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You were there: Italian Grand Prix 1981

Submitted by on August 28, 2009

What a sad spectacle the recent Grand Prix in Valencia was. The race seemed to be around the interior wall of a high security prison which was located in a container port. There appeared to be very few spectator viewing facilities and what there were seemed to be half empty. The most telling piece of television was the wide shot which took in the beach–which was packed. A dip in the ocean was obviously more appealing than paying an exorbitant price to watch a high speed procession through concrete canyons for most of the population of Valencia.

One wonders what is going to happen to Formula One. A few weeks ago it really did seem as if the major teams were going to set up an alternative series which was going to be spectator friendly and which would run on tracks in countries where the populace is actually interested in motor sport. Now this golden opportunity seems to have passed and they have all signed up for more of the Bernie and Max geld grab. Surely it is only a matter of time before the circus unravels. Honda have already packed their tent. BMW are pulling out at the end of this season. How much longer will the boards of Toyota and Renault allow such massive expenditure on an exercise which is giving them no visible return?

The same day as the Valencia Grand Prix I was rummaging through some boxes and found a pile of ticket stubs including one for my grandstand seat at the 1981 Italian Grand Prix at Monza .What a contrast to the Valencia procession. I cannot recollect the fortunate series of events which culminated in me finding myself sitting on a British Airways flight out of Heathrow bound for Milan on a Friday morning in the Northern summer of 1981. I can remember that when I arrived in Milan the taxi drivers were on a three hour strike and that the hotel was being manned by the management as the hotel workers were also on a lightning strike and that my room was not ready until 7.30 pm. None of this mattered as I had a Monza pit pass and a grandstand seat ticket in my pocket and the weekend weather forecast was hot, hot, hot.

Monza had a special atmosphere. It was very tatty and worn and yet it oozed character. On the Saturday I was in formula one heaven as I strolled around the pits during practice. I had bought my Olympus SLR camera but only one roll of Ektachrome film and only a standard lens as I had never expected to find myself in Italy. Nonetheless the few photos I took are gems. Alan Jones, the defending world champion climbing into his Williams-Cosworth with Frank Williams hovering. Carlos Reutemann, Jones’s teammate, getting ready to practice. By the end of the season Reutemann had quit Williams, it is said because he had been tipped off about the forthcoming South Atlantic stoush between the UK and his home country. The McLaren team also looking very professional in their team uniforms. Ferrari were not as well organised as Williams and McLaren. In fact they were in chaos as always at that time but there is Gilles Villeneuve giving an autograph to a young girl and looking very relaxed. Of course nowadays the neither I or the young girl would have made it onto pit row. Under the Bernie-Max regime access to pit row is strictly limited to the team personnel, supermodels, provincial politicians and friends of Bernie (Max has no friends). Formula One enthusiast are definitely not welcome.

On race day I purchased a miniature Ferrari driver’s suit for my six year old son from a vendor at the track. In those days such items were a big novelty and I was popular when I arrived back in Sydney. He loved that suit for much longer than he could fit into it.

I headed to my grandstand seat about 45 minutes before the start of the race only to find that it was already taken .In fact many of the stand seats were taken by people who were not the ticket holders The stand attendant did not care. He gestured for me to watch the race sitting on the step adjacent to my seat. In fact this was not an issue as on lap six Gilles’ Ferrari retired with an engine problem and literally half the crowd went home – or to the bar –and I was able to claim my seat. Alain Prost in a Renault won with the two Williams in second and third. The turbo cars were in the ascendancy and Nelson Piquet in the turbo Brabham – BMW would take out the world driver’s championship that year.

I can still remember the wonderful Monza park, the noise of the cars, the cut and thrust of the racing as they had not banned overtaking then, the smell, the crowds and the fantastic, enthusiastic atmosphere. It was fun. Did you hear that Bernie and Max? Fun. Not a word in your lexicons I know but something the folks in Valencia still seem to understand.

John Shingleton

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