Grand Prix Classic
Round 1 - South African Grand Prix
Kyalami, 21-23 January, 1982
The high-altitude Kyalami was the first stop for the Formula 1 circus in 1982. The combination of a fast layout (including the long downhill main straight and some beautiful sweeping corners) and the thin air (which kept the atmospheric cars down to around 400bhp, compared to the 500bhp of their turbo rivals) were expected to produce a turbo benefit.
The previous year's edition had been boycotted by Renault and Ferrari during the FISA/FOCA war, the event being declared a non-championship Grand Prix in the end. The 1980 race, however, had been won by Rene Arnoux's Renault at a canter, after team-mate Jean-Pierre Jabouille had taken pole. The main hope for the Cosworth, Matra and Alfa Romeo runners seemed to be that the turbocharged cars would break down.
Thirty-one drivers and seventeen teams were entered to compete for the 26 places on the grid. These included prospective debutantes Manfred Winkelhock, Roberto Guerrero, Raul Boesel, Mauro Baldi, Riccardo Paletti and Teo Fabi.
Many of the teams didn't have their new 1982 cars ready, aiming instead for the next race in Argentina, a month away. The only new chassis in South Africa were Ferrari's 126C2, Brabham's BMW-powered BT50, March's 821, ATS' D5 and Arrows' A4, the rest making do with either modified or as-1981 (aside from regulation-enforced changes) cars. Indeed, with several teams (such as Fittipaldi, Tyrrell and March) yet to finalise sponsorship for the season ahead and six weeks until the next round in Argentina, it felt like more a belated addition to the 1981 series than the start of a new season.
While the FISA/FOCA struggle had died down, a fresh battle sprang up. Wily Niki Lauda had inspected his new FISA superlicence forms and found a new clause had been added. This tied the driver to whichever team they were with when the licence was given, basically ending the relatively free movement between different teams drivers were allowed. He objected, and led the Grand Prix Drivers Association (chaired by Didier Pironi) to strike. The other drivers realised how damaging the clause could be, allowing the teams or the FIA to block a move to a better team, and even effectively giving the teams the freedom to recruit a third driver and effectively bench the current incumbent, not allowing him to drive for anyone.
Negotiations between the GPDA and FISA were stalemated, and on the morning of the first official session, Lauda and GPDA chairman Didier Pironi simply rounded up their fellow drivers (excepting Jochen Mass, who was staying elsewhere and remained unaware of the protest) in a bus, and drove to a Johannesburg hotel where they holed up.
Not all the drivers were 100% behind the strike - the likes of Keke Rosberg and Manfred Winkelhock were eager to make a good impression with their new teams. The only man to actually break ranks, however, was Teo Fabi, persuaded to turn up for practice by Toleman manager Alex Hawkridge. Indeed, the drivers were put under considerable pressure - Bernie Ecclestone announced that Piquet and Patrese were fired, while the teams' unified position was that around 150 other drivers had signed the superlicences, and they would just pick replacements from them. Thursday morning passed without any cars on the circuit
On the Friday morning, Mass (who had finally arrived and didn't particularly care for Lauda's politicking) and Fabi both made various stabs at actually driving, only to be pulled back into the pits as negotiations continued. Eventually peace was negotiated and the offending clauses were removed. The only driver not to return was Patrick Tambay, who refused to drive the Arrows as he hadn't even sat in it previously, and he wasn't keen on nervous ground effects machines anyway. The Frenchman instead announced his retirement. In his stead came Brian Henton, who had driven for Toleman in 1981 and was present in the paddock after being considered for the Arrows seat but vetoed by sponsor Ragno Ceramica.
The entry was reduced shortly before official practice began when an injunction from Willi Maurer, Guerrero's former boss in Formula 2, arrived, claiming to have a valid contract to run Guerrero (and his Cafe de Colombia sponsorship) again in 1982. Ensign were thus forced to withdraw their entry and head back to England to sort the mess out.
The timed session themselves brought few surprises, despite a rain shower midway through. The turbo cars locked out the first three rows of the grid, with Rene Arnoux fastest of all, with team-mate Prost a disappointed fifth. Piquet put the new Brabham alongside Arnoux on the front row, with Patrese a confident fourth - both enthusiastic about the power of the BMW motor. Villeneuve in 3rd and Pironi in 6th rounded out the top six, happy that the 126C2 was a step forward from the powerful but reluctant 1981 model.
The highest non-turbo was Rosberg in an excellent 7th, just ahead of team-mate Reutemann, with Watson and the impressive Alboreto rounding out the top 10 (Borgudd in the other Tyrrell struggled, crashing twice and only starting from 23rd). The returning Niki Lauda started a faintly underwhelming 13th after bending a suspension rod in the only session, while further back Winkelhock (20th) and Boesel (21st) qualified for their first Grand Prix.
Such was the boost the turbos got at Kyalami that even a Toleman could do well. Fabi failed to make the grid in his car after a loss of boost in the Hart engine prevented him even posting a time, but Derek Warwick would start a respectable 14th. Joining Fabi in non-qualification were both Arrows drivers, who had a miserable day with a car neither driver had really driven before, and Paletti in the second Osella.
Saturday's weather was clear and hot, giving some hope to the non-turbo teams - it was possible their rivals would overheat and retire. It seemed to be their best hope considering the massive speed differentials that were showing on the main straight, anyway. When the lights went out Arnoux's getaway was perfect, but Piquet's wasn't. The reigning World Champion's inexperience at standing starts with a turbo was his undoing as he bogged down - nevertheless when he did get going the power of the BMW was enough that he still entered the first corner in sixth place.
The race swiftly dropped into a neat order. Arnoux and Prost tore away in the Renaults, both cars functioning perfectly. A little further back came the two Ferraris, running closely, Villeneuve ahead of Pironi. Then came a gap before the Brabhams - Patrese had hung onto the back of Pironi for the first lap or so, but then dropped back, with Piquet following in formation. Then there came another gap, already ominously large, to the Cosworth runners, led by Reutemann, Rosberg, Watson, Laffite, Alboreto and Lauda. Jarier had already disappeared in the lone starting Osella, getting a shove at Crowthorne as everyone avoid Mansell (who lost all power immediately due to an electrical fault) just after the start and ploughing through the catch-fencing and into the tyre wall.
Then on the fourth lap Piquet was out. His brakes had already locked up once, dropping him back from Patrese, and they did so again, this time sending him sliding off into retirement. Villeneuve was next to go on lap 7, a turbo unit expiring with a great big plume of smoke and promoting the gaggle of Cosworth runners into a battle for 5th place.
By lap 12 the Renaults were already beginning to lap the backmarkers, Arnoux unable to shake Prost, and on lap 14 the younger of the Frenchman was able to slingshot out of the leader's slipstream entering the main straight and take the lead. Prost then proceeded to pull away from Arnoux at a commendable rate. Further back, after a steady start while he worked up a head of steam, Lauda was now beginning to earn his money, disposing of Alboreto and Laffite to move into 8th.
Soon that became 7th as Patrese toured into the pits from fourth with a turbocharger failure, ending the brief but promising debut of the BMW turbo project. Pironi would also hit trouble - suffering excessive tyre wear he was the first of the front-runners to pit from a lonely 3rd place, too far back from the Renaults but easily ahead of the Williams pair. However, the tyre stop was a disaster as the left-rear wheelnut jammed, costing the Frenchman a lot of time and dropping him out of the points.
This moved the Williams cars up to 3rd and 4th, Reutemann ahead of Rosberg (though the Finn was giving a fine account of himself on his debut for the team, despite the gear knob coming off in his hand on lap 7), followed by Watson and the closing Lauda. Indeed, both McLarens were picking up speed and chasing down the second Williams. Up front it seemed like it was all over, Prost maintaining a comfortable lead over his team-mate, and with Pironi having dropped down the field they were effectively unopposed.
But then on lap 41 Prost was coasting - he had punctured his left-rear tyre on some debris, and the Michelin deflated and flew off altogether just as Prost made it back into the pits. Arnoux flew past to retake the lead, but Prost survived to get a fresh set of tyres, only minimal damage to the bodywork having been done thanks to his careful handling. He had lost a lap, but soon forced his way past Alboreto before unlapping himself with similar brio.
By now Pironi was on one of his charges, swiftly moving past the McLarens and then Rosberg with considerable ease. Following him back up through the field with even more formality was Prost, who caught the Ferrari just as Pironi moved past Reutemann for 2nd, followed him through and then took the position for himself on the next tour. Despite Prost's speed, Arnoux seemed to have too much of a lead, and seemed to be doing just what he needed to in order to maintain a comfortable lead over his compatriot and team-mate.
However, it was not to be. On lap 66, Arnoux slowed considerably when his tyres dropped off badly and caused the car to vibrate heavily, despite Michelin's promise that they would last the whole race. Within two laps Prost was past, Arnoux doggedly continuing, albeit at greatly reduced speed. Behind them Pironi dropped back also, his own engine giving big problems, and after a slow lap he trundled into the pits for an extended inspection. By now Lauda had got past Watson and had set off after Rosberg for what was now 4th place.
Prost had eased off, maintaining a comfortable cushion while preserving the car, and the big question was whether Reutemann could catch the down-on-power Arnoux. He eventually managed it four laps from the end, the passing a mere formality as both drivers were fed incorrect signals by their pits - as far as both knew, Reutemann was unlapping himself.
Lauda was able to get past Rosberg for 4th but was too far back to think about doing anything about Arnoux, settling for 4th and probably crossing a couple of fingers in the hope that the Renault would expire altogether. Prost had no such problems, scoring his 4th Grand Prix victory in some style after a fine drive, just reward for his mechanical sympathy and decisive overtaking moves. Reutemann was a delighted second, 15s. back, at a circuit where Williams hadn't expected much joy, while Arnoux held on for 3rd, though believed he was in 2nd until the race finished. Lauda had been gaining rapidly by the end but simply ran out of laps, instead being happy with 4th on his racing return, and on a turbo track to boot. Rosberg took 5th on a sound debut for Williams, with Watson completing a good day for McLaren in sixth.
The rest were lapped, but with 18 cars running at the end many were content. Alboreto took a fine 7th for the cash-strapped Tyrrell (team-mate Borgudd had caused more consternation after spinning with a loose nosecone before driving against traffic briefly and executing a somewhat bizarre three-point turn on his way to 16th); the ATS cars came in a promising 9th and 10th, Salazar leading the quietly capable Winkelhock; while Mass brought the new March home in 12th, gaining valuable mileage (as did Boesel in 15th).
In many ways, though, the race was something of a phoney war after all the fuss. The Brabhams and Ferraris had only had their first competitive run-out and could be expected to improve, while Williams, Alfa Romeo and Lotus would have new cars come the South American rounds. The real shape of the 1982 season had yet to emerge.
Fastest Lap: Alain Prost (Renault), 1:08.278s