The team mate that everybody hated
- Mattijs Diepraam, Felix Muelas, Nicolas Korzan
- 8W November 1999 issue
- Alan Jones - Comeback embarrassment, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Carlos Reutemann - Lole's earliest F1 acquaintance, by Mattijs Diepraam/'Uechtel'
1972 Argentine GP
In with a bang!
Carlos Reutemann's dream debut rocked the establishment as only Mario Andretti had done before and Jacques Villeneuve achieved after him: snatching pole at your very first attempt. Making Lole's arrival on the F1 scene even more impressive was the fact that - contrary to Andretti and Villeneuve - Carlos wasn't even in the best car. But more on that later.
This introspective Argentinian probably equalled his contemporaries Ronnie Peterson and Gilles Villeneuve in natural skill, but instead tapped other resources. Everything but wild his smooth style made him fly while ahead but in the end Reutemann's efforts suffered from poor career decisions and the unability to handle pressure when it mattered. Carlos could have been World Champion easily but stayed with the unreliable Alfa-powered Brabham team too long, and chose to go with reigning champions Ferrari (as a supposed replacement for Lauda when the Austrian's life was in doubt) and Lotus at a time when the reigning World Champions in the team held a Schumacher-like grip on team management.
Added to that, when made team leader at Ferrari, Carlos and Gilles Villeneuve were up against the might of the Lotus 79. Also, there were distractions such as the moribund Auto Union "Bergwagen"-style Ferrari 312T 6-wheeler. And when at Lotus, the Lotus 80 was a cumbersome successor to the 79. When finally he seemed to have joined a winning constructor at exactly the right moment - again replacing the popular Clay Regazzoni… - his 1981 Williams campaign succumbed to one of his sombre spells, Carlos seemingly giving up on his title hopes before the lights went green at Caesar's Palace. Reutemann looked paralysed by pressure on his way to a lowly 8th place, while team mate Jones cruised to easy victory.
However, others point to the fact that a last-minute change to the spare car fitted with the wrong tyres accounted for his mishap, while Reutemann himself claimed that his gearbox gave him all sorts of trouble, Carlos having to keep the gears in by hand. On the other hand, Williams have always strenuously denied there was something wrong with the gearbox, with on-track witnesses also telling they heard nothing that would point to missing gears or missed gear changes. The fact is that Carlos was an unloved member of the team ever since the team-order debacle at Rio earlier that year, so the truth will probably remain untold.
He did re-sign with Williams, however, but Carlos never recovered. Two races into the following season his retirement announcement still came as a shock.
With 14 wins (including two non-championship ones), 45 podiums (which qualifies him 8th in the all-time WC podium statistics!), 6 poles, 22 front-row grid positions, 6 fastest laps and a grand total of 310 points (10th on the all-time points ranking) Reutemann left a remarkable record but somehow you felt he had still done himself short. The Las Vegas drama was vintage 'Lole' and had laid bare his Achilles heel. It almost made you feel this man didn't belong in a highly competitive environment and that God had dealt him a cruel blow by gifting him the talent to go all the way while at the same time excluding from His generosity the luck to ultimately win the Championship.
Fortunately for the fans, Carlos did have his days. And when he had them no-one could touch him.
That certainly applied to his first World Championship qualifying sessions. Teamed at Brabham as a number two to the slowly fading Graham Hill he immediately shook the world when he took pole on his debut GP, to the disbelief and joy of the partizan crowd. Of course he knew the track like his back pocket but the lobster-claw Brabham BT34 - last year's car in fact - wasn't exactly championship material. It was a performance which begged incredulity but the Argentinians - who were accused of tampering with the clocks... - somehow had seen it coming.
Reutemann's first acquaintance with a racing car had been as late as 1965 when he debuted a Fiat 1500 in the local touring car series. He spent a further four years in touring cars, driving a works Ford in the Turismo Carretera championship (here he is seen driving his ugly shortened Falcon TC) before he made the switch to single-seaters in the F2 Temporada series. It was as if this had been his destiny. Within two years and with national YPF and "Meat from Argentina" backing he was an F1 driver, having impressed with 5th place on his European F2 debut at Hockenheim in 1970.
In 1971 he fired a warning shot at the establishment when he rented Bonnier's McLaren M7C to enter it in the non-championship Argentine GP. He finished third. An appearance at the Race of Champions rendered him only 9th, while he fought for F2 honours with Ronnie Peterson. Driving for the Brabham F2 team, he narrowly lost out at the final event. While planning a second assault on the F2 title with the Brabham Rondel team, new owner Bernie Ecclestone drafted him into the F1 squad, pairing him with Graham Hill whenever Carlos' F2 schedule allowed. In case of conflicting programmes, Wilson Fittipaldi was penned to drive, although halfway through the season Ecclestone started to field three cars to accomodate all of his drivers. Soon the least experienced of them established himself as the team's lead driver, pushing Wilson to the 'spare car' entry, once two new BT37s were introduced.
Reutemann's first World Championship race was to be his home event and this would mean he had track knowledge to his advantage. Every home supporter in the crowd was eager to see if this young man who was merely driving touring cars in Argentina three years ago would make an impact on F1. As it was, he took pole. In contrast, Brabham's double-World-Champion No.1 entry lined up 16th on the grid, which would become Graham Hill's average performance throughout the 1972 season.
So there he was, Argentina's homeboy, in our picture lining up on the front row, all fired up, looking to do a Baghetti. When the flag fell, he didn't lead away, however. Jackie Stewart beat him from the line and Carlos doggedly following the World Champion for the first part of the race. Still, as far as debut performances go, you can't get them much better, can you? So why did "Lole" eventually only finish 7th? Well, a bad piece of Ecclestone team management actually…
Bernie had insisted on putting the soft 852 compound Goodyears at the rear, compounding Reutemann's challenge as the race - and his tyres - wore on. On lap 40, having fallen back to third, Carlos was forced to pit for new tyres. His challenge was over and the points finish he so thoroughly deserved was lost. It wasn't the first time Bernie badly influenced Reutemann's career. Not even the non-championship win at Interlagos, just two months later, could make up for that - although it was as much a sensation as his pole-scoring debut.
Meanwhile, Lole also saw out his F2 season with the semi-official Brabham Rondel team, managed by Ron Tauranac and Ron Dennis. He eventually finished fourth in the final standings, after the troublesome BT38 blunted his title challenge.
His retirement from the sport, at the start of 1982, brought on a wholly new challenge for Argentina's best driver since Fangio. The moody character he has, you'd think politics was the last part of society where Carlos Reutemann would feel at home. But he turned out to be born for it. As we all know, the current governor of the Santa Fé province is aiming to become Argentina's next president, which would mean that the father of a well-to-do rally driver is succeeded by a former Grand Prix legend.
So why not Stirling for prime minister?
Reader's Why by Hans Swart
A sensational pole-taking GP debut by the man who was looked upon by his countrymen to become the next Fangio. And yes, on his day El Lole was brilliant, but at the next race he could appear uninspired and as someone put it, seemed unsure of how to tie his shoelaces.
Carlos Alberto Reutemann was born April 12, 1942 in Santa Fe, of a Swiss-German paternal grandfather, Argentinian father and Italian mother. He started racing a Fiat in Turismo races in 1965, winning the domestic single-seater championship in 1967, driving a de Tomaso (Alejandro de Tomaso also being of Argentine extraction).
He moved up to the national F2 category and in 1969 won 10 out of 12 races. In 1970 the national YPF petrochemical concern launched him into European F2 with a Brabham BT30. At Hockenheim, Carlos punted Jochen Rindt's Lotus and started a 5-car accident from which he himself escaped to place 4th. Rindt was less impressed saying that Indians should stay in jungles and not come to racing circuits, a remark largely wasted on Carlos whose command of English was still rather limited. Reutemann continued to impress, being fastest in wet practice for the Nürburgring F2 race, thanks to him pounding around the circuit for 200 training laps in a hired Ford Capri.
Such perseverance and application paid off in 1971 when he ended up 2nd behind Ronnie Peterson in the F2 series. He also made his F1 debut in the non-championship 1971 Argentine race, driving the ex-Jo Bonnier McLaren M7C to 3rd. 1972 showed continued F2 involvement with the Rondel team, but more impressive was his GP debut which is the subject of this photograph. Carlos planted his "lobster claw" BT34 on pole, but slipped down to 4th in the race as his tyres went off, pitted for new covers, and finished 7th. The main highlight for the remainder of the year was victory in the non-championship Interlagos GP, but 1973 saw steady progress in the Brabham BT42, with Carlos finishing 7th in the points standings.
The year 1974 started off with Carlos seemingly intent on sweeping all before him in the virgin white BT44. He led convincingly in Argentina and Brazil, and was unlucky for his first GP win only to come at the South African GP where he ran away from the rest. Another dominant win came at Zeltweg, but inconsistent showings otherwise saw him only ending up 5th in the year's Championship. Another runaway win at the 'Ring supported by good placings in 1975 put Carlos 3rd in that year's standings. 1976 proved difficult with the visually and aurally stunning Brabham-Alfa BT45, not scoring a single point. This led to Carlos signing with Ferrari for 1977, winning early on in Brazil, but Lauda soon reaffirmed his position as team leader and took the Championship.
Four victories with the Ferrari 312T3 in 1978 wasn't enough against the dominant JPS 79's and Carlos could only finish 3rd in the points standings. A move to Lotus for 1979 therefore seemed a good idea, and the first part of the season saw a number of good placings. However, the Lotus 80, introduced some way into the season, turned out to be a total waste of time and Carlos scored no points in the latter half of the season, ending up 6th in the Championship.
An intelligent move to Williams in 1980 led to victory at Monaco, and other good placings gave Carlos another 3rd place in the World Championship. Most people expected Carlos to capture the crown in 1981: the FW07C was a good car, Carlos took it to wins in Brazil and Belgium and looked like a champion by mid-season. Then the black cloud descended again and Carlos seemed to lose his motivation. He still had his Championship lead going to the final race in Las Vegas, only needing to finish 5th to clinch it. He duly qualified on pole and then proceeded to put up a staggeringly mediocre performance in the race, finishing in 8th a lap down on Nelson Piquet who took the chequered flag, and the Championship by one point!
Carlos returned in 1982 with partially restored confidence and came 2nd in the South African GP, but a falling-out with Williams regarding team orders saw him turn his back on Grand Prix racing after the Brazilian race. Returning to his native country, Reutemann became involved in politics and rose to the position of Governor of Santa Fe.
Who knows: if not Campione del Mundo, maybe Presidente del Argentina?