12/4/1942 - 7/7/2021
Record updated 08-Jul-21
Carlos Reutemann was an Argentine Formula One racing driver who showed flashes of brilliance alternated with disappointing performances. He won 12 Grand Prixs and took six pole positions. In 1981 he finished second in the World Driver's Championship by one point. He later became a prominent politician in his native province of Santa Fe, representing the Justicialist Party.
Nicknamed "Lole", Reutemann was an Argentine Formula One racing driver from 1972 through 1982 before then becoming a prominent politician in his native province of Santa Fe, for the Justicialist Party.
As a racing driver, Reutemann showed flashes of brilliance alternated with disappointing performances. He earned 12 Grand Prix wins and six pole positions, but he was at times overshadowed by more forceful teammates and, some say, did not respond well to pressure at key moments in his career. In 1981, he finished second in the World Driver's Championship by one point when he was overtaken in the last race of the season.
Descended from a Swiss-German grandfather, an Argentinian father and an Italian mother, Reutemann was the first successful Argentinian Formula One driver since the retirement of five-time World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio in 1958. After racing touring cars and Formula 2 in Argentina, he moved to Europe in 1970 to drive a Brabham for the Automobile Club of Argentina Team in the European Formula 2 series. He immediately received attention when he took out Austrian Formula One driver Jochen Rindt (that year's eventual World Champion) on the first lap of his first race at Hockenheim, but carried on the finish fourth. The next season, he finished a close second in the series to Sweden's Ronnie Peterson.
Impressed with his rapid progress, Brabham F1 team boss Bernie Ecclestone signed Reutemann to drive alongside veteran and two-time World Champion Graham Hill for the 1972 season. At the first race, in front of his home crowd at Buenos Aires for his first Grand Prix, Reutemann qualified his Brabham BT34 on pole position! This was a feat previously performed only by Mario Andretti, and since matched only by Jacques Villeneuve, and unlike those two, Reutemann wasn't driving the best car (teammate Hill qualified 16th). He finished the race in seventh after having to pit to replace his soft tires, and the main highlight for the rest of the year was his win in the non-Championship Interlagos Grand Prix.
Teamed with Brazilian Wilson Fittipaldi for the 1973 season, Reutemann scored two podium finishes and seventh in the Driver's Championship. For 1974, the Gordon Murray-designed Brabham BT44 was a vast improvement and the team finished a close fifth in the Constructor's Championship. Reutemann took the first three victories of his F1 career at South Africa, Austria and the United States. He might have won the first race of the year in Argentina, too, but the Brabham team apparently failed to properly fuel his car and he ran out of gas with less than two laps to go while safely in the lead. Sadly, in the years that followed, he never came as close to winning his home race. Though he matched Driver's Champion Emerson Fittipaldi's win total, inconsistent performances in the other races left Reutemann sixth in the season standings.
Five podium finishes in 1975, including a dominant win in Germany at the old Nürburgring, allowed Reutemann to place third in that year's Championship. The Brabham team switched to the Alfa Romeo flat-12 engine for 1976 and suffered from serious reliability problems, seemingly sapping Reutemann's fragile motivation. After seven retirements and only one finish in the points (fourth place in Spain) in the first twelve races, Reutemann negotiated a release from his Brabham contract to sign with Ferrari. He raced only once for the new team, in a third car at Monza, then sat out the final three races.
When Clay Regazzoni left Ferrari for the Ensign team in 1977, Reutemann was paired with the feisty Niki Lauda, who had nearly died in a fiery crash the previous season. In the first two races, Reutemann finished third (frustratingly behind ex-Brabham teammate Carlos Pace) in Argentina and won in Brazil, but then Lauda reaffirmed his position as team leader. Reutemann's star receded and he did not win another race. Lauda won his second Championship, while Reutemann finished fourth.
When Lauda moved to Brabham in 1978, Reutemann became the senior member of the Ferrari team, joined by the young Canadian Gilles Villeneuve. Reutemann won in Brazil, Britain and twice in the United States (Long Beach and Watkins Glen). However, the Lotus team was dominant once their new model 79 was introduced at Monaco, and Reutemann did well to finish a close third in the points standings behind Andretti and Peterson.
With an opening at Lotus in 1979 after the tragic death of Ronnie Peterson, Reutemann's decision to move from Ferrari to Lotus seemed like a natural one. Reutemann's timing was off, however, and he struggled while Jody Scheckter won the title for Ferrari. After four podium and six points finishes in the first seven races, the season went sour and Reutemann finished in seventh place for the season.
Joining the Williams team for 1980 brought back some of his form with a win at Monaco and eight podiums for third in the Championship. His partnership with number one driver and World Champion Alan Jones was wildly productive for Williams, who won their first Constructor's Championship with a then-record 120 points. But again, Reutemann's relationship with his teammate soured when, the following season, Reutemann disobeyed the team's orders to allow Jones to win the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix. The win (and another in Belgium) helped put Reutemann in a position to win a furious five-way battle for the title at the season-ending race in Las Vegas.
Regazzoni could be brilliant and untouchable one day and anonymous the next, a reputation that followed him throughout his career and which was never more obvious than in that final race of the 1981 season.
Reutemann arrived in Las Vegas with a one point lead in the Championship over Brazilian Nelson Piquet. He began the race from pole position, ahead of Jones, who had vowed not to provide any "help" in Reutemann's quest, while Piquet was fourth. At the start, Jones jumped into the lead and Reutemann was quickly passed by Villeneuve, Alain Prost and Bruno Giacomelli.
On lap 17, battling over seventh place as they approached the last left-hander before the pits, Piquet's Brabham was nearly touching the back of Reutemann's Williams. 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 Reutemann. Piquet put himself in a position to score points when he took over sixth place from John Watson on lap 22. Reutemann continued to slip backwards allegedly with gearbox trouble, claiming to have lost fourth gear as early as lap two. The team's co-founder and technical director Patrick Head told BBC Sport: "The chief mechanic went and drove the car back in and said he couldn't feel anything wrong with it. And when we took it apart there was not a single damaged (gear) dog; everything was in immaculate condition. So it was very difficult to understand, quite honestly."
Having mounted the strongest Championship challenge of his career, Reutemann finished the race in eighth, a lap down, and the title went to Piquet. Reutemann returned with Williams for 1982 with his confidence partially restored, and he finished second in the season opener in South Africa. A dispute with Frank Williams regarding team orders, however, caused him to leave Formula One after the Brazilian race and his racing career was over.
Reutemann returned to his farm in Argentina and his popularity led him to get involved in politics, joining the 'Justicialista' Party who persuaded him to run for governor. He won the election in 1991 and served a four-year term and, after a break of four years, he ran again serving a further four year term from 1999-2003. Due to his popularity he was for many years expected to run for president, but despite considerable pressure to do so he always declined.
In 2017 he was diagnosed with liver cancer and in May 2021 he suffered a digestive haemorrhage, followed by internal bleeding. He recovered and was discharged from hospital but then with his health declining he returned to intensive car and died on Wednesday 7th July 2021 at the age of 79.
F1 said in a statement: "We are all deeply saddened to hear that Carlos Reutemann has passed away. He was a big part of our sport for many years and was a fighter to the end. He will be greatly missed."