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Blighted by restart chaos



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Siegfried Stohr


Arrows-Cosworth A3




1981 German GP (August 2, 1981)


Imagine being an experienced campaigner having brought so much to the team that your opinion is valued throughout the organisation. You have become part of the furniture, having stuck with the team on its uphill struggle. In the process you have blown off many of your team-mates. Then an eager young hotshoe comes along, steps into the car you honed to perfection and immediately goes a second quicker. You're dead. Think Palmer and Alesi, think Piquet and Schumacher, and you'll get the picture. It's frightening enough.

Now imagine you being the young hotshoe and being paired to a world-class driver in the prime of his talent. Instead of pulling a few surprises your F1 career is over and done with within a dozen of races. Think Dumfries and Senna. Verstappen and Schumacher. Then you'll understand what Riccardo Patrese did to his eccentric countryman Siegfried Stohr. Unwillingly, it must be said, since the two were friends and Patrese, with the help of the Beta tool company, had been instrumental in getting the psychology scholar with the German name his first F1 drive (and, some years before, his first single-seater, for that matter). But perhaps the gentile Riccardo should have waited another year before being curteous.

In Patrese we had a man who had been close to his and Arrows' first GP success the years before, only to be dealt a cruel hand by fate. In terms of combining the obvious raw speed we had seen during his bright debut season with a degree of maturity and experience, a better Patrese then in 1981 probably hasn't been around. Shame about the car's performance tailing off then, during the course of the season, although in Riccardo's hands it took pole on in the US West GP season opener before bringing the Italian two podiums in the first four races. From there the team - and Stohr with them - was in steady decline, the year-old car starting to show its 1980 heritage halfway through the season.

Still, the fact that Stohr's single unfinished season turned out to be so dismal came as a bit of a surprise. His pre-F1 record looked good, if not indeed very good. It all started off when in the year the psychology doctorate cum amateur driver married his Swiss love Madeleine (1976, if you want to know) he acquired a Formula Italia monocoque from his pal Patrese. Having five years of karting experience under his belt, he immediately put it to good use, taking the series' title in 1977. Joining the crack Trivellato squad, he moved up into the hotly-contested national F3 championship (which in the seventies was a seemingly unquenchable source of talent) and won it on his first try. He also came second in the blue-riband Monaco F3 race, trailing fellow Italian F3 star Elio De Angelis but fighting off the likes of Alain Prost and Jan Lammers - the Euro F3 yardsticks of the time. Everyone was under the impression that the thinking man's race driver had this single-seater racing pretty well figured out. Then, in his first go at European F2, he did well to take his Chevron to second at Pau and Vallelunga. The following year Stohr went on to sign for the Docking/Spitzley team, Siegfried driving a Beta-sponsored Toleman TG280 in fine fashion during 1980 (winning at Enna, taking fourth in the title race) before the F1 opportunity came up. Which is all to say: his credentials were seriously OK. And so was his wallet filled with Beta money.

The Arrows A3 sure looked the part with the team's newly acquired Ragno Ceramiche sponsorship and the Long Beach pole was warmly greeted. The orange-and-spiderweb livery (ragno means "spider" in Italian) turned the somewhat drab A3 into a stunner and heading the grid was of course a big wallop for the new sponsor.

But where was the other striking orange car? Well, in any case it was not on the grid, with the more likely place being the Arrows transporter. Patrese's miracle 1.19.399 time had Stohr gasping for air, as Riccardo's buddy failed to qualify, a full four seconds slower, although admittedly he blew the engine of his spare car (his race car already demolished in the morning session) right at the start of final qualifying. It gave fair warning to Siegfried, who was looking at a steep uphill chase. In Brazil, he crept onto the grid 21st, but still was trailing his friend (who finished third) by three seconds. Argentina saw the bearded No.2 driver move even closer to his team leader, now only 1.5s adrift - a huge leap in performance compared to his debut. On Sunday he then went on to finish 9th. This was starting to look good.

At Imola in the San Marino GP - his home race and that of local ceramics manufacturer Ragno - the man from nearby Rimini was terribly unlucky to be bumped from the grid by Slim Borgudd, with the narrowest of margins: 0.03s. More worryingly, the gap with Patrese was up to 2.8s again. As Stohr was still pondering his fate, Riccardo stormed to a well-deserved second place - the third of his career. What was Siegfried to know things would get a lot worse at the next event…

And things were looking so bright after Saturday qualifying at Zolder. Stohr getting to grips with car and track, he posted a fine 1.24.66, one second behind his team-mate - the closest he got all year. It brought him a good-looking 13th place on the grid. Come the start on Sunday and Siegfried would have wished he'd qualified a bit further back…

On Friday, there had been tragedy in the cramped Zolder pitlane, as Carlos Reutemann had inadvertently run over Osella mechanic Giovanni Amadeo. The poor Italian was in bad shape after the unfortunate accident, being transported to hospital with serious head injuries, sustained during his fall. Understandably, the mechanics were livid with the organizers and the FISA and got full support from the drivers.

While emotions lingered on, they suddenly fired on Sunday, as the main event turned into a demonstration. Suddenly there were angry mechanics all over the place, heading the dummy grid in protest against the pitlane conditions. Immediately the drivers, led by Gilles Villeneuve, started to join them, some of them showing their solidarity (Laffite, Patrese and Pironi among them) while others started discussions with the mechanics. This must not have looked like good PR for the organizers and so they decided to flag the field away in time, any which way. Those drivers who hadn't joined the picketline were off on their warm-up lap while others were still walking back to their cars. There was chaos all over.

Then, returning from his warm-up lap, Nelson Piquet overshot his spot and was sent on another lap while the rest was kept waiting. Needless to say, the one-and-a-half minute wait did not go well with the remaining 23 engines, which were hotting up quickly on a standstill grid. Under the impression that there was going to follow another warm-up lap, several drivers then shut off their engines, Riccardo Patrese being one of them. Stunningly, with Piquet back in place, FISA starter Derek Ongaro continued with the starting sequence, although Patrese had been frantically waving his hands for over 30 seconds, prompting Arrows mechanic Dave Luckett to jump the fence with his air jack and come to Riccardo's aid. Confusion still reigned as Ongaro, struck by temporary loss of eyesight, gave the green light.

Patrese, his stalled Arrows a sitting duck on his fine 4th place on the grid, saw himself being past left, right… and then, centre. A big thump meant his A3 was hit from the back, ironically by his team-mate's similar car. Unbelievably, sandwiched in between was Dave Luckett, who had nowhere to go. One of the poor mechanic's legs was shattered right there and then. Already wound up by circumstance, Riccardo was furious, throwing his helmet to the ground in irate fashion while Stohr suffered a nervous breakdown on the spot, falling out in tears over the drama. To no-one's surprise the two Arrows drivers were non-starters when the race was finally flagged away. To make matters even worse, the following day Amadeo died of his injuries.

The accident between Stohr, Patrese and Luckett was cause for an immediate rule change - the very same that David Coulthard fell victim of in the 2000 Canadian GP. Remembering the events at Zolder, DC got off the hook lightly with his 10-second stop-and-go penalty.

After Zolder, Stohr never managed to get as close to Patrese as he did in Belgium. In Monaco, his 14th place on the grid looked like he was unaffected by the accident to Luckett, but in fact the gap with Riccardo was again up with over a half second. From there on, it started to grow to approximately 1.7s, Siegfried slipping down the grid again, as the car's relative performance also deteriorated badly - firstly because the teams interpreting the rules more freely with their hydropneumatic suspension solutions took strides ahead, secondly because a mid-season shift to Pirelli tyres proved to be misguided. Germany, the race pictured here, saw a lacklustre effort on Pirellis, Stohr finishing 12th after starting last. In Austria, with things not going his way, Stohr was back to his Brazilian level, a full three seconds behind Patrese, with a similar gap also developing at Monza, where the A3s were trailing badly, as they also did in France. It led to Siegfried's third DNQ - this time by a substantial margin - and so Stohr was unceremoniously sacked.

To his credit, his replacement Jacques Villeneuve (Gilles' brother) handled the opportunity even worse. At the track which later would be rechristened after his brother, old Jacques was over 4.5s off Patrese's pace and among no-hopers such as the two Tolemans, Serra in the second Fittipaldi and Gabbiani's Osella. To prove how much he was away from qualifying, the first man not to qualify was the following year's World Champion, himself over two seconds clear of the next man up, his team-mate Serra. Same story for the final round at Las Vegas, where Villeneuve was over 1.2s away from qualifying.

It will have meant little to Stohr, whose sacking was justified in itself. The unfortunate accident with Luckett had been a season turning point and although everyone had every reason to symphatize with the Italian's bad luck - just at the moment he was getting the hang of this F1 thing - we all know these things happen and that they are no excuse for a team boss keeping you on. The only thing that possibly won't have sat well with Stohr is that the following year the team was even worse off with the services of Henton and Baldi (another one of those ex-Italian F3 stars). There's a good chance he would have done about the same.

All things being as they were, Siegfried decided to hang up his helmet for good and he retired from motorracing at the early age of 29. He now focused on his new project in cooperation with BMW Italia, founding a Safety Driving School at his hometrack Autodromo Santamonica at Misano-Adriatico near his home town Rimini. It is called Guidare Pilotare and now without his trademark beard from the heyday of his career Siegfried Stohr is still the director of his driving school. Among his instructors you will find well-known names such as Gianfranco Brancatelli, Andrea Belluzzi, Luca Drudi, Mauro Martini and sometimes also Alex Zanardi. It is unknown whether practice starts are an integral part of Stohr's safety training… Siegfried did write several books on the practice of driving safely, as well as an autobiography covering his F1 days.

As for Arrows, that first pole at Long Beach is a long way back now. After Patrese went off to Brabham and his long-awaited first GP win, the team were never again the force they were when the Italian was still on board. Apart from changing hands several times since, the team reduced itself from an outside bet for victory to tedious midfield contenders (and sometimes even worse) who look to have but one goal in F1: take part in as many GPs as possible without winning once.

Reader's Why by Geza Sury

These days Siegfried Stohr is the owner of a driving school in Italy for everyday drivers to improve their skills, despite the fact that he never made an impression in the top echelon of motor racing. He only made the headlines once in his brief F1 career, but that wasn't for an impressive performance.

Early in his career it seemed that he might achieve great things is his career. Stohr as most formula drivers started his carrier in karts at the age of just 5. He won 3 Italian championship titles in different classes. It took him several years to get into cars, which he finally managed in 1976. In the end of the following year, he was crowned as the new Formula Italia champion. His career reached even greater heights in 1978, as he won the Italian F3 championship at the tender age of 26 in a Trivellato Racing-entered Chevron B43-Toyota.

Thanks to this achievement, or rather sponsorship money from Italian tool manufacturer Beta, which always had been a great supporter of motor racing, Stohr graduated to the European F2 championship. In his 1979 championship campaign, he collected 17 points, his best result being a 2nd place on home soil at Vallelunga. He started the year with a Chevron B48-BMW, then he switched to a March 792 once again powered by a Munich-built engine.

For 1980 Stohr decided to continue racing in F2, but this time in a Toleman TG280-Hart, still painted in the orange colours of Beta. He underlined his abilities by finishing 2nd on one of the most difficult racetracks ever built, in Pau, and by winning from pole his first race on an almost equally difficult Enna-Pergusa. This success in the Grand Prix of Europe would remain his only F2 victory and actually a last win of any kind. With his points telly of 29, the bearded Italian finished 4th in the championship.

Then, when Beta became the title sponsor alongside with Ragno of the Arrows team in 1981, they decided to retain the services of Stohr, so he made the brave dive into F1. His season proved to be a difficult one. Arrows fielded two A3s with the usual Ford Cosworth power for Stohr and team leader Riccardo Patrese. In Long Beach Stohr failed to qualify after damaging the suspension of his car in the morning session and suffering an engine failure right at the beginning of the final qualifying session. A complete contrast to this, his fellow Italian team-mate was quickest of all!

At Rio things went marginally better as Stohr now managed to get into the race, but his Grand Prix lasted only 20 laps, when his car was collected by a spinning Patrick Tambay. He recorded his first finish of the season in Argentina, but this was a lowly 9th. Not as bad as it looks, he beat four of his opponents and was lapped only once by race-winner Nelson Piquet. This performance was to be followed by another DNQ at Imola.

Then came Zolder and the race, which caused Siegfried Stohr to be known all around the world. He notched up a creditable 13th fastest time in practice, only a second slower then Patrese. At the start of the race, the mechanics staged a protest against their bad working circumstances. (Giovanni Amadeo, one of Osella's mechanics had been knocked down on Friday, and this accident would claim his life three days later.) When the drivers arrived back after their warm-up lap, the mechanics were still there. The field was destined to do another warm-up lap. So 'round they went, but Nelson Piquet overshot his grid position, and he was waved to do yet another warm-up lap! By now the engines' temperature started to rise as field was jut about the get away.

Exactly this moment, Patrese started to wave frantically, he stalled his engine! His mechanic, Dave Luckett rushed to the back of his Arrows, trying to bring it into life. At precisely this point, the on came the red lights and a couple of seconds later, the field got away! It was poor Stohr, who found himself confronted by his team-mate's car. He hit the brakes immediately, but could't avoid hitting the mechanic.

Miraculously Luckett survived the accident with only a fractured foot, a broken hand, and facial lacerations.
Our picture shows Stohr at Hockenheim. He had done nothing special between Germany and Belgium, even failed to qualify in France. At the German track he finally recorded a finish, but this was a lowly 12th place. Stohr bettered this only once, at Zandvoort he coasted to a 7th place finish.

On home soil at Monza, he failed to qualify yet again, and this led to his replacement by none other then Gilles' younger brother, Jacques Villeneuve. As we know, he did even worse as he failed to qualify on both his attempts.

Siegfried Stohr retired from racing in 1982. He established his own driving school with the help of BMW Italia. Until this day, more the 30,000 people has taken part in one of his courses. He has published several books of how to drive safely on public roads, and even wrote a book of his F1 career titled La Mia Formula Uno.