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#379 1983 Belgian Grand Prix

2022-08-31 00:00

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#1983,

#379 1983 Belgian Grand Prix

At this length of time after the event there is little point in recording an hour-by-hour or lap-by-lap account of the happening on the return of Gran

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At this length of time after the event there is little point in recording an hour-by-hour or lap-by-lap account of the happening on the return of Grand Prix racing to the revised Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the wooded hills in south-east Belgium. Suffice to say that everyone seem to enjoy the event, a crowd of 80.000 turn up to watch, it is a real horsepower race and the character of the Grand Prix de Belgique as a great occasion has returned. For the record some brief notes will not go amiss. In spite of a few dismal jimmies forecasting doom, practice gets away promptly on Friday morning and it is noticeable how all the drivers are keen to get to grips with this challenging new circuit for Formula 1. The nature of the circuit brings out the best in them and Tambay, Laffite and Surer are a joy to watch anywhere for their sheer precision at high speed and their obvious delicate balance. Rosberg is good spectator value showing incredible determination and forceful driving and his speed comes from a big heart rather than inborn skill and artistry. If he is as smooth and precise as his Williams team-mate he would be really quick; as it is there is no one with a Cosworth V8 that can touch him at the moment. Young Andrea de Cesaris is brave and fast, especially on his entry to corners, but the most uncanny driver to watch is Alain Prost. There is no sign of effort, no obvious speed, no feeling of artistry, in fact a rather dull proposition to observe, yet he is by far the fastest driver on the circuit. There must be a lesson there somewhere. In the qualifying hour on Friday afternoon in warm and dry conditions the scene is set with all the factory turbo-charged 1.5-litres up at the front, the real tryers in the middle and the odds and ends down at the back. Notable is Marc Surer who gets his Arrows A6 in between the two Williams drivers and Roberto Guerrero who gets his Theodore ahead of the two McLaren drivers, Lauda and Watson. The first day ends with everything looking good.

 

Saturday is a disaster. The clouds are on the ground on the higher parts of the surrounding area and the rain comes. In spite of the awful conditions all the drivers are eager to get out on the circuit on treaded rain tyres, they have not enjoyed themselves at a circuit like this in a long time. It is most heartening to see. The rain continues throughout the day so all hope of anyone improving on their Friday qualifying time is gone. The times for Friday settle the grid position and it is no real surprise that the two non- qualifiers are Salazar with the RAM-March and Ghinzani with the Alfa Romeo V12 engined Osella. Apart from Warwick being further down the grid than is reasonable, due to typical ‘Toleman Trouble’ and having to use the spare car, the Friday line-up is reasonable, so the fact that Saturday qualifying is a wash-out is not too serious. We have come to accept that neither McLaren driver tries too hard these days, for they don’t want to make it look as though the Cosworth DFY engine will keep them competitive through this season. They need to ram home the urgency of getting the new Porsche engine into racing as soon as possible and to try and force the internal political issue within McLaren International, between the various factions, notably the sponsors Marlboro and TAG and the Porsche engineers. Sunday is grey and over-cast but mercifully the rain holds off and conditions are good for racing. The half-hour warm-up period sees plenty of action as everyone tries to make up for the lost time on Saturday. The fashion started by Brabham last year, of starting the race with only 25 gallons of petrol in the tank and relatively soft tyres, and making a pit stop half-way through the race, has caught on. Apart from Brabham, the Williams team, ATS, Lotus, Renault, Ligier, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Toleman are all planning pit stops.

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The race is due to start at 2:30 p.m. to run over 42 laps of the 6.949 kilometre circuit, but as the start is on the slight uphill stretch before La Source hairpin, where the new pits have been built, and the finish is on the downhill run past the old pits, you have to add 662 metres to the total of 42 x 6.949 to get the full race distance. At 2:00 p.m. all 26 cars leave the pits and do a lap round to the starting grid and Arnoux (Ferrari), Rosberg (Williams), Laffite (Williams) and Boesel (Ligier) all go through the pitlane and round for another lap before taking up their positions on the grid. Shortly before 2:30 p.m. they all set off on their parade lap behind Alain Prost’s Renault and when they return Surer is in trouble with the gearbox on his Arrows. As the starter put the red light on marshals at the back of the grid are waving yellow flags to indicate that all is not in order so the red light goes to flashing yellow, which means start cancelled, but Prost and de Cesaris see the red light go out and simply take off. Tambay sees the flashing yellow and backs right off as everyone else do, while Surer, Laffite and de Angelis are left on the grid with stalled engines. Black flags greet de Cesaris and Prost as they set off on what they think is the first lap and the whole field straggles round the circuit and back to the grid. Poor Surer, with a broken gearbox goes into the pits and transfers to the spare Arrows and resigns himself to having to start from the pitlane after everyone has gone from the restart. The rules state that in the event of an aborted start there will be no topping-up of petrol tanks on the grid, but the race will be shortened by one lap, to allow for a second parade lap before the restart. As all the competitors have inadvertently done a lap and would now have to do the second parade lap as well, the race distance is shortened by two laps, from 42 to 40 laps.
 
During the time before the restart Renault and Ferrari mechanics are seen with churns of petrol though no one seems to have seen them actually topping-up their cars. However, there are various protests and subsequently Renault are fined $5000 for having refuelling churns on the starting grid, which is strictly against the rules. The second parade lap is done without Surer, and the 25 cars line up and this time all is well. Andrea de Cesaris goes off like a rocket between Prost and Tambay and leeds away. It was turbocharged cars all the way, Alfa Romeo (de Cesaris), Renault (Prost), Ferrari (Tambay and Arnoux), Brabham-BMW (Piquet) and ATS-BMW (Winkelhock), then Rosberg and Laffite with the Williams-Cosworths, followed by Renault (Cheever), Alfa Romeo (Baldi), Lotus-Renault (de Angelis) with Guerrero leading the rest with his Theodore, ‘the rest’ including Lauda and Watson, Alboreto, Jarier and Mansell, so the young driver from Colombia is feeling justifiably pleased with himself. That is the pattern of the race until near to half distance when the pitstops begins. Alfa Romeo fumble their stop and Renault do a perfect job so Prost takes over the lead from de Cesaris thanks entirely due to his mechanics (I hope he paid them a good bonus from his prize money!). The Alfa Romeo challenge disappears when the neat little V8 engine blows up, but de Cesaris has surprised everyone not only with his speed but the fact that he looks reasonably safe and does not look as though he is going to fly off the road. As usual the Brabham team are masters of the pitstop art with their air jacks and fix wheel nuts, and they help Piquet into a strong third place, which becomes second when the Alfa Romeo blows up, while Tambay and Cheever are behind. In the opening stages Rosberg is hanging on to the turbo-charged cars with a tenacity that reminds one of Jean Behra in his Gordini days, but he is inevitably losing ground all the time.
 
Arnoux overheats his tyres in the first part of the race by some rough driving, and loses ground on the smooth Mr Tambay, and after the pit stops his Ferrari engine blows up. The second half of the race is a Prost benefit, as the Renault drones its impeccable way round the circuit, with no one to trouble him. In the closing stages Piquet’s Brabham has gearbox trouble and he cannot use fifth gear, so gradually Tambay and Cheever draw closer. Some idea of the unpopularity of Bernie Ecclestone in Belgium can be gained from the cheering and waving that went on in the crowd when Tambay overtakes the stricken Brabham and again when Cheever goes by. It is very obvious that Brabham, Ecclestone, Piquet and BMW are not a popular confection with the Belgians. The two Williams cars run like clockwork throughout the race as the two Toleman-Hart cars do, Warwick’s only problem being a muddled pit stop needing him to make a second stop. He has led his little Italian team-mate at the time, but naturally the second stop put him back. On the very last lap Giacomelli has a spin, but keeps the engine running and as he gathers it all up Warwick goes by into seventh place. Of the others Watson is savaged by Jarier at the hairpin and both cars are bent, Lauda goes out with engine failure as did Guerrero, while Winkelhock has the embarrassment of a rear wheel coming off his ATS, which spans him off into the catch fences. Patrese do not complete a lap as his BMW engine fails, and the young Belgian Thierry Boutsen making his Formula 1 debut retires at five laps with suspension breakage on his rent-a-drive Arrows A6. The revitalised Spa-Francorchamps circuit is not totally finished, but the race is a huge success and all the Belgians have to do now is to take a leaf from the Italians and organise things to utilise both of their major circuits. The Grand Prix de Belgique at Spa-Francorchamps, and the Grote Prijs van Belgic, at Zolder and then we’ll all be happy.
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Maria Ginevra Ferretti

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