Argentine Formula One icon Carlos “Lole” Reutemann died earlier this week at the age of 79 after battling the impact of intestinal hemorrhaging that started in May 2021.
Reutemann was born on April 12, 1942 in Santa Fe, Argentina, first showing off his skills in 1965 in a Fiat saloon car. He quickly ascended the ranks of racing before finding himself competing in Formula 2, first in his local Argentina and then in Europe. His performance wasn’t always stellar — his most infamous moment was wiping out eventual champion Jochen Rindt on the first lap of an F2 race at Hockenheim — but Bernie Ecclestone saw promise and signed Reutemann for his Brabham F1 team ahead of the 1972 season, where he raced alongside teammate Graham Hill.
At his home race in Buenos Aires that year — the first race of the season — Carlos Reutemann qualified on pole. That was a feat only previously achieved by Mario Andretti and would only be later achieved by Jacques Villeneueve.
Throughout his F1 career, Reutemann scored 12 wins, 45 podiums, and six fastest laps. He raced with Brabham, Ferrari, Lotus, and Williams. His best finish in the overall championship was his second place in 1981. However, as tensions began to rise over the Falklands War, Reutemann chose to retire and distance himself from his British team.
After that, he began to wend his way into the political world, where he ran for governor of the province of Santa Fe. During the 2001 recession, Reutemann adopted a conservative fiscal policy that applied discounts, froze worker salaries and pensions, and avoided issuing government bonds — which meant that his province was one of the few that emerged from the recession without massive amounts of debt.
An obituary from Formula One sums Reutemann up best, as it features quotes from those who worked closely with the man throughout his career:
So who was Carlos Reutemann? Why was it that on some days he could destroy even the greatest of his rivals, yet on others seem like an also-ran? What made him a lion one day, a lamb the next?
He was deeply interested in all matters technical, and would listen intently to everything that the likes of Gordon Murray or Patrick Head had to say about the cars they made for him. He could even recall the numbers of each Cosworth engine he ever raced, especially the best of them. And long before Ayrton Senna made it part of a driver’s role, he would indulge in lengthy debriefs with his engineers. More than most, he was a man who needed to understand his equipment.
Murray was a huge Reutemann fan, while Head said: “Carlos is often referred to as ‘enigmatic,’ probably an appropriate adjective. Sometimes we had clear sight of his brilliance, his speed, but overall the results did not fit with his potential.”
From his Williams days, design engineer Neil Oatley remembered: “I think Carlos always performed well when he felt loved, which was not perhaps what he perceived to be the case at Williams although this was far from the case. But Frank and Patrick were not by nature people who massaged the drivers; they expected them to stand on their own feet, irrespective of circumstances.”
Perhaps Murray got closest to the enigma of Carlos Reutemann, when he told writer Doug Nye: “If everything was right on the day he would be right there, a great racing driver, but then for the next couple of races he would seem to get preoccupied with some thoughts that things weren’t going to go his way, and he’d go off the boil. Suddenly he’d look glum and say, ‘No way, no way today, no way for the Championship,’ and that was the end of it. He kept his reasoning in himself, but then on his day he’d click and feel good and nobody could beat him...”
In May of 2021, Reutemann was hospitalized with internal hemorrhaging. As his condition worsened, he suffered from anemia, dehydration, low levels of albumin in the blood, blood flow instability, and COVID-19. While he was able to leave the hospital, he returned there on July 7, where he later died. His daughter confirmed the news.
Reutemann may not have been a legend in the same sense as some of his competitors, like Ayrton Senna or Alain Prost, but his consistent speed often saw him battling with the greats. He will be missed.