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A Season of Seasons:
The Surreal Season - 1982, the Prelude
by Don Capps, U.S.A.;
images provided by Rainer Nyberg

Few seasons in Grand Prix racing have ever been as topsy-turvey, 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. It is still a season hard to get real grasp upon and fully understand. Then again, perhaps that is as it should be...

1982 - the Prelude

First, the players and their teams as the season began. Well, pretty much as they started the season at any rate. Needless to say, there will be changes as the season progresses.

Parmalat Racing Team
Brabham BT50 - BMW M12/13 & Brabham BT49D - Ford DFV

1. Nelson Piquet	  2. Riccardo Patrese
Patrese, 1982Although the Bernie Ecclestone-led team failed to capture the Constructors' Championship in 1981, it did emerge with the Champion driver, Nelson Piquet. The defending Champion claimed the title by a single point from Carlos Reutemann, but was all that was needed. Designer Gordon Murray's BT49, introduced at the end of 1979 to use the DFV, looked as if it was finally being superceded, in this case by the BMW-powered BT50.

A gifted and talented athlete, Piquet was originally pointed at a tennis career. The siren call of motor racing beckoned and so much for tennis. He started to achieve success early on in Formula Vee and there was no turning back after that. Piquet first came to the notice of the Brabham team in 1974, during the Brazilian Grand Prix. That year Piquet was the local who took care of ensuring the tea was ready, cleaning the garage area and the pits, sleeping with the cars, and all the other similar odd jobs a team needs done when it is thousands of kilometers from its home base.

Patrese had been the one constant, aside from Jackie Oliver, of the Arrows team. The 1981 season was a bad one even for Arrows: chief mechanic Dave Luckett was fortunate not to be killed on the starting grid at Zolder when the other Arrows driver, Sigfried Stohr, rammed into Patrese and trapping the unfortunate Luckett between them. Luckett was fortunate to escape with only a broken leg and finger plus some severe lacerations. Then, a switch to Pirelli tires in mid-season left the team trying to tune the chassis to the new tires and vice versa. Not until the Las Vegas race did things finally start to gel. But, Patrese had had enough. When Ecclestone released Hector Rebaque, Patrese was only too happy to oblige. Things had to improve for Patrese was the general consensus for 1982.

Team Tyrrell
Tyrrell 011 - Ford DFV

3. Michele Alboreto	   4. Slim Borgudd
Alboreto, 1982Ken Tyrrell was eager to get the 1982 season underway. The 1981 season had left him without a major sponsor. Tyrrell went into his own pocket to keep the team afloat and finance the season. Not until mid-season did the new Maurice Phillippe-designed chassis made its debut, at Silverstone, only to be written off by Eddie Cheever. In Alboreto Tyrrell knew he had a potential diamond on his hands, but he was unable to provide a good enough mount for the drivers to demonstrate their considerable abilities. With many of his original staff still with him, by now a very experienced and seasoned team, the team struggled on always looking forward. This nucleus of the Tyrrell team kept their spirits up and felt that 1982 was going to be a much better year for them.

TAG Williams Team
Williams FW07C, FW08 - Ford DFV

5. Carlos Reutemann	  6. Keke Rosberg
Alan Jones announced his abrupt and disgruntled retirement towards the end of the 1981 season and left Williams in the position of finding another driver of his caliber. Frank Williams made many attempts to lure Jones out of retirement, but AJ refused. Still Frank Williams persisted, but eventually he realized that AJ would not return to the team. Jones was unhappy with the cars and especially with the cart-like (as in ox-cart) suspensions. This entire episode will cause a radical change in Frank Williams' approach to his relationship with future drivers on the team. After this, drivers are a disposable commodity like light bulbs.

Rosberg, 1982Williams then tried to get Mario Andretti, who left the Alfa Romeo team to re-join the Indy Car circuit as a member of the Pat Patrick team. Andretti considered the ride, but finally declined. Williams therefore signed the Finn Keke Rosberg, who suffered a miserable season with Fittipaldi. He did not score a single point the entire season. He also suffered the fate of not qualifying for several races. However, through it all Keke gave it his all and that was what finally convinced Frank Williams to commit to the very fast Finn.

Carlos Reutemann came within an ace of winning the Championship at the last round at Las Vegas. He started from the pole but essentially had his chances for success ruined by gearbox problems, although some put it less kindly saying he choked under the pressure. Then Reutemann retired and "un-retired" in the off-season. The 1981 season was also marred for Reutemann by the fatal accident in the Zolder pits that resulted in the death of Osella mechanic Giovanni Amadeo. Although Reutemann was blameless, Amadeo tripped into his path as he was leaving the pits, the accident had its effect on the Argentine driver. And, as the 1982 season began, there was trouble brewing in the South Atlantic between the United Kingdom and Argentina.

Williams faced the 1982 season with an update of the successful FW07 series and power from the trusty Ford DFV.

Marlboro McLaren International
McLaren MP4-1B - Ford DFV

7. John Watson		 8. Niki Lauda
Watson, 1982The Return of the Rat! After simply walking away from his car during practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, Niki Lauda agreed to return to racing. And he was given a huge bag of money, for the day, to do so. For many reasons Lauda had agreed to return and for many reasons he was welcomed back.

In 1981, the McLaren team changed hands. Out went Teddy Mayer, the original partner of Bruce McLaren as the team was established to participate in Tasman and sports car racing. In came Ron Dennis from the Formula Two Project Four team. Out went designer Gordon Cuppock and in came the new designer, John Barnard. The M-series of McLarens ended with the M29. The new McLaren International organization designated its new cars as the MP4-series.

The 1981 car, the MP4-1 was the first of the carbon fiber chassis to be used in Grand Prix racing. Built by the Hercules company of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, the car won the British Grand Prix and generally impressed all and sundry. That Andrea de Cesaris proved its safety by crash-testing it often during the season meant that the rush was on to duplicate the new car. Also, with de Cesaris departing for Alfa Romeo, it was a given that the repair bill for the new team was be significantly reduced.

Team ATS
ATS D5 - Ford DFV

9. Manfred Winkelhock	    10. Eliseo Salazar
The team floundered through 1981. Staff were hired and dismissed at whim it seemed. This was a team in serious trouble. However, when Alastair Caldwell came on board after the start of the season, things began to slowly improve. Indeed, with Caldwell rallying the troops and getting the most out the team, sometime ABBA drummer Slim Borgudd actually grabbed sixth at the British Grand Prix. The rest of the season the ATS team was surprisingly competitive. But, that was 1981, and the team seemed to be going back to its old self for the new season.

John Player Team Lotus
Lotus 87B - Ford DFV

11. Elio de Angelis	     12. Nigel Mansell
Mansell, 19821981 saw Team Lotus manage only seventh in the constructor's standings. The whole 88B fiasco took its toll on the team. It was never able to find its focus and suffered. The spirit seemed to be stilled within Colin Chapman. The team was also torn by its seeming inability to prepare two competitive cars for the same race. This hurt both drivers and caused rifts within the team. It was difficult to imagine that this was the same team that had won a Championship only a few short seasons ago.

Ensign Racing
Ensign N180B - Ford DFV

14. Roberto Guerrero
In 1981, the Ensign team of Mo Nunn actually scored five points in the Constructors' Championship. That it did so on a very limited budget was a credit to both Nunn and Marc Surer who gained most of those points with a fourth at Brazil. Surer picked up another point at Monaco and was sacked for his efforts and replaced by fee-paying driver Eliseo Salazar, who had departed the John Macdonald March team. Salazar had the money to pay for his ride, whereas Ensign was actually still paying Surer to drive for them. No need to guess how the rest of the season went, although not as bad as it could have been.

Equipe Renault Elf
Renault RE30B / EF1

15. Alain Prost		16. Rene Arnoux
Prost's car, 1982The Renault team entered 1982 with high hopes. The team was third in the 1981 Constructors' Championship and seemed poised to move to the front of the pack. The performance of Alain Prost in 1981 was all that had been expected of him. That he emerged with "only" three victories - he could have had at least two more - was an indication of how motivated the team was to succeed. The quest for reliability over the winter was in part due to the realization that they could have won it all were it not for poor reliability early on in the 1981 season.

Rene Arnoux had struggled during 1981, but looked set to win the British and Austrian races when problems intervened, although he did manage second at Austria. The Renault was also getting not only better reliability out of the turbo EF1 V-6, but even more power than expected.

March Grand Prix
March 821 - Ford DFV

17. Jochen Mass	       18. Raul Boesel
Mass, 1982A "March" in name only, the John Macdonald team was a mess in 1981 despite having Gordon Cuppock as the chief engineer. He was replaced by Adrian Reynard who then penciled the 821. The 1981 season was a complete disaster and the finances were on a shoestring and 1982 was not looking to be much better. The angry departure of Eliseo Salazar during the 1981 season created a serious cash flow problem for the team's coffers.

LBT Team March
March 821 - Ford DFV

19. Emileo de Vilota

Fittipaldi Automotive
Fittipaldi F8D - Ford DFV

20. Chico Serra
Like his teammate in 1981, Keke Rosberg, Serra suffered a miserable year. The car was almost okay at the start of the 1981 season, but it then fell off as the season progressed. Chico had difficulties coping with the car and struggled and struggled. And got little in return for his effort. If anything, this 1982 season could be worse. Now a single car team with a car essentially unchanged from the previous season. And, significantly, team manager Peter Warr has departed to return to Team Lotus.

Marlboro Team Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo 182, 182T / 1260, 182T

22. Andrea de Cesaris	    23. Bruno Giacomelli
de Cesaris, 1982At the end of the 1980 season, it appeared that Alfa was finally getting pointed in the right direction. Indeed, it even enticed Mario Andretti into the cockpit. And it was a complete disaster. All the recommendations that Andretti made as the result of testing the 179 chassis seemed to be ignored or else used only on the Giacomelli car. Plus, the cars were unreliable and often poorly prepared. The arrival of Gerard Ducarouge was a shot in the arm, but it was too little too late. At Las Vegas, Andretti was driving great guns and seemed to be in position to actually win the race or at worse place second. Then the rear suspension broke and that was that. For Andretti, it was "See 'ya!" With a new car and a new turbo on the way, Ducarouge on hand, and the realization that they just might be able to achieve something, 1982 was looking like a break-through year. Then again, they replaced Andretti with "Crasher" de Cesaris.

Equipe Talbot Gitanes
Ligier JS17 - Matra MS81

25. Eddie Cheever	   26. Jacques Lafitte
The Ligier finished 1981 fourth in the Constructors' Championship and this despite some real ups and downs, including its traditional mid-season slump. Laffite, one of the most popular drivers on the grid, won the Austrian and Canadian Grands Prix and could never be accused of not trying.

The team seemed in a bit of a dither most of the season: Laffite's brother-in-law, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, started the season with the team, but was not fully recovered from his very serious leg injuries from his crash in Canada the previous year. At mid-season he retired and after further surgery on his leg, returned as the team manager as Ducarouge departed for Alfa Romeo. Jabouille was replaced in the cockpit by Patrick Tambay rather than Jean-Pierre Jarier, as all had expected, especially since he had subbed for Jabouille earlier in the season. Although Tambay did his best, he usually seemed to find the trouble that Lafitte managed to miss. And then at Las Vegas he was informed that he was being sacked and replaced by Eddie Cheever.

Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC
Ferrari 126C2

27. Gilles Villeneuve	    28. Didier Pironi
Villeneuve, 1982The 126C was an Evil Machine. It managed to be even worse in many ways than the 312T5 that it replaced. The chassis and the new turbo were a handful. So, of course, Villeneuve wins at Monaco and Spain in what he described as a "red Cadillac with worn-out shocks." The super-human car control of Villeneuve flattered the Scuderia. The new turbo proved to be relatively reliable, but it had just gobs of torque and this was exploited by Villeneuve to the max.

The new 126C2 was a much improved machine over the previous year's chassis and the engine was even better. Although the favorite at the outset of the season was Renault, many thought that Ferrari was the better bet.

Arrows Racing Team
Arrows A4, A5 - Ford DFV

29. Patrick Tambay	     30. Mauro Baldi
After what was becoming a typical Arrows season, 1982 was eagerly anticipated because 1981 was a mess. Riccardo Patrese had finally run out of patience and departed for another team, Brabham. The team was never really a factor all year. The injury to its chief mechanic, Dave Luckett, at Zolder was about par for Arrows. It produced a the new Dave Wass A4 for the season and also the A5, a straight copy of the Williams FW08 later on.

Osella Squadra Corse
Osella FA1C - Ford DFV

31. Jean-Pierre Jarier	     32. Riccardo Paletti
Paletti, 1982After failing to get both cars on the grid for most of the 1981 rounds, Osella was hoping to do better in 1982. Beppi Gabbiani failed to qualify for an amazing 12 races during the season. There were flashes of brilliance from "Jumper" Jarier that showed that there was potential in the cars, but the financing was simply not there to develop the cars.

Theodore Racing Team
Theodore TY01 - Ford DFV

33. Derek Daly	
After assuming control of Shadow at the end of 1980, Teddy Yip had Tony Southgate draw up the new TY01. It went quite well and Patrick Tambay managed to be placed sixth at Long Beach. Then Tambay departed for Ligier and after being sacked by Ensign Marc Surer finished the season with the Theodore team.

Candy Toleman Motorsport, Toleman Group Motorsport
Toleman TG181B - Hart 415T

35. Derek Warwick	    36. Teo Fabi
Warwick, 1982It weren't for bad luck, the Toleman team wouldn't have had any luck at all in 1981. It managed to qualify for only two races in 1981! Cursed with a chassis that was too heavy, troublesome brakes, poor handling, and an engine that was still being developed and to which power and reliability were foreign terms. The season was so poor that virtually anything that happened in 1982 couldn't help but be an improvement.

  • Next time: F1 Politics 101 and South Africa, where Villeneuve plays Joplin and de Angelis plays classical for a slumber party!

  • Don Capps© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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    Images are kindly provided by Rainer Nyberg