Carlos Reutemann (b. 1942)
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Carlos Reutemann

Carlos Reutemann
Carlos Reutemann was the first world-class racing driver from Argentina since the days of the legendary five-times World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio. He first made his mark at the top by winning Grands Prix in 1974, taking his works Brabham BT 44-Ford to victory in South Africa, Austria, and the United States.

A Test Drive at Cordoba

Reuternann learned to drive at the age of seven, in 1949, piloting his father's 1928 model A Ford round the family farm. Soon he laid out a 'circuit' and taught himself the art of fast driving with any machine he could borrow. He spectated at race meetings and in 1965 met a wealthy local Fiat dealer and talked his way into a test drive at Cordoba.

El Lole

Immediately Reutemann's natural ability was obvious and, although he retired in his first race owing to lack of oil pressure, a month later he won a three-lap, 180-mile road-race. There was no looking back. 'El Lole', as he was known, won 15 races that season and the following year was invited to drive a single-seater de Tomaso (a car built by an Argentinian in Italy) powered bya 1½-liter Fiat engine for local Formula One events. He also raced a Fiat sedan in the 1600cc class.

Reutemann's performances earned him respect and he won the touring class championship in 1966 and 1967. The latter years also saw him in the Turismo Carretera racing, a strange category comprising very quick, much-modified V8 sedans.

At the end of 1968 the Argentinians decided to run a four-race Formula Two championship series and invited a large contingent of European drivers to participate. They also wanted to provide the Europeans with local opposition and invited the Argentinian motoring press to nominate six drivers to take part in a contest to determine the drivers of two Tecno TF68-Fords. Reutemann emerged as one of the seemingly-lucky men. The Tecnos were not competitive but in the fourth race Carlos arranged to borrow a Brabham BT23C and duly impressed everyone with his performance.

Originally Reutemann was to have ventured to Europe for a full Formula Two season in 1969, but he could not agree terms with his proposed backer and instead ran a BWA-Fiat in Argentinian Formula Two races. He won the championship, with ten wins from twelve starts, and also found success in touring, Turismo Carretera and sports car races. For 1970 Reutemann came to Europe to drive a new Brabham BT30-Ford Formula Two car, sponsored by YPF (the state petrol company), the Argentine Automobile Club, the Argentine Tourist Office and the Ministry of Sport. The whole deal, which included a second car for ex-motorcyclist Benedicto Caldarella, a lavish transporter, plus workshops in London, was arranged by Hector Staffa of the Argentine Automobile Club who was intent on putting another Argentinian on the international motor racing map.

The season began controversially as Reutemann collided with Jochen Rindt's Lotus 69-Ford at Hockenheim, which caused ill feeling between Reutemann and Rindt. Many good practice performances but few results came the unlucky Reutemann's way that season and he returned to Argentina at the end of the year. The outlook appeared even bleaker when Reutemann was criticised for racing a 4½-liter Porsche 917K 'too slowly' in the Buenos Aires 1000-km in January 1971. However, Carlos made amends in the non-championship Formula One Argentine Grand Prix when YPF hired an old McLaren M7C-Ford for him to drive. He covered himself with glory by finishing third and as a result sponsorship was secured for another Formula Two season in Europe.

Signed to the Brabham Formula One Team

This time the team was better prepared and more organised. He won a non-championship race at Hockenheim and, following several good results, was second to Ronnie Peterson in the European Formula Two Trophy. In October he had another Formula One race, driving a Brabham BT33 in the non-championship Brands Hatch race. As a result he was signed to drive for the Brabham Formula One team full-time in 1972. Reutemann began 1972 on top form. He set pole position time for the Argentine Grand Prix in the 'lobster-claw' Brabham BT34-Ford, sending the local crowd into raptures of delight.

In the race, tire problems dropped him to seventh, but a few weeks later he won the non-championship Brazilian Grand Prix. Then a Formula Two practice accident at Thruxton resulted in a broken ankle and Reutemann, early-season favorite for the European Formula Two Championship, was out of action for several weeks. He wound up fourth in the table, while in Formula One he suffered plenty of bad luck in the Brabham BT37-Ford and only had a fourth place in the Canadian Grand Prix to show for his efforts.

Reutmann driving the 312T3 Ferrari during the 1978 South African Grand Prix
Reutmann driving the 312T3 Ferrari during the 1978 South African Grand Prix. Although he won the preceding race, in Brazil, he was never in contention at Kylami and the car ended in flames in the catch fences...after Carlos had baled out.

Winning the South African Grand Prix

In 1973, with the new Brabham BT 42, Reutemann showed he could be a leading contender in Formula One. He was poised to win the Spanish Grand Prix when the engine failed, but finished third in the French and United States Grands Prix and fourth in the Swedish and Austrian to be placed seventh in the World Championship. Driving for Ferrari, he was second in the Vallelunga 6-hours and Monza 1000-km sports car races. For 1974 Reutemann showed tremendous form in Brabham's improved BT 44. It was a bitter disappointment when he ran out of fuel within minutes of victory of the Argentine Grand Prix, but he made amends by winning the South African Grand Prix in March.

Then, following some disappointing mid-season races, he rounded off a good year with wins in the Austrian and United States Grands Prix and sixth place in the World Championship. He was second in the Imola and Nurburgring 1000-km sports car races for Alfa Romeo. With his end of season dominance, generous sponsorship from Martini and the Brabham BT 44B, Reuternann was widely tipped for the 1975 title: In fact, he finished third, scoring only one win - in Germany. He almost won in Sweden but eventually finished second - as he did in South Africa. Although he finished twelve races from fourteen starts his results were regularly spoiled by tire troubles.

In 1976 Brabham introduced the Alfa Romeo-engined BT 45 and Reutemann never really liked the car; his best result of a disastrous season was fourth in Spain; he finished only three times from twelve attempts. For the Italian GP he left Brabham, to support the convalescent Niki Lauda at Ferrari. As Lauda recovered from his Nurburgring accident, Carlos sat out.the rest of 1976 before replacing Regazzoni as Ferrari's number two driver. Pre-season testing suggested that Reutemann might threaten Lauda's supremacy but it was Niki who took the 1977 championship.

Carlos won only once-in Brazil. His results lacked consistency and he ended the championship in fourth place. Relationships between himself and Lauda were very strained and Niki left Ferrari for 1978 - ironically, to drive the Brabham-Alfa. Reutemann started 1978 well; with the latest Ferrari, on Michelin radial tyres; he comprehensively trounced the opposition in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Yet, at the next race, in South Africa, he was never in contention and ended his drive in the catch fences. Four weeks later, at the US Grand Prix West, he was back in the winner's circle. However, the Lotus team was dominant once their new model 79 was introduced at Monaco, and Reutemann finished a close third in the points standings behind Andretti and Peterson.

Moving from Ferrari to Lotus

With an opening at Lotus in 1979 after the death of Ronnie Peterson, Reutemann decided to move from Ferrari to Lotus. The first few races went well for him - highlights being forceful second places in Argentina and Spain, plus a third place at Monaco - but, as the season wore on, he struggled while Jody Scheckter won the title for Ferrari. After four podiums and six points finishes in the first seven races, Reutemann ended up finishing in only seventh place for the season.

Joining the Williams team for 1980 put him back in a competitive car once again. Reutemann used the FW07 car it to win at Monaco and score eight podiums to finish third in the Championship. His partnership with number one driver and World Champion Alan Jones was productive for Williams, who won their first Constructor's Championship with a then-record 120 points. But again, Reutemann's relationship with his teammate soured when, the following season, Reutemann disobeyed the team's orders and thereby refused to allow Jones to win the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix. Jones never forgave this act of disobedience on the part of his teammate, especially as Reutemann continued to score more points than Jones throughout the remainder of the season. That Brazilian victory (and another in Belgium) - plus victory in that year's South African Grand Prix, which ended up retrospectively being given non-Championship status - helped put Reutemann in a position to win a three-way battle for the title at the season-ending race in Las Vegas.

Reutemann arrived in Las Vegas with a one point lead in the Championship over Brazilian Nelson Piquet. He began the race from pole position, ahead of Jones, who had vowed not to provide any "help" in Reutemann's quest, while Piquet was fourth. At the start, Jones jumped into the lead and Reutemann was quickly passed by Villeneuve, Alain Prost and Bruno Giacomelli. On lap 17, battling over seventh place as they approached the last left-hander before the pits, Piquet's Brabham was nearly touching the back of Reutemann's Williams. Piquet got around Reutemann on the inside when Reutemann, fighting for the Championship, braked early.

On the next lap, Andretti also went by Reutemann. Piquet put himself in a position to score points when he took over sixth place from John Watson on lap 22. Reutemann continued to slip backwards with gearbox trouble, having lost fourth gear as early as lap two. Reutemann finished the race in eighth, a lap down, and the title went to Piquet. However, if the 1981 South African Grand Prix would have been a race with World Championship Points awarded, Reutemann would have been World Champion with 58 Points against Piquet's 56. He returned with Williams for 1982, finishing second in the season opener in South Africa, the only Cosworth-engined runner able to take the fight to the much more powerful turbo-engined Renaults. A dispute with Frank Williams regarding politics, however, caused him to leave Formula One after the Brazilian race and his racing career was over.
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