After wandering in search of new racing circuits and finding an outlet in city circuits (Las Vegas, Detroit, and probably in September, New York), Formula 1 returns to its origins. Here, the Spa circuit in the Ardennes region is resurrected, famous for its sparkling mineral water and thermal treatments, with an indefinite expense. The rain brings a sea of mud to the new track, and the racetrack with its luxurious pit boxes still looks like an immense construction site. It seems that everything will be ready this morning for the first day of practice. Of the old 14,120-meter circuit, only the high corner remains, connected to the interior with a series of curves. When it was abandoned, by the will of Jackie Stewart (who almost lost his life in a terrible accident here in 1966), it was 1970. Back then, Formula 1 cars were traveling at over 240 km/h on average, and sports cars nearly 260 km/h. Now the unofficial record on the 6.972-meter new layout is held by Andrea De Cesàris, with the Alfa Romeo, who circuited in 2'07"0 in a test about a month ago (an average of about 197 km/h). Drivers who have tested the circuit say it's fun, challenging, and demanding. However, no one says it could be very dangerous. In reality, it seems to have been understood that the track is very risky. The starting grid is uphill and in a curve. The ones at the back cannot see the front row. About 200 meters after the start, there is a turn where the pit exit is also located. Further down, downhill, after the stands, in the middle of which the finish line is situated, there is a frighteningly tightening curve. One of the first to reconnoiter was Keke Rosberg, who had already completed two days of testing with drivers from Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Renault, Brabham, ATS, Lotus, Toleman, McLaren, and Tyrrell.
"I like it, but the Eau Rouge corner is a real problem. Anyway, we are paid to race. It takes talent to do a good lap with the Cosworth, even though there are very long straights favorable to turbos. But in Belgium, it rains very often. I wouldn't want to be behind the wheel of a turbocharged car if that happens".
Surprisingly, a new Cosworth engine, a special version of the DFY considered more powerful than the previous ones, is installed on Michele Alboreto's Tyrrell. This engine has a new type of cylinder heads and should provide a considerable number of horsepower (talks of 540 HP compared to the old version's 480 HP). It is Cosworth's response to the turbo. The engine was developed by designer Maio Illien. Among the novelties are the reduction of valve angles and weight reduction (about 6.5 kg). With this engine, Alboreto could return to the forefront of the field. Also, as a surprise, Arrows, after having Serra and former World Champion Alan Jones racing, has signed Belgian Thierry Boutsen, the vice European Formula 2 champion, for the entire season. The Belgian driver found a sponsor (a carpet manufacturer) who provided the necessary funds for him to race. On Sunday, May 22, 1983, in the Belgian Grand Prix, refueling and tire changes will resume. On Friday, May 20, 1983, at the end of qualifying, three drivers are enclosed within 0.23 seconds, the top two separated by only 0.011 seconds, less than a blink. The new Spa-Francorchamps circuit reproduces both current and ancient duels. The fastest is Alain Prost with Renault. The Frenchman overtakes his compatriot Patrick Tambay with Ferrari in the final part of the first qualifying round of the Belgian Grand Prix. Andrea De Cesaris with an Alfa Romeo that seems to have finally found competitiveness and efficiency takes third place. For a moment, indeed, the Roman driver reproduces the beautiful challenges of the Mannello team and that of the Biscione with his aggressive driving. Then Prost convinces everyone, turning in 2'04"615. The French team is currently playing a slice of the World Championship title and must push to the maximum. However, the fact remains that the unprecedented Spa-Francorchamps track reaffirms the law of the turbo. Eight turbocharged cars in front and the usual, indomitable Keke Rosberg leading the line of cars with the naturally aspirated Cosworth. The Finn performs high acrobatics, but in the end, he has to surrender.
"I didn't think I would be so far behind".
His Williams is 3.36 seconds behind Prost. A beautiful sunny day (rain only arrives in the late afternoon) facilitates the drivers' acquaintance with the circuit, considered by all to be very valid and challenging. Fast corners, ups and downs, thrilling passages, braking to the limit in the Source curve provide an exceptional spectacle.
Renault is comfortable on this track, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo have not been left behind, while Brabham with Piquet (fourth) and Patrese (sixth) demonstrate that they can fit in well with the fray. Mauro Forghieri declares for Ferrari:
"We thought after Tambay's time to be the best. But we are fine like this too. Arnoux is fifth, he has the excuse of having encountered terrible traffic when he had to make the decisive move. The cars are quite well balanced. We should be able to have a good race. I am also happy for Alfa Romeo, which has made a qualitative leap".
Behind the Milan team's performance is a small secret. The turbines that had caused many problems in the first part of the season have been modified. A strengthening work developed by Alfa-Avio in Pomigliano d'Arco. Carlo Chiti explains:
"In this way, we were able to increase the pressure, and the results were immediately visible".
Euphoric, Andrea De Cesaris says:
"For the first time, everything worked wonderfully. I made some small mistakes".
Behind the turbos and Rosberg, an excellent Surer. Decent performances from De Angelis. However, his Lotus Renault had to mount a huge additional wing to stay on the road. Giacomelli and debutant Boutsen also performed well. Michele Alboreto, who has to develop the new Cosworth engine because he has no world ambitions for the moment, set the seventeenth best time.
"The engine is excellent. It is more elastic and progressive, but my Tyrrell is not a great car".
There is only one incident, in the morning during free practice. Johnny Cecotto violently hits the guardrails in the Raidillon uphill; When he returns to the pit, he verbally attacks Boesel, accusing him of cutting him off with his Ligier. The Brazilian is surprised. It is later learned that the maneuver was carried out by Jean-Pierre Jarier, a driver who is not among the fairest on the track. Speaking of Ligier, in the afternoon, it is learned that Renault will supply its turbo engines to the French team in 1984. Rain, cold, boots, tarpaulins, umbrellas, streams of mud, fearful water trails. It is in this climate that the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix is announced, the sixth race of the World Championship. A real deluge, which practically cancels the second qualifying session on Saturday. Sunday could see the bad weather again, with dramatic consequences: if the track remains flooded, the drivers will probably ask for the race to be canceled for obvious safety reasons, assuming they find the strength and cohesion for a common action. On Sunday, around 12:00 p.m., after half an hour of free practice, drivers, teams, and organizers will take stock. Similar cases are not known in modern Formula 1. In Japan, in 1976, when Lauda lost the world title by returning to the pits after a few laps on the flooded track, the race was delayed and then held anyway in a furious downpour. One year, a race was held at the Nurburgring in extremely dangerous fog banks. The starting lineup, of course, remains that of Friday. In pole position is Alain Prost, then Tambay, De Cesaris, then Piquet, Arnoux, Patrese, Winkelhock, and Cheever. Eight turbocharged cars are in front of the Williams with the naturally aspirated Cosworth engine of Keke Rosberg. Alain Prost says:
"If the weather conditions do not change and if the race is held, it will be an elimination Grand Prix. Few cars will finish the race".
Even more alarming is Niki Lauda's statement:
"Driving on lakes of water is impossible. There are too many risks. It will be crazy to start if the situation does not improve. We will go off the track five or six times per lap, and in the end, no one will remain".
René Arnoux is of the same opinion, even though the Ferrari driver is one of those who like to slide from one side of the track to the other. Eddie Cheever, who is clearly the fastest in the useless timed trials, says:
"I am very happy with the car, and the water doesn't bother me up to a certain limit. However, I must admit that in the wake, you can absolutely see nothing. I got scared. I came up behind a car, I believe a Toleman, without realizing it. I avoided it, at 250 km/h, by a miracle. For a moment, I thought of Pironi's accident at Hockenheim last year".
The Italo-American driver is 4.45 seconds ahead of Rosberg and a little more than Warwick, De Angelis, and Arnoux. He can be considered one of the favorites along with drivers who prefer slippery tracks, such as Rosberg, Arnoux, Surer, and Alboreto. The tests are mainly carried out to fine-tune the setups of the cars and to experiment with the tires. It must be said that all tire manufacturers present effective products, especially Pirelli, which records the third and fourth times with Warwick and De Angelis. However, the choice of grooved covers will still be difficult because it will depend on the amount of water on the track. There are intermediate tires that ensure sufficient grip in case of not heavy rain. Another race full of uncertainties, therefore, with many questions. If the track is dry, the battle should involve Renault, Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo in particular (but during qualifying, a turbine on De Cesaris's car explodes again), with the possible inclusion of Patrese and Piquet's Brabhams. And sixteen cars should refuel on the go, weather permitting. Ferrari is in the hearts of the fans and also in the hearts of thieves. In the night between Friday and Saturday, the team's van from Maranello is forced open: six wheels, rims, and tires from Formula 1 cars are stolen. Material that is not marketable and can only be a precious souvenir for collectors. Ferrari reports the incident to the police. The investigations are challenging because thefts inside the racetrack are numerous, carried out by specialized gangs. On Sunday, May 22, 1983, the race is due to start at 2:30 p.m. to run over 42 laps of the 6.949 kilometre circuit, but as the start is on the slight uphill stretch before La Source hairpin, where the new pits have been built, and the finish is on the downhill run past the old pits, you have to add 662 metres to the total of 42 lap to get the full race distance.
At 2:00 p.m. all 26 cars leave the pits and do a lap round to the starting grid and Arnoux, Rosberg, Laffite and Boesel all go through the pitlane and round for another lap before taking up their positions on the grid. Shortly before 2:30 p.m. they all set off on their parade lap behind Alain Prost’s Renault and when they return Surer is in trouble with the gearbox on his Arrows. As the starter put the red light on marshals at the back of the grid are waving yellow ﬂags to indicate that all is not in order so the red light goes to ﬂashing yellow, which means start cancelled, but Prost and de Cesaris see the red light go out and simply take off. Tambay sees the ﬂashing yellow and backs right off as everyone else do, while Surer, Laffite and de Angelis are left on the grid with stalled engines. Black ﬂags greet de Cesaris and Prost as they set off on what they think is the first lap and the whole field straggles round the circuit and back to the grid. Poor Surer, with a broken gearbox goes into the pits and transfers to the spare Arrows and resigns himself to having to start from the pitlane after everyone has gone from the restart. The rules state that in the event of an aborted start there will be no topping-up of petrol tanks on the grid, but the race will be shortened by one lap, to allow for a second parade lap before the restart. As all the competitors have inadvertently done a lap and would now have to do the second parade lap as well, the race distance is shortened by two laps, from 42 to 40 laps. During the time before the restart Renault and Ferrari mechanics are seen with churns of petrol though no one seems to have seen them actually topping-up their cars. However, there are various protests and subsequently Renault are fined $5.000 for having refuelling churns on the starting grid, which is strictly against the rules. The second parade lap is done without Surer, and the 25 cars line up and this time all is well.
Andrea de Cesaris goes off like a rocket between Prost and Tambay and leeds away. It was turbocharged cars all the way, Alfa Romeo (de Cesaris), Renault (Prost), Ferrari (Tambay and Arnoux), Brabham-BMW (Piquet) and ATS-BMW (Winkelhock), then Rosberg and Laffite with the Williams-Cosworths, followed by Renault (Cheever), Alfa Romeo (Baldi), Lotus-Renault (de Angelis) with Guerrero leading the rest with his Theodore. The rest including Lauda and Watson, Alboreto, Jarier and Mansell, so the young driver from Colombia is feeling justifiably pleased with himself. That is the pattern of the race until near to half distance when the pitstops begins. Alfa Romeo fumble their stop and Renault do a perfect job so Prost takes over the lead from de Cesaris thanks entirely due to his mechanics. The Alfa Romeo challenge disappears when the neat little V8 engine blows up, but de Cesaris has surprised everyone not only with his speed but the fact that he looks reasonably safe and does not look as though he is going to ﬂy off the road. As usual the Brabham team are masters of the pit stop art with their air jacks and fix wheel nuts, and they help Piquet into a strong third place, which becomes second when the Alfa Romeo blows up, while Tambay and Cheever are behind. In the opening stages Rosberg is hanging on to the turbo-charged cars with a tenacity that reminds one of Jean Behra in his Gordini days, but he is inevitably losing ground all the time. Arnoux overheats his tyres in the first part of the race by some rough driving, and loses ground on the smooth Mr Tambay, and after the pit stops his Ferrari engine blows up. The second half of the race is a Prost benefit, as the Renault drones its impeccable way round the circuit, with no one to trouble him. In the closing stages Piquet’s Brabham has gearbox trouble and he cannot use fifth gear, so gradually Tambay and Cheever draw closer. Some idea of the unpopularity of Bernie Ecclestone in Belgium can be gained from the cheering and waving that went on in the crowd when Tambay overtakes the stricken Brabham and again when Cheever goes by. It is very obvious that Brabham, Ecclestone, Piquet and BMW are not a popular confection with the Belgians. The two Williams cars run like clockwork throughout the race as the two Toleman-Hart cars do, Warwick’s only problem being a muddled pit stop needing him to make a second stop.
He has led his little Italian team-mate at the time, but naturally the second stop put him back. On the very last lap Giacomelli has a spin, but keeps the engine running and as he gathers it all up Warwick goes by into seventh place. Of the others Watson is savaged by Jarier at the hairpin and both cars are bent, Lauda goes out with engine failure as did Guerrero, while Winkelhock has the embarrassment of a rear wheel coming off his ATS, which spans him off into the catch fences. Patrese do not complete a lap as his BMW engine fails, and the young Belgian Thierry Boutsen making his Formula 1 debut retires at five laps with suspension breakage on his rent-a-drive Arrows A6. The rain did not spoil the Belgian Grand Prix, crowded with over 100.000 spectators, thanks to an unexpectedly sunny day. Alain Prost, the pre-race favorite, secured his second victory of the season, propelling him to the top of the World Championship standings. The Renault proved too strong on the fast Ardennes track. However, Prost's main rivals didn't lose much ground, with Ferrari taking second place thanks to the consistently improving Tambay and Brabham finishing fourth with Piquet, behind Eddie Cheever, who was finally rewarded for skill and consistency. The dominant theme of the race, however, was the spectacular start by Andrea De Cesaris, who once again demonstrated his heavy-footed driving style. He led the pack with great authority for 18 laps. After a pit stop (the first to do so, albeit not perfectly due to a rear wheel issue), he resumed in third position, chased down Piquet, passed Tambay and the Brazilian. However, a sudden noise stopped him on the uphill stretch of Raidillon. A broken distribution gear betrayed him, an issue that had never occurred before. De Cesaris left without speaking, wearing a bitter expression. He retained the satisfaction of the fastest lap, completed in 2'07"493 at an average speed of 196.217 km/h. While in the race before the pit stop, he had nibbled away 6.4s from Prost with his aggressive driving, indicating his championship potential. De Cesaris is young and talented, but he must understand that he is a Formula 1 professional, one of the highest-paid athletes globally. Leaving without a word is not a sign of maturity. What should Prost have done last year after an incredible series of retirements? The Alfa Romeo (Baldi retired on the third lap due to a throttle command failure) and the unlucky Patrese (engine failure after a couple of kilometers) were out of the scene, and the race had no more surprises.
Arnoux, who was chasing Tambay, had to retire, probably due to an engine failure, after experiencing tire problems. Behind the Renaults, Tambay and Piquet engaged in a thrilling duel, perhaps the most spectacular of the race. Then the Brazilian lost fifth gear, and it became easy for the Ferrari driver to claim the second position. Eddie Cheever took third place, achieving a repeat of the French Grand Prix. The Italo-American driver raced in the second part of the event at a disadvantage due to the deterioration of the right rear tire. Otherwise, Renault might have aimed for a one-two finish. Four turbocharged cars at the top. Behind them, but with honors, were two Williams with Rosberg and Laffite in order. Needless to say, the Finn was exceptional, overcoming the lack of power in his car with courage. Rosberg is gradually earning the admiration and sympathy of anyone who loves motorsport. He is fourth in the world championship standings, perhaps out of the title fight, but he will continue to fight until the end. If Williams doesn't find him a turbocharged engine, many teams will likely offer him the opportunity to compete on equal terms with the best next year. Niki Lauda had an unremarkable race, retiring due to an engine failure. The Toleman team achieved its first notable placements, with Warwick in seventh and Giacomelli in eighth. If they hadn't had problems with refueling, they might have scored the first point for the English team. Who knows. About refueling, twelve drivers did it during the race.
The operation was planned for sixteen drivers, but Patrese, Baldi, Jarier, and Winkelhock couldn't use it as they retired before the expected lap for pit entry. The confused direction of the Belgian television did not allow establishing the exact duration of all stops, as the cars were not framed. However, it is possible to check who gained the most advantages, calculating based on the last five laps how much time each competitor lost between slowing down and restarting. These are the times provided: Arnoux 17.539s, Prost 22.312s, Mansell 24.213s, Cheever 24.685s, Tambay 27.410s, Piquet 28.372s, Laffite 29.685s, Rosberg 30.672s, De Angelis 32.429s, De Cesaris 36.150s, Giacomelli 49.678s, Warwick 49.953s. Simple refueling and tire change delays Prost by 14.42s, Piquet by 15.22s, and De Cesaris by 25.33s. There was much confusion in the pits, and several teams faced unforeseen problems. Ferrari, during Tambay's pit stop, found that the fuel nozzle wouldn't engage, costing them 8s to start over. The situation was even more difficult for Toleman, making its debut in this field. When Giacomelli's car entered, the tank valve didn't open because the nozzle wouldn't engage. Then the mechanics used the tool prepared for Warwick. They lost about 30s. After the lengthy celebrations on the podium, Alain Prost leaves without knowing he faced the risk of being excluded from the standings. The small French driver regains a genuine smile, not the tight-lipped one he was forced to wear in 1982 when he seemed to dominate all races and always ended up with a handful of flies.
"This time things are going better. In the past season, I scored a total of 34 points. Now, after only six races, I'm at 28. It's clear that I don't have the world title in my pocket yet, but the path is the right one. I had some engine problems at the beginning of the race, and De Cesaris seemed unreachable. Then, after the refueling, the car worked wonderfully, and everything ended in the best possible way”.
At Renault, faces first showed concern over Williams' protest and then complete satisfaction. General manager Gerard Larrousse says:
"It would have been a mockery if they had penalized us. We acted in perfect good faith. No cheating, all regular".
Satisfaction is also present at Ferrari. Engineer Forghieri is sorry for Arnoux, but that's racing, and the talented René doesn't hide his disappointment.
"Perhaps I'm out of the fight for the World Championship victory; I'm too far back in the standings, although it's too early to give up. The first set of tires deteriorated abnormally; I couldn't push to the maximum. Then the engine stopped".
Much more serene, of course, is Patrick Tambay, for whom the positive series continues.
"I have raced eleven times with Ferrari, earning a total of 48 points. I have a perfect average. With Renault this time, there was nothing to do, and I also had grip problems. I raced defensively, to score points. Now we are heading to Detroit and Montreal. I don't expect to achieve much in America; in Canada, we'll see. Meanwhile, the new car will be prepared, perhaps making its debut in the British Grand Prix. Then we'll see; it will be the moment of truth. Renault and Brabham have already put their weapons on the track, their new cars for 1983. We are racing with a modified, improved model, but it's still from last year. So I think there will be a good battle for the end of the championship".
Keke Rosberg also commented:
"I got a big rock on me in the first lap. It hit me on the helmet, above the visor. I had a moment of terror; I was stunned. Anyway, it seems to me that I had a good duel with the turbos. I defended myself to the limit of my abilities and the car. But I was cut out for the victory".
After six races, the Formula 1 World Championship has found the contenders for the title. Prost's victory in Francorchamps, Tambay's second place, and Piquet's fourth clarify the situation. The two Frenchmen and the Brazilian at the top of the standings are the men who realistically have the opportunity to contend for Keke Rosberg's legacy. The Finn remains the outsider, along with Arnoux, Cheever, and Patrese, who, only if everything goes wrong for their rivals and everything goes well for them, could enter the uncertain and exciting duel. The Belgian Grand Prix has also made it clear that this time Formula 1 will not be just a matter of car assemblers. Two major car manufacturers are, for the first time in many years, facing each other, engaged in a direct, chivalrous and sporting clash, as much as you want but still very tough due to the huge interests at stake. Renault and Ferrari are fighting each other, with Brabham representing a third party with the turbocharged BMW engine, another powerful brand. Therefore, it's a turbocharged battle that is pushing the once glorious naturally aspirated Cosworth towards decline. The French team, with Prost having already won twice, four points ahead of Piquet and five ahead of Tambay, has the highest chances of winning the final victory due to the experience gained from 1977 to today. But both Renault and Brabham have already deployed all their available weapons. The French are racing from Long Beach with the Re 40, a brand-new car designed for the 1983 regulations. The English are on the same level with the highly modern single-seater designed by Murray. In Maranello, there is still the possibility of making progress with the new 126 C3, which should undergo its first tests within a few days and make its debut at the British Grand Prix. Therefore, the appearance of the new Ferrari will decide the fate of the World Championship, assuming there are no big surprises. The Maranello team, as happened in the past, put its two drivers on equal terms at the beginning of the season. At this point, however, given Arnoux's misfortune, it should seek a team game. René may take some partial satisfaction but will have to make way for Patrick Tambay, who, with his skill and consistency, has now convinced everyone. Unless Arnoux himself starts winning races one after another from now on.