To Finish First

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“To finish first, you must first finish” the saying goes and during the 1983 Formula One season most of the top drivers did their best to eliminate themselves from the races at one time or another. Some of their mistakes were pardonable, some were as a result of trying too hard, some were due to brain-fade and some were plain stupidity. World Champion Nelson Piquet was not perfect, stalling his engine at the start of the San Marino GP at Imola and having to sit in his car on the front row while the rest of the field dodged round him. At Zandvoort in the Dutch GP he ended up in the barriers through no fault of his own when Alain Prose ran into him without warning. Piquet (above) is seen leading Prost shortly before the accident. The Renault driver carried on, leaving the stricken Brabham in the barriers, but before the end of the lap Frost crashed and is seen (left) bouncing off the tyre wall before coming to rest with broken front suspension.

Not all the mistakes of the season were due to going too fast or trying too hard, some were quite the opposite. In the Monaco GP both McLaren team drivers “frigged-about” on the first day of practice, trying to force the issue with their management over the decision about when to start racing with the new Porsche engine.

Both Lauda and Watson failed to qualify during the first day, to emphasise how useless it was to carry on with Cosworth engines, but were caught out on the second day of practice when it rained and there was no hope of qualifying. A dejected Niki Lauda (above) is seen in his Cosworth powered McLaren on wet-weather tyres circulating on the second day of practice with no hope at all of getting into the race.

At Brands Hatch for the Grand Prix of Europe, the Ferraris were outclassed due to a deficiency in tyre adhesion over their rivals. Rene Arnoux threw away all hopes of finishing in the points when he had a spin at South Bank Corner (below). Although he got going again he had been forced to wait for a long time while everyone went by and from then on was right out of the picture. Spinning was a popular pastime with many drivers during the season and wide grass verges and run-off areas allowed most of them to get away with it. The most remarkable spin of the season (captured beautifully on American television) was Keijo Rosberg’s on the first lap of the Grand Prix at Long Beach when vying for the lead. He did a 360-degree spin when braking for a sharp right-hander, during which he did not hit anything and only lost a couple of places, keeping the engine running and carrying on. Later in the race he collided with Tambay’s Ferrari, thus eliminating it, and one corner further on eliminated himself against Jarier’s Ligier. Not Rosberg’s best race.

Some drivers were handicapped by having uncompetitive cars, either lacking in road-holding and handling or simply lacking in horsepower, and while some of them spent the whole season moaning and whining about their misfortunes, others did the best they could with what they had got and never complained. One such was the Swiss driver Marc Surer (below) who drove his under-powered Arrows A6 extremely well all season, but in addition enjoyed doing it. Watching him power-slide round some of the corners, well over the limit of adhesion but beautifully in control, was a real pleasure. His comments were to the effect that if his car was not competitive at least he could enjoy himself, and he loved the sensation of having a car nicely balanced with all four wheels sliding, and the Arrows A6 was a nicely balanced car.

While most accidents are caused by misjudgement others are caused by inattention or taking chances. A driver may know well enough that a particular corner is slippery or the surface is getting covered with rubber, or the actual road surface may be breaking up, in which case he alters his line to avoid such hazards. This is referred to as “keeping off the marbles” even though it may mean taking that particular corner a bit slower than you would like to. If you misjudge your braking, or your speed into a corner or you put the power on too soon you can soon find yourself off-line and heading onto “the marbles”. After that it is in the lap of the gods as to what happens for it can be like being on ice, where neither the steering nor the brakes or throttle have any effect on the direction in which the car is travelling.

The difference between being “on” or “off the marbles” may only be the width of tyre in misjudgement, but the end results can be catastrophic as shown by Derek Warwick (above) climbing out of his Toleman-Hart at the San Marino GP at Imola after landing on the tyre wall and the Armco barrier. It was at Imola that Riccardo Patrese made his monumental mistake. After driving brilliantly to wrest the lead from Patrick Tambay’s Ferrari, he crashed three corners later and threw away a certain victory. “He got over-excited” said Tambay “it is a very easy thing for a racing driver to do.” At the Grand Prix of Europe at Brands Hatch Patrese lost the lead through no fault of his own (right). He was leading Elio de Angelis in the Lotus-Renault, when the Roman driver tried to overtake, misjudged things and hit the back of the Brabham. Both cars spun and Patrese lost his lead entirely due to the fault of his fellow countryman.

Drivers can make mistakes which are totally personal and effect no-one but themselves and their team. One such was Tambay stalling his engine on the starting line at Detroit. His mistake was compounded by the race officials who towed his Ferrari away off the track without any attempt to restart the engine. While many drivers did not necessarily make visible mistakes they had their black moments when they could not overcome difficulties and Jacques Laffite suffered the indignity of failing to qualify for two races for no obvious reason, and Michele Alboreto was in last place on the grid at Brands Hatch in his Tyrrell just after he had signed a contract to drive for Ferrari in 1984! Hardly any of the drivers were blameless throughout the season of 15 Grand Prix races and it is some reflection on the pace that is set in Formula One by the sheer competitiveness of the front-runners. In the Italian GP at Monza Andrea de Cesaris misjudged his braking tor the first ‘chicane’ and hit one of the rear tyres of the car ahead of him, which bounced his Alfa Romeo off into the sand, where it stayed for the rest of the race! Another driver to spin off into the sand, this time at Zandvoort, was Nigel Mansell (left) who tried to out-brake John Watson in the McLaren. Mansell’s race was over while Watson drove on to a fine third place. In the last race of the season “Wattie” had brain-fade and transgressed the overtaking rules during the parade-lap round to the start and was subsequently disqualified, a sad way to end his Grand Prix career with the McLaren team.

In spite of all these alarms and excursions by the top drivers they were the ones up at the front setting the pace and winning the races or finishing in the first six. It’s not easy up at the front. — D.S.J.