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.