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

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1982… and all that…! Part III

In Germany things continued with the ‘sour’ 1982 ‘norm’… Having qualified on pole Pironi came up fast behind Prost’s slower car (during non-timed rain-tyre tests), on a wet track, and was launched into the air in a frighteningly similar repeat of Villeneuve’s crash. Prost later admitted he felt terrified when he saw the Ferrari fly over the top of him. Pironi was so badly injured Sid Watkins had actually contemplated having to amputate his legs in order to remove him from the wreckage…

By this point in the season the turbo cars had achieved dominance – the first six cars on the grid were all turbo- powered and the slowest one was 3.1 secs. faster than the fastest normally-aspirated car in seventh. In the race Tambay did all that was asked, and took his first F1 victory, from Arnoux and Keke, who moved up to third in the overall standings, as Watson again failed to score. Piquet had led initially, from the front row but… on the 19th lap he encountered Salazar, whose mind seemed to be somewhere else and they collided, both cars forced to retire. Piquet was not a happy bunny and approached Salazar to discuss the right and wrong ways to traverse a chicane when you’re in a slower car, with the much faster-moving race leader closing rapidly from behind. Maybe Salazar was still too dazed as to what had just happened… Maybe he didn’t feel any desire to attend the Nelson Piquet School of Race Driving at just that moment… Whatever, Piquet clearly objected to something in Salazar’s body language and he hit out… and also tried to ‘put the boot in’ – not the most wonderful image to be beamed around the world to enhance the sport’s image…


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

Postscript… Sadly Pironi, who would probably have become the first French World Champion that year, never returned to F1. By 1986 he was able to walk with both legs, unaided, and tested both an AGS and a Ligier, and his times were considered sufficiently competitive to make a comeback. However… Pironi’s insurance policy had paid out substantial sums of money specifically on the grounds that he was unable to race in F1… Thus a return would have been very costly to him, because he would have had to repay the money. Instead he turned to Power Boat racing and… the following year… was killed in an accident off the Isle of Wight. A few weeks after his death his girlfriend gave birth to twins. She Christened them: Didier and Gilles…


In Austria the two Brabhams took the front row of the grid, followed by the Renaults, sandwiching the lone Ferrari who, for the second time, were obliged to field just one car. Keke qualified in 6th place ahead of Elio de Angelis. Gambling with half-full tanks the Brabhams romped away and, after mid-distance pitstops for fuel and tyres, Patrese was still leading, but Piquet had dropped to fourth… before both were forced to retire. These pitstops were the first such scheduled stops in a GP for many years, and regarded in the pit-lane as a bit of a novelty. This left de Angelis in the lead but being rapidly caught by Keke who, in the end, was placed second just 0.050 secs. adrift. Both drivers had been chasing their maiden F1 victory. Jacques Laffite’s Ligier was third, one lap down.

This was the last time Colin Chapman celebrated a Lotus victory by hurling his British cloth cap in the air. Indeed, it was the last win for a Chapman-built Lotus.


‘Went off without a hitch’…

And so the teams arrived in Switzerland for the Swiss GP… Actually they arrived at Dijon, in France, because motor-racing had not been allowed in Switzerland since the 1955 Le Mans disaster… This was the third, and last, Swiss GP. The two Renaults took the front row of the grid, Tambay was unwell and didn’t start, leaving Ferrari in the unusual position of not being able to field a car for a GP (has this happened at any other time…?), and Keke was only able to qualify eighth. During the race Keke seemed to just bide his time during the first half but eventually started moving through the field and, with either better luck or better strategy, came through to take Prost on the final lap – to score his first GP win, the first by a Finnish driver, and put himself in the lead for the Championship. Prost was now third while Watson, after five consecutive races without scoring, slipped to fourth, and with Lauda now equalling his score, in fifth.


‘Went off without a hitch’…

For Monza Tambay had recovered, and Ferrari had taken on ‘veteran’ Mario Andretti to fill the vacant seat for the final two races, and put himself firmly on pole. Andretti had also filled in for Reutemann’s absence at Williams in the US GP West. Tambay was right behind him on the grid, sandwiched by the Brabhams, with the Renaults fifth and six and in the race Arnoux did his best work to fend off the Ferraris (Tambay second, with Andretti a distant third) in front of the tifosi, to the pleasure of les fans… Keke failed to score and, with Watson managing to hang on for fourth, he was now the only driver who could prevent Keke from taking the championship.


‘Went off without a hitch’…

Back across the Atlantic, to Las Vegas, and the Caesar’s Palace car park – the first time since 1950 one country had held three Championship events. Keke was nine points ahead of Watson who, with the 9 points that were available for a win, was in a position to equal Keke’s 42, but would have been champion by dint of three victories. Keke just needed the one point from sixth place to take the crown. In the Constructors’ Championship the fight was still on between Ferrari, Renault, and McLaren.

However… (there are so many ‘howevers’ in this story…) just five days before this race the Williams appeal against disqualification in Brazil had been finalised, with Keke losing out. Maybe Williams could have continued the fight (especially as Watson had not been disqualified…), and it is perhaps not a coincidence that the FIA took six months to resolve the issue, but nobody wants to win in the courts after the season is over…!

After qualifying the Renaults again commandeered the front row, but with a surprise second row of Michele Alboreto (Tyrrell) and Eddie Cheever (Ligier-Matra). Keke managed sixth, and Watson was back in ninth, with the Ferraris not helping by inadvertently taking seventh and eighth.

The Renaults ran away with the race at the start but Arnoux’s car eventually faltered leaving Prost being chased by Alboreto. Meanwhile Watson was really lighting up the track. With only a win to satisfy him he rose from twelfth in the first few laps to third by lap sixteen but was still thirty seconds behind the leaders but… Keke was in fifth place, and theoretically safe. But… Prost developed tyre problems allowing Alboreto to lead his first GP. Watson also passed Prost but was unable to close further on Alboreto… and that’s how it ran out… Alboreto claiming his first GP victory and the first Tyrrell win for four years.


‘Went off without a hitch’…

And so, On This Day in 1982, Keke Rosberg, with just one win, and after not scoring a single point the previous year, became the first Finnish World Champion. The absent Didier Pironi was able to take second place (with two wins, and four more podiums), just five points behind, having missed the last five races, while Watson equalled Pironi’s score to place third – they both had two wins but Pironi had two seconds, to Watson’s one.

Amazingly, after all they had been through, Ferrari took the Constructors’ Championship, five points ahead of McLaren, who were seven points ahead of Renault, who pretty much had the fastest car for most of the season but not the reliability. McLaren scored by having the strongest driver pairing, Ferrari had both a fast car and the best reliability of all the teams, but the loss of Villeneuve, and then Pironi (both fine drivers, and the best pair that year) was disastrous for the team. Tambay did a great job stepping into the breach but seven races with only one car (plus one race with none) surely shows they were very worthy champions… though I doubt there was any celebration in Maranello.


Was 1982 one of the worst years in F1 ever…? It certainly wasn’t the greatest. Several horrific accidents, two deaths, the continued FOCA/FISA squabble, strikes, one race cancelled, and another race with twenty cars missing.

But 1982 is also remembered, now, for another reason… In the 33 years since 1950 at least one or two drivers died as a result of F1 incidents, every year. In the 30 years since 1982 only three drivers have died – Elio de Angelis in 1986 and Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994.

As a tribute to the young Italian, Riccardo Paletti, the racetrack at Varano de’ Melegari, in the northern province of Parma, is now called the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti. In Canada, the Montreal circuit is known as the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Part I

Part II


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

  1. Very good review of a tragic season. I was maybe 50 -75 yards from Paletti when he had his accident. I’ll never forget what I saw. The accident. Sid Watkins and his crew trying to get him out of the car. The ball of fire. The heli taking him to the hospital. Absolutely tragic.

    As an aside I think Paletti was the only F1 driver that drove in a race while wearing glasses.

  2. Loved it BJF, a great write up of a tragic season.
    Isn’t it significant that the chances of a season review by somebody like Clive James, or annoyingly Jonathan Ross, wouldn’t happen anymore because F1 isn’t entertainment any longer, it’s professional!
    Bugger the money men when they move into town!

  3. I’m happy it was liked – it takes up a lot of my time… trying to keep track of the facts which, on the internet, can be confusing at times.

    • BJF, I’m lucky in that I have the majority of race reports which were published by Autosport from 1984 through to 2011.
      I used to buy the magazine and tear out the report and interesting interviews etc. I’d throw the rest away. A few others since then and other publications. If you have any questions about something specific, give me a shout.

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