The 1981 United States Grand Prix West was the first round of the 1981 Formula One Championship. The race was won by reigning champion Alan Jones with teammate Carlos Reutemann in second place. The Brabham of Nelson Piquet finished in third place.
The United States Grand Prix West was originally scheduled to be the third round of the championship. However, due to the delay of the Argentinian race and the loss of world championship status of the South African Grand Prix following the disputes between FISA and FOCA, the Long Beach race happened to be the first race of the season. The FOCA teams hoped to form a breakaway series for 1981, running the 1981 South African Grand Prix to seperate regulations from the FIA. However following low popularity in South Africa for viewers due to the lack of manufacturer teams such as Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo who continued to support the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and FOCA caved in and rejoined the FIA Formula One World Championship.
For 1981, skirts that had been producing the ground effect which had been the key to success in Formula One since 1978 was banned by the FIA. Reigning world champions Williams maintained its 1980 driver line-up of reigning champion Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann. Reutemann winning the non-championship race last time out in South Africa. Brabham retained Nelson Piquet and Héctor Rebaque. Rebaque recovering from Hepatitis that had caused him to miss the race in South Africa. Jean-Pierre Jabouille had signed for Ligier for 1981, the team returning to the use of Matra engines, however since Jabouille had still not recovered from his injuries sustained in the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix, Jean-Pierre Jarier was called into replace him until he was fit enough to return. Long time Ligier driver, Jacques Laffite remained in the team for 1981. After a poor 1980, Lotus had lost Mario Andretti to Alfa Romeo, the team replacing him with Nigel Mansell who had made his debut with the team the previous year. Elio de Angelis remained in the team for 1981.
After a disaster of a season in 1980, McLaren had become increasingly under the control of Ron Dennis, determined to return the team to its winning ways for 1981. The team had lost its young talent Alain Prost to Renault for 1981, however he was replaced by another young talent, Andrea de Cesaris who was to line-up alongside veteran driver John Watson. Another front runner that suffered in 1980 was Ferrari. Gilles Villeneuve remained in the team whilst Didier Pironi moved from Ligier to take the place of the retiring Jody Scheckter. Arrows continued with Riccardo Patrese being partnered in 1981 with new driver, Siegried Stohr.Tyrrell had a new driver line-up for 1981, Eddie Cheever had moved to the team from Osella. Ken Tyrrell's team had yet to confirm a full time driver in time for the first race of the season, the team using CART driver Kevin Cogan for the Long Beach race.
In Fittipaldi, Emerson Fittipaldi had finally retired from racing and instead moved into the management of the team. His place in the team was taken by Brazilian racer Chico Serra who partnered the team's rising talent Keke Rosberg. Marc Surer had moved to ATS to Ensign, whilst Jan Lammers swapped places with Surer moving to ATS. After a year out of Formula One, competing in Can-Am ( and becoming the series champion ), Patrick Tambay returned to F1 with the Theodore team. The team rising from the ashes of what was the Shadow team. Osella had a new driver line-up of young drivers Beppe Gabbiani and Miguel Ángel Guerra.
The full entry list for the 1981 United States Grand Prix West is displayed below:
|6||22||Mario Andretti||Alfa Romeo|
|9||23||Bruno Giacomelli||Alfa Romeo|
|13||11||Elio de Angelis||Lotus-Ford|
|22||8||Andrea de Cesaris||McLaren-Ford|
|DNQ||31||Miguel Ángel Guerra||Osella-Ford|
Gilles Villeneuve got a flying start from fifth on the grid to move ahead of Riccardo Patrese on the run down to the first corner. However the Canadian was too late on the brakes and went wide into the first corner, dropping down to sixth. Further down the field, the cars were bunched up in the mid-field. Alain Prost in his first race for Renault spun out crashing into Andrea de Cesaris's McLaren, taking both cars out of the race.
Didier Pironi had made a fantastic start to climb to fourth from eleventh on the grid. Behind him came Nelson Piquet, Villeneuve and the two native driver's Eddie Cheever and Mario Andretti. Patrese had meanwhile maintained his lead ahead of the two Williams cars of Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann. On the second lap, Reutemann overtook Jones for second allowing the order to stabilise with the two Williams cars chasing Patrese's Arrows.
On lap ten, Andretti overtook Cheever to take seventh position from the Tyrrell driver. The seventeenth lap saw Pironi make a move on Piquet to take fourth position. Things went less well for his Ferrari teammate Gilles Villeneuve. Villeneuve retired the same lap with halfshaft failure whilst racing in fifth position. Patrese who was at the time enjoying a comfortable lead of the race then began to falter on lap 25 with fuel feed problems. Reutemann quickly took the lead from Patrese and a few laps later Jones was also through into second place. Increasingly losing power, Patrese headed to the pits where he disappointingly retired his Arrows.
Jones then began to close up on teammate Reutemann where he began to apply the pressure. Reutemann whilst lapping Marc Surer's Ensign went wide and off the circuit where he dropped behind Jones who inherited the lead of the race. Further back Andretti had dropped behind Cheever again and then lost sixth to Jacques Laffite's Ligier.
Cheever began to drop back with tyre trouble and came under the pressure from Laffite. Laffite attempted to overtake on lap 41 where he slammed the front of his Ligier into the back of Cheever's Tyrrell. The Frenchman saw his nose cone bent upwards where he was forced to come into the pits to retire. The same lap Bruno Giacomelli and Jan Lammers had a major coming together, both drivers exited their wrecks unhurt and walked back to the pits.
The following lap, Mario Andretti overtook his fellow American Eddie Cheever to take fifth position. Andretti then began to chase down Pironi, whilst Andretti's Alfa Romeo was faster in the corners, Pironi's new turbo charged Ferrari proved faster on the straights. Andretti was finally able to overtake Pironi in the later stages of the race. Pironi began to drop further back as he continued to suffer from engine troubles. Cheever was then also able to move ahead of Pironi to take fifth position. Pironi would then retire on lap 67 when his engine troubles became terminal.
As the race concluded, Alan Jones started his title defence in the best possible way by winning the opening round of the championship. Reutemann took second making it a Williams 1-2 with Nelson Piquet in third position. It was a good day for the American fans as Mario Andretti and Eddie Cheever were fourth and fifth. Patrick Tambay on his return to F1 racing took the final point for Theodore who managed to score points on the team's debut.
|4||22||Mario Andretti||Alfa Romeo||80||+1:49.31s||6||3|
|6||33||Patrick Tambay||Theodore-Ford||79||+1 lap||17||1|
|7||21||Chico Serra||Fittipaldi-Ford||78||+2 laps||18|
|8||16||René Arnoux||Renault||77||+3 laps||20|
|Ret||25||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Ligier-Matra||64||Fuel pump||10|
|Ret||23||Bruno Giacomelli||Alfa Romeo||41||Accident||9|
|Ret||20||Keke Rosberg||Fittipaldi-Ford||41||Distributor rotor arm||16|
|Ret||29||Riccardo Patrese||Arrows-Ford||33||Fuel filter||1|
|Ret||11||Elio de Angelis||Lotus-Ford||13||Accident||13|
|Ret||8||Andrea de Cesaris||McLaren-Ford||0||Accident||22|
|DNQ||31||Miguel Ángel Guerra||Osella-Ford|
Standings after raceEdit