Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Carlo Carluccio
The 1982 Austrian Grand Prix followed another harrowing weekend in what was proving to be an unforgettably traumatic season. Gilles Villeneuve had been killed at Zolder and a few races later Ricardo Paletti’s car ploughed fatally into the stalled Ferrari of Didier Pironi at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix.
At this stage, the FIA were looking to bring in huge changes for the 1983 season. As ever with Formula One entrants, many arguments were put in favour and against this development with the British teams wanting to preserve their chassis design advantage and with the ‘foreigners’ wanting to return F1 to an engine formula.
The development of ground effects aerodynamics and sealing the car to the ground with sliding skirts had led to incredible cornering speeds but this necessitated hugely stiff springing which made the cars extremely tiring to drive and this – allied to the effect of losing all downforce when the seal with the car was broken – contributed to huge accidents.
The previous weekend at Hockenheim in Germany, World Championship leader, Pironi was running at high speed behind the Williams of Derek Daly in blinding rain when Daly moved over to the right to avoid the slowing Renault of Alain Prost. Unsighted, and in harrowing similarity to the fatal Villeneuve accident, the Ferrari launched off the rear tyre of the Renault and somersaulted down the track – finally coming to rest in a crumpled heap. Several drivers stopped to help, including Nelson Piquet, but the horrifying leg injuries forced them away. It was pure luck that the attending Professor Watkins had not had to amputate trackside. This finally pushed the FIA to action and flat bottoms were introduced for the following season on the grounds of safety.
Barely five days later the engines were fired up in the pit lane for the Austrian Grand Prix and the horrors were consigned to history. The stunning landscape around the Zeltweg track compares to any other spot of natural beauty in the world and the circuit’s layout of high speed corners including the downhill approach to the 200mph Bosch Kurve tested the drivers mettle to the full.
With the circuit being constructed at high altitude, this amplified the advantage that the turbo cars carried around this track and it was no surprise that after qualifying the front of the grid was dominated by turbo-charged cars.
The Brabham-BMWs of Piquet and Riccardo Patrese led the field from the Renault of Prost, the sole Ferrari of Patrick Tambay and the sister Renault of Rene Arnoux. The first naturally aspirated car was Keke Rosberg in his Williams-Ford FW08 in a time 2.6 seconds slower than pole position – it can only be imagined the heroics this man performed for his time as the seventh placed driver Elio De Angelis was 1.4 seconds slower with the same power unit. In fact after the five manufacturer powered entries, the field was made up of two Matra V12 powered Ligier cars, the Hart powered Tolemans which did not have the budget to compete and the V12 Alfa Romeo with the remainder of the grid running the venerable DFV.
Piquet led away from his pole position but Patrese had made a sluggish start with Prost passing him. The italian’s Brabham would hold third for a brief period as he passed the yellow car before the completion of the first lap and on lap 2 Patrese passed his team-mate and the two Brabhams began to pull away on their half full tanks.
Following his superb performance the week before and winning the German Grand Prix, Tambay had rotten fortune as he picked up a puncture from debris left after the Alfa Romeos of Andrea De Cesaris and Bruno Giacomelli collided on the first lap.
So for the Cosworth brigade, one turbo down four to go and on lap 16 Arnoux’s engine began developing problems – it’s injection system had failed – and he was forced to retire. Two down…
The Brabhams continued to sail around the sweeps of the Austrian track, Prost followed in third with De Angelis and Rosberg behind. Before half distance Piquet entered the pits and made his planned mid-race fuel and tyre stop and rejoined in fourth place in front of the Finnish driver. Several laps later Patrese made his stop and emerged still in the lead but a few seconds in front of Prost but with new tyres.
They circulated at similar pace but three laps after his stop his BMW 4 cylinder turbo cried enough and the sudden release of fluid saw the car spin out of control and into an earth bank. Prost inherited the lead ahead of Piquet who by now was struggling with his car and an electrical fault eventually caused his retirement.
So as the race entered it’s final stages, all Gallic fingers were crossed that the Renault would survive to the end and all the British ‘garagisti’ prayed that even Prost’s smooth style couldn’t prevent another celebrated retirement. Now free of Piquet, Rosberg began his chase of De Angelis and slowly began reducing the 10 second gap between the two.
Half a minute ahead of his under-powered opposition, Prost’s Renault engine suffered the same symptoms of Arnoux’s car and retired with flames engulfing the rear of the car as the injection system leaked fuel on to the hot exhausts thus leaving two men chasing their first Grand Prix victory.
The brusque Finnish moustachioed driver who tamed violent bursts of horsepower with bravado against a classically trained pianist who had been born into a wealthy Roman family. The difference in hunger was palatable just by watching the physical properties of the cars. As they crossed the line at the completion of the penultimate lap, the Williams trailed the Lotus by 1.6 seconds.
By the time they had covered half the last lap, and approaching the Texaco Schikane section, the gap was practically nothing. Rosberg had his sights set, but as they approached the final corner – the sweeping Rindtkurve – Rosberg had to lift to avoid the Lotus and having lost momentum jinked out from behind as they crossed the line split by a mere 0.050 seconds.
Tambay had recovered with a great drive back to fourth position which aided the Ferrari teams fight for the Constructors title but Rosberg’s second place moved him closer to the title lead as Pironi was out for the season.
On a sadder note, this would be the last Lotus victory witnessed by Colin Chapman – he passed away that December and to a certain degree so too did Lotus. There was a brief hiatus when the inspirational Ayrton Senna joined the team three years later but this once iconic team slowly fell backwards and was absorbed into the history books and memories of people who were there…
De Angelis would go on to score another win in the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix – a race heavily affected by the fuel limited engine formula of the time – before his tragic death at Paul Ricard in 1986 during testing. Rosberg who was a close friend of De Angelis was rumoured to have decided to retire after the accident. In celebration, when Jean Alesi joined the Formula One ranks he bore the same helmet design that De Angelis had worn throughout his career.
As to Rosberg? He would win the following Swiss Grand Prix held at the Dijon circuit and would claim the title by five points. Considering in the five races since Pironi crashed Rosberg scored 21 points it would be fair to say the deserving driver was the Frenchman. But unlike the great Jacky Ickx who didn’t want to win after Rindt’s fatal accident, there was never any such scruples from Mr Rosberg.