As these words are being written the first Grand Prix of 1983 is still four weeks away and by the time they are being read on March 1st it will be exactly ten days to the start of official practice on the circuit at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. By that time any team worth considering in the 1983 season will have logged up many test miles on the circuit and their drivers should know where they are going and why. Before February was out the Goodyear Tyre Company had run some test days at the Brazilian track for their top teams as had Pirelli and Michelin and by the beginning of March almost everyone was out there again for more testing, so that by the time official practice or qualifying begins everyone should be in a well-worn groove round the circuit. Even so, we can be sure that there will be drivers and teams unable to reproduce their testing lap times when things become real and the official timing apparatus is in action. It was ever thus.
This first race and a few more after it can only be viewed as a preliminary canter before the real season begins, and it is my guess that we will not see the true situation for 1983 until somewhere like the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July. By true situation I am referring not to 1983 but what 1983 will lead to: in other words the long-term future of Formula 1. The Brazilian race will probably be nothing more than a skirmish outside the door before it is opened and we can see what is what. Even the top teams are still in the experimental stage as far as designs are concerned and it is unlikely that many of the cars in Brazil will still be with us by the end of the season.
The long winter break, which at one time Mr. Ecclestone wanted to fill with flights of FOCA fantasy, has been the best thing that has happened for a long time and has given teams time to catch their breath and strike out on new and interesting paths, many of them forced on the designers by the long-overdue elimination of under-car aerodynamics and sealing skirts to create “ground-effect”. With this aspect removed some form of suspension is now encouraged and we may see design going forwards rather than backwards. Already both Renault and Lotus are well advanced with a system of self-levelling suspension. No team will be running 1982 cars in Brazil, for the simple reason that they would not pass scrutineering, even in Brazil, but many of them will be using B, C, D or even E versions of their 1982 cars, with brand new ones ready for the European season which starts with the French Grand Prix on April 17th at Paul Ricard. Remember how we used to be told that the French Grand Prix would alternate year by year with the Dijon-Prenois circuit — what ever happened to that idea? In England we were told that the British Grand Prix would alternate year by year between Brands Hatch and Silverstone, and being British the RAC have kept their word — unfortunately!
In the early part of February John Player Team Lotus unveiled their brand new design to the sporting press at the lavish Penta Hotel at Heathrow, spending enough money to have kept the Fittipaldi team in business for another season! This was the Lotus 93T, called a John Player Special like everything else that is painted black and gold. Naturally much of the design knowledge stems from the Lotus 91, which itself stemmed from the Lotus 88 and Lotus 87. but of necessity the 93T has had to be new through and through, for in the back is a 1½-litre V6 Renault turbocharged engine. The monocoque is constructed of Kevlar and carbon-fibre composites and contains a large fuel cell to carry the maximium permitted quantity of 250 litres of petrol, yet is lighter than the similar monocoque on the 91. The Renault engine is of the latest type, to 1983 Specification as used in Renault’s own new car, the RE40 and brings a whole new world of Team Lotus. Renault will supply suffieient engines for one car to start with, the engines remaining their property, and by mid-season the supply should be sufficient for Team Lotus to run two cars. This first 93T is exclusively for Elio de Angelis, unless he does something silly like breaking a leg, and in the meantime a revised Lotus 91 with Cosworth 58 power has been designed and built for Nigel Mansell. This is the Lotus 92 and takes the form of an “interim” car until the second Lotus-Renault V6 is ready. The Renault-powered design was the last brainchild of Colin Chapman before his sudden and untimely death last December and when it wins its first race we can all look up to the sky, for “the Guvnor” will be looking down saying “Well done lads.”
Renault themselves have already tested their new design, the RE40, which differs from previous models notably in having a carbon-fibre composite monocoque, which is a new era for the French team. They do not intend to race it until the European season starts, but they took it to Brazil for testing and it gave very encouraging results. The basic engine is unchanged still being in effect two separate three-cylinder engines each with its own turbocharging and cooling system, but a lot of work has gone on in the search tor reliability of the injection system, which is their own electronically controlled affair. While de Angelis can never match Prost’s turbo experience his natural Italian flair may well give the Frenchman a hard time now they have equal power.
The Toleman team’s completely revised TG183 along with Brian Hart’s improved four-cylinder engine acquitted itself well in Brazilian testing and Derek Warwick showed the style of driving that flickered through to the top on numerous occasions last year. In Woking, at the McLaren International factory, hopes for the future must be running very high if the 80-degree V6 turbocharged Porsche 1½-litre engine is well on schedule and has already done considerable test-bed running, including endurance reliability running, which by Weissach standards must mean 24-hour runs. Undoubtedly the first testing of the complete car will be done at Weissach by Lauda, where he will be in his element with all the test facilities and it will be interesting to see the reaction when Porsche insists on a 1,000-kilometre test over their “rough road” circuit, as they did with their Le Mans winning 956 Porsche. On film such testing looks so arduous that you feel sure the car must break its back, even before the driver breaks his and their test-drivers can only stand about one hour at the wheel. We know John Barnard has designed the McLaren part and Helmut Bott’s team of engineers have designed the engine part, and Mansour Ojjeh’s Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG) firm have paid for it and Marlboro cigarettes finance the Woking side of things and the drivers, but what should we call it? If it is a success it will be a TAG-Porsche to some people, if it is a failure it will be a Marlboro McLaren, but whatever happens it is a pity Bruce McLaren cannot be with us to see it.
Can’t you lust see them up there, Bruce, Colin, Ronnie Peterson, and Gilles Villeneuve looking down and saying “we left too soon”. — D.S.J.