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Backward glances at racing history

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...

The Season Moves On

After the opening race in South Africa and its attendant excitement - the walk-out by the drivers prior to the race - it was expected that things would settle back into what could be passed off for normalcy or at least the usual bickering and back-biting. The threat by Balestre to banish all the drivers who participated in the walk-out at Kyalami (and he now included the drivers' protest on the grid at Zolder the previous season for good measure, there apparently being no ex post facto or statute of limitation stipulations for the FISA) kept the Racing Yellow Press at a low hover for a number of weeks and the press agents for the opposing factions actually earning their keep, for a change.

Eventually, the suspensions and fines story went something like this: $5000 and a two race ban for the 29 drivers at Kyalami (the 'scabs' Mass and Fabi being pointedly absent from the list), the latter suspended for two years, and those who had protested at Zolder were fined another $5000 and given five-race bans, which were also subject to a two year suspension. And the fines had to be paid within 48 hours. Of course there was the right of appeal, but only after the fines had been paid.

Naturally, the drivers refused to pay the fines and appealed to the FIA appeals court. They also disbanded the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) and re-formed as the Professional Racing Drivers' Association (shades of the late 1950's and early 1960's in both Europe and the United States) with Didier Pironi retaining his GPDA role as president of the organization. Unlike the GPDA, membership was open to ALL professional racing drivers, not just those racing in the Grand Prix series for the the FIA World Championship.

Meanwhile, an appeal to the South African motorsports authorities had resulted in the drivers' appeal being upheld. Naturally, Balestre was quite displeased. He was even more displeased when the FIA's own court reduced the penalty to fines of $5000 and a one race ban suspended for a period of six-months. The court also expressed that it was not happy with the facts that the drivers were not allowed any representation at the FISA Executive Council meeting which passed the sentences on the drivers and the actions of FISA President Balestre being quite hasty and handled poorly.

It also stated that drivers should have a more active voice in the formulation of rules, particularly those directly affecting drivers. And, as the Argentine race settled into the sunset - being cancelled due to the uncertainly of whether Fabi and Mass would be joined by a host of newly recruited drivers as the others sat out for either a few races or eternity according to what Balestre said that day, although the official excuse was concern over the financial situation and the brewing troubles with the UK - the whole sorry chapter more or less limped to a conclusion and passed into history.

Only to be replaced by another sorry chapter of carping and sniping among the clowns in the Petit Prix circus. In the long interval between the South African and Brazilian races, the team wizards on the FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association) looked at how to find an edge to counter the power advantage of the turbo teams. The obvious and simplest was merely to increase the size of the water bottles already being carried by several of the teams, most notably Williams and Brabhams. The trick was the wording in the Concorde Agreement concerning the minimum weight of the cars, 580kg. The minimum weight was defined as the car being in running order, less the driver and fuel, but with lubricants and coolants. And coolants appeared to include any water for use in "water-cooled brakes." So, needless to say, Brazil found another tempest brewing as the cars unloaded for practice.

The tempers ran as hot as the temperatures during practice as it became clear to even the untrained eye that the FOCA teams had hit on a way to even the odds. Protests and ugly words flew among the teams that just weeks earlier had presented a united front in condemning the drivers. Ah, normalcy!

In an unusual fit of frenzied effort, the Alfa Romeo team showed up with a whole new batch of carbon fiber chassis, three no less. Which, it must be said, actually looked very neat and tidy compared to the usual tired old sleds that Alfa had been using. They were pseudo-McLarens, but looked very nice and for once the team seemed to have cause for hope. Lotus brought two new chassis to Rio, the 91 series. Ensign, RAM March, and Theodore also showed up with new or extensively modified chassis for the race. Or in the case of RAM, new colors. And Brabham showed up with the D-spec of the BT49, the BT50's with Bimmer power being temporarily sent to the penalty box for a rethink by Wizard Gordon Murray and crew.

The practice sessions at Rio were the Usual Chaos & Shambles done large. For reasons that were apparent only to the (dis)organizers of the event, every time there was an incident, however minor, the sessions were halted. Needless to say, it was trying experience for the teams.

The newest generation of ultra-sticky qualifying tires were now good for exactly one lap at speed and each car had only two sets per race weekend. While the turbos eventually ended up at the front - pole to Alain Prost in his Renault RE30 - sitting in 3rd place was the pesky Keke Rosberg in his Williams FW07 in its C-spec version. In fifth was Niki Lauda's McLaren followed by the other Williams of Carlos Reutemann.

Well, it was hot on race day even for Rio. At the start, Gilles Villeneuve rocketed off the grid - so much for turbo lag! - and took the lead, with Rene Arnoux (Renault), Prost, Rosberg, Riccardo Patrese's Brabham (from 9th on the grid!), Didier Pironi (Ferrari), Reutemann, Andrea de Cesaris (Alfa Romeo), John Watson (McLaren), and the Host of Others following in a blur of colors.

For a number of laps there was a series of ding-dong battles with drivers changing position virtually every lap behind Villeneuve. For whatever the reason, there were an unusual number of prangs early on: Elio de Angelis (Lotus) and Michele Alboreto (Tyrrell); Derek Daly (Theodore) and Raul Boesel (RAM March); Reutemann and Lauda with Watson barely avoiding being involved; de Angelis (again!) and Mauro Baldi (Arrows).

Nelson Piquet, the Local Hero, had managed to squeeze in second place, displacing Arnoux. Piquet started to pull up on Villeneuve, bit by bit. Soon Piquet was on Villenueve's tail and challenging. Just before half distance, with Piquet almost level with him, Gilles misjudged the corner prior to the straight and ended up in the catch fence in spectacular fashion. And Piquet was now in the lead followed by the Williams of Rosberg. Patrese, Watson, and Mansell (Lotus) followed these two before Patrese suddenly spun. He regained the track and finally stopped on the straight suffering from heat exhaustion.

The race itself ended out with an exhausted Piquet first, followed by Rosberg, Prost, Watson, Mansell, Alboreto, Manfred Winkelhock (ATS) and Didier Pironi's Ferrari. Piquet was so exhausted that Rosberg and Prost had to support him on the rostrum. However, Ferrari protested the result as the Brabham and Williams had the ballast tanks for their "water-cooled" brakes filled up for post race scrutineering.

Standings were now: Prost, 13 points; Piquet, 9 points; Rosberg, 8 points; Reutemann, 6 points; and, Arnoux and Watson 4 points. But not for long. The protest was to be heard 25 days after the event and with the United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach coming in the interval.

In its brief life, the USGP West at Long Beach had become an eagerly anticipated event by all concerned. It was just one of those races which had become an Event. Well, prior to Long Beach, Carlos Reutemann announced his retirement and Williams immediately released him. Frank Williams immediately called a certain M.G. Andretti at his residence in Pennsylvania and the latter listened to the offer and as he put it, "I had nothing else to do so I accepted." So at Long Beach, we were treated to Mario Andretti in a Williams which had been Frank Williams' intention all along.

The Long Beach course had been altered from the previous configuration due to construction in the downtown area. Many drivers found the new circuit much more difficult as there didn't seem to be any corners where they could drive smoothly through. The first practice sessions on Friday saw lots of the teams scratching their heads and trying to get a handle on the course. On Saturday, our man Lauda nabbed the pole, but then realized that the other teams then had the AHA! Light come on and realized that the Michelin race compound and not the qualifiers were the way to go. As the teams scrambled to match Lauda's performance, they used up their race tires until it was realized that there could be dire consequences if they did not cease and desist forthwith. Lauda was already adding the pole to his coup stick when Something Unusual Happened.

Andrea de Cesaris had his Alfa out and did two good laps. Then, to no one's particular surprise, he smacked a wall a good smack and broke a rim. In he came and changed to a new set of tires. Out for seven laps and nothing spectacular. Into the pits. In the meanwhile, they had put the tires which he had used for only two laps on new rims. And out de Cesaris went with three minutes left in the session. To beat Lauda's time by 0.12 seconds! Everyone was stunned and in no small way amazed. An Alfa on the pole? And de Cesaris to boot? Ignored in the general celebration was that de Cesaris did not have a new set of race tires for Sunday whereas Lauda had cleverly held a set back.

Behind de Cesaris and Lauda on the grid were Arnoux, Prost, and the other Alfa of Giacomelli, all on Michelins. And also on the grid when they lined up Sunday was Villeneuve with a rear wing configuration that tweaked the nose of the English teams: since it didn't say that the wing was measured from the center point on the car in relation to the center of the wing, Ferrari fitted two legal size wings in tandem to the rear post of the 126C2.

The start was a Shambles before it even started: somehow de Angleis lined up in the wrong spot and promptly ran into teammate Mansell who was in reverse as the lights turned green. Then it was the Usual Shambles as de Cesaris had the lead over Arnoux and Lauda followed by Giacomelli, Villeneuve, Prost, Pironi, Rosberg, and the Usual Suspects.

Giacomelli enlived things by hitting Arnoux in an overtaking move gone seriously wrong on lap five, putting both in the spectator mode. Then Pironi hit a wall and joined the list of spectators as well. On Ocean Drive, Prost went into the run-off area since he was having brake problems. As he accelerated away he managed to join the other well-paid spectators by smoting a wall a mighty blow and doing the Renault no good what so ever. Meanwhile, Lauda closed in on and passed the Alfa of de Cesaris into the corner after the Ocean Drive straight to assume the lead and motored off into the sunset, end of report.

Oh, well yes there were other stories. Andretti was easing his way through the field from 14th on the grid when he got caught out on the abundant marbles - plus the track was breaking up in places to add a bit of spice to the proceedings - and settled for lapping quicker than Rosberg on the race by 0.07 of a second.

Derek Daly spun on the marbles and was out; Piquet decided to crash test the wall in turn three and determined that it worked; Laffite (Ligier) and Patrese tangled with Laffite joining the other spectators and Patrese limping to the pits for a new front wing and then storming back through the field; Jarier's engine change was for naught and the crank broke putting him out of his misery since he was being completely blown off down the straight; Roberto Guerrero (Ensign) skated off on the marbles and gave Mo Nunn a repair bill to worry about; and, after an excellent, it was The Return of de Crasheris - our Andrea blotted his copybook with a really significant crash-test managing to separate both wheels and the side pod against the wall in turn five, there being a fire in the bargain.

The race wound down and Lauda won in his third race back. After taking the flag, Lauda was asked if this win was any different from the previous ones, to which he replied, "The last one is always the best." After two years out of racing, his win was remarkable since he said at the start of the season it would take him about three races to get back in the swing of things. Lauda was followed by Rosberg, Villeneuve, Patrese, Alboreto, de Angelis, Watson, Mansell, Mass, Boesel, and Slim Borgudd (Tyrrell) the sometime ABBA drummer. However, Ken Tyrrell protested the wing on the Villeneuve Ferrari which was upheld and everyone moved up a notch.

The points after Long Beach: Rosberg, 14 points; Prost, 13 points; Lauda, 12 points; Piquet, 9 points; and, Reutemann, 6 points.

But, wait a minute Sports Fans! The FIA tribunal then ruled after the USGP that Piquet and Rosberg had sinned and were therefore excised from the results of the Grande Premio do Brazil. The standing were now: Prost, 18 points; Lauda, 12 points; Rosberg and Watson, 8 points; Reutemann and Alboreto, 6 points; Arnoux and Mansell, 4 points. Piquet the defending World Champion? Zero points.

And now it was back to another chapter of 'Yo Momma...' between the Usual Suspects. And the prospects for the next race, Imola, were looking grim.

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

  • Don Capps© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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