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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...

Part III

After the USGP at Long Beach, the FIA tribunal issued its decision on the protest concerning the Brazilian Grand Grand Prix lodged by Ferrari and Renault regarding the first and second place finishes of Nelson Piquet, Brabham-Ford, and Keke Rosberg, Williams-Ford. To the surprise of no one except the teams of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA), the tribunal upheld the protest and excluded Piquet and Rosberg from the results. Interesting enough, it ignored Ken Tyrrell's protest of the turbocharged cars since the rules specifically excluded "turbine" engines and the turbocharger is a form of a turbine...

This moved up Alain Prost, Renault, to first, followed by John Watson, McLaren-Ford, and Nigel Mansell, Lotus-Ford. The tribune stated that the "normal level of lubricant and coolant is that which is in the car when it crosses the finishing line, therefore no topping up of any kind is permitted." This aforesaid "topping off" being the key to the means by which the FOCA teams planned to fight the FISA (Federation Internationale de Sport Automobile)-supported teams with their turbo cars. The rather lame FOCA defense was that although "topping off" was prohibited in all the other classes of racing the FIA sanctioned, it wasn't specifically prohibited by the rules governing Formula One; therefore, if it wasn't stated that it was not allowed, it was allowed because nothing said you couldn't do it. Essentially, the tribunal said, "Next.."

And the fireworks started. After the failure of the Lewis Carroll approach to fighting the FISA, the FOCA teams regrouped to ponder their next move. Never mind that the casual observer of F1 racing thought that the tribunal ruling seemed very reasonable, to the FOCA teams it was a call to arms. The standards were being unfurled once more as the drums of war were sounded in the bases of the FOCA members.

On the Wednesday prior to the "San Marino" Grand Prix at Imola, the FOCA teams declared that it wished a postponement of the Imola race until early July to have time to sort out the implications of the ruling handed down by the tribunal. The FISA, however, was having none of that, even if the organizers were more than a bit apprehensive about the whole deal. Not getting the answer they desired - and knowing the answer in advance was not a feat to strain their mental powers - they announced that FOCA would boycott the Imola race and those following until they got their way. As you can imagine, this was like the cockroach in the potato salad at the family reunion picnic. Or rather, half a cockroach in the potato salad...

The transporters of the FOCA teams stayed in their compounds rather than venturing forth to Italy where Imola became a part of San Marino for a long weekend. From Woking, however, the Tyrrell transporter and service vehicles headed for Imola. After racing without any major sponsorship, Ken Tyrrell had finally landed some sponsorship. After Long Beach, the andy appliance company terminated its sponsorship deal with the Toleman team and signed a three-race deal with Tyrrell, especially in light of the obvious emerging talent of Michele Alboreto. Tyrrell had also secured a one-race deal with Ceramica Imola for the race. While he fully supported the principle of the FOCA boycott, Tyrrell also had bills to pay and had to pay attention to another form of principal.

The ATS team of Gunther Schmidt joined Tyrrell at Imola, stating that he didn't see where FOCA had been doing him all that much good. This offset the recent defection of Guy Ligier and his team from the FISA ranks to the FOCA ranks.

The entry consisted of the Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Toleman teams along with Osella, ATS, and Tyrrell. The Tyrrell team's presence in the paddock was highly significant since the (obscure) rules stipulated that for a race to count towards the championship it had to have 13 entrants, or half of the allotted 26 entries. Without the Tyrrell team the race would have had only 12 entrants; and, third car entries were now not allowed. Life is funny sometimes when the consequences of two seasons later are viewed in light of this event...

As can be easily determined, the FISA was going to run the race, come hell or high water. The organizers were fretting, but were told that run the event or else. So, knowing that the presence of the Ferraris on the grid should at least allow them to break even, they carried on and soldiered for the FISA.

The front row was the property of the Renault equipe - Rene Arnoux and Alain Prost, respectively - with the Ferrari Scuderia filling the second row, Gilles Villeneuve ahead of Didier Pironi. Next up was the Tyrrell of Alboreto followed by the Alfa Romeo of Bruno Giacomelli.

At the start, Arnoux shot into the lead followed by Villeneuve, Pironi, Prost, the Alfa Romeo of Andrea de Cesaris, and then Giacomelli. The Toleman-Hart of Derek Warwick was already out having run into difficulties on the warm-up lap (it turned out to be that a battery lead had come loose) and the Tyrrell of Brian Henton made it as far as the first corner before retiring with a broken transmission.

Then in quick succession out went Prost with engine problems, de Cesaris with a duff fuel pump, the Osella-Ford of Riccardo Paletti with suspension problems. Meanwhile, Arnoux was in the lead, but the two Ferrari turbo cars were nipping at his heels. Pironi briefly passed Villeneuve into second, but was soon back into third place. Then, out went Giacomelli with a big hole in the block of his Alfa Romeo engine. This was as the red cars were ganging up on the yellow, white, and black Renault. Villeneuve nipped past for the lead. Then they were three abreast down the front straight. Arnoux cut in front of Pironi to recapture the lead. Then, with about 15 laps left to run, the Renault engine failed and Arnoux pulled off the track and retired.

With a lead of over 45 seconds over the only other car on the lead lap, the Tyrrell of Alboreto, Villeneuve nodded to the pit signal, "SLOW," hung out by team manger Marco Piccinini. With the race won and as the team leader, began to ease off slightly to maintain position and ensure that the cars finished the race.

To his astonishment, anger, and fury, Villeneuve was then passed by Pironi about a dozen laps from the finish. After several laps of dicing, Villeneuve was back in the lead with less than 10 laps to the finish. His assumption was that Pironi was merely spicing up the proceeding for the fans since he now dropped into formation right behind him. Visions of the two cars tangling and handing the race to the Tyrrell were foremost in his mind.

As he entered the last lap, Villeneuve was perhaps more concerned about other things than Pironi. At Tosa, to ensure that he didn't unnecessarily stress the car, he run slightly wider than usual. To his amazement, Pironi tucked into the inside, passed him and roared off to the finish line crossing as the winner.

Villeneuve was furious. If Pironi had had the lead at the pit signal, "SLOW," he would have trailed Pironi to the finish. Just as he had for Jody Scheckter when it was entirely possible that he could have taken the Championship. To Gilles, such behavior was reprehensible. As a sportsman first and foremost, playing fair and square was important. To do something like what Pironi had done was unthinkable. On the podium, the usually cheerful Villeneuve ignored Pironi and stared into space, his trophy for second place untouched. As he stalked from the podium on the way to his helicopter, Gilles vowed to never speak to Pironi ever again, a promise he was to keep.

Villeneuve's mood was not helped by Piccinini lamely claiming that there were no team orders and that the "SLOW" signal was just that, a signal to slow the two cars down. Of course, that was not what was said in prior races or how Villeneuve interpreted the signal. The result also caused deep anger on the part of the mechanics servicing the Villeneuve chassis. There were many sullen and dark stares in the race shop for days after the event.

Almost overlooked in all this was that Alboreto finished third behind the Ferrari cars. Only five cars were classified as finishers in the race. The sixth place car, the ATS of Manfred Winklehock, was determined to be two kilos underweight and disqualified.

Between the races at Imola and Zolder, the FISA and FOCA held a meeting in Casablanca to discuss their differences. It turned out to be merely a long way to travel to glae, snap, and snarl at each other. The FOCA stance was that the FIA tribunal ruling on the Brazilian race changed the ground rules and they wished to appeal to the FIA technical committee. As could be expected, the FISA said no way, Jose! The FOCA (as well as the FISA) was under immense commercial to get the show back on the road. The FOCA teams agreed to end their boycott and turn up at Zolder with their cars ballasted to make weight. The results from Imola, however, were allowed to stand. Many expected the FIASCO War to re-ignite within weeks.

One minor point left unresolved as the teams headed for Zolder was exactly when were the cars expected to make weight, in addition to the end of the race of course. The rules stipulated that a car could be weighed up to three times during a race meeting. It was noted that a car's weight could easily vary up to 12+ kilos simply through brake wear, the use of lubricants and coolants, as well as tire and skirt wear. Essentially, the answer was by default, any time!

After the death of an Osella mechanic the previous event, the pit and paddock complex at Zolder was completely rebuilt. The pit lane was now widened and the pits themselves enlarged. Indeed, the pits had room for all 32 entries was space left over, a stark cry from the past. The circuit itself was unimproved and generally considered a burden to be borne rather an exciting venue. Most drivers expressed their dislike for the circuit and few claimed to have any positive remarks to say about it except to say it was better than Nivelles... faint praise to be sure.

In the Ferrari pits, Villeneuve and Pironi may as well have been in separate universes. Villeneuve completely ignored Pironi, acting as if he didn't exist. He was also very cool towards Piccinini as well for his less than rousing support. Many thought Villeneuve's days at Ferrari were numbered unless significant changes were made. As usual, Enzo Ferrari said little for the public. Drivers, in his view, were merely drivers; the stars of the show were the cars.

The red cars were struggling in the early stages of practice, neither car exactly shining. Finally, time began to run out in the timed qualifying practice. There were the cars of Rosberg, Lauda, and Alboreto ahead of the Ferraris. And Pironi was ahead of Villeneuve on the grid.

Pironi had a time of 1:16.501 while Villeneuve was sitting on a best of 1:16.616. With only about eight minutes left in the session, Villeneuve took the track with his last set of qualifiers. As he was coming up to speed, he was also coming up on Jochen Mass in his March. Mass was slowing down in preparation to enter the pits, so he moved to his right. Unfortunately, Villeneuve also chose to move to the right to pass Mass. The left front wheel of the Ferrari made contact with the right rear wheel of the March. The Ferrari was launched into the air, landing on its nose in a sandy run-off area about 50 meters up the track. It then started to roll, hitting the barriers and coming apart. Pieces of the car were strewn for over 150 meters on the track.

Villeneuve was hurled from the car as it rolled and into the catch fence on the opposite side of the track. He suffered massive cranial and spinal injuries, yet was still alive. He was immediately rushed to the nearest medical facility where it was announced that his injuries were life-threatening. Villeneuve never emerged from his coma and, to the surprise of few who knew the extent of his injuries, died shortly after midnight.

By then, the Scuderia Ferrari transporter and other vehicles were on their way back to Italy. They simply packed up and left. Nor was a spot left on the grid for a remembrance of the gallant Gilles, it being decided that it was too dangerous to leave the space vacant. The withdrawal of the Ferrari team allowed the reserves onto the grid, the first of whom was, ironically, Jochen Mass...

But, as at Monza in 1961, Zandvoort in 1970 and 1973, Watkins Glen in 1973 and 1974 and many other times in the past, The Show Must Go On. Few perhaps on the grid had much heart for the race, but it was simply not much thought to do otherwise.

The Renault duo were on the front row again, the order being Prost then Arnoux. Arnoux, however, was out soon after the start and Prost followed him in retirement as well, leaving Rosberg and the McLaren duo to battle for the win. Rosberg displayed great form and was the equal of Watson and Lauda. It was a wonderful performance and seemed destined to be rewarded with a win. But, John Watson hung onto Rosberg's tail the last several laps, and when Keke went slightly wide at the chicane, Watson nipped by for the win. Lauda was initially third, but when his car was weighed it was found to be underweight - by less than three kilos, less than the weight of some bodywork he had lost earlier in the race. This elevated Eddie Cheever in the Ligier into third. And, most miraculously of all, it put the Fittipaldi of Chico Serra into sixth place!

For some of us, racing was never quite the same again. While Gilles didn't have the numbers of many others and some considered his style a conspicuous lack thereof, he almost made me imagine what it would have been like if Tazio Nuvolari had raced in the modern era. Tough as nails, foot to the floor, tail hung out through the corners, a great sportsman, a cheerful competitor, and a Racer. Perhaps he was already obsolete. But, to those of us who were fortunate enough to see him in action, he was what we always imagined a Racer should be. He was fair and square and fun to watch. We already knew that we would never see his likes ever again. I always imagined that only Bernd Rosemayer, Tazio Nuvolari, and Gilles could wring the maximum out of an Auto Union type C or D... and that is exactly what he is doing.

Rest in Peace, Gilles... even after all these years you are missed.

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

  • Don Capps© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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