Five Go Mad in Monaco

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The Forgotten Races – 1982 Monaco Grand Prix

Five drivers all snatched defeat from the jaws of victory…but one of them gained a reprieve. Adam Cooper reports

The 1982 Monaco GP is not remembered for a thrilling battle, or one particular drive. It claims a place in the history books thanks to the extraordinary happenings of the closing laps. It seemed that the destination of the winner’s trophy was to be decided by a ball bouncing around the casino’s famous roulette wheel; it jumped out of five numbers before settling back into a final slot. In so doing, it gave Riccardo Patrese his maiden win.

“Of course it was my first win,” Patrese recalls, “It was a strange race, but anyway in the end the important thing was that I won…”

The F1 circus went to Monaco in subdued mood; Gilles Villeneuve had just been killed at the Belgian GP. A resident of the principality, he’d won the previous year, and was very much in everyone’s thoughts. Ferrari turned up with a single car for Didier Pironi, and the Frenchman was under enormous pressure.

The transition to turbo power was getting into gear; Renault had been joined by Ferrari and Toleman, while Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham led FOCA’s turbo charge with its BMW deal. While Nelson Piquet developed the new car, team-mate Riccardo Patrese stuck with the proven Cosworth-powered BT49D.

Although Alain Prost dominated the first two races of ’82 for Renault, the DFV was by no means dead. Niki Lauda won for McLaren at Long Beach, and team-mate John Watson followed up by winning at Zolder. Monaco would be an interesting test. Turbos had yet to demonstrate that they had the same advantage around the street that they enjoyed elsewhere.

Qualifying saw a Renault and a Cosworth car on the front row. Surprisingly, pole didn’t go to Prost, team-mate Rene Arnoux earning the top spot by beating Patrese in the closing minutes.

“My car was good everywhere,” says Riccardo, “not only Monaco. I had pole until maybe 15 minutes to go. But it was not good enough. I think Renault could go up with the boost…”

Third place went to Giacomelli’s V12 Alfa Romeo while Prost was down in fourth, just ahead of Pironi and Rosberg’s Williams.

The race promised to be a fascinating contest, as Patrese could start with a lighter fuel load than the turbos and V12s around him, and thus could be much quicker in the opening stages. As ever, everything depended on the start. For once there was no carnage at St Devote, and Arnoux slotted into the lead, while Giacomelli pushed Patrese down to third. The Brabham man was soon demoted further by Prost. Then, the picture changed. Giacomelli retired on the fifth lap, and then on lap 15, having easily built up a handy advantage, Arnoux spun and stalled. Prost sailed into the lead…

Alain had won five GPs, and dearly wanted to add Monaco to his CV. Aware of Arnoux’s error, and the question marks over the reliability of his RE30B, he drove only as fast as he had to. “The gap between us was 5-6sec all race,” says Patrese, “and then I got closer for a while. But I think he was controlling me.”

With 15 laps to go, only seven drivers were still on the lead lap: Prost, Patrese, Pironi, de Cesaris, Rosberg, Alboreto and Daly. Mansell had clipped the guardrail, broken a wheel of his Lotus, pitted and gone a lap down. He was now on the tail of team-mate de Angelis who’d been obstructive when being lapped; he’d already had contact with Prost and Pironi, the latter losing his nose.

In the closing laps, rain began to fall. It was not serious enough to force anyone into the pits, but those towards the back of the top six suffered; Rosberg retired after hitting the chicane barrier on lap 65, and five laps later Alboreto broke his suspension. These dramas put Daly up to fifth until his spin at Tabac, wiping off his rear wing and damaging his gearbox. He crawled away without losing a position, leaving a trail of oil…

Those in the top four took note of the carnage and, at first, seemed to adapt to the deteriorating conditions. Then with two laps to go, Prost lost it at the chicane. His car slammed into and off the barriers and slid to a halt; once again a Renault driver had thrown away the lead, and Patrese was only too happy to take it.

“I saw pieces everywhere. It was a surprise, but the conditions were really very difficult. Not all the circuit was wet. In those days the chicane was a fourth-gear comer. The exit was very slippery, and it was very easy to have a crash.”

All Patrese had to do was keep out of the fence for two laps. but, almost unbelievably, he managed to spin it at the slowest corner on the track. “I was very cautious when I came to Loews, but I couldn’t control it and I spun as well…” His engine stalled. Patrese watched helplessly as Pironi, de Cesaris and the Daly passed by. His first victory had apparently slipped his grasp, but with a little outside help, he was able to get the car moving again.

“Afterwards someone objected that the marshals had pushed me. I didn’t feel any push. I think they pulled me back a little, as I was in an unsafe position, stuck in the middle of the track. Then they let go. The moment I released the brakes the car started to roll. I went down the hill, let the car get some speed, grabbed second gear and it started – with the Cosworth it was always quite easy to do a bump start.”

Furious with himself he set off again, repassing Daly, the Williams’s bashed gearbox having finally given up. Meanwhile Pironi crossed the line the third leader in as many laps, and received the ‘one lap to go’ message from the pits. De Cesaris and the Patrese weren’t far behind, but going up to Casino Square, Andrea’s Alfa V12 choked on its last drops of fuel, and Riccardo was back to second. Moments later the unthinkable happened, and leader Pironi suddenly slowed in the tunnel. He too was out of Agip…

Patrese swept past, and without realising it, retook the lead. Indeed, he was the only driver to complete the final lap, as all the hitherto unlapped cars were now stationary. The only competitive drivers still running were the lapped Lotus twins. Mansell had got in front of De Angelis, but their fight was for fourth and fifth, since Pironi and de Cesaris had done enough to secure second and third. Even Daly, out two laps before the end, was classified sixth. In the heat of the moment, few realised the true situation.

“I didn’t know I’d won the GP,” says Patrese. “On the last lap de Cesaris stopped, then Pironi. I thought Rosberg’s Williams, was still ahead of me, because I thought he’d overtaken me.

“So I thought I was second. On the finishing lap everybody was waving flags and so on, while I was thinking I’d thrown it all away. I can remember thinking, maybe they are pleased I finished second and drove a good race, but I was very, very unhappy.

“I was not in a hurry to get to the podium, because in the briefing they said only the winning car could stop in front of it. Because I was not the winner I decided to give a lift to Didier. I dropped him off and instead of letting me to into the pits, I was shown the way to the podium. I didn’t understand. I thought they changed the rule and wanted the first three. But only my car was there!

“However, there were more than three drivers; there was me, de Cesaris, Pironi and de Angelis! There was a big discussion over who was first, second or third. Somebody came to me and started to shout, ‘You won, you won.’ Then I finally realised…

“Whenever you win at Monte Carlo there’s a very good party, and that year was even more special because it was the last time Princess Grace was there – she died in October of that year. I was quite young, and still a bit shy. She was really very kind and nice to me, and they tried to make me comfortable in that situation.”

There was, however, one disappointment for Riccardo; his boss was nowhere to be seen.

“As soon as Riccardo spun,” recalls the then Brabham team manager Herbie Blash, “Bernie and I left. We jumped in a boat and went to the heliport, flew to Nice, then flew home in Bernie’s private jet. When we arrived at Biggin Hill the customs man said, ‘Well done.’ We didn’t know we’d won the race! Of course normally the winning team is guest of honour at the ball afterwards…”

Renault never did win at Monaco, and to this day the marque’s only victory there was as engine supplier to Schumacher’s 1995 Benetton. At least Prost would have his revenge four times over.

Alain wasn’t the only big loser back in ’82. In the circumstances a win for Pironi would have been quite something, while de Cesaris and Alfa Romeo wasted what would prove to he their best ever chance to scoop a GP victory. Daly also could easily have won. And had Mansell not gone a lap down after his mid-race mistake, he would surely have scored his maiden Grand Prix victory three and a half years ahead of time…