THE EIGHTIES by Luca Dal Monte

The 1980s begin with Williams leading the pack. Old Clay Regazzoni, who clinched the team's first victory, is no longer with the British team, but behind the wheel of the FW07, Australian Alan Jones secures the 1980 World Championship with five victories evenly spread throughout the season: the opening race in Argentina, the French and British Grand Prix in the heart of summer, and the last two races of the year in Canada and the United States, useful for holding back the emerging star of motorsport, Brazilian Nelson Piquet, driving the Brabham BT49.

A Williams could also become world champion the following year. But in 1981, the management of team dynamics is anything but perfect. Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann, teammates who love each other little and collaborate even less, win four races between them, but in reality end up subtracting points from each other. At the end of the season, the world champion is Piquet in the Brabham BT49C, who wins the Grand Prix of Argentina, San Marino (the first in the team's history), and Germany and steps onto the podium four more times. In a season where there's no true dominator, it's worth noting the first two victories for Ferrari in the turbo era, both achieved by Canadian Gilles Villeneuve in Monaco and Spain with the 126CK.

Villeneuve could finally become world champion the following year when he finds himself with an exceptional car like the Ferrari 126 C2. But at this point, fate intervenes. Gilles is killed during the qualifying sessions of the Belgian Grand Prix. Teammate Didier Pironi leaves the scene during qualifying at the German Grand Prix. The car is fast: the third driver, Frenchman Patrick Tambay, wins the Dutch Grand Prix. Then he too has to abandon any aspirations for the championship due to physical problems. Enzo Ferrari finally offers the wheel of the 126 C2 to Mario Andretti, who retired at the beginning of the season, and the Italo-American surprises everyone with a fantastic pole position at Monza. At the end of the season, the world champion is for the first time a Finn, Keke Rosberg, at the wheel of the Williams FW08.

The 1983 season lives on the long duel between Alain Prost in the Renault RE40 and Nelson Piquet in the Brabham BT52. The Frenchman wins four Grand Prix, the Brazilian three. But thanks to a greater number of podium finishes, at the end of the year, Piquet clinches the world champion title precisely by virtue of a third place in the race that concludes the season, the South African Grand Prix, during which his direct competitor is forced to retire.

Prost loses the title by a hair's breadth also the following year, 1984. This time it's teammate Niki Lauda who becomes (for the third time) world champion at his expense and once again in the last race of the season, in Portugal. The gap between the two is only half a point. The McLaren MP4/2 that Prost and Lauda have in their hands in 1984 is unbeatable. The Frenchman and the Austrian win a total of twelve out of sixteen races. But perhaps the most memorable race of the season is the Monaco Grand Prix, won by Prost, but where the second-place finisher, the semi-unknown Brazilian Ayrton Senna in the Toleman TG183B, makes headlines.

Prost finally fulfils his world championship ambition in 1985. The car is an evolution of the previous year's, the MP4/2B. The Frenchman clinches the title with two races to spare thanks to five wins, two second and four third place finishes. The only real challenger is Michele Alboreto who, at the wheel of his Ferrari 156/85, wins the Grand Prix of Canada and Germany and keeps the hopes alive until the beginning of autumn. Prost is once again world champion in 1986 at the end of a long and thrilling duel with Nigel Mansell. In his McLaren MP4/2C, Prost wins "only" four races but is adept at exploiting the internal rivalry between the two Williams drivers who, together and at the wheel of the same formidable FW11, win a total of nine Grand Prix but lose the world championship respectively by two and three points.

Piquet redeems himself in 1987. At the wheel of the Williams FW11B, he clinches his third title after a season where the out of luck protagonist is teammate Mansell and in which Brazilian Ayrton Senna, driving the Lotus 99T, inserts himself into the fight for the world crown, winning for the first time in his career the Monaco Grand Prix. From 1988 onwards and for the following six years, Formula 1 will see only one true rivalry, that between Prost and Senna.

In 1988, the Brazilian and the Frenchman are teammates at McLaren. The MP4/4 has no rivals. Together, the two win fifteen out of sixteen races. At the end of the season, Senna is world champion for the first time – but only because, for scoring purposes, eleven results out of sixteen are taken into account, otherwise the title would have gone to Prost. With these premises, the two battle it out again the following year, a season in which the pair breaks up and which ends with a controversial manoeuvre by the Frenchman against the Brazilian at Suzuka. At the wheel of the McLaren MP4/5, Senna wins six Grand Prix to Prost’s four. But in the end, it's the Frenchman who, for the third time in his career, is world champion.