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#360 1982 West United States Grand Prix

2021-04-22 00:00

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#1982,

#360 1982 West United States Grand Prix

Renault's decision to take part in the US West Grand Prix with lighter cars does not worry Ferrari, nor does it convince the Modenese team to change

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Renault's decision to take part in the US West Grand Prix with lighter cars does not worry Ferrari, nor does it convince the Modenese team to change its attitude. Engineer Forghieri, technical manager, explains:

 

"We will continue to comply with the regulations until the Fia tribunal issues a ruling about the complaint we filed in Brazil against the underweight cars. When there is a final decision, we will take appropriate action".

 

But the interpretation given to the French manufacturer's move is, contrary to what one might imagine, rather positive. It is believed, in fact, that this is a last attempt to force the sporting authorities to make clearer the regulations, since the fact of having publicly denounced that the cars of Prost and Arnoux will be under the minimum allowed weight of 580 kilograms, could lead to a quick solution of the problem. At least that is what is hoped. For Ferrari this is not only a technical issue, but above all a moral one, and one of extreme importance. To demand respect for the law is the least that can be asked after all the attempts - successful - that have been made in recent years by many teams to obtain advantages, such as the use of miniskirts, hydropneumatic dampers and now weight reduction. The role of the House of Maranello is not only to defend its own interests, but also and above all to protect motorsport. If even this last subterfuge were to pass, the conditions for the credibility of Formula 1 would be lacking. If the International Automobile Federation did not understand the delicacy of the situation, it would mean that it was completely failing in its mandate, which should be that of judge-referee.

 

And if the line of irregularity were to prevail, Ferrari would have no choice but to take drastic decisions, including a withdrawal from the World Championship. In the meantime, on March 29, 1982 Carlos Reutemann decides to retire again from racing, and in his place Williams hires the old but always valid Mario Andretti. The official news leaks out in Long Beach, when the English manufacturer Frank Williams communicates the change of registration to the organizers of the USA West Grand Prix. The decision is taken by the South American driver immediately after the Brazilian Grand Prix. Disappointed by the race, and perhaps also impressed by the ability of his teammate Rosberg, the Argentine thinks again to retire, which he had already announced before the beginning of the season. A new afterthought, therefore, of the tormented and tormenting Carlos, who has bitterly regretted having decided to return to Formula 1. Evidently he no longer has the steady nerves and constancy for meticulous preparation. From Phoenix, Arizona, Andretti responds very cheerfully to the questions he is asked:

 

"I am happy that at over forty years old they still remembered me for Formula 1. I will race the Long Beach Grand Prix and then we will see. At this moment I have many advertising contracts to race in the United States, and I don't know if I will be able to free myself. In any case I will do everything I can because the Williams is a competitive car and could give me great satisfaction. See you in the next days on the roads of Long Beach".

 

The news of the change between Reutemann and Andretti caused a stir in the Grand Prix environment. Williams wanted to look again for an expert driver to join Rosberg, even if it has one of the fastest English drivers at its disposal, the young Jonathan Palmer who signed a collaboration agreement with the British team before the start of the races. It is therefore not excluded that if Andretti does not manage to get out of the Indy Formula, it will be Palmer who will replace Reutemann in the rest of the championship. The following day, on the small Willow Springs circuit, a few miles east of Los Angeles, 42-year-old Mario Andretti made his return to Formula 1. Andretti, who participated in seven seasons of Grand Prix, driving practically all the best cars and winning the world title with Lotus in 1978, had left Alfa Romeo at the end of last year, having failed to find a satisfactory agreement with other teams. With an incredible professionalism the elderly driver did not abandon racing, however, but competes in the Indy championship with a competitive Wildcat Cosworth.

 

"My wife should be made a saint, with her husband and two sons racing cars. It's obviously a blood thing for us. We love to drive and I have no intention of stopping. In fact, I'll be competing in the Grand Prix on Sunday with Williams. Long Beach is a circuit that I like a lot, and surprises are not excluded".

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At the same time, to those who look for Reutemann in his villa in Cap Ferrat, the answer is that the Argentinean is in Germany and will arrive only during the evening. His second withdrawal in just a few months is not surprising, it was in the air, but it still has something elusive about it. In South Africa Reutemann, speaking with other drivers, had said:

 

"I have a contract with Williams at home, but I haven't even signed it".

 

Then, turning to his great rival from last year, Nelson Piquet, he had whispered:

 

"I feel like a stranger. This Formula 1 is not a family. Don't you feel alone, abandoned?"

 

After practice in Brazil, Carlos had let it be known that the car wasn't right, that he didn't like driving it. Within an hour of the end of the test he had communicated to Williams his secret decision to quit. What are the reasons for this further reconsideration? From Buenos Aires bounces a kind of confession signed by Reutemann and published in Clarin:

 

"Already at the end of the Rio race I realized that I had lost all stimulus, I was no longer the same. My state of mind was no longer the right one to continue this difficult activity".

 

Reutemann went on to deny that age entered into his decision:

 

"I'm saying goodbye to Formula 1 not because I'm about to turn forty, but for other reasons".

 

Undoubtedly, there is also the disappointment of not being able to aim at that world title that he missed by a whisker in 1981, and that he continues to chase above all with his thoughts. After a brief consultation with the sponsors, on March 30, 1982 Mario Andretti let it be known that he would not race the entire championship with Williams because of the commitments already taken with the Indy Formula. As a replacement, it seems that Frank Williams has asked the former World Champion Alan Jones, retired at the end of last season, who would be available to return to Formula 1 from the Imola race on April 25. However, after being celebrated and embraced by all, Mario Andretti tested the Williams car on the Willow Springs track. The test is satisfactory, and the Italian-American will at least be among the protagonists of the race to be held in Long Beach:

 

"Of course, it would be a great shot to be back in Formula 1 and finish ahead of everyone. I'll try, even though I know right now that it will be very difficult".

 

In perfect physical shape, so much so as to appear rejuvenated, Andretti does not hide the fact that he would like to return to racing in the World Championship, because this kind of race interests him more than the American ones:

 

"Unfortunately, however, I am now bound by too many contracts with sponsors to free myself. Moreover, I realize that Formula 1 is living a very delicate moment, and it risks the complete disintegration".

 

A driver who boasts twenty years of experience in all fields of motor racing, from the victories at Indianapolis to the 1978 world title, and who has driven every type of car, is the right man for a comparison between Formula 1 and Formula Indy, which in fact is the American counterpart of the top world motor racing competition:

 

"The biggest difference is in the administration of the business. The American formula is governed by a single body, the Cart, formed by the manufacturers. The regulations are established after in-depth examinations, and everyone respects them to the millimeter. Few attempts at cheating were immediately blocked. The technical-sports commissioners are always the same, in every race, and they have considerable expertise. Unlike Formula 1, where the checks are made only before and after the race, here all it takes is the slightest suspicion, at any time, for the inspectors to take a car and tear it to pieces in order to discover any deception. Whoever is caught in the act is immediately disqualified and, above all, loses face irreparably".

 

The behavior of sponsors is also different:

 

"In Indy a strict control is exercised by the sponsors, who cannot afford, as a matter of image, to be caught red-handed. The opposite of what happens in some Formula 1 teams, where the sponsors, in order to obtain positive results and easy publicity, turn a blind eye or even support illicit initiatives. Another substantial difference is in political leadership. In Formula 1, antagonisms between the various components have proven to be harmful and counterproductive. While in Indy everyone works for the success of the sport, in the World Championship the interplay of interests is such that it creates negative contrasts. The imposition by some competitors of mini-skirts, hydropneumatic shock absorbers, and now the reduction of the weight of the cars, is sheer madness. The issue of lightening cars is of an incredible danger. Ferrari does very well to oppose the reduction of weight, because lightening the single-seaters will certainly lead to very serious accidents. In Formula Indy the minimum weight is 680 kilos, one hundred more than in Formula 1. At these levels, it is possible to build really strong cars. The problem of the antagonism between turbocharged and aspirated engines has been solved by limiting compression, so that the engines break less frequently".

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But Bernie Ecclestone and the Foca, they do one thing and think a hundred. It seems that now, after the lightening of the cars, they have prepared a new plan to give other handicaps to the cars equipped with turbocharged engines, especially to Ferrari and Renault: the idea would be to modify the tracks of the circuits favorable to the power of the supercharged engines, such as Hockenheim and Zeltweg. Already in Long Beach the design of the track has been changed, as it is now slightly longer, 3427 meters against the previous 3240, as the start straight has been extended but it has two more narrow chicanes, which slow down the gear in the points that would allow the turbo to have some advantage. Foca would justify the intention to change the circuits with the need for greater safety: and even against this new initiative it will be difficult to make opposition. Formula 1 is clearly going through a period of malaise, a crisis of growth that has led it to face embarrassing situations. On the eve of the US West Grand Prix, the third round of the world championship, engineer Mauro Forghieri, technical manager of Ferrari, confesses:

 

"This race cannot be considered regular. Our single-seaters are running with a handicap of about ninety kilos, between the weight of the car and the extra petrol we have to have in the tanks because of the consumption of the turbo engine. It's not fair that the regulations state that the minimum weight of the cars must be 580 kilos, and we are facing competitors that are actually much lighter".

 

How can such a gap be translated into numbers?

 

"You can't make an exact calculation, as there are too many factors to take into account. In any case, a lighter car has advantages in acceleration, braking, top speed both in curves and in straights. Moreover, it engages less the drivers on the physical level and, very important, it requires less consumption of tires and gasoline. Basically, it's like competing in two different categories. And we can not compensate for this inferiority only with the greater power of the engine that, among other things, on this type of circuit is not usable to the maximum".

 

Why doesn't Ferrari adapt to the situation and put a lighter car on the track?

 

"There are several considerations to be made. The first is moral. There is a law to be respected that, in substance and not only in the words of the regulations lends itself to partial interpretations, establishes that the cars must be 580 kilos. We arrived at this weight not by chance, but because of precise requirements regarding the safety of the construction of the cars. With a Cosworth engine, I believe that it is possible to build single-seaters with a limit of 480 kilos. But what would happen in the event of an accident? What would be the limits of material strength? I don't dare think about it".

 

The British, however, accuse you of not being able to make a less heavy car:

 

"Here we come to the second point. We have made a program that has an expiry date equal to the duration of the regulations, that is, until 1984. It is difficult to revise everything in a short time and reduce weights with all the turbo equipment. Renault has succeeded, but they have been working on the same car for almost seven years and they have gone down a little, fifteen or twenty kilos. However, we are also able to lower the weight. Now we are waiting for the court ruling, then we will see".

 

There are already those who are talking about Ferrari's return to the naturally aspirated twelve-cylinder engine before long.

 

"It's too early to give an answer. We'll have to wait and see what happens at the political level".

 

Who is responsible for what is happening?

 

"It's not just Ecclestone's and Foca's. It is true that they were given the hand and they took the arm. The mistakes, however, were made by the sporting authorities who allowed such a situation of anarchy to come about. And unfortunately we are in a dead-end street, because the battle is between professionals who defend their work and their earnings, and amateurs who only think about saving their armchair or showing off. Colin Chapman, who imposed the irregular miniskirts, and Gordon Murray, who invented the hydraulic shock absorbers and the water tanks for the brakes, have become, for everyone, authentic geniuses".

 

Having said that, on the eve of the US West Grand Prix there seems to be little reason to be interested in the race. Piquet with the Brabham is always the favorite, and the main opponents of the Brazilian could be Rosberg and the returning Andretti with the Williams, and the two McLarens of Niki Lauda and Watson that with the Michelin radial tires should have advantages on the streets of the street circuit, while Renault and Ferrari are in the position of outsiders. On the eve of the U.S. Grand Prix West, Niki Lauda confirms his optimism:

 

"On the Long Beach track, I think my McLaren has a big advantage. It's a light car, equipped with radial tires that should be affected by the significant performances. I wouldn't be surprised if I could start from the very first rows, maybe even in the first one. I'm not talking about pole position for superstitious reasons. And then there are many other cars, such as Brabham and Williams, that are going very fast".

 

What does Niki Lauda think about Ferrari and about turbo engines in general?

 

"I don't think that on this circuit the turbo engines have a great chance to win. Obviously, between the two teams equipped with supercharged engines, Renault is the favorite because of its great experience. Prost is an excellent driver, the best among the young drivers. Certainly he will know how to dose his forces and those of the car to get points. At the end of the day, the Frenchman is mainly interested in keeping his place as leader of the world ranking, waiting for faster circuits to arrive".

 

What does the Austrian think about the recent controversy regarding the weight of the cars?

 

"Honestly, I don't want to say anything about it. It must be acknowledged that the regulations in this period are not very clear and also the proportion of balance between turbocharged and naturally aspirated engines is not right. Those who have a supercharged engine have many more horsepower at their disposal, and therefore advantages. In any case, we drivers are powerless in front of this situation, and we cannot make our voice heard. It would be better for everyone if the cars were equal, all of the same weight, and if we could have good balanced races. Unfortunately, politics ruins the sport".

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After Ferrari and Renault's accusations and complaints about underweight cars, Bernie Ecclestone's counter-attack was to be expected, but the English manager is too clever and astute to be trapped in a controversy. At this moment there is no crisis for the president of the Foca, who would accumulate 600.000 dollars a year just to administratively manage the World Championship dealing with the organization of some races, the transport of the cars and the television contracts. In his opinion everything is going well, and the climate between the teams is almost idyllic. At least this is what we can learn from a quick interview he gave between one and another of his many daily commitments. Mr. Ecclestone, don't you think that the fact of wanting to impose at all costs, even at the expense of respecting regulations, the will of the Foca team, does not end up creating a negative image of your sport?

 

"No, absolutely not. In Formula 1 everything is regular. There are no unsolvable problems. For the sole reason that one or two teams are not satisfied, or do not want to follow the technical evolution set by the most advanced designers, we cannot claim that the World Championship is in trouble. We go on as always. On the contrary, we are studying some novelties that for the moment I cannot reveal yet, which will have the purpose of making our races even more popular and spectacular".

 

But motoring fans know that they race with cars outside the regulations, that the races are practically divided into two categories, between cars lightened beyond what is allowed and heavier single-seaters.

 

"This is absolutely not true. No one has yet proven that there are irregularities. The technical code allows topping up fluids at the end of races. And we just follow the regulations. I don't see that there is any subterfuge".

 

Ecclestone, however, brutally kicked out the stewards in Brazil who wanted to check the cars in the parc fermé at the end of the race.

 

"They wanted to weigh the cars before the fluid tops-up. This is not allowed by the regulations, which must be respected to the letter".

 

Basically, the British manager argues that there are no problems, and that Ferrari's complaint has no reason to exist?

 

"In a big family quarrels are inevitable. At this moment there is no possibility to argue. But I assure that after the Imola race, from April 25, I will try to bring all parties together to reach a new general agreement. I am committed to working, scheduling meetings until everyone is satisfied. I am convinced that this year's championship will be excellent, hard-fought and fun. This is what counts for the fans and also for me, who cares more than anyone else about the fate of Formula 1".

 

With this speech, Bernie Ecclestone - who only a couple of months earlier had predicted a disaster for Formula 1, troubled by the controversies following the drivers' protest - refuses to admit that the current contrast with Ferrari is of high importance, and that it could lead to a very dangerous split. His confidence, however, is fueled by the fact that Alfa Romeo and Renault, forced by practical necessity, have aligned themselves with the teams of the Foca in irregularly lightening the cars. Ferrari is isolated, and the president of the Manufacturers' Association and owner of Brabham feels safe. While Ecclestone is making these statements, on Friday, April 2, 1982 Keke Rosberg, with Williams, gets the best time in the first free practice session of the U.S. Grand Prix West. In a splendid sunny day, the Finnish driver obtains the best time at the end of the hour and a half of testing: the track, as expected, is slower by about ten seconds than in 1981 because it has been lengthened by more than two hundred meters, and has two new chicanes. The surprise of the day, however, is the performance of Alfa Romeo, which gets the second time with Bruno Giacomelli, and of Talbot, which risked not to qualify in Brazil and now is third with Laffite.

 

Lauda is also excellent, who scores the fourth time in spite of an accident: after having mistaken the braking point in one of the new curves, the Austrian driver crashes with his McLaren against a protection. Nothing serious, but the car is quite damaged. Riccardo Patrese is also the protagonist of an accident: deceived by an English driver Henton's maneuver, he ends up against a wall at 150 km/h and ruins the body of his Brabham. Ferrari is in crisis, so much so that it is rumored that Gilles Villeneuve is thinking about leaving Ferrari: the relationship between the Maranello team and the Canadian driver seems to have deteriorated in recent times. At Long Beach the Canadian driver does not spare criticism to the car, and the team shows not to have liked his behavior in some occasions, not least the accident in Brazil. According to some indiscretions Gilles would have had an offer of about one and a half million dollars to move to McLaren, next to Niki Lauda, and the divorce with Ferrari should take place at the end of the year or, even, it is said that if things should not go well in the next races, he could even break the contract after the Monaco Grand Prix. Formula 1 is in crisis, but evidently the love of the motor racing fans is such that they forget the extra sporting controversies.

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On Saturday, April 3, 1982, the Californian city is invaded by the fans present on the circuit, who, according to the forecasts of the organizers of the USA West Grand Prix, will arrive at least 120.000. Added to the 40.000 people of the first day of practice and the 80.000 of the qualifying rounds, the number of fans present was a record, with a total revenue of over four million dollars from ticket sales alone, and a global turnover of over five million dollars. So much interest, this time, seems justified. The characteristics of the street circuit, dangerous but fascinating and spectacular, and the extreme uncertainty in the prediction for the race that will start at 1:00 p.m., arouse enormous curiosity; the Americans are lurking in the areas where accidents are most likely to occur; only in the first qualifying round on Friday there were twenty collisions between cars and exits from the track. All drivers agree that this third round of the World Championship will be a real roulette, more than what could happen in Monte Carlo. Everyone's chances are linked to a thousand details, one of which is the choice of tires, which appears to be very problematic. Radial tires - Michelin and Pirelli - on the asphalt of the city should give slight advantages, but the others - Goodyear and Avon - promise greater durability.

 

"The new layout of the circuit puts a strain on drivers and cars. Not only are there spots on the track where cars are jumping around like crazy, but the asphalt surface is constantly changing and grip on the ground is a real problem. With the two new chicanes slowing down the lap speed by almost ten seconds, you are in an awkward situation. First gear is too short, second gear too long. I predict that there will be a lot of breakages and someone will end up, unfortunately, crashing somewhere. It will be an elimination race and very few competitors will reach the finish line".

 

Confesses Gilles Villeneuve, who in any case lets it be known that he will attack desperately to stay ahead of everyone. Bruno Giacomelli retorts:

 

"This is exactly the dominant motif of this race. Starting mildly in the first positions and being attentive to the mistakes that others may make, without forcing in the first half of the test, could be a winning tactic. Our Alfa Romeo 182 is currently very competitive, and we have a good chance of getting a big result".

 

The Long Beach Grand Prix could also be a valid card to play for the Italian colors. Patrese, Albereto, De Angelis, De Cesaris and Giacomelli have the possibility to be among the protagonists, as well as Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. And finally, thanks to the Pirelli radial tires, also the Osella, at least with Jean-Pierre Jarier, is in the condition not to sail in the last rows, but can fight in advanced positions. The only one who failed to pre-qualify is Derek Warwick, of Toleman. At Long Beach, Toleman also entrusts Teo Fabi with the TG181C, while Williams decides to delay the debut of the announced FW08, and Ligier brings the JS17B. Needless to say that, as it happens since the beginning of the season, the cars will be almost all out of regulations, that is under weight. On Friday, in a very long press conference, Jean-Marie Balestre, president of Fisa, says that the fault of the irregularities is not the fault of the sporting authorities but only of the manufacturers who prepared the technical code, and adds that the International Federation will take the power in hand as soon as possible, and will enforce the regulations.

 

Probably they are only promises, but in the meantime we are waiting for the response of the Fia tribunal in Paris for the Ferrari and Renault complaint presented in Brazil; if the judges will establish a clear rule for the weight control, it will be a big step forward towards legality. Meanwhile, Saturday, April 3, 1982, Ferrari takes the circus by surprise by mounting on the 126 C2 turbo an incredible wing twice as wide as the others, and obviously it was immediately thought a provocation by the Maranello team, after the case of the lightened cars. When Villeneuve and Pironi, with these particular aerodynamic appendages, improve the times they had obtained on Friday, a procession of technicians starts to observe the strange device. Basically, these are two ailerons coupled at the same height, offset from each other by about twenty centimeters. The regulations state that the rear wing must not exceed 110 centimetres in length, and in fact each of the two fully complies with the measurements, so the technical commissioners cannot raise any objection. Engineer Mauro Forghieri explains:

 

"We studied the system in the wind tunnel, then we had tested it in secret at Fiorano, and the results had been satisfactory, so we decided to use them. The rules do not require symmetry in Formula 1. The aim is to increase the load on the rear wheels. There is nothing secret or illegal about it, everyone can see and check. You certainly can't compare it to the hundred kilos less weight with which some cars manage to run: our tricks are simple and honest. We will be able to adopt the double wing on all tracks. And it's also a demonstration that, if we want, we can also put some imagination into building the cars".

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But if Gilles Villeneuve will not go beyond the seventh time, and Didier Pironi the ninth, on Saturday 3 April 1982, at the end of the qualifying Andrea De Cesaris makes Niki Lauda angry because in the last lap of the qualifying he snatches the pole position from the Austrian. And it is not a small feat, if you consider that Lauda himself was so sure that he could not be challenged by his rivals that he did not even use the second set of tires made available to him for the time trials. But very sportingly, the former World Champion eventually admitted:

 

"This baby is going very fast".

 

A surprise, then?

 

Relatively: De Cesaris, in his still short career, has already made a name for himself as a very fast driver. In 1981 in Las Vegas he had obtained a series of lap times that demonstrated his talent, and throughout the period spent at McLaren, on many occasions, he had given a hard time to his more experienced teammate John Watson. Average height, robust physique, so much so that they call him Mandingo, a strong comic book hero, very nervous, the young Roman burst into tears after knowing that he would have started in front of everyone:

 

"I was calm when I got back to the pit. I knew I had an excellent result. But when I saw everyone huddling around me, I was moved. I started crying like a baby. They all came to congratulate me, from Lauda himself to Bernie Ecclestone. That was the greatest satisfaction. Last year I had many accidents, and nobody believed in my chances anymore. In the English team I was under incredible pressure, and many times I made mistakes out of fear. I was no longer myself, I couldn't drive. I dedicate this exploit to Alfa Romeo, to the mechanics who worked perfectly, and to the technicians, to Ducarouge, and to the young engineer Bizzarrini who takes care of my car. Part of the credit also goes to my family, who has always supported me, and to my friend Buzzi, from Marlboro, who has followed me like a father and helped me in the most difficult moments. For the moment I don't want to dedicate anything to myself. I hope, sooner or later, to be able to give myself a victory".

 

As a driver, did Andrea follow any model?

 

"I started racing with karts. Then I went to England to race in the local Formula 3 and, then, I did a season in Formula 2 winning a race. I don't think a driver can have patterns. Everyone has their own way of driving, of seeing racing. I must admit that Watson's advices were very useful, he told me to stay calm, to try to improve step by step, especially in the car tuning. As a kid, however, my idol was Niki Lauda. Beating him, I have to say that I surpassed myself. Pole position is a pleasure, but the road to becoming a champion is still very long".

 

What did Andrea say, calling home?

 

"Here is Emilio, my younger brother. He called: I told him to use caution, because my father could have a collapse. He's my biggest fan. When I was racing karts, he would yell at me if I didn't win. I remember at Vallelunga he would walk around the circuit counting a certain number of steps without looking at the track. He knew that every certain number of meters I had to appear in passing. I imagine he's overjoyed".

 

Can this Alfa Romeo get big results this season?

 

"The car is new. We're only in the second race. It's good, but it can still be improved a lot. I think if you walk at this pace, you can be competitive in every race. I would love to win at Imola".

 

How do you explain such a result, after McLaren had even prevented you from participating in a race in 1981 because of too many accidents?

 

"I've already said it. In the English team they had taken me only for a car wrecker and they always sent me the morale to the ground. At Alfa Romeo I found my serenity, and with it my concentration. For a driver, being calm and aware of his own possibilities is the most important thing".

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Sunday 4 April 1982, a few moments before 13:00, on the starting grid Elio De Angelis is positioned on the wrong side of the track: the Italian driver tries to make a maneuver to reach the right stall, but his teammate, Nigel Mansell, who follows him, is forced to insert the rear to avoid the impact, and just at this time the start is given, with the Englishman who actually starts with the rear inserted. In the first rows Andrea De Cesaris keeps the lead ahead of René Arnoux, who immediately passes Niki Lauda. Bruno Giacomelli, Gilles Villeneuve, Alain Prost, Didier Pironi, Keke Rosberg and Nelson Piquet follow. Lauda follows Arnoux closely and, in turn, suffers Giacomelli's pressure, so that at the sixth lap Giacomelli tries to overtake the Austrian, but he delays too much the braking and hits Arnoux: both are forced to retire. At the ninth lap John Watson overtakes Villeneuve, getting the third position, while at the tenth lap also the world leader, Alain Prost, is forced to retire for a spin. Five laps later Andrea De Cesaris, whose advantage over Niki Lauda was shrinking, has an uncertainty in the lapping of the Brazilian Raul Boesel, allowing Lauda to take the slipstream to the Roman driver and pass him on Shoreline Drive. The classification thus sees Lauda first, followed by De Cesaris, Watson, Villeneuve, Rosberg and Piquet.

 

In this phase of the race, Villeneuve and Rosberg engage in a long duel: the Finnish driver takes advantage of his Williams' maneuverability to pass the Canadian at the first chicane, while the Ferrari driver overtakes his opponent on the straight. Villeneuve then spins, without losing his position in favor of Nelson Piquet. On lap 25 Piquet finishes his race after hitting a wall; his Brabham, however, remains in a dangerous position, so much so that it requires the intervention of a tow truck that pulls the car for a stretch of track, before reaching an escape route, with Niki Lauda who risks hitting the rescue vehicle. Two laps later Rosberg rises to second place thanks also to the tire problems encountered by Watson. The Northern Irishman will have to change tires on lap 27, slipping out of the points zone. Now, behind Lauda, De Cesaris and Rosberg, there is Villeneuve, followed by Alboreto, Cheever and De Angelis. On the thirty-third lap an engine oil pipe breaks on Andrea De Cesaris' car, and the fluid leaks out soiling the rear tires, causing the young Italian driver's car to slide against a wall. Niki Lauda is now in the lead, one minute ahead of Keke Rosberg.

 

Then Riccardo Patrese, who had taken the sixth position from Elio De Angelis on the thirty-eighth lap, passes also Cheever, forced to change tires, and on the fifty-ninth lap overtakes also Alboreto. In this phase of the race, from the box they signal to Keke Rosberg the distance between him and Niki Lauda, but seen the gap the Finnish driver decides to desist from the pursuit. At the end of the seventy-five laps of the United States West Grand Prix, Formula 1 finds again the protagonist of the seventies, the champion of the great Ferrari: Niki Lauda, returned to race after two years of rest, also resumes to win. When the Austrian driver, at the wheel of the McLaren, crossed the finish line of the US West Grand Prix, a past rich in glory and a present that seemed uncertain and adventurous were welded together. And the beautiful reality of a driver, of a man capable of successfully retracing the ancient paths, which thrills the people of Long Beach. It was almost a madness for Lauda, who after the chequered flag had gone down on the nose of his 500-horsepower single-seater, did not even raise his hands from the steering wheel in a sign of joy, continuing to drive as if the race was not over.

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Only when he reaches the podium does he have a moment of pure emotion: he removes his cap from his head, smiles, waves his arms, and shows his face burnt by the Nurburgring fire, which he usually hides with a thread of embarrassment. Two years spent away from the circuits have transformed neither the man nor the driver. The same stubborn confidence, the same biting irony, the same skill in driving and winning. Yes, he smokes, he drinks a glass of wine, he goes to bed later at night than he used to, he enjoys life more, and it's logical, at thirty-three, with a wife and two children; but he's the same professional he always was. A glance at his McLaren explains the secret: in the midst of so many cars destroyed by two hours of hellish racing, Niki's single-seater seems new, just out of the workshop. The tires don't have a mark on them, the brake pads look new. You feel like digging up the old nicknames: driving accountant, computer, but you'd be wrong. Lauda is simply a perfectionist, who combines talent and experience with intelligence and a fierce will to win. In Long Beach, fresh and lively, he responds brilliantly to reporters at the end of the race, beginning with a joke:

 

"Do you have any questions? Do you want to know if this was my most beautiful victory? The answer is simple: all the latest victories are the most beautiful. I am delighted with this statement, because it confirms above all my plans. It is an injection of confidence that I was expecting and it has arrived right on time. From now on everyone will have to account for me in every race. I didn't get carried away and I don't want to make war proclamations. But this is the reality".

 

But was it a painful success?

 

"Sure, the track was a disaster, the asphalt was crumbling. It's absurd that you resurface the road just before a race. I could see cars crumpled in all corners. That's why, in order not to end up against a low wall, I didn't take my hands off the wheel when the race ended".

 

When his return was announced, he stated that it would take at least three races to know what he was worth.

 

"Today I know I'm the same as I was before. I think I'm right on schedule. I learned that from flying planes. Physically I felt great the whole race. The car is great, although I had to work a lot to get to this point. Don't think it was easy".

 

What was the most difficult moment?

 

"In the race, from start to finish. All you had to do was miss by two inches and you were up against a wall. De Cesaris was very good at the start. He is young, he will go far. I managed to overtake him in a moment of deconcentration. Maybe he was afraid of making a mistake, he was very responsible, and I took advantage of it".

 

How did you manage to avoid the incident between Arnoux and Giacomelli?

 

"Those two were attacking hard. I jumped to the inside of the corner. Arnoux went to the left, but maybe he got a gear wrong. Giacomelli saw an opening and passed me under braking. He succeeded very well, but in front of him there was the French driver's car and he crashed into it".

 

At three quarters of the way through the race, Lauda had a fifty-second lead, then the gap to Rosberg diminished in the final part of the race: didn't you fear that the Finnish driver might try to make a comeback?

 

"I had slowed down on my own volition, so as not to risk it. When the time was right I accelerated and gained two seconds in one lap. Rosberg understood and gave up. What matters to me is to win, not to take a minute off my rivals. Thank God I won".

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This last answer contains all of Lauda. The pilot who has become the owner of an airline company is once again the shrewd champion who wants to win, not win big. In racing and in life, few succeed. The only regret is that of Alfa Romeo. The two drivers of the Milanese company, De Cesaris and Giacomelli were perhaps the only ones who could have validly contrasted the Austrian's pace, but they didn't succeed. Giacomelli hit Arnoux in full and the two drivers exchanged accusations and blame, while De Cesaris, after a splendid start, let the Austrian pass and thought he could follow him to attack him in the final. But he hadn't counted on bad luck. For Alfa Romeo, however, the result of this American trip is already more than positive. The pole position conquered in the qualifying is a demonstration of the competitiveness of the car: now it will only have to work hard to confirm this result, and above all to look for some placing in the race. Third behind Lauda and Rosberg, Gilles Villeneuve gets on the podium, but during the evening the sporting commissioners decide to accept the complaint presented by Ken Tyrrell, and therefore they remove the Canadian driver from the Grand Prix classification. The single-seater - according to the English manufacturer - has an irregular rear wing.

 

Apparently, it is not clear what pushed the technical commissioners to this decision, given that before the race the car, equipped with the double wing, had been declared regular. The news of this surprising disqualification came out of the blue and was not even communicated to those concerned, who had already left for Italy. Ferrari's sporting director, Marco Piccinini, immediately lodged an appeal with the US sporting tribunal, and now the matter will go ahead according to the procedures provided for by the regulations, together with the one filed by the Maranello factory against the McLaren of the winner Lauda, and the Brabham of the Finnish Rosberg, who finished second; this complaint, concerning the weight of the cars, as had already happened in Brazil, was however rejected. And even if the verdict of the judging body was negative for the Scuderia, Piccinini will take the dispute to the Fia, in Paris.

 

The technical rule, as mentioned, is that the rear wing must not be more than 110 centimetres long, but Ferrari placed two of them in a staggered manner, not attached to each other, believing that, with a realistic interpretation of the regulations, this could be done. The technical commissioners, however, are of the opposite opinion and therefore disqualify the car. Almost all the teams, from Williams to Brabham, had actually judged the aerodynamic appendage to be irregular. So, in the points zone, after the winner Niki Lauda and Rosberg there are in order Patrese, Alboreto, De Angelis and Watson. Three Italian drivers in the first five places, without considering that two accidents deprived De Cesaris and Giacomelli of a likely excellent result and that Eddie Cheever, the American from Rome, was fifth after having confirmed his remarkable qualities, before being blocked by the deterioration of the tires and the gearbox breakage. Villeneuve's demotion brought Riccardo Patrese into third place, picking up his first four points since racing for Brabham:

 

"I'm obviously happy, even if I would have preferred to get this placement on the track and on the podium, but I have to admit to being surprised by what the stewards decided. It didn't seem to me that Ferrari had made an irregular wing. Table promotions are never nice. I can still consider it a small prize for having arrived with the best after starting in eighteenth position with a car, the reserve one because mine was ruined in practice, that was not competitive. Moreover, I was incredibly disturbed by Laffite. The Frenchman was considerably slower than me. I tried to pass him at least five times and he was always closing the gap in unfair ways. So much so that in a collision he took away half of my front wing. At a certain point I saw an opening and I slipped through. He closed the road again and we ended up going straight. Fortunately, the punishment was his, because he could not restart. I lost thirty-three seconds on that lap, without which I would have been ahead of Villeneuve. So third place, in a way, I deserved it. It has been four years that I have been saying that the Italian driving school, which started with Formula Italia and Formula Fiat Abarth, and continued in the other categories, is one of the most valid. This is just a confirmation. We have to wait and, sooner or later, we will also start winning".

 

Who do you think is the best and most promising driver?

 

"It is always unpleasant to make rankings, and it is also difficult because there is no real benchmark because we race in different cars with different possibilities. The only concrete fact is this: in Formula 1, either you stand out immediately, or it's better to stay at home. The fact that eight Italian drivers have found a team to race in Grand Prix is the most evident answer".

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What are Riccardo's most immediate goals?

 

"For the moment I'm still trying to understand my car well. Then we'll see. Piquet is a very fast driver, with great experience on the Brabham. Being close to him is already a positive result. In the meantime, from 18 April at Monza, I'll try to give my contribution to Lancia in the World Endurance Championship".

 

It is clear that Ferrari in this moment is being targeted: already in Brazil after its complaint against the first two classified, it had been rejected and sentenced to a penalty of one minute for an alleged impropriety in the refueling of Pironi's car.

 

"Formula 1 has become a garbage can. I feel sorry for Gilles Villeneuve and Ferrari but we organizers can't do anything. It's the stewards who decide. I am seriously worried about the future, I hope that the problems will be solved as soon as possible otherwise the World Championship will lose interest in America".

 

With these words Chris Pook, the organizer of the Grand Prix held in Long Beach, comments on the surprising disqualification of the Canadian driver's car for the double wing considered irregular. Waiting for Ferrari's appeal and for the decisions that will be taken in Maranello in these days and then in Paris at the Fia tribunal, for the moment the classification of the USA West Grand Prix is modified, and all the competitors who placed from the fourth place back advance one position. By now there is no Formula 1 race that does not provoke a case, or at least fierce controversy. After the fans, the miniskirts, the hydraulic lifts, the ballast tanks, which have poisoned and are poisoning the world of Grand Prix, here is the double wing scandal and the disqualification of Gilles Villeneuve and Ferrari at Long Beach. It is an affair that causes a stir both for the name of the protagonists and for what it implies. Fabrizio Serena, president of Csai, that is the Italian sports organization that has been fighting against the Ecclestone-Balestre duo for a long time, affirms:

 

"It is not tolerable that Ecclestone is at the same time competitor, as manager of Brabham, category representative, as manager of Foca, and circuit organizer. He looks out for his own interests and those of his friends, and he uses his authority and connections to influence the decisions of those who should represent the sporting authority on the race tracks. It's the underlying climate that needs to be changed. We hope that the appeals court will do justice, both on the bogus tanks affair and on the Ferrari aileron affair. And, as Csai, we are ready to accept a verdict that sanctions any mistakes made by one of our companies. I think that Ferrari's stunt is on the borderline of the regulations, and it could be discussed. Maybe a provocative device, but certainly not a blatant and very clear irregularity like the one of the underweight cars used by the English teams, cars that have been accepted on the track until now".

 

Carlo Chiti, president of Autodelta, also hints at a solution that is at the limit of the regulations:

 

"An intelligent device, which had been accepted at scrutineering. Why not reject Tyrrell's claim? It's just a matter of power. Simply, whoever is in charge in Formula 1 today can do whatever he wants. I am convinced that in appeal they will give reason to Ferrari".

 

And at Maranello, how do they judge the Long Beach measure?

 

"No comment".

 

The Scuderia Ferrari spokesmen say, but it is known that Ferrari was deeply irritated and bitter about the disqualification.

 

Anthony Quartey

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