Alan Jones and the pain in Spain

The 1980 F1 world champion remembers a win that wasn’t.


The record books show that just one Australian – Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber in 2010 – has won the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix. But Alan Jones, the F1 world champion in 1980, knows better. There was a Spanish Grand Prix that year, and he won it. End of story. But as is often the case in F1, there’s a story behind that story. And one that, as we prepare for the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend, bears repeating.

Many forests have been felled on the reporting of the so-called FISA-FOCA ‘war’ in the late 1970s/early 80s, but here’s the abridged(ish) version.

Headed by president Jean-Marie Balestre, FISA (Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile) was a sub-committee of the FIA (Federation Internationale du Automobile), the governing body of world motorsport. FOCA (Formula One Constructors’ Association) was a group headed by Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone (you may have heard of him) which was seeking changes and clarity to the sporting, technical and commercial aspects of F1. The larger manufacturers with more to lose from any changes to Formula One’s structure – the likes of Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo – were pro-FISA teams; the smaller teams and privateer entries seeking a better deal financially and an end to perceived bias from the rule-makers towards the major manufacturers were in the FOCA camp, which included Jones’ Williams outfit. It was a power struggle that would have dramatic consequences.

Discontent between the parties had bubbled away in the late 1970s, but Spain 1980 was where things came to a head. At the Jarama circuit outside of Madrid, FISA announced it would be fining the FOCA drivers who had failed to attend mandatory driver briefings at the previous two races in Belgium and Monaco, and that those drivers wouldn’t be allowed to race in Spain until those fines were paid. It was akin to a line in the sand. No payment was forthcoming, so sure enough, 15 FOCA drivers had their racing licences revoked just ahead of opening practice for the weekend, with the FOCA teams responding by threatening to withdraw from the meeting and setting up the prospect of a farcical six-car Grand Prix with only the FISA teams racing. With tensions high, Spanish monarch King Juan Carlos became involved, insisting the race organisers proceed with the event while bypassing the Spanish motorsport federation, which was tied to FISA. As a result, the Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo teams then withdrew their drivers from the event, which became one with FOCA-aligned teams only.

Jones, now 69 and based on the Gold Coast, vividly remembers the fraught build-up to the race, and how he tried to keep his mind on the job at hand.

“I really tried to stay away as much as I possibly could from everything that was going on, it was really more an administrative thing for Frank (Williams) and the FIA – I was an employed driver, and that was it,” he says.

While chaos reigned behind the scenes, Jones had a race to win. The Australian had taken the 1980 season-opener in Argentina and had finished on the podium in all three races where he’d seen the chequered flag, but three non-finishes in the opening six rounds had him just third in the drivers’ standings behind Brazilian Nelson Piquet (Brabham) and Frenchman Rene Arnoux. Arnoux’s FISA-aligned Renault team was off the Jarama grid, and Jones spied a chance to make hay.

The Williams driver started on the front row next to Frenchman Jacques Lafitte (Ligier), and in an attritional race where just six cars finished, won by a massive 50 seconds from German Jochen Mass (Arrows) as one contender after another fell by the wayside. Jones soaked up the applause from the crowd, sprayed the champagne of victory, and figured that was that.

“All I know was that I fronted up there on the Thursday, did my practice, did qualifying, did the race, took the flag and won the Grand Prix, and received a trophy from King Juan Carlos that said ‘winner, 1980 Spanish Grand Prix’,” Jones remembers.

It was over. But was it? The next day, the FIA met in Athens and decided the race would not count for points; on July 31, nearly two months after the chequered flag had fallen for Jones, the FIA Executive Committee confirmed the race wouldn’t count towards the world championship. Jones was furious.

“The thing that really pissed me off was that if we’d had an inkling that the race wasn’t going to count for points, maybe we would have approached it differently, or not even raced,” he says.

The flashpoint in Madrid led to the drivers’ fines being paid before the next round in France, Balestre’s home Grand Prix. The race went ahead as normal with a full grid of teams and drivers, and after Jones won it, he did his slow-down lap with the FISA president in his crosshairs.

“I did a lap of honour with the Union Jack out of the car – I couldn’t find an Australian flag so I thought the English one would upset them even more,” he laughs.

“I wouldn’t go up on the podium while he (Balestre) was there – and he had to get off the podium because of TV, they couldn’t muck around. So, it shows you that what goes around comes around.”

The FISA-FOCA war would rumble on for the next couple of seasons, but Jones had a more immediate task at hand. Fortunately, the loss of his win in Spain didn’t cost him the 1980 world championship, his victory in the penultimate round in Montreal in September securing his sole world title and the first by an Australian since Jack Brabham in 1966 – and to this day, the last F1 championship won by a driver from these shores.

Jones’ compatriot Webber would win the ‘first’ Spanish Grand Prix for an Australian 30 years later, but as far as ‘AJ’ sees it, his win at Jarama is worth no more or less than any other. The record books may say 12 career wins for Jones in his 116 starts, but it’s a number he feels needs an asterisk.

“In the short-term back then, it was nine points I didn’t have towards the world championship, but these days I’m forever down as having won 12 Grands Prix,” he says.

“It was the Spanish Grand Prix, I raced and I won it. So that makes 13 in my books.”


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