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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

As the teams arrived in Monte Carlo, they hoped that the problems of Imola and the tragedy of Zolder were behind them. All looked forward to a return of what passed for normalcy in Formula One. However, it was becoming apparent that the cars were becoming more and more difficult to drive. The street circuit at Monte Carlo brought out the very worse in the cars.

The suspension settings were akin to that of ox-carts, rock-hard. The cars were generally unpredictable, darting about the road since any irregularities on the track surface caused the cars to react with often abrupt changes of direction. This made it true challenge for the drivers to keep an accurate line trough the corners, and even saw most weaving down the straight bits. The drivers were essentially just pointing the cars versus driving them.

Life for those at the rear of the grid was as difficult as ever. Although the usual grid had 26 starters, there were only 20 at Monte Carlo. As was commonplace in the 1980's, there was a pre-qualifying session for those at the rear.

Two teams were in a real bind, Ensign and Theodore, because Avon withdrew its tires from F1. Jan Lammers (Theodore) and Roberto Guerrero (Ensign) arrived at the circuit hoping for the best. And the teams were there really more than anything else to avoid the new $20,000 fine levied for skipping a race. Both started out Thursday morning sitting up on jacks in the pits as the festivities started.

Mo Nunn finally managed to find some "second-hand" tires for Guerrero, but it was to be to no avail. And the same for Lammers, even though some Goodyears were scrounged for him to at least get in a few laps early on. It should be no surprise that both missed the race even though they would have both made the grid had the usual number of starters - 26 - been allowed: Lammers was 22nd and Guerrero 26th, excellent performance considering they both missed most of the session. Altogether, five cars failed to pre-qualify.

Didier Pironi was the sole entrant for Scuderia Ferrari. No replacement for Gilles Villeneuve had been determined as of yet. Nelson Piquet was in the Brabham BT50 with the turbo BMW, while Riccardo reverted to the BT49D with the faithful Ford DFV. The Alfa Romeo V-12 seemed to be working very well, smiles on the faces of Bruno Giacomelli and Andrea de Cesaris.

When the Usual shambles of practice was over, there was a Renault on the pole yet again. Rene Arnoux had Riccardo Patrese as company on the first row, with a very happy "Jock O'Malley" third fastest and then Alain Prost in his Renault an unhappy fourth.

At the start, Arnoux was off like a rocket, leaving the others to scramble around behind. As he passed the line after the first lap, the lead was such that man wondered if there had been an accident that piled up the rest of the field somewhere on the circuit. Then they came scooting by, led by Giacomelli, Patrese, Prost, and then de Cesaris.

On lap 15, unaware the had a broken skirt, the rear of the Renault broke away as Arnoux dived into a corner and Arnoux was out. Giacomelli was also out after a driveshaft failed. Prost now moved in the lead and started droning around the circuit. As per usual at Monaco, folks were dropping like flies at a pesticide plant as the circuit took its toll on the cars. John Watson parked his McLaren with ignition problems and teammate Niki Lauda was out with engine problems.

A dozen or so laps from the end, a few drops of rain started to fall on the circuit. At the time the order was Prost, Patrese, and Pironi. As the condition of the track changed and became pretty slippery, Patrese started to close on Prost. With six laps left, it was now a light rain. And Michele Alboreto came to a stop with the right front wheel assembly of his Tyrrell sticking in the air after bashing a barrier. He had been running in fifth place and looking very solid.

Then, as the say, chaos and confusion reigned. The last few laps of the race had more action than is probably found in most seasons. First, Derek Daly spun his Williams and thumped the cityscape coming out of Tabac a Great Wallop with bits and parts darkening the sky. These include the entire rear wing assembly and one of the front wings. After being surprised to find himself still with all four wheels and pointing in the right direction, the engine still running, and the steering working, Daly took off - dragging the gearbox oil cooler behind him.

Then with only two laps to go, Prost smote the wall a mighty blow as he was exiting the chicane. Prost hit the wall head-on, shedding a front wheel, and bouncing off the barriers on either side of the track like a pinball. The Renault finally slid to a stop looking very used up.

Patrese was now in the lead. However, it was now his turn. As he braked for the Station Hairpin, he spun, slide off the track, and stalled the engine. He slid backwards over the curb and wound up stopped right on the apex of the corner blocking most of the track. Meanwhile, Pironi slipped by when Riccardo spun and took the lead followed by de Cesaris - and Derek Daly!

But, as all eyes were looking up the track at the finish line waiting for Pironi to take the flag, that's all they did - look. Worried looks were now being exchanged as people strained to look for a car - any car - to come by and take the checkered flag.

After assuming the lead, Pironi barely got past Patrese when the engine died! No fuel! No fuel? And Pironi finally coasted to a stop in the tunnel leading to the chicane. He was furious. This was too much! It couldn't be happening! And then de Cesaris pulled up barely a few meters behind him - his tank dry as well! The young Italian was in despair. All he needed was a few more liters and it would have been his victory...

And then all Daly had to do was pass the stopped Pironi, take the lead, and finish the lap! All he had to do was get to the finish line and it was his race! He would be the winner! But, then the gearbox seized - a result of his big shunt - and that was that...

Meanwhile, cars were still out on the track circulating if not racing while all this mayhem was going on. The Team Lotus duo of Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell were still running albeit almost two laps down. If none of those in front of them make it back into the finish line, it was a win for Lotus. Sensing this, Mansell slipped by de Angelis…

Then Patrese come up the track and flashed by the finish line. Patrese? Wotdahell was Patrese doing crossing the line? And where were the others? After his spin, the marshals scrambled out and pushed Patrese out of what was considered - correctly - to be a dangerous position. Taking advantage of the gradient, Patrese managed to restart the car, snicked it into gear and headed for the pits. He was heartsick at spinning away a sure win. And now with the push by the marshals and his restarting the car, he was certain that he was now disqualified from the race. As the flag dropped - belatedly - Patrese wondered who won the race since it seemed that cars were littered around the entire track.

The two black Lotus machines were still a lap down when Patrese crossed the line. Instead of winning the race they were now fourth and fifth. It took considerable effort, but his crew and the race officials finally convinced Patrese that he was indeed the winner of the race. The officials stated that the marshals had indeed acted correctly and he was not going to be disqualified. It was a stunned Patrese who finally accepted the hardware. And also gathered up were the rest of the rostrum - Pironi and de Cesaris. Dauntless Daly actually ended up with a point despite a car that more a moving junk pile than a near race winner. Only a short distance more and it would have been fourth place and with luck, first...

It was an amazing thought to realize that within a matter of a few minutes and a very laps there had been seven potential winners of the race. Needless to say, people were still trying to figure out what happen hours later.

And now the points standings looked like this: Alain Prost 18, John Watson 17, Didier Pironi 16, Keke Rosberg 14, Riccardo Patrese 13, and Niki Lauda 12.

After Monte Carlo, it was to the new event in the United States, the Detroit Grand Prix. It was scramble to get ready, only Toleman failing to make it - citing the excuse that the transporter broke down on the way to the airport...

They needn't have bothered to rush. When the teams arrived, the circuit wasn't ready. The "familiarization" session for Thursday was finally cancelled. The scheduled sessions on Friday were delayed almost six hours and became a session. No end of problems seemed to bedevil the circuit. Not a few were were questioning the FISA (Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile) decision not to require Detroit to run a qualifying event prior to staging a World Championship event.

With only an hour on Friday afternoon to sort out the cars and figure out where the corners led, when Saturday dawned cool, overcast, and with a serious threat of rain, there was little joy in the pits. There was a mad rush to record a good time in the first session.

If possible, practice was even more of a Shambles than usual, which is saying something. Prost turned up the wick on the turbo and grabbed the pole. Next to the Renault was an Alfa Romeo - de Cesaris. For whatever reason the Alfas seemed to be well-suited to the street circuits this season. Then came Rosberg, Pironi, and in fifth - the ATS of Manfred Winkelhock! Far back on the grid, 17th was John Watson with the Fittipaldi of Chico Serra sitting in the Tail-end Charlie position on the grid. Serra had a time nearly two seconds quicker than countryman Nelson Piquet in his Brabham-BMW.

The reigning World Champion was not a happy camper. First a blown engine. Then when a spare M12/13 was dropped into his BT50, it was plagued - cursed - with gremlins in the magic electronics box. As Piquet was scrambling to switch to the spare Ford DFV-powered BT49D, the rain came. Piquet could only watch in frustration as any chance of making the grid now disappeared, washed away by the rain. No practical jokes this afternoon from the Brazilian.

On Sunday, as the cars assembled for the start, various levels of Chaos and Confusion was keeping things from being dull. Winkelhock had to replace a suspension upright after smacking a curb; the Osella of Riccardo Paletti never made it to the grid after crashing during the warm-up session.

Prost was slow off the line and held off de Cesaris and Rosberg for the lead. Then out went de Cesaris with transmission problems, letting Rosberg into second. Then on lap seven, de Angelis put a move on Guerrero when the latter went wide at the corner past the pit straight. They touched and they had a crash. Not a big one, but enough of one to ruin their day. Patrese came upon the scene and instead of seeing the - vast - space available to get around the two cars, decided to crash-test the wall. A small fire got going and was promptly extinguished. Despite this, the Clerk of the Course put out the red flag and halted the race.

There was much confusion - real or imagined - in the pits about what was and wasn't allowed to be done to the cars during the delay. When nothing was said when the Renault mechanics started changing the skirts on his car, the rush was on. Fevered activity by mechanics as they worked on the cars in the pits was the order of the day. Nothing was ever said or noted - certainly no protests were lodged - by the FISA officials on the scene although such activity was supposedly not allowed.

The second start of the race saw 18 cars line up for what was essentially a whole new race or heat. The times of the two segments were to be combined to produce a result, just as at the French race the previous year. It was not a point well understood by most of the spectators present. Initially those lined up included de Angelis, Guerrero, and Patrese - the reasons for the red flag in the first place - in their spare cars. While it was worth a try, even the novice organizers realized that this was not correct. These three were politely denied permission to compete in the second heat.

Prost - new skirts and all - led at the restart. As mentioned, due to being timed in two sections it was a bit murky at first glance who was exactly where in the running. While showing a clean set of heels to the field, the Renault gremlins decided to strike again, this time in the electronic system that controlled the fuel injection.Rosberg took advantage of this and slipped by the Renault for the lead. Prost fell back through the field and wound up in 12th place, eight laps back.

Moving through the field was the McLaren of John Watson. He sliced through the filed to where he was then behind Rosberg. Once there, Watson waited and watched. On lap 37 he by Rosberg when the Williams began to suffer from the loss of third gear, a real problem on a circuit like Detroit. Also having a good run was Eddie Cheever in the Ligier-Matra. Nike Lauda blotted his logbook with a rare mistake which led to his hitting the wall and putting himself in the spectator mode. Then things settled down with Watson firmly in charge.

As the cars crawled around the track, any hope of the race going its full distance of 76 laps vanished. With John Watson in the lead, the race was terminated at the two hour mark, 62 laps being run. Eddie Cheever was second, and Pironi third. Rosberg salvaged fourth place in an excellent effort preserving the car and nursing the car it to the finish.

Now the points looked this way: John Watson 26, Didier Pironi 20, Alain Prost 18, Keke Rosberg 17, Riccardo Patrese 13, Niki Lauda 12, with Michele Alboreto and Eddie Cheever with 10.

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

  • Don Capps© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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