#F1 History: 1983 Monaco Grand Prix – Dancing in the Rain

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Jennie Mowbray

Rosberg Crop

“The rain is falling all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.”

~Robert Louis Stevenson – A Child’s Garden of Verses~

Monaco nestled quietly under a blanket of early morning haze while the Formula One cars sat still and silent in their respective garages. The only sound was that of rain splashing gently onto roofs, windows and, most ominously, roads. Water trickled down the dark tarmac, creating puddles and flooding gutters. Raindrops drilled dimples into the slate like water of the harbour. Somber clouds filled the sky overhead, giving minimal likelihood of the soon emergence of sunshine.

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Team managers and engineers gazed out to sea, trying their best to ascertain the direction and severity of incoming inclement weather. There were as yet no satellites or radar to give instantaneous predictions as to the estimated probability of precipitation. 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 slower than the pole setter Alain Prost, and only the top twenty were allowed to start on race day. It would be the only occurrence 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, battling a virus the whole weekend. He had been going to bed early and resting between practices. Everyone doubted that he would have the physical or mental stamina required to complete 76 laps of the tight and twisty street circuit.

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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 eleven 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 been tragically killed during qualifying for the fourth race of the season at Zolder 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 at Williams, Carlos Reutemann, had retired from racing, 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. McLaren drivers John Watson and Niki Lauda  had two wins each, but more retirements and less finishes in the points kept them out of the running for the championship.

1983 was continuing as 1982 had finished – four different winners driving for four different constructors for the first four races. All the winners had been powered by turbo engines apart from John Watson who had won at the Long Beach street circuit in his McLaren-Ford. Cosworth DFV’s were on the way out, their fifteen year reign finally coming to an end with the abolition of ground effects, and turbo engines were now becoming essential if you were to have any hope of challenging for the win. 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. McLaren had seen the writing on the wall and were in the process of finalising a contract for a turbo engine from Porsche.

Keke Rosberg was 5th on the grid, and was the highest placed normally aspirated engine with a Ford-Cosworth DFV in his Williams car. Both he and his teammate Jacques Laffite decided to take a gamble with the conditions 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 becoming visible in the distance, far out at sea. As the lights changed the more controlled power of Rosberg’s Cosworth 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.

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It wasn’t long before the rapidly drying track began 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 closed more than ten seconds of the gap between them. Rosberg’s head was starting to bob around and the commentators discussed whether, with his recent illness, he would be able to finish the race. There also concern about if the slowing of his lap time was due to a mechanical issue 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 for only the second win of his career. Nelson Piquet was second, over eighteen seconds behind him, and Alain Prost crossed the line for third. Rosberg had lapped every car except the first 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.

In 1982 his luck changed.  Alan Jones decided to retire and return home 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 resigned and Rosberg was left as the sole remaining driver. Eventually Derek Daly joined the team, giving a solid but not spectacular performance. The best he could manage was several fifth place finishes. 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 superior skill in wet, marginal conditions, sliding he 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 Rosberg’s critics finally began to acknowledge that maybe 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.

22 responses to “#F1 History: 1983 Monaco Grand Prix – Dancing in the Rain

  1. Lovely read, Jennie
    Always thought Keke didn’t get the recognition he deserved – his win at the Dallas Grand Prix in 1984 and his pole at Silverstone the same year were amazing feats.

    • Thanks 🙂 Some WC’s do have a lot of luck…unless they are the very best driver in the very best car…though just being in the right car at the right time requires a lot of luck too…

  2. Thanks, Jennie.

    “At 35 years of age Rosberg was the current reigning world champion…however there had been much discussion of his deserving such an honour.”

    I wonder if that sentence, without the age, will be able to be used this time next year for another?

    Déjà vu…

    And a black cat walks past, again! A glitch in the matrix? Oh em gee!


    • Lol 🙂 I thought of that…though if Rosberg doesn’t manage to get there this year he surely will be very close to the top of the list of “The Best F1 Drivers Never to Win a World Championship”. I would love for him to join Graham and Damon Hill in the father/son statistics…

  3. Thanks jennie. Finally something to do whilst my machine is running. 😂
    Loved the piece.

    • You’re very welcome! Glad you enjoyed it…and that it gave you something to do…though you could always think about writing an article on the Ford GT40 🙂

      • Agreed… Had that on hold, started looking up some things and that article might be more than just a couple of pages long. Such a fascinating car. Certainly if you start with the reincarnations, mk1, mk 2, mk3, mk4 and the J car.

        • It piqued my interest and I read a bit about it so I know what you mean! And so many F1 drivers involved…Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon, Phil Hill…

          Last year I wrote about the “British invasion of American racing” when Jim Clark won the 1965 Indy 500 (though he did do it with Ford engines!) but I hadn’t realized that 1965 was also the “American invasion of European racing” when Ford sent a huge number of cars to the 24 Hour of Le Mans…though they didn’t get very far at first. That year was the first American team to win…though it was in a year old Ferrari…devastating for those who had spent millions and millions of dollars but brilliant for Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt!!

          • And furthermore it was ford coming to le mans to get back at enzo for using them to drive up the price in a sell out to alfa. Brilliant. And don’t forget the jacky ickx story. Closest le mans finish ever. (Well, one that wasn’t about a promo pic) and the last one to have the typical run to your car le mans start. That race alone is worth an article.

          • Good idea, Bruznic, look forward to it.
            There are some iconic cars worth looking into. I was always fascinated by the way drivers would switch categories – no total concentration on F1 – and be successful. Sometimes their legacy is enhanced by that – e.g. Phil Hill only won 3 GPs, but he also won 3 LeMans 24hr races.

  4. “All the winners had been powered by turbo engines apart from John Watson who had won at the Long Beach street circuit in his McLaren-Ford.”

    Watson had qualified 22nd – still the lowest grid position for a winner of a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix.

    • And there was only one more win for the DFV after Monaco…Michele Alboreto in Detroit…which was also the last win for Tyrrell…

  5. “Mario Andretti wasn’t available as he was driving CARTs”
    Is that like driving FIAs or NASCARs?

    • There are lots of different FIA series but only one CART series…I think 🙂

      I guess I would say driving NASCARs because those of us in Australia would say driving V8 Supercars…

      So was he driving Indycars…or was he driving Lola’s in the CART series…or driving Champ Cars…or are you just being pedantic…or maybe you’re just trying to educate the philistines around the world about US racing. I will plead ignorance of the semantics involved 🙂

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