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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...

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

Final Part

Whatever fears the teams using the Cosworth-developed Ford DFV had prior to the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, they were no longer fears, but now on the border of full-fledged panic. The 1-2-3-4 finish of the turbo cars, the Renault cars followed by the Ferrari cars, was clearly the hand-writing on the wall. Even the cars of the lowly and unloved Toleman team was showing some surprising turns of speed lately, a real cause for concern.

Many of the teams in the non-turbo class were now holding discussions about the best way to find a turbocharged engine to stick behind their drivers. And the decision by an FIA tribunal to throw out the protest lodged by Ken Tyrrell concerning the legality of turbo engines meant that it was so much for all the lofty statements made earlier in the season about the turbos. To paraphrase Dire Straits, the theme song of the non-turbo teams now was, "I want my Turbo-Vee..." Business was business and so much for sentiment.

Didier Pironi seemed to be rolling towards the Championship since there seemed to be little opposition to him, bar the Renault and Brabham teams suddenly finding the reliability they had been lacking up to this point. The package that Scuderia Ferrari had was on target and only strengthened by the addition of Patrick Tambay. The only concern from the non-turbo class was that John Watson might find the reliability that had suddenly deserted him.

Within the Renault Equipe, there were some very strained relations, especially between the two drivers, Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux. The lack of reliability was driving tempers to the edge and having the two drivers sniping at each other was not helping. The blind Nelsonian eye that Arnoux had cast at the signal board at Paul Ricard was still a nasty topic within the team. Prost and team manager Jean Sage were most displeased with Arnoux, but Rene was seemingly unperturbed by the evil eye he received from many members of the team.

Scuderia Ferrari was on a high. Patrick Tambay seemed to fit right in with the team and fully understood that his role was to check the six of Pironi. The car was now reliable, quick, and a solid performer at nearly every track. The management was clearing shelf space for the two trophies it anticipated to receive at the end of the season.

At Hockenheim, the early sessions of practice on Friday saw Pironi on the pole with teammate Tambay in fifth. Between them were Prost, Arnoux, and Nelson Piquet in his Brabham. The Brabham of Riccardo Patrese was in sixth, so the front three rows of the grid were filled with turbo cars.

After only four laps in practice, Jochen Mass stopped the March in the pits and climbed out. He then sat on the pit counter and said he simply couldn't drive the car. After the accidents at Zolder, Montreal, Brands Hatch, and Paul Ricard he simply could go to the well again. His ribs were still very painful from the accident at Paul Ricard; simply sitting in the car was extremely painful. The additional pain from the compression injury to his spine from the accident in France caused by the beating from the ox cart suspension of the March was simply too much to endure. He was literally gray from the agony he was suffering.

After the good weather on Friday, Saturday was overcast and the rain poured from the sky for most of the day. Any hope for improving grid times was now gone. Since the forecast was for possible similar conditions on Sunday, many of the teams decided that the drivers needed to do some laps on the rain tires just in case it was like this for the race.

Amidst the rain and the great clouds of spray thrown up by the cars as they circulated on the track, the season took yet another lurch. Pironi was following the Williams driven by Derek Daly on the straight leading into the Stadium section. Daly could make out the shape of a Renault - Alain Prost - through the rain and spray on the left side of the track as he entered the Stadium section. He had no idea of what was about to happen behind him.

When Daly moved to the right of Prost, Pironi instinctively moved to the left since he was closing on the Williams and assumed that Daly was letting him past. In the vast clouds of spray and the rain, Pironi never saw the Renault until they made contact...

The Ferrari was launched onto the air off the rear of the Renault. It hit nose first on the track, did several rolls down the track and then hit the barriers. The entire front section of the 126C2 was ripped off.

Piquet, following not far behind, immediately pulled off the track near the destroyed Ferrari. He leaped from his car and dashed to the wreckage. Amazingly, Pironi was not only alive when Piquet reached him, but conscious. Piquet was helpless to assist Pironi and could only offer solace and encouragement - it was clearly evident that Pironi was seriously, if not gravely, injured. The pits became aware of the lack of activity on the track and then knew why when shaken drivers started entering the pits.

Prost was somehow uninjured when the Ferrari slammed into his Renault. He was understandably very shaken by what had happened. Like several others drivers, he could do little but stand by as the rescue workers tried to assist Pironi. It took nearly 30 minutes to free Pironi from the wreckage, load him into a medical evacuation helicopter, and rush him to the Heidelberg University hospital. As mentioned, he was awake during this entire ordeal.

At the hospital, the doctors immediately began work on his massively injured legs. There were fears that his right foot would have to be amputated. It was saved only by the surgeons after a long, harrowing operation that involved much delicate and intricate surgery to save the foot. In addition to his severe foot injury, Pironi also suffered broken right and left legs, a broken left arm, a broken nose, and relatively minor head injuries. It was clear that he had come within a whisker of dying had the car continued to roll after the nose was ripped off.

The members of Scuderia Ferrari could only sit and wonder why was this happening to them? Pironi had been a key member during the driver strike at Kyalami; had survived a scary shunt soon after that while testing at Paul Ricard; the role he played in the incident with Villeneuve at Imola; the startline accident at Montreal in which Paletti slammed into the rear of his stalled Ferrari; followed by yet another testing shunt at Paul Ricard; and now this. The team was devastated. And to make matters worse, there was a quickly hushed shouting match outside his room involving Mrs. Pironi and a certain "companion" of his who had accompanied him to the track...

Overlooked in all this was that Niki Lauda in his McLaren was not going to be on the grid. In a spin on Friday, Lauda had suffered a severely sprained wrist. That made any thought of his racing on Sunday slim at best. Finally, Lauda withdrew from the race, which allowed the Arrows of Marc Surer into the race, starting from the rear of the grid.

The pole position of Pironi was left vacant and only 25 starters took the green lights for the race. Unlike Zolder - where the Scuderia withdrew from the race, packed its transporters and left -this time the Scuderia stayed. Tambay sat on the grid, grim-faced and determined to do well. This was in no small part influenced by the fact that McLaren led Ferrari in the Constructors Cup by a margin of only two points, 54 to 52. Like it or not, business was business.

When the green lights came on, the Renault pair blasted off the grid. Screaming down the right side of the grid was the Ligier of Eddie Cheever who had made a start worthy of "Big Daddy" Don Garlits. Piquet and the Brabham team were bound and determined to win the race and to do so with a pit stop to add fuel and change the tires.

The rocket start of Cheever came to nothing when he and the Tyrrell of Michele Alboreto touched, resulting in damaged skirts on the Ligier. Cheever was soon out of the race, but it was probably the best start of the entire season. The mechanics were still smiling despite the early out because Eddie had shown everyone a thing or two.

On lap two, Piquet was in the land rocket mode and scorching around the circuit, already drawing out a lead of three seconds and adding to it. Tambay was running smoothly and by lap 10 was in second place. By lap 19, Piquet was running his own race with the others simply being on the same track. Barring some disaster, it was the Brazilian's race.

Disaster was spelled S-A-L-A-Z-A-R on that Sunday. Going into the first chicane, the blue flags were waving to indicate that Salazar in the ATS was to allow the faster car - Piquet - to pass, which he did so by pulling off line and letting the Brabham scream by. As Piquet braked for the chicane, the ATS simply punted the Brabham into the boonies. Salazar simply drop-kicked the blue and white car off the track when he missed his braking point and ended up using the Brabham as a part of the brake system.

In a fury, Piquet leaped from the cockpit. He was beyond reason and angry that something so crazy was to cost him the race. He rushed Salazar and with legs and fists flying plowed into Salazar and began pounding on him. It was later determined that the Brabham suffered merely superficial damage in the shunt. But the sight of the defending World Champion battering Salazar on live television made few new fans for Piquet - nor where the corporate chiefs of BMW very pleased. Piquet did suffer a minor neck strain as a result of the incident: his air hose was still attached when he popped from the cockpit and took off after Salazar.

This left Patrick Tambay in the lead. He quietly ran out the race and took the checkered flag in the front of a subdued team, but one now with something salvaged from a terrible weekend. Arnoux crossed the line in second ahead of Keke Rosberg in the Williams. The snake-bitten John Watson was in fourth place when he was forced to drop out, yet again failing to add to his points.

The Points were now: Didier Pironi 39, John Watson 30, Keke Rosberg 27, Alain Prost 25, Niki Lauda 24, Riccardo Patrese & Rene Arnoux 19, Nelson Piquet 17, and Patrick Tambay 16; Ferrari 61, McLaren 54, Renault 44, Williams 40, and Brabham 36.

At the Oesterreichring, the fact that the Championship was now truly wide open changed the way the teams approached the race - they were all beavering away at seeing what they could do. If there was a turbo circuit, the consensus was that the Austrian circuit was probably it. It was accepted that it was just a matter of which turbo would win, not if a turbo would win. During practice, this seemed to be the case as the grid saw turbo cars in the first five places on the grid: Piquet, Patrese, Prost, Tambay, and Arnoux. Best in class went to Rosberg followed by the also very quick Elio de Angelis in a Lotus (or John Player Special as some members of the team still insisted). The miseries of John Watson continued as he started the race from 18th spot on the grid.

Both of the Renault Equipe were in trouble before the start: Arnoux was fourth on the warm-up lap with some undefined gremlins and Prost was forced to switch to the spare because of an oil leak.

When the green came on, Rosberg did a "Cheever" as he blasted down the right side of the grid, flying past the two startled Renault drivers, and went tearing after the Brabhams with Alboreto glued to his tail. There were two very dumbfounded drivers in the Renault machines.

Once again, however, there was chaos on the grid. As the Alfa Romeos of Andrea de Cesaris and Bruno Giacomelli streaked up the center of the grid, de Cesaris somehow managed to smote his teammate a mighty smack. Derek Daly in the Williams had bogged down at the start and then chose that nanosecond to plow into the Alfa duo. It looked pretty bad with debris and car chunks here and there all over the grid. Plus the rescue vehicles and marshals. Despite literally having his finger on the button to flash the signal for a re-start, the official starter - Derek Ongaro - didn't have to: by some combination of luck and miraculous work, when the field appeared the grid was cleared. A truly amazing effort.

Piquet led the first lap, but Patrese moved up front when the Piquet Brabham started to get squirrelly and slide around a good bit. At long last, the Brabham team got to perform the pit stop for Piquet it had been trying to do for many races now. The only problem was that he pitted eight laps early and caught the team flat-footed. As a result, the stop took nearly 40 seconds before he could return to the track. On lap 24, Patrese and the Brabham crew got to do a scheduled pit stop: in 14 seconds they changed all four tires and pumped 95 litres of fuel. Plus he retained the lead despite the stop.

That is until the engine failed several laps later. This put Prost into the lead. Piquet was storming through the field and was back to third when his engine detonated. This put de Angelis and Rosberg into second and third, respectively. Now talk about the unexpected, this was about as unexpected as you could get.

And then they were fighting for the lead when the Renault turbo finally died after a superb effort by Prost to nurse it after he felt it tighten up. With five laps to go, the Lotus had a five second lead over the Williams. Then Rosberg started to reel in the Lotus. As they started the last lap, Rosberg was only 1.6 seconds arrears of de Angelis.

In that lap, Rosberg wrung the maximum out of the car and by Bosch was closing in on the Lotus, big time. Rosberg was using the whole road and then some. He was right on de Angelis as they exited Bosch. Rosberg was smack dab on the barriers and gaining on the black car. This was true 10/10th's racing at its best!

After several tries to set up de Angelis, Rosberg tucked in behind the Lotus as they approached the final sections of the track prior to the finishing area. As they exited the final corner, Rosberg was forced to pick the inside for his move, de Angelis holding his line, but leaving just enough room for Keke on the inside. And Rosberg ended up .050 of a second short of catching de Angelis. And Colin Chapman got to throw his cap into the air for what proved to be the last time. It had been a long time since the last victory by a Lotus.

Now the points shaped up this way: Didier Pironi 39, Keke Rosberg 33, John Watson 30, Niki Lauda 26, Alain Prost 25, and Elio de Angelis 22; Ferrari 64, McLaren 56, Williams 46, Renault 44, and Brabham 36.

After a long absence, the Swiss Grand Prix returned to the calendar. However, the Bremgarten circuit at Berne was now just a memory and the race was actually held at the Dijon circuit in France. It was a great pity since the Bremgarten circuit was one of the great circuits of its day. Dijon was chosen since it was the closest to the Swiss border, but with its minimal accommodations, poor accessibility, and bland layout, it was not exactly a popular choice with some. It was noted by a few that it seemed a bit strange holding a Swiss race since they had banned circuit racing after the Le Mans accident in 1955 and never relented. However, a few cynics simply pointed out that the European headquarters for Marlboro just happened to be located in, of all places, Switzerland...

Prost and Arnoux headed up the grid with Patrese next. The Best-in-Class for a non-turbo was Lauda qualifying next to Patrese with de Cesaris and Piquet next on the grid. Interestingly enough, Daly was faster than teammate Rosberg. After struggling with a pinched nerve in his back that was extremely painful and causing great pain and misery in his neck and an arm, Tambay withdrew from the race. He simply could not take the pounding from the car, even in its softest settings. He had managed to qualify the Ferrari 10th on the grid in a truly gutsy performance. Only after trying several laps on Sunday morning and finding himself in searing pain did Tambay finally call it a day.

When the green lights flashed on, the grid got off to a clean start. Arnoux grabbed the lead, but Rosberg did another "Big Daddy" Don Garlits start and was smoking after the leaders. Prost soon took the lead from Arnoux, with the latter staying in second. Piquet displaced Arnoux after 10 laps despite a dodgy-handling Brabham. After the Brabham pit stop on lap 40, Arnoux resumed the second position in the race.

Except for the odd item of interest here and there, it was turning into a real yawner of a race. The Williams of Rosberg which had been off handling-wise, suddenly came right. And Keke started to fly around the circuit.

Prost was now suffering from a skirt that had worn out and was not creating a good seal for the car. The Renault was now getting to be a handful to drive. And suddenly there was Arnoux in the pits with injector problems. And now Rosberg was a mere three seconds adrift of Prost. And he was gaining.

The race was scheduled for 80 laps, but as they started off on the 78th lap, the Clerk of the Course began to prepare to end it after that lap. With a Renault in the lead! The Williams team manager, Peter Collins, ran over to the aforementioned Clerk of the Course and politely but firmly stated that there were two more laps to go and the race was not nearing the two hour limit, by the way. The flag did not fall after lap 78 and the cars were off on lap 79. On that lap Rosberg caught and passed Prost for the lead. As Rosberg and Prost flashed by at the end of lap 80 there was no flag from the Clerk of the Course, so they and others kept their foot in and continued to race on the 81st lap. The flag finally dropped on the field a lap late.

The man who had scored not a single point the previous season and who was intended to simply to be a placeholder as the team rebuilt, had won a race! And, not only that, he took the lead in the points standings as well: Keke Rosberg 42, Didier Pironi 39, Alain Prost 31, Niki Lauda and John Watson 30, and Elio de Angelis 23; Ferrari 64, McLaren 60, Williams 55, Renault 50, and Brabham 41.

Suddenly there were only two rounds left: Italy and the race at Las Vegas. Things were at a low hover with a Finn in first place and "Who'd ever thunk it?" a common thought in the paddock. The Williams team was still pinching itself to see if this was really true and not a dream. And the circus rolled into Monza for the penultimate round in the Championship.

Scuderia Ferrari was back to two cars for the race. And the helmet of the driver in the 28 car seemed to be very familiar since it belonged to the one man who could still single-handedly fill the grandstands at Monza: Mario Andretti! And Mario was back with a vengeance.

When it was all over, there - by golly! - was Mario on the pole. And there was universal agreement that the timing was not run to "Maranello" time! Despite the lingering effects and the continued pain from his back injury, Tambay was third on the grid, splitting the Brabhams of Piquet and Patrese. The Renault duo filled the third row, Prost and then Arnoux. Overcoming a varied assortment of gremlins, Rosberg was best in class followed by the Alfa twins of Giacomelli and de Cesaris.

It was madness in the grandstands which were packed to over-capacity levels and caused no end of headaches for the poor officials charged with maintaining at least some illusion of order in the crowds. Fans were everywhere to include various parts of the circuit and the paddock was later discovered to have been stripped bare - including the chassis logbooks of several journalists...

Finally the race started and off went Andretti into the lead only to have the throttle start to stick, a problem that plagued the car the entire race. Otherwise, it was as Andretti later said, "...absolutely perfect... a dream to drive!" This meant that Arnoux whipped past Andretti into the lead. And there he stayed for the rest of the race. Which was okay with the tifosi since he had signed to drive for Scuderia Ferrari the next season.

Tambay and Andretti finished in second and third positions and John Watson finally scored his first points since Canada! When the engine in his Renault once again failed, that was that for Prost in the Championship race. That the Arnoux victory was not celebrated with as much gusto as would normally have been expected did not pass unnoticed. Rosberg finished eighth after losing two laps when a wing support gave way and he was forced into the pits to have it replaced.

Going into the final round, it looked like this: Keke Rosberg 42, Didier Pironi 39, John Watson 33, Alain Prost 31, Niki Lauda 30, and Rene Arnoux 28; Ferrari 74, McLaren 63, Renault 59, Williams 55, and Brabham 41.

So, the Championship came down to the last round once again. And once again it was to be decided in a parking lot in Las Vegas. Ah, America...

Little changed from Monza and now only John Watson had a chance to beat Keke Rosberg. An appeal on the disqualification of Niki Lauda at Zolder was delayed until after the race, but was ultimately rejected. Had the appeal re-instated his lost points, Lauda would still have needed a win with Rosberg not scoring any points. With the loss of the appeal it was just another mental exercise.

Given the nature of the course, that Prost and Arnoux were on the front row was a surprise and not a very pleasant one since it meant the turbo cars were getting better on all the circuits. On the second row was Alboreto in the Tyrrell next to the Ligier of Eddie Cheever! This really opened more than a few eyes.

Only 24 cars took the green lights: Roberto Guerrero had the engine blow in his Ensign in the warm-up and Tambay once again was forced to withdraw after experiencing further pain from his back injury.

At the start, Arnoux led away from the grid followed by Prost. When Arnoux retired with yet another engine failure, teammate Prost assumed the lead. But, Alboreto had hung in there from the start and was patiently waiting for the smallest error or problem. When Prost started experiencing severe vibrations under braking and the handling started to deteriorate, Alboreto slipped by and took the lead.

And that was that. Alboreto led to the end and was followed by Watson and, amid cheers from the home crowd, Eddie Cheever in third. Prost salvaged fourth and Rosberg was fifth.

This was the first win for Ken Tyrrell since the Monaco Grand Prix in 1978. The team was richly rewarded for its display of heart and determination. Against the odds, Tyrrell had a wonderful moment of triumph in the desert. It was a great victory for the team.

Suddenly, the season was over. A driver who had scored zero points the previous season, which had witnessed him struggled to just get onto the grid in may cases, was now the World Champion. It was so unbelievable as to literally boggle the imagination. It was generally forgotten that Frank Williams basically hired Rosberg because he was available and cheap. It was literally Zero to Hero for Keke Rosberg.

The 1982 season was one full of those "what if's" and many will be topics for years to come: What if Villeneuve had left Ferrari? What if Pironi had not crashed at the Hockenheimring? What if Andretti had won at Monza and come back for 1983? Or Pironi got sacked and Andretti and Villeneuve teamed up? Or if Andretti had signed on with Williams? Or another round of war between FISA and FOCA (FIASCO 2) had broken out? What if John Watson hadn't had such a ghastly record of reliability? What if Tambay hadn't had those terrible back problems?

Whatever might have been, one thing is certain: Keijo Rosberg emerged as a truly worthy World Champion. He fought and scrapped his way to the title and earned every single point. Life is so often unfair, but for once one of the Good Guys had Dame Fortune smile on him. Of all the men who earned the Championship, this is probably the man who treasures it the most.

The final points: Keke Rosberg 44, John Watson & Didier Pironi 39, Alain Prost 34, Niki Lauda 30, Rene Arnoux 28, and Michele Alboreto & Patrick Tambay 25; Ferrari 74, McLaren 69, Renault 62, Williams 58, and Brabham 41.

While I don't think I have done justice to how truly dynamic and exciting the 1982 season really was, I hope that many of you will take the time and look back at the past seasons of Grand Prix racing and see how much its rich history has to offer. 1982 was just an amazing season to experience - it was just a roller coaster ride of highs and lows that just had to be experienced. And the whole season couldn't have been more unlikely. If you were to read a novel with all that actually happened in 1982 crammed into it, you would howl at the author and his flair for the dramatic: this sort of stuff could NEVER happen in real life...

The End.


Don Capps© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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