Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor: Jennie Mowbray
“On the fifth day, which was a Sunday, It rained very hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty. I went upstairs and sat in my room and watched the water falling in the street. It was falling so hard that it looked like white sparks (and this is a simile, too, not a metaphor).”
~Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time~
Monaco was quiet in the early morning haze with the Formula One cars still silent in their garages. The only sound heard was that of water splashing gently on roofs, windows and, most ominously, roads. The clouds skimmed by overhead with not even a glimpse of blue sky to be seen. Water ran down the road into the gutters while rain drops made dimples on the grey water of the harbour, which reflected the clouds in the sky.
Team managers and engineers gazed out to sea, trying to ascertain the direction of winds and weather. There were as yet no weather satellites and radar to rely on, giving predictions on the probability and amount of rain. All anyone could do was guess and hope for the best.
The rain had already created chaos during qualifying the day before with neither McLaren being able to improve on their time from Thursday. Niki Lauda and John Watson had been five seconds down and only the top 20 were allowed to start on race day. It would be the only race that both McLarens would fail to qualify.
Before the final practice session on Sunday morning the rain stopped but no-one knew if and when it would start again. Keke Rosberg had not been well, struggling with a virus the whole weekend. He had been going to bed early and resting between practices. There was doubt if he would even have the stamina to complete the race.
At 35 years of age, Rosberg was the current reigning world champion; however there had been much discussion of his deserving such an honour. No one driver had dominated during 1982. There had been 11 different winners and no-one had won more than two races. Rosberg had ended up on the top of the table, but with only one win his “right” to a world driver’s championship had been hotly debated by both the fans and the press.
At Scuderia Ferrari Gilles Villeneuve had tragically died at the fourth race of the season at Spa and Didier Pironi had been seriously injured at Germany. Ferrari won the constructors championship, and Pironi held on to second in the Driver’s Championship despite not contesting the last five races. Rosberg’s teammate Carlos Reutemann had retired in part due to the Falkland’s war causing difficulties with an Argentinian driver in a British team. He was replaced by Derek Daly who though reliable was not noteworthy. Rene Arnoux and Alain Prost were in the Renault that was still struggling for reliability with its soon to be essential turbo engine. They had two wins each, but multiple DNF’s. John Watson and Niki Lauda driving for McLaren also had two wins each, but more retirements and less finishes in the points to be competitive.
1983 was continuing as 1982 had finished – four different winners driving for four different constructors for the first four races. All the winners had turbo engines apart from John Watson who had won at the Long Beach street circuit in his McLaren-Ford who were in the process of finalising a contract for a turbo engine from Porsche.
Ford-Cosworth engines were on the way out, their 15 year reign finally coming to an end with the abolition of ground effects, and turbo engines were now becoming essential. It was only the year before that turbo engines were starting to make their presence felt after several rocky, unreliable years during which Renault persisted with their development of the new technology. Ferrari and Alfa Romeo had joined them in 1982 and now and for the 1983 season their use was widespread. Everyone of note either already had one or was planning how to get one.
Keke Rosberg was 5th on the grid, and was the highest placed normally aspirated engine with a Ford-Cosworth DFV in his Williams car. He and his teammate Jacques Laffite decided to take a chance and start the race with slicks. The majority of the field and all the front runners were using wet tyres, despite the rain clearing and blue sky now being visible out at sea.
As the lights changed the more controlled power of Rosberg’s normally aspirated engine gave better grip to his slick tyres and he zipped up the middle of the cars in front of him who were struggling in the slippery conditions with the power delivery from their turbo engines and their increased torque. He was in second place going through the first corner and by the end of the first lap he had passed Prost for the lead. The only time he was seen again by the other competitors was when he was lapping them.
It wasn’t long before the rapidly drying track was playing havoc with the wet tyres and soon all the front runners were pitting for slicks which allowed Rosberg to build up an unbeatable lead. His only threat was his teammate Laffite who for a time was catching up to him, after getting past Eddie Cheever who was holding up the rest of the field. After seven laps Rosberg was 28 seconds ahead of Lafitte and by the end of lap ten he was starting to lap the backmarkers.
Prost and Cheever in their Renaults were battling it out for 6th and 7th place when Rosberg came up behind them to lap them on Lap 24. It was after this that Rosberg started losing time to Lafitte who caught up more than ten seconds of the gap between them. Rosberg’s head was starting to bob around a lot and there was discussion of whether with his recent illness he would have the stamina to finish the race. There also concern about whether he was having some sort of mechanical problems with his car. However, the gap was then maintained at 19 seconds and by lap 53 he was again gaining time over Lafitte. Suddenly Laffite slowed, out of the race with a gearbox failure.
Rosberg went on to take the chequered flag of only the second win of his career. Nelson Piquet was second, over 18 seconds behind him, and Alain Prost crossed the line for third. Rosberg had lapped all the cars except the top four.
Rosberg had been given little opportunity to show his talent and driving skills prior to 1982. He had spent his first seven years in Formula One driving cars that the best they could often hope for was to finish the race. The only glimpse of what he was capable of had been a podium in Argentina driving for Skol Fittipaldi during 1980 with an ageing Emerson Fittipaldi as his teammate.
Then his luck changed in 1982. Alan Jones decided to retire and return to Australia. Frank Williams needed a replacement, but his first choice of Mario Andretti wasn’t available as he was driving CARTs in the United States. Rosberg was hired as the number two driver to Carlos Reutemann, but after only two races Reutemann retired and Rosberg was left as the sole driver. Eventually Derek Daly joined the team, to give a solid but not spectacular performance, with a best place finish of 5th. Rosberg went on to win the World Championship, scoring his maiden victory at the Swiss Grand Prix, along with a solid string of podiums and points finishes.
In this race Rosberg showed his skill in wet, marginal conditions on a challenging street circuit. His strengths in car handling were obvious, as he slid the rear wheels masterfully around corners, the tail of the car swinging around before he planted his foot on the accelerator, going as fast as possible for the conditions. His car was far from the most powerful, but he exploited everything possible from it.
It was after this race that his critics finally started to acknowledge that his World Championship from the year before had been at least partially deserved. He had decimated the more powerful Ferraris and Renaults and shown his supreme car handling abilities. Maybe he did deserve to be a World Champion after all.