Now we play with cards on the table. On the eve of the departure for Brands Hatch, where on Sunday, September 25, 1983, the penultimate and perhaps decisive race of the Formula 1 World Championship will take place, Alain Prost, one of the candidates for the final victory (along with Arnoux, Piquet, and, with lesser chances, Tambay), expresses a lot of bitterness towards his former teammate, now a Ferrari driver.
"Arnoux absolutely doesn't deserve to become champion. I would be very happy if a Frenchman managed to win the prestigious title for the first time. If it were Laffite or Tambay, I would be pleased. But René is not up to the task. He is nobody... His reputation on a human, moral level is poor. I would even prefer to see Nelson Piquet succeed. It's not a matter of jealousy; I don't envy my rival's greater popularity. I don't sell myself easily; I'm happy to be myself, I don't prostitute myself... I think of a clean image of motorsport, to which Arnoux as World Champion would only do harm".
To the interviewer who asks if he will mainly wage war on Arnoux on the Brands Hatch track, Prost decisively responds:
"No, your car will be like everyone else's. For this reason, I won't be particularly aggressive towards him. I won't do anything crazy".
The penultimate act of the Formula 1 World Championship, the European Grand Prix (effectively replacing the one canceled in July in Dijon), is proving to be a real business for the English organizers. Tickets are selling like hotcakes. The interest, whether for the intense battle for the world title or for other reasons (the chances of success for Lotus and Toletnan with Warwick), is enormous. A sold-out event is expected with the arrival of numerous caravans of fans from Italy and France. The worldwide TV broadcast will ensure 500.000.000 viewers for the race. Tension seems to have affected everyone, especially Prost, Arnoux, Piquet, and Tambay. The Renault driver has vented against René Arnoux, increasing the nervousness. And already some fear that unpleasant incidents may occur on the track. But it is hoped that common sense will prevail, beyond the competitive spirit of the drivers and the interests at stake. Meanwhile, predictions continue. If Prost is favored by London bookmakers, Piquet is considered the man to beat due to his magical moment. Perhaps the possibilities of Ferrari, which has two contenders and cars that have never disappointed on the Brands Hatch circuit, have been underestimated. Another factor to consider is that Prost leads the World Championship standings, but Arnoux, in terms of overall performance throughout the season, even though he has collected two fewer points, has been the best among the candidates for the world title.
These data can be observed from an interesting ranking for the Ebel Speed Trophy that takes into account not only race results but also those of qualifying and the fastest laps during races. Based on this special ranking, the Ferrari driver appears as the most competitive with 125 points, ahead of Prost with 115, Tambay and Piquet with 98. This ranking is obtained by adding the results of all the Grand Prix (9 points for first place, 6 for second, 4 for third, 3 for fourth, 2 for fifth, and 1 for sixth), those of qualifying (the same system), and awarding 3 points for the fastest laps. It is an evaluation that cannot be ignored. And certain statistical figures also carry weight. At Brands Hatch, the only non-English team that has managed to win (in 1976 with Lauda and in 1978 with Reutemann) is precisely Ferrari. In ten editions of this race valid for the World Championship, Lotus has won four times, Williams, Tyrrell, Brabham, and McLaren once each. In short, the prospects for the Maranello team are not as negative as it might seem, even if the race will certainly be one of the most difficult and uncertain of the season. On Thursday, September 22, 1983, the drivers vying for the world title are supposed to hold a press conference to present the European Grand Prix. But only Arnoux and Piquet are seen, not Tambay and Prost. Pre-tactics? Perhaps, but the atmosphere is heated. The Brazilian driver from Brabham confesses that he feels very nervous, even if he continues to maintain his carefree air. Arnoux, in response to the pressing questions of English journalists, answers blandly, with clichéd phrases, without entering into controversy with his great rival Prost. Perhaps we are in the calm before the storm. Starting from the practice sessions, electrifying duels are announced.
At stake is the victory of the World Championship, or at least a good slice of it. The circuit has the appearance of big occasions. Races have been held here since 1964, and champions have always won: Clark, Brabham, Siffert, Rindt, Fittipaldi, Scheckter, Reutemann, Jones, and Lauda twice, the last time last year. The unforgettable Jim Clark wrote at the time that on such a track, one can make at least twenty mistakes in a lap, due to the ups and downs, changes in slope, and atypical turns. Whoever makes a mistake will be lost, like an elimination race. Technical innovations are not lacking. Brabham, and perhaps Renault, have copied Ferrari, adopting huge rear wings with some kind of ears on the wheels. Those of the English team have already been seen, while the French team has kept them hidden for the time being. And the challenge naturally extends to the tire manufacturers. An imposing lineup: Michelin brings 1600 tires, Goodyear 1200, Pirelli, which has fewer teams to equip, 900. It seems that the French company has new type tires, perhaps only for Brabham, which has already tested them. Ferrari does not present substantial changes but has prepared for the sporting event with the usual meticulousness. There had been some concern about rumors that Arnoux was not feeling well and had consulted a urologist in Bologna. But the Frenchman does not confirm anything on this subject, limiting himself to joking:
"I went to three doctors, one for the arms, one for the legs, and one for the head".
"But this doesn't prevent me from driving well and attacking as I have set myself, without looking anyone in the face, without relying mainly on Prost. I will race for myself, not against him".
The situation of the World Championship is strange: the interested drivers do not make predictions, considering themselves more or less on equal footing in terms of possibilities. Each will have to deal with it alone; there is not much hope for help—always difficult in any case—from teammates. Tambay (for Ferrari) also thinks about preserving his chances; Patrese has a desperate desire to win, even if he declares himself available for Piquet; Cheever is in embarrassment. While Prost has been reconfirmed, the Italo-American driver has not accepted to sign under the same conditions as in 1983, that is, in the uncomfortable role of supporting, seeking another arrangement (perhaps he has already found it). And in this chaos, there is also a debutant, the European Formula 2 champion, Dr. Jonathan Palmer. He will drive a third Williams. On Friday, September 23, 1983, things get complicated: the first qualifying session of the European Grand Prix sends a warning to the candidates for the world title. Another team will be in the game for victory, Lotus, which secures provisional pole position with the 25-year-old Roman Elio De Angelis and the second time with Nigel Mansell. The two black and gold cars precede Piquet's Brabham and Prost's Renault. Only seventh and ninth are the two Ferraris of Arnoux and Tambay. The emergence at the top of the English team and a driver like De Angelis is not a surprise. Already in the free practice sessions at the end of August, the Italian had been very fast, just a tenth behind Piquet, who had lapped in 1'11"5. These results have not been repeated because the environmental conditions have changed, turning into a sunny day but with crisp air, and perhaps the track is a bit slower, at least for the moment. The Lotus, which uses the Renault turbo engine, could be an additional weapon for Prost, making it more difficult for his rivals to achieve the only placement that truly benefits them, namely victory. Assuming the Frenchman can score points. De Angelis, however, rules out any tactical possibility:
"If I can maintain the first position at the start, I will try to gain the greatest advantage possible. I certainly won't think about what can happen behind me. I am confident for two reasons: I can still improve, perhaps by a second per lap. Today the engine of my car was not perfect, losing revs at the top. Also, Pirelli gave me excellent tires, not only for qualifying but also for the race. In short, this is the first real opportunity to win".
On Saturday, however, everyone will try to attack De Angelis to snatch pole position from him. Piquet and Prost say that their cars (both using a new wing similar to Ferrari's, as well as McLaren) are not well-balanced. The French driver says:
"I am satisfied enough; it is enough for me to stay ahead of my opponents".
The position of Ferrari is more delicate but not compromised. Arnoux explains his not-so-brilliant performance with the impossibility of finding a good lap, too much traffic on the track, and tires that last for only one fast lap. Tambay's car, on the other hand, has some problems due to a turbo pressure loss on the race car and defective carburetion on the reserve one. However, it should be considered that Tambay himself set the second time in free practice, in race trim, with a 0.05s gap from Prost, who had been the best. Patrick Tambay states at the end of the practice session:
"Even in Zandvoort, we weren't able to achieve a particularly good qualification, but you saw the race results. We are certainly not demoralized. On the contrary, I am very motivated. Despite everything that has been written and said in these days, Ferrari's decisions for next year will depend mainly on what happens in this Grand Prix. So expect a determined Tambay".
Engineer Forghieri shares the same opinion, stating:
"Now let us work; we will see tomorrow for the race. It's pointless to lament now. We know very well that anything can happen. And we will do our best so that our drivers are not only in a position to defend themselves but also to seek something more".
Speaking of the driver market, Michele Alboreto is one of the most sought-after drivers for his demonstrated skill, professionalism, and determined character. Someone, even with a bit of cunning, has called him a racing animal. He wants to break through, to be able to fight for the title. He feels ready, mature for this experience. And this is where he waits, where he anticipates what the future will hold for him. A future that should be marked by Ferrari. In a moment of openness, within the limits of what he can reveal, Alboreto confirms this situation.
"I am waiting for an answer by next Wednesday. It's now or never. Five terrible days of waiting. Officially, I know nothing; anything could happen. Perhaps in Maranello, they are just waiting to see how the European Grand Prix will end before deciding".
Confirmation of the rumors that had become increasingly insistent in recent times. But what if Ferrari were to keep Arnoux and Tambay?
"Of course, it would be a big disappointment. But I have nothing in my hands to complain about. I was told to wait, and I am waiting".
The Italian driver, however, has viable alternatives ready.
"I had three important contacts with Brabham, McLaren, and Renault. I ruled out the French team for a simple reason: they offered me a contract as a second driver, conditioned by Prost as the team leader. Honestly, I didn't feel up to it. I want to fight with all my might, without obstacles. The opposite of what I've done so far. If Ferrari were to say no, I would aim for Brabham and McLaren, I don't know yet which of the two teams. But at this point, it wouldn't matter much".
If the move to Ferrari were to be confirmed, with which teammate would Alboreto prefer to race? Arnoux or Tambay?
"For me, it's the same. I don't care, and it's not decisive".
We have to go back to the dawn of Formula 1 to find a lineup similar to what the European Grand Prix presents on Saturday, September 24, 1983. There are two Italians in the front row: Elio De Angelis in pole position and Riccardo Patrese alongside him, both with English cars, a Lotus and a Brabham. It hadn't happened since 1953, in Reims, in an epic French Grand Prix when Ascari (Ferrari), Bonetto (Maserali), and Villoresi (Ferrari) divided the top positions at the start, and Ascari won the race. This exciting situation fits into the context of a race that is very uncertain, full of questions, possibilities, with the additional uncertainty of the always unpredictable weather here even in short periods. The Roman and the Paduan drivers will start with very different intentions: the former to win at all costs, the latter ready to give way to the teammate if a favorable opportunity arises. De Angelis maintains pole position with extreme ease, using only one of the qualifying sets of tires available. Patrese, on the other hand, forces his way in, overtaking the other Lotus driver, the Englishman Nigel Mansell. Behind this trio, all the contenders for the World Championship victory follow. Piquet fourth, Arnoux fifth, Tambay sixth, then Prost, preceded for the second time in the season by Eddie Cheever. In essence, among the candidates for the world title, Piquet is the best-placed because he can also count on Patrese's help. But in reality, if the Brazilian cannot win, just like Arnoux and Tambay will have to try to do, the advantage would be especially for Prost, who has a two-point margin in the standings. The indications from the practice sessions say that the Brabham has good chances of being competitive, that Ferrari has improved slightly compared to Friday, but above all, the Maranello team has found more valid technical solutions. Much will depend on the tire choice, very complicated: everyone is engaged in finding the best possible tire solution. The most difficult task is perhaps that of Ferrari since they cannot ask anyone for help. If Piquet can be facilitated by Patrese and if Prost finds involuntary allies in the Lotus cars powered by Renault engines, then the Maranello team will have to do everything on its own.
"Those two Lotuses in front worry me. Let's hope they get out of the way soon".
This time René Arnoux does not mince words. The Ferrari Frenchman appears determined, ready for battle, probably the most important of his career.
"No mistakes can be made, no space must be left. Our cars should be up to the situation. Of course, it will be very tough, but that's how I like to race, in the end".
Such conviction brings confidence, and it must be said that even Patrick Tambay seems to have put aside the bitterness of recent results.
"I have put everything behind me. I don't want to talk about the contract with Ferrari now; I'm focused on driving".
For his part, Mauro Forghieri says:
"Our drivers have only one tactic to follow, that of attacking to try to win. The rest doesn't matter. It's no longer a matter of calculations; it will take luck, skill, and concentration. The race setups don't seem to be bad. The time set by De Angelis in qualifying was not within our reach, but we have improved the performance of the 126 C3 in all parts of the circuit, and for this, we hope".
The rest doesn't matter. There are fifteen turbocharged cars in front of the usual Rosberg, first among the drivers with naturally aspirated engines. There is the debut of Palmer who qualified at the expense of Jacques Laffite, dealing with tire problems. Alboreto, starting last, with a car that doesn't stay on the track. Also, note the first pole position for Pirelli radial tires since their return to Formula 1 in 1981.
The Milanese company is growing. On Sunday, September 25, 1983, before the start of the European Grand Prix, a problem with Riccardo Patrese's car engine is discovered. Therefore, the Italian driver decides to start with the reserve car, adapted to the needs of his teammate, Nelson Piquet. At the start, the Italian driver from Brabham is quicker than compatriot Elio De Angelis, securing the first position. Nigel Mansell also attempts to pass De Angelis at Druids but without success. Eddie Cheever has a good start and passes both Ferraris, attempting to get ahead of Nelson Piquet, who resists the attack. Manfred Winkelhock moves ahead of René Arnoux, while Tambay is also overtaken by the other Renault driver, Alain Prost. At the end of the first lap, Patrese is in the lead, followed by De Angelis, Mansell, Piquet, Cheever, Winkelhock, Arnoux, Prost, and Tambay. During the second lap, Prost passes both Winkelhock and Arnoux, with the German losing another position to Arnoux. Meanwhile, Mansell faces difficulties in warming up the tires, allowing both Piquet and Cheever to pass him. Mansell continues to struggle in the following lap, eventually losing positions to Prost and Arnoux. Meanwhile, De Angelis attacks Patrese, and Prost closes in on Cheever, passing him in the ninth lap. The top six drivers build a significant lead over the rest of the pack, led by a struggling Mansell. In the 11th lap, De Angelis touches Patrese's car in an overtaking attempt, and both end up on the grass. Patrese quickly recovers to second place, behind Nelson Piquet, while De Angelis drops to sixth. De Angelis' race lasts only two more laps before retiring due to a malfunctioning engine. For several laps, Prost stays behind Riccardo Patrese, aiding Nelson Piquet's lead. The Frenchman finally passes the Italian driver in the 15th lap. Five laps later, René Arnoux spins at Stirling's Bend, losing time but managing to rejoin the race. In the 28th lap, oil leaks from Danny Sullivan's Tyrrell, forcing the American driver to stop and allowing marshals to extinguish the flames. Eddie Cheever pits for a tire change in the 35th lap, followed by De Cesaris, Winkelhock, and Arnoux in the subsequent laps. In the 38th lap, an aerodynamic component breaks on John Watson's McLaren, and he crashes into the barriers in the following lap. In the 39th lap, Patrese's prolonged pit stop, due to mechanics struggling with a tire change, drops him to tenth place.
Prost and Mansell also pit in the following laps for routine tire changes without significant issues. In the 43rd lap, Patrick Tambay pits, followed by Piquet in the 44th lap. Piquet, however, regains the lead despite issues with fixing a wheel. The race continues with Piquet in the lead, followed by Prost, Tambay, Mansell, Cheever, De Cesaris, Warwick, Giacomelli, and Patrese. Cheever's chances of finishing in the top positions fade a few laps later when he makes an unscheduled stop to address a helmet visor problem, dropping to fourteenth place. Prost faces tire issues, and his engine performance deteriorates, preventing him from challenging Piquet effectively. René Arnoux also undergoes another tire change, abandoning any hopes of scoring points. In the 56th lap, the fire extinguisher on Warwick's car accidentally activates, causing visibility and right arm sensitivity issues. Despite the challenges, Warwick continues the race. In the 60th lap, Mansell overtakes Tambay at Paddock Hill Bend, moving to third place. Two laps later, Tambay goes off track at Druids due to a wheel locking issue. Nelson Piquet secures his third win of the season, claiming victory in the European Grand Prix and posing a real threat to Alain Prost in the uncertain battle for the championship. The two rivals take the top two positions, with Prost on the second step of the podium, while Ferrari is notably absent from the race. While Piquet and Prost compete, albeit not closely, Arnoux and Tambay have limited opportunities, clearly inferior due to the poor grip of the Maranello cars. It is a genuine setback for the Italian colors after De Angelis and Patrese started in the front row. Some satisfaction comes from Andrea De Cesaris' excellent fourth place with the Alfa Romeo and Bruno Giacomelli's sixth place with the Toleman, finally finishing a race. However, it is not enough to salvage a black day. Piquet and Prost are perhaps the only ones smiling or even laughing at the end of the race, along with Bernie Ecclestone, the Brabham team owner, and the Renault team personnel who narrowly revived their chances in the title race after a period of unexpected setbacks. The two drivers embrace on the minibus taking them to the podium after completing the victory lap in front of the ecstatic crowd of over 100.000 people. Piquet speaks at the end of the race:
"I am very confident because my car is clearly superior to the Renault, both in terms of the engine and the chassis. I just need to finish to win, as I did here. I had only one problem, vibrations that lasted for the entire first part of the race until lap 44 when I changed tires. It was probably caused by a violent braking I had to do in the early laps to avoid a competitor who wasn't checking the rearview mirrors. At this point, I'm playing the title head-to-head with Prost because I don't think Arnoux has any real chances to challenge us. It's an exciting end to the season, reminiscent of when I won my first title".
It's worth noting that as usual before each race, Piquet had been unwell in the morning and had stomach problems. However, as in other instances, the Brazilian, once in the car, transformed himself, becoming an ice-cold driver and making no mistakes, driving like a true champion. For Alain Prost, who finally returned to a positive result, the second place is not to be dismissed, even though he couldn't close the deal on the World Championship as he had the potential to do with a victory.
"I knew that the Brabham was better than my car, so coming second is a good result for me, the best I could hope for given the race conditions. I am especially comforted by the fact that the Ferraris were out of the fight, fewer competitors to worry about. As for Piquet, I am particularly happy; he is a great driver, a good friend, I consider him the best in Formula 1, and he has the most competitive car. Battling with this combination is an interesting challenge, which certainly enhances an exciting end to the championship. We will go to Kyalami for testing and try to fine-tune our cars in the best possible way. We will try to limit the power to ensure reliability because in the last races, we have encountered some small issues due to the excessive horsepower generated by the engine, negatively affecting the gearbox. In South Africa, we won in 1982, but only we had a competitive turbo engine. Now, Brabham is stronger".
Dreams for Ferrari do not fade at dawn but in the unusually warm afternoon of an English autumn day. Nelson Piquet's victory and Alain Prost's second place practically condemn René Arnoux. There is still a glimmer of hope; a victory in the last race in South Africa could revitalize the Frenchman, but the success that seemed within reach has perhaps definitively slipped away. Motorsport is like that; a single wrong day, as experienced in the European Grand Prix, can overturn predictions and extinguish illusions. One can speak of one's own misfortune and others' luck, but at the end of a racing season, the balance puts everything back in equilibrium and rewards, except for exceptions, those who have given more. Ferrari certainly did not deserve criticism for the effort expended and for what they were technically capable of doing once again. On the tire problems with evident repercussions, many factors come into play, from the choice of drivers to that of suppliers. Here, we come to the issue of tires, which in Formula 1 are crucial. In 1981, Ferrari had Michelin radials, proven to be a winning weapon in that championship. At the beginning of the year, Ferrari opted for Goodyear, a company with a rich history and experience, but the marriage proved unhappy. The technicians at the Maranello team didn't complain (and couldn't have done so). In the race, precious points, potential placements that could have adjusted the situation even without a victory, disappeared because Ferrari's tires couldn't withstand the comparison with those of rival teams. No blame can be attributed to the drivers - Arnoux, who raced with great determination, and Tambay, who performed consistently and could have secured a good third place. René Arnoux, a tired and bitter Arnoux, explains his helplessness:
"I couldn't keep up with Piquet and Prost. If there had been a Lotus at the front with a driver not in the title fight, I probably wouldn't have taken risks and would have settled. Instead, I had to drive to the limit, and I had no grip. The brakes, of course, were pushed beyond measure. When I stopped at the pits to recover, soft rear tires were mounted. Five laps, and they were done".
Patrick Tambay delivered a textbook race, but it was affected by tire issues and the inevitable off-track excursion with locked brakes due to the car's instability. At this point, there's little to say.
Ferrari can still win the Constructors' World Championship and has a slim chance of winning the Drivers' World Championship. Mauro Forghteri, with a lot of pragmatism, says:
"Let's forget it; we can't base our chances on the misfortunes of others".
On Monday, September 26, 1983, Enzo Ferrari will clarify the plans for his team in 1984 in Maranello, revealing decisions regarding the drivers after all the recent rumors. The Modenese constructor will once again be forced to start from scratch, with the uncertainty of having to make more difficult choices. The 1984 World Championship will be even more challenging as other teams strengthen, and cars with turbo engines from Renault, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, and Honda proliferate. It's a formidable challenge. The memories of what could have been achieved this year will weigh even heavier. Ferrari has resurrected many times when it seemed defeated, but miracles are not easily repeated.
"Enzo Ferrari received tonight at Mannello the drivers René Arnoux and Michele Alboreto, who will drive the Ferrari Formula 1 in the 1984 World Championship. Engineer Ferrari wishes to express to Patrick Tambay the grateful appreciation of the House for his intelligent and competent work as a test driver and pilot".
With this brief statement, the Maranello team reveals its future and, at the same time, announces a historic decision: the hiring of an Italian driver after eleven years of foreigners. The last one had been Arturo Merzario in 1973. Since then, the constructor, troubled by pressures and controversies that involved him personally, had not wanted to open the doors of Mannello to Italian drivers. Ferrari thus keeps the promise made last year, saying:
"When Alboreto asks us for a car, we will be happy to give it to him".
The contract signed by the Italian driver also puts an end to the swirl of rumors about various names that had been circulating for some time. Alongside Alboreto, René Arnoux remains, who perhaps had the advantage of still theoretically being in the running for the world title. Patrick Tambay must leave, with many thanks and farewells. Logically, he is removed due to the negative results in the last part of the season (and perhaps due to deteriorating relations with the sports director, Marco Piccinini). Patrick is an excellent driver and, above all, an intelligent, open, and sincere man. Probably, given the friendship between Ferrari and Renault, Tambay should almost certainly move to the French team alongside Alain Prost, replacing Eddie Cheever (who has not renewed his contract). Michele Alboreto faces a very difficult task. Not only because he has become a Ferrari driver but because he will finally have the opportunity to express himself to the fullest and fight for the world title as he has dreamed for years. The comparison with teammate René Arnoux will be stimulating and interesting. In the meantime, Ferrari seems to want to erase the memory of the defeat at Brands Hatch. Enzo Ferrari has always considered himself a stirrer of men and ideas. It cannot be said that even on this occasion, he has not acted promptly. The Maranello team will aim to win the Constructors' World Championship in the last race of the season, where they lead the standings with an 11-point advantage over Renault. At Kyalami, on Saturday, October 15, 1983, Arnoux will also play the only card available to try to win the world title against Prost and Piquet.
"I know it's an impossible task. But I won't consider myself beaten until the last meter of the race. I have to win, hope that Prost doesn't get more than sixth place, and Piquet doesn't go beyond fifth. I hope that the fight between the Brabham and Renault drivers gives me some chance of getting in. They will also be in difficulty".
Regarding compatibility with Alboreto, the Frenchman has expressed his opinion several times.
"When you get into a Formula 1 car, nothing else matters. Ours is an individual sport. I know Michele is a guy who goes fast, drives with intelligence, and also with a good dose of aggressiveness. It will be an extra incentive for me if necessary".
As for the Italian driver, who grew up in Tyrrell, the considerations are more or less the same.
"The important thing is to get to Ferrari, have the opportunity to fight for the world title. Of course, having good relations with everyone on the team is an advantage. And I have no intention of having problems. When you pull down the visor of the helmet before the start, however, you have to forget everything. If I have done anything in the world of motorsport so far, it's because I managed to focus on driving".
Reached at his home in Switzerland, Patrick Tambay says he is surprised and quite sad about Ferrari's decision not to renew his contract.
"I gave my best, and I hoped to receive different recognition. Honestly, I didn't think I would be left out".