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“Reflections: ‘Prost victorious as Piquet disqualified – 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix (Rd 2)’”

January 25, 2013

Jacarepagua, Rio

With the 1982 Argentine Grand Prix lost due to lingering uncertainties within the sport, Formula One finally arrived in South America for the Brazilian Grand Prix in mid-March.

Although two months had passed since the infamous South African Grand Prix, ill feeling remained within the paddock and the outer reaches of Formula One itself.

Kyalami’s striking drivers had received US$ 5,000 fines and a single race ban, suspended {note 1}, but where drivers had taken issue with FISA in South Africa, the next fight would concern several prominent teams.

Previous chapter – “Reflections: ‘Prost from the Brink – 1982 South African Grand Prix (Rd 1)’”

The Turbo Takes Hold
Renault had introduced the first turbo powerplant in 1977, with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo following later with their own investment, ensuring the turbo was a hold of the FISA-supportive manufacturers.
Despite the massive power advantage held by the three teams, poor handling and dire reliability gave the normally aspirated Cosworth-powered teams an opportunity to grasp success. By 1982, the turbo had only claimed nine race wins, but unreliability was becoming less of a factor and the manufacturer threat was suddenly very real.
At the same time, the generally FOCA-backed Cosworth teams had been stung by the removal of flexible side skirts in effort to reduce downforce and curb cornering speeds. In one foul swoop, the FOCA teams had been hammered by the regulatory body – a fix was urgently needed.

Loopholes
Finding a loophole in the regulations, several of the normally aspirated teams began running water-cooled brakes, with excess water tanks built into the chassis to bring the car up to the minimum weight requirement.
However these tanks would be emptied early in the running as the water quickly evaporated, effectively making the non-turbo entrants 55kg underweight for a majority of the proceedings. In a prime example of poorly written regulations, teams could legally refill their tanks prior to post-race scrutineering as cars had to be weighed in what was considered to be “normal running conditions”.

The normally aspirated entrants, which should have been eaten alive down Jacarepaguá’s long back straight by their turbo counterparts, ran their cars underweight for much of the race, allowing them to keep in touch with turbo-engined entrants.  Indeed, it was because of this the Cosworth-powered Nelson Piquet (Brabham) {note 2} and Keke Rosberg (Williams) held so close to the Ferrari Gilles Villeneuve in the opening half of the Grand Prix.
Once Villeneuve’s challenge had been rendered inert in a fit of Piquet induced panic, the only thing that stood in the Brazilian’s way was Rio’s sweltering heat. Rosberg was happy just to take what would have been his second podium finish – a welcome booster following a disastrous 1981 season {note 3}.

Protests and Dirty Politics
Despite the practice of running underweight being explicitly illegal in all other FIA-sanctioned championships, the restriction of this act was – incredibly – never written into the Formula One regulations, giving the FOCA teams ammunition to press against the spirit of the rules.
As far as the FOCA teams were concerned, if an action was not written into the regulations, then it was as good as legal. The scrutineers disagreed.
It was an intriguing – and clever – reading of the regulations, but one that simply could not stand up over time. Incensed by the subversive manner in which the regulations had been massaged, Renault feverishly protested only Piquet and Rosberg, but none of the other “water-cooled” finishers.
The top two were thrown out and Prost was handed a second victory and a healthy lead over McLaren’s John Watson. Both Brabham and Williams appealed, however this would not be heard until after the US Grand Prix West at Long Beach.
When the appeal was eventually heard, it would light the catalyst for one of the most infamous Grand Prix of them all.

Meanwhile, the dirty politics from both FISA and FOCA had taken their toll on at least one driver. Sickened by the constant wrangling, Carlos Reutemann announced his retirement from Grand Prix racing five days after the event {note 4}.

The Race (March 21st, 1982)
On the surface, it seemed as if Brabham had hit back hard at the manufacturers following their failings at Kyalami two months earlier, but the revelation of their near empty water tanks did put some perspective on their pace.
However there is no doubt that Piquet’s harrying of Villeneuve forced the French-Canadian into a clumsy race-ending mistake at the Norte corner come the half way point – such was the habit of Villeneuve on occasion.

Yet whereas Villeneuve guided his Ferrari into an early lead – taking advantage of a sluggish start by polesitter Prost, Piquet bided his time. Initially content to sit in 6th place behind teammate Patrese, Piquet would take Rosberg (lap 5) before profiting from a mistake by Prost two tours later.
By the one-sixth mark Piquet had also disposed of Patrese, eventually drawing to the rear of Rene Arnoux. In a Renault blessed with supreme top speed, the Frenchman held his Brazilian rival at bay for several laps, before finally succumbing to the pressures of the Brabham pilot on lap 17.
Despite a relatively healthy lead over the squabbling pack (three seconds up by lap 20) Villeneuve was quickly reeled in by the determined Piquet, who was on the tail of the French-Canadian within a few short tours.
Amidst this, Rosberg had also cleared the Prost, Patrese and Arnoux gaggle and had closed to the top two, leading to an eight-lap dust-up, only resolved when Villeneuve ditched his Ferrari into the fence.

The lead settled in his favour, Piquet eased away from Rosberg (very gently), although as the race aged and the heat grew in intensity, the Brazilian native began to rest his head on the inside cushion of his cockpit.
Rosberg, meanwhile, had cleverly strapped on a primitive version of an ice vest, keeping the Finn cooler for just a touch longer. His Williams, however, simply did not have the outright pace of Piquet’s Brabham. On the other hand, exhaustion claimed the numb Patrese – dazed from the overbearing heat, the Italian spun on lap 33 and immediately darted to the pits where he had to be pulled out the car.

Behind them, Prost recovered from his early contretemps to finish the day 3rd on the road; however the stewards would soon ensure the first of his six Brazilian Grand Prix victories would be granted.
Meanwhile Watson, Nigel Mansell and Michele Alboreto all drove without fuss from the midpack to take 4th, 5th and 6th respectively, prior to their post-race promotions, while Marcos Winkelhock – originally 7th in the classifications – would later grab his one and only points finish. After spinning away a top six position on the third lap, Didier Pironi climbed back up the order to finish 8th on the road, which later became 6th, guaranteeing the Frenchman his first point of the season.

Sour notes
The embittered Reutemann endured a torrid final Grand Prix. Running outside the points at the one-third stage, the Argentine tried a tricky move on Niki Lauda in final corner, damaging the Austrian’s suspension. On the following lap, Reutemann tried the same move on Arnoux, this time taking both of them out of the race.
While one long Grand Prix was ending, another – very brief one was just getting started. Rocking up during practice in a Ford-powered Osella was the bespectacled Riccardo Paletti, who despite his best efforts failed to pre-qualify. Thrown in at the deep end, the inexperienced Italian failed to get a grasp of his difficult FA1C chassis, rendering his efforts null and void early in the weekend.

On the podium, an exhausted Piquet collapsed as exhaustion finally took its toll. To his right, Rosberg stepped aside as race personnel doused the World Champion with water, giving enough life to Piquet to limply spray champagne to the delight of his adoring crowd.
Bemused by the scene around him, Prost sat down on the podium steps and looked on impassively.

With the next Grand Prix at Long Beach only two weeks away, a feeling of dismay and mistrust hung around the air and things were not about to get friendlier.

{note 1}
The original punishment handed out by FISA was US$ 10,000 per driver in addition to a five Grand Prix ban, suspended for five races.

{note 2}
Brabham had initially run with the BMW M12 turbo engine in their BT50 chassis at Kyalami, but switched to the normally aspirated Cosworth motor for the next round at Rio after some difficulties. The team also reverted an update of their previous chassis, the BT49C/D.

{note 3}
Following a positive 1980 season that saw Keke Rosberg take 10th in the Drivers’ Championship, including his first podium in Argentina, the Finn failed to score a single point in 1981. In fact, of the fourteen World Championship races he entered, Rosberg only finished on three occasions and failed to qualify for five others.
So far Rosberg is the only one of two drivers in the history of the world championship to take the title having not scored a point or other significant result in the previous year’s competition – the other being Alain Prost who did not compete anywhere during 1992 prior to his fourth title.
As an aside, the inaugural World Champion, Giuseppe Farina, won the 1949 Lausanne Grand Prix ahead of Alberto Ascari and Emmanuel de Graffenried. It was Farina’s sole significant result in a season blighted by mechanical failures.

{note 4}
Following his defection from Formula One, Reutemann spent several years in the wilderness, although he did accept a drive in the 1985 Rally Argentina, finishing 3rd behind the wheel of Peugeot 205.
It is not without a touch of irony that Reutemann ended up in career politics a decade later, joining the neoliberal Peron-influenced Justicialist Party in 1991. Two spells as Governor of Santa Fe followed with Reutemann’s second stint (1999-2003) proving popular amongst voters.
In that time, the former racer pushed through a number of social-economic policies that kept the province from falling into deep recession, while numerous surrounding territories collapsed. Reutemann has twice since declined to run for governor of Santa Fe again and also turned down option to run for the presidential seat on a number of occasions.

Full results and points standings.

1982 Brazilian Grand Prix (Rd 2, 63 laps, March 21st)
Pos Driver                 Team                     Time / Gap
    Nelson Piquet          Brabham-Ford BT49D       1:43:53.760s (DSQ)
    Keke Rosberg           Williams-Ford FW07C      1:44:05.737s (DSQ)
 1. Alain Prost            Renault RE30B            1:44:33.134s 
 2. John Watson            McLaren-Ford MP4B             +2.990
 3. Nigel Mansell          Lotus-Ford 91                +36.859
 4. Michele Alboreto       Tyrrell-Ford 011             +50.762
 5. Manfred Winkelhock     ATS-Ford D5                   +1 lap
 6. Didier Pironi          Ferrari 126C2                 +1 lap
Selected Retirements:
    Riccardo Patrese       Brabham-Ford BT49C          +29 laps (Exhaustion)
    Gilles Villeneuve      Ferrari 126C2               +34 laps (Accident)
    René Arnoux            Renault RE30B               +42 laps (Accident)
    Niki Lauda             McLaren-Ford MP4B           +42 laps (Accident)
    Carlos Reutemann       Williams-Ford FW07C         +42 laps (Accident)

1982 Drivers’ Championship (Rd 2)
Pos Driver / Team     Points
 1. Alain Prost       18
 2. John Watson        7
 3. Carlos Reutemann   6
 4. Rene Arnoux        4
 5. Nigel Mansell      4

1982 Constructors’ Championship (Rd 2)
 1. Renault          22
 3. McLaren          10
 2. Williams          8
 4. Lotus             4
 5. Tyrrell           3
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