On 21st June 1981, the Spanish Grand Prix was held at Jarama, on the outskirts of Madrid. Ferrari struggled in qualifying to the extent that Gilles Villeneuve was seventh and Didier Pironi was way down in 13th. On race day, in suffocating heat, the Canadian Ferrari man made a blistering start to go third, having displayed the courage and devil-may-care attitude he was know for, to dive down the inside of Alain Prost’s Renault at the first turn.
Villeneuve’s Ferrari 126 CK was thus the next car on the road after the Williams of Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann. The Australian was closing rapidly but went off on lap 14 when he had more than 10 seconds in hand over Villeneuve who had managed to pass his former Ferrari team-mate. A few laps later, the Argentinian had gearbox problems and was also passed by Jacques Laffite in the Ligier and John Watson in the McLaren. This led to a great duel between Villeneuve and Lafitte: the Frenchman managed to come out of the corners well to close on the Ferrari, but the engine in the 126 CK had the edge, so Gilles could defend down the straights. There were innumerable attempts at overtaking by an ever more frustrated Laffite. However, there was nothing he could do and Villeneuve led to the flag, followed by Lafitte, Watson, Reutemann and Elio de Angelis in the Lotus, all of them within 1.24 seconds.