Carlos Reutemann is Argentinian and passed away at the age of 79. He won 12 Grand Prix in his 11 years in the sport. He also proved to be a driver of versatility having driven for 4 different teams in his career. He raced for teams like Ferrari, Williams, Brabham, and even Lotus. He also took part in 2 events hosted by the World Rally Championship (WRC) and finished on the podium each time. For three decades, he was the only person to have scored points in two different championships, until Kimi Räikkönen achieved the same feat in 2010. Reutemann is still the only F1 driver to have secured a place on the podium in the WRC. The Argentinian was known for being clever and technical, he put these skills of his to perfect use after retiring as he went on to become a Senator who declined offers to be President.
Reutemann was first signed into F1 by Bernie Ecclestone in 1972. Ecclestone had just bought Brabham racing which had seen several ownership changes in the prior years and needed stability to fare well as a team. The team had a strong line-up with Carlos and two-time world champion, Graham Hill.
Reutemann’s first F1 race was in 1972, in Argentina. Hill had called the shots before the qualifying session and started in the BT33, while Reutemann [the rookie] started in the BT34. The BT33 had new brakes, shock absorbers, and new front bodywork while also having its chassis stiffened. The BT34, on the other hand, was intended to have lesser drag. It was the first race of the season, and the native Argentinian took pole in his first race, qualifying ahead of the defending world champion, Jackie Stewart, by almost 3 tenths of a second. He also out-qualified Hill by 2 seconds!
Despite starting in the best position on the grid, the Brabham of 1972 was just not a quick race car and faced reliability issues. Fuel pump issues forced his teammate’s retirement, while Reutemann faced tire issues but was able to cross the line finishing 7th.
Right off the bat, there was raw speed in Reutemann, however, reliability issues and form inconsistencies plagued him; preventing him from winning a World Championship in his 10 years in the sport.
He faced an ankle injury during his rookie season, which prevented him from racing every race of the season. Despite this, he managed to secure three points in his first season and was one point behind his teammate in the championship. He had his best finish at the Canadian GP where he classified in 4th.
This was enough to convince Ecclestone to sign him on for the next few seasons. Reutemann took 12 wins in his entire career and was the runner-up in the 1981 Drivers’ Championship, after losing out to Nelson Piquet in the final race of the season. In an era where only the top 6 scored points, the Argentinian finished his career averaging 2.1 points per race. Implying that he was a top-five contender, at the least.
Gordon Murray, Brabham’s designer, described Carlos as a man who could not be stopped when it was his day: “When it was his day, he was incredible. He was Senna-fast on those days. He had incredible feel and precision through fast corners in particular. But he didn’t always have those days. But even his poor days were still pretty good.”
The above statement by Murray perfectly summarizes how Reutemann won his first race in 1974 at Kyalami Circuit with Brabham. It was the third race of the season. He started the race in P4 but jumped up to P2 before the cars reached turn 1 of the first lap. Niki Lauda led the race but could not match the Argentinian’s pace and lost P1 by lap 10. This was Reutemann’s first victory and was a dominant one as he took the fastest lap of the race as well.
Reutemann conversing with Gordon Murray on the grid before the race:
Reutemann went on to win 2 more races in 1974. The second win was in Austria and the third in the United States of America. Both of these victories were similar to the first, where none of the other drivers on the grid could keep up with him at the front.
The 1975 season proved Reutemann’s consistency on track after securing podiums consistently through the season. He had a lucky win at Nürburgring, as Lauda [Race Leader] picked up a puncture allowing Reutemann to pass him putting him in P1. The Argentinian was not shy to capitalize on this and secured a P3 finish in the Championship.
Reutemann moved to Ferrari mid-way through the 1976 season to replace Lauda who was seriously injured after the race at Nürburgring earlier in the season. While he spent most of the 1976 season shadowed by Lauda, he got his first win at Ferrari in 1977 in Brazil.
Reutemann when he won his first Grand Prix with Ferrari in Brazil:
Lauda withdrew his Ferrari contract as the ’77 season came to a close, and decided to move to Brabham Alfa Romeo for the 1978 season. This allowed Reutemann to re-establish himself as the lead driver at Ferrari.
In ’78 Reutemann had one of his strongest F1 seasons, securing 4 wins in the championship. He won in Brazil, Great Britain, Long Beach, and the United States. He was unable to win the Drivers’ Championship as the Lotus of the season had revolutionized ground effect and had the quickest car in Formula 1.
Sadly for Reutemann, ’78 was his last season at Ferrari as the team owner, Enzo Ferrari, decided to sign Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve for their 1979 championship. On account of this, Reutemann was forced to sign with Lotus in the following season. Despite their previous campaign, better interpretations of the ground effect by the other teams on the grid prevented Lotus from being the championship protagonist for their season with Reutemann.
Reutemann was ready to leave for William’s Racing in 1980 after a dismal season at Lotus in ’79. He started the 1980 season at Williams with his teammate and championship protagonist, Alan Jones. Reutemann won in Monaco in just his sixth race for the team. He qualified in P2 and inherited first place after race leader Didier Pironi was forced to retire after an accident on lap 54. The 1980 championship was won by his teammate. While he was able to secure the third position in the Championship.
Reutemann in Monaco, en route to his first victory with Williams:
The 1981 season was the closest he got to winning the Drivers’ Championship. The championship fight for that season was much closer than the previous seasons as Nelson Piquet and Reutemann were going at it till the very last race. Both drivers were able to consistently secure race wins and podiums while also being plagued by retirements through the season. Midway through the season, Williams decided to move to Goodyears’ tire rather than Michelin. Reutemann favored the Michelin tires and was wary of his ability to win the title after the change. Heading into the final race of the season, Reutemann led the title fight by 1 point to Piquet. The race was hosted in Las Vegas and was the Championship decider. The Argentinian had done a great job in qualifying, putting his car on pole position while Piquet qualified in P4 after suffering from back problems during the weekend.
However, a horrible start for the pole sitter saw him fall back three places on the first lap, right ahead of Piquet. On lap 18, Piquet caught Reutemann by surprise and took the inside line into the final turn of the lap. After this, Reutemann had gearbox troubles and could not fight his way back into the points allowing the Brazilian to finish in P5 and steal the Drivers’ Championship by one point.
Reutemann was naturally quick and adept at handling cars. He proved this by winning a podium at the World Rally Championship in 1980. Once again, he repeated the same feat in 1985. Although, the second time he was three years into retirement.
Reutemann also had a rich political life after retiring from Formula 1. He won the election to represent Santa Fe for two four-year terms from 1991-1995 and 1999-2003. His intellect was extremely strong as he helped in preventing extreme indebtedness for Santa Fe during the socioeconomic crash in 2001. He was expected to run for Presidency in 2001 but declined the offer to do so. Instead, he decided to be elected for a place in the National senate where he was able to secure a seat in 2003, 2009, and 2015.
You rarely witness a man who possesses the caliber for being President, F1 world champion as well as a World Rally Champion. Reutemann’s death is painful, however, he will always be remembered as a man of various talents and a motor racer with the flair of an artist.