Before Adelaide and Melbourne established Formula 1 on the world stage down under, local hero and freshly crowned World Champion Alan Jones gave the local fans something to cheer about when he won the 1980 Australian Grand Prix in his Williams FW07. Károly Méhes looks back.
Main image © autopics.com.au
The 1980 Australian Grand Prix, run on November 16 at Calder Park Raceway in Victoria, was the 45th Australian Grand Prix. This historic event was the first time, not counting the Tasman Series, that contemporary F1 drivers and cars had joined the local entrants for the event. The biggest and brightest one among them was, of course, Alan Jones, who had weeks earlier become only the second Australian to win the world title after the legendary Jack Brabham. The Jones family had plenty of racing pedigree in Australia; Alan’s father Stan had won the 1959 Australian Grand Prix.
Williams agreed to provide Jones with his championship-winning FW07 for the race, but without the usual sponsor decals painted on the car; no Fly Saudia, TAG or Leyland appeared on the white body of the machine. Instead the title sponsor was Unipart, along with Penthouse (who also provided some pretty grid girls) and a local tyre and wheel dealer, Bob Jane. Despite this, Jones wore his usual race suit festooned with Arabian stickers.
Jones was joined on the grid by fellow F1 driver Bruno Giacomelli in an Alfa Romeo. The 28-year-old Italian, a former F2 Champion, was on the rise. In the final race of the 1980 Formula 1 season at Watkins Glen, Giacomelli had taken pole position and led for 31 laps before Jones took over and won the race. Three-time World Champion Jackie Stewart, commentating on the race, said of Giacomelli, “Bruno is a good starter but as a driver may a be a bit overenthusiastic.” The third F1 driver on the grid was Frenchman Didier Pironi, who was hot property after winning his first Grand Prix, the 1980 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder for Ligier. Unlike Jones and Giacomelli, Pironi did not pilot his F1 car in Australia, but a completely new and untested local F5000 car made by Elfin.
Jones took pole position from Giacomelli, but Pironi could only manage 8th on the grid, 4 seconds adrift despite having a 5-litre Chevrolet engine at his disposal! Calder Park was a short, 1.61 km long track and the race was to be run over 95 laps in the melting heat of 38°C. The race itself seemed a simple procession after the Australian flag was dropped (no starting lights yet!), as Jones jumped to the front with Giacomelli pursuing, and the two F1 aces quickly pulled away from the rest of the field. Given the short circuit, the two leaders soon began to lap the backmarkers. Stuck in a group of slower cars, Giacomelli made a surprise move alongside Jones, they banged wheels, and the Italian took the lead!
A clearly surprised Jones took a few laps to gather his composure before eating into the 5-second gap to Giacomelli. Jackie Stewarts observation of the Italian soon came true as Giacomelli began to make small errors under pressure from Jones, eventually losing the lead. Jones never looked back and cruised to an easy victory to the delight of the partisan crowd. Giacommeli’s 2nd place was guaranteed, but the final spot on the podium was still up for grabs. Didier Pironi completed an excellent climb from 8th on the grid in an unknown car on an unknown circuit to take final step of the rostrum, completing the hattrick for the F1 brigade.
“I am very proud of my achievements in winning the World Drivers’ Championship of course, but winning the Australian Grand Prix is right up there too, because it’s something my father also achieved, and that makes it very special to me,” Alan Jones told Jackie Stewart afterwards. The race was a big hit and ultimately paved the way for a championship round of the Formula 1 World Championship in Adelaide, less than five years later. Thirty-five years later and the event is still going strong!