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#380 1983 Detroit Grand Prix

2022-08-30 01:00

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#380 1983 Detroit Grand Prix

The big surprise, albeit a pleasant one, is that another Formula One race is held in Detroit. By any standards the 1982 event is a bit of a shambles a

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The big surprise, albeit a pleasant one, is that another Formula One race is held in Detroit. By any standards the 1982 event is a bit of a shambles and justifies the simple rule that is not adhered to. Any new venue for a World Championship race is supposed to run a non-championship race first of all, to get the circuit and organisation working properly and to prove that the organisation is capable of running a World Championship event. Somehow this rule does not apply to Detroit in 1982 and that first event is a success more by luck than judgement. This year’s race round the streets of downtown Detroit, the motor city of the USA, or Motown as they call it, is a great success. So much so, in fact, that everyone is saying the day afterwards that the 1984 event is assured and they can see no reason why it should not become a permanent fixture in the Formula One calandar. The first thing that is done for this year’s event is to alter the circuit, to make if faster and better, which in itself is unusual for most circuit alterations seem to make circuits slower and worse. The very tight hairpin at corner number five is eliminated this year and the course now runs straight across the dual carriageway on to corners six and seven. Hairpin bends themselves are no bad thing, but this one has been followed immediately by a very slow right hand turn and the whole thing is too tight and too slow, so the alteration is very welcome. The other alteration is to the Chicane before the pits, from where the pit lane entrance is taken; this is completely revised with the chicane makes into a fast and exciting ess-bend and the pit lane entrance being sited well before the chicane and over to the left.

 

The rest of the circuit is unchanged, it still runs along the main streets, dives down under a pedestrian precinct on to the river front, runs through the three-lane tunnel and jinks right and left onto the pits straight on the edge of the Detroit River. Everywhere is as rough and bumpy as last year, but with the 1983 rules encouraging the use of suspension travel and springs it all seems to be much smoother than last year as far as the drivers are concerned. Bearing in mind that the whole circuit has to be built from scratch, using concrete blocks, guard-rails, catch-fences, and spherical elasticated attenuators (bundles of old car tyres), and footbridges have to be built, roads blocked off, traffic diversions organised and control exercised over the public to ensure that they pay to come in. A delay of 50 minutes in starting the first session of testing on Friday morning is not too bad. Unfortunately it is raining as preparations are made to begin and with the pits being in the open air there is a lack of enthusiasm when the track opens for the first 11/2 hour session. The rain continues to fall intermittently throughout the morning and the streets are always wet and slippery, and as soon as the semblance of a dry line is generated by the cars another shower of rain would wet everything again. The public are allowed in free for this first day, to encourage them to come and see what Formula One is all about, but the dull weather keep them down to around 25.000. On the interesting downhill dive under the bridge at the far end of the circuit a large platform has been erected looking down onto the track. This is reserved for handicapped people in wheelchairs, with an electric lift provided to get them up on to it, and even in the rain there are quite a number taking advantage of this civic amenity and by the looks on their faces they seem to be enjoying the spectacle and noise of racing cars in the streets of their city.

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In the afternoon it rains really hard so the results of the qualifying hour are very inconclusive, but while Rosberg is revelling in the conditions and recording the fastest lap (at 69 m.p.h. average speed) an unhappy Jacques Laffite walks away from his bent Williams car after losing control in the chicane and spinning into the pits wall. Everyone has splashed round in the rain, with the exception of Eliseo Salazar, who is a non- starter with the MacDonald March, as his sponsorship money, dependent on results, has dried up. As can be seen from the list of practice times, there is a space of more than 12 seconds covering the field of 27 drivers, from Rosberg’s 2'06"382 to Danny Sullivan’s 2'18"758 and anyone who is at the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch back in April where these two appear to be racing nose-to-tail, must be wondering what that is all about). Saturday is grey and dull but at least it is dry so the serious business of testing and qualifying can begin, which it does with some alacrity. In spite of the cars being a bit slower this year, the circuit improvements result in lap speeds being a bit up on last year, though not enough to excite an American public brought up on Indianapolis and its lap speeds of over 200 m.p.h. or NASCAR saloon car racing on Super Speedways at 195 m.p.h. However, the noise, the confusion and the funny foreign people in Formula One seem to intrigue the American public and the Detroit newspapers and especially the foreign drivers with the unpronounceable names who speak a strange form of English - not American, boy, with a big A. The single dry hour of qualifying on Saturday afternoon decides the formation of the grid, and once again prompts the thought that a short two-hour sprint race that constitutes a Grand Prix, can easily get by with a programme like a CART championship race where you practice and qualify on Sunday morning and race in the afternoon. The time spent actually racing in a Formula One event doesn’t really justify the time spent practising, testing and qualifying.

 

However, the Saturday afternoon hour at Detroit is not all that simple for half way through, the clouds part and a blazing sun shines down very suddenly and raises the temperature of the road surface as you look at it. Consequently all the guesses made about tyre compounds and suspension settings during the grey morning are suddenly proved wrong, but with tyre choices already made and two sets of tyres already marked nothing could be changed. This means that if you haven’t made a quick lap in the first 30 minutes, there is little chance of improving in the second 30 minutes, and one or two drivers, notably Prost, Patrese, Laffite, Baldi and Winkelhock get caught out by this unexpected quirk of the weather. After some of their recent go slow activities the McLaren team has shaken off their lethargy and Watson and Lauda are the first two out on the track when qualifying begins. Even so, they are only in 21st and 18th places on the grid, but they could have been even further back. With only 27 entries and a grid of 26, there is only one unfortunate and this is Corrado Fabi in the Cosworth powered Osella. For once the Ferrari team has got through practice with very little trouble and has not needed to use their spare car at all, which suggests that they have left all their super-screamer qualifying engines at home. Even so Arnoux and Tambay only have Piquet between them in the line-up, but of all the drivers in Formula One today Nelson Piquet is the one driver I would not want splitting my team in the line-up. Profiting from the freak conditions, but driving nicely nonetheless, Marc Surer gets his Arrows A6 into fifth place overall to lead all the wittering Cosworth-powered runners, except that Surer is one of the few who do not witter on about the unfairness of turbocharged engines. He just gets on with the job, and a big A for effort must go to his Arrows team-mate, young Thierry Boutsen, who is in tenth place, ahead of Rosberg, Prost, Mansell, Patrese, Lauda, Laffite, and Watson among others.

 
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Freak conditions or luck apart, it is still a good effort for a young driver in only his second Grand Prix and with no previous knowledge of Detroit street racing, and even Alan Jones has to admit that the Arrows A6 is not the best car in the game. What it does seem to be is a straightforward honest car that a driver can learn to drive to its very limit, with no nasty vices or bad habits, and Surer and Boutsen are using all there is available while others with ostensibly better cars are fiddling about trying to make improvements or are continually altering things. In fourth place in the line-up was Elio de Angelis with the Renault- powered Lotus 93T, though you cannot help feeling that nobody quite knows why, and with Rosberg, Laffite, Prost, Patrese and Winkelhock not in their usual places, perhaps fourth place for a turbocharged Renault-powered car is not so good after all. One only hopes for his own sake that Nigel Mansell will be higher than fourth when he gets his Renault- powered Lotus to replace his present Cosworth-powered one. Sunday is incredible, not a cloud in the sky, the sun burning down on all the glass and stainless steel of which downtown Detroit seems to be constructed and a crowd of over 71.000 paying customers thronging into the circuit, even though only those with expensive grandstand seats could hope to see very much. First estimates have put the paying gate at 68.100 but this is amended later to over 71.000, but whatever it is it was a happy crowd out in the lovely warm sunshine and a good party atmosphere is prevalent. Anyone with a boat, large or small, is out on the wide river and a fire- protection boat is moving up and down in mid-stream spraying powerful jets of water to keep the small craft in orderly lines and clear of the main shipping lane. USA and Canadian coastguard patrol boats cruise up and down to see that there is no unofficial landings on either side of the river and also to keep the small boats away from the Detroit side of the river where the track runs close to the edge. 

 

By all accounts the whole scene is very orderly and the crowd is enjoying themselves without getting unruly and a guesstimated 100.000 people are watching the overall scene from afar, outside the confines of the circuit, but they cannot see very much, apart from the gigantic Rennaissance Centre in the middle of the circuit. The atmosphere is a bit like the Le Mans 24-hour race, you don’t have to see anything or know what is happening, you just have to be there. With the race due to start at 12:15 p.m. the half-hour warm-up is bright and early at 9.15 a.m. and it really is June, the traditional height of summer, like days gone by. Everything is running very smoothly, the only unknown quantity being whether everyone of any importance is going to go through the pit-stop routine. Gordon Murray starts the pit-stop lark last year in order to gain an advantage over his rivals, but they all catch on to it which put everyone on to the same footing. Neither Tyrrell nor McLaren subscribe to the pit-stop idea, deciding to keep plodding on regardless, but Ligier, Williams and Lotus with Cosworth power go to the half a tank of fuel routine. Now there is a change of attitude and while Ferrari and Alfa Romeo make no bones about their refuelling routine, others are a bit guarded, Williams saying they might or they might not. Gordon Murray is saying nothing, merely looking at enquirers through his black John Lennon-type spectacles with a non-committal look on his face. It is all good gamesmanship that fills in the time before the start. Because the circuit has been changed the race distance is reduced from 62 laps to 61 laps to avoid the chance of running over the maximum permitted two hours, and at 11:45 a.m. the pit lane is open and everyone except the unfortunate Corrado Fabi drive round for a lap and line up on the grid. Cecotto, Watson, Cheever, Prost, Sullivan, Tambay, Mansell, Jarier and de Angelis all take a second lap and Rosberg and Laffite take two extra laps.

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With everyone running nicely to time the 26 cars set off on their parade lap, led by Amoux’s Ferrari. As they reappear, with the two red Ferraris one behind the other on the left of the road and the sleek blue and white Brabham of Nelson Piquet on the right, something tells you that the Brazilian is going to be leading into the first corner. In spite of having a “hunted” look you can be sure Arnoux is not going to be beaten easily from his pale position. There is interest down the field, for Rosberg is going to pass as many cars as possible before the first corner, and Surer, Alboreto and Boutsen are going to make the most of their high placings. As de Cesaris arrives at his grid position his Alfa Romeo engine stalls and he promptly waves his arms frantically. The quick thinking girl marshal who has just withdrawn her marker board promptly puts it out again and waves it energetically. Derek Ongaro has not put the red count-down light on at this point, so he aborts the start with the starr delayed board and everyone switches off. There is the regulation five minute delay before the restart and regulation reduction of the race distance by one lap, from 61 laps to 60 laps now. Round they go on another parade lap and this time all is well, everyone stops in position, all the marker boards are withdrawn, the red light comes on and Elio de Angelis takes off from his position in the second row behind Piquet and is actually alongside the Brabham as the green light comes on and the field surges forward. Tambay’s Ferrari leaps forward a length and stopps suddenly, as the driver stalls the engine. Miraculously everyone misses the stationary Ferrari and the race is on, with Piquet into the lead as expected, followed by Arnoux’s Ferrari and the Lotus-Renault of de Angelis third, but already the Stewards are sending a note to Peter Warr to tell him his driver has been penalised a minute for a really blatant piece of start-jumping.

 

While the 25 cars cover the opening lap a breakdown truck rapidly tows Tambay’s Ferrari into a safe place and then Piquet leads the field through the fast chicane. By the end of the second lap he and Arnoux have pulled out a substantial lead over de Angelis, who himself is well ahead of de Cesaris who is leading, Alboreto, Warwick, Rosberg, Cheever, Boutsen, Prost and Surer. By a confused mistake on the part of the start line officials Tambay’s Ferrari is not push-started, as it could have been, and he is left fuming in the pit lane. As Ghinzani trickles into the pits to retire the Osella-Alfa Romeo V12 at the end of lap five, Eddie Cheever has already stopped his Renault out on the circuit with ignition failure, and just as de Angelis starts his sixth lap the Lotus transmission breaks its crownwheel and pinion, so his penalisation is nullified and that demon start has availed him nothing. By the completion of only six laps we are down to 22 cars, and Corrado Fabi must have wondered about the injustice of qualifying eliminating one car from the grid. Already a pattern has formed, with Arnoux pressuring Piquet for the lead, already a long way ahead of de Cesaris leading Alboreto and Rosberg. About the length of the pit straight behind comes Warwick, his Toleman-Hart running well and keeping ahead of a depressed Alain Prost who has broken a front nose fin, he says on Boutsen’s rear wheel, but marshals report he has done it on a barrier. Whatever the reason, it has upset the stability of the Renault and Prost is not a driver to press on regardless under difficulties. Boutsen is keeping up with the Renault and is ahead of Patrese, so this is enough excuse for the Italian to head for the pits for a rear set of tyres, as if they are going to make any difference to the way he is driving. The Brabham team has him out on a harder set of tyres and with some more petrol in the tank in double-quick time, but the stop has put him back to 19th place so he has no hope of getting anywhere and he gives up before half-distance complaining about brakes this time.

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Jarier is another one to blame his inability to keep up on his tyres and he stops at the Ligier pit for another set, in a vain hope that by some magic they would not only make up for the time lost, but give him increased speed. All this was before even ten laps have been run, and in eighth place is Thierry Boutsen with the Arrows and in ninth place Roberto Guerrero with the Theodore, both young drivers simply getting on with the job with what they have got. On the tenth lap Arnoux eases his way by Piquet and takes the lead, but the little Brazilian is not too worried as he knows he is going to run through non-stop and everyone knows the Ferrari is going to make a stop. Rosberg now begins to get into his stride and after passing the Alfa Romeo of de Cesaris he begins to close up on Piquet. The Ferrari pit is well awake to the situation and rather than give Arnoux his lead over Piquet, they indicate to him the gap back to Rosberg because they are not too sure that the Williams team are planning a pit-stop. Arnoux, on softer tyres and with less petrol load than Piquet, is pulling away steadily, endeavouring to build up a big enough time differential to allow for his stop, while Rosberg, in a similar state to Arnoux, is right behind the Brabham and goes by into second place on lap 20, but still Piquet is not unduly worried. A long way back and no danger to the status quo comes Alboreto in his DFY Mk.2 powered Tyrrell, staying just ahead of Warwick’s Toleman-Hart. Then comes de Cesaris and Laffite, followed by Boutsen, Sullivan and Watson. The other Arrows driven by Surer have been reported to be losing fluid, thought to be oil by the course marshals. He is black-flagged into the pits but no leak can be found and he goes out again only to be reported again that fluid is still coming out of somewhere. Another stop reveals some paper caught up in one of the radiators which is causing the engine to run hot and the liquid is water from the radiator overflow.

 

By the time all this has been sorted out the Swiss driver has lost over a lap. Lauda is another driver to feel unhappy about his position, behind the likes of Sullivan and Guerrero, and the only way to negate the embarrassment is to blame the tyres and stop for another set (as if it would make any difference to his attitude). In contrast Watson is driving his McLaren round neatly and tidily and every time anyone goes into the pits, for whatever reason, he moves up a place. Prost has stopped for a tyre change which has moved Watson up a place, then Warwick stops to investigate a misfire in his Hart engine and Watson moves up one more, and so it goes on. Warwick does one more lap and then gives up with an internal malady in his engine. Guerrero is in the pits with his Theodore and Watson moves up another place, and his smooth consistent driving is paying off yet again. An effective way of getting results, but not exactly motor racing in the Villeneuve/Rosberg style. As half-distance approached there is a bustle of activity in the Ferrari and Williams pits, which are adjacent at the head of the pit lane, and signals make it clear that Arnoux and Rosberg are both coming in at the end of lap 29. Sure enough the Ferrari arrive, stopping perfectly without any fuss, and in a flash fuel is in, new wheels on and the red car is away as Rosberg heads for the pit lane in his Williams. Arnoux is back in the race without losing the lead, but the Williams stop is not so slick and Piquet, Alboreto and Laffite go by before the World Champion is back on the track. The Alfa Romeo of de Cesaris would go by as he hasn’t made his pit stop at this point, so when it is all over the order is Arnoux still in the lead, Piquet second, Alboreto third, Laffite briefly in fourth place as he is due to stop, and then Rosberg. In sixth place is John Watson, ahead of Boutsen, but only because the Belgian has let the McLaren go by. In only his second Grand Prix Boutsen is still learning, and his driving position is not perfect and he is tiring physically; this causes a lapse in concentration and he gets into an enormous slide through the chicane which is only sorted out by sheer luck.

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As he has Sullivan and Watson close behind he eases up a bit and let them go by, whereupon Sullivan’s Tyrrell breaks down and Watson finds himself sixth. He isn’t doing an heroic drive though the field from the back, as the media seemed to think, the “front” is destroying itself in front of him. On lap 32 Arnoux is reported to be slowing, then Piquet goes by and the Ferrari stops with a fault in its electronic system for the fuel-injection, so everyone moves up a place, and at the end of the lap Laffite makes his scheduled pit stop and those close behind him move up another place. The order now is Piquet, Alboreto, Rosberg, Watson, de Cesaris, Laffite, Boutsen, Prost and Cecotto, with the last named about to be lapped by the leader. Piquet has it made now, as he is running right through without a stop and there is no way Alboreto, Rosberg and Watson are going to challenge him. The race is being run at the pace provided by a trio of good Cosworth engines, Alboreto with a Mk.2 DFY, Rosberg with the Williams/John Judd special DFV and Watson with a production DFY. Piquet has the boost turned down to conserve fuel, and you can almost see the boost control knob registering Cosworth Power which is all he needed to stay ahead. Have it been up at Ferrari Power or Renault Power it might have been a different story. Piquet controlls the race at his ease, never letting Aboreto get too close, even when they are lapping slower cars, while Watson has a little bit of a go to challenge Rosberg, but it came to nothing. In the midst of all this Guerrero suddenly re-appears on the track, having apparently retired a long time before. He has been at the pits having the gear linkage mended and an engine mounting replaced and is now going as well as ever. As Piquet started lap 51 the Brabham gives a nasty lurch and the left rear tyre deflates with a puncture.

 

As the stricken car limps round to the pits Alboreto and Rosberg go by and with the Brabham in the pit lane Watson also goes by, so now Cosworth-powered cars are first, second and third, and the whole of Detroit are told that they are Ford engines, our engines, that are winning. Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin who make the Cosworth engines smile at this sort of thing and say with grateful thanks the Ford money in 1967 when the project got going is very good. You don’t see too many Ford engineers working in Northampton. It is now all over, Piquet is serviced in the usual Brabham efficient manner, with new tyres and some more petrol as a precaution and is back in the race in fourth place, but with only nine laps left to run there is nothing he could do, and a certain winner has to be content with fourth place. But that is the fascination of racing, you can never anticipate surprises, and this time Team Tyrrell profites and the Brabham team are the losers. Equally you might say Ferrari are similar losers, for Arnoux has the race in the bag when he retires, and Tambay fans are certain that Patrick is going to win as the cars come to the starting grid. It has been an interesting race, full of surprises and most surprised of all is Michele Alboreto, but unlike some drivers who give up, whimpering, he keeps on with the job, as did Rosberg and Watson and they all profite. It is an interesting trio up on the winner’s podium, for the first drives neatly and tidily and to the best of his ability all the time, the second doesn’t know the meaning of giving up trying and the third always keeps going as it seems to be the only thing to do. Poor Nelson Piquet is not up there with them through no fault of his own. The strategy of a non-stop run schemed up by him and Gordon Murray has very nearly paid off regardless of the Ferrari failure. There should now be some second thoughts on the value of two short sprint races versus one full-length steady run. This second race through the streets of Detroit is an unqualified success and though the United States have lost Long Beach and Las Vegas and never has New York it looks as though Motown is going to stay as the Gotown. 

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Maria Ginevra Ferretti


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