The South African Grand Prix
A Renault Runaway
Kyalami, Johannesburg, January 23rd
After the drivers had been duped into giving up their strike (see elsewhere in this issue) the serious business of the South African Grand Prix got under way on Friday January 22nd, albeit an hour later than the normal starting time of 10 a.m. Due to the strike there had been no action on the Thursday, when testing and qualifying practice should have started and the organisers felt forced to refund the money to those spectators who paid to come into the circuit on that day. On Friday morning when the drivers were completing negotiations with the FISA representatives the quiet of Kyalami was broken by the sound of a Ione Cosworth-powered car circulating. This was the March 821 of Jochen Mass, for the amiable German had not joined the drivers strike, it was said because he was late and missed the coach that took the other drivers into Johannesburg, but he did not seem unduly worried. There was a second driver in the pits first thing on Friday morning and that was Teo Fabi who was obviously not in total accord with his fellow drivers and sneaked out of the boycott room and presented himself at the circuit. As negotiations were being completed and practice was postponed for an hour Jochen Mass was “flagged off” and the circuit fell quiet once more.
At 11 a.m. the scheduled hour-and-a-half of testing got under way as drivers filtered sheepishly in through the back of the pits to join their not-very-friendly mechanics and team managers. In front of the Brabham pits were the three turbocharged BMW-powered Brabham BT50 cars and they all carried the number 2. Bernard Ecclestone was making it very clear to World Champion Piquet that he was in disfavour and that Patrese was the blue-eyed boy. Ecclestone’s reasoning was that Piquet could not be in a fit state to drive having had a poor night’s sleep on a makeshift bed, as had all the other strikers and certainly some of them looked a bit second-hand. Piquet was made to go and have a medical check-up, which said he was in good shape, but even so Ecclestone would not let him go out on the track. Patrese did all the test-driving, using the T-car and his own car, while Piquet's car sat unattended. At the other end of the spectrum was the rather tenuous sight of Morris Nunn withdrawing his Ensign car and scratching the entry for Roberto Guerreo on the grounds that his driver was not in a fit mental or physical state to tackle his first Formula 1 event after the rigours of the day-long strike and the troubled night locked-away with his fellow drivers. If the truth be known the FOCA side of the entry was in trouble with having too many cars on hand for there were 31 available for practice and the regulations only permit 30 cars to take part in qualifying for grid positions. A pre-qualifying system should have decided the odd-man-out during the Thursday morning test-session, but the drivers strike put paid to this. By withdrawing his entry Nunn solved a lot of problems, though how he could afford to be so magnanimous is difficult to see. There were also stories that Guerrero was still contracted to the Maurer Formula 2 team and that they were causing Nunn some embarrassment. No doubt FOCA looked after the team's out of pocket expenses.
After the strike Patrick Tambay felt he could live without the industrial unrest of Formula 1 and asked the Arrows team to release him which they did, as he was only a stand-in tor the injured Surer anyway. Luckily Brian Henton was on hand and took over the Arrows number 29. Everyone else was as per the entry list and the general scene was as expected, with the turbocharged Renaults, Ferraris and Brabham-BMWs being uncatchable. At the beginning of the week there had been two days of unofficial practice and all the signs were of total domination by the turbocharged cars, with a speed differential of 15 or 20 m.p.h down the hill after the pits, the faster cars actually clocking over 200 m.p.h. The faster Cosworth-powered cars could only vie for the honour of being first non-turbocharged car, while the V12 Ferrari and Alfa Romeos were totally outclassed as were the lesser Cosworth-powered teams. There was a mild flurry of excitement when Prost spun off into the catch fences when a rear tyre deflated, but damage was minimal though testing was stopped while the car was removed from its rather dodgy resting place.
With the delayed start to things and other minor hold-ups it was well after 2 p.m. before the qualifying hour commenced, drivers still being restricted to two sets of tyres each. Having lost the first day of qualifying this hour was all important as the results were going to decide the starting grid in one go. Ecclestone allowed Piquet to go out and almost immediately the little Brazilian put in a front row time. Arnoux wan up there also as were the Ferraris and Patrese, but Prost was only just with them as his engine was losing power. The morning damage to the rear suspension had soon been put right but it looked as though the engine had inhaled some and or dust as he had spun off. As expected the Williams and McLaren cars were heading the Cosworth brigade, though Lauda had not got into the swing of things to start with. Surprise was the showing of Alboreto with Tyrrell, as he was well up and ahead of the Lotus team and the Talbot team. Another praiseworthy effort was that of Salazar with the Avon-shod ATS, qualifying ahead off both Lotus drivers and the Alfa Romeo team as well as many more seasoned runners. Quite early on Lauda had made a mistake in braking at the end of the long straight and run off into the catch fencing, but had managed to back out and continue on his way. When he stopped at the pits after a few more laps it was found that a front suspension member was bent, but even so he had qualified comfortably in mid-field, but not as fast as Watson. The Ulsterman was out in the spare McLaren and towards the end of the hour when rain was falling he too got into trouble at the end of the straight and bent the rear end against the barriers. Anyone who had not got in some good laps as soon as the track was open was in trouble, for the rain started halfway through the hour and the track was never dry again. Prost had changed over to the spare Renault but the rain prevented him improving on his time and it left pole-position to Arnoux, with Piquet alongside him. The Brabham-BMWs on their first serious outing were proving mighty impressive for Patrese was just behind Piquet, with only the irrepressible Villeneuve between them. Prost was fifth fastest and Pironi sixth and it was interesting that all the front-running turbocharged cars had good drivers behind the wheels. Fastest of the Cosworth brigade was Rosberg, thoroughly enjoying himself in a good car and with a good team and he was followed by Reutemann driving in his usual relentless and unflurried manner. Derek Warwick was discovering a whole new world with 30 lb. of boost to his Hart engine and some very good “sticky” Pirelli tyres on his Toleman, and had the rain not intervened he may have been even higher up the grid than he was. With this year's new rule allowing twenty-six starters instead of the previous twenty-four, Serra (Fittpaldi) and Jarier (Osella) just scraped onto the grid, whereas Boesel had qualified comfortably at his first attempt at Formula 1. Neither of the Arrows cars qualified, Baldi just missing the cut, and Henton never really getting comfortable in the car, while Paletti (Osella) seemed a bit out of his depth and poor little Fabi never had a chance. Fabi’s Toleman-Hart was steadily losing boost pressure and by the time it was traced to a thrust bearing breaking up and letting the compressor blades wear themselves out against casing, the rain had arrived, so that he never got a full flying lap.
In spite of only having one day of practice the starting grid did not really suffer, though it was pretty clear that a second day would have seen both Renaults on the front row. That the brand new Ferraris were right up at the front and both Brabham-BMWs on their first attempt were also there, bodes well for the future.
With all the fuss over the drivers strike and the lack of activity on Thursday the prospects for a successful race day looked pretty gloomy, but in fact all the adverse publicity that the media had been pushing out aroused the interest of the public and a very full-house turned up on Saturday under warm but cloudy skies. Amid all the usual race-day junketings there was a half-hour warm-up session for the Formula 1 cars, during which Alboreto opted to race the spare Tyrrell and Mansell had his Lotus cut out on him with an obscure electrical fault. Warwick found his Toleman-Hart lacking in brakes, so the calipers and pads off Fabi's car were transferred and at the same time his turbo-charger was looked at, as was one of the units on Arnoux's Renault. Pironi had his boost reduced drastically, while Villeneuve's was not so low, obviously to allow him to attack the Renaults and or Pironi to maintain station and rely on others having trouble.
When the clouds uncovered the sun it was very hot, but this did not happen too often so conditions were really nice and shortly after 2 p.m. the cars left the pit lane to go round the circuit to form up on the dummy-grid. On the previous evening Lauda had appeared on South African television, apologising to the public for their strike on Thursday and before the start Pironi spoke on the public address system echoing the sentiments and telling the spectators that they would all be racing at the limit and that the first six finishers would be donating their crash helmets to a public raffle after the race. All good PR stuff which was said to emanate from a “foreign” race organiser who was concerned about the ill-feeling the drivers had brought upon themselves.
All twenty-six cars went round on the parade lap and stopped on the grid awaiting the starting signal for the 77 lap race. When the green light came on Arnoux was away and Prost was even quicker off the mark, the Renaults no longer suffering turbo-lag. Piquet was caught out, letting the revs drop too low so that the boost faded away and he crawled off, baulking his team-mate Patrese who had made a good start. Half way round the opening lap the two RenauIts had already pulled out a commanding lead, with Villeneuve keeping them in sight but the rest already outpaced. As the tail-enders took the sharp left-hand Club corner Mansell's Lotus cut dead again and in the dodging about by those behind him Jarier shot off on to the loose stuff and headed straight into the barriers. Mansell pulled off on the opposite side of the road and when the field completed the opening lap we were down to twenty-four runners as in previous years; so much for the new rule.
The order was Arnoux and Prost in the Renaults, then Villeneuve in the C2 Ferrari. followed by Pironi in a similar car, then Rosberg (Williams), Patrese (Brabham), Laffite (Talbot), Reutemann (Williams), Watson (McLaren), Alboreto (Tyrrell), Cheever (Talbot), Salazar (ATS), and Piquet (Brabham), followed by Lauda (McLaren), and the rest. By the third lap the opening phase was all over for the two Renaults, were running away and even Villeneuve couldn’t hang on to them, so it was two Renaults, two Ferraris and then Rosberg valiantly leading the rest. Piquet male his second “goof” of the day when he locked up his brakes in desperation at end of the main straight and slid off into the catch fences at Crowthorne Comer. Exit the World Champion. On the next lap Patrese finally managed to get past Rosberg, so that we now had five turbocharged cars dominating the scene while Warwick in the English turbocharged car was down in mid-field but holding his own with the lesser lights. Halfway round lap 7 an enormous plume of blue smoke issued from the right-hand exhaust pipe of Villeneuve's Ferrari engine as the turbocharger centre sleeve bearing broke up and let all the oil pressure into the turbine. The car ground to a halt before the end of the lap and any hope of the Renaults being challenged was gone. Rosberg had the gear-lever knob come off as he changed gear, which put him off his stroke and this allowed Reutemann to nip by to take fifth place. To add to the Finn's problems the wayward knob fell down into the footwell and spent the rest of the race rolling about among the pedals, while the driver changed gear with the stump of the lever.
By only eight laps the leader was up behind the tail of the field, about to lap Serra (Fittipaldi) and Boesel (March) and from then on Arnoux was in traffic. When he came up behind Warwick the Toleman driver lifted right off and pulled out of the way, only to have Winkelhock (ATS) take advantage of the move to go by as well, whereas up to that point he had been unable to challenge the Toleman-Hart. The two Renaults cruised round in complete command until lap 15 when Prost nipped by into the lead while Arnoux was off line lapping slower cars and from then on the two cars drew steadily away from the rest of the field. Pironi could not stay with the French cars and Patrese was dropping back from the Ferrari as the BMW engine was losing oil pressure. To be more precise it was losing oil from the turbo-charger bearing and Patrese was forced into retirement when the oil level became dangerously low, replenishment still being forbidden by the rules. An air of stalemate settled over the scene, with Reutemann in a safe and solid fourth followed by Rosberg with Watson in the wake of the Williams but never close enough to contemplate overtaking. Alter a slow start Lauda had messed around with some of the lesser lights, like Salazar, Cheever and Alboreto and for a time it looked as though the Austrian was not getting back into the racing groove, but it was a false impression for he gradually speeded up and worked his way forward until he was just behind Watson, obviously pacing himself to a nicety in this his first race for two years. On lap 24 Pironi stopped to change tyres, not with any hope of challenging the Renaults, but because the handling was deteriorating and he was losing too much ground and he had the ever present Reutemann behind him. The swarthy Argentinian was giving a display of driving that was an object lesson, lapping steadfastly with never a moment's anxiety, yet losing no time and not letting anyone catch him. It was Reutemann at his superb best and for those of us who have seen him at his superb worst, it was a tonic. When Pironi rejoined the race on fresh Goodyears he was down in eighth place, behind Alboreto, but now able to use all the potential of the Ferrari and he began a relentless drive up through the field. His stop had promoted Reutemann into third place with no fear of being troubled by his team-mate or the two McLarens which followed.
As half-distance approached the two Renaults were still in a world of their own cruising round in total contempt of any opposition. Then came Reutemann, followed by Rosberg, Watson and Lauda and already Pironi had caught and passed Alboreto and had his sights on Lauda. Those were the only drivers on the same lap as the leader, though Alboreto was due to be lapped by Prost within a few minutes. Laffite was leading the rest, but the Talbot-Matra was not shining, and already Cheever's V12 had failed with trouble in the fuel-injection due in part to vapour lock and in part to malfunctioning of the electronic system. Salazar was having a good run in his ATS, holding on to de Angelis in the sole remaining Lotus and leading both Alfa Romeos. Warwick had stopped for a change of Pirellis and was now running at the back of the field and Winkelhock and Mass were going steadily. Young Boesel was finding it all a bit different from a 20 minute Formula 3 “thrash”, but enjoying it noneless and having to think about “driving” rather than about “racing”. On lap 44 Warwick had a lucky escape when his left rear Pirelli deflated suddenly on the fast downhill right-hand bend at Barbecue. He went off the road into the catch fences, one of the too-firmly-embedded poles ripping the left side of the Toleman-Hart to pieces. After the race the deflation was traced to a suspension bolt working loose and gouging the inside wall of the tyre.
On lap 41 as Alain Prost took the very fast downhill sweep at Barbecue bend and changed direction into the Jukskei Sweep his left rear tyre deflated and he was lucky to keep everything under control. He slowed right down to limp round to the pits and naturally Arnoux swept back into the lead. By the time Prost reached the pit lane the deflated rear tyre had long since parted company with the wheel and with the stiff suspension in use today the car sagged down at the left rear and the right front wheel was off the ground! A complete new set of Michelins were whipped onto Renault number 15 and Prost steamed back into the race in eighth place a lap behind his team-mate and just behind Alboreto's Tyrrell. With new tyres on his Renault front really flew and within four laps he not only caught and passed the Tyrrell but forced his way past Arnoux in a pretty unruly manner to unlap himself. By this stage of the race Arnoux was not too happy with his tyres, feeling they might not last the distance, or he was easing off his pace, so much so that Alboreto kept station with him, though a lap behind. His Michelins were picking up the rubber deposit from the track, putting the tyres out of balance at high speed so that he was suffering from bad vibrations, and at 190 m.p.h. could not really read his pit signals.
What had become a stalemate procession now turned into an intriguing situation, for Pironi was still forcing on after his pit stop, passing Lauda, Watson and Rosberg and fast approaching the relentless Reutemann who had now been promoted up to second place. Equally, Prost was forcing on even harder and picked off the Cosworth runners with ease, Lauda first, then Watson, then Rosberg, and he was fast catching Pironi, so that Reutemann had the pair of them bearing down on him. By lap 58 Reutemann had the Ferrari and the Renault right on his tail, but he carried on completely unperturbed. On lap 60 the two turbocharged cars swept by the Cosworth-powered car and Reutemann dropped from second to fourth place without actually doing anything. On lap 62 Prost dived up the inside of the Ferrari going into the Leukop hairpin, skittered round in front and was away, leaving a pretty breathless Pironi behind him, the Ferrari driver having actually held second place for a very brief period. While these two were carving their way through the field Arnoux was slowing visibly, reluctant to press any harder for fear of destroying his tyres and equally reluctant to think about making a stop for fresh ones. After Prosts enforced stop the Michelin people had checked out the three tyres they had taken off his car and were satisfied that they would have done the full race distance, so the Renault pit signalled to Arnoux that all would be well with his tyres, but due to the vibrations it was all he could do to see where he was going, without reading pit signals. On the 67th lap Prost swept by his team-mate to regain the lead and as he did so Pironi's Ferrari engine went sick and he fell back to sixth place and made a stop to see if anything could be done. The trouble was electrical, affecting the fuel-injection system and nothing could be done, so still running badly he rejoined the race, but now way down at the back of the field.
In the closing stages the relentless Reutemann caught the ailing Arnoux and took second place from him, a totally just reward for a hard and consistent drive, but sickening for the Frenchman. While all this had been happening Lauda had passed Watson and was running harder at the finish than at the start, so that he scooped up Rosberg and, with Pironi falling out, put himself in a most praiseworthy fourth place. The remarkable Alain Prost completed the 77 laps to win the South African Grand Prix after making a pit stop and then making up a whole lap on the leaders. It had not been spectacular to watch for Prost is not a spectacular driver, but fast he undoubtedly is, his driving well suited to the very efficient Renault. A lot of people wondered why Frank Williams took Reutemann back into his team for 1982 after some of his 1981 performances, but the Argentinian's drive into second place was the true answer. A relentless and sure drive that none of the other Cosworth runners could hope to match, profiting from the troubles of the turbocharged cars. Lauda had showed that he had lost none of his cunning and had paced himself splendidly to arrive fit and fresh with his car in perfect condition at the end. For his first drive with a front-rank team Rosberg had done well, but his progress through the corners is still erratic and Reutemann's progress in the other Williams made the Finn look wilder than he actually was. Watson struggled home into sixth place with a long tale of all the things that had been wrong throughout the race, which is why his mechanics call him John “Watsrong”. The curly headed Alboreto had done a good lob with the Tyrrell to finish only one lap behind the winner and Winkelhock and Boesel were delighted to finish in their first Grand Prix. Poor Pironi was actually in the pits when the chequered flag came out and was classified 18th and last, a miserable result for all that effort. — D.S.J.
South African Grand Prix – Formula One – 77 laps – 4.104 kilometres per lap – 316.0 kilometres – Warm and Cloudy
1st: Alain Prost (Renault RE36B) 1 hr. 32 min. 08.401 sec.–205.7 k.p.h.
2nd: Carlos Reutemann (Williams FW07C 16) 1 hr. 32 min. 23.347 sec.
3rd: René Arnoux (Renault RE35B) 1 hr. 32 min. 36.301 sec.
4th: Niki Lauda (McLaren MP4/4) 1 hr. 32 min. 40.514 sec.
5th: Keijo Rosberg (Williams FW07C 15) 1 hr. 32 min. 54.540 sec.
6th: John Watson (McLaren MP4/5) 1 hr. 32 min. 59.394 sec.
Fastest lap: Alain Prost (Renault RE36B) on lap 49 in 1 min. 08.278 sec.–216.385 k.p.h. (new record)