—Renault at home
Le Castellet, July 25th
THIS report of the French Grand Prix could well have been tacked on to the end of the one on the British Grand Prix in last month’s issue of MOTOR SPORT, for anyone involved in the French race had to be on their way to the south of France by the time the salvage men had finished cleaning up the rubbish and debris left over from the British race. Such are the vagaries and control of world-wide Formula One racing these days that publicity and money-making come before all else, and certainly before reason and logic. Only four clear days after the race at Brands Hatch finished, practice began at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France for the French Grand Prix, and in that time everything had to be packed up, repaired or replaced, transported something the 1,000 miles, unpacked and made ready for a 10 a.m, start on Friday morning. While half the world seems to have no work to do, the other half seem to have too much, so it was not surprising that one or two teams were not in the best of fettle for the French race.
Team Lotus had to make another substitution as, after attempting the British GP with his injured arm, Nigel Mansell was back on the sick list, so Geoff Lees was co-opted into the second Lotus 91. Otherwise everyone made the transfer from Britain to France safely and in order. A management decision within the Talbot-Ligier team decreed “no more time-wasting with the old JSI7” and there were three of the 1982 JS19 cars in the pits, number three being the new one that Laffite had raced at Brands Hatch (not number two as reported). Renault had to dig out an old one to replace the new one Arnoux crashed on the Brands Hatch start line, and this was RE38B, last seen at Monte Carlo. There was a distinctly nervous air about the team, as if the Guillotine was poised above them, ready to drop if they failed to win their own race, and rumour had it that already development money was being held back. The Fittipaldi team were preparing to run their new F9 car as their first string, keeping an old F8D as a spare, and some of the smaller teams like ATS and Tyrrell had come up with smoother bodywork in the hope of gaining a few extra m.p.h. down the long Mistrale straight.
Some people still find it hard to accept that the real heart of any racing car is the engine and that power is all-important, and when you get to a circuit like Zandvoort or Paul Ricard with a long straight, all the clever chassis design and aerodynamic know-how is useless compared to a powerful engine, and Ferrari, Renault and BMW all have very powerful engines even if they are only half the capacity of the Cosworth V8, the Alfa Romeo V12 and the Matra V12. Of course, they have forced induction, supplied by exhaust-driven turbochargers and that more than makes up for only having 1,500 c.c. compared to their rivals’ 3,000 c.c.
With adjustable aerofoils front and rear and good control of the air flow under the car, and over it as well, today’s Formula One car can be adjusted for maximum speed or maximum cornering power and the trick at Paul Ricard was to find a nice compromise. One small Cosworth-powered team went to the extreme in the search for top speed clocking 300 k.p.h. through the timing beam, but the car was so uncontrollable round the corners that it failed to qualify for the race, in spite of the driver being quite competent. The Williams and McLaren teams got it about right with their combination of speed on the straight and good cornering, while others were as much as 20 k.p.h. slower than the aforementioned small team down the straight, yet qualified comfortably.
Those with powerful engines did not have to compromise and were fast down the straight and through the corners, their only problem being that the drivers had to judge their speed through the long right-hand bend at the end of the straight, as they approached at anything up to 315 to 320 k.p.h., whereas the slower cars with brave drivers could take it without lifting their foot off the accelerator pedal. After the usual two days of morning testing and afternoon qualifying, with each driver limited to two sets of tyres of his choice, the outcome was no surprise: two Renaults on the front row, a Ferrari and a BMW on the second row, a further Ferrari and BMW in row three, two Alfa Romeo V12 cars on row four and two Cosworth V8 cars on row five. This was a very healthy scene, not like the Masonic-Cosworth days when FOCA teams had a monopoly. Renault, Ferrari, BMW and Alfa Romeo are not in Formula One for “entertainment” purposes or to support the “Max and Bernie” show, they are in it to win and prove who knows best in the world of high-performance engineering, with reputations to uphold, and Goodyear and Michelin are behind them for the same reasons.
There were people talking about the remaining cars being in “class B”, but that was absurd, for all twenty-six cars that qualified were in the French Grand Prix and there was only going to be one winner, regardless of what type of engine or car he was using. In Grand Prix racing there are no degrees of success, you either win or you lose, the reasons have no bearing on the matter, and a winning team makes sure it arms itself with the best of everything, whether it is driver or chassis or engine.
Most of the time during practice and qualifying it had been very hot, but with quite a strong wind blowing down the long straight and the Renault team were fairly free from trouble, which cannot be said for the Brabham-BMW team. Engines and turbochargers were failing and their pits seemed to be a sea of Castrol B353 oil, the special stuff that Castrol have developed for BMW racing engines. Ferrari had niggling troubles, and Pironi did not help matters by spinning off and bending the right front suspension on his car, while his boost-control unit (wastegate in American slang) went on the blink, so while a horde of mechanics attacked the car he went out in the experimental car with the fore-and-aft gearbox. Tambay’s car was having trouble with its water-injection system and it also had a stone come up from underneath, breaking the fuel pump driving belt.
There were Cosworth engines falling apart as well as turbo-engines, though the Alfa Romeos seemed pretty reliable as did the Matra V12 engines, but the French engines were not fast enough. Fabi ruined the bearings on a Hart 415R turbo-engine when an oil pipe split and he was slow in switching off, and hero of Brands Hatch, Derek Warwick, was finding the Toleman chassis feeling awful on the flat corners of Paul Ricard after feeling quite good on the Kentish undulations. The Fittipaldi team were having gearbox trouble with their new car and the old one had little hope of qualifying and the March team were wondering if they had done the right thing in cornering all the IRTS tyres with the name Avon on the side.
On Saturday morning Warwick made a mistake and spun off into the barriers, bending the front of his car, and the Toleman mechanics sweated blood to repair it in time for the afternoon qualifying. Many rival small teams had been scoffing at the British GP performance by the Englishman and his English car, saying it was either a fluke or a fiddle, such is the manner in which their minds work. Warwick’s car was repaired with only a few minutes of the final qualifying hour left, by which time he had been pushed down from nineteenth place, which he had recorded on Friday afternoon, to twenty-fifth place. He went out and did one flying lap, which put him into twenty-first place, stopped and changed tyres, did another flying lap which put him into fourteenth place and then qualifying ended, which was just as well as he then ran out of petrol. Fabi had qualified in twenty-first place, after missing all the Friday qualifying hour, so the team were pretty happy and smiling quietly at their detractors.
The serious teams up at the front of the grid were far too busy to notice such goings on, for there was a very serious inter-turbo race developing, and Brabham were making all the noises again about starting on half full tanks and relatively soft tyres, and making a pit stop halfway through, like Maserati did in the classic 1957 German GP at the Nürburgring. The story at Brands Hatch was that it had been intended for Patrese to stop and Piquet to run through non-stop, but we shall never know the real truth of the matter, and anyway it is all academic.
The hot weather continued and it was difficult to decide which you would rather not be, a Cosworth engine driven by Rosberg, a Ferrari turbocharger, a member of the Renault team, or a mechanic having to do four hours work in one hour, as most of them seem to do. In spite of the attraction of the nearby beaches and it being holiday time for the French, a goodly crowd turned up according to official announcements and there must have been 200 people on the back straight to see the turbo-cars doing 200 m.p.h. There was certainly no shortage of people in the pit lane and whereas the pit lane at Brands Hatch had seen everybody who was anybody in with a pass, at Paul Ricard anybody and everybody was in the pit lane, pass or not.
On Sunday morning supporting events filled in the time, though not as spectacularly as Brands Hatch, and the Formula One cars had their final thirty minutes of testing. The Brabham team were all kitted-nut with their refuelling apparatus and lines were taped onto the pit lane, the Renault team had given their drivers a boost-control knob on the instrument panel, Prost’s merely having an arrow pointing anti-clockwise, while Arnoux’s had an arrow and a plus sign. The Brabham-BMW’s had small bracing wires to the centre of the rear aerofoil, the Talbot-Ligier team were in their accustomed shambles, having made some overnight changes that didn’t work and the Alfa Romeo team were wondering if their speed the previous afternoon had been real. The experimental Ferrari was not being used, nor was the spare Renault. In the first practice Prost had tried carbon-fibre brake discs and an hydraulic damping system controlling the fore-and-aft ride-height, but had forsaken both ideas, so both cars were running “standard” and the engine people were quietly confident. Everyone chose this or that type of tyre, depending on their own personal psychology and some opted for two of this and two of that, others had little choice.
The regulations had said the race would be over 52 laps, but amendments had been made correcting this to 54 laps, and by mutual consent of everyone concerned, a revised starting procedure was agreed upon.
If a car stalled on the starting grid after the red light was on flashing yellow lights would “abort” the start and everyone would switch off. Another parade-lap would be made and the race distance shortened by one lap to avoid any nonsense about “topping-up” with petrol, thus anyone running tight on fuel consumption would not be penalised. If, at the second attempt, another aborted start took place, another lap would be chopped off the race-distance, and so on until there were none left and presumably the man on pole-position would be declared the winner!
The 26 starters left the pit lane on time and went round to the assembly grid and there was the anticipation of a pretty serious battle about to take place between the “big guns” of the European motor industry, so no wonder Porsche and Honda want to get involved. The air was full of problematical questions, such as “Would both Brabhams stop for a tyre change and refuel, would they be able to get enough lead to do this, would the Ferrari have a real ding-dong battle with the Renaults, would the team-managers be able to control the natural exuberance of drivers like Patrese, Arnoux or Pironi, who would be the best of the rest, would all the turbocharged can blow each other up and Lauda win again with the McLaren, how many cars would Warwick pass on the opening lap?” and so it went on, the air was full of possibilities and all these thoughts ran through the mind as Arnoux led the field round on the parade lap. Down the back straight all the front-runners were zig-zagging about, hopefully creating a bit of warmth in their front tyres, while those at the back who were never going town the winner’s rostrum, did not bother. Back on the grid all was orderly, the red light came on, then the green and 25 cars accelerated away, leaving Jarier’s Osella behind with a broken drive-shaft.
The two Renaults led away, and were still in the lead down the long straight, followed by Pironi and Piquet, Patrese and Tambay, all in turbocharged cars and already pulling away from the pack, led by Daly in a Williams-Cosworth V8. Rosberg had made a poor start and become engulfed by the mid-field runners and only 24 cars went by. At the far end of the circuit the drive to the oil pump had failed on Fabi’s Hart engine, the orange oil pressure light had shone, and after his practice experience the little Italian had switched everything off and pulled off the track. His team mate Warwick had not made a storming start and was well down the field surrounded by the lesser Cosworth powered runners.
On lap two Patrese had his Brabham-BMW between the Renaults of Arnoux and Prost while Piquet had passed Pironi’s Ferrari. Down the long straight on lap three the BMW power took the Brabham past the Renault at a speed that was breathtaking and Piquet had taken the second BMW-powered car past the second Renault, so it was BMW, Renault, BMW, Renault, Ferrari, Ferrari and already a sizeable gap before Daly appeared leading the Alfa Romeos and the rest of the Cosworth-powered specials. Salazar had spun off in his ATS, so we were down to 23 cars already. Another lap and Piquet used his BMW power to flash past Arnoux so by lap five it was all sorted out, two BMW-powered Brabhams, with Patrese already more than five seconds ahead, two Renaults and two Ferraris and everyone seated to be holding back, wary of blowing up their engines, using up their petrol or their tyres. Even so the rest of the field were a long way behind, with Daly firmly in seventh place on his own. As Patrese got to the end of the long straight and lifted off there was an ominous puff of oil smoke, which got worse as he started the twisty bit of the circuit leading back to the pit area. Piquet went by, no doubt worrying about his own BMW engine, Arnoux went by and then Prost and Pironi as the luckless Patrese limped along with a burnt out piston and oil and smoke pouring from the back of the car. Officially Patrese crossed the line in fifth place but by now the oil was on fire and the fibre-glass engine cover was burning. As the others went on their way the burning Brabham stopped by the pit entrance and Patrese struggled out as marshals rushed up to quell the fire. If you have to retire from the lead of a race you might as well do it in style.
While all this was happening Geoff Lees limped in with a punctured right rear tyre on his Lotus and de Cesaris had called at the pits with his engine misfiring. Hardly had the smoke cleared from the derelict Brabham than police cars, fire forces and ambulances were seen tearing off towards the Courbe de Signes at the end of the long back straight. The March of Jochen Mass and the Arrows of Mauro Baldi had tangled at close on 180 m.p.h. as they swept into the right-hand corner, and the Rothmans sponsored March had flown through the air and crashed through the fencing into the spectator enclosure. By sheer good luck the injuries to the spectators were remarkably light, though some needed hospital treatment, but it could have been a major catastrophe.
Piquet was out on his own, presumably trying to build up sufficient lead for a pit stop and the Renaults were running together, some way behind but not far enough to be out of touch. Then came the two Ferraris, running well enough, but never looking like challenging anyone ahead. Daly’s brief moment of glory ahead of the rest was brought to a stop by a puncture and by the time he had been into the pits and out again he had dropped from sixth to eleventh. Warwick had found his clutch would not free so he stopped at the pits to have it seen to and Watson stuttered into the pits with his McLaren’s engine sounding very flat. Daly’s stop had let Lauda up into sixth place but he had Rosberg closing on him so he decided he needed a new set of tyres and dived into the pits only to find the McLaren team very occupied with Watson’s car. Quick as lightning the Austrian summed up the situation and drove on down the pit lane and back into the race, coming in again next time round. By this time Watson’s trouble had been found to be an irreparable main electrical lead, so his car was wheeled out of the way and the Ron Dennis lads were ready for Lauda when he next appeared. A new set of wheels and tyres were fitted and he was away, but all this had dropped him to twelfth place.
Apart from Piquet pulling steadily away nothing much was happening up front, though whether he was gaining enough on the Renaults to allow for a pit-stop was debatable. Knowing the Brabham team owner, it was debatable whether he was going to stop anyway, even though the mechanics were acting out the pit-stop routine in the pit road. Piquet’s lead was a bare 14 seconds and Arnoux and Prost seemed to have the measure of him at that, while the Ferraris were not in the picture, pit-stop or no pit-stop.
Just like Patrese’s car, as Piquet lifted off at the end of the straight on lap 14 there was a puff of smoke, but unlike Patrese the trouble was almost instantaneous and the Brabham pulled off the track with smoke pouring from the BMW engine. The talk was that Piquet was about to be signalled in for his pit-stop, but once again “the best laid plans of mice and little men” had gone astray and we will never know. The two Renaults droned by into the lead, Arnoux still ahead of Prost; it was all over and we were barely at half distance. The two Ferraris came next, four turbocharged cars in a row, and what is more, all driven by Frenchmen, an end product of a powerful national plan by the ELF petrol company many years ago to promote French drivers and keep them on the right path to the top, unlike enthusiasm in Great Britain which is enormous but misguided and mis-directed. In a lonely sixth place was the valiant Rosberg, in spite of his bad start, and he was followed by Alboreto, Daly and Giacomelli, the Alfa Romeo driver shortly to be lapped by the leader.
If the Renaults kept running nothing much could happen, for the Ferraris were almost sure to keep going and nobody was going to catch anybody. Prost was not keeping up with Arnoux as a rubbing strip had been damaged on a side-pod, which was affecting the handling, but not enough to put his second place in danger. So it went on under the blazing sun on the arid plateau that is Paul Ricard, a gentle breeze just keeping things tolerable. The two yellow, white and black Renaults droned on and on, never once getting out of line or their drivers doing anything but conducting them correctly, the good “transport drivers”. They just had to score a one-two victory this time. If anything went wrong now the guillotine would surely fall.
Slowly the laps ticked by and Prost fell more than 20 seconds behind his team-mate and it was clear Arnoux was not waiting for him, men though Pironi’s Ferrari was far behind. On the other hand you could never be sure about Ferrari, and Pironi is a wily customer. With Prost being Renault’s only real hope of creating a World Champion on points, the team-manager signalled to Arnoux to slow down and let Prost win, but as seems fashionable in the nineteen-eighties team orders were ignored and Arnoux led his team-mate home to a Renault one-two in their own Grand Prix. There was such relief in the French team after all the troubles they have suffered this season, that everyone celebrated and “explanations” were left for another day. The remainder of the runners literally drifted in by comparison, some like Rosberg having done their best, others like Lauda and Daly slightly frustrated, the Talbot runners totally depressed having been in and out of the pits all the race and Warwick happy to be in at the finish, in spite of the clutch going solid again, and the transmission breaking as he crossed the line.
After it was all over that strange Mr. Tyrrell prompted the Williams team to put in a protest about the skirts on the Renaults. Something to do with the “stitching” or the “gussets”, or was it the “ruffles” or maybe the fashionable slit up the side was too short or too long; whatever it was Ken Tyrrell didn’t seem to the French skirts. Funny chap! Imagine trying to get anyone to listen to a protest against a French team who had just won the French Grand Prix. I suppose if Ferrari win the Italian Grand Prix at Monza some FOCA idiot will try and protest. The English are an insular lot and never learn. — D.S.J.
FRENCH GRAND PRIX — Formula One — 54 laps — Paul Ricard— 5.810 kilometres per lap — 313.74 kilometres — Very Warm
1 René Arnoux (Renault RE38B) 1 hr. 33 min. 33.217 sec. – 201.2 k.p.h.
2 Alain Prost (Renault RE36B) 1 hr. 33 min. 50.525 sec.
3 Didier Pironi (Ferrari 126C2/060) 1 hr. 34 min. 15.345 sec.
4 Patrick Tambay (Ferrari 126C2/061) 1 hr. 34 min. 49.458 sec.
5 Keke Rosberg (Williams FW08/5) 1 hr. 35 min. 04.211 sec.
6 Michele Alboreto (Tyrrell 011) 1 hr. 35 min. 05.556 sec.
7 Derek Daly (Williams FW08/4) + 1 Lap
8 Niki Lauda (McLaren MP4/6) + 1 lap
9 Bruno Giacomelli (Alfa Romeo 182) + 1 Lap
10 Brian Henton (Tyrrell 011) + 1 Lap
11 Manfred Winkelhock (ATS D6) + 2 Laps
12 Geoff Lees (Lotus 91/6) + 2 Laps
13 Marc Surer (Arrows A4) + 2 Laps
14 Jacques Laffite (Talbot JS19/03) + 3 Laps
15 Derek Warwick (Toleman TG181B) + 4 Laps
16 Eddie Cheever (Talbot JS19/01) + 5 Laps
17 Andrea de Cesaris (Alfa Romeo 182) retired on lap 26 – accident
18 Nelson Piquet (Brabham BT50/3) retired on lap 24 – engine failure
19 Elio de Angelis (Lotus 91/8) retired on lap 18 – fuel pressure
20 John Watson (McLaren MP4/7) retired on lap 14 – electrical connection
21 Jochen Mass (March 821/11) retired on lap 11- accident
22 Mauro Baldi (Arrows A4) retired on lap 11 – accident
23 Riccardo Patrese (Brabham BT50/4) retired on lap 9 – engine failure
24 Eliseo Salazar (ATS-D6) retired on lap 3 – accident
25 Teo Fabi (Toleman TG181B) retired on lap 1 – oil pressure
26 Jean-Pierre Jarier (Osella FA1C) retired at start – broken driveshaft
Fastest lap: Riccardo Patrese (Brabham BT50/4) on lap 4, in 1 min. 40.075 sec. – 209.003 k.p.h.
26 starters – 16 finishers