Ecclestone reveals he interfered with 1981 F1 finale

Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that financial interference played a hand in Carlos Reutemann's defeat in the 1981 F1 season finale

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Former Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has revealed he interfered with the outcome of the 1981 world championship.

The 1981 F1 season had been an all-South American battle between Brazilian Nelson Piquet and Argentinian Carlos Reutemann, with the pair taking three wins apiece heading into the season finale.

Going into Las Vegas, Reutemann held a one-point lead over Piquet, with Jacques Laffite mathematically still in with a chance but needing both of his rivals to retire.

Despite starting from pole position, Reutemann bogged down on the line and fell back to eighth, with Piquet finishing fifth and doing just enough to win his maiden world championship.

Reutemann’s racing career never recovered as he retired shortly after the start of the 1982 season, whilst Piquet would go on to win two more F1 titles in 1983 and 1987.

Ecclestone and the masseur

With temperatures hitting 24 degrees on race day and the track being counter-clockwise and quick, the drivers’ necks came under intense strain during practice.

One of those who suffered was Reutemann, requiring a massage on the eve of the race.

But Ecclestone, in charge of Brabham, went to see the masseur and, after some financial discussion, favoured Piquet instead.

“There was a lot of g force in the way the corners were put together” said Ecclestone in the Discovery+ documentary Lucky!  

“After the first day’s practice, it was obvious the drivers were in trouble. Carlos got hold of the masseur who used to look after the boxers.

“I went to see this person, and after some financial discussion, they decided to favour Nelson. I don’t know whether I ever told Carlos”.

Nelson Piquet Snr at Chinese Grand Prix 2009 Credit: Action Images / Crispin Thruston

Anger from Reutemann family

The news of Ecclestone’s admission has caused outrage amongst some in Argentina and the Reutemann family, with Cora Reutemann calling for her late father to be crowned world champion of 1981.

“The day before dad died, I sent Bernie an audio asking him to be honest with him and tell him that he is the true 1981 champion”,  said Reutemann to La Central Deportiva.

“Unfortunately, the next day, dad died, and that audio was left hanging in the air.

“I already knew. Not only about the masseuse but more serious things like the fact that the Brabham was not suitable for racing because ground effect was banned.

“When Dad died, Ecclestone told me to ask him for anything. I asked him to tell the truth. He is responding to me publicly, which is much better than what I asked of him. 

“Obviously, my dad is the 1981 F1 champion.”

Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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