René Arnoux the day after. The time to make a quick trip to Paris for television, and the winner of the Dutch Grand Prix is back on the track, sharing duties with Tambay. Patrick is at Brands Hatch, in England; René, on the other hand, is at the circuit that, on Sunday, September 11, 1983, will be the stage for the highly anticipated Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari doesn't want to be caught unprepared; it's making every effort to give its drivers every chance to fight for the world title. The warm late August sun, a few thousand fans scattered around the racetrack in the atmosphere of a racing day with souvenir shops making a fortune, the red car and the driver surrounded by mechanics and technicians, as if for a consultation. There's some time to wait before taking the wheel; the car isn't ready yet. A frugal meal consisting of salad. René is not demanding; he's used to bivouacking in circuits since the distant days when he worked as a mechanic. The first question is provocative: it's said that at Ferrari, it's the team that wins races, not the drivers. If you took any of the top twenty in the Formula 1 World Championship or even some young talent, it would be the same. It's the car that does almost everything...
"Truthfully, I don't believe it's the cars. It's the team, rather, the confidence one gains when coming to Maranello. The only sure thing is that Ferrari is the best a driver could wish for. As for the actual race cars, I think there's a leveling at the top. At least three teams can now compete for the championship. However, there's no doubt that in Maranello, they know how to build cars if they've won more than anyone else with many champions".
In any case, being at Ferrari must be both easy and difficult at the same time because you have everything at your disposal, but there are also many pressures and demands.
"This is my favorite life. I like being 200% committed; I have no other passion than motor racing. I also enjoy going to the factory to see how a new part is born. And at Ferrari, it's particularly interesting because the cars are built entirely in the workshop, from the engine to the last detail. I don't have in mind, like others, to buy a yacht or a helicopter. If I want to take a ride, I rent one, go with a friend. That's enough for me; the rest, I think about racing. Occasionally, I take two days off, for fishing, skiing, a mountain trip".
Do you ever think about a life without races?
"How is that possible? We have a very intense existence, like few others. Look at Lauda: he was without Formula 1 for two years, but he came back. And I don't think he did it just for the money. I race solely to win. There are no other motivations, believe me. If I didn't have the opportunity to aim for the top spot every time, I would stay home".
What are Arnoux's qualities and flaws, as a driver and as a man?
"I think my best overall characteristic is willpower. I never get demoralized. Each race is a story of its own: I forget defeats, suffering, problems. This also applies in private. When I get in the car, my morale is always high. It's important. As a driver, I believe I have a quality: I like all tracks; everywhere I race with the same determination, at Monaco as at Monza. I have flaws like any other person, many, I prefer not to talk about them. I can't hide my dislike for those I don't like: Prost, for example. We are different; there's no possibility of communication between us".
There's a lot of talk about women in racing. Beautiful women. What is the relationship between a Formula 1 driver and a woman?
"A relationship of trust, like for everyone. I like to be successful in general, so also with the girls. Now I get along well with my partner Pascale. She has character, she's lively, she's not one of those who always say yes. That would be too boring. In any case, I have no preferences: blondes or brunettes, it's the same. A look, the woman must also be interesting".
Returning to talk about the World Championship, who will win?
"There are four of us: me, Prost, Tambay, and Piquet. It's difficult for everyone. It depends on luck and chance. But also on how Renault, Brabham, and Ferrari will prepare for the final races. At this point, I have a lot of confidence in my team. As far as I'm concerned, I won't leave anything undone. I don't expect favors from anyone. In the world of Formula 1, the challenge is individual. Whoever can hold on to the end, who won't give in, who won't make mistakes, will ultimately be first. I know very well that this is a unique opportunity; I'll try not to let it slip away".
On Tuesday, August 30, 1983, about 5000 fans attend the Ferrari tests with Arnoux. The 126 C3 from Zandvoort takes to the track in the early afternoon. The goal is to eliminate the problems encountered with the car in the qualifying rounds of the Dutch Grand Prix. After a shaky start for adjustments, checking the electrical system and spark plugs, and changing some mechanical parts, the French driver starts a test that lasts until evening when the sky darkens, and a few raindrops fall. Arnoux completes 64 laps of the circuit for a total of almost 360 kilometers, more than the distance of a race, of course, with several stops at the box. The best time recorded with race tires is 1'34"4, but the performance is not what they are looking for. In essence, it is discovered that the Ferrari has no hidden ills, but the problems are probably determined by some detail that is not working perfectly. The engine, which was Tambay's in Zandvoort, loses power and is replaced in the evening. On Wednesday, August 31, 1983, the teams prepare for the last three races of the season. While at Monza, Ferrari is still testing with Arnoux, at Brands Hatch, fifteen cars take to the track. The fastest is, with old tires, Elio De Angelis at the wheel of the Lotus with a Renault turbo engine. Thanks also to Pirelli radials, the Roman driver clearly outpaces all participants in the tests. The second-best time is by Nelson Piquet, but the Brazilian goes off the track at the end of the tests, in the corner before the pits, damaging his Brabham. Behind Warwick, with the Toleman, Patrick Tambay is inserted, but he drives an updated Ferrari 126 C2B, which is a rather old car. De Cesaris, with his Alfa Romeo, laps in 1'14"67, while Rosberg is the best of the naturally aspirated engine drivers. The Renaults are slower, with Prost stopping at 1'15"45 and Cheever at 1'16"18.
However, these tests may not be indicative, as each team tests the cars with different solutions. Meanwhile, at Monza, Arnoux lowers the times set on Tuesday, lapping in 1'31"92, at an average speed of 227.200 km/h. Ferrari interrupts the tests in the mid-afternoon, in front of the usual 5,000 people, because the engine used shows a drop in pressure. Engineer Forghieri, who is present in Monza to follow the experiments, decides to have a new engine installed, so Arnoux will be on the track on Saturday morning. In Monza, there is the belief that the thirteenth race of the Formula 1 World Championship will be the highlight of the season. All the premises are there. The uncertain fight for the world title, the confrontation between teams like Renault, Ferrari, and Brabham, the prestige of the four candidates for the championship, namely, in order, Alain Prost, Rene Arnoux, Nelson Piquet, and Patrick Tambay. Even the numbers speak clearly, demonstrating the total involvement of the motor racing world. In the press conference held on Tuesday, September 6, 1983, by the staff of the Automobile Club of Milan that manages the event, impressive numbers emerge. The overall organization of the event costs 3.300.000.000 lire (of which 1.381.600.000 lire, exactly 863.000 dollars, will have to be paid to FOCA for the teams' engagement and prizes). It is probably the largest sum poorly invested in such a sporting event, lasting only three days. ACI estimated to have already reached an income of 1.100.000.000 lire in the pre-sale of tickets. If everything goes well, ticket sales will guarantee a profit of 2.500.000,000 lire. The rest of the expenses will be covered by advertising revenues.
In total, however, the turnover will exceed 10.000.000.000 lire. The deployment of forces that will be present at the racetrack for technical, sporting, and security services will be equally impressive: 400 employees at the gates, over 1000 between police officers and carabinieri, canine teams, 100 municipal police officers, 140 track commissioners. Along the track, there will be 18 firefighting vehicles, 16 fast-response vehicles, an airport-type vehicle, and another special one. Rescue teams will have 80 fire extinguishers with a long nozzle up to 30 meters, plus 300 handheld extinguishers. Those in charge of interventions will be 110, ten of whom with asbestos suits. Medical emergency response will consist of 5 mobile resuscitation centers and 8 ambulances. In the main infirmary, several specialists will gather who will have equipment to transmit electrocardiograms via cable to the Monza hospital or the Niguarda hospital in Milan if necessary. Four health tents for any eventuality will be set up for the public. Finally, two helicopters. The provisions to avoid any hooliganism and the introduction of materials that can be used to build scaffolding will be particularly strict. In short, everything has been arranged so that the competition can take place with the greatest possible safety. Speaking of the organizational and economic part (this year the Italian Grand Prix will have Campari as its main sponsor, another important name in the Italian industry entering Formula 1), we move on to the technical-competitive one. Monza will be decisive not only for the fight for the world title but also for the future lineup of the teams.
We are in the midst of the driver market, and the result of the race could influence the contracts for 1984. It is clear that the tight match between Prost, Arnoux, Piquet, and Tambay will attract attention, also because - as seen in the last races - they are candidates to be protagonists of the race, and among their names, the probable winner will have to be sought. In the last two editions of the Monza race, Renault won, first with Prost and last year with Arnoux. However, this time, Ferrari cannot fail. The Maranello team must absolutely seek success because it plays the race in front of its own audience, because a setback in the pursuit of Prost could be fatal. A difficult task, very tough in all aspects. But this is what is expected from the Maranello team. Ferrari has not won the Formula 1 World Championship since 1979, the year of Jody Scheckter. Since then, the Maranello team has almost always remained at the top, but due to alternating fortunes and misfortunes, it has not been able to materialize a certain superiority shown by its cars and, in particular, by the turbo engine, considered by all the most competitive and reliable. During this season, both Arnoux and Tambay have experienced unexpected setbacks, precisely in the races where they had many chances. With the Italian Grand Prix, therefore, Ferrari reaches the climax of the World Championship. A race that will either relaunch it fully or reduce its hopes to the minimum terms, more tied to the placements of the opponents than to its actual possibilities. Mauro Forghieri says about this:
"It is evident that on Sunday we can play our mourning. For this reason, we will put on the line for Monza the best we have available, with the entire team's determination to return home with a positive outcome".
What does - how much better do we have - mean?
"We have four 126 C3 cars, two for each driver. We finished building the last car a few days ago and tested it on Wednesday. Arnoux and Tambay will have the same equipment at their disposal, so, technically, they will be on equal terms. We tried to improve the rear suspension with some small modifications".
What difficulties does Monza present?
"It has always been a challenging race. The circuit stresses everything-driver, engine, gearbox. It will be necessary to find a particular balance, solutions that ensure both performance and reliability. It's not easy, but we are fully committed to it".
Can the current standings with Prost eight points ahead of Arnoux and fourteen ahead of Tambay influence the race strategy?
"There are no tactics; we have to attack. The gap is undoubtedly an obstacle because we have to make up ground, and a good placement might be enough for Prost. But psychologically, it could be an advantage, as we have nothing to lose, while the leader may be more tense".
Renault has won the last two races at Monza, first with Prost and then with Arnoux.
"Statistics have a relative value, and I don't believe too much in superstition. The cars, drivers, and maybe even the track surface have changed. In short, every race is unpredictable. If we start reasoning, everything becomes more difficult: we would need another issue for Prost, other competitors facing difficulties. Then I can start dreaming. No, we have to win with our own strengths".
You hold the team's thermometer. How do Arnoux and Tambay feel in these days leading up to the race?
"Yesterday, we conducted the final tests. The drivers were smiling, calm, and ate a lot. This means that, at least outwardly, they have confidence. It's already an excellent starting point".
Nelson Piquet started the World Championship very well with a win in the first race in Brazil. Now, he is seen as an outsider with three formidable opponents and a car that has given him some trouble lately.
"I have Formula 1 in my blood. I will race as long as it pleases me and I am competitive. I will have time to recover. And also, this year, the final word is not yet said. Three races to go, 27 points available for three potential wins. I'm not being presumptuous; I'm sticking to the possibilities on paper".
Piquet believes in numbers and probability calculations.
"Prost has won four times, Arnoux three. In Monza, it could finally be my turn. In the Dutch Grand Prix, I started in pole position. We have a car that is unmatched in qualifying now. Starting in the front row, even in the Italian Grand Prix, can be an advantage".
To those who say that Brabham has lost its initial shine in recent races, Piquet responds firmly.
"If Ferrari is undoubtedly the best and better-organized team, we are certainly not the last. Take, for example, pit stops for refueling and tire changes during races. We have almost always achieved the best times".
The fact of racing in Monza, in what everyone calls the realm of Ferrari, doesn't scare Piquet.
"Fans can be tough, intimidate opponents. But results are made by drivers and cars. I believe that the Italian audience, the vast majority, loves me".
At Monza, the invasion begins on Thursday evening, even though there is no one from the Formula 1 teams in the circuit. A long line of fans, almost all equipped to spend the night inside the racetrack, is blocked at the entrance of Vedano al Lambro because the ticket counters, taken by surprise, did not have enough tickets to satisfy everyone.
The Italian Grand Prix, which starts on Friday, September 9, 1983, with the first qualifying session, presents its calling card: sold out, with a record crowd. The reasons for this enormous interest are now known to everyone: the fight for the world title and an exciting four-way battle between Prost, Arnoux, Tambay, and Piquet. It will undoubtedly be a tense race, a race played on the razor's edge. One mistake, and you are lost. Niki Lauda, a Monza veteran with nine participations, one victory in 1978 (the year of Peterson's tragic accident), and a series of placements, has no doubts. Wearing an advertising cap and with teeth out, the Austrian is clear.
"It is clear that it can only be an extremely uncertain Grand Prix. I am convinced that Renault, Ferrari, and Brabham are more or less on the same level of competitiveness. Much will depend on the technicians' choices and the sensitivity of the drivers in preparing the cars. Monza can also be treacherous: when you think you have found the right setup for a few laps, you realize, maybe when it's too late, that it doesn't hold up over the distance, that you should have set up the car differently. Anyway, I know how to do it".
According to Lauda, who is the favorite in the fight for the world title? Niki responds without hesitation.
"Obviously, Prost. He has an eight-point advantage, and that is a guarantee that I would personally always like to have in certain situations. If we then look at the season's balance, at the races already held, we see that the Frenchman always finished, except in Zandvoort. I don't think he can make the same mistake twice. So I am convinced that if Arnoux and company want to beat the leader of the standings and take away some points, they will have to rely on their own strength and not on the possibility that Alain will make a mistake again. I am curious to see how it will end. It is not easy, psychologically speaking, to find yourself in this situation, either in the role of the pursuer or in that of the hare".
Renault, Ferrari, Brabham: Does the former World Champion think that no one can enter the fight for victory in this race?
"It's difficult, although it's possible for some turbo cars. My McLaren-Porsche, for example, should perform much better here than in Holland. We have two cars, one for me and one for Watson, and five engines at our disposal. We have already improved a lot. The circuit should suit the characteristics of the car and the engine, and we shouldn't have trouble keeping up with the best. I wouldn't mind being a third wheel between Prost and his rivals".
Prost is scared, Prost is hiding. Prost doesn't speak. The Renault driver, rumored to be terrified by the championship situation and especially intimidated by the Italian crowd, arrives late in the afternoon at the circuit to talk to his team's technicians, as he always does before starting practice. Prost personally drives a car (Renault, of course), and when he enters the pit, he is accompanied by two bodyguards.
"These are just precautionary measures to keep me calm. Rumors spread that I was on vacation on the French Riviera, but I actually came to the sea here in Italy. This shows that I am not afraid at all. I have never thought that someone could threaten my safety. We are public figures. Of course, being in the middle of the crowd would be a tough test for any of us. But I am also convinced that sports fans appreciate a driver who always behaves correctly".
Regarding the race, Prost was categorical:
"As always, I aim to win. That is my goal in every race of the World Championship. Whether circumstances force me to implement different tactics, that will be another matter. But, I repeat, I did not come here to settle for a placement".
On Friday, September 9, 1983, the first of the three acts of the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix unfolds without particular excitement. In front of over 50.000 spectators, with applause for Ferrari drivers and strong boos for Piquet and Prost, the initial qualifying round, under a gray sky but in fairly warm and rain-free weather, is mainly marked by the Brabham-Ferrari duel. Among the contenders for the world title victory, Renault is missing for the moment, somewhat behind in times. The highlight is the English team placing its drivers on the front row of the provisional lineup. Piquet laps in 1'30"202, and Patrese is only 0.051s slower. Behind them, more than 0.5s and 0.8s adrift, are the men from the Maranello team, Arnoux and Tambay in order. The result of Brabham is not surprising, as with the Brazilian, they had already been faster than everyone else in Zandvoort. We now know that BMW has had a turbo with a special heat exchanger cooling system (a canister sprays water on the radiators during test laps) and an upgraded turbine for more power. The only doubt, if any, concerns a discrepancy between Piquet's and Patrese's statements after qualifying. The Brazilian driver says:
"It's an engine we can't use in the race".
And the Italian driver replies:
"The engine has improved a lot, and we can use it for the race".
It is clear that Brabham has made progress. It remains to be seen if it will also be supported by reliability during the Grand Prix. There is neither surprise nor concern in Ferrari. Both drivers are very satisfied with their 126 C3. Patrick Tambay says:
"It's the best car I've had since the beginning of the year. I am confident that we can have a good race because we haven't had the slightest mechanical problem".
And René Arnoux adds:
"It's balanced, easy to drive, perfect".
Then why are the Brabhams ahead? The answer also lies in the tires. Arnoux is the fastest Ferrari driver with race tires, the so-called "time" tires, which have been less competitive for some time. This justifies the moderate optimism of Mauro Forghieri and his colleagues. It seems that the Maranello team has a system similar to that of the English team to lower the turbo temperature, but no one talks about this novelty, which, in any case, would not have been decisive due to the lack of competitiveness of the softer tires. Mauro Forghieri says:
"We are quite satisfied because we are well positioned for the race".
When asked if the large rear wing takes away something in top speed from the Ferraris (even Lauda's McLaren Porsche is faster on the straights), the engineer replies that the aerodynamic part is calibrated to have the best grip throughout the circuit. Many troubles, however, affect the Renault trials, with Cheever placing sixth and Prost seventh, overtaken by De Cesaris's Alfa Romeo.
"I have good chances of having an excellent race. It's clear that I will do my race to seek the result. If I manage to stay ahead of Prost, I will be an involuntary ally for his rivals, but it is clear that I race for myself and my team, not to do favors for others".
It is easy to think that on Saturday, Renault will be able to turn the situation around. Prost had problems both with the engine, on which a new water-fuel mixer was installed, and with the handling. However, the car is completely new, and it is likely that a better adjustment will allow the leader of the World Championship to improve his starting position. The day favors turbocharged engines: there are fifteen of them ahead of everyone for the first time. The best with a naturally aspirated engine is Keke Rosberg, with the surprising Ghinzani driving the Osella behind him. The Turin team has good tires from Michelin (it had always been treated as a B team), and the results are evident. Corrado Fabi cannot perform at his best because he experiences intermittent functioning of the twelve-cylinder Alfa Romeo both in the morning and in the afternoon.
"And now I'm going on James Bond's helicopter. Outside the Monza Park, the Concorde picks me up, landed on a road just for me, I get on, take off, sleep peacefully in Rio, and return on time for the second day of trials".
Alain Prost, the Renault driver, hated by Italian terrorists, who these days laughs at the legend invented and written around his character, with precautions to defend him from racetrack terrorism, from obsessed Italians.
"I am much less tense, indeed much calmer than you might think. I have my good ten-hour sleeps, with all the right dreams. I wake up, exercise, come to the racetrack. Security measures? It's possible that those at Renault have studied something to make me live peacefully. I never look back; there could be an entire army watching me".
The army consists of three bodyguards with broad shoulders and a good-natured expression, Frenchmen from Toulon. They have an impact because they are declared, but it seems that every team has them, perhaps with angelic faces: even Ferrari.
"Everything is fine in Monza. The public may boo me, but who hears it, they may gesture against me, but who sees it? I sleep nearby without problems. Considering what I went through in the first tests, those unofficial ones a few days ago, now it's paradise".
It seems that I sleep in Canonica Lamino, in a hotel loved by Merckx.
"Do as you like, everything is fine for me. I read that I have been on vacation in four different places. Let's say I was in Monte-Carlo on Piquet's boat, do you like that?"
He is small, with ugly beard strands, dressed like Monsieur Dupont who casually puts on makeup to go to the racetrack to see Alain Prost close to the world title. He has a friendly, aggressive but not brash dialogue.
"I would prefer that there is little talk about crowd ambushes towards me, also because there won't be any. But I realize that in Italy, if someone disappears for three days like I did, they immediately write that he has been kidnapped, so if I stay silent, they might write that I am anxious, that I live in fear. And so, I swear on my wife and son that I am serene, that I believe in sports, that after Zandvoort, I slept very well, even though he made a stupid mistake. In short, I am the usual Alain Prost, whether strong or not will be determined by the race".
But immediately after, he says:
"The race? Who knows how I'll do. The new car, the 06, didn't perform well in the initial tests. Engine problems and also chassis problems. I switched to the reserve car, immediately faster, but for a whole race, the reserve car has too many problems: different weight, different brakes, a bunch of different things. We are working on the new car; already at the chassis level, we lose from one to one and a half seconds per lap, there is little traction in the chicanes. We need to find a general balance. Fortunately, at Monza, the pole position doesn't matter much; two years ago, I won starting from the fifth position. Arnoux won last year starting from the sixth. Passing is good here. We can also use the last minute of qualifying to fine-tune the new car. On the other hand, the old one, after Zandvoort, is out of order".
Is a defensive race possible, to earn points?
"I don't say anything anymore. I started the season thinking of doing some good things at most, now I'm close to the world title".
It is said that Prost will be with Ferrari next year, for two billion lire.
"Only? Let's make it three".
What do you think of the Arnoux-Tambay relationship at Ferrari, the statements of almost independence by Tambay?
"It's all talk. Arnoux's position is clear, he is the first driver, Tambay must help him. Ferrari contradicts itself if it talks about the freedom of the two drivers now. And then I know what Arnoux demands; I know how he behaved with me, against me in Renault last year at Le Castella. It's all a show: Arnoux doesn't want it to be said, if he becomes World Champion, that he has to thank Tambay".
The joke of the day is this: he set only the seventh time because in front of him there was a panther, a police car opening the way among the enemy Italian fans. The story also serves to exorcise the latent hooliganism and to make even the fools smile, who thus begin to frequent intelligence. The next day, Saturday, September 10, 1983, Riccardo Patrese finds his smile again. And not just that. After receiving the award as the fastest driver of the Italian Grand Prix (sparkling wine, scooters, cups, and laurels) and having thoroughly soaked his partner Susy and hundreds of spectators, the Italian driver finally gets rid of so much anger and many thoughts that had oppressed him for a long time.
"Is there anyone else happy besides me? Maybe I have returned a bit of the malice that has been said about me after the incident in Imola, the ill will that the fans have shown me for daring to surpass Ferrari. The pole position doesn't count for much, but I am still satisfied because I have once again shown that I am equal to the drivers who lead the World Championship. People had forgotten about me, just because luck has never helped me. The time obtained in Monza is the corollary of a season that has always seen me among the top, in which only the results have been missing, but certainly not because of me or because I had become a loser".
To those who ask him what he expects now, Patrese answers:
"Only consideration. I'm not the last wheel of the cart. In the race, I will fight as always, I will try to bring a good placement to the end. In fact, I tell you that if I reach the finish line, I will certainly be on the podium".
And he concludes:
"I don't know if I will stay with Brabham. I have nothing in hand to affirm it, there is no contract. However, I still believe in certain values, in people's word. I have had the reputation of being unpleasant for a long time; the press in general has never been kind to me. It may also be that I have made mistakes on some occasions; however, I have often been punished because I have the habit of speaking little. And those few times, saying the truth, what they think".
What will Patrese's race be like?
"That of Monza is a track I know very well, where I started racing. It's an advantage. I don't hide that I hope to win, but I would also be satisfied with helping Piquet. No one has asked me anything, to stop or let my teammate pass. I will act according to conscience, in the most intelligent way possible".
It had been since October 24, 1954, that an Italian driver (Alberto Ascari with Lancia) did not start in pole position in the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix. The beautiful feat is achieved by Riccardo Patrese, who thus completes a splendid trio, all national, mixing cars and drivers, since the two Ferraris of Tambay and Arnoux will be in the second and third positions in the race lineup. Patrese, 29 years old, from Padua, adds, if there was any need, further interest to a race whose anticipation has become paroxysmal. If the racetrack was full in the second qualifying round, it is unthinkable to calculate how many people will be there on Sunday with their eyes on the track at 3:30 p.m. when the race starts. Friday's practice carousel was not particularly exciting. The climate heats up, however, during the decisive qualifications with a cheer that not even football games can always offer. And in addition, to increase doubts, here are possible team plays, personal ambitions, revenges. Dreams. Everything is possible; uncertainty is maximum. Beyond the time results, the four great rivals keep their hopes intact. Patrese (who will probably race with the Brabham equipped with the more powerful Bmw engine for the race) will be the hare, aiming on the one hand for the long-awaited personal success, and on the other hand, the possibility of providing valuable help to his teammate Piquet, if the opportunity arises. Tambay plays the season, he absolutely must attack, stay ahead even of Arnoux to recover. Arnoux himself has the obligation to precede at least Prost, as well as Piquet. Prost, finally, needs to score at least some points to maintain a numerical advantage in the world championship standings. Behind the best, De Cesaris with Alfa Romeo, Cheever with the second Renault, and De Angelis with Lotus constitute a small patrol of dangerous outsiders. But let's go back to the tests. Only five drivers do not improve: Piquet, Baldi, Ghinzani, Alboreto, and Cecotto. The Brazilian is unlucky.
"I immediately broke the engine of my qualifying Brabham. It was not possible to go faster with the race car. In the last minutes, I got into Riccardo's car. I completed the warm-up lap, but when I reached the starting line, I saw a man running towards me with the checkered flag. He almost threw it in my face".
However, it's the Ferrari that spices up the day. After half an hour, while the Brabham team is calmly waiting in the box, confident in the times set on Friday, Tambay sets a time of 1'29"650. Pale faces in the English team, cheers from the fans. Then Arnoux starts: 1'29"901, two Ferraris in the lead. Patrese and Piquet are immediately pushed onto the track, and the team from Maranello has to focus on the stopwatch. The response is almost immediate: 1'29"122 from Patrese. Tambay and Arnoux try the impossible again, but there's nothing more to be done. Tambay says:
"I also broke a turbine and returned to the pits. I'm happy for Riccardo; it would have pleased me too in front of this crowd. However, the pole position is not decisive. I think we'll have a good race".
"We exaggerated with the turbo pressure".
Arnoux, on the other hand, is a bit worried:
"The car is perfect, and I focused mainly on preparing it for the race. But there's too much pressure for a win. I would be happy to get some points in the piggy bank, if Prost is behind me".
Even Prost announces caution:
"I still had problems with grip and the engine. The race Renault is better than the practice one: if I have a winning car, I'll aim for the first place, but I won't throw myself into the brawl, no unnecessary risks. After all, it's enough for me to contain any damage. I'll always have two races available to maintain the lead in the standings".
René Arnoux, speaking precise Italian, almost pedantic, about the crowd at Monza:
"It's madness, I think I can call it that, with admiration and respect. It's an absolutely unique situation; you can't even talk about cheering. I like this atmosphere; I envied Ferrari drivers when I was out there. I can't understand people who go to watch a Grand Prix with the plan to sit, wait, watch, maybe applaud. I say that motor racing, and perhaps all sports, should be experienced like this".
But Arnoux realizes that having won last year here in Monza with a Renault will become a grave fault if he doesn't win with a Ferrari.
"Don't make me think about this; it doesn't even seem right to consider it this way".
However, the question strikes him, and he adds:
"Our World Championship is a patient collection of points, first and foremost, and people should understand this. We have a piggy bank; we put the points in, and the accounts are all made at the end".
It's as if, to express these last concepts, he has disguised himself as a normal actor, ceasing to be the guru inspired by the crowd: Saturday 100.000, Sunday how many? Forghieri's composure is miraculous, the starting and ending point of everything, he who has the responsibility for Ferrari cars:
"I think we did well in practice. Patrese's pole position pleases us; anyway, Tambay is right there. Arnoux didn't use the qualifying tires; they gave a minimal advantage".
Tambay started the non-qualifying practice by going off the track at the chicane. Spin, car in the sand, tow truck to pull it out, a suspension of fifteen minutes not recovered, and some say that if a Renault had gone off, there wouldn't have been so many considerations.
Applause for Tambay even when he went off the track, when he returned on foot, when he finished the official practice with a smoking car (due to a turbine break). Alain Prost, on the other hand, was booed; they sang:
The French Renault driver directed, from the pre-track wall, the chorus (the practice was supposed to start), turning his amusement into a provocative gesture. And so, when Tambay set the provisional pole position, other choruses started towards Prost, who raced puncturing boos and obscene gestures, a kind of sound haze, an arc from the spectator in the inner Lesmo turn to that of the outer turn, both slanderous. Not even Patrese's best time (a Vespa, sixty bottles of champagne from the Maranello namesake) pleased the fans who are for Ferrari before being Italian. Tambay says:
"I'm happy for Riccardo, so many misfortunes, and now this satisfaction".
He says it to the journalists because if he had said it to the warrior tribes camped around the circuit, he would have been quartered like an impious one. People who put the Ferrari flag on cribs of infants deported to the park, people camped for days living among excrement, fires, fears suffered and distributed (long and dark, it seems, certain nights of the racetrack), to become a more ardent fan, macerating themselves. And Saturday morning a motorcycle magically enters the track, does a lap, wakes up the order: quickly up seven grandstands, in seven different points, mocked police. On Sunday morning it's see the sun for the ﬁrst time, but it isn’t very strong and the blue sky gradually disappears behind a thin haze. It’s impossible to say whether the crowd is any less because of the outcome of practice, for whatever it’s a large crowd. Overnight some of them have expressed their disapproval of Brabham-BMW and Renault, and Piquet and Prost in particular, by painting some very obscene signs on the starting grid in front of the positions for both Prost and Piquet, while there are words of encouragement for Tambay, Arnoux and de Cesaris. There is nothing for poor lonely Riccardo Patrese on pole-position, neither encouragement nor admonition. During the break between warm-up time and the assembly on the grid Romolo Tavoni, the Autodromo director, had the rudder erased from the grid, but left the encouragement. As the cars left the pit lane there are cheers for the red ones and whistles and jeers for the other leading runners and unanimous cheering and appreciative whistles for the 26 Italian beauties that Marlboro produces to hold the assembly marker boards.
While lining up on the dummy grid Goodyear people are concerne about the look of one of Arnoux’s rear tyres, so both of them change and slowly the minutes ticks by towards the 3.30 p.m. start. Patrese leads them all round on the parade lap, they all line up in their correct positions, the red light comes on, engines soare to high revs, the green is on and Cheever makes another meteoric start, like he had done in Holland. He swerved right, aiming down between the two rows, and nearly collected Piquet’s Brabham which is swerving to the left of Tambay’s Ferrari. Everyone got away and got through the ﬁrst chicane and the two Brabhams of Patrese and Piquet are streaking away, follow by the two Ferraris. At the end of the lap there is a confusion of noise for the two blue and white BMW power cars are already a long way ahead of Amoux, and Tambay in the red cars, with Cheever, de Cesaris, Prost, de Angelis and Mansell following. At the ﬁrst chicane on lap 3 de Cesaris passes Cheever and promptly spin off into the sandy run-off area and out of the race, and before the leaders reappear the conﬁne noise from the crowd burst into a unanimous roar as it’s reported on the loudspeakers that Patrese’s car is pouring out smoke. Sure enough Piquet goes by on his own and as the others follow a cloud of smoke can be seen heading for the pit lane. Car number 6 is in the middle of it but the engine expires completely before it reaches the pits. Patrese’s glory is short-lived. Seeing the demise of his team-mate, all Piquet’s mechanical knowledge and feel is put to good use and he winds down the boost pressure just enough to maintain his lead and give the engine a slightly easier time.
Tambay’s Ferrari engine is a bit down on power anyway and Cheever pass him to take third place, with Prost and de Angelis not far behind the Ferrari. On lap 5 Johansson pulls the Spirit off onto the grass as the Honda engine suddenly dies with some form of electrical failure and Baldi arrives in the pit lane with smoke belching from one of the exhaust pipes of his V8 Alfa Romeo, indicative of a turbocharger failure. By this time a Piquet is ﬁrmly out in front, Arnoux is second with Cheever in third place, hanging on to the Ferrari. Tambay is fourth with Prost and de Angelis uncomfortably close behind him. Then comes Warwick in the Toleman with Watson close behind in the second of the Porsche-power McLarens. Lauda is in the pits with the Bosch people trying to cure a chronic misﬁre. Mansell is just managing to fend off Winkelhock who has Rosberg and Giacomelli behind him and then there is a big gap before the remainder follow in the order Surer, Alboreto, Jarier, Boutsen, Guerrero and Cecotto, Sullivan, Fabi and Ghinzani. In the serious part of the race are eleven cars by turbochargers with a line 3-liter Cosworth power car hanging on to tenth place by sheer grit, but it’s a useless endeavor for Rosberg is about to be penalized a minute for disobedience at the start. At the drivers’ brieﬁng just before the start they are told not to cross the white line that marks the track-width in the wide starting area and Rosberg has infringe the rule blatantly. The scene develops into one of a procession, head by the blue and white Brabham-BMW so there is little joy for the crowd and when de Angelis passes Prost, and then Tambay to put the Renault power Lotus 94T into fourth place there is even less joy. Lauda has joins in again on lap 9 but Watson starts lap 14 with his Porsche engine suddenly going ﬂat as if the ignition or injection timing has gone wrong and coast to a halt, which is a pity as Wattie is getting into his stride and has whistle past Warwick’s Toleman-Hart with ease, and is lapping only half a second slower than Piquet’s leading Brabham. While lapping the tail-enders Tambay has a moment off on the grass, but it doesn't lose him any time and as half distance approaches the routine pit stops begin. Cheever is stationary at the Renault pit for 11.59 seconds at the end of lap 24 and de Angelis is at the Lotus pit for 14.24 seconds on the same lap, which drops them both back a bit, temporarily.
Then Arnoux came in at the end of lap 25, for an 11.99 second stop which drops him to third place behind Tambay and Prost is in the pits at the end of lap 26, which is half-distance. His stop is a long one, of 15.78 seconds, and when he got away it’s obvious that all isn’t well for his engine don’t pick up cleanly and two laps later he is back in the pits with a loss of boost pressure, for a turbocharger unit is about to fail so that is the end of his race. Warwick stops for 13.24 seconds and then the Lotus lads do a superb job when Mansell comes in and he is stationary for a mere 11.04 seconds. All this time Piquet is forging away ahead, running to Gordon Murray’s late-stop plan and on lap 29 Lauda makes his routine stop in 13.59 seconds and as he restarts he stalls the engine and roll to rest right by the Brabham pit, where they are waiting for Piquet. Many hands push the McLaren-Porsche out of the way unceremoniously to get rid of it and as Piquet ends lap 31 he is heading for the pit lane. The Brabham team’s pit work leaves everyone gasping, 10.15 seconds for four wheels and about 100 liters of petrol, and Piquet roars away back into the race before the next car is in view. The order before any pit stops is Piquet, Arnoux, Cheever, de Angelis, Tambay, Prost, Warwick, Winkelhock, Mansell, Giacomelli, and now Prost has gone and Tambay is ahead of de Angelis so it’s BMW, Ferrari, Renault, Ferrari, Lotus-Renault, Toleman, ATS-BMW, and then the ATS engine goes sick and Winkelhock retires. Piquet has everything well under control and he turns the boost down even further and settles into a comfortable cruise to the ﬁnish, regulating his pace to that of his followers. It’s all over, Ferrari isn’t going to win this Italian Grand Prix so it’s just a matter of hanging around until it’s all over. When Piquet laps Giacomelli’s Toleman-Hart the little Italian latches onto the tail of the Brabham and sits in the slip-stream. At ﬁrst there doesn't seem to be much point in this, but Piquet is heading towards lapping Mansell’s Lotus-Renault and Giacomelli can see the chance of picking up a place, so he hangs on splendidly. With two laps logo Piquet eases right up and lets Giacomelli go by to put himself on the same lap as the leader, but more important is the fact that he is now within striking distance marcof Mansell’s Lotus. When Piquet crosses the line to win the 54th Italian Grand Prix there are a few sporadic hand claps, even though he has driven a beautifully judge race and is the winner all the way. When Arnoux crosses the line some ten seconds later the crowds erupt and by the time Tambay arrives in fourth place the crowds are ﬂooding across the track, having to scale a 12 ft high wire fence as if it isn’t there.
Cheever has ﬁnish a very worthy third and de Angelis is lucky to ﬁnish ﬁfth as his gearbox has begin to break up in the last two laps and the Renault engine has be on the rev-limiter as he peaks in what gears are available. Warwick is a lonely sixth, but happy to have another trouble-free run in the Toleman-Hart and down the back straight Giacomelli is in the slip-stream behind the 4-bladed rear aerofoil of the Lotus. By the time the two cars appeare out of the Curva Parabolica for the ﬂat-out run to the checkered ﬂag there are spectators all over the track and the situation looks very nasty. Mansell panicks and lifted right off the accelerator, but not little Bruno Giacomelli, he keeps his head down and his foot hard on it and snatch seventh place from the Lotus within sight of the ﬂag as he weaves his way through the stupid spectators at 170 mph. There isn’t hope of anyone doing a slowing down lap and they all pull off to the right and switch off to disappear under the milling throng, but an angry and chasten Mansell does a u-turn and drives through the crowds the wrong way into the pit lane. And now Prost is under pressure from everyone. His advantage seemed insurmountable before the Dutch Grand Prix. But in two races, the Frenchman has gained nothing, as if touched by a curse that has prevented him from reaching the world championship title for three years. Meanwhile, his opponents are closing in, taking turns sharing the spoils. If Arnoux took nine points at Zandvoort, now it's Nelson Piquet's turn at Monza, deservedly so. The Brazilian, aided by a flawless Brabham, drove like a champion, attacking from the start to wear down his rivals and secure himself against any surprises, saving himself only in the final laps when the result was already in sight.
Ferrari also had a positive outcome, although not winning at Monza might be considered a fault by the most passionate fans. Arnoux's second place and Tambay's fourth (the latter preceded by a superb start and an uncompromising race by Cheever) constitute the maximum that the Maranello team could achieve given the conditions of the Italian Grand Prix. Perhaps Patrick could have aimed for the third position, but the driver from Cannes had various issues to manage, and it was already a success to resist the attack from De Angelis. For the Roman from Lotus, finally a placement after thirteen races: he finished without two gears and with brakes out of order. Therefore, the fifth place is not bad at all. The race was not exceptionally spectacular, but it provided several interesting episodes, with the major excitement in the early stages. Three drivers were penalized by the sports commissioners at the end of the Italian Grand Prix. Johnny Cecotto and Corrado Fabi were fined $2000 each for being late to the usual drivers' briefing, while Rosberg, who crossed the white line that delimits the track at the start, received a $2000 fine and a one-minute penalty. Nelson Piquet, ninth victory in Formula 1, the second in the season. The Brazilian is radiant, yet at the same time, he does not get carried away. He knew that the result, missed on too many occasions, would come sooner or later. He possesses the strength of a temperament that leaves no room for emotions, whether positive or negative. He races to be first and for the pleasure of driving.
"After the times achieved in practice, I knew I could come in first. I had a very good start. When I saw that Patrese was in trouble, that the engine of his car was giving up, I thought: too bad, maybe he could have helped me. Then I focused on the steering wheel, on the instruments, on overtaking".
Was it an easy victory?
"It's never easy to win in Formula 1. However, the car was very good, perfect. In the final part, I adjusted the turbo pressure. I decreased it, evidently, with the aim of avoiding the risk of breakdowns. Everything went well".
Regarding the championship, the thirty-one-year-old South American has no doubts:
"Now it's much more open. I can now confess that after Zandvoort, I had some concerns. I took an immediate revenge and brought the situation back into balance. I have confidence, even though Prost and Arnoux are certainly not out of the picture. Of the two races still to be held, I believe that the one in South Africa, at Kyalami, will be more favorable to my car. But at Brands Hatch, I won't back down".
How does Nelson Piquet explain the progress of Brabham? Since Zandvoort, the English team has gained momentum, becoming the car to beat in terms of speed and also in the race.
"Our single-seater has always been at the top. We paid for the developments. Bmw is a very serious company that progresses gradually and always improves. It's clear that the German engineers now have a fantastic engine coupled with an excellent chassis. Additionally, we are greatly helped by the radial tires, which are more consistent than those of our Ferrari opponents".
Two big losers emerged from the Italian Grand Prix, one searching for the first seasonal victory, the other leading the World Championship but dangerously approached by two rivals. Patrese and Prost, two different but parallel stories, linked by the thread of misfortune. The Paduan doesn't know what to say anymore:
"Did you see that? Unbelievable. I was left speechless. A bang, gray and smelly smoke. I even feared catching fire, but I still tried to bring the car to the pits. Now I only have one solution: go somewhere to get blessed. I have to choose the right sanctuary and dedicate myself to Saint Anthony. With my strength alone, I can't compete".
If Patrese's story lasted barely three laps, Prost's ordeal was longer and perhaps even more bitter. But the Frenchman, who has imposed exceptional self-control in recent days, doesn't seek excuses, doesn't talk about good or bad luck. He simply explains what happened:
"The braking I had to do to avoid De Cesaris in the first chicane literally flattened the tires. From that moment, and it was at the beginning of the race, the car started vibrating in a frightening way. Then there was the drop in engine revolutions. The World Championship standings, and my chances? Do the math, and you'll see that I'm still in the lead, but my advantage has become small. Now everything is possible, even though I continue to be the leading driver when my advantage seemed like an abyss to my rivals".
While the Brabham team rushed onto the track at Piquet's victorious passage (Bernie Ecclestone, in the height of excitement, personally pushes Lauda's car, which is stationary in the middle of the pit lane when the Brazilian has to come in for refueling), Ferrari only needed a warm applause to greet Arnoux and Tambay at the finish line in second and fourth positions. Disappointment? No, certainly not: the premises did not allow for illusions. Due to a strange interplay of ambient temperatures and who knows what other witchcraft, the two 126 C3 cars, which in qualifying had only been behind Patrese, in the Sunday morning free practice suddenly showed signs of fatigue. The eighth and tenth times had worried the technicians of the Maranello team. Mauro Forghieri explains:
"We are satisfied with what we have achieved. Given how things were going, it could have ended worse. We had a behavior opposite to that of Zandvoort. In the Netherlands, as the laps went by, we were getting faster and faster. Here, on the contrary, we remained slower. I don't think René and Patrick could have placed better. In the first part of the race, we had mounted softer tires on car number 27, which proved to be less competitive. This also explains Tambay's delay compared to Arnoux".
For Piero Lardi, the result is positive:
"Everything is still to be played, more than before. After all, if Piquet made the longest leap forward, Arnoux is now only two points behind Prost and is therefore the most dangerous rival on paper".
René Arnoux is happy; Patrick Tambay, on the other hand, is rather bitter because perhaps he realizes that the fight for the World Championship victory is now a three-way affair. René Arnoux says:
"I couldn't expect a victory from this race, and it's already good that I came in second. We were on the limit with the tires; I squeezed the car to the maximum: engine, brakes, gearbox. Strangely, the car worked great in the two Lesmo corners but was slow in entering and exiting the chicanes. I had pointed this out in practice, but we couldn't remedy the problems, which are incomprehensible in some respects. We hope that at Brands Hatch, the gap with Brabham will be closed. Prost? He's the man who has had the fewest problems throughout the season. Something had to happen to him sooner or later".
It is difficult to interpret Tambay's mood after the race. For the first time, the Cannes-born driver appears stern, almost annoyed.
"I am not at all satisfied with the fourth position, considering my needs in the standings. But, honestly, I don't think other drivers in my position could have achieved a better placement. First, I was rear-ended by De Cesaris. Fortunately, he hit me on the wing support, and it didn't unbalance me during braking. In the early part of the race, I had issues with the soft tires, which lacked grip".
Later, perhaps with a clearer mind, Tambay adds:
"I am eleven points behind Prost. On paper, a comeback is still possible, but it's unlikely that I'll have the luck to get ahead of Piquet and Arnoux. Of course, I'll fight to the end, but it's not excluded that before the European Grand Prix, the team makes decisions to play as a team".
With these words, Patrick practically hints at the possibility that the Maranello team, at this point, may offer all the chances to Arnoux, who not only has an advantage in points but also psychologically over his teammate. In conclusion, it can truly be said that an incredible script is guiding the final stages of this exciting Formula 1 World Championship. With a series of twists, the contenders for the title present themselves from race to race, gaining favor in the predictions. Successively, after Prost at Zeltweg and Arnoux at Zandvoort, here comes Nelson Piquet's star at Monza. The Brazilian has achieved a crucial victory in the Italian Grand Prix. Now, even though he is only third in the overall standings, Piquet is in an enviable position for the prospects that the World Championship offers in the last two races. Both René Arnoux and Nelson Piquet have taken a step forward against Alain Prost. But the Brabham driver, who, in an objective (and obviously theoretical) analysis of the situation, seems to have gained the most advantages for a final sprint that could lead him to repeat the 1981 feat when he triumphed in Las Vegas over Carlos Reutemann. None of the candidates commits to predictions because motorsport, and especially Formula 1, is conditioned by the car factor. A driver, no matter how skilled, is powerless in the face of an engine failure. However, due to his temperament and unusual calmness (for a South American), Piquet can be considered the man with the greatest chances of not being overwhelmed by the tension and stress of a sport that involves enormous interests.
"I won at Monza, and I am very satisfied. What gives me more confidence, however, is the competitiveness of my car and the skill of my team. I can face the upcoming races with serenity. I have the opportunity to detach myself completely, to focus exclusively on my goal, to regain the title. Of course, Ferrari, very reliable, and Renault, capable of resurrecting after fifteen days, are tough opponents. The situation, however, pushes me to fight harder".
The Brazilian has already demonstrated his skill several times; perhaps he is currently the most classy man in the World Championship.
For this reason, his opponents fear him and do not hide their concerns. René Arnoux acknowledges:
"Nelson makes almost no mistakes and has remarkable sensitivity in driving his Brabham. He has scored points eight times. A formidable rival. Personally, I believe I am up to his level; any differences will arise from the cars. In the Italian Grand Prix, I asked everything from my Ferrari. Unfortunately, I could only fight for the second position. In the free practice at Brands Hatch, my teammate Tambay achieved good results with the old model, the 126 C2. I am confident that the C3 will be better. However, much will depend on the weather conditions and the tires. If it rains or is cold, it would be an advantage for us".
The third protagonist, Alain Prost, is rather demoralized. The Frenchman maintains an enviable calm, but it is clear that inside himself, he is dissatisfied with the failures of the last two races. The only consolation comes from the third position obtained at Monza by Cheever.
"If Eddie could place, it means that Renault, when it doesn't have problems, can allow me to stay at the top of the World Championship. I have a two-point margin. It's not much. I will try to hold on, I will try not to think about what happened to me this month".
No one talks about Tambay, who, barring unforeseen situations, could be Ferrari's trump card to help Arnoux. It's a difficult game to manage, but sometimes it has been successful. Patrick is a judicious guy; he knows very well that the instructions of the Maranello team must be respected.
"I have been very unlucky; now all that's left is to hope".
It should not be forgotten that the next race will be held at Brands Hatch, in England, at Brabham's home. Last year, on that track, Niki Lauda unexpectedly won with the McLaren-Ford. But Piquet remained in the lead for eight laps before having to retire due to a breakdown. Now his Brabham seems more reliable: Ferrari and Renault have just over ten days to try to reverse the situation. In any case, it will be a great battle, the most uncertain and exciting in recent years. The Maranello team has already worked miracles on other occasions: that's what Arnoux and Tambay are asking for.