GRAND PRIX INTERNATIONAL, 27.05.1981
If I ever think back to the Belgian Grand Prix 1981, three things will immediately spring to my mind: the awful atmosphere throughout the weekend, the problems we had with the Renault RE30, and my very brief one-lap race.
But on reflection, I don't think I'm going to bother too much about the Belgian Grand Prix. I think it's best forgotten.
On the other hand, there is a fourth point that made me smile, and I just might remember that. René's little brush with the cops. My honourable and respected team leader didn't qualify, so he accepted an invitation from them to spend Sunday with the Belgian police force!
But I'm not joking at his expense because they locked him up, there were other amusing points. This guy gets on his car bonnet on the way out of the circuit because of some petty queue jumping. And he doesn't want to get off the bonnet, so he gets a free ride for a few kilometers to our hotel. But what was really funny was René's expression when he saw the police car arrive - that I won't forget. Shortly after, René went off to the kitchen to make a sandwich or something... and I didn't see him again for a while.
In terms of racing, I've got news for you: I'm becoming a very good journalist instead of winning the world championship. And I'm not talking about these columns which cause me sleepless nights trying to think up what I'm going to write about.
No, the reason I'm thinking of journalism is because I spend so much time watching Grand Prix races. Apart from the Argentine Grand Prix, where I had to drive the car to the finish unfortunately, I can remember everything that's happened in all the Grands Prix this season. The reason for this is my excellent power of observation - but you know that already! - and the fact that I've been leaning on the pit rail for most of the race. If this goes on much longer, I'm going to make up for lack of prize money by signing a TV contract. at least any TV company can be almost certain that I'll spend most of the race in the commentary box.
My last Grand Prix International column was all about the frustration felt by a driver when he retires on the first lap. A familiar story, you might think. I would have been well advised to take a carbon copy...
Enough of this nonsense: it's just a bleak period, everyone has them during their Grand Prix career, just as Carlos Reutemann is going through the complete opposite at the moment. That'll happen to me one day.
But when one is jinxed, it seems to go on and on forever. It's not just that I seem to keep disappearing from the field within minutes of the green light coming on, but that similar luck seems to afflict our testing. That's one of the reasons that we had trouble with our new Renault 30 at Zolder. The first time we tested the car, months ago, it was a sunny day at Nogaro. But ever since, it's rained virtually every day we've taken the car to a circuit. It rained the week before the Belgian Grand Prix when we went testing at Zolder, which is why we had no inclination of the trouble we suffered the first day of official practice.
Before we went to Belgium, we had a day's testing at Dijon, and the car went very well. It was faster than the RE20 with which we did back-to-back tests, so we were confident.
But at Zolder the car handled like a bowl of rice pudding, and weaved around under braking and in the fast corners. It was almost taking off over the bump after the back chicane. But I think the RE30 has tremendous potential. In tight corners and chicanes it handles a lot better than the 20 because it's lighter and has less tendency to understeer.
On the other hand, we had this problem in the faster corners. I say "had " because the technicians went into the wind tunnel on the Tuesday after the race and they've apparently sorted out the problem. The car will be aerodynamically modified for Monaco. It's something quite small, but very important.
I hope that I can give you a good race report next time: my race report. I won the Formula 3 race at Monaco in 1979 where I met Princess Grace after the event. Maybe I'll have the chance to meet her again this time. Five o'clock on Sunday afternoon, OK? On the other hand, I only did a few yards of the race last year. Perhaps that was when my luck changed, and maybe it will change back again.