1983 South African Grand Prix
- Saturday, October 15, 1983
- Southern Sun Hotels Grand Prix of South Africa
- F1 World Championship
This reshuffle of the calendar meant that the season ended on a high note in more ways than one, for apart from the Kyalami circuit, north of Johannesburg being 6,000 feet or so above seal level, it is also a very fast circuit and a good test of car and driver. The previous two seasons ended on the lowest possible note, and in fact, fizzled out undramatically in the car park of a Las Vegas Hotel, on which a “Mickey-Mouse” circuit had been laid out with concrete blocks. The Kyalami circuit is laid out on an open hillside, not as spectacular as the Osterreichring, but a fine circuit nonetheless, with an ultra fast downhill straight, followed by one of the best corners in Formula One racing as the cars plunge downhill on a falling away right-hand bend followed by an uphill left-hander that calls for a car to be well-mannered and well-balanced to make the most of the right-to-left flick at about 160 mph. The circuit then winds along the hillside in a series of bends that end in a rush up to a fast climbing right-hand hairpin that leads onto the top straight, with a fast right-hander before the pits and the brow of the hill by the start / finish line and the subsequent plunge down the ultra-fast straight.
With a lap record of over 216 kph (134 mph) it is not a circuit for the faint-hearted or a car with a weak engine. The keynote of setting-up a car for the circuit is to strike a usable compromise between maximum speed, achieved by “feathering” all the aerodynamic aids, and “down-force”, to aid cornering on the fast bends. On some circuits you can afford to lose some maximum speed by increasing the aerofoil angles, and benefit on lap times by superior cornering speeds aided by aerodynamic “down-force”, but at Kyalami the balance between the two is very critical because you are at maximum speed for a long time so that you cannot afford to sacrifice too much on maximum speed. Even so, McLaren, Brabham and Renault were all using their large Ferrari-style “tea-tray” rear aerofoils as first seen at Brands Hatch recently, while Ferrari and ATS have been using them all season.
When the South African race is at the beginning of the season all the top teams go out there early to do a lot of testing under ideal conditions, apart from the altitude which affects power output from engine, especially normally aspirated ones. There was an early exodus from Europe to make use of testing time, so that when official practice began on Thursday morning mot drivers knew where they were going, how they were going and why.