#F1 History: The story of the 1982 World Championship – Part I

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs

1982… and all that…! Part I

Although turbo-charged engines had, at this time, been running for a few years the FIA allowed teams to run larger, normally-aspirated engines in direct competition with each other. Teams were fairly evenly split with each system while some tried both throughout the season.

In the second race in Brazil Keke Rosberg’s Williams finished second behind Piquet’s Brabham, but both cars were subsequently disqualified – and the troubles started. It took the FIA seven weeks to uphold the stewards decision, when they also changed the regulations… suggesting the problem had not actually been in breach of the regs. at the time… The FOCA teams went on strike and boycotted the next race, in San Marino, while Williams appealed the appeal… Now you start to see why the season was such a mess… but it was actually much worse than just this.

1982 was a year of two main technical themes – turbocharging, and ground effect. The larger manufacturers could afford to develop the more powerful turbocharged engines, but they were heavy and initially suffered from turbo lag. Thus only Renault and Ferrari, plus the smaller Toleman team (with Hart engines), used turbocharged engines throughout the season. The rest used atmospheric engines, but most tried a turbo unit at some time during the year, some teams even turning up at a race with both versions in the truck.

As in 1961 the British ‘specialist’ manufacturers had opted for the less powerful but compact, reliable and widely available Cosworth engines and focused instead on the effectiveness of the chassis. Aerodynamic ground effect as used by Lotus, Williams, McLaren and Brabham, and the introduction by McLaren and Lotus of carbon-fiber composites, allowed the teams to create very light cars. Nevertheless several of the ‘DFV’ teams felt the turbo cars still had an ‘unfair’ advantage and sought a further weight reduction to equalise performance. The FIA regulations had a minimum weight of 580 kg including lubricants and coolants. Working within the letter of the regulations (allegedly…), some teams fitted their cars with large water tanks, ostensibly for ‘water-cooled brakes’. In practice, the water was dumped early in the race, allowing the cars to race as much as 50 kg underweight. The regulations allowed the water to be topped up at the end of the race, before the weight was checked.

 Complext Turbo Engine v Simple Turbo Engine         Complex turbo engine                      Simple Cosworth engine

Also, for 1982 the FIA (FISA), abandoned the 1981 minimum ride height rule but the skirts around the edge of the car had to remain fixed and rigid, and the cars kept their almost immovable suspension to allow the skirts to consistently seal the low pressure area under the cars. The cars bounced up and down all the time, and the G-forces were difficult to endure, making the cars extremely unpleasant to drive – Mario Andretti cited this as one of the reasons he left F1 at the end of 1981 and several drivers apparently had medical problems. And how many of them (and all the drivers in the past thirty years) had (or will have) physical disabilities in later life…? Things are much safer on the circuits but is anybody able to assure drivers their current working conditions will not cause problems in the future…?

Interestingly new rules for the season allowed an increase in the number of cars permitted to enter a Grand Prix from 30 to 34, and the number of starters from 24 to 26. To avoid having all 34 cars on the track at one time, a pre- qualifying session was introduced.

It might be necessary to remind readers that the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and FISA had been in dispute over the control of the sport since 1979. FOCA consisted of the major British teams, while the manufacturer teams (Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Talbot-Ligier/Matra), together with Osella and Toleman were aligned with FISA. The worst period of this disagreement seemed to be solved in 1981 with the signing of the Concorde Agreement. But it didn’t end there…!

SA Start

The first race of the season, in South Africa, went off without a hitch… if you only consider the racing. However… after a two-year sabbatical Niki Lauda returned and, with Didier Pironi, led a drivers’ strike, protesting the new SuperLicence conditions which could have tied a driver to a single team for up to three years. After an all-night ‘sit-in’ on Saturday night FISA agreed a compromise – offering to review the licence regulations – and the race went ahead. However the FISA delegates quickly reneged on this and actually during the race announced the striking drivers were to be suspended… though, of course, none of them were black-flagged. Some compromise…!

This was subsequently ‘reduced’ to a $5,000 fine and and a one-race ban, suspended for six months which, not surprisingly, did not sit at all well with the drivers. Indeed the process of reaching this third compromise took so long the second race, in Argentina, had to be cancelled. And the FIA criticised FISA for their handling of the affair.

‘Went off without a hitch’…? I don’t think so.

So, racing resumed in Brazil, FOCA cars finished first and second, Ferrari and Renault protested them on the grounds they were running under-weight, the stewards decided that the water ‘ballast’, that was jettisoned during the race, at the very least, contravened the ‘spirit’ of the regulations, and Piquet and Rosberg were disqualified… but their team-mates, Patrese and Reutemann were not (although neither finished the race), and nor were any other teams, who were believed to be using this tactic. Prost (in a turbo Renault) was gifted the win. Carlos Reutemann, after losing the 1981 Championship by one point, retired in this race and a subsequent ‘political dispute’ with Frank Williams caused his immediate departure from Williams, his retirement from F1 and, after ten years, an end to his racing career… It is thought the dispute involved the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, and perhaps reflected Reutemann’s subsequent career in politics.


‘Went off without a hitch’…? I don’t think so.

While the disqualifications were being appealed the circus moved swiftly to Long Beach, California, for the first of three races that year in the States. Three races… and still F1 is not considered essential viewing for North American racing fans? Makes me wonder why Bernie is still claiming we need more races ‘over there’, in order to get F1 to take off – in my view it just will never happen… East is east, and west is west – Europeans believe F1 is the best, and Americans believe Indianapolis is best, and never the twain will meet. Personally, I like both, and a good race on an oval is every bit as exciting and intriguing as any F1 race… [NB: contentious remark to keep The Judge happy… 😉 Twitter ye rosebuds while ye may…]

The US GP West was won by Lauda (McLaren), with Rosberg second, and both were immediately protested by Renault and Ferrari… but… the American stewards didn’t agree with their Brazilian counterparts, and the results stood… until FOCA, through Tyrrell, protested Ferrari’s two-part rear wing (that was actually two wings trying, somehow, to masquerade as one…), designed to circumvent the regulation width… and Gilles Villeneuve’s turbo Ferrari was disqualified from third. I’m amazed it passed initial scrutineering. Ferrari did not appeal.

Oh yes… and there was also the fracas on the grid, because De Angelis had lined up on the wrong side. While reversing out of the spot he bumped into his team-mate, Mansell, who also reversed… as the lights went to green…! How did that happen…!? Nigel subsequently joked that he was the only racing driver to start a race in reverse gear… Oy vey…

Brazil GP

‘Went off without a hitch’…? You decide.

During the break the FIA tribunal found in favour of Ferrari and Renault’s protest of the Brazilian Grand Prix result and the disqualifications stood… but other finishers, who had also been racing underweight, but had not been protested, were moved up the results accordingly. Excuse me…! The tribunal also ruled that after future races, cars must be weighed before liquids were topped up. The FOCA teams requested a postponement of the next race, in San Marino, to consider the effects of the judgement, on the grounds that it changed the regulations of the sport. The race organisers refused. The race went ahead. The FOCA teams imposed their boycott

San Marino

‘Went off without a hitch’…?

However, the San Marino race did go without a hitch… Only 14 cars competed – it should have been just six, but Tyrrell, Osella, ATS and Toleman changed their minds at the last minute… The two Renaults were fastest in qualifying, but retired from the race. Ferrari, unhindered, finished 1-2. However… Ferrari teammates Villeneuve and Pironi battled fiercely on the track, but as Alboreto’s third-placed Tyrrell was far behind, Ferrari ordered their drivers to slow down. Villeneuve believed this order also meant the cars were to maintain position on the track. [NB: where have you heard this saga before…?] However, Pironi believed the cars were still free to race, and passed Villeneuve.

Villeneuve later claimed he thought Pironi was simply trying to spice up an otherwise dull race, and duly re-passed his teammate, several times, before assuming they would then hold station for the remainder of the race. But… on the final lap, Pironi passed again to take the win. Villeneuve was incensed by what he saw as Pironi’s betrayal, although opinion inside the Ferrari team was split over the true meaning of the order to slow down. Villeneuve’s expression was sullen on the podium, enraged by Pironi’s actions. He was quoted afterwards as saying, “I’ll never speak to Pironi again in my life.” They proved to be prophetic words, as he was still not on speaking terms with his teammate when he died during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks later.

Manfred Winkelhock was disqualified from sixth, for being underweight(!). Teo Fabi finished eight laps down and wasn’t classified. The other seven cars retired… Only Alboreto also finished on the lead lap.

‘Went off without a hitch’…? Oh, please yourselves…!

And so to Zolder… where the only hitch was the disqualification of Lauda from third… for being underweight… while teammate John Watson won, but was not disqualified. However, the race will always be remembered for the tragic loss of Gilles Villeneuve after a crash in qualifying. Pironi had posted a faster lap and it is usually assumed Villeneuve was simply 110% determined to better his new adversary, although his engineer claimed Villeneuve was on an ‘in’ lap, but still driving in his usual fashion. Others, who were in a position to know, felt unable to blame Villeneuve’s pique with Pironi but it will always remain conjecture.


‘Went off without a hitch’…? You decide.

Certainly it was not a happy weekend, and this mood continued on to Monaco where Ferrari entered only Pironi, leaving Villeneuve’s seat vacant in tribute.

Part II follows…


10 responses to “#F1 History: The story of the 1982 World Championship – Part I

  1. Excellent read, thank you.

    Although I watch F1 in the 80’s (after Sunday lunch with my dad) I was only 6 and didn’t know the technical details in 1982, but when I see the clips I distinctly remember seeing the images on the tv but never really clocked the gravity of the drama being played out infront of my eyes.

    Really looking forward to part 2.

    • Thank you…
      I have a wonderful image of a 6 year old kid saying:
      “But dad, why have they got half-full tanks…?”
      “Because… well son… it’s like this… Er… you see, when they start they have to have lots of water, because it’s so hot… and then they are allowed to fill up… but… er… um… Just watch the telly. I’ll explain it when you’re older… Or The Judge will…!” – 🙂

  2. Absolutely fantastic piece of writing. I giggled like a school girl watching the Barzilian GP video. God knows where I’ve put it, but somewhere I have the complete season review video this piece is taken out of. The commentator Clive James is absolutely hillarious 😀

    • How can you not love Clive Jones? His “Postcard from Berlin” documentary is absolutely epic and I would know. I grew up there. 🙂

  3. Great write up BJF, my first proper F1 season.
    To clarify a point, whenever Ferraris reached 1-2 position, they were always given the go slow order. They could race until the point they were first and second.
    Villeneuve at Monza in 79, dutifully followed his team mate in a 1-2 formation until the finish knowing he only had to pass him to become WDC.
    That’s why Imola was a travesty.
    Also, and this is important, when GV led, they lapped in the 1:38 bracket, when Pironi went ahead, 1:35

    Villeneuve was on an in lap when he hit the back of Mass’s car but I always felt that Nigel Roebuck enjoyed his preaching of the build up to this accident because he was a close friend to Gilles. You know what they say, repeat an untruth enough and eventually will be accepted as truth

  4. Especially on the internet… I like your lap times though.
    Perhaps Villeneuve was playing cat & mouse, as it has been ‘suggested’ he ‘expected’ Pironi to eventually stay behind… 😉
    Like I say, we’ll never really know.

  5. quick note about f1 popularity in the USA : until there is a successful American driver, the interest will remain with only the die hard f1 fan and not a more broad public.

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