Although it was born at 14:30 on January 6, 1982, it was not brought by the Epiphany, as someone - ironically - claims. The new Ferrari Formula 1, defined 126 C2, is the result of the most advanced automotive technology at the time conceivable in Italy. It is a car that is substantially different from the CK that preceded it, even if the experience gained in 1981 served to set its characteristics. The result of many months of very intense work, of difficult and meticulous research is a car that seems to have its own precise identity. Low bodywork, driver's seat rather unbalanced forward, a much more missile-like profile than that of the old model. In summary, these are the first outstanding data:
- Lower weight (595 kilograms with water and oil, compared to over 615 kilograms on the CK);
- A chassis built with a honeycomb mix of aluminum and carbon fiber;
- New narrower transverse gearbox with ZF self-locking differential;
- A more powerful engine.
Even the aerodynamics is revised and corrected. After repeated tests in Turin in the wind tunnels of Fiat and Pininfarina, there is an attempt to obtain, thanks also to different wing profiles, a better ground effect. The higher stresses to which the car will be subjected will be absorbed by this innovative chassis, studied with American aeronautical and space techniques and materials by engineer Harvey Postlethwaite, hired by the Modenese company in the middle of last season. A rigid structure, as well as harder suspensions, to avoid those torsions that had caused big problems in the past.
"Hopefully we've taken a good step forward, because I only have fun when I win; and frankly, it's been a while since race Sundays have been very cheerful for me. A step forward that I hope is the right one because now it is very easy to make mistakes. If everything we have achieved on paper and in theory, will be valid in practice, we can beat everyone. Otherwise we will have to continue working".
Admits Enzo Ferrari, who then goes on to say:
"We continue to experiment on the Comprex and we also have a couple of other studies underway. But we are starting to make do with what we have".
Frank Williams had stated in the previous days that the ratio of turbocharged to naturally aspirated engines is favorable to the former:
"Maybe he would like a 3500 cm³? He would do well to say such things. In any case, up to now the world titles have been won by cars with traditional engines".
While focusing on the problems of chassis and bodywork, Ferrari did not forget the engine that it continued to develop. The turbines are of a new type, more precise is the electronically controlled direct injection which is a bit of the turbo secret. The words will seek confirmation in the facts. The car will run immediately first at Fiorano and then at Le Castellet, while a second team will go from January 11 to Kyalami to test an updated 1981 model. However, it is certain that at least two 126 C2s will make their debut in the South African Grand Prix. Engineer Mauro Forghieri is the head of the powerful technical staff that created the new 126 C2 turbo, and is therefore the best person to reveal the unveiling secrets of the Ferrari that will try to win the Formula 1 world title:
"First of all, it must be specified that this is a completely new car. It's not just the chassis that's new, but the entire mechanics and aerodynamics of the car. We managed to save about forty kilos of weight, lightening the monocoque with new materials, but we also reduced other volumes, filed here and there, including the engine. The secret, therefore, lies above all in the total work, a commitment that involved all one hundred and seventy men of the Ferrari racing department, with its eight engineers. Fifty people worked on the chassis, which was the most innovative part for us. The use of aeronautical-type materials forced us to change the type of workmanship. We had to implant an authentic furnace for firing the various components and gluing them together. Since we started the construction of the 126 C2, we only took two days off at Christmas and New Year. On the eve of both holidays we were in front of the kiln waiting for our special bread. With these materials you can't make mistakes, their cost is very high. I don't think I'm wrong if I say that some components cost a hundred times more than traditional automotive ones. Like in the construction of airplanes. But we didn't accomplish anything revolutionary. We have only tried to use the best that modern technology has to offer. Around the bodywork there is - as I have already said - a completely new car. Different from the previous models is the weight distribution, new are the front suspensions, new are the side wings. In addition, the bodywork is totally sealed in the bellies and in the lower part. This means we should get a remarkable ground effect. There has been talk of 580 maximum engine horsepower. How did we get that far? Always with application. We perfected the electronic control unit that controls the injection, and we found small tricks to improve the grip. We managed to cover up to six hundred and seven hundred kilometers without any signs of fatigue".
In the version of the Ferrari 126 C2, presented on Wednesday 6 January 1982 in Maranello, a medium-sized front wing is fitted, but the abolition of this aerodynamic part on certain circuits is also foreseen. As it was already announced some time ago, Ferrari has chosen the way of the composite chassis, abandoning the traditional tubular trellis structure with aluminum cladding, which is considered outdated by the current technological evolution. The new monocoque is made in Maranello with the contribution of aeronautical materials such as carbon fiber, Nomex, which is an aramid resin, and sandwich panels that are composed of two sheets of aluminum with a honeycomb in between glued to both sheets. The main secret of the new car is in fact the glue: throughout the body there is no screw or a rivet to get united the various elements, but everything is glued with very refined techniques.
At Ferrari they also point out that there are some unknowns regarding the ability of the new materials to withstand the other temperatures generated by the turbo engine; but obviously all measures have been taken to keep well insulated those parts subject to the most intense heat (about 300 degrees) that is concentrated in the area of the two turbochargers and their control valves. What are the advantages expected from the new structure? Essentially two, namely a lower weight and greater torsional strength and impact resistance, compared to the solution in aluminum and steel. It will have a winning combination formed by the great power of the turbo, and a better road holding thanks to the new body; and don't forget the work carried out, as mentioned, at the Fiat and Pininfarina wind tunnels, in order to improve the relationship between drag and downforce.
In Italy people think that maybe this is the good time that the English will no longer say that Ferrari is just a good engine with four wheels thrown around, since on Thursday 7 January 1982 the new 126 C2 driven by Gilles Villeneuve goes very fast. The car approaches the Fiorano track record, in its current configuration, with a time of 1'08"50. The record was set on 20 November, when the same driver was timed at 1'08"43. The Canadian completes about thirty laps, many of which at a fast pace. If we consider that all the adjustments had to be made on the car, the result is truly remarkable. Didier Pironi, who participates in the tests with an updated 1981 car, goes down to 1'08"8. If the tests will allow it, the car will be sent to Le Castellet for further verification, before the trip to South Africa. In the Ferrari clan, the comments on the times obtained are, as usual, cautious. Engineer Forghieri admits:
"We believe we are on the right track".
On Friday 8 January, during the first real test day after the previous day's tuning, Gilles Villeneuve, really wild and enthusiastic about the car's performance, sets the new record of the small private track, setting a time of 1'07"10 at an average speed of 160.920 km/h. If we consider that the previous limit was 1'08"43, such an improvement seems exceptional and shows how the car has the characteristics to be competitive during the season. Moreover, Villeneuve completes about sixty laps without any major problems. The same car is then driven by Didier Pironi, who gets the time of 1'08"70 after a few laps, only fifteen. While Pironi will go to Kyalami for the training for the South African Grand Prix with an updated 1981 car, from Monday Villeneuve will be at Le Castellet with the new one.
The Formula 1 World Championship is about to start, and while ten thousand kilometers away, on the Kyalami track, with thirty-five degrees of temperature, the engines are already roaring for the first free practice, in the cold and ice hitting Northern Europe the strategies for a season that on paper promises to be one of the most exciting of recent years are being completed. The parallel between the French capital and the South African circuit is not random and has a common denominator: Renault. The Parisian company, the number one favorite in the world challenge, on January 12, 1982 presented its sports programs, offering the opportunity to begin an analysis of the situation before the races. In the magnificent workshop-laboratory of Viry-Chàtillon, located in the banlieue, the general manager of Renault Sport, former driver Gerard Larrousse, reveals the secrets of the French team, starting with a retrospective of the past season and ending with the objectives of the season that is about to open. Larrousse, surprisingly, does not declare that his team is aiming for the world championship, as he did the previous year, and as everyone would have thought:
"We will live from race to race, we hope to always send one of our drivers on the podium".
The reason for so much prudence is intuitable: Renault must absolutely win the title; it has been involved in Formula 1 for six years and another failure would be difficult to bear by public opinion and by the top management of the French car company. But in the world of sport we must also deal with the unpredictable and experience teaches us not to tempt fate too much.
"We were supposed to and could have won in '81, but we were blocked for three reasons. From the accidents during the year, from the return of the mini-skirts that forced us to revise the car, and from being able to send the RE 30 on the track, very competitive, only in the second part of the championship. The balance, with three victories and six pole positions was satisfactory, but not exceptional. When Ferrari, debuting with the turbo, won in Monte Carlo it was the hardest moment. We didn't have the courage to go home".
Beyond that, Renault is preparing for this definitive assault on the title. The new RE 30 B has nothing revolutionary, but it is powerful, thanks to its five hundred and fifty horses, reliable, fast, well refined in all details, and with an almost perfect aerodynamics. The chassis is lightened and stiffened, the suspension modified, the bodywork is even more robust. The work carried out in Viry Chàtillon has been very intense: with the most modern means, from the computer to the advanced electronics, to unthinkable robotic test rooms, with one hundred and seventy people available, of which seventeen engineers, Renault Sport is committed in an exceptional way. The malignant, that is the journalists linked to Ligier, the other French team, whose owner is a friend of the President of the French Republic Mitterrand, say that the budget of the team is more than sixteen billion Italian liras. In short, the teams are ready to fight right from the first tests that begin to take place in Kyalami, since on January 13, 1982 Nelson Piquet, with his Brabham-Bmw, further improves the unofficial record of the circuit with a time of 1'08"4, taking into account that the official limit is 1'10"0, obtained by Jabouille in 1980.
But, beyond the pure technical data, the ranking drawn up at Kyalami during the tests leads to other very interesting observations, partly taken for granted in the forecasts, partly surprising, such as the leap forward of Didier Pironi who passed, with the updated '81 Ferrari, from 1'10"8 to 1'08"8. The English teams feared the arrival of supercharged engines, and they were right; only the astute Ecclestone got the BMW turbo, while the others were in difficulty. The difficult moment invests Williams and continues for Lotus, Tyrrell and maybe also for McLaren. All these teams have focused a lot on the improvement of the previous models, working on aerodynamics, on the lightening of the cars and in the mechanical part, but this probably will not be enough to counter Brabham, Ferrari and Renault, at least in terms of speed performance. Perhaps Williams and Chapman, hoping to win their war on the regulations, have rested on their laurels; in any case, aiming at the world title will not be easy for the teams with more powerful engines, because too many factors contribute to form the necessary requirements to win.
And here the first surprise: it is true that Renault with its new RE 30 B goes on track with a day of delay compared to the competitors, but Arnoux and Prost appear quite far from Brabham and Ferrari. One of the possible reasons for this gap between the French cars and the best seems to be the tires, since the first four cars use Good'year tires, and it could be that Michelin is behind in the development of its tires. And this would be a big trouble for the transalpine car manufacturer favored, on paper, for the World Championship race. Problems in Formula 1, however, affect everyone and without warning: in fact, even Ferrari has its own, after the first days of euphoria for the excellent performance of the 126 C2. At Le Castellet, in favorable weather conditions, Gilles Villeneuve could only run eleven laps on the long track of Paul Ricard, because the engine dropped probably due to the imperfect functioning of the heat exchangers. This was not in the plans, and Villeneuve, who was already glimpsing the possibility of setting a new circuit record, does not look happy at all.
On January 14, 1982, the free practice sessions underway for the South African Formula 1 Grand Prix never cease to amaze: Nelson Piquet drops to 1'07"7, 3"3 below the official circuit record. His Brabham laps at an average speed of 223 km/h, reaching a peak close to 330 km/h on the fastest straight stretch of the circuit. The performance of the reigning World Champion and of his car is amazing, but also Pironi's Ferrari improves further, reaching 1'07"86. Note that the Frenchman's car is the old model, only updated and not yet the new 126 C2. Everything seems to proceed regularly, except that on January 15, during the test in preparation for the Grand Prix, Marc Surer goes off the track and fractures his leg; Arrows will replace him with Brian Henton, former Toleman driver. But on Sunday, January 17, 1982, when there are only a few days left before the start of the Formula 1 World Championship and all interest should be focused on technical and sporting matters, after the quarrels between Fisa and Foca (Jean-Marie Balestre and Bernie Ecclestone spend the weekend together in Sun City, the South African gambling city), it is the drivers who trigger a new fierce contrast between the parties, and no one knows how it will end.
At the origin of this situation some clauses of the 1982 regulations, agreed on December 18, 1981 in Paris by the Formula 1 commission. In order to grant the super-license necessary to participate in the maximum championship, Fisa asks the drivers to sign a document in which they release from any responsibility in case of accident both the sporting authorities and the organizers. Evidently, the International Federation wants to put its shoulders on the safe side after what happened with Clay Regazzoni, who had asked - without obtaining it - a conspicuous compensation to the Long Beach organizers. In addition, in a particular clause, of which we do not know the exact text, the drivers themselves should accept a kind of bond with the teams they belong to, which would be free to sell and buy them at will, to avoid the unilateral termination of the contract between the team and the drivers, as had happened at the end of 1980 when Alain Prost had left McLaren to go to Renault, although because he was still linked to the Colnbrook team. Niki Lauda, at his return to the activity after two years, refuses to sign, as well as Villeneuve, Pironi, Giacomelli, De Cesaris, Laffite and Arnoux. The document seems to have been signed by Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Elio De Angelis, who however would not have read carefully what they were signing.
"I'm not willing to give in. I will never let myself be dragged into such an adventure, I don't want to put myself in the conditions of a slave. On the contrary, I'm happy to be back to racing in order to work with Gpda, the Formula 1 Drivers Association. I hope that in a short time, at most six months, we will be able to turn the situation around".
Declares Niki Lauda, and the same thought is proposed by Gilles Villeneuve:
"I don't want to find myself having to pay a $5.000 fine because I didn't hug Balestre and Ecclestone on the podium, I'm just glad Alan Jones quit. The Australian was an element of discord among us drivers and did everything his team-manager said without ever protesting, or hinting at the slightest rebellion. And he dragged his other colleagues along with him, breaking a fairly united front. The arrival of Lauda, who is a name with a certain charisma, will certainly give us positive results. I too am without a superlicense for the time being. But I don't think they will dare to do anything to us: even those who have signed are with us. I hope that we will not be forced to come to a head-on clash, that we will discuss and come to a solution. We, in any case, are ready for anything".
But for the moment, in spite of everything, the attention is on the tests that will continue in the following days, as all the teams are present and the first real indications on the values of the field can be had. The championship that is about to begin will perhaps open a new era in Formula 1, since in a few races we will know if the supercharged engine has reached a stage of maturity and reliability, and if it is destined to retire the old naturally aspirated engines. As it is known, the supporters of this thesis are the English, who use the Cosworth, and the most convinced of all, naturally, is the same Duckworth, that is the man who has built this phenomenal eight cylinders fifteen years before.
Duckworth, in fact, says that it is possible to make a turbocharged V12 with 800 horsepower, but he ignores that the thermal and mechanical problems would be enormous, since he himself said that already at 600 horsepower the reliability of the supercharged engine is questionable. Duckworth adds that, unlike the volumetric type, the turbo works without requiring power. However, the presence of the supercharger is known to create significant exhaust backpressure problems. About heat exchangers for compressed air, the English designer uses this expression: today they are accepted. But in reality, such devices have never been prohibited. If at the time of cars with positive displacement compressor they were not considered necessary, it was only because at that time alcohol-based fuel was used, with an enormous cooling power that gasoline does not have.
We should ask ourselves why Fisa and Foca do not consider alcohol as an alternative fuel, since there is so much talk about it for production cars. In this way Formula 1 would go back to acquiring an even minimal motivation as a research tool for production. Today this is no longer the case: Formula 1 itself even draws from space research instead of stimulating the progress of everyday cars. In the turbo versus aspirated contest today we find four supercharged engines, Ferrari, Renault, Hart, BMW, and three aspirated, Alfa Romeo, Matra and of course Cosworth. Two others are waiting officially behind the scenes, namely the Alfa Romeo engine, already ready, and the Matra in the process of development, and others have been talked about for some time.
It is clear that when the two mentioned brands will switch to turbo, Cosworth will be alone, putting in crisis those teams that could not make another choice. But in the environment it is thought that, even if he is opposed to it, Duckworth has a supercharged engine at his disposal, all the more because his experiences with this type of engine are highly positive, given that the Cosworth Dfx Indianapolis has already been built in about one hundred and fifty units and has won four editions of the classic American race. This is the year of decisions, then. Perhaps the last year of the aspirated engine. The current Formula 1 is sixteen years old, it came into force in 1966 and, as far as the engine is concerned, it has not been changed: three liters displacement for aspirated engines and one and a half liters for supercharged ones. At a certain moment a twelve-cylitre limit was introduced, actually superfluous because the experiment of the sixteen-cylinder Brm engine had already been abandoned. There were rumors, however, of a a potential Japanese sortie with a twenty-four-cylinder engine.
If we retrace the steps taken in those years, we discover that the progress was really remarkable: the V12 Ferrari of 1966 had 360 horsepower, that is 120 horsepower per liter of displacement, which was already a good power. The following year the Italian company declared 390 horsepower and the legendary Cosworth was born, whose power, by contract, had to be at least 400 horsepower; the first test was reassuring, because 408 horses were read on the test bench. Then the twelve-cylinder engines, due to the greater fractionation of the displacement and therefore the possibility to turn faster, began to provide more horsepower than the Cosworth. This engine, however, has always defended itself well by virtue of its low weight, compactness, lower consumption and the large number of units in each race.
So it came to 1976: the twelve-cylinder engines delivered up to 500 horsepower, while the Cosworth was attested on 470 horsepower. Some particularly cared versions provided 480. In 1977 here is the era of the turbo with the brave initiative of Renault. For several years the power of the supercharged engine, which was considered disadvantaged compared to the aspirated one because of the displacement ratio and the obligation to use gasoline instead of alcohol, was higher, but without reliability. With the presence of Ferrari in the field of supercharging, many technicians thought that this was the right choice, and a race for power began, of which there is no end in sight.
Today 600 horsepower is possible with the turbo, even if in the race it is better to keep to lower levels for safety reasons. That's a good 400 horsepower per liter of displacement. If we relate them to weight, we have four horses for every kilo of engine. An exciting result, made possible by the progress of metallurgy, electronics and calculators; computers, in fact, make it possible to refine the sizing of engine parts to the maximum. In addition, since Michelin's monopoly at the beginning of last season, the situation regarding tires in Formula 1 has changed radically. There are now four industries involved in this sector. In addition to the French company, there is the American Goodyear, the English Avon and the Italian Pirelli. The winners' side in the choice of the most competitive teams is dictated by the giants Michelin and Goodyear, who equally distribute the teams with the greatest chance of victory.
There is a fierce battle between the two companies: let's not forget that last year the French brand started the championship by supplying all the teams and that only after the European Grand Prix did Goodyear return to racing, supplying some of the best cars. So much so that Michelin, even though it won a greater number of races, in the end saw the theoretical world title of tires go to a car, Brabham, fitted with competing tires. The construction of tires, as well as that of single-seaters, is constantly evolving and, as is well known, changes from circuit to circuit depending on the characteristics of the track, temperatures and weather conditions. Between tires of different types, that is, between the hardest used for racing and the softest for qualifying, there are differences of four to five seconds per lap. Michelin's policy this year is very precise. Pierre Dupasquier, technical manager of the French manufacturer admits:
"With our radials we are aiming at one team for the world championship: Renault. With our friend Larrousse we have done all the studies and designs, with results I would say more than satisfactory. We also have Alfa Romeo, McLaren and Ligier that obviously we will never neglect, especially if they should become particularly evident".
For Goodyear, which uses conventional tires, the top teams are Brabham and Ferrari, two turbocharged teams. And as Lee Gaug, boss of the American company, states:
"We have prepared well for this season, making a very wide range of tires. Ferrari, for example, needs tires that are slightly softer than those used by Brabham. The compounds are evolving practically from day to day, and if needed we are ready to change direction in no time. But I don't think our tires will give any major problems, especially when it comes to durability and grip over distance. The other teams that we have under contract are Williams, Lotus and Tyrrell, for which there will be equal treatment".
Pirelli has entered Formula 1 quietly. The Italian company is accustomed to acting with extreme caution and has chosen, among the teams that remained free, those with which it could have done the most experiments. This explains the close collaboration with Toleman and Osella, and the supplies to Arrows, March and Fittipaldi. Engineer Mario Mezzanotte declares:
"They are not big names, but people who hope to get results. They don't have absurd demands, and at the same time they provide us with enough data to be able to work thoroughly. For the first seven races of the year we'll be competing on circuits that we don't know, at least as far as Formula 1 is concerned, and this is one of the reasons why we've been advised to start humbly, to learn and be ready, perhaps in 1983, to reach higher levels".
Finally, little Avon. The English company, which inherited men and technology from Goodyear itself when it had left, has a fairly limited task. Some say that some Avon types are even better than the corresponding American tires. Returning to the chronicle of the tests, the Ferrari 126/C2, arrived on Sunday, January 17, 1982, are immediately set up. The Modenese company, among the novelties presented, also has skids for the side straps that instead of being made of ceramic are made of special material, with parts also made of walnut wood. Obviously, after the times obtained by Brabham and Renault you will want to see the first direct comparison with Ferrari. Alain Prost says that the pole position will certainly be under 1'06"0, that is four seconds under the track record.
Monday, January 18, 1982 Niki Lauda is the best of the drivers with cars powered by naturally aspirated engines, scoring the fifth time in free practice and almost two seconds behind his teammate John Watson. The McLaren mechanics support him with solicitude, and the technicians listen carefully to him at every pit stop. Quietly lighting a cigarette, the Austrian driver amiably comments on his first real day back in Formula 1. The Austrian driver hasn't changed much; he only indulges in the smoking habit that he didn't have before, but otherwise his driving and testing skills don't seem to have diminished.
"Not bad for an old man like me, I'm not even tired".
Smilingly affirms Lauda, who then goes on to say:
"The car is really good, much better than the Brabham I left in 1979. There is a lot to work on, we have already made small changes and also some progress. We can go even stronger. I don't think, however, that I will be able to return to winning's way soon. First of all, it will take some time for me to be in top shape, to regain the feeling and the eye I once had. Testing is one thing, racing is another. And then there is a very important factor. Formula 1 has changed radically, the turbo engine has taken over. There is nothing to do with Renault, Brabham and Ferrari on the performance level. We are two different categories: in one runs a kind of Formula Ford, in the other supercharged cars. And these are on a much higher level. Only chance could favor me, the bad luck of others. However, I would be content to be among the first three in my class, the one with traditional engines".
Doesn't Lauda believe that if he had chosen Brabham instead of McLaren, he would have had a better chance?
"Sure, but it's not certain that Ecclestone would have wanted me. And then this way I have less responsibility, and I can go up gradually. No, I'm happy with how I am, with the path I've taken".
Talking about the drivers' front, the Austrian confesses:
"Of the new drivers I found on the circuit I can't make any judgments yet. Above all, I would like, in this moment, that all the drivers were united, that we were able to enforce those safety rules that are always forgotten. These cars, technically speaking, are madness and they go faster than those with mobile skirts".
And of Ferrari he says:
"Ferrari can return to aim for the world title, the premises are there. But it is a question that cannot be answered with certainty. At Maranello they are working seriously and I believe that Ferrari can have a great season. But the odds do not play in its favor: we must remember that Renault runs with the turbo for six years and must absolutely win the title and that BMW does not come out without having the cards in order to get positive results".
Lauda is lucid, serene, concentrated. He seems to have miraculously found the motivation that led him to be an exceptional driver, and he has also resolved all the problems with the sponsors - on his suit he has both the Parmalat and Marlboro names - who shared the cost of the Austrian's last payment, a good $400.000. In short, at least for now, the return of the two-time World Champion is not a bluff, but a solid and beautiful reality for Formula 1. In the penultimate day of tests, held on Monday, January 18, 1982, Alain Prost further lowers the unofficial record of the Kyalami circuit, bringing it to the incredible time of 1'05"83 (at an average of 224.280 km/h). And the French driver thinks he can improve during the official qualifying. The supercharged engines dominate once again the scene, as Pironi with the new Ferrari scores the second time, Villeneuve the third and Arnoux the fourth.
Ferrari, at this time, is mainly concerned with tuning the new 126 C2: after having found some small inconveniences, they try to increase the air intakes of the engine, which at the moment prove to be insufficient. In Marannello's team there is enough confidence and both drivers think they can fight for the pole position in the South African Grand Prix. The best of the drivers with a traditional engine car is, as mentioned, Niki Lauda, author of an excellent 1'08"91. But at the same time the controversy between the drivers and Fisa continues, which wants to make them sign a special agreement to deliver the superlicense needed for Formula 1. The Drivers' Association will meet on Tuesday 19 January 1982 at 6:00 p.m. to take a decision, and if all will agree they can try to force the block of to the International Federation, obtaining the cancellation of some of the paragraphs they do not like, such as the one concerning the discharge of responsibility in race.
In the Formula 1 environment, a clamorous action by the drivers is not excluded, but a clarification is awaited moment by moment: if the drivers decide to arm wrestle with Balestre, a protest and actions to delay the race could also take place. There are many who are betting that this will be their season, and in the shadows, without appearing too much, there is a driver who also aspires to the world championship. He is an Italian: Riccardo Patrese. The driver from Padova is trying not to be seen too much, staying in the shadow of Piquet, the reigning World Champion. Riccardo doesn't speak much, but he smiles, already thinking about the next competitions, and positive results. For him, his dream is near, the team that he has, after leaving Arrows, is a winning one. Patrese, is not afraid of the comparison with his teammate:
"No fear for sure. On the contrary, I can't wait to confront myself, but not only with Piquet. I want to see my strengths with everyone, how much I can do. This will also be a satisfaction. For the moment I haven't had much chance to try the new turbocharged car, but I'm convinced that in a short time I'll master the car".
Riccardo doesn't think it will be easy to get to the top:
"No, not that. There are many people aiming at the title, not only us at Brabham. The battle will be very hard, very heated. But that's what I like, even if in the uncertainty you can get nervous. I think I am a good fighter, I have character and tenacity. So this can be my championship".
"Then, right on the track of Kyalami I have some accounts to settle; a victory missed by a little, a broken engine when I could already see the finish line. I should make up for this bad luck. That would be the least that fate has to give me".
"Wouldn't I rather be with an Italian team? Of course, being with a home team would please me. But I don't think there is currently one as competitive as Brabham, except for Ferrari. In Maranello, however, they didn't want me and so I had to make do somehow. I don't hold any grudge, on the contrary, I keep thinking about the opportunities lost or not realized. I'd like to, yes I would. But now I only think of myself".
Riccardo Patrese is quite calm; he has trained a lot and has a lean physique.
"I have prepared myself thoroughly for this season, training almost every day both physically and mentally. I've been doing a lot of muscle work and brain work on the concentration level. I hope I don't make any mistakes; I hope everything goes well. Who are the opponents I fear the most? Piquet, of course. You should never underestimate him, if he has become World Champion he will be a very strong driver. But I don't look at rivals, I think mostly about myself. I'm the one who has to drive the car, I'm the one who has to drive as hard as possible. If I can do that, everything will become easier. If someone goes faster than me, then I'll give up. Until this moment, however, I'm not convinced".
But Riccardo is not the only one aiming at the title; there are many who think that this is the right season. There is Pironi looking for revenge, Renault that must absolutely get to the title because it could have problems next year, there is a series of outsiders who, if not immediately, in a few races will try to reach the top, and there is Villeneuve with his Ferrari, who talking about the South African Grand Prix admits:
"I think it is already a good opportunity to collect some precious points for the world title. I don't think it will be an easy race because there are too many candidates for victory. But as always I'll try to start in the lead and then control. If the car doesn't have any uncertainties, I don't think there will be any great difficulty in getting to the front. I don't talk about full success, a bit for superstition, a bit because there are still some small problems. Renault and Brabham are very fast, especially in the fastest parts of the circuit, but they also have a car that has a great grip in the mixed part of the track".
Gilles thinks that his teammate Pironi will also fit into this six-way fight:
"Of course. Didier is a very good driver and he had a lot of bad luck in the past. I hope that he will be able to race to the best of his ability. In this way he will be able to show all his value. For me he's an opponent like the others on the race level, but I'm cheering for him too".
The Canadian doesn't think that there is really no chance for the aspirated engines:
"No, I'm convinced that Watson, Lauda, Laffite also have a chance. Especially if the weather is not very good or if it rains. In fact, if the track were to be wet again as it was yesterday, we would be in more difficulty. The Talbot is a car that goes very fast when there is water on the track".
And leaving a judgment on the return of Niki Lauda:
"A judgment on Lauda's return can only be positive. Apart from the question of our drivers' association, for which he has been a decisive man in these days, I believe that a famous person like Niki can only be useful to Formula 1".
In 1981 the championship ended with a point gap between Piquet and Reutemann: the hope of all the fans is that the season that is about to begin will be at least at the height of the previous one. Tuesday 19 January 1982 the tests end with a big thrill for Niki Lauda: the McLaren driver finds himself in a critical situation, which he solves only thanks to his great skill:
"I was running along the end of the pit straight at full speed when I realized, while braking, that the brake pedal was going down empty. I was just in time to downshift a gear and I went into the curve, almost skidding, with my heart in my throat. The car stayed on the road. I didn't calm down until a few minutes later. I really feared to have a bad accident, to kill myself at the first exit in Formula 1".
In the meantime, Renault continues to improve the record of Kyalami: by now the wall of 1'05" is close. Prost turns in 1'05"44, at the respectable average of 225,759 km/h. Behind the Frenchman, who on the straight runs up to 308 km/h, there are Piquet, Villeneuve (down to 1'06"27), Patrese (1'07"16), Arnoux (1'07"18) and Pironi (1'07"50); the first of the drivers without the supercharged engine is once again Niki Lauda (1'08"97). During the day the young Riccardo Paletti, with his Osella - an old model - suddenly finds himself without control and finishes his test off the track. Paletti reports only a bump to a shoulder, so he is able to participate regularly in his first Formula 1 drivers' meeting. Once the practice is over, Pironi warns:
"Villeneuve is good, but I am there too".
Ferrari and Gilles Villeneuve are now a monolithic piece; if you talk about the Scuderia, immediately the name of the Canadian driver comes to mind. One identifies with the other as an indissoluble binomial. But at the wheel of the Maranello cars there is not only the aviator, the maniac of engines, of skidding, of spinning, the little tough North American who wants to win at all costs. Together with him there is another driver that many teams would like to have, a boy whose career is still very brief, but who has been an enfant prodige and who arrived at Ferrari after three years in Formula 1 last season, after an interesting experience at Tyrrell and Ligier: Didier Pironi, who is the same age as Gilles Villeneuve, has only one victory to his credit, the 1980 Belgian Grand Prix, but has already had time to make a name for himself and to impose himself as one of the fastest and most aggressive drivers. He is of Italian origin, and from the people of Friuli he has inherited the robust physique, the iron will, the desire to grab success. They call him Cicciobello, but the resemblance with the famous doll is only casual. Didier is anything but a maneuverable pilot, and he knows very well where he intends to go. And he says so, without fear of sounding conceited.
"It's logical, almost automatic: my goal is the world title. All drivers who come to Formula 1 only want this. At least at the beginning. And I consider myself almost a rookie, in terms of appetite".
Didier thinks Ferrari will be able to give him a means to the title:
"I am very satisfied with the way it has worked in Maranello. The new car is much better than the old one. We have a good chassis, an excellent engine, effective aerodynamics. Of course, we still have to define many important details, but the base is promising. Ferrari has achieved what we drivers expected. Now it's up to Gilles and me to respond with facts. Psychologically, I feel very charged".
And he doesn't think that having a teammate like Villeneuve could be an obstacle in a way:
"Gilles is one more tough opponent. But, as an old French proverb says, winning without overcoming dangers is a triumph without glory. That's why beating my teammate will be an extra satisfaction".
That means there will be battle:
"A healthy sporting battle. In the first few races of the season everyone will go their own way, claim their own rights. Then, we'll see. If he's far ahead and I don't have a chance, I'll be glad to help him. And I think the intention is mutual. Villeneuve and I are very good friends, and let's not forget that we race for Ferrari. When I was at Ligier some mistakes were made in the management of the team. At Maranello there is too much experience not to avoid them. They will certainly know how to give the right directives at the right time. For 1982, apart from Pironi and Villeneuve, of course, I see Renault very well. But I would not bet, as everyone does, only on Alain Prost. Keep in mind also a certain Arnoux. Last year René was very unlucky. I think he is a right driver to win a world championship. And then there is also Brabham with Piquet. And let's not write off the naturally aspirated engines, they are not dead yet. I would not exclude McLaren and Williams beforehand".
In Kyalami, Carlos Reutemann, the sad gaucho, is less and less cheerful. Despite the fact that the Williams mechanics wore T-shirts with "Dear Carlos" written on them as a greeting and a welcome, Reutemann is not at all happy to have remained in Formula 1. It is true that he has taken a big engagement, the biggest - they say - among all drivers, a sum close to one million dollars, but it is also true that the Argentinean will have to start his ordeal again, his continuous complaining, having to look around and see if the others are going faster. And, in fact, you don't have to wait long to hear his first statements:
"I came back because I didn't know what else to do. But I already know that it won't be a good year for me. I have to prepare myself physically, make the usual sacrifices, keep myself with food, all of that for nothing. Williams, this year, even if it will present a new car in Argentina, is no longer a winning car, at least on all tracks. By now it's the turbo that dominates the situation. There is no turning back. We're going to have B races, watching the others with supercharged engines compete for the world title".
But, if he already knew it was going to turn out this way, why didn't Carlos stay home?
"Honestly, I didn't fully realize what I could have been up against. Turbo engines have made tremendous progress and we are way behind. It's clear that here, in South Africa, the advantages of turbocharging are greater. But it only takes a second to be ahead all the time".
So why didn't he try to go to a turbocharged team?
"I thought about it. But there was no more room. Now they should have two kinds of races, one reserved for them and another for us, of what we might call Formula Ford. I'll at least try to be among the best in this category, but I don't know what drive my team has when they can't win. I'll be battling with old Lauda, with Watson, with buddies from so many fights in the past. Maybe I'll even have fun, but talking about success will be very difficult. I'm sure that I won't be able to aim for the title anymore, at least this year. It's a certainty that I have inside me and that the facts will surely confirm. However, this is not the reason why I will pull my oars in the boat. I will always do my best and try to get the best possible results with the car I have at my disposal. It's not necessarily the case that it's always good for others".
After free practice, Formula 1 will begin official practice on Wednesday, January 20, 1982. The first qualifying round is scheduled from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Or at least this would be the forecast. Because on Thursday, January 21, 1982, the South African Grand Prix, the first round of the World Championship, is in danger of being cancelled with disastrous consequences. The hope that the dispute underway between the drivers and Fisa could be resolved positively, and that the race would be held regularly, is slim to none. Only if the drivers, who escaped from the circuit and took refuge in a hotel in Johannesburg, show up by 9:00 am on Friday, January 22, 1982 willing to come to an agreement with the sporting authorities, will the official practice sessions, which have not been held, be started. Otherwise the race will be definitely cancelled.
This is the situation after a day of very hard controversies with the pilots and the International Federation - the Fisa - protagonists of a clamorous arm wrestle. At the base of this war the contrasting opinions on the super-license imposed by Fisa to the riders in the current season. The two parties, despite numerous attempts at mediation, have not found an agreement and their positions have become so rigid as to cause an unprecedented rupture. Since the arrival of the teams for free practice, it was known that some drivers had not signed the application for the super-license: Villeneuve, Pironi, De Cesaris, Giacomelli, Laffite, Arnoux and Lauda. Other drivers made it known that the signature had been extorted from them in various ways, with threats and hiding the contents of the form itself. This brings us to Wednesday, January 20, when, after a meeting of the Formula 1 Commission, the request of all the drivers to change the regulation regarding the super-license is rejected.
The racers replied that they would not have participated in the South African Grand Prix. During the evening of January 20, however, it seemed that an agreement might be possible; however, during the morning of January 21, the crisis inexorably precipitated. At 8:30 a.m., the drivers were gathered at the Kyalami circuit waiting to meet with Fisa representatives, and in particular with Balestre and Ecclestone, but neither of them showed up. Therefore, at 8:45 a.m., the drivers, who in the meantime have rented a bus and studied a strategy, leave the circuit. It seems like the departure for a trip: laughter, greetings to wives and girlfriends. But almost immediately the drama begins. John McDonald, manager of the March, tries to block the exit with a truck. Then, from the bus Laffite goes down, some fists fly, the vehicle is moved and the bus leaves for a hotel in Johannesburg, the Sunny Side Park. The drivers settle down in a reserved lounge, with drinks and sandwiches, while only Didier Pironi remains on the track for negotiations.
At 9:05 a.m. Balestre and Ecclestone arrive, and they are astonished: the engines should already be running, but of the drivers there is only Pironi, plus the German Mass, who had been asleep. Discussions and negotiations begin, but no agreement can be found. At 11:30 a.m. the time in which the non timed tests should have been carried out expires, with pre-qualification value for Jarier and Paletti (Osella), Fabi and Warwick (Toleman) and Boesel (March). The car with the worst result should have been excluded, but the organizers decide to eliminate all five cars. At 11:45 a.m. the organizers, to protect themselves from possible damage, ask the local magistracy to seize all the single-seaters and their equipment. A little later, at 2:00 p.m., after countless contacts, protests and complaints, one of which, from Pirelli, to have the excluded cars retrained, later accepted, Pironi leaves with a military helicopter to reach his companions in the city hotel.
"There are the bases to reach an agreement. We could get on the track maybe before the evening".
But the mission fails: the thirty companions do not accept the verbal assurances given by Fisa, which would like to have the race disputed and then discuss the matter, so former World Champion James Hunt jokingly offers himself to all the teams to go down to the track, while Elio De Angelis and Gilles Villeneuve delight their colleagues by playing the piano. These are dramatic moments: the drivers have convinced the hotel manager to put the room at their disposal for the night, and the drivers gather mattresses to sleep all together. In the meantime, Guerrero's girlfriend cries, screams, yells and demands to enter; she is granted, and other wives enter with her. Then, Jackie Oliver, owner of Arrows, tries to break down the door, but it is blocked by the piano pushed by the drivers. To avoid any second thoughts, Lauda, Piquet and Pironi will use all their charisma.
In the meantime a Lotus is actually started: moments of tension follow, but it is a joke, it is a mechanic with the suit and the helmet of Elio De Angelis. At 3:00 p.m. the Fisa ultimatum expires: Pironi comes back with a negative answer and the tests of the day are cancelled. The cars are taken to the shed, while the drivers, at the suggestion of the South African stewards, are suspended because they did not show up regularly on the track. Their superlicense is suspended. At 4:00 p.m. Fisa issues a statement confirming the decision of the local sporting commissioners, and inflicts to the thirty-one rebel drivers the unlimited suspension of their superlicense. In the list of names appears also Marc Surer, who is with fractured legs in Bern. At 5:45 p.m., to meet the organizers of the Grand Prix, Fisa grants an exception to the rules: if at least fifteen drivers - according to the Concord Pact - show up on Friday, January 22, 1982 on the track by 9:00 a.m. for practice, and appeal to the sporting authorities, the race will be regularly disputed after only one day of qualifying; otherwise the race will be cancelled. 18:00, Pironi returns to the hotel and makes an official statement:
"We have booked rooms to sleep here in order to avoid pressure from team managers, especially on the less protected drivers. We have no intention to give in to compromises. We have reached this point and we want to go all the way".
At 6:30 p.m. several cars leave the circuit: it is the last attempt of mediation. On board there are Piccinini, sports director of Ferrari, Corbari of Alfa Romeo and Sagé of Renault. They will try to bring the parties closer together, and then go to report the outcome of the dialogue to Balestre and Ecclestone. If the race will be cancelled, as it seems almost inevitable, the South African organizers will ask for over two and a half million dollars in damages, and the amount will have to be paid by the Foca that is responsible for the teams to them. But Bernie Ecclestone, president of the Manufacturers Association (Foca), proves to be the hardest on the drivers: he is the only one, together with his lawyer Max Mosley, to oppose any possible solution to the dispute. Evidently the British manager thinks that if he loses this battle, he will lose control of Formula 1:
"The drivers behaved like irresponsible kids. But the greatest fault is Niki Lauda's, who with his return wanted to show he was a charismatic leader and led this absurd revolt. If the race is cancelled, I will have to retaliate against the racers. I will go to a lawyer in Johannesburg. As for the two drivers of my team, Piquet and Patrese, they can be fired".
If Ecclestone appears furious, his collaborator, Jean Marie Balestre, president of Fisa, maintains a Napoleonic attitude, almost detached. But he doesn't hide his anger towards the pilots, and in particular, although he doesn't name them, Lauda:
"The owner of an airline is leading this rebellion. It would have been much better if he had stayed at home and looked after his own interests. The regulations must be respected by everyone".
While Marco Piccinini, Ferrari's sporting director, admits:
"We have tried every kind of mediation to positively resolve the issue. We have always found ourselves in front of some obstacle from one side or the other. We will still try to convince the parties but it is a desperate task. Ferrari does not find particularly vexatious the document that Fisa has requested the drivers to sign in order to grant the super-license".
On the other hand, from the hotel in Johannesburg where the drivers were locked up, Didier Pironi, as vice-president in charge of Gpda, the association of Grand Prix drivers, made another official statement on behalf of all his colleagues:
"They did not want to give us written guarantees, after the very long negotiations carried out with Balestre and Ecclestone. They only gave us verbal assurances. Too little. They let us know that in the next meeting of the Formula 1 Commission they would have discussed how to eventually modify the regulation. This is not enough for us. None of the drivers wanted to accept. We are not scared: the withdrawal of the superlicense was foreseen, it was one of the risks we had to take. If they want to make a Formula 1 with other people, let them. We are determined. If they don't satisfy us, we'll all go home".
But then, surprisingly, the drivers agreed to compete in the South African Grand Prix, the opening race of the World Championship. This was announced late in the morning by race organizer Robin Binkes, citing the commitment made a few minutes earlier on behalf of his colleagues by Niki Lauda. The South African radio confirms the statements of the organizer of the Grand Prix, specifying that the drivers, having left the hotel where they had gathered and where they spent the night, begin the tests in Kyalami. Didier Pironi, spokesman for the drivers, states:
"We have, it seems, reached a compromise; we will have to have, however, the necessary guarantees".
The Ferrari driver does not want to clarify the terms of the agreement reached on the so-called super-licenses, i.e. the new rules governing the issue of the document required to compete in Formula 1. Yvon Leon, secretary of Fisa, for his part states that in the next meeting of the International Federation, scheduled in Paris in February, the two controversial points of the superlicense will be discussed:
"There has been no commitment to change, only a commitment to discuss it".
Once again, Formula 1 is saved in extremis. The South African Grand Prix could be held, opening the 1982 World Championship. The rebel drivers and the sporting authorities reached an agreement in the morning, which is why with an hour's delay - at 11:00 am - the first free practice and timed trials of the year were held. Guarantors of the armistice are once again the managers of the big car companies, the only the ones who have really worked for a peaceful and immediate solution of the dispute, so much so that the president of Fisa, Jean-Marie Balestre, in communicating that sport still had the upper hand, does't make any other comment but publicly acknowledges the work of the sporting director of Alfa Romeo, Pierluigi Corbari. The tug-of-war between the riders and Fisa was resolved at 10:15 am, when the riders, who had spent the night in the dormitory at Sunnyslde Park, in Johannesburg, announced that they would be going to the circuit to compete.
Previously, since 8:00 a.m. in the morning, it had been a constant coming and going: Pironi from Balestre, the mediators from the drivers and so on, until a solution was found. The strike front, however, had been broken in the meantime. In practice, Jochen Mass never joined the protest: the German asked for understanding to his colleagues, arguing that the situation of his team, the March, did not allow him a different behavior. But there will also be the abandonment by Teo Fabi, the 26-year old from Milan who should make his debut with Toleman. In the main hall, where all the drivers are present, there is no bathroom, so the drivers are forced to use a key that is placed in a dish, to be used in case of need; the drivers then just have to take it, go out, close the hall from the outside, come back and put the key back in its place. During the course of the morning, however, Teo Fabi takes the key and runs away.
"After Fisa had verbally guaranteed us on Thursday that the clauses would be discussed, I did not feel I had to refuse to race".
Toleman's pressure on the driver was such that he was convinced to show up on the track, but Keke Rosberg will say of him:
"He ran like a chicken and lost our respect forever, not because he left but because he betrayed us. He went straight to Ecclestone and Balestre and told them everything we had discussed".
The South African Grand Prix thus kicks off the Formula 1 World Championship, on a circuit located at 1700 meters above sea level and thirty kilometers from Johannesburg, even though the trials are reduced to just one day, held on Friday, January 22, 1982, and the official qualifying session of one hour is practically cut in half due to a sudden storm. The times obtained were not exceptional, comparable to those recorded in the free practice of the previous days, but this was to be expected. The forced stop on Thursday has obviously had its weight, as the tensions endured by the drivers in the last hours: the drivers, even if they don't admit it, are tired. In the meantime, Ecclestone threatens everyone and surrounds himself with a legion of lawyers.
The one who has had to overcome the greatest obstacles is the reigning World Champion, Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian is lynched on a moral level by the owner of his team, Bernie Ecclestone, who is furious for the events of these days, and for the snub suffered in the war with the drivers, and vents his anger on his driver. Ecclestone makes Piquet find all three team cars with the number 2, that of his teammate Riccardo Patrese, who gets away with saying that he had protested as a sign of solidarity, and makes him skip the entire free practice session in the late morning. Moreover, Ecclestone sends the Brazilian to the official Fisa doctor, neurosurgeon Dr. Watkins. This illustrious doctor, after just one look, sanctions that the pilot is not psychologically in the condition to compete. Fortunately, the following fiscal visit of the circuit doctor will give Piquet the green light.
In the meantime, also Morris Nunn, of Ensign, withdraws his car and leaves the Colombian driver Roberto Guerrero without a steering wheel, because Maurer, owner of the Formula 2 team for which Guerrero races, opposes its use, thus triggering a legal battle: Nunn is therefore forced to withdraw his driver but, in a press release, will state that the Colombian would not have raced because he was not in good psychophysical conditions. In the meantime the other drivers do the free practice, while Piquet can get on his car only during the qualifying time and, this time, really with the morale on the ground. The Gpda men, Villeneuve and Lauda, who accompanied him to the infirmary, confirmed their support - the drivers were willing to cross their arms again - but they could not avoid the backlash of Ecclestone's actions. Piquet obtains the second time and is perhaps the favorite for the victory.
Uncertain also the challenge behind the turbos, since Niki Lauda, who risks elimination because of an off-track, wants to emerge, but he will have to battle with Rosberg and Reutemann, with his teammate Watson, also off-track with the McLaren, proving that the accidents of De Cesaris last year were not all the fault of the young Roman, with the good Michele Albereto and with the two Alfas of the same De Cesaris and Giacomelli. A race to be seen, therefore, with Ferrari in a role that in South Africa has brought it luck a couple of times, that of outsider. Villeneuve and Pironi cannot push to the maximum because the former is blocked by the rain when he decides to attack, while the latter due to some problems with the injection system of his 126 C2. Mannello's team, however, seems confident. Williams, on the other hand, which had started 1981 with a formidable one as a double in the first race of the season, at Long Beach, and for the entire championship had been copied, studied by the other teams, now no longer frightens.
"That's an old, ancient car. It can never compete with the others. If Frank doesn't wake up, if he sleeps on his laurels, he'll lose that front row seat that he had just earned".
These days this is the talk of Williams and its owner, Frank Williams. The car in question is the FW07C, the same one that in 1981 had fought until the last race for the world title. They are passed in practice only four months and the Williams, for the supercritics, is already a scrap to throw away, a single-seater that cannot win anymore. It's a bit of a symbol of the current Formula 1: if once designing, building and putting on track a competitive car meant to stay calm at least for an entire year,ers, now this is no longer possible. The evolution of racing cars is continuous, modifications and improvements are made from race to race. Whoever stops is really lost. Obviously, the growth of turbocharged engines, their proliferation has exasperated this situation.
The technical and scientific commitment will be a bit the dominant motive of the season, even if in some tests the old and reliable Cosworth will still emerge. There are already four teams in the because they have supercharged engines, namely Renault, Ferrari, Toleman and Brabham-Bmw, but by mid-year there will be a six-cylinder Matra for Talbot and an eight-, Alfa Romeo. Later, perhaps in 1983, we will see Williams with Honda, Lotus with Toyota and McLaren with Porsche, but for now - and taking for granted the dominance of these 1500 compressed - the fight for the title, except for sensational surprises, should be restricted to Renault, Ferrari and Brabham-Bmw drivers; Toleman is forced to chase because its technical and economic potential is lower.
Renault, Ferrari and Brabham-Bmw are driven by a common denominator, the logical desire to win, because they race mainly for this and certainly not to participate, as a certain De Coubertin said. However, there are slightly different nuances. For Renault, Formula 1 is a commitment on a technical and advertising level. The French company has developed - and continues to develop - turbocharging in its series production. The race therefore becomes a driving force in both respects. It has to be said that, having been in contention for more than six years, the team directed by Gerard Larrousse absolutely must get to the top. The means to do so are there and the drivers, very different from each other, are among the most competitive.
Alain Prost is the best expression of the new generation: he is fast, intelligent and combative, a man who knows how to manage and attack at the same time. His partner, René Arnoux, is perhaps a little more discontinuous but still very fast and spectacular. He lives more by the day, but he must be taken into consideration at every start. The races are a profession of Ferrari: the Formula 1 is for the House of Maranello the diamond point of a production directed towards a sophisticated and competent public and therefore it cannot betray this image. After having turned over a new page and adapted to the future, Ferrari wants to return to the top, to the place that it is almost rightfully entitled to.
In the team Villeneuve has to prove to be a champion: they compared him to Nuvolari, it is said that he is the bravest, the best of all, but apart from winning races, the Canadian has to try to climb the world championship for a definitive consecration. Didier Pironi, on the other hand, should have the task of faithful squire, but then enter the fight if the situation is favorable for him; and the young French driver, from Friuli, has the class to do it. Brabham, finally, must confirm a clear superiority emerged last year, now coupled with the powerful BMW turbo. Nelson Piquet has a world title to defend while for Riccardo Patrese this is a decisive season. The Italian driver plays everything in the confrontation with the Brazilian and with his rivals. He is very good, he has a determination that cannot be found in other drivers, but he still has to prove himself at the top. His, perhaps, is the most difficult commitment.
Saturday 23 January 1982, despite everything, the thirty-third Formula 1 World Championship finally begins. At the start René Arnoux keeps the lead, followed by Alain Prost and Gilles Villeneuve, while the other driver who started from the first row, Nelson Piquet, starts very badly and falls in thirteenth position. The second Ferrari driver, Didier Pironi, climbs to the fourth place, followed by Keke Rosberg, Riccardo Patrese, Jacques Laffite, Michele Alboreto and Carlos Reutemann. Alboreto loses two positions in the following laps, while Reutemann, after having passed the Italian, passes Laffite as well. At the fourth lap Piquet ends his race going off the track at the Crownthorn, and at the fifth lap Patrese takes the fifth position to the advantage of Rosberg; the following lap the Finnish driver is also passed by his teammate Reutemann. At the seventh lap Villeneuve's race ends too, with the turbo engine not working.
So Pironi gets the third position, followed by Patrese and Reutemann. At the fourteenth passage the race lead changes: Alain Prost takes advantage of some lapping and passes Arnoux on the main straight. Four laps afterwards also the other Brabham, the one driven by Patrese, is forced to retire for troubles to the turbo engine. The classification sees Prost in the lead, followed by Arnoux, Pironi, Reutemann, Rosberg, Watson and Alboreto. One more lap and Niki Lauda is in seventh position, passing Alboreto. At the twenty-fourth passage the Ferrari men signal to Pironi to return to the box. The technicians have noticed that a tire, the rear right, is deteriorating. Pironi restarts in eighth position. The French driver is capable of a great comeback passing, in a few laps, first Alboreto, then Lauda. Now the two Renaults have a margin of one minute on the two Williams. The domination of the French cars breaks at the forty-first lap, when Prost is victim of a puncture that forces him to the pits with the right rear wheel on the rim.
Arnoux takes the lead again. Prost loses more than one minute that pushes him to the eighth place of the classification, at one lap from Arnoux. Between the forty-fourth and the forty-fifth lap Pironi passes John Watson and Keke Rosberg, returning third. Arnoux is meanwhile proceeding more slowly because of the vibrations that his car produces, due to the dirt collected by the tires. Prost instead continues his comeback, he splits and passes Lauda; at lap 55 Prost is fourth, after passing Watson and Rosberg. Reutemann gets closer to Arnoux, but at the same time also Didier Pironi and Alain Prost get closer to the Argentinian, so that at the 61st lap both pass him. In a few laps, getting the record of the race in 1'08"27, Prost performs spectacular overtaking, and at the 68th lap ends his pursuit, while the majority of the public does not understand anything. Only one lap and Prost passes Pironi, placing himself second.
The engine of the Ferrari is losing power, so that Pironi is, shortly afterwards, passed again by Carlos Reutemann; more behind Lauda passes, in the meantime, both Watson and Rosberg. At the sixty-eighth lap Alain Prost finally returns to the lead of the race, overtaking Arnoux. At the 71st lap, after being overtaken also by Lauda, Pironi stops at the pits to try to repair the turbo. At four laps to go Carlos Reutemann conquers the second position, passing Arnoux who is more and more in difficulty. At the end of the seventy-seven laps Alain Prost wins his fourth world championship race, preceding Reutemann, Arnoux, Lauda, Rosberg and Watson. In a brief interlude amidst the fierce controversies that tear apart Formula 1, Alain Prost wins the South African Grand Prix as a dominator. For the little Frenchman, this success could also be worth the world title: first of all because it was an excellent start, and secondly because of the atmosphere this could also be the only Formula 1 race of the year.
With his Renault Turbo the French driver has even the possibility to stop at the pits after having demolished a tire, to change four tires, to be lapped, to return to the track and, after an exciting run-up, to win the race with a clear advantage on Carlos Reutemann and on the unlucky teammate René Arnoux. It had not happened since the 1967 Italian Grand Prix, at Monza, with Jim Clark as the protagonist with Lotus, that a competitor managed to get to the first position after being lapped: on that occasion the Scottish driver was unlucky, because he ran out of gas at the Lesmo bend, when he was already in the lead, and the race was won by John Surtees, with Honda. Prost, also favored by the power of his turbocharged car, repeats the feat, but this time all the way to the end, and is therefore registered among the champions who make the history of motor racing. The success of the turbo was practically taken for granted on the track of Kyalami, where the altitude gave a further advantage to the turbocharging.
It was supposed to be the day of the turbo engines and indeed it is, with two of the cars powered by supercharged engines in the top three places. But in reality for these powerful and fast machines it was not a true triumph. Villeneuve stopped on the sixth lap, causing fog to descend on the circuit: a very white cloud, probably due to the failure of the barrel of a cylinder that let water through, signaled the exit of the Canadian, who was in third position, perhaps as far as Johannesburg. Earlier, immediately after the start, Nelson Piquet had already gone off the track: the Brazilian, who started very slowly, was trying to recover. Then, the BMW engine mounted on Patrese's Brabham left the Paduan driver stranded on the eighteenth lap. The German four-cylinder engine started to suffer almost immediately and did not last long. More painful and also unlucky was Pironi's elimination at the end of the race, when the Frenchman's Ferrari was third: the Maranello turbo went out of phase, and Didier's splendid comeback was interrupted.
If the turbochargers prove once again not to be totally reliable, there were those who gave proof of absolute tightness: it is the case of two seniors of Formula 1, the forty years old Carlos Reutemann, second behind Prost, and the ex-retired Niki Lauda, who conquers an exceptional fourth place. The Austrian's race, with a good car, but certainly not up to the standards of the first ones or even the Williams, appears even more aggressive than when he left Formula 1. The final result is quite surprising for the second place of Reutemann and the fourth of Niki Lauda, with two cars with aspirated engines. It is true that this ranking was also determined by the fact that Williams and McLaren have very light cars, under the weight allowed by the regulations, but it is also true that the result is concrete:
"Honestly, before the start I would have signed for a fourth or fifth place. It went well".
Admits Frank Williams. An injection of confidence, then, for those without a turbo. Also many drivers have said that in the next tests (assuming they are held), especially on the most tortuous circuits, the battle will be more balanced:
"When I found myself in front of Arnoux with the Renault, on the slowest part of the track I had to push him. Then, of course, on the straights he would take off as he wanted. It is clear that the turbo still has some problems to solve and it is not always reliable. The speed held by single-seaters with a supercharger perhaps subjects the tires to greater wear. It is therefore likely that many times there will be difficulties with the tires, which we do not have".
Explains Michele Alboreto, confirmed, with seventh place, as the most promising of the young Italian drivers. The same speech was addressed by Carlos Reutemann. The Argentinean made it clear that for him the placement behind Prost is worth a victory:
"If I had obtained the same result last year in Las Vegas, I would now be World Champion. Anyway, my car is going very well and I haven't lost all hope of getting back into the fight for the title. Just in Argentina we will have a new car and I am convinced that our technician, Patrick Head, who stayed in England to work, will be able to further decrease the disadvantage we have against Renault, Brabham and Ferrari".
About Ferrari, the result of the race leaves the team more bitter than disappointed. Pironi could very well be in one of the first three places, but the new 126 C2 is young and competitive, and can only improve. The race served as a practical experience, since there are some details to be reviewed: for example, to intervene on the engine it is necessary to remove the entire upper part of the bodywork, and the work is long and laborious. Of course, it is not easy to have the best of everything, but you can always try. Nevertheless, two pilots do not suffer the negative conclusion of the test:
"These are things that unfortunately can happen. It is difficult to perfectly tune the engine, and if some component goes out of place, the result is immediately the breakage of the engine or the turbines. With an aspirated engine you can always fix it".
Gilles Villeneuve comments philosophically, while Didier Pironi admits:
"It's a world championship car, and I'm willing to drive day and night, to spend whole weeks on the Fiorano track or other circuits, to collaborate with the technicians and make progress. I'm convinced that there will be many good races in the future and for us some great satisfaction".
In spite of everything, therefore, a little optimism still reigns in Formula 1, and a more positive fact emerges: if Prost can already think about the world title, and if the others are convinced that they can beat the Frenchman, this means that there is still a chance to avoid a total collapse.