Alan Jones triumphed in the 1980 World Championship despite a strong challenge from Nelson Piquet. However, for the first time in its history, Formula One politics began to attract almost as much attention as the sport itself.
Just as Colin Chapman failed to follow up his 1978 success, so Enzo Ferrari's team lost its way in 1980. The new 312T5 was not a very efficient ground-effect car. Indeed, reigning champion Jody Scheckter failed to win a race or even reach the podium, with one fifth place his solitary score all year. Team-mate Gilles Villeneuve fared little better and they could only look on in admiration as Alan Jones and Williams continued the form that made them the dominant force in the second half of the 1979 season.
While Ferrari was heading down the charts, Brabham was getting its act together thanks to dropping Alfa Romeo engines and joining most of the other teams in using Ford Cosworth DFV power. With Niki Lauda having retired, it was very much a team built around Nelson Piquet, supported in little more than sharing a garage by Ricardo Zunino then Hector Rebaque. Another change among the top teams was that former Ligier driver Patrick Depailler had recovered from the injuries he sustained in a hang glider accident and stepped from the physio's bench to Alfa Romeo, to be replaced by Didier Pironi who moved across from Tyrrell.
The number of teams was starting to decline after the boom days of the late 1970s, with the Merzario, Rebaque and Kauhsen teams not returning for any further action, but with Osella stepping up from Formula Two. The Wolf and Fittipaldi teams merged but retained their respective drivers. Rosberg and Emerson started the season in the rebadged 1979 Wolfs, while a new F8 came on stream later. Alfa Romeo now returned with two Marlboro-backed machines for Bruno Giacomelli and Depailler.
Jones began the season much as he finished 1979. Indeed, with the season kicking off in January, it was only 14 weeks after the last race of 1979, giving little time for things to change. He dominated in Argentina, despite spinning twice on a crumbling track. Piquet scored his best result to date with second, while Rosberg gave some hint of his potential with third for the Fittipaldi team. René Arnoux won for Renault in Brazil, then repeated the feat in South Africa ahead of the Ligiers of Laffite and Pironi at a meeting that interrupted Marc Surer's season as he broke his ankles in practice, with Jan Lammers filling in until his return.
Long Beach saw the end of Clay Regazzoni's career. He crashed his Ensign at the end of Shoreline Drive and was paralysed. Meanwhile, Piquet took pole and scored his first win, ahead of Patrese and Fittipaldi. Most of the big names retired, including Depailler, who held a fine second with the new Alfa. The Williams FW07B made its bow at Zolder and, although it was quick, Jones and Reutemann were led home by Pironi, another first-time winner. Pironi was on form again at Monaco but, after he hit the barrier, the steady Reutemann took victory.
At Jarama politics and racing collided head on, as FOCA was in dispute with FISA. A confusing weekend ended with a "Formula DFV" race going ahead without Ferrari, Alfa and Renault. It was not to count for world championship points. Jones won there and won again at Paul Ricard and Brands Hatch. The Renaults were quick but fragile in Germany and, when leader Jones had a puncture, Laffite took the victory. Sadly, in pre-race testing Depailler crashed fatally in the Alfa.
France took another win in Austria, Jabouille scoring his second success as he held off the determined Jones. Lotus test driver Nigel Mansell was finally given his chance in a third car, only to have to start the race in a fuel-soaked race suit. In Holland, Jones threw it away by damaging a skirt on a kerb. Piquet, who was developing into a deadly rival, took the win, ahead of Arnoux.
The Italian Grand Prix moved to Imola for the first time, and Piquet scored another win from a brake-troubled Jones. The situation was tense going to Montreal, and it blew up when Piquet and Jones tangled on the first lap and caused a huge pile-up. For the restart, Piquet had to ride in the spare, and his qualifying engine duly failed. Pironi led all the way, but was penalized for a jumped start. Jones sat in second and took maximum points, and the title.
Two big names drove their final races at the Glen. Having failed to qualify the dreadful Ferrari in Canada, Scheckter finished 11th and last. Meanwhile, Fittipaldi broke his suspension on lap 15, ending another trying season with his own team.