Exceptional public, with more than 30.000 people who paid a 3.000 Italian lira ticket for each row of seats, unrestrained cheering for Ferrari, a few problems with public order and a brief suspension of practice to avoid dangerous exuberance of the spectators: in this setting, on Wednesday 18 August 1982 the Monza circuit experiences the first day of free practice. There were four main contenders for the world title, Prost's Renault, Lauda's McLaren, Rosberg's Williams and Tambay's Ferrari. Drivers tried both in the morning and in the afternoon, but it was Tambay, at the wheel of Ferrari, who in the late afternoon snatched 1'32"29 that pulverized the official record, obtained in practice in 1981 by Arnoux with 1'33"467. The second chronometric time was set by Prost, with 1'32"50, then Lauda 1'34"84. Slower Rosberg with 1'36"50, but Williams took care of the car tuning.
On Thursday, 19 August 1982, 40.000 people attended the tests, and such a massive presence of spectators evidently gave the drivers a boost, as Alain Prost was unleashed and with his Renault turbo lowered the unofficial record of the track obtained the day before by Tambay with Ferrari. The French driver turns in 1'31"47 at an average speed of 228.196 km/h. Even Tambay, who is suffering from shoulder pain caused by the cars without suspension and who has been forced to receive treatment from the Inter massager, Della Casa, drops below his previous limit with 1'31"79. For the occasion Ferrari sent an almost completely new single-seater onto the track: a modified chassis, more rigid and stronger, new suspension mountings and a longitudinal gearbox. Lauda in the McLaren lapped in 1'34"27 too, Rosberg in 1'36"40, and Arnoux, who only tried in the afternoon, got 1'32"77.
After the tests at Monza, on Monday 23 August 1982 at Maranello everyone is busy working, from the engineer Enzo Ferrari to the technicians to the mechanics, in view of the Swiss Grand Prix, scheduled on Sunday 29 August at Dijon. Everyone except Patrick Tambay. The French driver was suffering from a tedious muscular ailment of rheumatic origin, and couldn't test the cars for the race, which left for Dijon without being tested at Fiorano. In the meantime, good news about Didier Pironi arrived from Paris: the French driver improved day by day, with a recovery that left us astonished. But bad luck accompanied Ferrari this year. After Villeneuve's tragic accident and Pironi's terrible injury, the House of Mannello runs the risk of being unable to field a single car in the Swiss Grand Prix on Sunday, as Patrick Tambay is in pain and fears he will not be able to drive.
"I thought that the pain would go away if I rested. That is why I avoided the usual test session at Fiorano, but the inflammation, probably caused by the vibrations of these cars without suspension, still hasn't gone away. I am so sore that I have lost all feeling in my right hand. I can't sleep too, which is another problem".
The French confessed on his arrival from Cannes. After the tests in Monza, Tambay underwent all possible treatments, from acupuncture to thalassotherapy, anti-inflammatory ointments and compresses, but, for the moment, no positive results have been recorded.
"This morning I will check my reactions during practice. I'm willing to get an injection of novocaine so that I don't feel this terrible twinge in my back and arm. But, in any case, I won't be one hundred percent, and above all I'm afraid I won't be able to compete".
On the other hand, the weather forecast doesn't look good; it seems that the rain, which has already hit the Dijon area with several thunderstorms on Thursday, could continue. If qualifying were to take place on a wet track, Keke Rosberg would have the biggest advantage, as he would be able to offset his handicap against turbo engines and, above all, make the most of his ability to drive on water. The Finn is a true champion of stunts on slippery circuits, and won his only Formula 1 race - not valid for the world championship - at Silverstone three years earlier in a thunderstorm. The Williams driver, on the other hand, is now considered by everyone to be the favourite in the fight for the title, as he only needs two good placings to overtake Pironi. His main rivals can only hope if they win at least two of the three races on the calendar.
Only one day passes, and on Friday, 27 August 1982, the chances of Ferrari competing in the Swiss Grand Prix fade. Or, at least, it is unlikely that Patrick Tambay will be able to complete the race. In fact, the Frenchman's condition hasn't improved for the moment and a decision will be taken in extremis. But, barring a miracle, there is no material time to hope that the 33-year-old Parisian will be able to eradicate the vertebro-cerebral inflammation that struck him during free practice at Monza. Tambay took to the track for both the morning's test and the first qualifying session wearing a special protective collar to prevent the helmet coming into contact with the painful part of his head and then even using tie rods attached to the chassis to keep his head still, and he achieved, with great difficulty, the ninth fastest time.
"Unfortunately I am not up to the performance of the car. The car is going very well and could have been further ahead. But I don't feel right, I can't drive with ease and, above all, I'm afraid I won't be able to resist the stress of the race".
The Frenchman has been examined by several specialists, one from Paris, one from Lyon and another from Cannes, but the diagnosis is unanimous: it is a crushing between the sixth and seventh vertebrae, which, when lowered, have involved the radial nerve of the right arm. In addition to severe pain, the driver also felt numbness in his limb, especially in his thumb and index finger:
"It isn't serious, and I'm not in danger of aggravation. The only problem is that in order to heal I would have to remain at absolute repose. I'm really sorry for Ferrari, who deserved to end the season in another way. I'm going to do everything I can to try and race, but I won't be one hundred per cent physically anyway".
It's obvious that this situation, with the impossibility for the Maranello factory to defend itself in order to try to get to the world title in some way, or to maintain Pironi's first place, gave rise to uncontrolled rumours that Ferrari had tried to sign some drivers for this season final. English sources assure us that a big offer has been made to Alan Jones - they talk of half a million dollars - to take part in some races, but the Australian hasn't accepted. There is talk of Mario Andretti too, who could be used at Monza, but Marco Piccinini, the sporting director, denies it. To tell the truth, Piccinini had also claimed never to have had talks with Alain Prost, but he admitted, after signing the contract for Renault, to having had talks with the Ferrari representative. The little French driver, having solved the problem for the future, having signed a contract as first driver with the right of choice of the second driver, attacked hard in qualifying and got the best time ahead of his teammate René Arnoux.
There is still bad blood between the two, and the second round will certainly see a family battle for pole position. No one, in fact, seems able to threaten the supremacy of Renault, which uses this track for most of its tests and on which Michelin radial tyres prove more competitive than Goodyear tyres. The fact that the American tyres were in trouble was demonstrated by Niki Lauda's sensational third position, ahead of Patrese's turbocharged Brabham. The Austrian was very good and the circuit was perhaps more suitable for the aspirated engines thanks to the many curves in support, but it was unthinkable that the cars equipped with supercharged engines could be beaten only for their driving ability.
"At this point I think I'm in the fight for the world title. I'm not far behind Pironi, and not far behind my other rivals either. If it goes well, after winning two races this year, I could win the third. In this case, I am convinced that at Monza and Las Vegas I will be able to fight for the title with some placements".
On the other side it was sufficient to look at the provisional classification to realize it: behind Lauda we found Patrese, then De Cesaris, Piquet, Rosberg, Giacomelli, Tambay and Watson, in the first ten positions. In any case the Alfa Romeos seem to have improved the car level too, and this can predict the possibility of a good race. On Saturday 28 August Tambay took a day off, participating only in the morning's free practice during which he recorded one of the latest times. Then, at 12:00, the french driver goes back to the hotel to rest and continue the therapies with which he hopes to fight, at least partially, the consequences of the injury that hit him.
"Tambay was examined by Professor Devic of Lyon, who confirmed the previous diagnosis. It's a cervico-brachial inflammation that gives him severe pain in his neck and shoulder, and considerable insensibility in his right hand and arm. We made all the necessary considerations and preferred to leave him inactive. In the meantime, changing a place or two on the starting grid on this circuit isn't decisive. We will do a test in the morning and then make a decision".
Ferrari's sporting director, Marco Piccinini, also admits that there have been, and are currently contacts with some drivers to try and sign them for the last two races at Monza and Las Vegas, but he doesn't mention names, specifying that some of those interested are currently working with other teams. The usual rumours persist, but the only fixed point is that the chosen person must have some experience. Of course, it is very difficult for a solution to be found, as there are contracts to be fulfilled with the teams and sponsors. A lot will depend on the result of the Dijon race, which, if it gives a miraculously positive result, would intensify the efforts.
The second qualifying session doesn't substantially change the starting grid. The Renaults don't even try to improve their times, and only try the racing tyres. On the other hand, in the free practice Arnoux destroys a car by crashing into a guardrail. Patrese overtook Lauda entering the third place: the Austrian didn't go down on the track because he didn't think there was any chance to defend himself. The longest leap forward was made by Derek Daly, who passed from the thirteenth position to the seventh, preceding his team mate Rosberg. One more headache for Frank Williams: the Irish driver, not reconfirmed for 1983, will perhaps enjoy taking away precious points from the Finnish driver, who tried to overtake Pironi in the World Championship.
Sunday, 29 August 1982, 10:00 a.m. is just a few minutes away and the Formula 1 cars are ready to enter the track. Half an hour to set up the cars for the race, to try out the set-ups, the tyres and the last details. The engines are already roaring deafeningly with the drivers on board, their helmet visors lowered, and a crowd of interested onlookers is laying siege, as usual, to the Ferrari stand. The red single-seater is ready to take to the track, surrounded by mechanics, but the cockpit is empty. Engineer Carletti gives the orders:
"So, get ready to do a very fast tyre change as if you were racing: the car enters the pits and you rush in with the air pistols".
The words fall silent on the Tuscan coach's lips, leaving room for an exclamation. Everyone is waiting for Patrick Tambay, but Marco Piccinini, the sporting director of Maranello, arrives. He's holding a pile of papers, copies of a press release. It's immediately obvious that the news isn't good. And in fact this is the text of the document:
"As a result of persisting right cervical-branchial neuralgia, Patrick Tambay has asked to not participate in the Swiss Grand Prix. Ferrari has therefore informed the sporting authorities that its number 27 car will not be able to start the race. Tambay will receive further medical treatment over the next few days and the team's technical programmes will be modified accordingly".
Piccinini explains again:
"Patrick is a professional, he didn't want to take risks for himself and especially for others. He wasn't in good condition, the pain is persistent and he thought it was best to give up. He will now have further tests and try intensive therapy. In all probability, he will be able to be present at Monza in two weeks. On this point we have information to be quite optimistic".
In the meantime, Tambay leaves for Lausanne, where he is admitted to the cantonal university hospital. Professor Regli, a specialist neurologist of Italian origin, will take care of him. One more race without the Ferrari. The team managers are doing everything possible to line up two cars at Monza, one with Tambay and the other with a driver whose name is currently difficult to predict. There is a rumour about Keegan, but every inference is made in the air, time is short and within a few hours decisions will have to be taken. The Tambay case, however, raises a number of considerations. The Frenchman had already experienced similar problems in 1973, after a serious accident in a Formula Renault race. Since then, however, his vertebrae haven't given cause for concern. It is likely that the stresses to which drivers are subjected nowadays, with impressive centrifugal forces, with the very strong shocks due to the almost complete absence of shock absorbers on the cars, caused the illness, which occurred ten days ago after two days of testing at Monza. Since then, the French driver has passed through the hands of his personal homeopathic doctor, massagers and a number of specialists.
Perhaps it would have been better to take radical action now and not come to a sportingly painful decision at the last moment, because giving up has probably cost the Maranello company the chance to fight for the world title. If there was still a glimmer of hope, it is now surely over. Especially because The Flying Finnish, as Keke Rosberg is called by his fans, surprisingly won the Swiss Grand Prix and jumped to the top of the world ranking, overtaking Didier Pironi, who was unable to defend himself. A deserved success for the courage, the ability, the generosity always shown by the driver of the Williams, propitiated however by the usual final failure of the Renault, that had dominated the race with Prost and Arnoux. The race is beautiful and exciting.
At the start René Arnoux took the lead followed by Alain Prost, Riccardo Patrese, Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg, but already at the end of the first lap Prost overtook Arnoux on the short straight, while Nelson Piquet overtook both Rosberg and Lauda, moving into fourth place. At the fourth lap the Brazilian overtakes also his teammate Patrese and starts chasing the two Renault cars. In the meantime Rosberg makes a comeback and overtakes first Lauda and then Patrese, placing himself behind the Brazilian of Brabham. Nelson Piquet, who took advantage of the refuelling strategy in the race, approached and passed Arnoux on lap 11. The refuelling will come on lap 40 and will last fourteen seconds, allowing Piquet to return to fifth place, behind the two Renaults, Rosberg and Lauda, but ahead of Patrese.
The Finnish driver and the Austrian driver started a good duel: Niki managed to get up to few metres from his rival and to threaten him, but starting from three quarters of the race his McLaren started losing ground because of an unbalanced rim, which caused a strong vibration to the front wheels. At this point Lauda, reasonably, only thought about the placing. On lap 51 Rosberg almost collided when he overtook the Alfa Romeo of Andrea De Cesaris, who took part in the race in not perfect physical condition due to tonsillitis, and two laps later passed Arnoux, moving into second place. In the meantime, also Alboreto and Patrese almost come into contact: the Paduan defends the fifth place and at the end Michele, after having tried several times to overtake, ends up in a spin, losing the contact in favour of De Angelis who will be able to get a point thanks to the sixth position.
The French returned to the pits shortly afterwards to top up the fuel: his Renault no longer had a high-performance engine, but the Frenchman was convinced that this was due to a lack of petrol. The end will give a hard blow to Renault's ambitions. Eight laps from the end, when Rosberg had already got considerably closer to the two outriders, Arnoux suddenly slows down and is overtaken. Immediately afterwards, the French entered the pits to refuel, thinking that the engine malfunction depended on the lack of fuel. However, after returning to the track, he was forced to retire on the 75th lap, due to a malfunction of the injection system. In the meantime, Prost also began to lose his advantage conspicuously, also due to a miniskirt that broke two laps from the end, allowing Rosberg to arrive behind him.
During the penultimate lap, on the inside of the circuit Prost widens out as if to invite Rosberg to overtake. And in fact Rosberg slides in and takes the lead. On the next lap, while everyone was waiting for the chequered flag, the race director didn't move. The Williams managers then rushed to protest, but in futility. So Rosberg was forced to sigh for 3800 metres, the full length of the circuit, to take his first Formula 1 victory after 49 races. Behind him, but all not too happy, pass Prost, Lauda, Piquet, Patrese and De Angelis. The Finn was the first to cross the finish line at the end of a race that was full of emotions, with an incredible fight for all the positions, fuelled above all by the Italian drivers. Once again the old aspirated engine got the better of the turbos, and once again Ferrari missed out on a possible success or at least a placing, considering the results of the last few races.
With one opponent less, Keke Rosberg drove a spirited and fortunate race. He risked ending up off the track by overtaking De Cesaris, who had already been lapped, and then attacked without sparing himself. The Williams car responded perfectly to his demands and proved to be an extremely reliable machine. Besides, it's enough to do the calculations: Rosberg has nine placings to his credit so far, considering that he didn't take part in the San Marino Grand Prix and was disqualified in Brazil for the famous underweight issue. Out of the fourteen races run, therefore, a more than flattering balance, which justifies his position as leader. It can therefore be said that Keke Rosberg has put a big gamble on the 1982 world title.
The Swiss Grand Prix not only brought the Finnish driver to the top of the classification with 3 points' lead over Pironi, but also reduced to four, including himself, the number of drivers who still had a chance to win the title. Now that the injured Ferrari driver is out of the way, only Prost, Lauda and Watson have a theoretical chance of overtaking their Williams rival. Theoretically, not even a second place at Monza would give Rosberg mathematical success if one of his direct rivals wins the Italian Grand Prix. Only if the Finn were to retire in a fortnight' time on the Monza circuit, or if he did not collect any points, the title could be put back in play. On the opposite case, Prost, who is currently the best placed of the pursuers, will have to hope for two successive victories in as many races still to be run in order to get into first place. Everything, in short, plays in favour of the new leader of the world classification. The winner gives out smiles to everyone, but his statements is very calm:
"I haven't won yet, because there are two races left. I won't feel comfortable either at Monza or Las Vegas. I don't really care about finally winning a race, but I do care about the world title. I knew I would get there one day or another".
Frank Williams' commentary is particularly interesting:
"Rosberg may become World Champion, but he will only be a terrible champion next year. He is indeed maturing, and I believe he has the skills and talent to go down in motor racing history".
René Arnoux, who had just returned to the pits, was very angry and made not very flattering statements about his team:
"They told me it was the fuel pump's fault; but I couldn't verify that. The only thing I know for sure is that if the car had worked to the end I could have won nine points because Rosberg would never have overtaken me. If Prost had stayed in the race, though, I would have let him win, because that was the terms of the agreement".
His teammate, Alain Prost, made a laconic comment:
"I had a problem with a miniskirt right away. Then, towards the end of the race, I spun on the track because of these problems. The action damaged the aerodynamics of the car even more and it became undrivable. I had to give away to Rosberg without being able to defend myself. Anyway, second place is better than the misses".
If Rosberg didn't take it easy on De Cesaris ('When he obstructed me in the overtaking move he did a foolish thing and I was prepared to push him off the track'), there was no lack of lively exchanges between the Italian drivers either. In fact, Alboreto accused Patrese of obstructing him for a long part of the race.
"He never let me pass, and in the end he even threw me off the track. He's always the same, he only thinks about himself and can even be incorrect".
And Patrese replies saying:
"Alboreto couldn't pass me and tried to do so in an irregular way, wrongly. He ended up off the track, spinning, and it was all his fault".
Before the start of the race, around midday, all Ferrari's men left the circuit: it was a sad, almost painful departure. After removing the tents and loading the vans, the Modenese team left Dijon with a load of sighs and regrets. There will be a lot to do in the next few days, but the goal of the season, the world title, is now definitely gone; at most you can still fight for the constructors' title, but it isn't quite so prestigious. Those in charge of the Italian team are now faced with a very challenging task: finding a driver to contest the last two races. In fact, it isn't one hundred percent certain that Patrick Tambay will be able to complete the season, although there are reasonable hopes.
Obviously, the search for a temporary substitute wasn't easy, and the last name mentioned was the English Rupert Keegan, who was currently racing with March. He is a driver with a certain experience, but certainly not a champion; co-owner of an airline company, Keegan has been occasionally active in Formula One. However, there aren't many other possibilities left. It seems increasingly difficult to reach an agreement with Carlos Reutemann, the only driver still available who can guarantee a certain level of professionalism, and it is not even excluded that Ferrari, given the result of the Swiss Grand Prix, may decide to give up, for reasons of majeure force, the last two races.