Taming the Nordschleife

Thierry Boutsen broke on to the International scene in 1980 when he finished runner-up in the European F3 Championship. Graduating to F2 saw another runners-up placing in ’81 and by 1983 he had made his F1 debut with Arrows, staying there until a move to Benetton for the 1987-88 seasons.

Boutsen today with his new passion and business of International aviation – Photo courtesy of Thierry Boutsen

A move to Williams for 1989 and 1990 netted three Grand Prix victories and Boutsen completed his Grand Prix career with Ligier and Jordan. Porsche and Toyota works drives followed in sportscars before the Belgian retired in 1999 after injuring his back at Le Mans. Today Boutsen runs his own Aviation company, based in Monaco.

This article first appeared in the September 19th edition of Autosport magazine

Race of My Life – Thierry Boutsen

International F2 Eifelrennen – Nürburgring Nordschleife, 26th April 1981

I suppose a lot of people would expect me to choose one of the three Grand Prix victories I achieved  during my 10-year career in F1. All of them were very memorable of course: the first in tough, wet conditions at Montreal and a return to winning ways for Renault power, the second in much worse conditions at Adelaide later that year, then that famous day at the Hungaroring in 1990, when I held off my friend Ayrton Senna, who put me under massive pressure for most of the race.

Although they were all great days for me, I must choose a race at the most challenging of all the circuits I raced on – the Nordschleife at Nürburgring. I had a special relationship with the track because I won there in 1980 with an F3 ORECA Martini. It always gave a heightened sense of satisfaction and achievement to race there, let alone win.

But it was the European F2 Eifelrennen event in early 1981 that I look back most fondly upon. It was as close to perfection as you could get in a race car. It was probably quite boring for those watching but things were so good for me that day that I found a new level of concentration on a track that truly rewards precision and courage at the same time.

I was in one of the works March-BMW cars and team mates with Corrrado Fabi who got pole position and I lined up beside him. I remember waking up that morning and just knowing that I was going to win. You sometimes get that feeling but it is a very rare. I am at a loss to explain specifically why I felt that way or anything detailed about the technical set-up, all I can say is that the driver and the car were perfectly synchronised.

I can’t exactly recall what happened at the start but I led pretty much from the first lap and just pulled away from the rest at a very rapid rate. I remember that my team gave me a pit board at the end of the second lap telling me I had a 25-second advantage over the second placed guy and it went on like this for the opening few laps and indeed until the end of the race – which was just nine laps in length. I finished just over a minute ahead of Eje Elgh in the Maurer, he beat Fabi for second place.

The race seemed to go by in a flash but at the same time I remember to this day the feeling of rhythm and serenity in the car. I was totally in the moment and in my own special world, with so much confidence.

Then, I went back there exactly a year after the ‘Race of My Life’ with the works Spirit-Honda and I was thinking there was no way I could repeat the ’81 performance. Well, it wasn’t quite the same but I still won the race, this time only just from Fabi, who was still with the works March team.

It was the first time since Jochen Rindt in the sixties that a driver had taken the trophy on back to back occasions. It was nice to do that, but I will always remember the 1981 race best for experiencing that rare feeling of complete perfection in a racing car. It doesn’t get much better than that and it was a privilege to be a racing driver that day.

Thierry Boutsen

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