1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix

The 1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on October 17, 1981, in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. It was the fifteenth and final race of the 1981 FIA Formula One World Championship.

1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix
Race 15 of 15 in the 1981 Formula One World Championship
Circuit Caesars Palace.png
Race details
Date October 17, 1981
Official name 1st Caesars Palace Grand Prix
Location Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Course Temporary street course
Course length 3.637 km (2.26 mi)
Distance 75 laps, 272.775 km (169.50 mi)
Weather Sunny with temperatures reaching up to 75 °F (24 °C); wind speeds approaching speeds up to 11.1 miles per hour (17.9 km/h)[1]
Pole position
Driver Williams-Ford
Time 1:17.821
Fastest lap
Driver France Didier Pironi Ferrari
Time 1:20.156 on lap 49
First Williams-Ford
Second Renault
Third Alfa Romeo

The 75-lap race was won by Australian driver Alan Jones, driving a Williams-Ford, with Frenchman Alain Prost second in a Renault and Italian Bruno Giacomelli third in an Alfa Romeo. Brazilian Nelson Piquet finished fifth in his Brabham-Ford to take the Drivers' Championship by one point from Jones's Argentinian teammate, Carlos Reutemann, who finished eighth having started from pole position. This was the final win by an Australian driver until Mark Webber won the 2009 German Grand Prix.


Championship permutationsEdit

Going into this race, three drivers were in contention for the World Championship. Argentine Carlos Reutemann, driving a Williams-Ford, had 49 points having won two races, while Brazilian Nelson Piquet, driving a Brabham-Ford, had 48 having won three. Frenchman Jacques Laffite, driving a Ligier-Matra, had an outside chance on 43, having won two races including the previous race in Canada.

Laffite needed to win this race with Reutemann finishing no higher than fourth and Piquet no higher than third, or to finish second with neither Reutemann nor Piquet finishing in the top six. If Laffite won with Piquet third and Reutemann fourth, then all three drivers would finish on 52 points, and the Frenchman would then win the Championship on a tie-break, with the same number of wins as Piquet but more second places than the Brazilian (two to one). He would also win the Championship if he finished second with neither Reutemann nor Piquet scoring, as he and Reutemann would both have 49 points and the same numbers of wins and second places, but he would have more third places than the Argentine (three to two).

If Laffite failed to finish first or second, then all Reutemann had to do was finish ahead of Piquet, while Piquet had to finish in the top five and ahead of Reutemann.

The settingEdit

This was the third year in succession that the United States hosted the final round of the World Championship. This time, however, it took place in Las Vegas, instead of Watkins Glen in upstate New York: after twenty years on the Grand Prix schedule, the organizers at Watkins Glen were unable to fulfill financial obligations for 1981.

The track, created on the parking lot of the Caesars Palace hotel, had a smooth surface and provided speeds averaging over 160 km/h or 100 mph, as well as plenty of overtaking opportunities. Unusually, however, its direction was counter-clockwise, which strained the drivers' necks. This, together with the desert heat, meant that the drivers' endurance would be tested in the extreme all weekend. Even in practice, Piquet suffered noticeably and became physically sick; he later got a 90-minute massage from Sugar Ray Leonard's masseur to help sort out his troubled back and "Las Vegas neck".


The Williams drivers, Alan Jones and Reutemann, were fastest from the start of the first practice with points leader Reutemann the faster of the two. Later, Jones became the only other driver to break 1:18 in qualifying, and the starting front row was all Williams. Reutemann was not expecting any help winning the Championship from teammate Jones, who explained, "I don't see how I can help him; I would not go holding up people as I am a member of the British Commonwealth (Australia, specifically) and I would consider that unsporting."


In the race on Saturday, Jones jumped off the line into the lead, but Reutemann was quickly passed by Gilles Villeneuve, Alain Prost and Bruno Giacomelli, and finished the first lap in fifth. By the end of lap two, Jones had a five-second lead. Prost passed Villeneuve on lap three, but could not get close enough to challenge Jones for the lead. Villeneuve, meanwhile, kept a line of cars behind him as he fought off the advances of Giacomelli. This allowed Mario Andretti to move right on to Piquet's tail, as he desperately tried to overtake Reutemann.

The Brazilian was nearly touching the back of the Williams as they approached the last left-hander before the pits on lap 17. Piquet got around Reutemann on the inside when Reutemann, fighting for the Championship, inexplicably braked early. Piquet said, "I saw his car getting worse oversteer, then he braked very early, I think in the hope I would run into him, but I saw it and passed easily." On the next lap, Andretti also went by. Piquet passed John Watson on lap 22, and put himself in a position to score points when he took over sixth place. Reutemann continued to slip backwards with gearbox trouble, having lost fourth gear as early as lap two.

The Ferrari team was trying to decide whether to call Villeneuve in on lap 23 after he had been disqualified for lining up on the grid improperly, but when he pulled off the track with an engine fire, the point was moot. On lap 30, crowd favorite Andretti retired from fourth place with broken suspension.

With 15 laps still to go, but a 40-second lead over Prost, Jones began pacing himself to the finish. Giacomelli was third, having worked his way back after spinning from fourth to tenth, and Nigel Mansell had passed Piquet for fourth.

Piquet, in fact, was on the verge of physical exhaustion with his head visibly rolling around in the cockpit, but he still held fifth place and the two points he needed for the Championship. Piquet's condition was the only question left about how the Championship would turn out, for Reutemann, driving without fourth gear, was passed by Watson and Laffite, dropping to eighth place on lap 69.

Laffite took sixth place and the final point from Watson on the last corner of the last lap, while Giacomelli missed taking second from Prost, on failing tires, by a few car lengths. As Jones crossed the line in first, the Williams team celebrated wildly, apparently unaffected by the fact its other driver had just lost the Championship. Piquet took fifteen minutes to recover from heat exhaustion after making it to the finish, but he had collected the two points for fifth place, and was the new World Champion.



Pos No Driver Constructor Q1 Q2 Gap
1 2   Carlos Reutemann Williams-Ford 1:17.821 1:18.343  —
2 1   Alan Jones Williams-Ford 1:18.236 1:17.995 +0.174
3 27   Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 1:18.457 1:18.060 +0.239
4 5   Nelson Piquet Brabham-Ford 1:18.954 1:18.161 +0.340
5 15   Alain Prost Renault 1:18.433 1:18.760 +0.612
6 7   John Watson McLaren-Ford 1:19.975 1:18.617 +0.796
7 25   Patrick Tambay Ligier-Matra 1:19.874 1:18.681 +0.860
8 23   Bruno Giacomelli Alfa Romeo 1:20.570 1:18.792 +0.971
9 12   Nigel Mansell Lotus-Ford 1:19.044 1:19.623 +1.223
10 22   Mario Andretti Alfa Romeo 1:19.594 1:19.068 +1.247
11 29   Riccardo Patrese Arrows-Ford 1:20.132 1:19.152 +1.331
12 26   Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra 1:19.878 1:19.167 +1.346
13 16   René Arnoux Renault 1:19.966 1:19.197 +1.376
14 8   Andrea de Cesaris McLaren-Ford 1:19.338 1:19.217 +1.396
15 11   Elio de Angelis Lotus-Ford 1:20.337 1:19.562 +1.741
16 6   Héctor Rebaque Brabham-Ford 1:20.555 1:19.571 +1.750
17 4   Michele Alboreto Tyrrell-Ford 1:21.964 1:19.774 +1.953
18 28   Didier Pironi Ferrari 1:19.899 1:21.347 +2.078
19 3   Eddie Cheever Tyrrell-Ford 1:21.116 1:20.475 +2.654
20 20   Keke Rosberg Fittipaldi-Ford 1:21.299 1:20.729 +2.908
21 32   Jean-Pierre Jarier Osella-Ford no time 1:20.781 +2.960
22 36   Derek Warwick Toleman-Hart 1:22.491 1:21.294 +3.473
23 33   Marc Surer Theodore-Ford 1:21.889 1:21.430 +3.609
24 14   Eliseo Salazar Ensign-Ford 1:22.616 1:21.629 +3.808
DNQ 9   Slim Borgudd ATS-Ford 1:21.665 1:21.731 +3.844
DNQ 21   Chico Serra Fittipaldi-Ford 1:22.612 1:21.672 +3.851
DNQ 17   Derek Daly March-Ford 1:21.846 1:21.824 +4.003
DNQ 30   Jacques Villeneuve Arrows-Ford 1:22.977 1:22.822 +5.001
DNQ 35   Brian Henton Toleman-Hart 1:23.857 1:22.960 +5.139
DNQ 31   Beppe Gabbiani Osella-Ford 1:26.634 no time +8.813
Source: [2]


Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 1   Alan Jones Williams-Ford 75 1:44:09.077 2 9
2 15   Alain Prost Renault 75 + 20.048 5 6
3 23   Bruno Giacomelli Alfa Romeo 75 + 20.428 8 4
4 12   Nigel Mansell Lotus-Ford 75 + 47.473 9 3
5 5   Nelson Piquet Brabham-Ford 75 + 1:16.438 4 2
6 26   Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra 75 + 1:18.175 12 1
7 7   John Watson McLaren-Ford 75 + 1:18.497 6  
8 2   Carlos Reutemann Williams-Ford 74 + 1 Lap 1  
9 28   Didier Pironi Ferrari 73 + 2 Laps 18  
10 20   Keke Rosberg Fittipaldi-Ford 73 + 2 Laps 20  
11 29   Riccardo Patrese Arrows-Ford 71 + 4 Laps 11  
12 8   Andrea de Cesaris McLaren-Ford 69 + 6 Laps 14  
13 4   Michele Alboreto Tyrrell-Ford 67 Engine 17  
NC 14   Eliseo Salazar Ensign-Ford 61 + 14 Laps 24  
Ret 36   Derek Warwick Toleman-Hart 43 Gearbox 22  
Ret 22   Mario Andretti Alfa Romeo 29 Suspension 10  
DSQ 27   Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 22 Improper Grid Formation 3  
Ret 6   Héctor Rebaque Brabham-Ford 20 Throttle 16  
Ret 33   Marc Surer Theodore-Ford 19 Suspension 23  
Ret 3   Eddie Cheever Tyrrell-Ford 10 Engine 19  
Ret 16   René Arnoux Renault 10 Electrical 13  
Ret 25   Patrick Tambay Ligier-Matra 2 Accident 7  
Ret 11   Elio de Angelis Lotus-Ford 2 Water Leak 15  
Ret 32   Jean-Pierre Jarier Osella-Ford 0 Transmission 21  
DNQ 9   Slim Borgudd ATS-Ford    
DNQ 21   Chico Serra Fittipaldi-Ford    
DNQ 17   Derek Daly March-Ford    
DNQ 30   Jacques Villeneuve Arrows-Ford    
DNQ 35   Brian Henton Toleman-Hart    
DNQ 31   Beppe Gabbiani Osella-Ford        


Championship standings after the raceEdit

  • Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.


  1. ^ "Weather information for the "1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix"". The Old Farmers' Almanac. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  2. ^ Hamilton, Maurice, ed. (1981). AUTOCOURSE 1981–82. Hazleton Publishing Ltd. p. 222. ISBN 0-905138-17-1.
  3. ^ "1981 Las Vegas Grand Prix". formula1.com. Archived from the original on 16 May 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Las Vegas 1981 - Championship • STATS F1". www.statsf1.com. Retrieved 14 March 2019.

Further readingEdit

  • Rob Walker (February, 1982). "1st Las Vegas Grand Prix: The Chips Are Down". Road & Track, 136-140.
  • Mike S. Lang (1992). Grand Prix!: Race-by-race account of Formula 1 World Championship motor racing. Volume 4: 1981 to 1984. Haynes Publishing Group. ISBN 0-85429-733-2

Previous race:
1981 Canadian Grand Prix
FIA Formula One World Championship
1981 season
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1982 South African Grand Prix
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1982 Caesars Palace Grand Prix
Preceded by
1980 Italian Grand Prix
Formula One Promotional Trophy
for Race Promoter

Succeeded by
1982 British Grand Prix