1983 Formula One Grand Prix racing does not start until March 13th, with the Brazilian Grand Prix at Rio de Janeiro, but already indications are that it is going to be an interesting year for those of us who enjoy Formula One. For those people who only follow it on television and have to rely on James Hunt for their information it will probably be another year of boring processions containing little of interest! At the end of last season the rules had a major reshuffle as regards the chassis and the aerodynamics, aimed at reducing the “down-force” on the tyres and thus the cornering power. The cars are going to be more fun to drive but I doubt if we, the spectators, will be able to see any difference among the faster and more skilled drivers. Speed will still be synonymous with smoothness and delicacy of control will be at a premium. Briefly the changes involve the removal of “under-car” aerodynamics, by insisting on a flat bottom to the monocoque, and bringing the rear aerofoil forward.
Everyone is working away on new cars or revised old ones in readiness for March 13th, and the more serious teams have been doing a lot of test-running, mostly at Paul Ricard and while Renault were there at the end of November they made a fantastic gesture to certain specialist journalists. To the sports editors, who are also the Formula One reporters, of Autocar, Motor, Motoring News, Autosport, Automobile Sport and yours truly from Motor Sport, they said “As you spend all the season watching other people drive Formula One cars, and passing judgement on their ability, perhaps you would like to drive a Formula One Renault yourself”. There was no question of trying to drive round a circuit, it was a simple blast up and down the Paul Ricard airfield runway, with plenty of space to make mistakes. Briefly, it was the experience of a motoring lifetime. The car was the “test” vehicle to full race specification, as regards rev and turbo boost, with the 1983 flat-bottom layout, albeit temporary on this test-car, and running on Michelin wet-weather tyres. It proved a lot easier to cope with than I anticipated, probably because I am used to racing engines and racing cam shapes which need things to be kept buzzing hard. From about 5,000 r.p.m. to 8,000 r.p.m., as you picked up speed from a standstill it accelerated like a good sports car, a 928S Porsche for example, but at 8,000 r.p.m. the whole thing came alive and the acceleration to 10,200 r.p.m. was shattering. You had to change second, third, fourth, fifth as quick as you could work the clutch and the short stumpy lever. 10,500 r.p.m. in fourth was really something and 9,000 r.p.m. in fifth was enough. About 150 m.p.h. at a guess. Turning round at each end required some tricky juggling with the feet to keep the r.p.m. around 7,500 r.p.m., otherwise it all went out. It was best to brake and change down progressively, with the ball of the foot on the brake pedal and the side of the foot “blipping” the throttle pedal as you went down through the gears, fourth, third, second, first, with a depression of the clutch pedal on the apex of the hairpin to stop the r.p.m. dying away. For 15 min. we each lived in the land of Prost, except that all we had to do was aim it down the runway. With a potential of something like 900 horsepower per ton when you had the throttle pedal right down and 10,000 r.p.m. on the tacho, most of us were glad we were not trying to aim it at a corner or down a straight wheel-to-wheel with a similar car. Being one of the lucky ones who was allowed a second go at the end of the day I got over-confident and spun 360° down the centre of the runway at about 120 m.p.h. regrettably stalling the engine as I did so (black mark!). All I did was to give it a real bootful in third gear, after seeing 10,200 r.p.m. in second. The wheels spun and I went round in a graceful arc, running out of steering lock, so went on round the full 360°. It was all very sedate, but quite quick!
Frank Williams says the British motoring press are “too pro-Renault” and even suggests that some of us have been “bought by Renault”. My reply to that is “if I have accepted money from Renault, it is only because it is more money than Frank Williams offered me”. The truth of the matter is that the Renault Formula One team is full of nice friendly people who don’t make “catty” and “snide” remarks and they are very open and honest with the Press at race meetings. Anyway, they let us drive a Formula One car, so they must be a good team. I would willingly have paid them for the opportunity.
The 1983 season is going to be one of engines, even more so than 1982, and in addition to Renault V6, Ferrari V6, BMW 4-cylinder, Hart 4-cylinder, Alfa Romeo V8 all with turbochargers, and only 1,500 c.c. capacity remember, we shall have Honda V6 and Porsche V6, also turbocharged. The Honda has been doing quite a lot of track-running in a modified F2 Spirit chassis, and the Porsche V6 has been running on the test bed at Weissach. Against all these 1,500 c.c. turbocharged engines the “vintage” Cosworth 3,000 c.c. V8 will continue to do battle, and no doubt go on winning, in those cars that have yet to make a deal with a turbocharged engine manufacturer. While Cosworth Engineering continue to ring a bit more horsepower and torque from the DFV, John Judd and his Swindon Engines firm have developed special DFV “screamers” for the Williams team.
All the teams currently in Formula One have undergone some major changes to their structure during the winter months, so Brazil will see a whole new scene, and it will probably take four or five races before most of the teams are truly back in the swing of things. A quick rundown on the teams is as follows:
Brabham: Still powered by turbocharged 4-cylinder BMW engines, the BT52 is the new “flat-bottom” car for Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese, but it will be interesting to see Gordon Murray’s interpretation of the word “flat” and to see how he defines it. Ecclestone has switched from a Goodyear tyre contract to a Michelin contract and Parmalat Foods have withdrawn from Formula One, so the Brabham boss is looking for another source of money to pay for his racing team.
Tyrrell: Wisely, Ken Tyrrell has hung on to the talented Michele Alboreto as his number one driver and the 011 model has been re-vamped by Maurice Phillipe in accordance with the new rules. Power will continue to come from Cosworth V8, while money now comes from Benetton, an Italian clothing manufacturer, the cars being painted green. A second driver has yet to be confirmed.
Williams: Patrick Head has redesigned the FW08, with Cosworth V8 power, to conform to the new rules and World Champion Keijo Rosberg will continue as team-leader. Derek Daly has been replaced by the effervescent Jacques Laffite and the sign on the Williams Motor Home in the paddock will presumably now read “British and French Press Welcome”. Money as usual from Saudi Arabia.
McLaren: Niki Lauda and John Watson will start the season with uprated 1982 cars with Cosworth power, but by the Belgian Grand Prix they should be straining at the bit to get at the new cars with Porsche turbo power. If one said that the fly in Ron Dennis’ ointment had been removed, someone might take offence, but the fact is that Teddy Mayer has left the team, so that Dennis and John Barnard can now get on with things their way. Just how good their way is we shall see this year. They didn’t do badly last year, even though all was not sunshine and bright behind the scenes. Tyler Alexander has also left, but in a different direction, while Marlboro continue to supply money and Creighton Brown continues to keep everyone happy and smiling or the PR side.
Lotus: Last month’s news of the sudden death of Colin Chapman is something that a lot of us will not really believe until the first race. At the Team Lotus headquarters and Lotus Cars they must be very aware of their great loss. Colin was not known as “the white tornado” for nothing within the Lotus Empire. Everyone is going to do their best to keep things going, but it is not going to be easy for Colin Chapman was the inspiration and “raison d’etre” of everything Lotus. Peter Warr will run the team, de Angelis and Mansell will drive and the plans to run one car with Cosworth DFV power and one car with turbocharged Renault V6 power will continue. John Player continue their financial support.
Renault: The Regie-Renault team have probably done more winter testing with the new configuration Renault-ELF cars than anyone, Prost and his new team-mate Eddie Cheever driving from dawn until dusk on some days. Tyre testing with Michelin, suspension monitoring, carbon fibre brake disc testing, engine modifications, aerodynamic studies, you name it and Renault have been experimenting. At times the Formula 3 driver Philippe Streiff has been test driving and there have been three Renaults circulating at Paul Ricard, while Gerard Larrousse and an arm, of technicians have logged everything down.
Alfa Romeo: The official works team has been disbanded and all the cars, material and know-how has been handed over to Euro-Racing, but no doubt many of the Alfa Romeo personnel will be at the races. Gerard Ducarouge continues to run the team and drivers are Andrea de Cesaris and Mauro Baldi. One would assume that all efforts would go into the turbocharged V8 engine we saw briefly at Monza last year, but already there are mutterings of continuing with the 3-litre V12 Alfa Romeo and the laughable suggestion that the old flat-12 engine might be resurrected from the museum.
Ferrari: If ever a team looked strong it is the Ferrari team. Their reliability factor last season was astonishing and the power of the 120-degree V6 turbocharged engine was impressive by any standards. All the known mechanical components have been built into a new configuration of canto line with the new “flat-bottom” rules and their testing programme has shown that Tambay and new boy Arnoux will be the pace-setters for 1983. Didier Pironi is already up and about on crutches so we may see three Ferraris on the grid at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.
Toleman-Hart: The Toleman 183 looked promising at the end of 1982 and the team will continue with the same basic car, altered to suit the new regulations, and still powered by Brian Hart’s turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. At the moment they only plan to run a single car for Derek Warwick.
Of the teams that make up the numbers we shall be without the Fittipaldi team, Emerson and Wilson finally being forced to give up the struggle to make a successful Brazilian Formula One contender. Ensign and Theodore have joined forces to stave off elimination by the more powerful teams, but whether they are any more successful than Wolf and Fittipaldi when they combined forces, we shall have to see. ATS, Arrows, Osella and Ligier all intend to be in the scene, but how and why, we shall find out at the first race. — D.S.J.