70 – 1982 San Marino GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

To buy the lead image click here.

From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

1982 San Marino GP
April 25, Imola

Political wrangling between the governing body and the member teams of FOCA meant only 14 cars presented themselves at Imola. It hurt the fans, of course, but also the FOCA teams themselves, for Ferrari finished 1-2 – and needed those points ultimately to beat McLaren to the constructors’ title.

The fastest cars at Imola were the Renaults of Prost and Arnoux, but Gilles Villeneuve – a second and a half faster in qualifying than Ferrari team-mate Didier Pironi – took the fight to them from the beginning, and when they broke looked set fair to win his first race in Italy.

Once the Renaults were gone, Villeneuve – mindful that the Ferraris were very marginal on fuel – backed off, allowing Pironi to catch him, and even occasionally overtake. Gilles assumed he was playing to the crowd, but was concerned by fuel consumption, for whenever Didier led the pace was a couple of seconds quicker.

Towards the end, Villeneuve was in front again, slowing the pace once more, and at this stage he believed his team-mate was behaving honourably, observing the ‘Hold’ signals from the Ferrari pit.

Not so. As they cruised round the final lap, just before Tosa – the last overtaking opportunity – Pironi suddenly spurted past, leaving Villeneuve no chance to respond. The crowd, it appeared, believed they had been ‘racing’.

After a furious slowing-down lap, Gilles brought his car into the paddock, slewing it to a stop after a final burst of throttle. As he stepped out, and removed his helmet, his face was livid. As I caught his eye, he uttered a single word – English, and of four letters – to sum up his feelings about his team-mate. He did not accompany Pironi and third man Alboreto on the lap of honour.

On the podium his expression said it all. This was farce, nothing less, and after a token appearance he left for the park where his helicopter awaited.

Two days later we spoke on the phone, and he told me he intended never to speak to Pironi again. Nor did he: in the last minutes of qualifying at the next race, Zolder, he clipped a slower car cruising in the middle of the track, and died in an accident of extraordinary violence. For some of us, at a time when so much else was awry with F1, the loss of Villeneuve was almost too much to take in. NSR

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