A year on the edge
Can you remember when F1 was unpredictable, when you were on the edge of your seat? Keke Rosberg can. It was the year he spent on the limit to beat the turbos. The year ground effects took him to his outer limits. The year he won the world title. He talks to David Malsher
Statistically, 1982 was vintage Formula One. From 16 rounds, there were 11 winning drivers and seven winning teams. That was the exhilaration.
But there was trepidation, too. Skirts created so much ground effect that a car's cornering speed had made a ludicrous jump, while its ability to protect its drivers in an accident had improved barely at all. And extra-sticky qualifying tyres that lasted less than two laps meant now-or never attitude in qualifying was a necessity.
No surprise then, that in human terms, 1982 was calamitous for F1. In the space of three months we lost the greatest driver in the world, Gilles Villeneuve, rookie Riccardo Paletti perished in a start shunt, and Dither Pironi crashed away his title aspirations — and F1 career. Set these tragedies against the backdrop of a FISA/FOCA war at its eye-scratching worst, and you had a drama of Hamlet proportions.
Positives? Five men scored their first F1 wins. And Keke Rosberg became champion. This was some turnaround for the Finn in his fifth season at this level. The season before, his second with the Fittipaldi team, he'd never looked like scoring points, and had quit the team after the last round. Then...
"I was in the US, learning to fly, when I got a call from Jeff Nardi at Williams. He asked if I could come over for a test at Paul Ricard. I was in dispute with Emerson over unpaid wages, so I called my lawyer in London and asked him to disengage me from Fittipaldi. When I got to Williams for a seat-fitting for the test, I had a paper that confirmed I was free from any contractual bindings.
"Then we headed off to Paul Ricard along with Frank Demie and Charlie Crichton-Stuart. Basically, Charlie was the eyes of Frank Williams, and Frank Demie was the eyes of Patrick Head.
"The second morning, they said they wanted to see how I could get on with qualifiers. This was 8am. I went out and set a new lap record. And that's what got me the job,! think. They weren't looking for finesse, just raw speed. FW07 was easier to drive than what I'd been used to, but I don't remember it being a revelation.! wasn't thinking Thank God, I've got a Williams'."
The confidence to go so quickly in that first test, the cockiness to regard a seat with the reigning constructor champions as no big deal, were qualities that became Rosberg trademarks. Both would serve him well in his first year in the bigtime.
"I had to fill very big boots. Alan Jones, Frank and Patrick had been very successful together, and now Jones had gone. The bond that Nelson Piquet had with Gordon Murray and Bernie Ecclestone was something I never reached with Frank and Patrick. They did their job, and! did mine."
Now, for the first time since 1982, Keke gives us his account of that thrilling season, race by race, while other key figures from each GP reminisce about their highs and lows.