Grand Prix racing enjoyed a season free from the controversy and tragedy that had marred the previous season. It was a year of change – new rules stipulated that the underside of the car between the two axles had to be flat, effectively rendering the "wing car" dead. Teams partially compensated for the reduction in downforce by using larger wings and the cars were now less painful to drive.
A turbocharged engine won the World Championship for the first time although the victors were not turbo pioneers Renault. Alain Prost led the standings for most of the season but lost out to Nelson Piquet’s Brabham-BMW at the final race. At one stage the Renault team leader had held an apparently secure 14 point lead before a run of late-season successes gave Brabham the title.
The turbo revolution continued with new engines built by Alfa Romeo, Porsche (financed by Techniques d’Avant Garde for McLaren) and Honda (for newcomers Spirit and then Williams). In addition, both BMW and Renault supplied second teams. The venerable, normally aspirated Ford Cosworth engine recorded its last three victories, all on temporary street circuits. At Long Beach, John Watson came from 22nd on the grid to win – establishing a championship record. Keke Rosberg was masterful during the damp opening laps at Monte Carlo and Michele Alboreto scored the last victory for the engine and for team owner Ken Tyrrell in Detroit.
The Belgian Grand Prix returned to Spa-Francorchamps for the first time since 1970 on a superbly modified circuit. Andrea de Cesaris dominated the race before his Alfa Romeo engine failed, leaving Prost to take the victory.
Rene Arnoux joined Patrick Tambay at Ferrari and, after a slow start to the year, won in Canada and Germany to join the championship race. When Piquet and Prost collided while battling for the lead in Holland, Arnoux inherited the win and appeared poised to overtake Prost’s points lead. But Arnoux’s chances evaporated during the penultimate round at Brands Hatch when he was delayed by a spin. Tambay won at Imola in the number 27 Ferrari made famous by the late Gilles Villeneuve.
Mid-race pit stops for fuel – reintroduced by Brabham in 1982 – proved an advantage and were adopted by the rest of the field. Bizarrely, second position was not awarded for the Brazilian GP after Rosberg was disqualified for a push start in the pits. Uniquely the cars behind him were not elevated in the official results.