Formula 1 Insight

The Canadian GP in 1980
The Canadian GP in Montreal always makes me think of 1980 and the deciding moment of the world championship that year. It must still hurt, obviously.

Following Jody Scheckter's championship in a Ferrari that was rapidly becoming obsolete in the ground effect era, the Williams FW07 emerged as the car to beat in 1980. Supremely simple and effective in its exploitation of ground effect, the FW07 enabled Alan Jones to establish an early lead in the championship. As the season reached its second half, however, the Brabham team had developed their BT49 to the point where their young hotshoe, Nelson Piquet, could challenge the Australian.

Alan Jones
Alan Jones in the Williams FW07

Slowly but inexorably, Piquet gained ground on Jones until, by the second last race of the year, the Canadian GP, he was within one point of the leader. The year promised to finish on a high note, a battle royal between two determined drivers in the two best cars. It was not to be, however.

Piquet grabbed pole for the race and the Brabham looked to be unbeatable at the Montreal circuit, even though Jones was in second spot. But at the start, Jones managed to get alongside the Brabham and the pair entered the first corner side by side (see video here). What happened next became the subject of heated debate, with Piquet maintaining that Jones squeezed him into the wall and Jones asserting that he gave him enough room. The video misses the crucial moment so we may never know. It does show Jones controlling a slide as though he'd just bounced off the Brabham, however.

But the result was clear enough; Piquet rebounded off the wall into the path of the following pack, causing a huge pile up in which eight cars were damaged and blocked the corner. The race was stopped immediately.

Piquet and most of the other drivers were able to join the reformed grid in their spare cars and, once again, Jones had the better start, Piquet exercising caution this time and even allowing Pironi's Ligier into second place. The BT49 was so good at this circuit that the Brazilian soon overtook both Pironi and Jones and began to build a massive lead. It looked as though the championship was going to the wire, the USGP at Watkins Glen.

And then Piquet's engine went bang.

Jones cruised through to the victory and the championship and the Piquet/Brabham supporters (myself included) could only mutter about what might have been. The engine in Piquet's race car could well have lasted the distance and then we'd have had a nail-biter in the USGP (Piquet spun out as it happens but things may have been different had he enjoyed a lead in the championship from Canada).

Nelson had his revenge in 1981, profiting from the squabble between the two Williams drivers, Jones and Reutemann, but, for me, Canada is always "the place where Piquet was robbed." That's motor racing, I suppose.

The video is interesting for another reason, too. Look at the speed with which those ground effect cars go through the corners; they are magnificent but took the drivers to the limit of human endurance, so high were the G forces.


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