On this day in 1982…. 18th July
I was woken by my father and told to get ready. As an Italian family, we’d go out at weekends with other families and have picnics at major air-shows, tractor rallies (!) and other events throughout the summer months. So this in itself was not unusual. We were going with another family but destination unknown.
I was 2 weeks away from my 14th birthday, and I didn’t recognise the road network we were using. The M25 was still 4 years away from being opened and we made slow progress through London. Once on the A20 we headed into Kent and I paid scant attention to the slow moving traffic.
At one point, we were stationary behind an beautiful silver Audi Quattro, it’s 5 cylinder engine warbling each time it accelerated. Just in front of it, a car that would capture my heart forever, a Ferrari 308GTS. Being sat in a lime green Morris Marina in company like that was somewhat humbling but made dreams of sportscars more tangible.
When we turned off the A20 and were guided into a field full of cars, I was indifferent. But seeing the entrance with all the infrastructure promoting the British GP on this Sunday, I was rendered speechless.
When in Italy, over the years, I had watched F1 with my uncles and cousins, all sipping black espresso and shouting profanities at the poor form of Ferrari. In 1975, at the Motor Show at Earls Court, my father had got permission for me to have a seat in Lauda’s 312T.
In 1981 out of the Italian sun, I had conducted a full commentary of the Monaco Grand Prix which left everyone speechless, and asking my father where I had learnt it all.
In 1982, Ferrari/ Italy suffered the death of Villeneuve. I remember watching the news that awful Saturday evening and wondering how would the world carry on. I guess at 13, everything is dramatic and new. It’s amusing how the human mind works, but I thought because of this violent accident to the Ferrari squad, it would be repaid with the World Cup that summer.
It was a comparable emotion when I sat through the Senna accident in 1994. In a morbid way, I was glad it was a Brazil vs Italy final, closure for the Italian connection to the tragedy and success for a country still mourning a sporting hero.
Anyway, I digress. We walked through the entrance, bought tickets on the gate with a programme and found ourselves by Clearways at Brands.
Everyone helped set up the picnic area, I say everyone, but that would be minus yours truly. I walked up on to the earth bank and stood mesmerised by the vision of Brands on a gorgeous hot summer day.
The advertising hoardings all round the track, the pit complex over to the left, the pit entry lane just in front of where I stood. The track leading off to Hawthorns and Westfield, the same track returning from Dingle Dell.
There was an Air Rescue helicopter parked on the Indy Loop, and a Harrier Jump Jet that had been used so effectively in the Falklands.
I don’t remember the full days activities. I know there was saloon cars, the F1 warm up, and an air display over lunch time. The programme also mentioned a Pit Road Walkabout and I imagined how important you must be to get in there. I couldn’t imagine being that close to a real Ferrari!
The Grand Prix would start at 3pm, followed by a Lap of Honour, with the days events finishing with an Historic race and a round of the F3 championship.
We walked along behind the pit straight Grandstand and looked at all the stalls selling different items for the race fan. Unlike today, where everything is exactly the same, there were book stalls, clothing stalls, videos, models, stickers, and every other form of F1 merchandising.
The Red Arrows performed over the circuit, something that cannot be considered now due to insurance costs. Concorde roared over the circuit, practically swiping the Grandstand as it passed and a marching band could be heard over the tannoy.
By 3 o’clock, I had found my spot on the bank, right by the spectator fence. My father had given me his pride and joy, a Canon A1 with 300mm zoom lens for taking photographs and I had about 5 films to use. He had also given me instruction on its use. Obviously, I forgot it all completely, used the focus ring on a line on the track and took the same photo over and over.
There’s Pironi in the Ferrari, oh look Tambay in the Ferrari. Ah great, there’s another Ferrari… ooh, look another one of Tambay. I did manage to get some of the yellow cars, the Black and Gold ones and the Marlboro one, even got Daly and Rosberg in the Williams, but oddly none of the Brabham.
Another one I didn’t get was Warwick in the Toleman. I could hear the commentary quite well, I could see him progressing forwards quickly and Pironi’s pace was not inspiring. I sensed the danger of this ugly Toleman, some laps before Brian Jones, the Brands commentator did.
I was disheartened when he overtook the gorgeous Ferrari into Paddock. I saw it all from my vantage point. I would imagine I was one of the few who cheered when he coasted into the pits. I’m certain that my status as a child saved my skin that day.
Pironi followed Lauda across the line, and Tambay got pass De Angelis right at the end. So with a Ferrari legend on the podium, and 2 Ferraris behind him, it was a great initiation into F1.
By the time that the driver parade was in progress, I had returned to planet earth and remembered how to focus that damn lens. We returned later to the cars and had something to eat, more black coffee and I just read through the programme again.
I also kept looking at Rosberg’s helmet and decided I would base my own helmet design upon his, but using the Ferrari colours. I have been to Grand Prix’s abroad and in the UK at Brands, Silverstone or Donington for Grand Prix meetings..
I have been in the pits, and pitlane walkabouts (woohoo), chatting to drivers and team personnel, taking photos more successfully, been seated in Grandstand and trudged through mud for the 2000 British GP in April, but nothing can equal the excitement I felt as a young teenager.
The anticipation of the start, watching F1 Ferraris run in anger, watching the brutal beauty of an F1 car, smelling the torture of a state of the art missile, feel the organs in your body resonate with the horsepower. To witness individuals who are prepared to die for their passion.
1982 was a tragic season. We lost Villeneuve and Paletti. Pironi finished his career in Germany and we had Lauda, a man who had confronted death merely 6 years before and won. I missed the significance that day, but I have been grateful to have witnessed the man winning. He was a hero of the 70’s bridging his generation into ours.
Oh yes! And the Grand Prix…
Rosberg had qualified on pole in the Williams FW08. Brands Hatch was probably one of the few places that the turbo engined cars couldn’t gain a huge advantage over the normally aspirated cars. Even so, Rosberg was surrounded by Brabham BMW’s and the Ferrari of Pironi.
Lauda had qualified 5th the Renaults 6th and 8th and the other Ferrari of Tambay was starting 13th. This was his second race for Ferrari, as he had joined the team for the previous race in Holland. Brabham were set up to use re-fuelling in the race, planning to use soft tyres and half tanks to establish a lead and then re-fuel before using their new soft tyres advantage to win the race. At least that was the plan.
Rosberg couldn’t get his car off for the parade lap, so effectively Patrese became pole man. As the lights changed to green, Patrese didn’t move, Piquet took the lead and Pironi jinked right in avoidance but this action allowed Lauda the run into second place. Unsighted, Arnoux slammed into the back of the Brabham and they finished on the grass verge beside the track.
With all the confusion at the start, Rosberg gained around 8 places on the first lap alone.
Piquet’s Brabham slowed due to fuel pump failure on the 10th lap and Lauda took over the lead. Daly and Warwick were moving through the field and were catching Pironi. Warwick in fact overtook Daly and then caught and passed Pironi into Paddock Hill bend. At this point, Lauda was around 25 seconds ahead.
Warwick remained in second until lap 40 when his CV joint broke and he trailed into the pits. Pironi resumed in 2nd place and remained there until the chequered flag. Tambay chased De Angelis and the luckless Italian had fuel starvation problems on the last lap and Tambay overtook him down towards Hawthorns Bend.
But the winner? A returning race driver, rumoured to be racing to raise funds for his airline. A driver who’s team sponsors were worried if he could regain his driving pace after his return. A driver who had slapped Lucifer and emerged, if not unscathed, at least alive.
A driver who when told that a book did not credit him with having started the 1976 German GP which nearly killed him, because he didn’t take the restart, retorted, “So what happened to my ear?”
Niki Lauda. A true sporting legend, he won his 3rd race after his return and made winning the 1982 British GP look shockingly easy. As smooth as he had ever been, and as clinical and methodical in his attacking and defending as ever.
There are times since his retirement that the public mock his ability as a broadcaster, or throw scorn upon his management style with different teams, but any man who survived the dangers of 70’s F1 deserves utmost respect.