A race that on paper would not have been favorable to the 126 CK turbo, the supercharged single-seater of the Prancing Horse. Even that of Jarama, which is located near Madrid, is not a fast track and its slow corners are certainly not ideal for the characteristics of the Red. The starting straight is the only stretch where the Ferrari turbo can unleash its power, but the rather small roadway could still help in the event of an attack by the opponents in the mixed sector. Another negative factor is the expected heat for the weekend because, with the beginning of summer, it runs on 21 June, the temperatures are immediately very high. Since the tests the weather is sunny and the climate favors an excessive deterioration of the Michelin tires of the 126 CK. Williams is still the car to beat, Reutemann and Jones share the lead in the Drivers’ World Championship after Monaco, while Piquet’s Brabham is the positive surprise of the first part of the season. They are also joined by Laffite’s Ligier-Matra, which proves to feel immediately at ease in the twists and turns of the winding Spanish circuit. More in difficulty Renault, which has recently made its debut in the new RE30, not yet at the point after two races in which it was entrusted in turn to René Arnoux and Alain Prost.
In any case, starting from Jarama, the transalpine team fielded for the first time two examples of the RE30 with which it faces the weekend of the Spanish Grand Prix. The tests on Friday start immediately with a yellow since, like what happened just over a month earlier in Belgium, there is no rescue helicopter on the runway. Added to this is also the protest of the team mechanics who, in the wake of what always happened to Zoleder with his colleague from Arrows who was hit on the grid and even before that with Osella who was killed after being hit by Reutemann’s Williams in the pit lane, had again threatened to strike. In the end we get on track and the best time of the first session goes to Jones who precedes his teammate Carlos Reutemann. A dominance that was broken the next day by Laffite’s Ligier JS17, which surprisingly won the pole position. The Frenchman makes the most of the single-seater designed by Gérard Ducarouge which makes use of the renewed 12-cylinder Matra, refined aerodynamics and a very effective side skirts system due to flaps with rather limited wear. A decidedly balanced car in the corners due to the good ability to generate downforce and which consequently was indicated by Alan Jones himself as a real threat for the following races.
In the front row, alongside the tenacious French driver, there is just Jones who with his FW07C is placed second 270 thousandths from the rival of the Talbot Ligier. Reutemann and John Watson qualify in the second row, once again bringing John Barnard’s carbon fiber McLaren MP4-1 into vogue. Going back to the starting order, the third line is the prerogative of the Renault turbo of Prost and of the Alfa Romeo of our Bruno Giacomelli, an excellent sixth. To find the first of the two Ferraris, you have to reach the seventh position on the grid which is conquered by the hero of Monaco, Gilles Villeneuve. The Canadian, as mentioned in difficulty with the tires and with the performance of his car put to the test by the heat and the nature of the track, is aware that it will be hard to repeat the exploit of the Principality. “Our tires, perhaps through no fault of their own, degrade before the others and miracles have to be done to stay on track – declares Gilles very honestly quoted by the newspaper The print – We can also enter the points, but only if someone stops in front“. A decidedly not easy Saturday for the Cavallino, also considering the thirteenth time of Pironi’s other Rossa, a victim of clutch problems. Among the discontented there is also Nelson Piquet, who with his Cosworth motorized Brabham is relegated only to ninth position and even invokes the evil eye to try to exorcise a situation that is not entirely positive in relation to his third position in the Drivers’ World Championship.
On the day of the race, Sunday 21 June 1981, the sun shines on the Iberian circuit of Jarama and all those present, as well as the experts, expect a close fight between the Ligier of Laffite and the two Williams of Jones and Reutemann. However, when the 24 single-seaters move off the grid, the first twist is immediately seen. “At the start, Jones easily surprised Laffite who remained at the post with a snail-like start that relegated him to eleventh place on the first lap. – writes the journalist Cristiano Chiavegato on The print the day after the race – Villeneuve, on the other hand, was splendid, as was Pironi. Despite the slowness of the turbo engine starting, the two Ferrari drivers very quick in reflexes, starting in seventh and thirteenth position, immediately moved on to second and eighth place. Then the Frenchman had to pit on lap 20 because he had collided with another car and went off the track: his Ferrari had the front wing facing the sky. During the stop, the mechanics changed the aerodynamic detail and also adjusted the engine that was having a tantrum. Thus Didier lost four laps which he failed to recover, finishing in fifteenth position. When Villeneuve took the lead, followed by Reutemann, the fight started behind the two leaders. Laffite started to recover until he passed Watson who was third and who subsequently chased him like a shadow. Elio De Angelis, author of a capital race, also came out very brilliantly from the rear. If the Roman had not been delayed by Laffite himself at the start, perhaps his placement would have been higher than fifth place ”.
“In any case, in the final laps, with Villeneuve crashing in front, a quintet of cars was formed, all with the possibility of winning. But drivers and cars, perhaps they were already at the end of their strength and Villeneuve, without making a single mistake despite the great tension of the race, did not concede anything to his rivals ”. An exhilarating ride that of the Canadian from Ferrari, who closes all the spaces by stemming the attack of the train of the five drivers that formed behind him after Gilles took command of operations 14th out of 80 laps. A leadership that came after the mistake made by Alan Jones, who at that moment occupied the lead of the race, who was literally pulling like a damned to try to gain a margin on the Canadian of the Scuderia who had inserted himself between him and his rival teammate. Reutemann. A sensational mistake by the Australian at the Ascari curve, which makes him sink from first to 16th place in an instant. Thus, after a textbook start that immediately brought him from seventh to second place, Villeneuve finds himself in front and manages to repel the increasingly furious assaults of his opponents with great coldness. First those of Reutemann with the second Williams and then those of Laffite, who climbed back up to the place of honor after the unfortunate start. To understand the feat of the Aviator, who drove superbly and absolutely cleanly, denying all his detractors, just think that between Gilles and the fifth car in the leading group, Elio de Angelis’ Lotus, there are only one second and twenty-four thousandths when the checkered flag is waved in front of Ferrari number 27.
The second feat in perfect Villeneuve style, matured immediately after the exploit in Monaco. An arrival at the finish line that sees a blink of an eye, 2 tenths of a difference, between the 126 CK turbo and the Ligier-Matra of Laffite, with the Ferrari driver who arrives exhausted, but radiant, in the garage where the engineer Mauro Forghieri and his mechanics welcome with open arms. Everyone expected the Frenchman from Monsieur Guy’s team to overtake him, but the tenacity of the little Canadian and the proverbial thrust of the Maranello V6 on the forehand are the weapons that allow Gilles to seize the sixth career victory and enter the legend. On the podium a very tired Villeneuve is awarded by the King of Spain Juan Carlos, while Forghieri, creator of a success that in fact relaunches the ambitions of the Red team, declares: “Villeneuve and the turbo. Here are our secrets. We will think about the World Cup in due time ”. Meanwhile, Gilles enjoys a well-deserved success and of which he is a leader thanks to his great talent and his passion for speed as an end in itself. As happened to Jim Clark in 1965, the American periodical Time dedicates its cover to an exponent of the highest formula and this time it is the turn of the Aviator to whom this honor is reserved on the 31st of August 1981. When the number 35 of the famous US magazine hits the newsstands, the Ferrari 126 CK number 27 colors its entire space in red with Gilles portrayed in the foreground inside the cockpit. Villeneuve fever is at its peak worldwide, especially in Italy, where fans adore him and are anxiously awaiting his every race to turn into a feat, although unfortunately this will be the last victory for the then 31-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.