Spring 1981, and Alan Jones isn't just any driver; he isn't even just any World Champion. He's a man who just a few months ago won the championship by out-pacing the Ligiers at their home race, putting Nelson Piquet into the wall when he tried to pass, and keeping Gilles Villeneuve in his mirrors pretty much all year long. A young Alain Prost took stock of him and said, "The most fiery, the most powerful – I would even go so far as to say, the most violent – driver that year was unquestionably Alan Jones. It was no coincidence that he was the reigning World Champion."
So you'd think anyone willing to cross him would need an extra-large wheelbarrow to cart around their massive brazen balls, but you would be wrong. By all accounts, his teammate at Williams was a true gentleman, "a really wonderful guy" according to technical director Patrick Head. Yet Carlos Reutemann, it seemed, had a dishonest streak, as it would be he who stuck the knife in during the 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix.
It was a rainy day in Rio, and although the circumstances weren't a perfect Xerox of Malaysia, the crime was the same - breaking of team orders, and breaking of word. Jones was in 2nd place following in Reutemann's wheel spray, wisely waiting it out. He had no need to risk a race-ending crash by trying to pass in these treacherous conditions; Carlos was honour-bound to let him past.
When I signed my contract with Frank there was a “seven seconds” clause in it. If I was leading the race by seven seconds, then I could win; if Jones was closer than seven seconds, then I had to let Alan past. We started the race in Brazil, in the rain, and to be honest I never drove particularly hard. Frank just showed me the pit signals to the third place man and, believe me, I never thought Jones was running so close behind. About three or four laps from the lead, Frank put out a sign signalling me that we would reverse the order. I was obviously very upset. – Carlos Reutemann
The pit boards were indeed bearing the stark message JONES-REUT, but Reutemann never showed the slightest sign of moving over. Jones kept waiting, eventually realised what was going on, but too late to put up a fight. Carlos crossed the line to register the victory. Some say he deserved to win that day, and they're not wrong, but he'd signed his name, promised on his honour, to move over and help his team leader win. He could have refused to sign a contract with a "seven second" clause in it. He could have given Jones fair warning that, no, he was going to race him today (and most likely he still would have won, because he was genuinely the more gifted of the two). But he didn't. He chose to break his word instead. That, far more than merely losing the race, was what had Alan Jones fuming.
Even so, there was no weaselly "I think I did a mistake" afterwards. Carlos manned up and told everyone straight: "I don’t think that situation will happen again – but if it does, I think I will take the same decision I took in Brazil. When Jones says he doesn’t trust me, he’s absolutely right. He shouldn’t."
And of course, it came back to bite him.
Seven months and thirteen races later, Carlos was within spitting distance of winning the World Championship. All he had to do was beat Nelson Piquet - not much of a challenge, given the searing Las Vegas heat, lots of punishing high-G corners, and Piquet's tendency to wilt when it got tough. Surely he could just walk this one in?
Not if Jones had anything to do with it.
Carlos was on pole. He was a fairly emotional sort of person. I was beside him. I took him aside and said, “Carlos, the problem with where you are is that, heading into the first corner, there’s a lot of shit on that side of the track. You know, being on pole, you’re entitled to use whatever side of the track you want.” I effectively talked him into heading for the outside and letting me have the inside line into the first corner! During the warm-up, I used that inside line as many times as I could to sweep the debris off it so that I could have the cleaner run. I not only led them all into the first corner, but he hit the shit and wound up 4th. From then I think he fell back. I lapped him. – Alan Jones
While Jones powered into a lead he would never lose, Reutemann went in the opposite direction, completing the opening lap in fifth place and steadily falling back. When Piquet caught him on lap 17, there was no fight. "He braked early to let me pass when I came up behind him," said Piquet. "He made it so easy for me I couldn’t believe it." Jones did more than just steal back his lost race: he sabotaged Reutemann's championship dreams and broke his heart forever. Reutemann retired soon after, but not before the following farewell from his teammate:
“Okay, Alan. Well goodbye – shall we bury the hatchet?”
“Yeah. In your fucking head, mate."
Of course, we all know you're made of sterner stuff than that, Sebastian. And Mark is a 21st-Century sportsman rather than a bare-knuckle boxer with a racing car like Jones. But there's one way things are going to be absolutely the same, just check out Jones' words immediately after Brazil: "I know exactly where I stand now – and, believe me, this situation won’t occur again."
You better believe Webber is thinking the same. Do you not realise he is the one man you dare not try that underhanded stuff with? Bless his heart, he really does believe in ideas like "fair" and "sporting"; he has a decade of goodwill saved up with the press; he wasted his best years in lemons from Jaguar and Williams; he waited an agonisingly long time to finally become a winner; and he does his best work when he's pissed off. His days of dealing fairly with you are done.