Detroit was brash; Detroit was cool; Detroit was new to F1; Detroit was unloved. From the start.
But though the combination of 90-degree corners, short straights, bumpy surface and concrete barriers was hardly conducive to showing Formula One in all its pomp (80mph lap speed), there were good aspects: a race in the east of the USA brought Fl to those fans suffering withdrawal symptoms since Watkins Glen disappeared from the calendar in 1980; it was apt that Motown should have an automobile race; and thanks largely to John Watson, this inaugural event was highly memorable.
If Arnoux’s pole for Renault at Monaco could be put down to his huge inspiration and lack of imagination, Prost rammed the Regie’s message home in Detroit: the turbos could be competitive on any track.
The man who started the race alongside him, however, had discovered his car was quick only when there were tight turns to encounter. Detroit was almost perfect, therefore, for the Alfa of Andrea de Cesaris.
An emotional fellow, Andrea: he had wept for joy when he took pole at Long Beach; he had cried bitter tears when his Alfa had run out of fuel within sight of victory at Monaco. But he was not beaten easily (as team-mate Bruno Giacomelli was discovering), and de Cesaris had bounced back to qualify second at Detroit. Sadly, he had also bounced off a wall in wet practice, but the car was ready for the race. Then it retired with a broken driveshaft after just two laps.
So who would benefit when Proses Renault inevitably took a turn for the worse? Rosberg? Initially, yes, but he had problems of his own (see right). Pironi? Competent but uninspired. Lauda? Uninspired and eventually incompetent, smiting Rosberg and then the wall. No, Watson’s McLaren. From 17th on the grid.
No-one could have stopped him such was his pace, not even a healthy Renault. And the chances of finding one of them were pretty remote by this stage of the race, by this stage of the season.
And the reasons for Wattie’s pace? The right tyre compound, the right blend of determination and caution, the right mood. John loved the whole Motown scene from the moment he arrived and, alone among his peers, had taken a positive attitude towards the track. Mind had prevailed over matter.