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F1 History 21

1983 Belgian Grand Prix report

Taken from the July 1983 issue of Motor Sport

By Denis Jenkinson

At this length of time after the event there is little point in recording an hour-by-hour or lap-by-lap account of the happening on the return of Grand Prix racing to the revised Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the wooded hills in south-east Belgium. Suffice to say that everyone seemed to enjoy the event, a crowd of 80,000 turned up to watch, it was a real horsepower race and the character of the Grand Prix de Belgique as a great occasion has returned.

history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report
Alain Prost leads Eddie Cheever

For the record some brief notes will not go amiss. In spite of a few ‘dismal jimmies’ forecasting doom, practice got away promptly on Friday morning and it was noticeable how all the drivers were keen to get to grips with this challenging new circuit for Formula 1. The nature of the circuit brought out the best in them and Tambay, Laffite and Surer were a joy to watch anywhere for their sheer precision at high speed and their obvious delicate balance. Rosberg was good spectator value showing incredible determination and forceful driving and his speed came from a big heart rather than inborn skill and artistry. If he was as smooth and precise as his Williams team-mate he would be really quick; as it is there is no one with a Cosworth V8 that can touch him at the moment.

Young Andrea de Cesaris was brave and fast, especially on his entry to corners, but the most uncanny driver to watch is Alain Prost. There is no sign of effort, no obvious speed, no feeling of artistry, in fact a rather dull proposition to observe, yet he was by far the fastest driver on the circuit. There must be a lesson there somewhere. In the qualifying hour on Friday afternoon in warm and dry conditions the scene was set with all the factory turbo-charged 1.5-litres up at the front, the real tryers in the middle and the odds and ends down at the back. Notable was Marc Surer who got his Arrows A6 in between the two Williams drivers and Roberto Guerrero who got his Theodore ahead of the two McLaren drivers, Lauda and Watson. The first day ended with everything looking good.

history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report
Theodore’s Roberto Guerrero in Montreal, 1983

Saturday was a disaster. The clouds were on the ground on the higher parts of the surrounding area and the rain came. In spite of the awful conditions all the drivers were eager to get out on the circuit on treaded rain tyres, they had not enjoyed themselves at a circuit like this in a long time. It was most heartening to see. The rain continued throughout the day so all hope of anyone improving on their Friday qualifying time was gone. The times for Friday settled the grid position and it was no real surprise that the two non-qualifiers were Salazar with the RAM-March and Ghinzani with the Alfa Romeo V12 engined Osella.

Apart from Warwick being further down the grid than was reasonable, due to typical ‘Toleman Trouble’ and having to use the spare car, the Friday line-up was reasonable, so the fact that Saturday qualifying was a wash-out was not too serious. We have come to accept that neither McLaren driver tries too hard these days, for they don’t want to make it look as though the Cosworth DFY engine will keep them competitive through this season. They need to ram home the urgency of getting the new Porsche engine into racing as soon as possible and to try and force the internal political issue within McLaren International, between the various factions, notably the sponsors Marlboro and TAG and the Porsche engineers.

history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report
McLaren’s TAG turbo engine, which made its debut at Zandvoort

Sunday was grey and over-cast but mercifully the rain held off and conditions were good for racing. The half-hour warm-up period saw plenty of action as everyone tried to make up for the lost time on Saturday. The fashion started by Brabham last year, of starting the race with only 25 gallons of petrol in the tank and relatively soft tyres, and making a pit stop half-way through the race, has caught on. Apart from Brabham, the Williams team, ATS, Lotus, Renault, Ligier, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Toleman were all planning pit stops.

The race was due to start at 2.30 to run over 42 laps of the 6.949 kilometre circuit, but as the start was on the slight uphill stretch before La Source hairpin, where the new pits have been built, and the finish was on the downhill run past the old pits, you had to add 662 metres to the total of 42 x 6.949 to get the full race distance. At 2.00 all 26 cars left the pits and did a lap round to the starting grid and Arnoux (Ferrari), Rosberg (Williams), Laffite (Williams) and Boesel (Ligier) all went through the pitlane and round for another lap before taking up their positions on the grid. Shortly before 2.30 they all set off on their parade lap behind Alain Prost’s Renault and when they returned Surer was in trouble with the gearbox on his Arrows.

history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report
Marc Surer

As the starter put the red light on marshals at the back of the grid were waving yellow flags to indicate that all was not in order so the red light went to flashing yellow, which meant ‘start cancelled’, but Prost and de Cesaris saw the red light go out and simply took off! Tambay saw the flashing yellow and backed right off as did everyone else, while Surer, Laffite and de Angelis were left on the grid with stalled engines. Black flags greeted de Cesaris and Prost as they set off on what they thought was the first lap and the whole field straggled round the circuit and back to the grid. Poor Surer, with a broken gearbox went into the pits and transferred to the spare Arrows and resigned himself to having to start from the pitlane after everyone had gone from the restart.

The rules state that in the event of an aborted start there will be no topping-up of petrol tanks on the grid, but the race will be shortened by one lap, to allow for a second parade lap before the restart. As all the competitors had inadvertently done a lap and would now have to do the second parade lap as well, the race distance was shortened by two laps, from 42 to 40 laps. During the time before the restart Renault and Ferrari mechanics were seen with churns of petrol though no one seems to have seen them actually topping-up their cars. However, there were various protests and subsequently Renault were fined $5000 for having refuelling churns on the starting grid, which is strictly against the rules.

history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report

The second parade lap was done without Surer, and the 25 cars lined up and this time all was well. Andrea de Cesaris went off like a rocket between Prost and Tambay and led away. It was turbocharged cars all the way, Alfa Romeo (de Cesaris), Renault (Prost), Ferrari (Tambay and Arnoux), Brabham-BMW (Piquet) and ATS-BMW (Winkelhock), then Rosberg and Laffite with the Williams-Cosworths, followed by Renault (Cheever), Alfa Romeo (Baldi), Lotus-Renault (de Angelis) with Guerrero leading the rest with his Theodore, ‘the rest’ including Lauda and Watson, Alboreto, Jarier and Mansell, so the young driver from Colombia was feeling justifiably pleased with himself.

That was the pattern of the race until near to half distance when the pitstops began. Alfa Romeo fumbled their stop and Renault did a perfect job so Prost took over the lead from de Cesaris thanks entirely due to his mechanics (I hope he paid them a good bonus from his prize money!). The Alfa Romeo challenge disappeared when the neat little V8 engine blew up, but de Cesaris had surprised everyone not only with his speed but the fact that he looked reasonably safe and did not look as though he was going to fly off the road.

history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report
Andrea de Cesaris

As usual the Brabham team were masters of the pitstop art with their air jacks and fixed wheel nuts, and they helped Piquet into a strong third place, which became second when the Alfa Romeo blew up, while Tambay and Cheever were behind. In the opening stages Rosberg was hanging on to the turbo-charged cars with a tenacity that reminded one of Jean Behra in his Gordini days, but he was inevitably losing ground all the time. Arnoux overheated his tyres in the first part of the race by some rough driving, and lost ground on the smooth Mr Tambay, and after the pit stops his Ferrari engine blew up.

The second half of the race was a Prost benefit, as the Renault droned its impeccable way round the circuit, with no one to trouble him. In the closing stages Piquet’s Brabham had gearbox trouble and he could not use fifth gear, so gradually Tambay and Cheever drew closer. Some idea of the unpopularity of Bernie Ecclestone in Belgium could be gained from the cheering and waving that went on in the crowd when Tambay overtook the stricken Brabham and again when Cheever went by. It was very obvious that Brabham, Ecclestone, Piquet and BMW are not a popular confection with the Belgians.

history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report
Nelson Piquet

The two Williams cars ran like clockwork throughout the race as did the two Toleman-Hart cars, Warwick’s only problem being a muddled pit stop needing him to make a second stop. He had led his little Italian team-mate at the time, but naturally the second stop put him back. On the very last lap Giacomelli had a spin, but kept the engine running and as he gathered it all up Warwick went by into seventh place. Of the others Watson was savaged by Jarier at the hairpin and both cars were bent, Lauda went out with engine failure as did Guerrero, while Winkelhock had the embarrassment of a rear wheel coming off his ATS, which spun him off into the catch fences. Patrese did not complete a lap as his BMW engine failed, and the young Belgian Thierry Boutsen making his Formula 1 debut retired at five laps with suspension breakage on his rent-a-drive Arrows A6.

The revitalised Spa-Francorchamps circuit is not totally finished, but the race was a huge success and all the Belgians have to do now is to take a leaf from the Italians and organise things to utilise both of their major circuits. The Grand Prix de Belgique at Spa-Francorchamps, and the Grote Prijs van Belgic, at Zolder and then we’ll all be happy.

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history  1983 Belgian Grand Prix report

Add your comments

21 comments on 1983 Belgian Grand Prix report

  1. Bill, 29 August 2013 17:16

    Great read!

  2. zantimisfit66, 29 August 2013 18:16

    Ah I remember this one. Excellent drive, of the type of which he was occassionally capable, by DeCesaris. Even better by Rosberg, driving like a maniac and hanging on to the turbo’s through Eau Rouge. I was cheering for Tambay in #27 that year – I remembered he came second but forgot Prost trundled in first. Bye for now…..

  3. Rich Ambroson, 29 August 2013 18:32

    A qualifying session on Friday, and a morning warmup on Sunday? No wonder we don’t have that today, it reeks of sanity!

    On a less facetious note, I really enjoy these posts of past articles by Jenks!!!

  4. Matt Wills, 29 August 2013 19:54

    Could you re print DSJ ,s continental notes from the Belgian Grand Prix 1970 pls

  5. Andrew, 30 August 2013 10:50

    I really look forward to these articles from DSJ. Another excellent read, thanks for posting.

  6. Lewis Lane, 30 August 2013 11:54

    I distinctly remember Rosberg grimly trying to cling to the back of the leading turbo cars and leaving the rest trailing in his wake. Made every other non turbo look ordinary by comparison. One of the great unheralded drives, for me.
    And what was it with DeCesaris and Spa? Seem to remember he went pretty well in ’91, too…

  7. Bill, 30 August 2013 19:53

    That race was 30 years ago.

    Exactly 21 years ago one M. Schumacher won his first race at Spa, august 3, 1992. I was there, and it was the first time I thought that annoying little German stealing the limelight from my hero Mansell, could become the real thing after all.

    Probably a bit what other people feel about Hamilton and Vettel today. ;)

  8. Nick H, 30 August 2013 21:33

    @ Bill
    I was there in that year too.
    Can remember later in the race spectating on the inside of the circuit at the entry to Blanchimont (pretty sure we weren’t supposed to be there, but no one tried to stop us…) standing against the fencing at what seemed to be no more than 6 feet from the armco with the F1 cars blasting past at full pelt – no run off to speak of on the other side of the barriers, and probably the only time I’ve actually been a bit scared watching racing cars…
    Eau Rouge gets all the glory, but standing there was something else!

    Also seem to remember DeCesaris putting the squeeze on Mansell through there at one point and thinking “This’ll end in tears!” Fortunately it didn’t…

    I was actually quite a fan of Schumacher back then – always nice to see someone arrive with a bang and shake up the establishment, and it was good to be present to see a driver get their first win.


  9. Mikey, 1 September 2013 11:52

    Well said Rich Ambroson.
    Looking forward to more of these old reports. Reading them in parallel to this year’s race reports is fun. OK by you Mr Smith?
    30 year old race reports, when Spa (this version) was new and planned pit stops were a novelty. If we only knew…

  10. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 2 September 2013 15:03

    Gilles Villeneuve’s death the previous year had knocked the stuffing out of me and, so, it was tough for me to muster up the desire to watch this Belgian Grand Prix on tv.

    But I did watch it.

    The fact that they didn’t return to Zolder made it easier to tune into the proceedings…as did Murray Walker’s and James Hunt’s enthusiasm for the venue during the commentary.

  11. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 2 September 2013 15:10


    This quote is quite telling:

    “We have come to accept that neither McLaren driver tries too hard these days, for they don’t want to make it look as though the Cosworth DFY engine will keep them competitive through this season. They need to ram home the urgency of getting the new Porsche engine into racing as soon as possible and to try and force the internal political issue within McLaren International…”

    Hmmm – “…neither McLaren driver tries too hard these days…”

    I did not know that Lauda and Watson were puposely going slower that Spring.

  12. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 2 September 2013 15:54

    So, why would a guy like John Watson purposely go slower when he was going to be out of contract?

    Was he intending on retiring at the end anyway?

    Isn’t it true that Watson was let go by McLaren only AFTER Prost became available following his diagreements with the Regie once the 1983 World Championship was over (at the last race in South Africa)?

    I can understand Lauda intentionally going alower – in the interests of getting the TAG-Porsche engine sooner.But, it makes no sense to me that Watson would go slower too – unless he already had a contract for 1984.

    Anyone can shed light on this?

    Perhaps John Watson himself?

  13. Mikey, 2 September 2013 17:57

    I remember talk of this at the time; pressurising TAG/Porsche to get a move on developing the engine (I think Mansour Ojjeh had taken a share in McLaren so their fortunes would have been directly linked to his).
    That said, the Cosworth McLaren wasn’t too shabby. It worked it’s way through the field to a 1-2 at Long Beach and was arguably among the best of the non-turbos (non qualification at Monaco aside) with a good few top 6 finishes. I think “Watty” gave it a 3rd place in it’s swansong.
    My memory might be a bit fuzzy now but if there was a go slow policy, perhaps it was selective. As Ray says, perhaps the drivers could clear this up.

  14. Charles Norman, 2 September 2013 18:46

    Tyres gentlemen! Even back then those round black object played a significant part. In some races like Long beach they played into McLaren’s favour, in others they screwed them.

    DSJ could be a bit of a mischief maker at times and this was one of those occasions i would suggest.

    I personally was a bit annoyed at the way Dennis dumped Wattie at the last moment; and he had no other drive lined up either. Sadly this more or less finished his F1 career which was pretty shabby really considering the guy could on his day be a match for anyone. It has been said that he would be off form if he had difficult times with the opposite sex; shades of someone currently in F1 now!!

    That being said Wattie could drive the wheels off Lauda when he was in a happy frame of mind; enough said on that subject.

    I too was at this race and the one thing that lasts in my memory was the sight of Rosberg Snr chasing after those turbo’s, the man was mighty. Jenks got it seriously wrong when he suggested that Keke’s speed came from determination and a big heart rather than natural skill and artistry. No body who has car control and pace like that lacks in natural skill.

    Then again DSJ never rated Jochen Rindt either which was somewhat bizarre. Don’t get me wrong i was one of Jenks biggest fans for he inspired my love of the sport way back from the late 50′s, but sometimes a reasoned mind had to disagree.

  15. Ray In Toronto Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 3 September 2013 06:34


    Well, Dennis obviously had an unemployed Prost “lined up”, hence the ‘dumping’ of Wattie.

    So, basically, you’re saying that Jenks’ was being mischieveious and that him writing what he did – i.e. the McLaren drivers not trying too hard those days – was rubbish?

  16. Charles Norman, 3 September 2013 11:23


    I have to say that I find your first comment to have been as predictable as the day dawning. Is there anywhere in my comment that it was suggested that McLaren were wrong in signing Prost! I am perfectly within my rights to make a personal comment in expressing my sorrow at Wattie being dumped in the manner in which he was. No rights or wrongs of the situation were expressed by me.

    Regarding your second comment about me suggesting that DSJ was talking rubbish (your words) is completely unfathomable. That is of course supposing you are not deliberately acting as a provocateur. If that is true then I am afraid I have no more time to spend with you on any matter.

    Where in the English language does it indicate that being mischievous can it be deduced as talking rubbish? I might also add that I am not alone in saying Jenks was wrong in not rating Jochen Rindt; just ask Jackie Stewart.

    So am I saying that a journalist I revered was talking rubbish; no I am saying that all of us have differences of opinion and in doing so we sometimes get it wrong!

  17. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 3 September 2013 14:40

    My dear Charles,

    I was merely saying that Dennis *did* indeed have a driver lined up in rebuttle to your statement below:

    “I personally was a bit annoyed at the way Dennis dumped Wattie at the last moment; and he had no other drive lined up either.”

    I don’t see what I did wrong there.

    I was happy for Watson’s British GP win in 1981 and cheered for his street circuit wins in this Hemisphere thereafter. I, too, didn’t like it that Prost’s availability effectively sent Wattie off to the stud farm. But it was what it was.

    As per the second part – no, i’m not trying to provoke a response!

    The provoking has came from two sources:

    1) Jenks writing that Lauda/Watson weren’t trying too hard those days; and

    2) You stating that Jenks only wrote the above to be mischievous.

    All i’m trying to assertain is whether it was really true that the McLaren drivers were deliberately under-driving…or whether Jenks was writing rubbish just to, as you said, make mischief

    Which one is it?

  18. Charles Norman, 3 September 2013 16:04


    I think we can do without the Pre-Raphaelite introduction thank you.

    If you wish to disseminate every word or sentence written by others then so be it.

    I have merely put into print observations that I have based on what I know from the time, if you wish to disagree that is your privilege.

    If you feel that knowing if the two McLaren drivers were not trying would enable you to sleep better at night then take it as read. I have merely commented that he may have been making mischief in a way that Jenks could do. I have to ask myself why I would have gone to the trouble of putting this in print if it did not have some value.

    DSJ had some most interesting nuances in his writing that can become apparent to those of us who were privileged to have read his work in contemporaneous times dating back to the mid/late 1950′s.

  19. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 3 September 2013 16:37


    Thank you for your input and insight – and for placing it all in context.

    Much appreciated.

    Good day.

  20. Ray Charles, 4 September 2013 18:04

    Gentlemen please!

  21. Charles Norman, 4 September 2013 19:00

    OK! I will “Hit the Road Jack”.

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