Formula One: The Dutch Grand Prix

A lucky pair

Zandvoort, August 28th

The 1983 Dutch Grand Prix returned to its more usual date of the end of August after last year's diversion and resulted in a very satisfactory attendance for the three days, especially on Saturday, a lot of spectators making a week-end by the sea as part of the Grand Prix visit. Unfortunately the weather did not play its part and though Friday was warm and sunny, Saturday and Sunday were grey and cool, but thankfully without rain of any consequence. The race proved to be a 1-2 for the Ferrari team by reason of a large slice of luck coupled to perseverance.

On the starting grid Patrick Tambay was in second position in his C3 Ferrari, alongside pole-man Nelson Piquet (Brabham-BMW) but Rene Arnoux's C3 Ferrari (the spare one at that) was down in row five due to various troubles with engines, electronics and turbo-chargers during practice and qualifying. At the start Tambay made a complete nonsense of things, his clutch over-heated and slipped, and he crawled away to be passed by nearly everyone. Arnoux was heavily boxed in in the scramble for the first corner and at the end of the opening lap he was in seventh position and Tambay was 20th, having nursed his clutch while it cooled off and then got going properly.

On the face of things Arnoux had little hope of winning for Piquet, Prost, Cheever, Patrese, de Cesaris and de Angelis were all in front of him and going strongly, while Tambay's future looked very forlorn. Piquet had leapt into the lead from the pole-position he gained with confidence on Saturday afternoon, and Cheever made a meteoric start from the sixth row to nip into second place at the first corner just ahead of his Renault team-leader, but after four laps Prost asserted his authority and elbowed his way by into second place and set off after the flying Piquet.

Up to half distance it was a two-car race, the V6 Renault against the 4 cylinder BMW powered Brabham, both cars on Michelin tyres and little to choose between the drivers. Piquet led all the way but Prost had closed in and was looking for a weak point in Piquet's driving, but there wasn't one. Meanwhile Arnoux had disposed of the Lotus-Renault of de Angelis and then the Alfa Romeo engine disposed of de Cesaris, so the Ferrari was up to fifth place. Patrese and Cheever could not keep pace with their respective team leaders but had a good ding-dong together until Arnoux passed them both and took third place, but that was as far as he was going to get, it seemed. Tambay's climb up through the field was one of those smooth drives that puts a driver into a special class, no matter what car he is driving, and from 20th place on the opening lap he was up to 10th place on lap 15. Then he took a long time closing on Baldi's Alfa Romeo, but finally got by on lap 33 and at the halfway point, on lap 36, he was seventh. Pit stops for new tyres and more petrol were due around the half distance point but then a most remarkable thing happened: the two cars which had run first and second for so long were eliminated and Arnoux found himself in the lead.

For five laps Prost was right on the tail of the leading Brabham, but could not find a way by and as "pit-stop time" was approaching he wanted to be in the lead as the Renault pit was further down the row than the Brabham pit. It seemed likely that both Prost and Piquet were going to be in at the same time, so if he (Prost) was leading he would have a clear run to his pit-crew and a clear run away, but if Piquet led into the pit lane the Renault might get slightly baulked by the activity in the Brabham pit, and if Piquet got away first Prost would have to start all over again on the "closing in and taking" process. As the two cars started lap 42 Prost dived to the inside to try and outbrake the Brabham into the Tarzan hairpin, but he got into a sideways slide under the braking and though Piquet gave him room the Renault driver slid helplessly into the right side of the Brabham, puncturing its right front tyre, pushing it onto the sand and into the tyre barrier and out of the race. The Renault bounced off the Brabham seemingly undamaged and pointing the right way and as the engine was still running Prost drove off, leaving apologies until afterwards. He did not realize he had damaged the mounting of the left side nose-fin and as he headed into the fast right hand corner leading onto the final straight the fin revolved on its mounting and threw the car into a terminal understeer which took it off the road in spite of Prost standing hard on the brakes. The Renault clouted the barrier and broke the rear mounting of the lower front wishbone on the left and spun round to a stop, a very chastened Alain Prost stepping out unhurt but very reflective, after making such an untypical mistake as to misjudge his braking for the Tarzan hairpin.

From that point on Arnoux had it all his own way and driving in the peculiar head-down stance that is his characteristic he completed the race without fear of being beaten. Tambay, in fifth position, naturally found himself third at the point when the two leaders had retired, and had reached that fifth place by reason of Cheever's Renault expiring with an electrical fault in the ignition and Patrese making his routine pit-stop. Then Tambay himself stopped as did John Watson, who had his McLaren-Cosworth V8 among this lot and when it was all sorted out by lap 44 the order behind Arnoux's leading Ferrari was Patrese (Brabham), Tambay (Ferrari) and Watson (McLaren). The Ulsterman was doing one of his heroic drives, more than a little "needled" by the attitude of team-owner Ron Dennis who was all over Niki Lauda and the new Porsche engine, almost to the point of ignoring Watson and being very evasive about his future with the team. In his effort "to show them" Watson drove at his inspired best and really came through the back markers in a fine display of cool, confident and aggressive driving. He overtook Laffite (Williams), Rosberg (Williams), Alboreto (Tyrrell), Baldi (Alfa Romeo), Johansson (Spirit) and was just about to take Warwick when the Toleman driver made his pit-stop. When "Wattie" made his own stop the McLaren team excelled themselves with a 10.63 seconds stop and the McLaren headed the Toleman comfortably. By dint of this hard and aggressive driving Watson was actually in second place while others made pit-stops and settled down again in fourth place after the pit-stops were over, still ahead of Warwick's Toleman which was running splendidly.

In the closing laps Patrese's BMW engine had turbo-charger trouble and lost all its boost so that he was left with a normally-aspirated 11/2 litre engine and that didn't produce much power, but as the finish was in sight he kept going. Up to this point Tambay had been trying all he knew to get by the Brabham, but could not make it and suddenly, in the same way as Arnoux had been presented with first place, Tambay was presented with second place as the BMW engine let Patrese down. The lucky Ferrari lads cruised home to a 1-2 victory for the Maranello team, while poor Patrese was passed by Watson and Warwick who were not far behind on the same lap, and then by all the tail-enders as he struggled to keep going to the finish, ending up ninth from a pretty secure second place. Watson's third place was well deserved and had there been a Driver of the Day award he would undoubtedly have won it, and while Watson fans know that he can drive like that when he puts his mind to it, his detractors ask rather pointedly "why doesn't he always drive like that?" Throughout practice and qualifying Watson was faster than Lauda, who was driving the new McLaren-Porsche turbo-charged car, but it was not very significant as this was very much a "toe dipped in the water" for the Porsche project, and the handling and balance of the MP4/1E was far from right. In straight-line speed down the long straight it was well in amongst the Ferraris, BMWs and Renaults, but lost out on braking and cornering. In the race it ran quietly in mid-field until Lauda was forced to retire having used up all the brakes.

Warwick's fourth place with the Toleman-Hart was a real morale-booster for everyone, none more than himself, and the Hart engine had run perfectly and nothing had broken or fallen off the Toleman chassis. Apart from the sheer joy of being able to race for the full distance with only a routine pit-stop for petrol and new Pirellis, Warwick's day was made when he saw Nigel Mansell's Lotus spin across the track in front of him and disappear into the sandy run-off area at the Tarzan hairpin, after the Birmingham driver had made a real nonsense of trying to outbrake the Toleman on lap 27. Warwick laughed so much his visor steamed up! DSJ.