Now the challenge is open, face to face, Didier Pironi and Ferrari against everyone. At stake an important stake: the Formula 1 world title. After the second place at Brands Hatch, and after overtaking John Watson in the world ranking, the French driver is clear:
"In the French Grand Prix I will no longer be able to implement cautious tactics, I will have to win if I want to aim for the succession of Nelson Piquet. I will play at home, on a track that I know very well and where my car should have advantages, as the last tests have shown".
From Friday to Sunday, therefore, first in practice and then in the race, the thirty-year-old driver from Friuli will have to work hard. Also because Pironi wants to answer to the criticisms made by those who consider him an unspectacular champion, who has become less aggressive than expected, and compared to when he was at Tyrrell and Ligier.
"It is not true that I have gone soft, that I only take advantage of the competitiveness of the Ferrari to get placings. I have already shown on several occasions, when the opportunity has presented itself, that I can pull out my nails. The fact is that in some races it is just impossible to try to win at all costs. In England I couldn't attack Lauda, otherwise I certainly wouldn't have avoided the battle. The car didn't allow me to force more than I did. It's by racing with your brain that you win world titles. This has been demonstrated in the past by many champions, like Niki Lauda himself, like Fittipaldi, or Scheckter. Also Piquet has won last year being satisfied in some races to arrive in the points zone".
Pironi's declarations are of attack, but his rivals do not seem to have too many fears. Ferrari at Le Castellet, in the very fast Paul Ricard circuit, has always been strong, but it is not considered unbeatable. The biggest opponents are always Patrese and Piquet with the Brabham, without forgetting the Renault, and the usual Williams and McLaren. Says Patrese:
"Our team has not given up on anything. We will probably continue the experiment of refueling at mid-race, which should give us some advantages. We know it's a risk, I personally don't agree with it completely, but you can't stop an attempt that could be a winner. Starting with a hundred kilos less will allow us to take a good lead. If the refueling operation is perfect, we will be able to start again with fresh tires and therefore faster. In short, we will try to play every card in our hand".
At Le Castellet are expected more than one hundred thousand spectators: with a French driver at the top of the standings with a chance of success, and the Italian fans inflamed by Ferrari, it is guaranteed to be sold out. On the other hand the cost of the tickets is not prohibitive: fifty French francs for the tests, one hundred and fifty for the race. There is a strange statistic regarding Paul Ricard: only the World Champions win on this circuit. This is the rule established on this circuit for the French Grand Prix. If you look at the roll of honour of the race since 1971, the year in which the French track was inaugurated, you can see that the names of the first classified are those of Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Mario Andretti and Alan Jones. The only exception is Ronnie Peterson, but the late Swedish driver was an honorary rainbow helmet. It is difficult to say whether this extraordinary coincidence will also be reflected on Sunday 25 July 1982, but the nine points up for grabs for first place will in any case be very important in the fight for the title. It is for this reason that teams and drivers arrive ready for anything, determined to face each other to the limit of their possibilities. In addition to the usual rivalries, however, the Ricard, one of the most beautiful and challenging circuits in the world, offers two more enemies, for everyone, without exclusions. These are the terrible heat of these days, the burning sun of the Côte d'Azur that exhausts the drivers, and the Mistral straight, 1800 meters of full fifth gear that kills the engines.
"These enemies are my allies. At Brands Hatch I had dedicated the victory to my athletic trainer Willy Dungle. It wasn't just a gesture of sympathy for a friend. He's the one who gave me back the fitness I needed to be sharp throughout the race. I have great hope in this, in my regularity, just as I hope the turbo engines have to suffer from the forty degrees in the shade. That's the great hope we have with naturally aspirated engines, to have any chance of success. Otherwise it will be a struggle between the lucky ones who drive supercharged cars".
Lauda, as usual, speaks clearly. But his expectation, his justified expectation of other people's troubles, is firmly rejected by the opponents: Pironi, Piquet, Patrese, Prost, Arnoux want to win, all of them. The only one to announce modest intentions is Tambay:
"Of course, coming first in a French Grand Prix would be a dream. But I have to keep my feet on the ground. Only if extraordinary events occur in the race will I have a chance to pursue a big affirmation. But I don't have too many illusions".
The others for the moment are not talking, but it is obvious that they are hoping, for different reasons, not only for the world title. Brabham will try again the refueling during the race. Everything is ready, the mechanics have trained again to carry out the operation in a few seconds. It's a double-edged sword, but when you want to achieve certain results, you have to take risks. Confident Bernie Ecclestone declares:
"I'm a risk-taker, a gambler by nature, I want to try this ace up my sleeve and I assure you it's not a bluff".
Even Pironi is silent for the moment. He is concentrated. Ferrari has prepared him a car already tested on this circuit, in free practice in recent months, with the side pods reinforced by stronger brackets for the great pressure that exerts aerodynamics on the machines in the Ricard track. At Renault, however, there are confused looks. A new disappointment can bring big trouble to the French team. We are at the point of having to win at all costs, or at least make a great impression. Rumor has it that Renault after the first qualifying round, if things do not go well, will have to make a drastic decision. It will have to risk a partially new car, just finished being assembled in the workshop, still in an experimental phase. We will see if it will be necessary, for now we are in the field of hypothesis.
"Of course, we want to win the French Grand Prix. It's normal. I was able to win two races, one of them only by table, and then for so many reasons one of them didn't go well. My luck should be back now. The car is running great, just a little understeer problem that we'll have to solve later today. The time I set can still be improved. It will be a fight between the turbos anyway".
Alain Prost, for the first time in a long time, has his eyes shining with joy. Evidently he is still thinking about the world title that, at the beginning of the season, he already saw appearing in the distance and that lately seems to be gradually, but inexorably, moving away. Friday 23 July 1982 is just the threatening hiss of Renault to echo in the world of Formula 1. And it is to be expected: we are in the home of the French team that in Le Castellet supports the majority of the tests, and all references are useful to get the best performance. So, after the first qualifying round of the French Grand Prix, Alain Prost holds the fastest time with 1'35"802, a record for this track (the previous one was by Laffite, who in 1980 with the Ligier had lapped in 1'38"880) at the more than respectable average of 218,325 km/h. A result that provides a breath of fresh air to Renault that does not speculate anything for the race, if not a possible pole position. Perhaps who is better is Ferrari, thanks to the second time with Pironi, so much so that everyone agrees to give the Maranello team the favors of the forecast:
"It is the most reliable car and it is logical to expect an en plein from Ferrari".
Confesses engineer Carlo Chiti of Alfa Romeo. To tell the truth, also Pironi and above all Tambay, eighth in the provisional line-up, have some problems to solve. The cars of the two Frenchmen show phenomena of vapor-lock, probably due to the defective functioning of the fuel pump and to the great heat that hangs over the area. Moreover, as for every team, the engineer Mauro Forghieri and the drivers are called to make a difficult choice of tires: at the end of the first qualifying Pironi gets his best time with the race ones, because the qualifying tires deteriorate after only one lap. Behind Prost and Pironi there are Arnoux with the other Renault, then in order Piquet, Lauda, Patrese, Tambay, Daly, Watson and the couple of Alfa Romeo, with De Cesaris one thousandth faster than Giacomelli. The very high temperature does not defeat the turbos that dominate, but it certainly gives a lot of trouble, especially to Brabham. Between the tests of the morning and those of the early afternoon, Ecclestone's team breaks four BMW engines, so much so that Piquet and Patrese in the timed times are not able to do more than three or four laps each. This is a big unknown for the race, even if the Brazilian is clearly faster as top speed, 331 km/h on the Mistral straight, where the Ferrari reaches 326 km/h with Pironi, the Renault 319 km/h with Arnoux and 316 km/h with Prost, while the best of the aspirated engines is the Cosworth of the McLaren of Niki Lauda with 303 km/h. The others arrive around 290 km/h, which means about forty kilometers less than the turbos. Declares Niki Lauda disconsolately:
"I'm a hundred horsepower short, and I can't get into pushing. We poor people will just have to hope, as I had already made known on Thursday, in the troubles of others".
The Austrian, however, gives the audience another example of his skill and he will be a dangerous competitor for the victory especially if the driver in front of him will have to pull to the maximum. In the same position as Lauda is Rosberg, also very good with the Williams. The Alfa Romeo can have done a little better if De Cesaris and Giacomelli have not immediately worn out the time tires they have available. The driver from Brescia, while looking for performance, loses the rear hood of his car on the track. The fiberglass casing flies off, but fortunately does not hit the other competitors. Saturday, July 24, 1982, at the end of the second practice session, the chronometric results give all the first starting line to the two Renault, with René Arnoux in pole position, for the fifth time since the beginning of the season, and at his side Alain Prost. Arnoux, concentrated, determined, breaks the Le Castellet circuit record with the fantastic time of 1'34"406, at the average speed of 221,553 km/h. In vain his teammate, from whom he has a clear rivalry, and all the other drivers try to overtake him: René is unreachable. Behind the Renault, 1"3 seconds behind, there is Didier Pironi with the Ferrari. It is a position that satisfies the Italian team and the French driver, because they have a lot of confidence in the reliability of the Maranello engine. An engine that is doing wonders. So much so that Patrick Tambay, who marks the fifth time, reaches on the Mistral straight an incredible speed, 346 km/h, according to the official Longines timing. It seems that Ferrari has tried on this occasion an engine that will reach a power of seven hundred horses. Forghieri and the other technicians say they know nothing about it, but Tambay says he has touched 12.200 revolutions, five hundred more than the usual limit. Ferrari is therefore ready to seize the great opportunity that can bring Pironi one step away from the world title. Engineer Forghieri affirms:
"Very important as usual will be the choice of tires. In all likelihood we will opt for the harder ones, which give greater guarantees of durability".
However, we must not forget Brabham, since after the engine failure on Friday, BMW leaves aside the water cooling and uses a system similar to the one Ferrari has tried, and that perhaps is not yet ready. During the tests carried out on Saturday 24 July, Patrese and Piquet do not have any problems and the Paduan conquers the fourth position, while the Brazilian is sixth. Six turbocharged cars in a row: the aspirated cars have to chase. In the first row of this second part of the grid there is Alfa Romeo, with De Cesaris and Giacomelli side by side. The Milanese team brilliantly revolutionizes the tuning of its cars, placing itself ahead of the McLarens and the Williams. The March team, which employs drivers Jochen Mass and Raul Boesel, risks not being able to run anymore. The English team is currently the only one using Avon tires and it seems that the British company intends to leave Formula 1, interrupting supplies. March asks to go back to Pirelli, but the Italian company, which equipped the team at the beginning of the season, has a clause in its contract stating that teams that switches to another brand will no longer be supplied. Mass and Boesel, therefore, can be left on foot, unless Bernie Ecclestone, in order not to have to do without a Foca-team, convinces Goodyear to supply tires to the March. Nigel Mansell is sure to be unavailable, he is still sore at the wrist fractured in Canada, and therefore he will not take part in the race: at his place, at Lotus, Geoff Lees is hired. It will be a race in the race, with the hope, for those involved, that the turbos do not resist the distance. It will be a very uncertain Grand Prix, with the usual yellow that concerns Brabham, ready to carry out the experiment of the flying gasoline refueling. But Ecclestone will make his intentions known only at the last minute, when the game will have already begun.
On the eve of the Grand Prix, the drivers of the professional association meet to discuss the problems related to safety and to study the proposals made so far to modify the regulations, and in a communiqué they make known what they consider positive and what they consider negative. Among other things, the drivers are asking for these fourteen measures: the study of tires, as it does not seem sufficient to return to sculpted tires to reduce cornering speed; reducing the width of the cars; reduction of winglets; adjustment of the minimum size of the rear-view mirrors; elimination of mini- skirts; maximum fuel tank capacity of 225 liters, and prohibition of refueling during the race; cars with only four wheels, of which only two are driven; minimum weight 550 kilograms; reinforcement of cockpit structures; imposition of a standard steering wheel for all cars; fuel consumption limited to the values of the current values of a single-seater with aspirated engine, in order to reduce power; division of qualifying rounds into two groups of forty-five minutes each, to reduce the number of cars on the track during practice; abolition of pre-qualification; practice, in any case, must never end after 2:00 p.m., a point on which the chief mechanics also agree. Moreover, on the occasion of the French Grand Prix it is decided to modify the starting procedure. Now the starter has the possibility to insert also a yellow light, and in case the line-up is not valid and the yellow light is on after the red one, the drivers will have to switch off the engines of their cars. In this case the cars will be pushed to the pits and a new full start will be made five minutes later. If the yellow light is on after the green light for any reason, such as an accident, the drivers will have to try to stop. One lap will still be run and then the start will be repeated, with one lap less, but no refueling. Fortunately, this procedure will not be implemented, since at the start the two Renaults maintain the lead, followed by Didier Pironi, and the two Brabhams of Riccardo Patrese and Nelson Piquet, for which the strategic refueling is still expected during the race.
On Sunday morning supporting events fills in the time, though not as spectacularly as Brands Hatch, and the Formula One cars have their final thirty minutes of testing. The Brabham team is all kitted- nut with their refuelling apparatus and lines are taped onto the pit lane, the Renault team has given their drivers a boost-control knob on the instrument panel, Prost’s merely having an arrow pointing anti-clockwise, while Arnoux’s has an arrow and a plus sign. The Brabham-BMW’s have small bracing wires to the centre of the rear aerofoil, the Talbot-Ligier team are in their accustomed shambles, having made some overnight changes that does not work and the Alfa Romeo team is wondering if their speed the previous afternoon have been real. The experimental Ferrari is not being used, nor is the spare Renault. In the first practice Prost has tried carbon-fibre brake discs and an hydraulic damping system controlling the fore-and-aft ride-height, but have forsaken both ideas, so both cars are running standard and the engine people are quietly confident. Everyone chose this or that type of tyre, depending on their own personal psychology and some opt for two of this and two of that, others have little choice. The regulations have said the race will be over 52 laps, but amendments have been made correcting this to 54 laps, and by mutual consent of everyone concerned, a revised starting procedure is agreed upon. If a car stalls on the starting grid after the red light is on flashing yellow lights will abort the start and everyone will switch off. Another parade-lap will be made and the race distance shortened by one lap to avoid any nonsense about topping-up with petrol, thus anyone running tight on fuel consumption will not be penalised.
If, at the second attempt, another aborted start take place, another lap will be chopped off the race- distance, and so on until there are none left and presumably the man on pole-position will be declared the winner. The 26 starters leave the pit lane on time and go round to the assembly grid and there is the anticipation of a pretty serious battle about to take place between the big guns of the European motor industry, so no wonder Porsche and Honda want to get involved. The air is full of problematical questions, such as: will both Brabhams stop for a tyre change and refuel, will they be able to get enough lead to do this, will the Ferrari have a real ding-dong battle with the Renaults, will the team- managers be able to control the natural exuberance of drivers like Patrese, Arnoux or Pironi, who will be the best of the rest, will all the turbocharged can blow each other up and Lauda win again with the McLaren, how many cars will Warwick pass on the opening lap? And so it goes on, the air is full of possibilities and all these thoughts run through the mind as Arnoux leads the field round on the parade lap. Down the back straight all the front-runners are zig-zagging about, hopefully creating a bit of warmth in their front tyres, while those at the back who are never going town the winner’s rostrum, do not bother. Back on the grid all is orderly, the red light come on, then the green and 25 cars accelerate away, leaving Jarier’s Osella behind with a broken drive-shaft. The two Renaults led away, and is still in the lead down the long straight, followed by Pironi and Piquet, Patrese and Tambay, all in turbocharged cars and already pulling away from the pack, led by Daly in a Williams-Cosworth V8. Rosberg has made a poor start and become engulfed by the mid-field runners and only 24 cars went by. At the far end of the circuit the drive to the oil pump have failed on Fabi’s Hart engine, the orange oil pressure light have shone, and after his practice experience the little Italian have switched everything off and pulls off the track.
His team mate Warwick has not made a storming start and is well down the field surrounded by the lesser Cosworth powered runners. On lap two Patrese has his Brabham-BMW between the Renaults of Arnoux and Prost while Piquet has passed Pironi’s Ferrari. Down the long straight on lap three the BMW power take the Brabham past the Renault at a speed that is breathtaking and Piquet has taken the second BMW-powered car past the second Renault, so it is BMW, Renault, BMW, Renault, Ferrari, Ferrari and already a sizeable gap before Daly appeared leading the Alfa Romeos and the rest of the Cosworth-powered specials. Salazar has spin off in his ATS, so we are down to 23 cars already. Another lap and Piquet uses his BMW power to flash past Arnoux so by lap five it is all sort out, two BMW-powered Brabhams, with Patrese already more than five seconds ahead, two Renaults and two Ferraris and everyone seats to be holding back, wary of blowing up their engines, using up their petrol or their tyres. Even so the rest of the field is a long way behind, with Daly firmly in seventh place on his own. As Patrese gets to the end of the long straight and lift off there is an ominous puff of oil smoke, which get worse as he starts the twisty bit of the circuit leading back to the pit area. Piquet goes by, no doubt worrying about his own BMW engine, Arnoux goes by and then Prost and Pironi as the luckless Patrese limps along with a burn out piston and oil and smoke pouring from the back of the car. Officially Patrese crosses the line in fifth place but by now the oil is on fire and the fibre-glass engine cover is burning. As the others goes on their way the burning Brabham stop by the pit entrance and Patrese struggles out as marshals rush up to quell the fire. If you have to retire from the lead of a race you might as well do it in style.
"After the straight, at the beginning of the Signe curve I realized that the engine had blown. It was smoking profusely and there were also long flames. I tried to go on, but I realized that it was too dangerous to enter the pits among the crowd, there was also the risk of an explosion".
The man from Padova shows great courage and professionalism, pulling the car over in front of the pit road, unbuckling his seat belt and running away from the car. The rescue operations are rather slow. A man arrives with an extinguisher, but it is not enough to smother the flames; therefore, defying the risk of repeating the tragic accident of Kyalami (Tom Pryce ran over a marshal who had crossed the track), another member of the fire-fighting team rushes to the other side of the carriageway and the fire is tamed. While all this is happening Geoff Lees limps in with a punctured right rear tyre on his Lotus and De Cesaris has called at the pits with his engine misfiring. Hardly has the smoke cleared from the derelict Brabham than police cars, fire forces and ambulances are seen tearing off towards the Courbe de Signes at the end of the long back straight. The March of Jochen Mass and the Arrows of Mauro Baldi has tangled at close on 180 m.p.h. as they sweep into the right-hand corner, and the Rothmans sponsored March have flown through the air and crashes through the fencing into the spectator enclosure. By sheer good luck the injuries to the spectators are remarkably light, though some needs hospital treatment, but it could have been a major catastrophe. Piquet is out on his own, presumably trying to build up sufficient lead for a pit stop and the Renaults are running together, some way behind but not far enough to be out of touch. Then come the two Ferraris, running well enough, but never looking like challenging anyone ahead. Daly’s brief moment of glory ahead of the rest is brought to a stop by a puncture and by the time he has been into the pits and out again he has dropped from sixth to eleventh.
Warwick has found his clutch will not free so he stops at the pits to have it seen to and Watson stutter into the pits with his McLaren’s engine sounding very flat. Daly’s stop have let Lauda up into sixth place but he has Rosberg closing on him so he decides he needs a new set of tyres and dived into the pits only to find the McLaren team very occupied with Watson’s car. Quick as lightning the Austrian summes up the situation and drive on down the pit lane and back into the race, coming in again next time round. By this time Watson’s trouble has been found to be an irreparable main electrical lead, so his car is wheeled out of the way and the Ron Dennis lads is ready for Lauda when he next appeares. A new set of wheels and tyres are fitted and he is away, but all this have dropped him to twelfth place. Apart from Piquet pulling steadily away nothing much is happening up front, though whether he is gaining enough on the Renaults to allow for a pit-stop is debatable. Knowing the Brabham team owner, it is debatable whether he is going to stop anyway, even though the mechanics are acting out the pit-stop routine in the pit road. Piquet’s lead is a bare 14 seconds and Arnoux and Prost seemes to have the measure of him at that, while the Ferraris are not in the picture, pit-stop or no pit-stop. Just like Patrese’s car, as Piquet liftes off at the end of the straight on lap 14 there is a puff of smoke, but unlike Patrese the trouble is almost instantaneous and the Brabham pulls off the track with smoke pouring from the BMW engine. The talk is that Piquet is about to be signalled in for his pit-stop, but once again the best laid plans have gone astray. Despite this, designer Gordon Murray jokes, saying:
"Too bad, there was one lap left to the stop and I would have liked to try the experiment".
Disappointment is also shared by the men of BMW, who after the exploit of Montreal and the second place in Zandvoort collect nothing. The refueling in the middle of the race can give advantages, but starting with the tank half-empty, obviously, Brabham must travel at a very high pace, increasing the danger of breakage. BMW will console itself with the first fast lap conquered as motorist. During the twelfth lap, while at the head of the race the cars are already detached from each other, in the rear they fight for the last positions. Mauro Baldi in his Arrows attacked Mass, who is ahead of him in his March. At the entrance of the Signes curve, at about 270 km/h, the Emilian driver flanks the German on the inside to pass. Mass tightens his trajectory and the impact is inevitable. Baldi tries to escape by stepping on the kerb but it is useless. The two cars touches, the Italian's car spins on the left, while the March wheels up, jumps over a guardrail and a pile of old tires, and smashes through a fence behind which many spectators are leaning. The impact is violent: screams of pain rise from the crowd. The car has a fire. Twelve people are hit or burned by the burning fuel that spreads all around. The toll is Incredibly modest: twelve lightly injured, with second-degree burns, bruises, a dislocated elbow, according to organizers. Mass remains in the wreckage as rescue crews put toxic gas fire extinguishers into action. Confusion. Baldi recounts:
"I tried to help. I was afraid that Jochen would get burned or suffocate. Luckily, he was almost unharmed and they managed to pull him out after a while. I thought he had seen me, instead he closed the road".
Mass is taken to the infirmary: he is diagnosed with shock, a contusion on his forehead and a hematoma between his neck and shoulder.
"What a scare, I thought I was going to kill myself. I didn't think Mauro would try to pass me in a place where it's impossible. So when he got in I couldn't do anything. All sorts of things happen to me this year".
The two Renaults drone by into the lead, Arnoux still ahead of Prost; it is all over and we are barely at half distance. The two Ferraris comes next, four turbocharged cars in a row, and what is more, all driven by Frenchmen, an end product of a powerful national plan by the Elf petrol company many years ago to promote French drivers and keep them on the right path to the top, unlike enthusiasm in Great Britain which is enormous but misguided and mis-directed. In a lonely sixth place is the valiant Rosberg, in spite of his bad start, and he is followed by Alboreto, Daly and Giacomelli, the Alfa Romeo driver shortly to be lapped by the leader. If the Renaults keep running nothing much can happen, for the Ferraris are almost sure to keep going and nobody is going to catch anybody. Prost is not keeping up with Arnoux as a rubbing strip has been damaged on a side-pod, which is affecting the handling, but not enough to put his second place in danger. So it goes on under the blazing sun on the arid plateau that is Paul Ricard, a gentle breeze just keeping things tolerable. The two yellow, white and black Renaults drone on and on, never once getting out of line or their drivers doing anything but conducting them correctly. They just have to score a one-two victory this time. If anything goes wrong now the guillotine will surely fall. Slowly the laps tick by and Prost falls more than 20 seconds behind his team-mate and it is clear Arnoux is not waiting for him, even though Pironi’s Ferrari is far behind. On the other hand you can never be sure about Ferrari, and Pironi is a wily customer. With Prost being Renault’s only real hope of creating a World Champion on points, the team-manager signals to Arnoux to slow down and let Prost win, but as seems fashionable in the nineteen-eighties team orders are ignored and Arnoux leads his team-mate home to a Renault one- two in their own Grand Prix. There is such relief in the French team after all the troubles they have suffered this season, that everyone celebrates. The remainder of the runners literally drift in by comparison, some like Rosberg having done their best, others like Lauda and Daly slightly frustrated, the Talbot runners totally depressed having been in and out of the pits all the race and Warwick happy to be in at the finish, in spite of the clutch going solid again, and the transmission breaking as he crosses the line.
After it is all over that strange Mr. Tyrrell prompts the Williams team to put in a protest about the skirts on the Renaults. Something to do with the stitching or the gussets, or is it the ruffles or maybe the fashionable slit up the side is too short or too long; whatever it is Ken Tyrrell does not seem to the French skirts. At the first four places there are four French drivers: Arnoux, Prost, Pironi and Tambay, followed by Keke Rosberg and Michele Alboreto. The Finnish driver has preceded for a breath the usual, combative and always more appreciable Michele Alboreto, really miraculous with his Tyrrell. French motor racing has pulled out commitment and pride for the National Grand Prix. The result relaunches Renault in the world championship, but also makes another step forward for Pironi, who now has nine points of advantage over Watson, who retires during the thirteenth lap due to a malfunction of the electrical system. Didier is then chased by Prost, who - at 25 points - is now the main rival for the title. A fight that remains open, but with increasing chances of success for Pironi. The French Grand Prix is, overall, a very boring race, not so much divided into two sections for the different possibilities of the turbocharged and normal cars, as in a series of individual tests. Everyone races in isolation, there are no exciting overtaking, or thrilling challenges: only small skirmishes in the back, and attempts by Alboreto to overtake Rosberg. Emotions come only from the sensational crash of the Brabham-Bmw, and, unfortunately, from a dramatic accident between Jochen Mass and Mauro Baldi. Much more interesting, even if only at the level of controversy, the background. Arnoux's victory ignites the animosities in the French team, because, as said, during the last laps the Renault box exposes to Arnoux a sign with the order to let Prost pass in front, better placed in the world classification. But René, for three times, starting from ten laps from the end, has deliberately ignored the warning. At the pits the quarrels, the insults and the big words are lost. It happens of all, with Prost that threatens the team saying:
"It's him or me. If he doesn't leave at the end of the season, I will look for another team".
And Arnoux retorting:
"I couldn't let him pass".
It seems a scene already seen at the beginning of May, in the Ferrari pits, at Imola. Only the protagonists change: Prost cursing, accusing his teammate Arnoux, guilty of stealing the victory. It has happened with Villeneuve and Pironi, it is repeated with Renault, which triumphes in the French Grand Prix but also had to swallow the bitter pill of the quarrel of its drivers. Now between Prost and Arnoux there is a conflict, indeed open war. Alain accuses his companion, declaring:
"He didn't keep to the pacts, he had the order to stop, to let me pass. It was an agreement signed by both of us, he knew it. Now the friendship no longer exists, between me and him everything is over. Closed, each on his own way".
But Arnoux retorts, saying:
"I couldn't let this victory slip away. I had a twenty second advantage and if I had slowed down my race, I would have risked being overtaken by others. If we had been close I would have let Prost pass. But not like that, it was a deserved success".
In the Renault team Prost is aiming at the world title, but Arnoux has been looking for the victory for a long time, for many months, during which he has been persecuted by bad luck despite having obtained an impressive number of pole positions and having been the favorite on the eve of many races. René has taken this revenge, but perhaps has ruined the relationship with Renault, since now Prost claims, and wants them to do away with his teammate. But who is right? It's hard to give an answer. René has driven with mastery despite having a car that jumped in the back like a bolted horse. He suffers, in the straights he can not hold the steering wheel in his hands because the vibrations are too strong. Then he goes alone in front of everyone after the withdrawal of Patrese and Piquet, and no one is able to reach him anymore. Sure is that the agreement is already established before the race, when the sporting director Gérard Larrousse, the team manager Jean Sage and the president of Renault Bernard Hanon, have summoned the two drivers to inform them that in case of need, Arnoux will have made Prost pass. René accepts, but then in the race he fails in his duties, holding the first position until the end. The French media report only part of the story, writing stories only on the basis of the pit-board exposed by the team in the race, also because Renault does not let filter anything of the agreement not respected. Consequently, the reaction of the French people, who recognize in Arnoux their idol, is to discredit and insult Alain. A reaction that can be summarized in an event that happened immediately after the race: while he is returning by car to his village, Saint-Chamond, Alain stops at an Elf gas station to fill up. Getting out of the car to pay, he has a brief but unpleasant conversation with the cashier.
"Oh, I watched the race today and it was great".
Exclaims the gas station attendant.
"No, it wasn't that great".
"No, it was good because that asshole Prost got what he deserves. Why should he have won the race? You showed him how it's done, Monsieur Arnoux".
Embarrassed, Prost pays with cash instead of his Elf card, not to show that in fact the gas station attendant is not talking to Arnoux, but to the one he has just apostrophized as the asshole. The relationship between the two teammates, already cracked after Monte Carlo, when Prost has accused Arnoux of hindering him in qualifying, wears out for good:
"If at the end of the championship I will lack three points to win the title, I will know who to thank. After the Grand Prix of San Marino I had declared that Didier had done well to take advantage of the occasion. But it was at the beginning of the season and there was no agreement to establish the precedence between the two drivers. Instead, we had decided that Arnoux should let me pass. From the box, the sign was shown several times for him to wait for me and he ignored it. We had agreed on the tactics even ten minutes before the race. Now a friendship is over, I have one more rival to beat".
As far as Ferrari is concerned, the third and fourth place satisfy Pironi and Tarnbay, but certainly do not satisfy the Maranello fans, who have come in great numbers to the French circuit. We expect something more from the Modenese company, at least an attempt to fight against the outriders; instead the two transalpine drivers are content, or have to be content, to wait for the others to retire. Marco Piccinini, immediately after the end of the race, telephones Maranello saying:
"Mission accomplished, more could not be done".
The third place of Pironi and the fourth of Tambay are a positive result for Ferrari, but it must be underlined that the cars of the Italian team are not competitive against the Renault. They run a bit on the cheap, and rely on the strength of the engines that never fail in their task. Didier Pironi has been very laconic for some time, that is since he became leader of the world ranking. He says two words, then locks himself in his motorhome.
"One more step forward in the race for the title. Before the race I would have signed for third place and I was satisfied. Against the Renaults at Paul Ricard it was difficult to get more. Above all it was difficult to beat the Michelin tires which proved to be a remarkable weapon for the French team. The next circuits should prove to be slightly more favorable for us".
Pironi does not want to do the math on the scores, but the rules state that a driver can accumulate the results of half of the tests run during the season, that is, in all likelihood eight, as Hockenheim, Zeltweg and Dijon are safe, while still in doubt is Las Vegas, plus three. A total of eleven. So far the Ferrari driver has placed seven times, and therefore he will have the chance to add to his ranking all future results, possibly discarding the point taken in Brazil if he does better in all the next races. His rivals will not have to discard either, as no one has already achieved too many placings. Moreover, Pironi also has the advantage of having a teammate like Tambay, hired on purpose to help him. Patrick has in fact revealed that his contract speaks clearly:
"I mainly have to try to take points away from Didier's rivals. In fact, I have always been behind him to cover any possible attacks by Daly or Rosberg. The car was unsteady, I had no driving force, so much so that at the start I risked being overtaken by many competitors".
The engineer Mauro Forghieri, springs like a sprinter at the end of the race to return home, releases few words to the press:
"We didn't have a great race, but you have to know how to be satisfied. World titles can also be won by saving money. Let's not forget what we had to do and go through to get to this point. The work done and the difficulties overcome were remarkable. Of course I would have liked to have dominated, but you can also leave room for others".
Ferrari, as well as other teams, will only stay one day. Starting from Tuesday 27th July 1982, in fact, free practice sessions are scheduled in the Dijon circuit. The house of Maranello will take advantage of the occasion to set up some small changes, waiting to be able to put on track a substantially different car for the last races of the season. Together with the Maranello team, Alfa Romeo will also be on the French circuit. The Italian manufacturer does not collect anything in the last race, as Giacomelli is blocked by a change of tires that makes him lose several positions and makes him fall into ninth position, while De Cesaris, after a pit stop for a repair to the injection of the engine that works intermittently, has the misfortune to puncture a tire and break a suspension being forced to retire. Niki Lauda's race is also unfortunate. As mentioned, the Austrian, while he is fighting among the firsts in the group of cars with aspirated engines, stops once at the pits to change his tires, but he has to restart immediately because his area is occupied by Watson who is also stopped. Immediately after Niki comes back in, he replaces the tires, but he has already lost a lap.