Carlos Reutemann 1942 – 2021

Carlos Reutemann had the talent to be a World Champion, but his chance to take the title, which came in 1981, resulted in a strange uninspired race in the finale in Las Vegas, which left the title in the hands of Nelson Piquet. It was one of the great mysteries of that era, but that was Reutemann, a class act, a great talent – but a bit of a mystery.

He won 12 Grands Prix of the 146 he contested between 1972 and 1982. He had raced in Europe from 1970 when the Automovil Club Argentino paid for him to race in F2 team and he fought Ronnie Peterson for the European title in 1971.

In 1972, taken on by Bernie Ecclestone for F1, he qualified his Brabham on pole position for his first GP, to the delight of his home crowd in Buenos Aires and he seemed set for a stellar future. Disappointingly, he never really made it. With Brabham he was good but the cars were never quite good enough. When Niki Lauda crashed in 1976 he was taken on by Ferrari as the Austrian’s replacement but Niki had the measure of him. In 1978 he might have won the title but Team Lotus was dominant thanks to ground-effect. With the brilliant Gilles Villeneuve as his team-mate, Reutemann jumped to replace the late Ronnie Peterson at Lotus, but the car was off the pace in 1979, when Ferrari win the title with Jody Scheckter, his replacement. In 1980 Reutemann took up an offer to join Williams, alongside Alan Jones. It was not a happy relationship, largely because Carlos disobeyed team orders in Brazil and the two drivers spent the rest of the season scrapping against one another, which allowed Nelson Piquet to grab the title. The feud impacted on his motivation and he wavered about returning in 1982. In the end he decided to go on but early in 1982 quit just before the outbreak of the Falklands War, which made it impossible for him to continue with the team, as Britain and Argentina went to war.

It was ironic that Keke Rosberg won the the title that year with Williams with just one race victory.

After retiring from the sport Reutemann used his fame in Argentina to go into politics and became one of the leading politicians in the country as governor of the Sante Fe province and later as a senator.

Handsome, talented and intelligent, Reutemann had it all, but it never quite worked out.

25 thoughts on “Carlos Reutemann 1942 – 2021

  1. yet another example why you are my go to commentator for F1
    you have insights and knowledge beyond the specifics of F1 that so enhances the experience
    when so much fluff surrounds us, your wisdom is refreshing
    thanks still

  2. From my perspective Joe, 12 Grand Prix Victories & then returning home to Argentina to eventually become a Senator is the definition of ‘Successful Achievement ‘…! RIPLole

  3. Saw Carlos race many times and always felt he could do so much more, incredibly fast on his day and incredibly talented too! Somewhere I have a great photo I took whilst standing next to him in the paddock at Silverstone.

  4. Hi Joe, didn’t AJ go on to win the ‘80 title? The Brazil ‘incident’ was in ‘81? Maybe it’s just the way it was worded.

  5. One of the best drivers not to win a title. That is actually quite a select club in my mind.


  6. I would add integrity to the list of qualities he had. After losing the title in 1981, reporters asked him why didn’t try to take Nelson Piquet, when Nelson was passing him (like other drivers) and he responded that he didn’t agree that is ok to win at any cost, and didn’t want his daughters to have that opinion of him. He had the call from Ferrari after the death of his friend Gilles, to return to Ferrari in 1982, but he said no. It has to be noted that he grew up in a rural part of Argentina, where he had to ride a horse for 12 km each day to go to the school, and being able to achieve all what he achieved is already a incredible story

  7. Thank you for the kind obituary for Carlos. I was at Las Vegas in 1981 and saw Nelson Piquet’s pass of Carlos. Forty years later I think of it often.

    Joe, can you offer some insight as to why we don’t hear/read about Carlos much. Here is guy who touched the helm of the World Championship and became a politician in his native Argentina.

    There is got to be a story there?

  8. Sad, I always used his name.

    Not mentioned in the article, but he refused to become candidate for president, couple of times, despite he’d have won.

    Very private, and fair. We dont have many more left like him in the south.

    Saw him once at the Argentinian GP, walking alone the pitlane tunnel, we waved, he waved us back. He was governor already, but no showoff like the scum politicians we unfortunately have.

    Role model, achieved it all. Family should be proud.

  9. The only word is an enigma.

    On his day, unbeatable, on his off day, not even at the races

  10. Joe
    Carlos ” L o l e ” was robbed of the 1981 World Championship , because results / points of the South African GP didn’t count .
    Peter Widsor recently stated that Carlos had called Bernie E over to his car on the grid for that race and specifically asked him if the race would be counted towards WC.
    NONE of the FISA Factory teams showed up in protest
    Bernie assured him it would count
    Carlos , duly WON the race
    Nelson Piquet, ultimately won the Champioship in Bernie E owned Brabham team.
    The question is how much Bernie E influenced that Championship result ?

    1. Here is a clue

      NONE of the FISA Factory teams showed up in protest

      Whose world championship was it in 1981, FOCA or FISA.

      1. The question is ….Bernie Ecclestone OWNED the Brabham F1 Team that Piquet drove for ..and ultimately WON the 1981 WC by 1 point over Carlos . Bernie assured ALL the FOCA teams that Kyalami, would count towards the WC. Carlos duly WON the race , and WOULD have WON 1981 WC over Nelson
        In the past Ferrari and RENAULT chose not to enter certain GP for either political or technical reasonsThose races still counted towards the WC .Joe Saward , can you comment on this for us here ?
        Thank you

        1. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that he lost the 1981 Championship because of Bernie at Kyalami, with a long, uncertain season still ahead of everyone. One could just as well say that engine failure at Hockenheim cost Reutemann the title, or colliding with Laffite at Zandvoort, or Williams switching to Goodyear half-way though the season, not to mention their uncompetitive rain tyres at Montreal. Championships aren’t lost due to a single reason, although Reutemann certainly tested that theory to the limit with his inexplicable drive in Las Vegas.

        2. Which race did Renault choose not to enter? Ferrari missed races often when there were dropped points in the championship, but even after Villeneuve was tragically killed they entered a single car while the picked their replacement. From around 1977 they have entered every race and part of the Concorde Agreement which came out of this boycott enshrined a season long entry, although races can be missed. I think it’s two without sanction. As Joe replied it was a period of major politics

          Bernie could have promised the teams he would fly them to the moon on Dickie Branson’s rocketship.

          FOCA were the “garagista” teams organisations and FISA the sanctioning body of the drivers and constructors championship. If FISA and there read the fella who liked a Nazi outfit, JM Balestre decided there were no points, there were no points. At Imolacin 1982 when the FOCA teams except Tyrrell boycotted, there were points, because FISA run the championship.

          I stand to be corrected, but was this not also the potential start of the breakaway championship Bernie and Max were trying to start, before as part of the truce BCE became a FISA Vice President. So this race was the catalyst of the series we now have

          You like to mention these 9 points, but fail to recognise that Reutemann was 17 (I think, maybe 19) points clear at half season. The simple truth is he was an expert at snatching defeat from the claws of victory. And Alan Jones did nothing to help because Reutenann was dishonest in Brazil.

          1. Andrew
            RENAULT choose to NOT enter a number of races in 1977 as they were struggling to sort out the horrendous lack of reliability in their 1.5 litre TURBO engines / cooling solutions and ONLY entered the 1977 season quite a few races into that season
            ONCE again , you are missing the point of my question to Joe and his audience here ..

            By not counting results of 1981 South Aftican , GP , Bernie Ecclestone ‘ s OWNED team , Brabham , won 1981 WDC with Piquet , driving

            1. The problem is, your tone gives the impression that you seem to want Joe to give you a particular answer that fits in with a preconceived narrative (i.e. that you have already decided that you want to lump all the blame onto Bernie to use him as a scapegoat, and want to push Joe into giving the answer that you want to hear).

              The problem is that, precisely because the race was held as a “Formula Libre” race and not a “Formula 1” race, pretty much none of the cars that took part in that race conformed to the 1981 Formula 1 regulations as they all had the type of side skirts that had been banned at the end of the 1980 season. Unlike the variable height suspension systems that were used to get around the rules that year, it would have been pretty much impossible to get around those rules because you wouldn’t be able to hide that system in the pit lane.

              The answer, therefore, is that in practice it would have had zero influence – because, if the race was to be given championship status, Reutemann, and many others, would have had to have been disqualified from the race because the car did not comply with the Formula 1 regulations in place at the time.

              1. Andrew
                The race was held as a Championship event and then ultimately changed to a Non Championship event …AFTER the fact
                NONE of the FOCA teams would have gone to race at Kyalami if they knew beforehand that it wouldn’t count towards the Championship

                The travel costs and logistics were pretty mighty for the teams back then

                The question is exactly when the status of the event changed

  11. If Reutemann had followed team orders, such as when he was supposed to allow Alan Jones to win in Brazilian, the margin would have been larger.

    Jones would have been Drivers Champion.

    But just like Singapore in 2008 compromised Felipe Massa, Hamilton won the championship over a season at all the races. PK did the same in 1981.

    The real difference over the season in 1981 was the rule book could be innovatively interpreted and Gordon Murray had his thinking cap on all season. The Williams dominated Brazil, Murray introduced new skirts in Argentina and PK dominated the race, even Hector Rabaque was further up than normal.

    All Reutemann had to do was stay in front of PK at the Lost Wages GP. Perhaps the answer came later in the comments.

    he refused to become candidate for president, couple of times, despite he’d have won.

    Like I said before, an enigma

  12. Belgian Grand Prix 1981 Zolder, I was on pit board duty. The pit wall was armco barrier and I stood on a foot wide raised kerb with Formula 1 cars skimming past my heels along the narrowest of pit lanes.
    In those days there were no pit lane speed limits and most drivers drove past a great speed except for one, Carlos Reutemann. Lole saw the danger to others and would drive the pit lane slowly. Unfortunately Osella mechanic Giovanni Amadeo slipped off the pit wall and ironically was hit by Carlos, badly injured he was taken to hospital. Many times over the rest of the weekend I saw Carlos wandering around the paddock, furrowed brow, lost in thought, obviously very concerned for the poor guy. Carlos won the race and did not celebrate, Monday Giovanni past away.
    RIP Carlos, you were a class act.

    1. Y agrego a esto que viajó el lunes siguiente a visitar a los padres del mecánico muerto y darle sus condolencias. Un señor en todo sentido.

  13. When Renault entered the sport at the British Grand Prix in 1977, you were able to enter on a race by race basis. It’s was on the FOCA teams that tended to do all the races.

    I suggest you petition Jean Todt and ask for history to be re-written on the 1981 season. BCE at a loose end now, maybe he will join the campaign. But to be serious, the championship is over a season of races and on that basis he lost. As others have pointed out his performance at Lost Wages is unfathomable. On pole and he went backwards with nothing wrong with the car. He just didn’t want to be World Champion. Because if he did he would have raced that day and not surrendered.

    1. Andrew
      You are entitled to your opinions
      What sprcific facts from ” L o l e ” himself,do you have that Carlos decided he didn’t want to be WC ?
      Yes , he was on pole in Las Vegas , and had a competitive car , teamate Alan Jones WON the race .
      He did have some issues with his tires that caused him to lose places

      1. His performance is the indicator, watch the race he just gave up.l, just like he could have been 🇦🇷 president, but backed away.

        You scapegoat need not be BCE, but Francis Tucker and Bobby Hartslief, they refused to change the race date, unlike the Brazilians who agreed a date change and their race did count, also run with legal cars.

        As for his race performance, he was lapped, he could have changed tyres.

        He lost the championship in Canada really. He was on the front row, banged wheels with Jones and ended up 10th. He dropped through the field because again he gave up. Alan Jones could have been his wing man, instead he was even more of a rival than PK, because Reutemann was dishonest. Little wonder he went into politics.

        You can believe whatever you like, put a tooth in your shoe even. What you cannot argue or disprove is facts. Despite being near exhaustion PK showed fighting spirit and won the championship. You want an explanation of Reutemann look at 1977 when Lauda blew him away. Reutemann may have been a gentleman, he lacked the killer instinct of a Lauda, Jones, Senna etc.

        You simply ignore the realities that in Canada and Lost Wages he did not turn up and don’t forget he inherit 3rd at Monza when PK’s engine blew on the last or second last lap. Add in the crash with Laffite and Jones’s appalling luck and lack of concentration at times and Reutemann was lucky to finish second. But history is in the past and in 1981, PK won the championship by a single point. Everything else is details of how and why.

    2. Andrew
      If you check the race reports from 1981 Las Vegas GP , you will see that Carlos was struggling with tires , causing him to brake earlier then normal as well as struggle with sever over steering. This allowed Piquet to pass him as Carlos fought with I’ll handling of his Williams.
      He also lost 4th gear for most of the race as well .
      His car that day was NOT competitive

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