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A Season of Seasons:
The Surreal Season - 1982
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Few seasons in Grand Prix racing have ever been as topsy-turvy, confusing, frustrating or just plain strange as that of 1982. If Sylvester Stallone based his Formula One movie on the 1982 season, not even the Hollywood types would believe it! It would make the 1967 movie "Grand Prix" look like a documentary by comparison! Even those who experienced that season still have problems believing it really happened. It started with a driver strike, went on the latest rounds in an on-going political struggle for control of Grand Prix racing, and it also had betrayal, death, victory, defeat, injury, renewal, and everything else in between as well. It was a surreal season, one that just defies easy explanation.

If pushed, the 1982 season is one of those that would be placed on the list as one of the five or six seasons that I could call "The Seasons." It belongs with those special, elusive seasons that seems to throw everything at you - and leaves you reeling and weaving and staggering, even dazed. This was one of those seasons. It was one of the seasons at the cusp as Grand Prix racing was morphing into Formula One and Things Changed...

Over the next several weeks, I will try to chronicle this season for you. In the previous column, I outlined the season initial line-up. And now...

The Season Begins

When it was time for the first round of practice on Thursday at Kyalami for the South African Grand Prix, the mechanics were as ready as they could be, the cars were lined up on pit lane or in the paddock, the marshals were in place, spectators were in the stands or scattered around the track, and the team mangers were waiting for the drivers to arrive. There was a feeling that something resembling peace and normalcy had finally returned to Grand Prix racing. It was a nice change of pace after the ugliness of the past two seasons.

In the Fall of 1979, Jean-Marie Balestre was elected as the President of the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI), the FIA's organization for motorsport. It would be a kindness to describe the CSI as ineffective. The CSI was replaced by a new FIA organization, the current Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile (FISA). One of its objectives was to put the FIA "back in the game," so to speak.

Having watched the power of the Formula One Constructors' Association (FOCA) increase dramatically over the past decade, Balestre sought to rein FOCA into line. Naturally, FOCA didn't think much of that idea. The leading lights of FOCA - particularly Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone - seemed willing to trade headbutts with Balestre. And they did, starting in February 1980.

In that month, FISA announced new regulations for F1, banning the sliding skirts and thereby ground effects as the teams knew it. Rather than the usual two year notice before a technical rule was to come into effect, the FISA said that the change was being implemented for safety purposes and therefore exempt for the two year rule. The new regulations would take effect on 1 January 1981. Needless to say, FOCA didn't take that news very well at all.

The major contention between the two was that the FISA didn't discuss the changes beforehand with the members of FOCA in an attempt to discover perhaps a common ground to work from. In FOCA's eyes, it was an arbitrary measure aimed at them. The GPDA - Grand Prix Drivers' Association - had complained about the ground effects cars and the problems that the drivers were having with them. However, the GPDA was not the power that it had been a decade earlier.

It became known as the FIASCO ("FISA + FOCA = FIASCO" written on the side of a paddock building was the inspiration for the term) War. And Enzo Ferrari was quick to pour fuel on the fire, stating that Ferrari, along with Renault and Alfa Romeo, were the Grande Costruttori - the 'Great Constructors' - and the others were mere Assemblatori, more-or-less translated as 'the Kit-car Makers.' No guess as to how the battlelines were shaping up in the fight.

The banning of sliding skirts and an increase in the minimum weight were seen as a means to favor the teams - the Grande Costruttori - that either had turbos or had them in the wings ready to use versus the teams using the Ford Cosworth DFV. The new regulations would give a clear advantage to the turbo teams. The fight was on and with a vengeance.

In June 1980, the simmering war of wills finally boiled over with the Spanish Grand Prix being the battleground. In a weekend that saw: FISA tossed off the track; FOCA produce a race that was better than expected for Alan Jones and Frank Williams; Ferrari, Renault, and Alfa Romeo abstain from participating; and, finally was declared a 'pirate' race by the FIA.

And, in a season that was ugly and nasty off the track as good as it was good on the track, Alan Jones won the World Championship despite it all. Needless to say, it was an ugly mood that carried into the Fall of the year. Balestre, with the backing of Ferrari, traded headbutt for headbutt with FOCA. There was very serious discussion of a FOCA - or 'pirate' as FISA put it - sponsored World Championship series, under the 'World Federation of Motor Sport.' The WFMS idea was dropped by FOCA in late 1980, but the fun was just starting.

The first F1 race for 1981 isn't to be found on Forix. It was the South African GP at Kyalami. It was run in appalling conditions and saw Carlos Reutemann emerge victorious after essentially staying on the road and making the fewest errors. Needless to say, the Grande Costruttori were not present. And the same for Goodyear. It was frustrated with the sudden rules changes and realized that years of experience were suddenly down the drain.

In the meantime, the teams and the FISA realized that something had to be done and starting in January 1981 with the 'Maranello Agreement,' hammered out a compromise that lead to something resembling peace in March with what came to known as the Concorde Agreement. There were moments of craziness, the 6mm rule in particular, but THAT, as they say, is another story for another time.

Back to January 1982 and the peace and serenity of the Kyalami paddock. It was very peaceful because there were no cars on the track yet, just the usual pre-practice session shambles. That would all change once the drivers appeared and the cars took to the track. The appearance of the drivers was becoming a matter of concern as the team managers looked at their watches and looked for their drivers. The clock kept running towards the time of the first scheduled practice and then past it. The common thought in the paddock was, "Now what?"

In 1980, Alain Prost had driven for Team McLaren, but had left for Equipe Renault at the end of the year after a nasty, ugly legal battle that did little to help the already generally ugly mood in the paddocks. As a result, the FISA added a provision to the Super License needed for a driver to participate in F1. To wit, a driver had to indicate the date on which his contract with the team expired and that he was required to agree that he was committed to that team exclusively until that date. In addition, another clause required the driver to agree that he would do nothing which would harm the image of F1 or the World Championship.

The GPDA representative to FISA, Didier Pironi, had tried to reason with Balestre, but it all came to naught. As the drivers arrived at the circuit, a bus was waiting for them. All the drivers, with one exception, were then whisked off to a local hotel. Many of the drivers had signed the form, most claiming having only moments to read the clauses and given a 'sign-it-or-else' by the teams.

However, Niki Lauda had refused to sign it. Returning to racing after a two season hiatus, Lauda was as canny as ever. He had organized the bus and the hotel. As could be expected it was a bit chaotic. Gilles Villeneuve immediately commandeered a piano and started playing Joplin ragtime tunes. He was followed by Elio de Angelis who surprised many with his mastery of the piano. His classical pieces were literally of concert hall caliber. An Bruno Giacomelli - or Jack O'Malley as he was known in the UK - entertained the drivers with his cartoons and art.

But, the discussions between Balestre were going nowhere, except that it was announced that the Super Licenses of the drivers - including Mass! - were suspended and they could expect to never compete in a FISA race ever again. At dinner that evening at the Kyalami Ranch, Balestre was bombarded by bread rolls launched at him by the wives and girl friends of the drivers. Many were thrown with intent to make a point and most were more accurate than he cared for.

In the paddock, the FOCA team managers were boiling. Frank Williams was irate that neither driver had called him to at least let him know something. Bernie Ecclestone was threatening to fire his drivers if they didn't show up. It was a day of serious ugliness with charges and counter-charges flying back and forth. As an illustration that conflict can create strange bedfellow, the FOCA and the FISA were allied arm-in-arm against the drivers.

At one point, after the announcement of the lifting of all the Super Licenses, it was announced that the race was going to be postponed a week. That was to give the teams a week to find replacements. Then the race was back on and discussions continued. A deadline was set for the drivers to show for the second day's practice session. It came and went. The Pironi-Balestre discussions continued. In addition to Jochen Mass, Teo Fabi eased out of the hotel and was at the track.

And then, after much fevered discussion it was announced that an agreement had been made and the drivers all reported to the track at 11 a.m. to begin work and sign the Super License agreement if it was not already signed. Niki Lauda signed his and then reported to the McLaren pit where Ron Dennis tried to restrain his joy at seeing him. Bernie Ecclestone forced Nelson Piquet to undergo a medical examination before he could drive and generally gave his driver a difficult time. Mo Nunn withdrew the Ensign entry and left Roberto Guerrero high and dry in the paddock.

Oh, yes, there was actually a race that weekend!

When all the Usual Shambles of practice and qualifying finally sorted itself out, Rene Arnoux in a Renault sat on the pole with Nelson Piquet (Brabham), Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari), Riccardo Patrese (Brabham), Alain Prost (Renault), and Didier Pironi (Ferrari) all following in turbo cars. As Keke Rosberg put it, he was 'first in class,' the first of the DFV-powered cars.

That evening, Niki Lauda appeared on the local television channel and apologized for all the problems the drivers may have caused. It must have had an effect because the day of the race saw a crowd of about 85,000 show up. In a further concession to easing the situation, Pironi announced prior to the start that the helmets of the first six finishers in the race would be offered as part of a raffle for charity.

When the red light turned green, it was clear that if you wanted to race at Kyalami, have a turbo. The turbo cars took off for their own race, except Piquet who made an abysmal start. He was to spin off on lap four, incurring further wrath from Ecclestone.

The turbos began to falter as first Villeneuve and then Patrese fell out of the race. Prost had now passed Arnoux for the lead and was drawing away. Suddenly Arnoux went by in the lead. Prost had a tire blow out on him less than 200 meters from the pits. The carcass of the tire was flapping and was thrown off into the grass as he headed for the pits. After fitting a new tire and a quick check for any damage, Prost was back on the track, but a lap down.

Prost was now driving for all he was worth. He had the hammer down and was boiling around the circuit. He was gaining on not only those immediately in front of him, but Arnoux as well. Arnoux was now victim to an unfortunate problem with the Michelins - they were picking up the dust and dirt on the track and this was in turn causing an imbalance. It was getting slowly but surely worse. With ten laps to go, Prost passed Arnoux for the lead and three laps later Reutemann also got past, making for a Renault 1-3, rather than the desired 1-2.

After a relatively calm Winter, fireworks had exploded over Kyalami. There were more ahead in 1982.

  • Next time: More to come from the Season of Seasons

  • Don Capps© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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