GRAND PRIX INTERNATIONAL, 14.10.1981
Lauda's comeback: no one spoke of anything else in Montreal. It was as though there was nothing of interest going on at the circuit. But I must admit that I got caught up in the game, as did most drivers. Dominique Bressot, a journalist with the radio station Europe 1, decided to interview Laffite and I on the subject and record our comments. It was a good idea, because Jacques and I belong to different generations. He'd raced against Lauda. Back in 1975, I was too busy memorising the corners at Circuit Paul Ricard before the Volant Elf final to be interested in Formula 1. But that year Lauda won his first world championship. Since then, we've found ourselves at the same circuits, but we haven't been racing in the same event.
People have made various comments about Lauda's return to Grand Prix racing. Personally, I'm for it. It would do Formula 1 a lot of good. I don 't think it matters whether he earns £1.5 million or £2 million. That's his problem, not mine. But Lauda is a legendary figure, a superstar, and we need a superstar in Formula 1 to draw in the public. The sponsors need him too for the same reason. The two are dependent on one another. Currently we're losing all our superstars, all the world champions are retiring. Fittipaldi and Scheckter retired last year, and Andretti (perhaps) and Jones are pulling out this year. And they say that if Reutemann wins the world championship at Las Vegas, he'll quit too. So who's going to be the superstar to attract the public? A driver's image isn't built in a day, and in the space of two years, four world champions will have quit Formula 1. But when I talk about people like Jones, Scheckter or Andretti, I don't mean to put them in the same class as Lauda. He's on a different level. The public are conscious of that, and Marlboro is too.
Jacques didn't agree with me. Firstly, he finds the whole thing distasteful. He doesn't see how a twice world champion could make a comeback just for the money, like some old singer who keeps coming back for an encore. For Jacques, Formula 1 is a longstanding disease. You can't dip in and out of it. I do agree with him in some respects, but not totally. Of course Lauda isn't indifferent to the vast sums of money offered to him. Who would be in his position? But there's no proof that he's coming back just to put a smile on his bank manager's face. If that is the case, though, he's going to find it very boring.
Jacques went on to say that he didn't agree that Lauda would be beneficial to Formula 1. According to him, Lauda isn't going to be a success, and therefore he won't thrill the public but will be a disappointment. I'm not saying that Lauda will be immediately competitive, nor perhaps on the same form as he was in 1975, but who knows? Everything is possible with that man. Personally, I find the idea of racing against Lauda to be very attractive.
Not many people know this, but I could well have been Lauda's teammate in the McLaren team this year. Mariboro made him an offer at the end of last season, and at that time, Teddy Mayer was trying hard to keep me in the team. But in the end, he didn't join the team, and I left.
The end of our discussion was even more lively. Jacques told me off like a kid for talking about people I didn't know, but he was joking. Anyway, he doesn't believe in Lauda's return. He thinks that Lauda is too intelligent and too proud to come back and possibly jeopardise his public image.
Jacques made me smile when he said that. It's true, I don't know Lauda, but on the other hand, I do know the Marlboro people. And when they have an idea in their heads... That was something I failed to learn and it was at my expense. Lauda will return to racing. I'm ready to take bets on it.