Another first time win
Las Vegas, September 25th
There was a time when races at Monza were memorable and formed a fitting end to a Grand Prix season as a final high-speed, no-holds-barred, flat-out dice, after which everyone collapsed in a heap happy to have ended the season on such a high note. Nowadays, with Monza emasculated by silly “chicanes” and everyone wanting to get on the money-making Formula One bandwagon, the season tends to drag on and this year it fizzled out in the car park of a big hotel in the desert gambling oasis of Las Vegas in the state of Nevada in the United States.
Last year the Formula One “entrepreneurs” came up with a race on a mickey-mouse circuit laid out in the vast car park arm of one of the biggest hotels in Las Vegas and it all fell a bit flat as far as enthusiasm was concerned, but somebody must have made money out of the affair as it all happened again this year. Las Vegas 1982 took on the role of finale of a rather chaotic season and set the seal on a season that will surely go down in history not only as a doldrum but as a pointer that World Championships won on points, either for drivers or manufacturers, are seldom satisfactory. This season has seen no single driver dominating the scene, which you can either interpret as competition being strong or a mediocre standard of driving ability; equally no single team has dominated the season like Williams and Lotus have done in the past, which again can be interpreted as a sign that a lot of teams are very strong or they are all pretty hopeless.
When a driver wins the World Championship by winning twice as many races as his nearest rival or a team consistently finish first and second, it is very satisfactory and you cannot argue about their titles. But a World Champion driver who only wins one race and clinches the Championship with a steady and undramatic fifth place in the last race, or a team that wins the Manufacturers Championship after winning fewer races than some of their rivals and do not even figure in the results of the last race, tends to leave you with an exclamation mark over your head. Rosberg’s cautious and careful fifth place in the Las Vegas race netted him the Drivers Championship and Ferrari won the Manufacturers Championship largely because McLaren could only manage a second place at Las Vegas, thanks to a good hard drive by John Watson, as Lauda retired with engine failure.
Ferrari only started one car as Patrick Tambay had to withdraw on Saturday morning shortly before the start, due to a recurrence of his back trouble that appeared at Dijon-Prenois in August. Andretti in the lone Ferrari retired when a rear suspension link broke, which was not a good note on which to clinch the Manufacturers Championship. Rules and points systems aside, nobody will begrudge either Rosberg or Ferrari their 1982 Championships, as the Finn has driven hard and fast from the very beginning of the season, even if he has occasionally driven too hard and too fast at times, for the health of his car, and Ferrari’s demonstration of power and reliability from their turbocharged V6 engines in only their second season, has been one of the outstanding engineering feats of 1982.
One thing that the chaotic 1982 season has provided has been the opportunity for a number of drivers to gain their first Formula One victory, and Las Vegas presented the opportunity to the Tyrrell driver Michele Alboreto from Milan. By hard work and diligent driving Alboreto has had a good season in a car that has often been visibly a second-rate quantity, but at Las Vegas everything came right and he made the most of the situation, unlike some drivers who probably would not have even seen the possibility of such a situation. The two Renaults of Prost and Arnoux had dominated practice, lining up on the front of the grid, with the race in their pocket, but all along Alboreto had his Tyrrell in third place, even during practice.
When Arnoux retired with engine trouble Alboreto moved up into second place and when Prost began to slow with tyre trouble, Alboreto swept by into the lead, which he held unchallenged to the end. Behind him John Watson had started from ninth place on the grid, dropped to eleventh place on the opening lap with a typical Watson slow-off-mark effort, and then stormed through the field in most impressive manner up into second place. If only the Ulsterman could get going in practice and qualify half-decently, and then make the sort of starts that Rosberg makes, he might be rated as a top Grand Prix driver.
Looking at the overall scene of Las Vegas, both practice and the race, it must be remembered that two front-runners were out of the picture before practice began. These were Piquet and Patrese in the BMW powered Brabhams, for Gordon Murray had dug his heels in and refused to go back to Las Vegas, after being nauseated by the place last year. The result was that the Brabham team were like a ship without a captain and suffered in consequence. Admittedly the “head cook” was there in the shape of little Bernie, but it is Murray that makes the cars work, Bernie only makes things happen. Patrese on the grid behind Alboreto (Tyrrell) and Cheever (Talbot) speaks for itself and Piquet down in twelfth place doesn’t bare speaking about. In the race Patrese went out with clutch trouble and Piquet had a sparking plug break up and the bits fell into the cylinder with disastrous results.
As mentioned already, Tambay had to withdraw on race morning after a few laps in the morning warm-up, when pains in his back and right arm became unbearable and Andretti’s suspension failure in the race meant that the red cars from Maranello did not figure at all in the event. Also in the morning warm-up session the race lost another starter when the Cosworth engine in Guerrero’s Ensign blew up and the penniless Nunn team did not have a spare engine. There wasn’t a mad rush on the part of other Cosworth powered teams to lend them one either, so the starting grid was formed up with two blank spaces on it. On Friday afternoon Jarier had suffered an exciting moment when a front wheel broke off his Osella, luckily without damage to the driver, but he happily withdrew his entry and terminated his awful 1982 season there and then. This allowed the first reserve to move onto the back of the grid for race withdrawals have to be made by 5 p.m. the day before the race, if reserves are to be allowed in.
First reserve was the little Irishman Tommy Byrne in the Theodore, so by Jarier’s bad luck he was lucky to start in the race. When Byrne arrived on the Formula One scene at mid-season he was rather confident, not to say cocky, and was quoted as saying that famous names did not interest him, as long as they didn’t get in his way! When he did actually qualify for a race the only time he saw some of them was when they lapped him and at Las Vegas he spun off while trying to keep out of the may of some of the famous names that were lapping him!
Of the other teams the Toleman lot had a flash of brilliance when Warwick qualified the new car in tenth place, but all the effort on the new car meant that Fabi with the old model did not even scrape onto the back of the grid. In the race the new Toleman was nothing like as good as it had herein practice and though Warwick clung on to ninth place there was a row of angry drivers behind him who wanted to get by and go faster. Eventually a misfire forced him to drop back and visit the pits, but no improvement was made and he finally gave up, the old bogey of sparking plugs being blamed, though they might not have been the primary cause of the misfire.
The Talbot team were as confused as anyone, with Cheever going incredibly well throughout practice and the race, finishing third, while Laffite never got anywhere at all and was the first retirement. The Alfa Romeo team war equally unimpressive, but at least both cars finished even if they were two laps behind Alboreto’s Tyrrell. The Lotus team would have done better to have stayed away from Las Vegas, qualifying twentieth and twenty-first, and in the race Mansell collided with Baldi’s Arrows and ended up in the sand with a stalled engine and de Angelis had his Cosworth V8 blow up in a really big way, scattering bits far and wide.
To say that the 1982 season fizzled out in the Nevada heat on a car park in Las Vegas is to say it all. Nobody begrudged Michele Alboreto his first Grand Prix victory, and like Rosberg, Tambay, de Angelis and Patrese he only has to win 18 more to equal Lauda’s score. The end-of-season atmosphere was enhanced by the knowledge that Arnoux was driving a Renault for the last time, before joining Ferrari, Cheever was driving a Talbot (Ligier) Matra for the last time before joining Renault, Laffite was also in the Matra V12 powered car for the last time as he now goes to Williams, Daly was making his last appearance in a Williams, though he did not know it at the time as Frank Williams had “omitted” to tell him he was sacked; de Cesaris and Giacomelli may have been in Alfa Romeos for the last time as it seems the Milanese firm may pull out, and the Ligier cars ran under the name Talbot for the last time as the Peugeot consortium have decided to drop active participation in Formula One, though may remain involved on the technical design side.
Next year is going to be very different, thank goodness, for 1982 has been a bit of a shambles all round. — J.H. (on behalf of D.S.J. & A.H.).