1981 Dubai Grand Prix. World Champions Hit The Sand

The 1981 Dubai Grand Prix, billed ‘the biggest motor racing event ever to hit the Arabian Gulf’, saw four former Formula 1 World Champions, two future Champions, four 24 Hours of Le Mans winners and multiple F1 race winners converge in the UAE for a one-make Citroen CX saloon car race. On the beach.


The 1981 Grand Prix season will be remembered for several reasons: Brabham’s Nelson Piquet won his first Formula 1 Driver’s World Championship; the battle between FISA, the sport’s governing body, and FOCA, the constructor’s association, saw the season’s debut race in South Africa (won by Championship frontrunner Carlos Reutemann) reduced to non-championship status; victories for seven different drivers and six different teams in the first eleven races; and the first Grand Prix to hit Dubai.

Yep, you read that correctly. Before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix re-wrote the motor racing logbook in the Middle East with its 2009 debut, the region welcomed eight Formula 1 stars to compete in ‘the biggest motor racing event ever to hit the Arabian Gulf’. Of course this wasn’t a Formula 1 event (spoiler, sorry). The 1981 Dubai Grand Prix in December was actually a touring car race that included F1 demonstration runs, organised to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the United Arab Emirates. Still, as headliners go, this was a biggy.

Billed on the schedule were former F1 champions Juan-Manuel Fangio (’51, ’54-‘57), John Surtees (’64), Denny Hulme (’67) and Jack Brabham (’59-60, ’66); former 24 Hours of Le Mans winners Derek Bell (‘81), Richard Attwood (’70), Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby (’59), and Grand Prix stars Stirling Moss, Innes Ireland, Dan Gurney and Nigel Mansell, and the following season’s World Champion Keke Rosberg. Phew!

All were set to compete in a ten-lap Citroen CX saloon car race supported by the Aston Martin Owner’s Club, who brought with them several DB4 GTs and a couple of DBR1s, plus demonstration runs of a Mercedes-Benz 300 Monoposto, a Maserati 250F, an Aston Martin DBR4 and a Bugatti Type 35B among others. All on a track carved out of the beach.

Sod world class venues and their ‘facilities’. If F1 endorsed a Grand Prix carved into the beach in Jumeirah, we’d be there like a shot. Of course, that’s not too likely…


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