Carlos Reutemann began racing saloon cars in 1965, but a single seater career beckoned and he soon graduated to Formula 2 in his native Argentina and then Europe. After a tumultuous debut season n 1970 he fared better in 1971, finishing second to ‘Superswede’ Ronnie Peterson.
Bernie Ecclestone, then Brabham boss, signed Reutemann to drive one of his Formula 1 team’s BT32s in the 1972 campaign alongside Graham Hill. His debut came in the Argentine Grand Prix at Buenos Aires and Carlos duly qualified on pole, a feat matched only by future Williams drivers Mario Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve. Sadly for old Carlos, this pole was the highlight of his season and he retired as often as he finished.
In his second season with Brabham he enjoyed steady improvement, signing off the year with the second of two podiums at Watkins Glen in the USGP.
Reutemann’s first taste of Grand Prix success was to follow in 1974, leading the first two Grands Prix until he was struck by unreliability before winning the third at South Africa. Two more wins were to follow, again finishing the season in style with a win at Watkins Glen.
1975 brought six more podiums and a solitary win for Reutemann, before a switch Alfa-Romeo engines for 1976 caused Brabham calamitous reliability problems that forced him to negotiate his way out of his Brabham contract and join Ferrari who’d approached him about replacing Niki Lauda after his horror accident at the Nurburgring. Ferrari, expecting Lauda to be out for the remainder of the season, and surprised by how soon he was able to return, then kept Reutemann on the sidelines for the last three races.
Largely overshadowed by Lauda during 1977, he again found form when, in 1978, he was partnered by Gilles Villeneuve, taking four wins that gave him third place in a World Drivers Championship dominated by Mario Andretti and Team Lotus.
A move to the all-conquering Team Lotus for 1979 proved not to be as successful a partnership as they’d both hoped. The Lotus 80, the successor to the 79 used the year before turned out to be a complete flop, and Lotus had to revert back to the old car in a field where other teams had moved forward, most notably with ground effects.
Williams beckoned and Reutemann once again found himself in a winning car. He ably worked together with team-leader Alan Jones to give the Australian the 1980 World Drivers Championship and the Williams team the World Constructors Championship to boot.
Expecting his team-mate to return the favour in 1981, he arrived at the Brazilian Grand Prix to find his expectations to be misjudged. Leading the race, Williams asked him to move aside and let Jones pass. He refused, maintained his lead and took the win.
This was to cause irrevocable damage to their relationship, Jones then refusing to support Reutemann in his championship fight with Nelson Piquet, during which Jones took more points from his team-mate than Reutemann ultimately needed to become champion, Piquet eventually taking the crown at the season finale by a single point.
Within six months, both Reutemann and Jones, second and third in the 1981 World Drivers Championship would retire from the sport.
Reutemann returned to Williams for 1982, while Jones did not. He took second place in the season opener in South Africa, crashed in the second, then promptly retired.
Although it is widely thought that The Falklands War and Reutemann’s political ambitions were the catalyst behind his retirement, Williams’ Patrick Head feels that after a long and bitter campaign in 1981 ‘his heart just wasn’t in it any more’.
Reutemann went on to become Governor of the Argentine province of Santa Fe.