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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...

Previous parts can be found here: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Part V

For Nelson Piquet and the Brabham team, Detroit was a Disaster. Missing a race is bad enough; missing one as the defending World Champion was a wretched experience for even the normally unflappable Piquet. He arrived in Montreal determined to do better. Needless to say, BMW were not happy campers either.

When the dust settled and the grid was sorted out, Didier Pironi sat on the pole, which he promptly dedicated to Gilles Villeneuve. To some, however, it rang as rather hollow gesture, but it was accepted at face value by the vast majority as a worth gesture. It was interesting to see that although he was not on the grid, how heavy the influence of Villeneuve lay over the event. There were banners, signs, and reminders of the late Gilles everywhere.

Perhaps the high point of qualifying came about when Chico Serra, perturbed by what he considered a questionable move, walked over to Raul Boesel and flicked his helmet. As Serra walked away, Boesel lashed out with a kick. A good old-fashioned punching match ensued. It took about a half dozen people to separate them.

Race day turned out to be a cool, gray, overcast day. However, to the immense relief of the organizers, it did not rain, although it threatened several times. This was important since, due to television scheduling demands, the race was not to start until 4 o'clock p.m. in the late afternoon.

From his Ferrari in the pole position, Pironi realized in the half moment before the green lights came on that he had a problem. His clutch was not engaging fully and he was starting to creep. Using the brake to hold the car, he was trying to keep the revs up as well as hold in the clutch. HE just ran out of feet and luck. At the instant the green flashed, the Ferrari stalled and Pironi threw his arm skyward.

Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux in their Renault turbos managed to avoid Pironi, as did Bruno Giacomelli in his Alfa Romeo, as they blasted down the track. Most of the drivers on the grid were aware that something was happening, but didn't have an idea as to what was wrong or why, but moved to the sides of the track.

Unfortunately, Boesel clipped the rear of the Ferrari with his March. Boesel was then spun into the path of fellow March driver Jochen Mass and the ATS of Eliseo Salazar. Salazar punted Mass off the grid. Then it got very bad.

Riccardo Paletti in his Osella started behind Boesel on the grid and was in third gear and accelerating at about 180 km/h when he suddenly found himself heading straight into the rear of the Pironi Ferrari. There was no way to avoid a collision.

Paletti the already damaged Ferrari, the Osella diving under the Ferrari gearbox, and tossing the heavily damaged 126C2 into the Theodore of Geoff Lees, adding another car to mounting carnage on the track. Pironi, somehow uninjured during all this, sprang from his car, dashed to the Osella, but there was little he could do to help Paletti in the massively damaged car.

With fuel spilling from the ruptured fuel tanks of the Osella, rescue workers - among them Dr. Sydney Watkins - descended upon Paletti in spite of the clear danger of fire. As several reached the car, there was a sudden "WHOOSH!" and the Osella was in flames. One marshal, his boot on fire never wavered. The fire was promptly extinguished by the rescue workers. The on-board oxygen system allowed the seriously injured Paletti to continue breathing in spite of the chaos caused by the fire.

However, it then took nearly 30 minutes to cut Paletti from the remains of the car. . Once freed from the car, he was immediately flown by helicopter to the hospital. Once there, and despite the efforts of the staff to save him, Paletti died from his massive injuries, mercifully never gaining consciousness.

As the track was cleared of the wreckage from the starting grid accident, Osella announced its withdrawal from the event in a sign of respect for Paletti. Jean-Pierre Jarier, the other Osella, sitting in the pits looking stunned and ashen-faced, like most of the rest of the team.

The investigation, clean-up, and re-assembly of the grid took the better part of two hours. The second start went much better, but it was quickly apparent to Pironi that the handling of the spare car was definitely sub-par compared to his now destroyed primary car.

Rene Arnoux quickly gained the lead with Nelson Piquet very steady and running well. On lap 9, Piquet pushed the Brabham into the lead and that was that. Eventually things sorted themselves out and with Riccardo Patrese in the Ford DFV-powered car moving into second place, the Brabham team finished the race in one-two order. John Watson was third, The Renault, as was becoming the norm it seemed, was nowhere in sight at the finish. Gearbox problems caused Keke Rosberg to struggle during the race and he was not a factor at the finish.

Points standings: John Watson 30, Didier Pironi 20, Riccardo Patrese 19, Alain Prost 18, and Keke Rosberg 17.

After some concerns that it might not be held, there was Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. It was in early July rather than it now usual late May or June date. This was to accommodate the television schedule for the World Cup. The race was slotted into an empty slot of Saturday afternoon. It was that or nothing the organizers were told. They took it.

For the first time since Imola, there was a second Ferrari entry, Patrick Tambay joining the Scuderia. It was also revealed that - as the result of a leak to an Italian motoring magazine - Ferrari had been injecting water into the turbos since Imola. This had the result of not only increasing power, but reducing engine heat and increasing fuel consumption. It was stated that Enzo Ferrari was furious about the revelation, especially in light of the fact that only a half dozen people were even aware of the new technique.

Per usual, the turbo cars were at the head of the grid: Arnoux, Prost, Piquet, and then Pironi before the first non-turbo car, the McLaren of Niki Lauda. Due to an unending set of problems and disasters, the Ligier team saw Jacques Laffite back on the grid and Eddie Cheever not qualify.

At the green light, Prost lead teammate Arnoux and followed by Pironi. Pironi was soon past Arnoux and then after Prost. After only five laps, Pironi grabbed the lead and gone. Arnoux was second until he had a big shunt at Tarzan when his front wheel detached itself when the bottom wishbone broke. Arnoux hit the tire barriers a mighty blow and was fortunate to escape with only a few bruises and a good fright.

This placed Piquet second. Championship leader Watson experienced tire problems with his McLaren and was never a contender in the race. The race ran its course and Pironi took the checkered flag followed by Piquet and Rosberg. The most interesting point of the race was Derek Warwick setting the fastest lap of the race in his much-maligned Toleman-Hart, doing this early on in the race no less.

The Points Standings: John Watson 30, Didier Pironi 29, Keke Rosberg 21, Riccardo Patrese 19, Alain Prost 18, Nelson Piquet 17, and Niki Lauda 15.

Then it was on to Brands Hatch and the British Grand Prix. Unlike the recent races, the non-turbo teams felt that at Brands they at least had a shot at doing well. And after the Usual Shambles called practice ended, lo and behold, there was Keke Rosberg in the Williams sitting on the pole ahead of Patrese, Piquet, and Pironi. Lauda in the McLaren and Elio de Angelis in his Lotus sandwiched the Renault of Arnoux with Prost and the Tyrrell of Michele Alboreto coming next.

All of Rosberg's effort went for naught when the Williams wouldn't start for the warm-up lap. Eventually the mechanics got it started and running, but Rosberg was relegated to the rear of the grid.

Green light and Riccardo Patrese had his Brabham stall when it jumped out of gear. Arnoux didn't see Patrese in time to take any action to avoid and smacked the Renault into the Brabham. Teo Fabi in the Toleman then proceeded to get caught up in the mess despite his best efforts to avoid the others. That meant three turbo cars were out before the first corner. The marshals had the wreckage quickly cleared off the grid and the race continued.

Piquet, Lauda, and Pironi led in the early stages with Rosberg gaining nine positions on the first lap. Piquet was motoring at a rapid clip since he was on half tanks, the Brabham team planning to make a pit stop to refuel and change tires at about half distance.

Piquet never made the planned pit stop since he didn't last that long. After nine laps, the water pump failed and Lauda assumed the lead, followed by Pironi, who was having problems with a sticking throttle. Lauda sailed off into the distance. After starting deal last, Rosberg was now in an amazing sixth place after only 13 laps - an incredible performance. However, the toll on his tires was enormous and he soon pitted for a new set.

And then suddenly there was Derek Warwick in the Toleman closing in on Pironi. Everyone, and especially Pironi, was surprised to see the Toleman suddenly attacking the Ferrari after blasting through the pack from seemingly out of nowhere. Not only did Warwick harry the Ferrari, he passed it and took second! People were literally watching open-mouthed; and, others were not certain that what they were seeing could possibly be true. Pironi later said it was literally a shock to be passed by the Toleman. And more than a shock to be left in its wake.

The Toleman was gaining on Lauda and the crowd was abuzz with anticipation of what would happen once Warwick closed in on the Austrian Champion. Alas, it was all ruined when a constant velocity joint failed and the great drive was suddenly over. There were more than a few stunned people in the paddock wondering if the Toleman crew suddenly found the key.

After Warwick departed the race, little happened of any note except that on the last lap, after an great drive, de Angelis had the engine in the Lotus go fluff on him and this allowed Patrick Tambay to nip by for third place. And, for the second race in a row, the fastest lap went to an unlikely drive, this time the honors going to Brian Henton in his Tyrrell.

Points Standings now were: Didier Pironi 35, John Watson 30, Niki Lauda 24, Keke Rosberg 21, Alain Prost and Riccardo Patrese 19, and Nelson Piquet 17.

Rather than precede the British Grand Prix as per usual, the French Grand Prix was held in late July at Paul Ricard the week following Brands Hatch. When the cars sorted themselves out and the grid was formed, the first six cars all have turbos and the next two cars were from the Alfa Romeo stable. From being a clear and present danger, the Toleman cars were in trouble having problems finding any grip for reasons that evaded all involved.

This time, to everyone's relief, the start went fine and there were no accidents, incidents or shambles such as those that had marred too many of the previous races in the season. The Renault twins were in the lead - Arnoux leading Prost - with Patrese, Pironi Piquet, and Tambay following. First in the non-turbo class was the Williams of Derek Daly with the Alfas of Bruno Giacomelli and Andrea de Cesaris close behind.

The Brabham cars then turned up the wick and Piquet took the lead, blasting into the distance with a very healthy lead. Patrese then went out when the engine detonated and caught fire. On the long straight the Arrows of Mauro Baldi and the March of Jochen Mass were having a nice dice. As they approached the end of the straight at over 300 km/h, the cars touched. The March skidded, overturned and slid down the track on its roll-bar until it met the catch fencing. Instead of stopping, the March then rolled and continued through the next several layers of the fencing. It also went through the tire barrier, and bounced into a spectator area where it finally stopped and burst into flames.

The March was quickly set upright and the flames extinguished. The carbon fiber chassis proved up to the task and spared poor Jochen Mass from any serious injuries. His helmet was completely worn through on one side, his balaclava clearly visible through the hole. There were 12 spectators injured, fortunately none seriously hurt by the March. Most were minor injuries with a dislocated knee and minor burns among them. Needless to say, it was a wonder that many were not killed - including Mass.

Piquet stretched out his lead to over 20 seconds in preparation for the long anticipated pit stop. With the sign hung out indicating that Piquet to stop the next lap, suddenly the BMW went silent - after completely destroying itself. This left the Renault team in the catbird seat, Arnoux leading Prost, and then the Ferrari duo of Pironi and Tambay behind them. As for the non-turbo class, Rosberg was fighting to get clear of the Alboreto Tyrrell and also try to close in on and attack Tambay. The class win went to Rosberg when Alboreto had a tire blister and was forced to back off.

At the finish, it was a 1-2-3-4 for French drivers: Arnoux - Prost - Pironi - Tambay. Renault looked as it was expected to look based on its pre-season form, finally. Within the team, however, there was some discontent. Team manager Jean Sage had put out the signal to Arnoux to let Prost by into the lead since he had the most to gain from the win. Arnoux ignored the sign and not only had a very peeved Prost to deal with, but one highly upset team manager. Words, as they say, were exchanged.

And, the Points now looked like this: Didier Pironi 39, John Watson 30, Alain Prost 23, Niki Lauda 24, Keke Rosberg 23, Riccardo Patrese 19, Nelson Piquet 17, and Rene Arnoux and Elio de Angelis 13.

  • Next time: The final chapter on the Season of Seasons

  • Don Capps© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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