1983 Italian Grand Prix race report

Patrick Tambay in his Ferrari 126C3.

Ferrari's Patrick Tambay on his way to 2nd position

Motorsport Images


Monza, Italy, September 11th

Monza. You either love it or you hate it and I love it. The name itself conjures up thoughts of speed, red cars, racing, noise and tumult, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Nuvolari, Ascari and everything that is Italian motor racing. The Gran Premio d’Italia anywhere else is a shadow of the real thing and as you pass though the tunnel under the track you hear the sound of a racing car going by overhead on full song, whether it is a factory Ferrari or a clubman’s Alfasud you know that the driver has the accelerator pedal right down on the stop and it has been there for quite a while and the engine is at peak rpm in top gear. The faster Formula One cars were crossing that tunnel at 188-190 mph and they not only sounded like it, they looked like it.


Invariably practice days are accompanied by the sound of Italian enthusiasts screaming and yelling with delight and the stands are a sea of waving Ferrari flags, but this year both Friday and Saturday ended in an eerie silence, the whole atmosphere was flat and as we left the circuit the crowds seemed to be wandering about aimlessly or drifting off home. Friday had ended up with Nelson Piquet with fastest time and Riccardo Patrese with second fastest time, both driving Brabham BT52B cars powered by turbocharged BMW engines from Munich. The result had been greeted with an air of disbelief, but there was always Saturday afternoon qualifying, then it would be different. But Saturday was little better, though there had been a moment of joy when Patrick Tambay beat Piquet’s best time, but it was short-lived for Patrese went out and beat them both to take pole-position on the grid.

The disbelief when qualifying was over was something tangible. Ferrari not on pole-position at Monza! It was like saying there is no Father Christmas. The mood matched the weather — grey. But an Italian driver is on pole-position. Well, yes but he is a traitor, he drives for the hated Bernie Ecclestone who tried to get rid of Monza a year or two ago, and he drives a German BMW, well a Brabham-BMW.

Thoughout Friday morning testing, and qualifying in the afternoon, it was Brabham and BMW all the way, all three cars using larger turbo turbines and Brian Hart boost control valves, as had been tried at Zandvoort. Piquet did a best of 1 min 30.202 sec, and Patrese did 1 min 30.253 sec, and only Arnoux managed to break into the 1min 30 sec bracket, but he was half a second slower, and there were four of the C3 Ferraris in the pit lane, the three seen at Zandvoort and a brand new one. Not only was the Brabham of Piquet fastest on lap time but it was also fastest through the speed trap by the finishing line with 190 mph and Arnoux could only record 185 mph. That was bad, but there was worse to come, for Lauda and Watson with Porsche powered McLarens both recorded 188 mph. Il Tedeschi were undermining the very morale of Italian motor racing and the only redeeming fact was that the McLaren part of the Anglo-German cars from Woking was found wanting, for what is basically an MP4 car was very short on braking and road-holding to match the power of the Porsche engine so that lap times were three seconds off the pace, but next year when the MP5 Porsche-powered McLaren appears, who knows. And the Alfa Romeos were not giving Ferrari much support in their hour of need.

Jacques Laffite in his Williams FW08C-Ford Cosworth.

Jacques Laffite’s pace was poor – he didn’t make the top 26 fastest times required to race

Motorsport Images

Thankfully the dreaded “frogs” were in trouble with their engines not performing properly so the despised Alain Prost was behind the Ferraris, and even behind his Americana team-mate, but those Brabhams. . . . And what about next year when Rosberg has Honda power in the new Williams. . The whole world could come crashing down around our ears.

Friday had been bad but Saturday morning was worse, for testing had only been under way for thirty minutes when it all stopped and there was the mortifying sight of Arnoux’s Ferrari being towed back to the pits, its turbochargers having failed and then the worst sight possible, a Ferrari dangling from the hook of a breakdown lorry. Tambay had tried an out-braking manoeuvre into the first chicane and came off second best with a trip into the sand and a bent front suspension. It was indeed fortunate that both drivers had spare C3 Ferraris at the ready, Arnoux going out again in 068 while his regular 066 was repaired and Tambay taking out the brand new car 069, while 067 was put away round the back of the pits. In the final hour of qualifying the Brabharn team were nothing short of insolent. They just stood there and watched everyone else go out and try and beat the times Piquet and Patrese had recorded on Friday afternoon. Tambay and Arnoux were soon out there trying hard, but to no avail, Cheever tried and failed, the Alfas tried, Prost tried, the Lotus-Renaults tried but still the Brabharns were first and second with their Friday times. It was depressing. Thirty-minutes had gone, then thirty-five and Arnoux repeated his 1 min 30.8 sec of Friday, but it wasn’t good enough. Then he did 1 min 30.7 sec, but still a long way off. Still no Brabhams appeared and Prost was not in the running with the Renault.

Tambay was out again and then the packed grandstands exploded. Oh joy! 1 min 29.650 sec for car number 27, Patrick Tambay was the hero of the day; that’s shown those Brabham-BMWs. But Patrese was now out on the track, and Piquet as well. 1 min 29.8 sec for Patrese. A nice try, but not good enough and Arnoux is down to 1 min 29.9 sec, now we’ll see something. 1 min 29.122 sec, whee . . .eh! For car number 6, that’s Patrese! Mamma Mia! And Piquet? In trouble, the demon-tweaker spare car had given trouble and he is out in his own car and 2 pm is approaching. He does 1 min 30.4 sec and comes in, the engine isn’t right, and as the final minutes tick by he goes out in Patrese’s car but it’s too late, the chequered flag is out, it’s all over. Patrese on pole with the Brabham-BMW, Tambay second, Arnoux third and Piquet fourth, Prost fifth, de Cesaris sixth. A lot of teams would love to end up with second and third fastest times, but for the tifosi it was an afternoon of total defeat. A Brabham-BMW on pole position! Yes, we know Riccardo Patrese is a good Italian boy, but a Brabham-BMW . . we might as well go home, there isn’t much to hang around for.

In truth there were 29 drivers hard at it for the two days, all endeavouring not to be among the three non-starters with only 26 of them allowed on the grid. For most drivers there is no problem in being in the select 26, it is just a matter of where you finish up in the list, but for some the qualifying hours were traumatic. On Friday the Honda engines in both Spirit cars gave trouble and Johansson was dead last and had it rained on Saturday he would have been in real trouble. The Spirit team had a brand new car with them and were hoping to finish it off at the circuit, but two broken engines in the other cars put their work schedule all out of order. On Saturday afternoon Johansson got out on the track very smartly and before any more trouble intervened he qualified comfortably in mid-field. The McLaren-Porsches were well in, on the tail of the factory turbos and were indisputably fast in a straight line but were still a long way off on the rest of the requirements for front runners.

Mauro Baldi in an Alfa Romeo 183T, he did not finish.

Mauro Baldi qualified 10th for Alfa Romeo

Motorsport Images

There were some problems with the Bosch Motronic electrical engine management systems and at one point a systems-check instrument was plugged into the electronics installation on Lauda’s car and no matter what was done the read-out panel lit up with the word ERROR! On another occasion there must have been six engineers and mechanics looking at every part of the wiring and electronics system with a frantic air as if they had lost a micro-chip. Lauda was in the car he had driven at Zandvoort and Watson had tested at Brands Hatch, while Watson’s Monza car was the second “interim” car built from the bones of a Cosworth-powered MP4. In spite of small problems with the electronic management systems both engines ran very reliably, and as already mentioned the cars could match anything for sheer speed, which indicated that there wasn’t much wrong with the Porsche part of the car, and both drivers qualified comfortably in mid-field.

While there was consternation at the front of the grid there was bewilderment at the back, for Alboreto with the new Tyrrell was in the next to last row and Jacques Laffite failed to qualify his Williams-Cosworth. The Tyrrell team got themselves in a muddle by starting off on the wrong foot as regards the initial set-up of all the available variables, and never got themselves sorted out as far as Alboreto was concerned, so that Danny Sullivan ended up ahead of the Italian. In the Williams camp Rosberg was in his usual dynamic form, leading the few remaining Cosworth engine users which meant he was in sixteenth position at the end of qualifying, but Laffite had spent a lot of time testing radial-ply tyres for Goodyear and when it came to making a serious qualifying run he simply wasn’t quick enough. While the Italian fans suffered at not seeing a Ferrari on pole-position the British fans suffered at seeing a Williams car not even in the race.


Riccardo Patrese (Brabham BT52B BMW) leads the rest of the field at the start.

Riccardo Patrese converted 1st on the grid into the lead on lap 1

Motorsport Images

On Sunday morning we saw the sun for the first time, but it was not very strong and the blue sky gradually disappeared behind a thin haze. It was impossible to say whether the crowd was any less because of the outcome of practice, for whatever it was it was a large crowd. Overnight some of them had expressed their disapproval of Brabham-BMW and Renault, and Piquet and Prost in particular, by painting some very obscene signs on the starting grid in front of the positions for both Frost and Piquet, while there were words of encouragement for Tambay, Arnoux and de Cesaris. There was nothing for poor lonely Riccardo Patrese on pole-position, neither encouragement nor admonition. During the break between warm-up time and the assembly on the grid Romolo Tavoni, the Autodromo director, had the rudery erased from the grid, but left the encouragement. As the cars left the pit lane there were cheers for the red ones and whistles and jeers for the other leading runners and unanimous cheering and appreciative whistles for the 26 Italian beauties that Marlboro produced to hold the assembly marker boards. Every one of the long-legged shapely girls was enough to take the mind off motor racing for even the hardest mysogynist racing driver, not that there are many of those these days. While lined up on the dummy grid Goodyear people were concerned about the look of one of Arnoux’s rear tyres, so both of them were changed and slowly the minutes ticked by towards the 3.30 pm start. Patrese led them all round on the parade lap, they all lined up in their correct positions, the red light came on, engines soared to high revs, the green was on and Cheever made another meteoric start, like he had done in Holland. He swerved right, aiming down between the two rows, and nearly collected Piquet’s Brabham which was swerving to the left of Tambay’s Ferrari.

Riccardo Patrese retired with smoking engine in his Brabham BT52B BMW, ahead of team-mate and race winner Nelson Piquet.

The pole-sitter retired on lap 2 with engine trouble

Motorsport Images

Everyone got away and got though the first chicane and the two Brabhams of Patrese and Piquet were streaking away, followed by the two Ferraris. At the end of the lap there was a confusion of noise for the two blue and white BMW powered cars were already a long way ahead of Amoux, and Tambay in the red cars, with Cheever, de Cesaris, Prost, de Angelis and Mansell following. At the first chicane on lap 3 de Cesaris passed Cheever and promptly spun off into the sandy run-off area and out of the race, and before the leaders re-appeared the confined noise from the crowd burst into a unanimous roar as it was reported on the loudpeakers that Patrese’s car was pouring out smoke. Sure enough Piquet went by on his own and as the others followed a cloud of smoke could be seen heading for the pit lane. Car number 6 was in the middle of it but the engine expired completely before it reached the pits. Patrese’s glory was short-lived.

Seeing the demise of his team-mate, all Piquet’s mechanical knowledge and feel was put to good use and he wound down the boost pressure just enough to maintain his lead and give the engine a slightly easier time. Tambay’s Ferrari engine was a bit down on power anyway and Cheever passed him to take third place, with Prost and de Angelis not far behind the Ferrari. On lap 5 Johansson pulled the Spirit off onto the grass as the Honda engine suddenly died with some form of electrical failure and Baldi arrived in the pit lane with smoke belching from one of the exhaust pipes of his V8 Alfa Romeo, indicative of a turbocharger failure. By this time a pattern had formed that did not look like changing much unless trouble intervened.

Marshals run to the assistance of Patrick Tambay after a spin.

Marshals run to the assistance of Patrick Tambay after a spin in qualifying

© Motorsport Images

Piquet was firmly out in front, Arnoux was second with Cheever in third place, hanging on to the Ferrari. Tambay was fourth with Prost and de Angelis uncomfortably close behind him. then came Warwick in the Toleman with Watson close behind in the second of the Porsche-powered McLarens. Lauda was in the pits with the Bosch people trying to cure a chronic misfire. Mansell was just managing to fend off Winkelhock who had Rosberg and Giacomelli behind him and then there was a big gap before the remainder followed in the order Surer (Arrows), Alboreto (Tyrrell), Jarier (Ligier), Boutsen (Arrows), Guerrero and Cecotto (Theodores), Sullivan (Tyrrell) and Fabi and Ghinzani (Osellas). In the serious part of the race were eleven 11/2-litre cars boosted by turbochargers with a lone 3-litre Cosworth powered car hanging on to tenth place by sheer grit, but it was a useless endeavour for Rosberg was about to be penalised a minute for disobedience at the start. At the drivers’ briefing just before the start they were told not to cross the white line that marked the track-width in the wide starting area and Rosberg had infringed the rule blatantly.

The scene developed into one of a procession, headed by the blue and white Brabham-BMW so there was little joy for the crowd and when de Angelis passed Prost, and then Tambay to put the Renault powered Lotus 94T into fourth place there was even less joy. Lauda had joined in again on lap 9 but Watson started lap 14 with his Porsche engine suddenly going flat as if the ignition or injection timing had gone wrong and coasted to a halt, which was a pity as ‘Wattie” was getting into his stride and had whistled past Warwick’s Toleman-Hart with ease, and was lapping only half a second slower than Piquet’s leading Brabham. While lapping the tail-enders Tambay had a moment off on the grass, but it did not lose him any time and as half distance approached the routine pit stops began. Cheever was stationary at the Renault pit for 11.59 seconds at the end of lap 24 and de Angelis was at the Lotus pit for 14.24 seconds on the same lap, which dropped them both back a bit, temporarily. Then Arnoux came in at the end of lap 25, for an 11.99 second stop which dropped him to third place behind Tambay and Prost was in the pits at the end of lap 26, which was half-distance. His stop was a long one, of 15.78 seconds, and when he got away it was obvious that all was not well for his engine did not pick up cleanly and two laps later he was back in the pits with a loss of boost pressure, for a turbocharger unit was about to fail so that was the end of his race. Warwick stopped for 13.24 seconds and then the Lotus lads did a superb job when Mansell came in and he was stationary for a mere 11.04 seconds. All this time Piquet was forging away ahead, running to Gordon Murray’s late-stop plan and on lap 29 Lauda made his routine stop in 13.59 seconds and as he restarted he stalled the engine and rolled to rest right by the Brabham pit, where they were waiting for Piquet.

Keke Rosberg in his Williams FW08C Ford, finished in 11th position.

Williams’ Keke Rosberg finished 11th and a lap down

© Motorsport Images

Many hands pushed the McLaren-Porsche out of the way unceremoniously to get rid of it and as Piquet ended lap 31 he was heading for the pit lane. The Brabham team’s pit work left everyone gasping, 10.15 seconds for four wheels and about 100 litres of petrol, and Piquet roared away back into the race before the next car was in view. The order before any pit stops had been Piquet, Arnoux, Cheever, de Angelis, Tambay, Prost, Warwick, Winkelhock, Mansell, Giacomelli, and now Prost had gone and Tambay was ahead of de Angelis so it was BMW, Ferrari, Renault, Ferrari, Lotus-Renault, Toleman, ATS-BMW, and then the ATS engine went sick and Winkelhock retired. Piquet had everything well under control and he turned the boost down even further and settled in to a comfortable cruise to the finish, regulating his pace to that of his followers. It was all over, Ferrari there not going to win this Italian Grand Prix so it was just a matter of hanging around until it was all over. When Piquet lapped Giacomelli’s Toleman-Hart the tubby little Italian latched on to the tail of the Brabham and sat in the slip-stream. At first there did not seem to be much point in this, but Piquet was heading towards lapping Mansell’s Lotus-Renault and Giacomelli could see the chance of picking up a place, so he hung on splendidly. With two laps logo Piquet eased right up and let Giacomelli go by to put himself on the same lap as the leader, but more important was the fact that he was now within striking distance marcof Mansell’s Lotus. When Piquet crossed the line to win the 54th Italian Grand Prix there were a few sporadic hand claps, even though he had driven a beautifully judged race and had been the winner all the way.

Rene Arnoux, finished 2nd in his Ferrari 126C3.

Rene Arnoux waves to the crowd after securing 2nd

Motorsport Images

When Arnoux crossed the line some ten seconds later the crowds erupted and by the time Tambay arrived in fourth place the crowds were flooding across the track, having scaled a 12 ft high wire fence as if it wasn’t there. Cheever had finished a very worthy third and de Angelis was lucky to finish fifth as his gearbox had begun to break up in the last two laps and the Renault engine had been on the rev-limiter as he peaked in what gears were available. Warwick was a lonely sixth, but happy to have another trouble-free run in the Toleman-Hart and down the back straight Giacomelli was in the slip-stream behind the 4-bladed rear aerofoil of the Lotus. By the time the two cars appeared out of the Curva Parabolica for the flat-out run to the chequered flag there were spectators all over the track and the situation looked very nasty. Mansell panicked and lifted right off the accelerator, but not little Bruno Giacomelli, he kept his head down and his foot hard on it and snatched seventh place from the Lotus within sight of the flag as he weaved his way through the stupid spectators at 170 mph.

There was no hope of anyone doing a slowing down lap and they all pulled off to the right and switched off to disappear under the milling throng, but an angry and chastened Mansell did a u-turn and drove through the crowds the wrong way into the pit lane. The Italian Grand Prix finished in total chaos, the wide finish area a sea of happy flag-waving Italians all very orderly and friendly just waiting to cheer Rene Arnoux and Patrick Tambay. They were only second and fourth, which makes the mind boggle to think what would have happened had they been first and second. Slowly the crowds drifted away, the 1983 Italian Grand Prix was over and Nelson Piquet knew he had driven the Ferrari team into the ground and stamped on them. It was a fine victory to complete the Brabham-BMW domination that had begun on Friday morning. DSJ.

Nelson Piquetfinished 1st, Rene Arnoux 2nd and Eddie Cheever 3rd position on the podium. FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre stands at the front.

Nelson Piquet celebrates his second win of the season, flanked by Arnoux (left) and Eddie Cheever (right)

© Motorsport Images