“Reflections: ‘Lauda razor sharp in Long Beach – 1982 US Grand Prix West (Rd 3)’”

Long Beach (1982).
Long Beach (1982).

As the Formula One circus pitched up at Long Beach for the first of three American Grands Prix in 1982, the tensions between FOCA and FISA began to heat up once again following the previous meets in South Africa and Brazil.

In the background Brabham and Williams were still waiting for their appeals against their Brazilian GP disqualifications to be heard {note 1}, while Ken Tyrrell was busy launching a counter-protest against the legality of the turbo engines.

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

His claim would be a difficult one to press – although turbines had effectively been outlawed in 1971, Tyrrell’s assertion that turbo engines should fall under the same ban gained little serious support.
By April 1982, the likes of Renault had already been running their 1.5 litre turbo’s over five seasons, entering in 65 Grand Prix prior to Long Beach – they would not be going away any time soon.

Following the recriminations in Rio, some of the naturally aspirated runners were undecided as to whether they would use the controversial water-cooled brakes that saw Piquet and Rosberg disqualified.
This did not stop Ferrari’s Director of Motorsport Marco Piccinini from protesting the quicker of the naturally aspirated runners anyway. On paper, all entrants came up to the legal weights (although a few cars may or may not have taken a minor detour en route to the weighbridge) and Piccinini’s complaints fell on deaf ears.
Adding to the absurdity of it all, even the FISA-associated Renault had reportedly been running underweight during the early running in practice.

Turbo’s, Tyres and Wings
Perhaps Piccinini was drawing a smokescreen, or at least preparing for a battle that was to be willed against his own car.
Noting yet another possible discrepancy in the regulations, Ferrari assembled a new and unusual rear wing design for Gilles Villeneuve’s and Didier Pironi’s entries, courtesy of designers Mauro Forghieri and Harvey Postlethwaite.
Instead of a long single plane, the Scuderia drew upon two smaller rear wing planes situated adjacent to eachother on a central strut. While the individual wings fell well within the permitted tolerances, together they stretched wider than the permitted width of the car.
Alas, the wording of the regulations only made reference to limits for the rear aerofoil and there was nothing in the rules to dictate how many rear wings one could have on a car… {note 2}
Interestingly, there was no real performance gain from this design at all and in truth Ferrari were just trying to be difficult, making a point that if the privateer British teams wanted to use with the wording of the regulations to play politics, then Italian squad would do the same.
For Villeneuve and Ferrari, this somewhat obtuse grandstanding would eventually wreck their weekend’s efforts.

Unlike at Kyalami and Rio, the turbo’s influence on Long Beach’s bump riddled streets was not as great, although the long boomerang-like curve down Shoreline Drive did give the manufacturer entrants some little opportunity to breathe.
Minor changes to the layout ensured the course was slower than previous events, with a chicane added at the beginning of Shoreline, eventually leading to a new series of 2nd gear turns before turning back toward Ocean Boulevard at the end of the lap.
Of course, the addition slow corners did much to help the naturally aspirated runners, but Renault – still a leading a leading light for the turbo pioneers – had done a great deal of work to reduce lag and improve reliability – and led by Rene Arnoux, the French team were fast.
To add to it all, the absurdities of the weekend were even stretching beyond the team and driver combinations. Tyre supplier Michelin discovered they had erred when they inadvertently delivered the wrong compound of tyre to their teams for the first qualifying session – an issue finally corrected come Saturday, but not before precious track time had been lost.

And then there were the drivers…
Amidst the lingering political and engineering smoke, the drivers also did their best to create additional tangents through the weekend, although it was not all bad. There were celebrations in the Alfa Romeo pit when Andrea de Cesaris took his first – and only – pole, despite crashing his machine into a wall early in the session {note 3}.
No one had expected to see the Alfa on top – especially not McLaren’s Niki Lauda. The Austrian filled the other side the front row; his lap a typically quick and unruffled effort – the kind that champions peel off with little thought.
Believing pole to a done fixture, Lauda clocked up only five laps during the Saturday session, deciding to finish early and save a set of Michelin’s for the race itself. He was on his way to the press conference when de Cesaris went fastest…
This weekend would be something of a marker point for the Italian, who had endured a nightmare 1981 season that saw him pick up a single point, a lot of crash damage and a P45 from – ironically enough – the McLaren team.
Admittedly Lauda was not always clean. He lost an argument with the barrier during Friday practice, necessitating a spare front section for the Austrian. At the time, one could almost be forgiven for Lauda and de Cesaris had swapped between their near-identical liveried cars.

The barriers also caught out the Brabham pairing of Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese – the latter of whom managed to destroy the suspension mounts of his monocoque of his BT49D completely on Friday.
Piquet then smacked another barrier with his second car during the final session ending his hopes of a final dash for pole, yet whereas Piquet’s chassis was repairable, Patrese’s was too far gone, necessitating a switch to a 1981 tub.
All this came the day after Piquet lost much of the first session due to a blown engine.

Following the end of 1981, Carlos Reutemann’s already fragile relationship with Patrick Head and Frank Williams had cooled even further. The Argentine had grown weary of the almost non-stop bickering in the sport and retired with immediate effect following the Rio Grand Prix.
Williams had approached the recently retired Alan Jones about returning to the team, but after a difficult final year the Australian decided to stay put. Eventually Williams drafted former World Champion Mario Andretti, who had found a convenient gap in his CART schedule.
Lamenting a lack of time Andretti would start 14th – the American later admitted that the lack of testing and the heightened g-forces of the FW07D had taken the 42-year-old somewhat by surprise.
On the other side of the Williams garage, Rosberg had qualified 8th after setting his best time in the opening qualifying session. He may well have been higher up the order, had he not burned out the clutch of his race car during the Saturday session, forcing a switch to the T-car, which itself would develop an oil pressure problem later during the event.
It proved to be a touch of misfortune for the Finn – before his clutch mishap, Rosberg’s had only just moved to an updated chassis; this one having been strengthened to withstand his aggressive, kerb-slamming driving style, which had damaged his previous tub in Rio.

The Race (April 4th, 1982)
In the end, Lauda had little need to worry. The tactic to save tyres in qualifying had worked a charm, ensuring this race was a demonstration of the virtue of patience.

It was no lights-to-flag deal either, as de Cesaris led confidently from the start, initially from Arnoux, with Lauda and Bruno Giacomelli chasing. As Arnoux concentrated on his mirrors, de Cesaris pulled away; however on the sixth tour, the feel of the race turned.
Pressing Arnoux for 2nd, Lauda missed a gear at Le Gasomet hairpin and he flicked to the inside to avoid hitting the Renault. Less intuitive was Giacomelli who outbraked himself, slamming into the rear of Arnoux – both were out and Lauda’s cheeky error gave him 2nd place and a clear track.

Within another half-dozen tours, Lauda had reeled de Cesaris in, although the Italian held his ground until lap 15, when the ambling Raul Boesel blocked him badly in the new chicane.
Robbed of acceleration, de Cesaris lurched onto back straight allowing Lauda to slide easily down the inside line for the lead; however in hindsight, it may have helped de Cesaris’ cause had he not used such a key moment to shake his fist in anger at Boesel.
From there, Lauda reeled off the laps, building a lead of a minute, but was comfortable enough to drop the gap to just under 15 seconds at the flag.
Sadly for de Cesaris, the runner-up spot was not for him either – on lap 34 the Italian slid hard into the walls, claiming a small fire from the back of his car took his attention.

With both Alfa’s out, Rosberg rose to 2nd spot following a measured, yet decisive climb up the order. Rosberg was 5th by lap ten, before a long battle with Villeneuve was settled in the Finn’s favour on lap 21, but not before Villeneuve spun at Le Gasomet attempting a re-pass.
Rosberg then caught and passed John Watson for 3rd within six laps, before de Cesaris’ crash, leaving Rosberg a clear 50 seconds adrift of Lauda, effectively cementing the result relatively early in the event.

Villeneuve passed Watson soon afterward for 3rd, but would spend much of the middle portion of the race fighting a rearguard attack from Michele Alboreto. The Tyrrell racer had been impressive all weekend, signposted by his hard fight against the Ferrari; however Alboreto fell back in the final third of the race, as his 2nd gear faded.
Unfortunately for Villeneuve, there was no reward – the Ferrari was disqualified following another complain lodged by the apoplectic Tyrrell, drawing FOCA further into the political heat.
Taking up the slack was Patrese. Starting 18th, the Brabham racer had yet another incident on lap 26, when he clattered a barrier, losing half of his front wing, although Patrese fared better than Piquet whose solemn race ended in another barrier on the same lap.
The Italian adapted his style and cut through the order, passing the hobbled Alboreto for what would become 3rd on lap 60. Thankfully Alboreto nursed his Tyrrell to the flag, taking what would later be 4th.

Others raced… and crashed
At Lotus, de Angelis took a relatively quiet 5th, after he embarrassingly lined up in the wrong grid slot. To add insult to injury, teammate Nigel Mansell reversed away from his slot to accommodate de Angelis, only for the race to start regardless and leave Mansell standing still on the grid trying to find first gear.
Watson claimed the final point – his strategy of running hard early on soft tyres came to haunt him, when he was forced into a lengthy pitstop before half distance.

The rest of the Grand Prix was filled with tales of incidents and clashes, although several drivers did complain about the track surface tearing up throughout the weekend. It did not help that tow truck vehicles did their best to hog racing lines when removing stricken machinery.
Alain Prost started the race with poor brakes and ended it on lap 12 with none at all, while Long Beach “expert” Jean-Pierre Jarier planted his Osella 10th on the grid, only to slide off on engine oil.
Over at Ligier, Eddie Cheever ran well for much of the race, only for his gearbox to fail close to the end of the event. Cheever’s teammate Jacques Laffite stalled his engine, when a sudden detour to avoid the wobbling Patrese went awry. Meanwhile, Roberto Guerrero finally qualified for his first Grand Prix in the Ensign, only to spin out avoiding Laffite who was avoiding Patrese…

Long Beach would prove to be Brian Henton’s final race at Arrows – by the time the circus reached Imola three weeks later, he would in a Tyrrell, replacing the lacklustre Slim Borgudd, who made his mark on lap one by hitting both ATS cars. Borgudd – who was once proudly sponsored in motor racing by Abba – would never return to Grand Prix racing.
In the end Andretti’s race for Williams came to nothing – during a difficult race, the American clouted the barrier, damaging a wheel and retiring on lap 19. This was also Derek Daly’s last race for the Theodore Ford team. With Andretti unable to commit to more than one Grand Prix, Daly would switch to the Williams squad in time for Zolder.

But first, appeals and Imola…
Alas the appeals against Rosberg’s and Piquet’s disqualification from Rio would be thrown out by the FIA a few days later and what seemed like a simmering pot at Long Beach would quickly begin to seriously boil over.
Still adamant that the rules did not strictly say the act of under-fuelled cars were illegal during a race, FOCA dealt their next hand and Brabham, McLaren, Williams and Lotus would boycott the San Marino Grand Prix.
Despite this Tyrrell, Osella, ATS and Toleman broke ranks and travelled to Imola; however there was still only fourteen cars going to the fourth round, during which the seeds for an all-new and more potent battle would be sown. Only this one would eventually have tragic consequences.

While the sport positioned itself for another fallout, the Austrian national anthem, “Land der Berge, Land am Strome” rang out over Long Beach. Lauda had returned.

{note 1}
“Reflections: ‘Prost victorious as Piquet disqualified – 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix (Rd 2)’” (Leigh O’Gorman; TheMotorsportArchive.com)

{note 2}
As an aside, the regulations governing engines specified a maximum of 12 cylinders, but said nothing with regards to how many engines one could install. Indeed, if a constructor wanted to somehow run a car with two V6 turbo’s, that would have quite permissible.

{note 3}
The 1982 race at Long Beach was a bit of an oddity as it was 75-and-a-half laps long. Although the pits and finish line were on Ocean Boulevard, the race started on Shoreline drive as it was decided the pit straight was not long enough to accommodate the field.
However Shoreline Drive could not accommodate the pits, due to the shore on one side and buildings and roads on the other.

Full results and points standings.

1982 US Grand Prix West (Rd 3, 75.5 laps, April 4th)
Pos  Driver                 Team                 Time / Gap
 1.  Niki Lauda             McLaren-Ford         1:58:25.318
 2.  Keke Rosberg           Williams-Ford            +14.660
     Gilles Villeneuve      Ferrari                +1:04.278 (DSQ)
 3.  Riccardo Patrese       Brabham-Ford           +1:18.143
 4.  Michele Alboreto       Tyrrell-Ford           +1:20.947
 5.  Elio de Angelis        Lotus-Ford                +1 lap
 6.  John Watson            McLaren-Ford              +1 lap
Selected Retirements:
    Andrea de Cesaris      Alfa Romeo 182          - 42 laps (Spun)
    Nelson Piquet          Brabham-Ford BT49D      - 50 laps (Spun)
    Mario Andretti         Williams-Ford FW07C     - 56 laps (Accident)
    Alain Prost            Renault RE30B           - 65 laps (Spun)
    Didier Pironi          Ferrari 126C2           - 69 laps (Spun)
    René Arnoux            Renault RE30B           - 70 laps (Accident)

1982 Drivers’ Championship (Rd 3)
Pos Driver / Team     Points
 1. Alain Prost       18
 2. Niki Lauda        12
 3. Keke Rosberg       8
 4. John Watson        8
 5. Carlos Reutemann   6

1982 Constructors’ Championship (Rd 3)
 1. Renault          22
 3. McLaren          20
 2. Williams         14
 4. Lotus             6
 5. Tyrrell           6

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