The Goodyears had a significant advantage in the dry conditions that prevailed during practice and qualifying, and Reutemann had the better of his team-mate Jones and lined up chassis 17 on the front row of the grid, if having to concede pole to Piquet in the Brabham. But once again, rain on Sunday intervened, the race start having been delayed by several hours due to an absent insurance waiver. The delay cost the Goodyear teams dearly, as the shallow-grooved tyres were unable to displace the rain water that was now falling in buckets. Commentators suggest Reutemann conceded the race before it had started, disconsolately shaking his head in the cockpit before the flag had dropped. In the event, he finished tenth in a race dominated by the appalling wet conditions. Reutemann’s only salvation was that his rival for the title, Nelson Piquet, was also on Goodyears and could do no better than finish in fifth place, leaving the pair separated by a mere point ahead of the last race of the year in Vegas.
Following practice at Caesar’s Palace on Thursday, seasoned observer and journalist Maurice Hamilton remarked, “Usually you get plenty of warning. The timed practice has been under way for 20 minutes or so and he comes by, cruising gently, quite often with his visor raised. He’ll repeat the procedure for a lap or two, rehearsing his lines, choosing a break in the traffic, then – wham – the Williams paints a different picture entirely next time round.”
“Reutemann arrives visibly quicker than either he or anyone else has gone before. If there’s a white line, he’ll place a front wheel inside it at the apex; if there’s a wall, he’ll shave it but not touch it. Braking will be late, but not rushed; the turn in, razor sharp but not violent; the exit, fast but economical. And always, the shining helmet will be erect, no matter what. No slouching, sawing or sliding, Just incredible speed and grace that makes you wait in hot anticipation for the next lap.”
“But the next lap does not come. By now he’s back in the pits and rivals are staring at the lap time in disbelief…”
After two practice sessions, Reutemann had the air of a champion-elect, able to hustle chassis 17 round the new 2.268 mile circuit almost two seconds a lap clear of anyone save his team-mate and it was thus little surprise that he claimed chassis 17’s solitary pole for the championship decider.
However, it seemed that Reutemann’s team-mate, Alan Jones, for whom Vegas would supposedly be a career swansong, was more determined to impose himself on the race and he catapulted his FW07C into the lead, taking Villeneuve’s Ferrari and Prost’s Renault with him, relegating the hapless Reutemann to fourth.
However, the Argentine had a point in hand and could afford to let his team-mate go, so long as he defended against Piquet who was still behind him. Unfathomably, by lap 16, the Brazilian driver was on Reutemann’s tail, and far too obligingly, he left the door open and his nemesis sailed by. While the pit wall furiously calculated and re-calculated permutations as retirements and changes in position intervened, at the flag Reutemann was eighth, Piquet was fifth and Carlos had lost the World Championship by a solitary point.
However, Jones’ victory in his last race consolidated Williams’ imperious constructor’s form in 1981, and the team claimed the title by some margin, having scored 95 points ahead of their closest rivals, Brabham on 61. Chassis 17 had played its part in claiming that silverware at least.
Chassis 17 did however have one final racing appearance to make. Having signed Keke Rosberg to replace the retiring Jones, the Finn tested chassis 17 at Paul Ricard in December 1981, clocking up 1,242 miles in preparation for the 1982 season.
The chassis was not used by the Finn in the opening race of his 1982 World Championship season, but was deployed for the Brazilian Grand Prix in March, and Rosberg qualified third, behind Prost’s Renault and Villeneuve’s Ferrari.
Having raced strongly to second place, stewards disqualified Rosberg in post-race scrutineering, maintaining that both he and reigning World Champion, Nelson Piquet were running underweight cars.
The subject became the focus of much acrimony, with the FOCA teams boycotting the San Marino GP in protest, but the disqualification was upheld by an FIA tribunal and by the fourth race of the 1982 season, the FW07C had been retired in favour of the FW08.