggling, Nelson Piquet could only manage an uncompetitive ninth on the grid ahead of the Lotus duo of Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell</nowiki>.
Giorgio Francia, the newly signed Osella driver had been well off the pace in practice and when teammate Beppe Gabbiani crashed his car early on in qualifying, Gabbiani commandeered Francia's car leaving Francia unable to participate in qualifying and therefore ending his race chances. Gabbiani however failed to shine either and failed to qualify alongside Michele Alboreto, Francia, Rebaque, Slim Borgudd and the two Toleman cars of Brian Henton and Derek Warwick. Derek Daly finally managed to qualify for his first grand prix in 1981 starting from 22nd on the grid. Daly was notably two places ahead of former teammate Eliseo Salazar who had defected to Ensign.
|2||1||Alan Jones||Williams-Ford||1:14.024||+ 0.270|
|3||2||Carlos Reutemann||Williams-Ford||1:14.342||+ 0.588|
|4||7||John Watson||McLaren-Ford||1:14.657||+ 0.903|
|5||15||Alain Prost||Renault||1:14.669||+ 0.915|
|6||23||Bruno Giacomelli||Alfa Romeo||1:14.897||+ 1.143|
|7||27||Gilles Villeneuve||Ferrari||1:14.987||+ 1.233|
|8||22||Mario Andretti||Alfa Romeo||1:15.159||+ 1.405|
|9||5||Nelson Piquet||Williams-Ford||1:15.355||+ 1.601|
|10||11||Elio de Angelis||Lotus-Ford||1:15.399||+ 1.645|
|11||12||Nigel Mansell||Lotus-Ford||1:15.562||+ 1.808|
|12||29||Riccardo Patrese||Arrows-Ford||1:15.627||+ 1.873|
|13||28||Didier Pironi||Ferrari||1:15.715||+ 1.961|
|14||8||Andrea de Cesaris||McLaren-Ford||1:15.850||+ 2.096|
|15||20||Keke Rosberg||Fittipaldi-Ford||1:15.924||+ 2.170|
|16||33||Patrick Tambay||Theodore-Ford||1:16.355||+ 2.601|
|17||16||René Arnoux||Renault||1:16.406||+ 2.652|
|18||6||Héctor Rebaque||Brabham-Ford||1:16.527||+ 2.773|
|19||25||Jean-Pierre Jabouille||Ligier-Matra||1:16.559||+ 2.805|
|20||3||Eddie Cheever||Tyrrell-Ford||1:16.641||+ 2.887|
|21||21||Chico Serra||Fittipaldi-Ford||1:16.782||+ 3.028|
|22||17||Derek Daly||March-Ford||1:16.979||+ 3.225|
|23||30||Siegfried Stohr||Arrows-Ford||1:17.294||+ 3.540|
|24||14||Eliseo Salazar||Ensign-Ford||1:17.822||+ 4.068|
|DNQ||4||Michele Alboreto||Tyrrell-Ford||1:17.943||+ 4.189|
|DNQ||31||Beppe Gabbiani||Osella-Ford||1:18.169||+ 4.415|
|DNQ||9||Slim Borgudd||ATS-Ford||1:18.263||+ 4.509|
|DNQ||35||Brian Henton||Toleman-Hart||1:18.340||+ 4.586|
|DNQ||36||Derek Warwick||Toleman-Hart||1:18.872||+ 5.118|
|DNQ||32||Giorgio Francia||Osella-Ford||1:19.586||+ 5.832|
|EX||37||Emilio de Villota||Williams-Ford||No time|
Jacques Laffite made a terrible start from pole position, his Ligier was bogged down and he was down to twelfth by the end of the first corner. Alan Jones made a traditional strong start to take the lead ahead of teammate Reutemann whilst Gilles Villeneuve was in third from seventh on the grid. Villeneuve in the process had barged past Alain Prost, damaging the Renault driver's front wing and forcing Prost into the pits at the end of the first lap. Villeneuve then continued his charge catching Reutemann napping and performing a wild move around the outside of the Williams driver to take second place.
Villeneuve was not expected to sustain his pace, his Michelin tyres had suffered significantly more wear than his Goodyear clad rivals around him. Alan Jones began to pull out a drastic lead leaving his rivals behind to battle with Villeneuve in second place.
Jones had the race in hand, his main championship rivals were suffering. Reutemann was stuck behind Villeneuve whilst Nelson Piquet was struggling in seventh position. But then inexplicably, on lap 14 Jones spun off the circuit. By the time his Williams had rejoined the race he was now well out of the points, throwing away a potential win.
Despite his poor start, Jacques Laffite continued to demonstrate his Ligier's competitiveness at Jarama. He quickly moved up to seventh passing Riccardo Patrese, Bruno Giacomelli and Didier Pironi. He was then promoted a further two places when the battling duo of Nelson Piquet and Mario Andretti collided. Piquet was out of the race whilst a disgruntled Andretti returned to the pits for repairs. The accident wasting a rare chance of points for Alfa Romeo and Andretti who had largely been uncompetitive in 1981.
Villeneuve by the mid-point race surprisingly still led the race, however Reutemann behind him was hampered by gear shift problems and failed to be able to demonstrate the Williams's true potential. Laffite continued to lap the quickest on the track and soon moved past both Watson's McLaren and Reutemann's Williams and was now the one harrowing Villeneuve's Ferrari. Villeneuve was clearly not quick, his struggling Ferrari had began to hold up all four drivers behind him and soon enough even Elio de Angelis's Lotus had joined the queue of cars behind Villeneuve. Villeneuve had some solace on the straights as his tubo charged Ferrari was quicker than the Ford-Cosworth powered cars behind him. Nonetheless, most of the Jarama circuit was made up of slow corners and Laffite and the others were constantly hounding his tail.
Reutemann's gear shift problems continued to plague him and he dropped behind Watson's McLaren, however he remained very much in the fight as the top five continued to remain within a second of Villeneuve. Much to everyone's surprise Villeneuve managed to hold off the five cars behind him taking the race victory, the top five finishing just 1.24 seconds apart, the race notably being the closest ever finish in the history of the sport. Taking a distant sixth in the race was the second Lotus of Nigel Mansell who finished some way ahead of Alan Jones, who had clawed his way back to seventh but nonetheless out of the points.
Villeneuve's two consecutive wins had brought him well into championship contention and he was now only one point behind Piquet and three behind Jones. Reutemann, the only other major contender to score in Spain was now on 37 points, still holding a significant 13 point lead in the championship over Jones.
Standings after race
|V T E||Spanish Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Pedralbes (1951, 1954), Jarama (1967-1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976-1981), Montjuïc (1969, 1971, 1973, 1975), Jerez (1986-1990), Catalunya (1991-Present)|
|Races||1951 • 1952–1953 • 1954 • 1955–1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982–1987 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020 • 2021 • 2022|
|Non-Championship Races||1923 • 1924–1925 • 1926 • 1927 • 1928–1929 • 1930 • 1931–1932 • 1933 • 1934 • 1935 • 1936–1966 • 1967 • 1968–1979 • 1980|
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