Argentine politician and former Formula One car racing driver Carlos Alberto Reutemann has passed away Wednesday at the age of 79 in his native city of Santa Fe.
Reutemann entered into politics after retiring from car racing's top category, where he was runner-up in the 1981 season. He was elected Governor of the Argentine province of Santa Fe twice and also three times to the Federal Senate where he was holding a seat at the time of his demise.
He had been hospitalized over a month ago due to anemia and dehydration.
Argentine media were in a rush Tuesday evening to announce his death and some media even published ahead of time, but his daughter Cora posted on Twitter that at that time her father was still alive, although in critical condition.
Cora confirmed his death around Wednesday noon, after which the Senate held a minute's silence in tribute to one of its 72 members. Dad left in peace and dignity after fighting as a champion with a strong and noble heart that accompanied him to the end. I feel pride and blessing for the father I had. I know that he will accompany me every day of my life until we meet again in the house of the Lord, she wrote.
The two-time governor of Santa Fe and senator was one of the first outsiders in Argentine politics to reach a position of power by popular vote, during the first presidency of Carlos Menem.
In his first attempt and boosted by his popularity, he was elected governor of Santa Fe on September 8, 1991. Currently, Reutemann was a national Senator on behalf of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) alliance.
Despite the fact that Menem was always considered his political mentor, Reutemann himself stated that he did not remember exactly whether the first offer to enter politics came from La Rioja, or from whom at that time was his vice president, Eduardo Duhalde, although he did admit that before accepting the challenge he toured his province to feel the opinion of the santafesinos.
In a 2009 interview, Reutemann admitted he also asked former President Arturo Frondizi (1958-1962) for advise on whether to turn to politics. Frodizi's answer was And why not?
His nickname “Lole” stemmed from his rural upbringing dealing with “lo' lechone'” (the piglets) in a typical Argentine countryside accent which fails to utter the letter “s” when signalling plural variants. Besides his sporting and political career he was also a thriving agricultural producer who went to school on horseback in his younger years.
Reutemann became Governor of Santa Fe on December 11, 1991 for a full four-year term in a province where heads of the executive are banned from seeking a consecutive term. So in 1995 he ran for the Senate, but did not spend the full six years and went back for a second spell as Governor of Santa Fe (1999-2003).
He was also fiercely resisted by women's movements for his anti-abortion stance.
After the fall of President Fernando de la Rúa in late 2001, Duhalde, then a Senator invested with the presidency due to vacancy wanted to endorse Reutemann for the 2003 elections eventually won by Néstor Kirchner, but the former car racer declined the offer.
Reutemann then distanced himself from Kirchnerism and in 2015 he publicly supported Mauricio Macri's candidacy for the Presidency. It is on behalf of the Macrist JxC alliance that he was holding a seat on the Senate until Wednesday.
During his Formula 1 career between 1972 and 1982, he drove for the Brabham, Ferrari, Lotus and Williams teams, with 12 victories, 45 podiums and six pole positions in 144 races, in addition to two triumphs in non-championship races.
He once said there were similarities between Formula One and politics: competition, the fight to get there and stay there.
I regret the departure of Carlos Reutemann. My condolences to the loved ones of the former national senator and a great governor of Santa Fe, President Alberto Fernández said on his Twitter account.
Vice President Cristina Fernández wrote: “I regret the death of the national senator and former governor of Santa Fe, Carlos Reutemann. My condolences to his family and friends.”
Macri posted: “Much sadness for the death of Lole. He was my idol as a racer, I followed him throughout his time in Formula 1. Then I was lucky enough to work side by side with him for the Argentina we dream of. I am sure that you will continue to help us from Heaven. Thank you Lole dear.”
Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, also expressed his condolences: “I feel enormous sadness for the death of Carlos Reutemann. I want to send a big hug to all his family in this difficult time they are going through.”