There had been many changes to the driver line-up in the off-season. Andretti now drove for Alfa-Romeo. Emerson Fittipaldi retired from Formula One and left Keke Rosburg to carry the Fittipaldi colours. Rene Arnoux was still at Renault with newcomer Alain Prost. Formula Three star Nigel Mansell shared the driving orders at Lotus with Italian Elio de Angelis. The Williams team remained unchanged with Carlos Reutemann and Alan Jones, the new World Champion. Only Ferrari and Renault had the all-powerful turbo until the new Toleman team appeared with a Brian Hart turbo. It was entered in the Italian Grand Prix with Brian Henton at the wheel. It started twenty-third and finished tenth. Derrick Warwick was unable to qualify the sister car.
At the Belgian Grand Prix, again held at Zolder, Gilles qualified seventh, over a second and a half behind Reutemann’s Williams on the pole. Pironi out-qualified Gilles in third.
Reutemann had an unfortunate incident which put a damper on the weekend and his solid qualifying run for the pole. As he set out for his final qualify attempt on Friday, Osella mechanic, Giovanni Amadeo, fell from the pit wall into Reutemann’s path. Reutemann was unable to avoid him. Amadeo died from extensive injuries the following Monday. A second incident, also involving a mechanic, occured at the start of the race.
There was mass confusion on the starting grid; first protests by the drivers who supported the mechanics threatened to delay the start. The cars returned to the starting grid after the warm-up lap and several drivers promptly got out of their cars. The protest was over the lack of organizers listening to the driver’s view on pre-qualifying sessions to reduce the number of cars during official qualifying in the interest of safety both on the track and in the pits. The mechanics, very upset after the serious injuries to one of their own, joined in to protest the extremely cramped conditions in the pit lane. The drivers each saw a $5,000 fine, but reluctantly returned to their cars with people still standing all over the grid area.
The signal was given for what everyone thought was a second warm-up lap. Upon returning to the start location, Piquet overshot his grid position and was waved off on another lap of the circuit. The rest of the grid was held in position for the start. By the time Piquet had returned there were many engines beginning to overheat badly. At this point it was still thought there would be a proper pace lap. Patrese began waving his arms over his head…his engine had stalled! The red start lights, to start the race, came on just as Patrese’s chief mechanic, Dave Luckett, jumped over the pit wall with an air-line to start the stricken Arrows on the second row of the grid. As he crouched down to attach the line the lights turned to green! Alan Jones, right behind the Arrows, could clearly see the problem directly ahead of him and promptly moved to the left with Eddie Cheever and Mansell following. Further down the grid the drivers had not seen the mechanic jump the wall with the air-line. They had no idea of the potential situation awaiting them further up the grid. There had been no yellow flag to indicate a problem of any kind. Siegfried Stohr, starting just his third Grand Prix, had pulled to the right of Rosburg’s Fittipaldi and found himself with a stationary car directly ahead. Stohr got on the brakes, but hit his team leader’s Arrows squarely in the back. Luckett was trapped, still in a crouch, between the two cars. Amazingly, he suffered only a broken leg, hand and facial lacerations in what appeared would result in far worse consequences.
Out on the circuit, Piquet led from Reutemann and Pironi.
The leaders passed the horrible scene on the pit straight twice and still there was no sign of a red flag to stop the race. In the end Pironi slowed right down and signalled to the other drivers behind him to do the same. The field slowed to a halt in front of the pits with the luckless mechanic still trapped between the two cars. The whole grizzly scene was right in front of them.
Almost an hour later the race was restarted and was basically uneventful. It was halted in the fifty-fourth lap when heavy rain forced the organizers to bring out the chequered flag fifteen laps early. Gilles was classified fourth and won his first three points in the 126C. Pironi finished eight.
The circus moved to Fairyland – Monaco!
Caution, the following video is graphic and may be quite upsetting.
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