The 1980 Spanish Grand Prix had intended to be the seventh round of the 1980 Formula One World Championship. Following the Monaco race, Nelson Piquet led the championship by one point ahead of René Arnoux with Alan Jones a further three points adrift in third. Williams led the constructor's standings, five points ahead of Ligier.
Heading into the event, tensions had begin to brew between Formula One's governing body, the FISA and FOCA, the body representing the Formula One team's on the grid. The only three team's not associated with FOCA were the manufacturer team's, Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo.
At the beginning of the season, FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre had announced that their would be a mandatory driver's pre-race briefing which had compulsory attendance for all drivers on the grid. However during the previous two rounds in Belgium and Monaco, the FOCA drivers had been instructed to boycott the driver briefings by FOCA CEO Bernie Ecclestone. FOCA being unhappy with FISA, feeling they were demonstrating bias towards the three manufacturer teams.
As a result, heading into the Spanish race Balestre had ordered the suspension of fifteen of the driver's superlicenses, until a fine of approximately $2,000 had been paid by each. In a press conference held on the Thursday before the race weekend, Balestre announced to the race organisers of the Spanish Grand Prix, the Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE) that the suspended driver's would not be allowed to take part in Friday practice the following day until their fines had been paid.
Despite this, the FOCA driver's continued to refuse to pay their fines despite the threat of expulsion from the event. RACE, worried that the event would not go ahead offered to deposit the fines to the FISA on behalf of the driver's. Balestre refused, stating the fines had to paid in full by the driver's.
A FOCA spokesperson then pointed out a failure in this argument as Essex, a sponsor for Mario Andretti had previously paid his fine for him to ensure he did not run into problems with his superlicense ahead of the 1980 Indianapolis 500 that Andretti was competing in. Furthermore, Nelson Piquet had been allowed to compete in an Endurance race at the Nurburgring, despite his superlicense being supposedly suspended.
RACE had been instructed by the Spanish King, Juan Carlos that the race must be run regardless of the FISA-FOCA dispute. Due to this the race organisers would allow the FOCA teams to participate in the event, despite the race losing the sanctioning of the FIA if it did.
As a result the race would go ahead without the sanctioning of the FIA and therefore losing its status as a 1980 World Championship event.
Friday practice got underway with all the teams with the exception of Ferrari, Renault, Alfa Romeo and Osella. All four teams gave the same reason for their non-participation, they could not afford to lose their superlicenses which allowed them to compete in other motorsport categories. Renault team manager Jean Sage, said the four teams were neither for or against Balestre and simply could not afford the risk of competing.
The four teams kept their cars on hand in case of a reconciliation with the FIA. Negotiations between Balestre and Ecclestone continued throughout Friday, Balestre continued to insist full payment if the FIA was to sanction the event whilst Ecclestone continued to refuse to pay as payment would prevent FOCA to continue to question the legalities of the fines.
Ahead of Saturday qualifying, Osella team principal Enzo Osella had began to consider to enter the event if the team ran under its sponsor's name whilst Renault and Alfa Romeo were seemingly prepared to enter only if Ferrari were willing as well. Ecclestone negotiated with Ferrari manager, Marco Piccinini throughout the morning, however Piccinini refused to change his stance as Ferrari supremo Enzo Ferrari was refusing to enter the event in fear of reprisal in Ferrari's other motorsport ventures. As a result, neither Renault, Alfa Romeo and Osella would have any further participation in the event.
During qualifying, the Ligier cars seemed to have the pace, Jacques Laffite and Didier Pironi dominated the session. A late charge from Alan Jones's Williams allowed him to split the Ligier rampage by moving into second place on the grid. Jones had during the session a scuffle with the local talent, Emilio de Villota in the privately entered Williams by RAM. De Villota continually blocking Jones saw the official Williams driver angrily gesticulating to the Spaniard as he finally drove past.
|13||12||Elio de Angelis||Lotus-Ford|
|17||34||Emilio de Villota||Williams-Ford (RAM)|
As the race began, Carlos Reutemann made a strong start from fourth on the grid to climb to first, teammate Alan Jones moved into second. Pole sitter Jacques Laffite dropped back to fourth behind Ligier teammate Didier Pironi.
The second lap saw Dave Kennedy, having qualified for his first race with Shadow, fly off the circuit and into the barriers. Emilio de Villota joined him the barriers, however unlike Kennedy, De Villota continued albeit with a significantly more battered car.
On lap three Laffite overtook Pironi for third. The younger Frenchman battling with oversteer. Further down the field, the two McLaren cars battled spectacularly for twelfth place. On lap five Alain Prost finally overtook teammate John Watson, however only two corners later his engine blew and he had to retire.
Lap 11 saw Keke Rosberg suffer a brake failure, spinning his Fittipaldi into the catch fencing, two laps later Derek Daly suffered a brake failure going down the main straight suffering an enormous accident going into the first corner. Amazingly the Tyrrell driver emerged unhurt.
On lap 13, Jones missed a gear and dropped behind the two Ligier's of Laffite and Pironi as well as Piquet's Brabham.
Over the space of five laps, the three cars of Jan Lammers, Mario Andretti and Riccardo Patrese who had been battling for sixth had retired. This had promoted the second Arrows of Jochen Mass into sixth, following an overtake on Ricardo Zunino who was soon to retire.
At the front, Reutemann and Laffite continued to battle for the lead. On lap 36 the two cars came up to lap the slower car of De Villota. De Villota pulled to the left to allow the leader of Reutemann through, at the same time Laffite pulled to the inside of De Villota as Reutemann went around the outside. However three cars abreast heading into the corner was too much to handle and the trio collided in a big way. Both Reutemann and Laffite were out on the spot whilst De Villota limped back to the pits to retire.
Nelson Piquet was the new race leader, two seconds ahead of Didier Pironi who was one second ahead of Alan Jones. However on lap 42, Piquet would be forced to retire with gearbox allowing Pironi to take the lead.
50 seconds adrift of Jones in second was Eddie Cheever and Jochen Mass who led the battling duo of John Watson and Elio de Angelis. Watson and De Angelis had battled throughout the race, however was to come to a dramatic end on lap 49. Watson had come up to the rear of the slower backmarker of Patrick Gaillard in the Ensign. Gaillard had braked much earlier than expected and Watson's McLaren flew over the top of Gaillard's car. Despite the severity of the accident which saw tyre tracks on Gaillard's helmet, no one was hurt. Watson was out whilst Gaillard limped back to the pits for a new rear wing.
In the lead, Jones had slowed his water temperature getting too high forcing him to slow down and cool off. Pironi who now seemed to have the race in hand then had the tables turned against him when on lap 65 his front left wheel suddenly came loose and flew off his car. Pironi ground to a halt as Jones took the lead.
At the same time, Mass was able to overtake Cheever for second position. Cheever who had driven a remarkable race was forced to retire two laps after Pironi with gearbox failure.
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