#370 1982 Austrian Grand Prix

2021-04-12 00:00

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#1982, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Susanna Fortolan,

#370 1982 Austrian Grand Prix

Friday, August 13, 1982, the area surrounding the circuit of Zeltweg is already a huge camp. There are fans everywhere, in the woods, in the meadows,


Friday, August 13, 1982, the area surrounding the circuit of Zeltweg is already a huge camp. There are fans everywhere, in the woods, in the meadows, against the nets. And they are for the majority Italians, these incredible, irreducible fans of motor sport that after the victory of Patrick Tambay, and especially the success of Ferrari in Hockenheim, run to see the Austrian Grand Prix with the hope that the French driver and the car of Maranello repeat the feat. Everyone is convinced that Ferrari in one way or another can keep this title so close, and that it has already cost immense sacrifices: or be able to keep Didier Pironi at the top of the standings, or attempt to forward the only available pilot at this time. To calm the minds of the fans, however, the engineer Forghieri, who stands with his feet firmly on the ground, as a concrete and realistic coach which is:


"This is pure science fiction, we can only live in the day, racing in the race. We will have to look not only at our results, but also at those of the opponents. And with a single car. Impossible, it would take a miracle. However, we will do everything we can: the car is fine, we will try to choose the right tyres again".


To those who ask him what the task of Tambay will be, Forghieri answers:


"For Patrick it will be very hard. So much responsibility and also so much physical effort. In these two days of testing will have to do tests for an incredible number of tires".


The technician has sympathy for Tambay, it’s known that he is a serious guy, a trained driver and probably would like to confirm him right now for next year, but these are decisions that will be taken in Maranello. For now, the transalpine must think to run in the four races that remain to be disputed.


"I don’t think about anything, I’ve never thought about the world title in my life. It’s hard enough without goals. Driving for Ferrari is no joke, you have everyone’s eyes on you".


On the shoulders of Tambay also meet the looks of rivals. In particular of Prost, Arnoux, Piquet and Patrese, the four drivers who, having engines with turbo engines, can be considered among the main favorites in the fight for the title. Everyone now fears confrontation, and the Brazilian who is smart, just arrived at Zeltweg, puts his hands forward:


"It’s hot as hell. Our Bmw turbo engines are afraid of high temperatures. If it continues in this heat, Sunday we all finish roast and maybe Watson wins. Or Laffitte, like last year".


In the area of the circuit the sun seems to be burning: in the pressure balloon reserved for the press room are measured sixty-five degrees, and it seems to be in a sauna; the forecast says that in the coming days it could be even warmer. An additional problem for Niki Lauda that Thursday, August 12, 1982, after a last visit of the specialist, Professor Polgenfurst, receives clearance to try to compete in the Austrian Grand Prix.


"Doctors consider me clinically healed, but it will be necessary to see if I can move the gear lever without pain".


How many real chances does Ferrari have to keep the first place in the world championship with Pironi, and to conquer it with Tambay? They are very few: for the Casa di Maranello the future is not as rosy as it might seem. Nobody wants to give Ferrari a win, deserved, but too easy. Everyone wants to fight to counter the pace of the Italian team. Tambay has exactly 16 points, the result of three placements that the driver obtained after his debut in the Netherlands. Four points were won in Britain, three in France and then success in Germany. To go beyond Pironi, the good Patrick should therefore earn at least 25 points in four races that remain to be played. There are many, considering that Tambay should be at least a couple of times first and always finish in the other races. So, a difficult march, almost impossible. The number one candidate for Piquet’s succession is Prost, at 25 points. The Frenchman is favored simply because he is the first, in the general classification, among the drivers with a turbo car. To do this, the little Alain should reach at least 40, that is to overcome by a point Pironi. So, he has to get 15 points: he just needs a second and a first place. In four races it is not very much for a car that on several occasions has proven its superiority. The other favorites are Watson, with 30 points, and Rosberg, with 27. Both would need two or three very good placements, from second to third place. Then there is Lauda at 24 points, Patrese at 19 together with Arnoux, and Piquet, also in the mathematical possibility of winning the title with 16 points. A real puzzle, a puzzle that Sunday, August 15, 1982, could be solved if one of the favorites could win. For Ferrari it would be a great game that each race reserved a different winner. If none of the candidates, in fact, will be able to win at least two first places, it will hardly be able to overcome Pironi.


So, this is Ferrari’s hope: try to take as many points as possible with Tambay and cancel any victories. The Ferrari needs a series of fabulous results as perhaps it has never achieved in its very long activity. If Tarnbay wins on the Zeltweg track, he will be fully launched towards the title. If instead the success will reach one of the drivers who is not racing in the World Championship, it will also be a positive result. Meanwhile, the condition of Didier Pironi, admitted to the Chirurgische Clinik of the University, remains stationary but still worrying. The strong fiber of the pilot reacts well to the therapies practiced by the team of specialized doctors. However, the extent and variety of the damage suffered in the accident at Hockenheim suggest a cautious prognosis, which is still reserved. On Monday, August 9, 1982, nobody, not even close relatives, not even the mother, gets permission to enter the aseptic intensive care room in which Didier is under strict surveillance. Nurses even reject flowers sent by some friends. The biggest concerns are the risks of an infection that could be dangerous. Meanwhile, Pironi is taken to the operating room in the morning for the reduction of the fracture in the arm. Mrs Imelda, the pilot’s mother, and Aunt Uva are forced to wait in the lobby of the clinic for news. However, the doctors are unofficially optimistic about the chances of recovery of the thirty-year-old Parisian. Blood circulation in the injured foot seems to have resumed its normal course, and this is one of the most positive facts. However, the German doctors have indicated that it will take another four days to release all reservations.


"The outcome of the surgery was positive. If the territory undergoing surgery has resumed being regularly sprayed, everything can proceed in the best way. At a later stage it will be necessary to see if Didier will have to undergo other operations to restore the functionality of the right foot".


Explains Dr Bartoletti, the doctor of Italian pilots who externally follows these dramatic events. In the afternoon the doctors issue a medical report:


"The general conditions of Pironi, after the reconstruction of the lower part of the legs, are satisfactory. To date it is not life-threatening, and at this time no local complications have appeared. As for the fracture of the left arm, today he underwent a first conservative treatment. In the current situation it is not possible to implement a patient transport plan. The next report will be issued in three days".


This is the text, signed by Professor Mischkewsky. Meanwhile the circus continues its path in Zeltweg, and Friday, August 13, 1982, in the first qualifying round of the Austrian Grand Prix, Nelson Piquet marks the fastest lap time, and the new track record, in 1'27"612, at the fantastic average of 244.177 km/h. It is not the highest speed ever recorded in a Grand Prix: in 1971 in Monza, without chicanes, Henry Pescarolo, with Matra, had just exceeded the average of 250 km/h, but the Brianza track was then a very long straight, with some connecting curves. Here, however, there are only curves and ups and downs and ten years ago we ran on the 216 km/h pass. The increase is remarkable, and it shows how the current cars are real cars glued to the ground, with all the risks that derive. During the timed tests, there is an infernal heat looming in the area, almost forty degrees. To get the most benefits, the most competitive teams - those with turbo-powered cars - even wait for a cloud to hide the sun for a few moments. The mechanics have now turned into gardeners: they do nothing but wet the tires with tens of liters of water to cool them between an outing on the track and the other. The tires, in fact, are so soft that sometimes they do not even make a lap and the cars come back to the pits with tires full of holes and bubbles. To make his time record, Piquet also used another stratagem: Brabham technicians stuffed under the bodywork, near the radiators and heat exchangers, a few pounds of synthetic ice to lower the temperatures of the Bmw turbo and allow to use maximum pressure. In short, such sophistication that forces drivers who only have a couple of good laps available, to run with the steering wheel between their teeth and take impossible risks. The same game tried by Piquet was also tried by Patrese, who, however, having a slightly heavier car, had to settle for the second time. Behind the two Brabhams, in third place, Patrick Tambay’s Ferrari. A more than satisfactory result when you consider that the Frenchman remains stationary in the last twenty-five minutes, stuck on the track for having broken the clutch. This episode unleashes the ire of Mauro Forghieri, designer of Ferrari, who asks to stop for a few minutes the tests in order to recover the car. But the race director, instructed to perfection by Bernie Ecclestone who made a sign of no, opposes a refusal. In the morning, however, the tests were interrupted to allow to bring to the pits the Alfa of De Cesaris with the throttle line blocked.


"These Englishmen do not miss an opportunity to try to take advantage, even wrongly".


Forghieri exclaims. But Ecclestone, in Austria, is the absolute master, more than anywhere else: it has bought in recent days the concession of the circuit for seven years, paying about 450 million Italian liras. The day is not particularly favorable to Renault, which places Prost in fourth place, detached by more than two seconds, due to the poor roadholding due to the apparent inferiority, for the moment, of Michelin tires, while Arnoux, while trying two cars, can only do one lap in over eight minutes, at an average of 43 km/h, due to some problems with the injection of both cars. The best of the drivers with aspirated engine is Rosberg, in front of Alboreto, De Angelis and Lauda: the Austrian driver feels no pain in the injured wrist and, barring unforeseen events, will be regularly at the start of the race. Saturday, August 14, 1982, at the end of the second qualifying round, Piquet and Patrese were unable to improve Friday’s performances, but no one managed to get close to them. The greatest exploit, however, is made by Prost who, with Renault, bypasses Tambay, taking third place. But Ferrari stays in the second row, ready to grab the win, or at least a great finish. Much will depend on the choice of tires. Goodyear - which equips Brabham and Ferrari - is faster in qualifying, but it will be necessary to see if the superiority will be confirmed in the race. Then, as mentioned, there is the heat that has been looming for days in this part of Styria, creating a real danger for turbo engines. Bmw has prepared modifications to its cooling engines that seem to have given excellent results, while Renault breaks two engines, both with Arnoux, and Ferrari is experiencing problems with its six-cylinder at the crucial moment of qualifying, when he was about to use the more tender tires, type D, the same ones that has allowed Piquet to get the circuit record. Probably the valve mechanism that injects water to cool the turbines has failed. This hasn’t happened since April, at Imola, when Villeneuve was blocked during the San Marino Grand Prix during the tests. Despite this problem, there is a certain optimism at Ferrari.


"I will try to make a smart start and at the same time prudent, then we will see. I hope at least to get on the podium. It would be a great result".


Nelson Piquet, on the other hand, has already announced an attack tactic. In all probability the Brazilian will start with the semi-empty petrol tank to have the initial advantage of the lighter car, and then he will enter the box to change the tires and refuel.


"I can’t do otherwise; I have to win or get at least second. Another placement does not interest me".


As for Renault, as mentioned, there is the unknown about the tightness of the engines and tires: Arnoux gets the fifth time, but in two days of testing completes only four laps. The Grenoble driver does not accuse his team of neglecting him, but he is certainly not happy and reveals the intention not to comply with any team orders to favor Prost. This only confirms the rumors that René has already signed for another team: some claim that he could switch to Lotus, which will have Renault turbo engines in 1983, but the chances that he has already signed for Ferrari remain unchanged. Behind the five turbos is predictable a great fight between the engines aspirated, with Rosberg in the front row followed by De Angelis, Alboreto, Daly and Lauda. The Roman pilot bypasses the Milanese, but Alboreto has a mitigating factor. In the morning, in fact, his Tyrrell is detached a suspension and Alboreto felt flying through the air. Luckily, he fell on four wheels and the two in front opened as if they were papier-mâché. For this reason, Michele could not defend himself during the last hour of practice. The Osella could not qualify: the constructor from Turin is going through a difficult moment and Jarier doesn’t seem very convinced. It is the first time that the young Irishman Tommy Byrne will be in the race, making his debut aboard the Theodore, while Rupert Keegan takes Mass’s place on the March. Niki Lauda does not know whether to be satisfied with his return to Formula 1. The season had started very well, with the fourth-place finish in the first race, in South Africa, and then with the two victories in Long Beach and Brands Hatch. The Austrian probably realizes that the fight for the world title, although there are still possibilities on paper for him, appears unequal to rivals equipped with turbo-powered cars. The fact of having to race every time in pursuit races and, above all, to have only hope in the misfortunes of those who preceded it thanks to much more powerful engines is frustrating, even for those who have grown accustomed to all kinds of situations.


"Even in Austria I have to fight for a finish. It’s a car, that I don’t like. I’ve always been against turbos, but I have to bow down to advanced technology. But it’s not right, we’re in two very different categories. I only hope that next year we can all fight on the same level".


Lauda has not changed at all, he is a man who makes questions of principle, who does not compromise. An episode of the previous days is significant, when they ask Lauda to go and talk to the microphone of the circuit, managed by Bernie Ecelestone, but the Austrian, before accepting, demands the restitution of two hundred and sixty shillings that it has to pay of surcharge in order to land with its airplane to the airport of Zeltweg, also this controlled from the master of the Brabham. Many drivers see in the two-time World Champion their driver man, to the point that several drivers ask that he take the place of the injured Pironi as president of the Association of professional drivers.


"We’ll see, Didier even without running can be useful. From now on, however, we will have to be much tougher. So you cannot go on. Over the next few days, I will bring my colleagues together, and we will demand very strict safety standards. Otherwise, we will protest in every way. I don’t want to be reduced to sterile discussions before the races, as happened this year. Everything will have to be decided before the start of the 1983 championship. We want safer machines and circuits. And I assure you that we will get what we want".


Sunday, August 15, 1982, despite the infernal heat, the Austrian Grand Prix begins. Poleman Nelson Piquet holds the lead at the start, leading ahead of Alain Prost and Riccardo Patrese. In the rear the two Alfa Romeo cars collide with each other after Derek Daly remains stationary with a clutch problem: at the green light the Williams of the Irish crashes, and De Cesaris to avoid it moves everything to the right, while Giacomelli that follows finds a gap on the left, making a straight trajectory. But De Cesaris inexplicably pushes out again and hits the twin car. The two drivers exchange accusations: De Cesaris is the most violent, but he is wrong, the wrong maneuver is his. The fact remains that the Alfa could run a discreet race but remedy a bad figure. During the first lap Patrese passed Prost again, and in the next lap the Italian passed Piquet. Still in the second lap, perhaps because of the fragments of the two cars crashed at the start, the right rear tire of the Tambay car begins to deflate and is forced to return to the pits, while Alboreto goes off the track in an attempt to pass Keke Rosberg. Michele Alboreto will say:


"It’s my fault, I tried to pass Rosberg outside".


The race therefore sees in the lead the two Brabhams, followed by the two Renault, Elio De Angelis, Keke Rosberg and Derek Warwick. The latter then passes Rosberg, entering the points. The race of Warwick, however, ends on the eighth lap, with the suspension broken; a short time before also the other Toleman driver Teo Fabi had to abbandoned the race, when he was seventh. On lap 16, Arnoux retired with the engine out of action. Shortly after, Piquet entered the pits to change the tires, which did not go. However, the Brazilian enters too early, taking his mechanics by surprise. In this phase the mechanics are awkward, and Nelson loses a total of about fifty-eight seconds, starting in fourth position. Meanwhile Patrese takes thirty-three seconds ahead of Prost: the Paduan enters the pits like a fury, Brabham is unleashed and the car starts again in time to maintain a 2.35 seconds advantage over Renault. Refueling is done in record time of 14.6 seconds. However, on lap 28, the Bmw engine of Patrese breaks down, which at Texaco goes off the track and threatens to hit a photographer. The race of the other Brabham will last only four more laps: even Piquet will be forced to retire due to an electrical failure. The ranking now sees Alain Prost in the lead, followed by Elio De Angelis out of thirty seconds, Keke Rosberg, Jacques Laffite and, a lap Niki Lauda and Mauro Baldi. On the 47th lap, Baldi gives the sixth position to Tambay, who is recovering from the last positions. On lap 49 a power failure forced Prost to retire, leaving first place to Elio De Angelis, while on lap 50 Tambay also passed Lauda. At the same time Rosberg begins to approach De Angelis, who suddenly starts to feel annoyed at the change: during the last lap the Finn will be able to reset the gap leading in the wake of the Italian driver, unsuccessfully trying a couple of attacks. After the last corner the two cars pass practically paired on the finish line, but Elio manages to prevail for only 0.05 seconds on Keke Rosberg, and won his first world race in Formula 1, giving, among other things, the 150th victory to the fifteen-year-old Cosworth engine.


"My car was wide, very wide; it just couldn’t get past me".


The Roman driver on the top step of the podium and the anthem of Mameli will be a festive corollary to a race that is among the most exciting and troubled of recent times. It could have been a victory for Maranello if, at the beginning of the second lap, the right rear tyre of the red single-seater did not sag: on balance, thanks to the chronological times provided by the Longines-serviceOlivetti, it turns out that Tambay could have come first with a lead of fifteen seconds. Colin Chapman is happy as a child on Christmas Day. One of his cars had not won since August 27, 1978, when Mario Andretti won the Dutch Grand Prix, ahead of his team-mate, the poor Ronnie Peterson. Since then, Lotus had stepped back and left the small group of the most competitive teams. With a huge smile, the English constructor pampers his pupil, Elio De Angelis, arrived at the first success in Formula 1, after four seasons as a young lion with an appetite still unfulfilled. Romano, born on March 26, 1958, Elio De Angelis is considered a very talented conductor, since he manages to combine - and it is not an easy thing - an innate aggressiveness and a good dose of brain, which allows him to avoid risky situations. At fourteen Elio was already driving karts, and from an early age he dreamed of becoming an ace of the wheel.


"I was little more than a child, dreaming of Jim Clark’s exploits. He was my idol and since then I have done everything to get to Formula 1. The first four years were terrible, with few, small satisfactions, and many disappointments. It’s hard to understand when you feel you are among the best and the technical means you have available does not allow you to express yourself loved, every day, every race becomes a frustration. Now I hope that this is only the first of a long series of successes. I dedicate it to myself, because I had the strength to believe in my possibilities".


Is that presumption? No, just a good dose of will and courage. Elio De Angelis is one who expresses his opinions, perhaps not always to be shared, with extreme frankness. He has always criticized the late Villeneuve - "He was dangerous for himself and for others" - while considering him the fastest driver, and even with Chapman the young Roman has a tense relationship, almost of hate-love, since he hates man for his faults, but he loves and defends the brilliant technician. With the owner of Lotus, he had engaged a hard arm wrestling, even threatening to leave, to look for another team because he was not happy with the developments of the car in these three years, because he did not want to be underpaid as demanded by the English manager. Just Sunday morning the two find an agreement, and Elio signs the contract: next year he will compete with Lotus, equipped with a turbo Renault engine.


"The success came at the right time. I hope it convinced Chapman to make me a car to win the 1983 world title. He is capable and I am ready".


Meanwhile, Elio continues his favorite hobby. The music of the engines is not in fact the only passion of the driver: he is an excellent pianist and composes delicate and poignant songs.


"I want to record a long-playing in the future. I will go to America and find the best arrangers. In this music there will be everything, even the first place in the Austrian Grand Prix".


The fantastic victory of Elio De Angelis at Zeltweg brought to the fore a new name in Formula 1. The Roman driver had already stood out for his skill and for the placings obtained, but never in four years of activity had he managed to achieve a success. Next year, perhaps, with Lotus equipped with Renault turbo engine, De Angelis himself will be able to aim for the world title. But if the success of the Italian is greeted by a great event of joy by the many fans present on the Austrian circuit, even greater enthusiasm has created the pursuit of which was the protagonist of Ferrari. Patrick Tambay, in fact, after having punctured a tire during the second lap, came back to the pits to have his tyres replaced and returned to the track in 21st position, now irremediably cut off from the fight for victory. Little by little, however, when the Frenchman started a resounding recovery, the enthusiasm of the Ferrari fans present at Zeltweg reached incredible levels.


"They pushed me, with passion, with encouragement; in every turn, at every braking I saw a huge mass of arms waving, they waved bunches of red Ferrari flags and tricolor drapes. I forgot I was French for a second, and I got emotionally involved. I drove like a robot, I beat rivals almost without noticing, without fatigue. It was a wonderful feeling that I had never felt. In a way I was more moved by the warmth I found in these people than the tribute I received for the victory in Hockenheim. I am only sorry that I could not reciprocate such an expression of affection with a victory. I promise that in the next races I will do everything to make happy this multitude of new friends that I found arriving at Ferrari".


Patrick Tambay is a really nice guy; modest, ready, helpful. He had agreed to run as Pironi’s squire, and now that his teammate is immobilized, he takes all the responsibilities with great patience, with the tenacity of an apprentice. In Cannes, where he lives with his wife and parents, he prepares like an athlete: running and gymnastics every day, strict diet, in the evening to sleep early, and in a short time he has put himself on the same level with all the most trained drivers. Five races, one win and three placements in the top six: the French driver started competing in the world championship mid-season, and now theoretically he could also win the title.


"The credit, however, is not mine. It is Ferrari to train the drivers. Now I understand how Lauda became champion. Niki certainly had character and talent, but it was in Maranello that he learned the trade".


The future looks pretty rosy for the thirty-three-year-old French, which in all likelihood will be reconfirmed next year and will have René Arnoux, who Monday, August 16, 1982, is in Maranello to talk to Enzo Ferrari.


"René Arnoux visited Ferrari today and spoke with Enzo Ferrari about his future sporting activity. The meeting ended without any reciprocal commitments, the possible adoption of which could be followed at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, while waiting to know the timing of Didier Pironi’s desired recovery".


This brief statement issued in Maranello puts an end to the rumors that have arisen in recent days. Nothing has been decided, but it is clear that a communication will be made by 12 September for the Italian Grand Prix. The conclusion of the Formula 1 World Championship comes under the sign of a wonderful uncertainty: on paper, eleven drivers have the chance to win the world title. From Pironi, current leader of the standings with 39 points, but without direct defense, until Alboreto, eleventh precisely in the ranking, at 14. Obviously, the chances of the Milanese driver of Tyrrell are only theoretical: he should win all the races scheduled to achieve the goal, and this is in practice very difficult. For all the others, however, there is a concrete hope, even if, it is clear, the prediction appears much more limited say five or six names. Arbitrators of this situation so confused are turbo engines. Drivers who have supercharged cars can bet on race wins in the race, while others will almost certainly only rely on placings. Despite this reality the number one favorite is the Finnish Keke Rosberg, who is only six lengths from Pironi. The Williams driver would need a third and a fourth place to overtake the injured Ferrari rival. But Rosberg will have to hope that the various Prost, Arnoux, Piquet, Patrese and Tambay will not infiltrate a series of positive results, because otherwise he will not be able to do anything. Motorsport, however, and in particular Formula 1, is too subject to unpredictability to rely on pure statistical data. The next test is scheduled in Dijon, August 29, 1982. Last year on the French track Prost prevailed, and in 1979 Renault won with Jabouille. For this race therefore the French company has many chances to emerge, but it will be necessary to see if Brabham will be able to take advantage with the flying refueling and if Ferrari will not miss a success that is in its possibilities, and that it has escaped for mere misfortune to Zeltweg.


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