One of the American commenters to my personal blog, Gone Away, had this to say after reading of my new blog on F1:
Just know that I will certainly stop by to enjoy hurling a few fresh peanut shells occasionally, and that altho high-end tech-talk only confuses this bent caveman, I find myself inexplicably attracted to the chaos of almost any sort of automobile race track, along with the dust, the lights and the noise, whereby I become so absorbed in all the goings-on that any chatter from nearby bothers me not.
But if you have any dirt on any of these drivers…
I replied to his last sentence as follows:
Dirt on the drivers? The trouble with these modern guys is that they have to be so darn fit that they don’t get time to do anything naughty. Although they do say that Kimi Raikkonen spends many nights in raucous night clubs. And back in the fifties and sixties there were some pretty wild guys involved and parties could get really hectic, I believe.
Come to think of it, even today’s drivers lose their tempers on occasion. For instance, there was the time Nelson Piquet tried to remove another driver’s helmet without undoing the straps first. Hmmm, there may be a rich vein of posts in this one…
Having promised (well, sort of) to do so, we could start the ball rolling with a look at that particular incident. It is so famous in F1 that all you have to do is say “Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar” and all fans will know what you’re talking about. But it bears repeating as a good example of Brazilian hot blood.
It was 1982 at the German Grand Prix. Nelson was driving for Brabham and it was the first year that they had obtained a turbo engine – a BMW that produced huge amounts of power but broke more often than not. To contain it, Brabham’s designer, Gordon Murray, produced one of the most beautiful cars ever – the Brabham BT50.
The team devised a cunning plan to ensure that, when the engine lasted the race, they won. It was the first time refueling had been seen in F1 for decades and it caught everyone by surprise. Nelson would hurtle off from the start in a seriously-light BT50, establish a huge lead and then come in for refueling. If everything went according to plan, he would still be in the lead when he emerged from the pits and the race would be in his pocket. The theory worked once – in Canada – but otherwise Piquet’s year was a long list of retirements.
We were used to these tactics by the time the circus came to Hockenheim and were not surprised when Nelson leapt into the lead and began to build a huge cushion. Until Eliseo Salazar entered the picture, that is.
It was still in the early laps when Nelson came up to lap one of the back markers, the said Eliseo. On the approach to a chicane at the end of a long straight, Nelson came screaming past Salazar, braked, and began to turn into the corner.
At this point, I have to say that I disagree with other commentators on what happened next. They all say that Salazar was not aware of Piquet’s presence but it is quite clear from the videos that the Brabham was ahead of the ATS when Nelson began to brake for the corner. Watch the video here and you will see that Salazar must have been asleep not to have noticed Piquet passing him. It is quite simple: Salazar did not even begin to hit the brakes and cannoned into the side of the Brabham at full speed. Both cars were out of the race immediately.
Understandably, Nelson was a little upset at the summary way in which he’d been bumped off the track. Remember, too, that he must have been in “absolute limit” mode – it was imperative that he build as big a lead as possible in a short time. He leapt out of the car and ran over to Salazar (who was calmly walking away) to explain his displeasure. And it must be that Eliseo’s answer to Piquet’s protest was insufficient, for it incensed the Brazilian even more. There followed the famous scene of Piquet attempting to hit a man in the head through a racing helmet. When that failed (for obvious reasons), he aimed a kick at the guy but, by that time, Eliseo was exiting stage right and was out of range.
That is all we saw on the television during the race but, apparently, there is a sequel. Standing nearby was a van ready to take the drivers back to the pits. Piquet strolled over and found that Eliseo was already sitting smugly in the back. And the fight began all over again, forcing the driver to get out and separate the combatants. Piquet promptly jumped into the van and drove off, leaving the van driver and Salazar to reflect upon the events of the previous few minutes.
Much later the Brabham engineers informed Piquet that the engine had been about to blow up anyway – Salazar had actually saved the BMW chiefs the embarrassment of yet another engine failure and in their home race. Nelson immediately phoned Salazar to apologize.
So ends the tale of F1′s biggest punch up. And I still say Nelson had every right to demonstrate his feelings on the matter. If only he’d persuaded Salazar to remove his helmet first…