By the time the massed ranks of the Formula One Constructors take to the circuit in Brazil for official pre-Grand Prix qualifying, most of the cars must have almost been in a position to run around the 3.126-mile Autodromo Riocentro without their drivers aboard, such is the amount of pre-race testing that has taken place there since Christmas. There’s obviously a great deal of speculation as to the performance of the new breed of Grand Prix cars which has come in, being since the FISA re-wrote the technical rule book abruptly at the end of last season, the ground effect concept now having substantially been banned by the requirement of a completely flat lower surface of the cars between the front and rear wheels. Despite a degree of initial grumbling from the Constructors, who says, of course, they can’t ever get their cars ready in time for the planned start to the season at Kyalami at the end of February, FISA and the South African organisers obliged by postponing the race until the end of the season, thereby providing everybody with another two weeks’ grace before the first race. Interestingly, a large proportion of the teams have cars ready by the middle of January and are able to take part in the two Rio test sessions without much trouble, and, taken by and large, everybody have got their heads down and put in a tremendous effort. There’s much new, and much revamped, to see in the sweltering Rio paddock, and details about the cars are presented separately from this report. Testing the weekend prior to the race indicates that the British Toleman team has got things right with their totally revised TG183B powered by Brian Hart’s compact four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
It’s a measure of how people can quickly change their standards that the Toleman lads, who twelve months ago would have been down on their knees praying with delight if they could qualify in the top twenty, are slightly disappointed if they are anything but the fastest car on the circuit. Warwick has proved his worth as a driver by dominating the two pre-race test sessions, so it comes as an enormous disappointment to him when he started the Brazilian Grand Prix from fifth place and not from pole position. With lots of circuit experience under their belts, the competition is as scorching as the temperature from the moment the first practice sessions begins on the Friday prior to the race. During the off-season there have been much speculation by various observers and teams that the day of the normally aspirated Cosworth DFV V8 engine is over, and that the 1½- litre turbocharged units would reign supreme throughout 1983. Well, although the stark results provided by the Brazilian Grand Prix may have tended to suggest this prediction is accurate, equally there are sufficient pointers to indicate that it is totally wrong. Unquestionably, the highlight of qualifying is the performance of World Champion Keke Rosberg and his Williams FW08C. By the end of the first session it is crystal clear that the Williams team have pulled off one of the great ruses of the past few years. During testing their Cosworth-engined cars have been average, even undistinguished, but it soon becomes clear that they have been taking things easy, deliberately running with high fuel loads and relatively hard tyres for much of the time.
What’s more, when they run quick laps, they move their timing equipment away from the pits and time from the hairpin, the easier to mislead their rivals as to their true capability. Of course, one aspect of the rule changes which certainly help the normally aspirated cars is the reduction of the Formula One minimum weight limit from 580 kg. to 540 kg. There in an enormous incentive to build down as close to this minimum weight limit as possible, many of the turbocharged cars clearly unable to get as near to it as they would like. But against this is a revised system to check the minimum weights, infringement of which now results in disqualification from the entire meeting involved. At the start of practice the drivers are weighed individually and their weights feed into a computer. Then, when the cars are weighed at computer-selected random check, which takes place during all qualifying sessions (and after the race, of course), their weight is automatically deducted from the total car/driver weight. Thus, if the net figure for any car falls below 540 kg. at one of these checks, the full force of the rule book comes down on the transgressor. What’s more, if anybody ignores the signal for their car to be checked, they can also be disqualified. This happens to Andrea de Cesaris in the Alfa Romeo V8 183T during final qualifying and, without any argument, he is disqualified from participating in the race. FISA certainly indicates their intention to apply the rules firmly and even-handedly over the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, although whether it is relevant or valid to have any sort of minimum weight limit in Formula One is another matter altogether. Rosberg’s splendid pole position lap of 1'34"526 is achieved in scorching air temperatures of around 110 degrees (F) during the Friday qualifying sessions, a perfect combination of top-line driver, agile chassis, soft Goodyear rubber and a powerful John Judd-modified Cosworth DFV engine.
What’s more, the Williams team signals its intention of taking a leaf out of the Brabham book and begins preparing for a mid-race pit stop for the World Champion’s car. It is their intention that Rosberg would go as fast as possible on a half-full fuel tank, using soft rubber, in an effort to build up a substantial early lead. It works to perfection, the only problem being that the Brabham team had identical plans for their striking new, and significantly faster, BT52-BMW driven by Nelson Piquet. The next seven cars on the grid behind Rosberg are 1½-litre turbos, a crushing demonstration of the effectiveness of high-boost forced induction engines when it comes to wringing out a really fast lap during qualifying. In the Renault Elf pit there is quiet satisfaction that Alain Prost should qualify second, particularly in view of the fact that he is still using an updated version of the 1982 car, dubbed RE30C. Prosts car is also fitted with experimental Brembo carbon fibre brakes, with single calipers, during practice and the Frenchman has a relatively straightforward time, returning a 1'34"672 best. By contrast, his new team-mate Eddie Cheever couldn’t find a clear lap in traffic on Friday and doesn’t net his best qualifying time until the following day, managing a 1'36"051 best for eighth place, despite a minor collision with Eliseo Salazar’s RAM March which breaks a wheel rim on the Renault as a result. In the Ferrari camp there are glum faces to be seen, for neither Patrick Tambay nor Rene Arnoux are happy with the wheel-spinning 126C2s in their latest guise. Tambay begins the weekend badly with a fuel vaporisation problem during Friday’s untimed session which jerks the car around so violently that the V6 engine shears its distributor drive as a result. During the first qualifying session he manages a third fastest 1'34"993 lap, improving slightly the following day, but retaining the same place on the grid. On paper Ferrari’s prospects might look moderately promising before the start, but Tambay allows himself no such optimism.
"We’ve got a big problem with traction and trying to work out settings that will allow us to run non-stop in the race".
We certainly don’t intend stopping for fuel because we don’t have the facilities here, and I don’t want to have to stop for tyres. Tambay’s new team-mate, fellow Frenchman Rene Arnoux, never gets going as well, spinning off on Friday and being unable to restart, while his 126C2 blows a turbo in Saturday’s qualifying session after he bad manages a 1'35"547 for sixth place on the grid. The new Brabham BT52s are obviously attracting a great deal of attention in the pit lane and both Piquet and Riccardo Patrese prove that these very shiny new cars with their BMW turbocharged engines would be strong competitors from the outset. Both drivers complain of a worrying handling imbalance on the first day, but this is soon traced to the KKK turbocharger unit, mounted low down on the left hand side near the rear of the car, radiating heat on the left rear shock-absorber, thus overheating this component. Makeshift cooling ducts are made up for the second day’s practice and Piquet serves notice of his race intentions by qualifying fourth behind Tambay. This is particularly encouraging since concern over the durability of the specially developed gearbox on these cars means that they both run pretty conservative amounts of turbo boost during qualifying and Patrese’s car actually breaks its transmission on Friday as well as suffering a disconnected oil line, and consequent leak of lubricant, the following day. Patrese qualifies seventh fastest, splitting Arnoux’s Ferrari from Cheever’s Renault. The Toleman team begins the weekend in a slightly apprehensive frame of mind, for there are rumblings of discontent from some other teams about the eligibility of the two interactive aerofoils at the rear of the TG183Bs. Happily for them, the race scrutineers deem the cars to be fully in conformity with the technical regulations and it doesn’t go un-noticed by the Ligier team who quickly re-present their cars with a similar, but not identical, aerofoil arrangement on their new JS21s.
Clearly hoping to sustain the domination he exerts during testing, Derek Warwick emerged from the first day slightly disappointed in fourth place on 1'35"206, frankly admitting that he’s messed up one corner on his second set of qualifying tyres. But he remains optimistic that he would be able to improve the following day. Unfortunately Toleman hopes are dashed in that respect with a major engine failure, on both Warwick’s and Giacomelli’s, both on their very first lap during the final qualifying session. Warwick’s car has previously stopped abruptly during the Saturday morning untimed session, and although electrical trouble is initially expected, it turns out that an inlet pipe to the compressor has failed on the Hart engine, it has lost boost pressure and the mixture has slipped onto full-lean. Clearly this must have damaged a piston, for the Hart engine fails in untypically spectacular style, blowing oil all over the place and destroying Warwick’s chances of improvement. Giacomelli’s problem turns out to be the result of an installation error: the turbocharger wastegate jammed shuts with the result that Bruno’s eyes almost come out on stalks as the boost gauge needle wraps itself round the dial! The little Italian revels in what must have been the most powerful engine on the circuit - for two corners, before it, too, comprehensively breaks. Thus Warwick has to content himself with fifth place, while Giacomelli is right down in 15th place. In ninth place comes the second of the Cosworth-engined cars, Niki Lauda’s McLaren MP41C which, along with most runners on Michelin tyres, is handicapped by the fact that its qualifying rubber is hardly any better than the tyre they plan to race the car on. When Rosberg does his time, Lauda almost visibly rocks on his heels:
"I can see how I might make up half the difference, but a full second and a half? No chance".
Designer John Barnard explains that they have changed the chassis settings from those employed during testing, but the experiment isn’t working as well as he’s hoped, so they eventually re-trace their steps back towards the previous set-up. Watson, not happy with his MP41C’s handling, feels that he needs a couple of days more testing to get the best out of his machine and languish down in 16th place on the grid. Michele Alboreto qualifies his Tyrrell 011 exactly where one might have expected - the third Cosworth car on the grid, in 11th place. He suffers an engine problem on the first day of practice, but works down to 1'36"291 on Saturday which is exactly 0.1 sec. faster than Jean-Pierre Jarier’s slimline Ligier JS21. When this new product of the French marque is first unveiled, many people wondered whether it would have sufficient cooling capacity with its tiny water radiators tuck in just ahead of the rear wheels, and after the first day in Rio’s searing heat, Jarier is similarly concerned. The water temperature gauge is reading well over 110 degrees (C) as opposed to the 95 degrees (C) it has recorded during the previous week’s testing. The car suffers an engine failure on Friday and Jarier’s spare has clutch problems, so it isn’t until Saturday that he record his 1'36"393. lap. His team-mate, Brazilian Raul Boesel, is getting into the swing of things quite nicely and qualifies 17th without any drama. In the Lotus camp Elio de Angelis is finding the powerful Renault turbocharged V6 engine more than the combination of the 93T chassis and Pirelli tyres can cope with, the car sliding about under hard acceleration as if it is running on ice.
Nigel Mansell concentrates his efforts on the Cosworth-engined 92, active suspension car, but both drivers are forced to take turns with the spare, Cosworth-engined, updated Lotus 91/92 on Friday afternoon when both their regular cars refuse to run properly. On Saturday de Angelis gets into the swing of things a little better with the Renault-engined car, qualifying up in 13th place, but Mansell has nasty moment when Marc Surer’s Arrows wanders across in front of him, the Lotus 92 sliding sideways up the circuit in a shower of dust, ruining what the Englishman feels his best lap. He qualifies a dejected 22nd. The second half of the grid produces one or two surprises and several disappointments. Seriously embarrassing many of their more exalted rivals. the Theodore N183s (nee Ensigns) of Roberto Guerrero and former motorcycle Champion Johnny Cecotto qualify 14th and 19th respectively, Cecotto only having completed a total of 40 laps in an F1 car prior to the start of official practice. Their efforts shame new Williams recruit Jacques Laffite who has no specific problem at the wheel of his FW08C apart from an inability to get the car adjusted to his liking: he only just manages to scrape onto the grid ahead of Cecotto by 0.4 sec., Marc Surer is suffering from some sort of bug and doesn’t get the best out of his new Arrows A6 until the race morning warm-up, while Danny Sullivan is still learning about F1 in the second Tyrrell and Chico Serra isn’t anything special in the second Arrows. Completing the grid is Corrado Fabi’s neat Osella FA1D, Manfred Winkelhock’s predictably troublesome and precarious-handing ATS-BMW D6 and Eliseo Salazar’s RAM March, the latter only scraping in after de Cesaris’ times have been disallowed. Thus the only non-qualifier is Piercarlo Ghinzani in the second Osella.
After the scaring heat and blazing sunshine of the two practice days, Sunday dawns slightly cooler and overcast, something which is keenly welcomed by the 26 young men who are preparing to strap themselves into confined F1 cockpits to race for just under 200 miles. Williams and Brabham are preparing to run Rosberg, Piquet and Patrese “light” from the start, stopping for fuel and tyres during the race, while all the other turbocharged cars are filled up to the brim with fuel and plan to go through without a stop. The huge Brazilian crowd which fill the vast grandstand on the back straight can obviously sense the possibility of a home win and cheer madly for Piquet as the field comes slowly past on the warming-up lap prior to taking their places on the grid. Already Elio de Angelis’ Lotus is in dire trouble, belching smoke from one exhaust pipe to herald a turbocharger failure. The Italian stagger round two warming-up laps before being pushed from the grid, de Angelis then strapping himself into the spare 91/92 before starting from the pit lane after the grid has departed. When the starting light turns green the field gets away to a clean start, Prost edging alongside Rosberg into the first right-hander, but Keke gently eases ahead under braking and by the time the field streams out onto the long back straight the white and green Williams is pulling confidently away from the yellow French machine. Going down to the hairpin Mauro Baldi’s Alfa Romeo gives Alboreto’s Tyrrell a hefty shove which results in the British car spinning wildly in the middle of the pack. Fortunately everybody avoid the wayward Tyrrell, but the impact has damaged its oil cooler and Alboreto eventually pulls in after seven laps to be posted as the 1983 season’s first race retirement. At the end of the opening lap Rosberg has an amazing 2.5 sec. advantage over Prost, but the Brabham BT52s of Piquet and Patrese are third and fourth with the Ferraris of Tambay and Arnoux next in line. Then come Cheever’s Renault, Warwick’s Toleman, Baldi, Lauda, Watson (after splendid first lap), Jarier and the impressive Guerrero.
By the end of the second lap Piquet has sliced past Prost into second place and it is becoming clear that the Brabham BT52 is easily the quickest car on the circuit. Within another lap the Brazilian has reduced Rosberg’s advantage to only 2 sec. and, as they went down the long back straight on lap seven. Piquet pulls confidently out from the Williams’ slipstream and moves decisively ahead as they brake for the long left-hand curve that follows. Patrese is moving closer as third place while Prost, heading the rest of the pack, is already dropping away significantly in fourth place. With the status quo established at the head of the field, it is the battle for secondary positions which helds the crowd’s attention. Watson is really flying in his McLaren, disposing of teammate Lauda on the second lap and moving through to take Baldi, Warwick and Cheever almost as if they aren’t there by the end of lap seven. By lap 11 he’s accounted for both the Ferraris, the heavy Maranello “fuel bowsers” in no position to fight back against the agile Cosworth-powered machine at this early stage in the race, and then he goes after Prost. His whirlwind progress finally gets him through into third place by lap 17 where he settles down, easing steadily away from both his pursuers without making an impression on Piquet or Rosberg who are now several seconds ahead of him. Patrese, meanwhile, has moved right up onto Rosberg’s tail by the end of lap 10, but just when it looks as if he would pounce on the World Champion, his Brabham suddenly slows up and begins to drop back again. By lap 18 he’s slipped back through the field to ninth, the BMW engine obviously not running properly, and then comes into the pits to investigate the problem. An exhaust pipe has broken, so the engine’s turbocharger pressure has dropped dramatically: there is nothing more for him to do but complete another slow lap, just in case, and then pull in for good. Thus, by lap 20 the order is firmly established as Piquet, Rosberg, Watson, Prost, Tambay and Baldi, with Lauda moving up to challenge Warwick’s Toleman for seventh.
Baldi’s enthusiastic progress in the Alfa Romeo V8 is beginning to worry Warwick, for no matter how much he tries to find a way through, the Italian counter by taking distinctly unhelpful lines through the corners, and the British driver eventually decides to let Lauda through quickly to see if he can do anything about the problem. Sticking closely to the McLaren’s gearbox, Warwick tries to follow Lauda through when a gap presents itself to the Austrian, but while Baldi sees the MP41C, he doesn’t see the Toleman coming through behind. In a trice, the Alfa Romeo is riding over the Toleman’s left front wheel, spinning to a halt in the middle of the track as Lauda and Warwick go on their way. His car’s rear suspension damages, Baldi limpd back to the pits and retires, later to be retrospectively disqualified for the push-start he has received as he recovers from the spin. On lap 28 Rosberg pulls in for fuel and fresh tyres. Everything seems to be going well, the wheels have been refitted and the mechanics are just pulling the fuel line away when a few drops of petrol drip out of a leaking valve onto the hot engine bay. There is a brief burst of flame, quickly killed by an ever-present fire extinguisher, but not before Rosberg has unfastened his harness and prudently shoots out of the car like a rocket. Almost immediately he is helped back into the Williams, his harness refastened and he accelerates back into the fray. But this unexpected drama has dropped him to ninth place and he goes back on the track exactly a lap behind Nelson Piquet’s leading Brabham. Unfortunately, during the hurry to get the Williams back in the race, Rosberg has received a push-start for which he is to pay dearly later in the afternoon. Of course, Piquet’s pitstop is yet to come, but on lap 40, the leading Brabham rolls into the pit lane to refuel and take on fresh tyres. Unlike last year’s BT50, the new BT52 isn’t fitted with an onboard air jacking system, so the Brabham mechanics must use normal manual jacks when Piquet rolls to a halt. But everything goes without a hitch, the car is only stationary for just over 16 sec., and the Brazilian tears back into the race with a 40 sec. advantage still intact.
Rosberg’s progress through the field is predictably quick, racing as he is on fresh tyres against rivals who’s run non-stop from the start. By lap 34 he is up to seventh, on lap 36 fifth and on lap 44 he is fourth ahead of Tambay’s Ferrari. Prost’s Renault succumbs on lap 46 and Rosberg finally races past Lauda’s McLaren to take second place ten laps from the finish. Effectively, it is all over bar the proverbial shouting. Confident and completely in command, Piquet wounds down the cockpit turbocharger boost control in the closing stages and allows his lap times to lengthen as he cruises home to a convincing first-time victory for Gordon Murray’s new Brabham BT52, making up for his disqualification from last year’s event when his Cosworth-engined Brabham BT49C falls foul of the minimum weight limit. Sadly, for Rosberg, who’s also been disqualified from second place for the same reason last year, there is no such consolation as his Williams is subsequently excluded for that push- start and the results beyond second place are now provisional subject to a Williams team appeal. Lauda finishes a smooth third on the road, ahead of Jacques Laffite who’s really got into the swing of things in the second half of the race and makes up a great deal of ground towards the finish. Patrick Tambay survives to fifth, just beating off a last-ditch challenge from Marc Surer’s Arrows, while Alain Prost, worried by a severe vibration from his Renault, eased off towards the end and just pipped a disappointed Warwick for seventh. Tyre vibration, so serious that it causes Rene Arnoux’s Ferrari to throw off its rear wheel balance weights, slows the Frenchman to the point that even Chico Serra’s Fittipaldi slips ahead before the chequered flag. Completing the list of finishers are Sullivan’s Tyrrell, Mansell’s Lotus 92, the similar car of de Angelis (which is subsequently also disqualified as the driver changed his car type after the starting procedure had begun), Cecotto’s Theodore, Salazar’s March and Guerrero’s Theodore. The two Theodores have shown very well midfield during the early stages before both made pitstops to free sticking left rear brake calipers, subsequently rejoining and running without further delay to the chequered flag.
Maria Ginevra Ferretti