French GP 1981
JULY 5, 1981
French GP, 1981
Two weeks after Gilles Villeneuve's extraordinary victory in Spain, the F1 circus gathered in Dijon for the French Grand Prix with Carlos Reutemann well ahead of Nelson Piquet in the World Championship. Marc Surer (displaced from Ensign by Eliseo Salazar) had taken over the Theodore drive, leaving Patrick Tambay out of work. However Jean-Pierre Jabouille had decided to retire as he was no longer competitive as a result of the leg injuries he had suffered in Canada in 1980 and so Tambay became the second Talbot Ligier driver. This was perfect as it reduced the field to 30 cars and meant that there was no need for pre-qualifying. The other news was that Goodyear had returned to F1 and so Williams and Brabham appeared on Goodyear tires. Ensign and March used Avon.
Qualifying resulted in pole position for Rene Arnoux's Renault. This was not a surprise but second place for John Watson's McLaren MP4/1 was rather startling, particularly as the Marlboro car was ahead of the second Renault driven by Alain Prost. Fourth place went to Nelson Piquet (Brabham) with Andrea de Cesaris (McLaren), Jacques Laffite (Talbot Ligier), Carlos Reutemann (Williams), Elio de Angelis (Lotus), Alan Jones (Williams) and Mario Andretti (Alfa Romeo) completing the top 10.
On the first lap Piquet took the lead from Watson, Prost, de Cesaris and Villeneuve (who had been 11th on the grid in his Ferrari) while Arnoux dropped back to ninth. Prost soon moved ahead of Watson while further back de Cesaris was pushed behind Villeneuve, although both men were then overtaken by Reutemann. Arnoux recovered to run fifth and he moved up to fourth ahead of Reutemann on lap 33 only to run into trouble and drop back behind the Argentine driver.
On lap 58 there was a torrential downpour and the race was stopped.
The weather cleared up quickly and so it was decided that the second part of the race would be run with the grid based on the finishing order of the first part. This time Piquet was engulfed by Prost's Renault and he was followed ahead by Watson and Arnoux. Piquet faded quickly behind Pironi and any advantage he had had in the first part of the race disappeared.
Prost stayed ahead all the way to the flag to win his first F1 victory and he was followed home by Watson. Piquet was given third place (although he was fifth on the road) while the remaining points went to Arnoux, Pironi and de Angelis.