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#388 1983 South African Grand Prix

2022-08-21 00:00

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#1983,

#388 1983 South African Grand Prix

Under normal conditions the South African GP takes place at the beginning of the season and when the 1983 season was originally planned it’s thus, but

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Under normal conditions the South African GP takes place at the beginning of the season and when the 1983 season was originally planned it’s thus, but the agree change in the Formula One rules that outlaw sliding side skirts and under-car aerodynamics for 1983 meant that there is a dire shortage of time before the South African race is due. Consequently an agreement is make with the South African organizers to reschedule their race to the end of the season, thus giving the teams an extra month to modify and test their existing cars, or to build new ones. As a result, the race at Kyalami held on Saturday, October 15th in very hot weather conditions, as the South African summer is fast approaching, see the South African GP close the 1983 Grand Prix season, the original list of seventeen races being reduce to fourteen with the cancellation of the Swiss GP, the New York GP and the Las Vegas GP. This reshuffle of the calendar meant that the season ends on a high note in more ways than one, for apart from the Kyalami circuit, north of Johannesburg being 6.000 feet or so above seal level, it is also a very fast circuit and a good test of car and driver. The previous two seasons end on the lowest possible note, and in fact, fizzle out undramatically in the car park of a Las Vegas Hotel, on which a circuit is laid out with concrete blocks. The Kyalami circuit is laid out on an open hillside, not as spectacular as the Osterreichring, but a fine circuit nonetheless, with an ultra fast downhill straight, follow by one of the best corners in Formula One racing as the cars plunge downhill on a falling away right-hand bend follows by an uphill left-hander that calls for a car to be well-manner and well-balance to make the most of the right-to-left flick at about 160 mph. The circuit then winds along the hillside in a series of bends that end in a rush up to a fast climbing right-hand hairpin that leads onto the top straight, with a fast right-hander before the pits and the brow of the hill by the start / finish line and the subsequent plunge down the ultra-fast straight.

 

With a lap record of over 216 kph (134 mph) it is not a circuit for the faint-hearted or a car with a weak engine. The keynote of setting-up a car for the circuit is to strike a usable compromise between maximum speed, achieved by feathering all the aerodynamic aids, and down-force, to aid cornering on the fast bends. On some circuits you can afford to lose some maximum speed by increasing the aerofoil angles, and benefit on lap times by superior cornering speeds aid by aerodynamic down-force, but at Kyalami the balance between the two is very critical because you are at maximum speed for a long time so that you can’t afford to sacrifice too much on maximum speed. Even so, McLaren, Brabham and Renault are all using their large Ferrari-style tea-tray rear aerofoils as first seen at Brands Hatch recently, while Ferrari and ATS is using them all season. When the South African race is at the beginning of the season all the top teams go out there early to do a lot of testing under ideal conditions, apart from the altitude which affects power output from the engine, especially normally aspirate ones. There is an early exodus from Europe to make use of testing time, so that when official practice begins on Thursday morning most drivers know where they are going, how they are going and why. Being the last race of the season there are a number of important things at stake, not least the destination of the 1983 World Drivers’ Championship and next year’s number 1. The real issue lay between Alain Prost (Renault) and Nelson Piquet (Brabham-BMW) with Rene Arnoux (Ferrari) in with a chance. The Manufacturers’ Championship is a foregone conclusion for Ferrari for the second year running. These things are of the moment, but there are equally important things for the future. It’s to be Patrick Tambay’s last race for the Scuderia Ferrari as he has politely been serving his notice and Michele Alboreto is nominate for the team in 1984.

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It’s the first appearance of the new Williams FW09 power by the turbo-charged V6 Honda engine which the Spirit team is racing with since mid-season, and have now lost, the Japanese firm putting all its efforts into the proven team from Didcot with 1982 World Champion Keijo Rosberg as their number one driver. It’s the last chance for the McLaren team to measure up their interim car with the Porsche V6 turbo-charge engine against the opposition before starting on its new car for 1984, and the Brabham team are out for a hat-trick of wins, following Piquet’s victories at Monza and Brands Hatch with Gordon Murray’s sleek car power by the BMW factory’s best 4-cylinder turbocharge engine. The South African GP has everything going for it. Tambay’s task during the two day test period before official practice is tyre testing, while Arnoux is left to get on with a programme of engine development, including trials with different turbochargers and boost control valve springs. Now Arnoux, whatever else he’s been describe as, has never be considere a good test driver and Mauro Forghieri’s exasperation built up steadily during the two day period. After running each new turbocharger, Arnoux will return to the pits and say yes, very nice, or words to that effect, but fail to provide Forghieri with many worthwhile, and specific comments:

 

"I need to know more than that".

 

Replied Rene analytically.

 

"Well, it doesn’t pull enough revs in fifth".

 

Suggests Forghieri acidly.

 

"In that case perhaps you would like me to put second where fifth is in the gearbox".

 

René adds:

 

"That way you’ll be able to pull plenty of revs at the top end".

 

Thus ends this unproductive exchange. Tambay’s exclusion from the 1984 Ferrari team has nothing to do with his ability, it’s entirely a question of internal politics Within the Ferrari empire and poor Tambay is the scapegoat. Instead of sulking and dragging his feet in his last race for the scuderia, as some drivers have done in the past, he’s on terrific form and make fastest lap in both qualifying sessions to put his red Ferrari on pole position on the grid, but only two-tenths of a second slower was Nelson Piquet, these two being in a class of their own. Tambay did three quick runs in Thursday’s qualifying, squeezing a 1m 6.8s best out of his second set of Goodyear tyres. He then loses the pole briefly as Nelson Piquet’s scorch round in 1'06"7 in his Michelin-shod Brabham but comes back with a 1'06"554, using the best surviving tyres from his first two runs in the Ferrari, which threw pole position beyond reach. The weather is significantly hotter on Friday and, although ten drivers improve their times on the second day, both Tambay and Piquet are firmly ensconce on the front row thanks to their Thursday efforts. For the Friday session, Tambay chose to do only a single quick run on one set of qualifying tyres: for the remainder of the hour he simply sat in his Ferrari, helmet on, shade by a large umbrella, waiting to see whether Piquet’s herculean efforts will jeopardize his pole position, but the Brabham-BMW driver fails to take pole position, though he’s the only person to crack 1'07"0 during that final hour. By contrast, Rene Amoux is having a foul time. On Thursday afternoon his C3 rolled to a halt with a minor electrical problem on the approach to Leeukop, and after he climbed out, the marshals inadvertently pushed the car over his right foot as they moved it out of the way! Amoux, almost sick with pain, hobbles back to the pits where his foot is bathe and examine by the circuit doctor.

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Mercifully, he has gotten away with only serious bruising and no bones are broken: nonetheless, this little drama is to make life pretty uncomfortable for him for the rest of the weekend. It’s thus to his credit that he rose splendidly to the occasion on Friday and took his C3 round in 1'07"105 to snatch fourth place on the grid behind Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham BT52B. Patrese and Arnoux are in row two and then came Prost and Rosberg. The placing of the first Williams-Honda V6 t/c in sixth position on the grid is one of the most significant happenings in practice and it’s back up by Laffite putting the second Williams-Honda V6 in tenth place, Mansell (Lotus-Renault), Winkelhock ATS-BMW) and de Cessna (Alfa Romeo) separating the two new cars from Didcot, which is impressive by any standards. For Rosberg to be as high as he is comes as no surprise, for he is driving brilliantly all season with the obsolete Cosworth-powered Williams FW08C and now with an engine the equal of the opposition he is in with the best. Jacques Laffite fails to qualify his Cosworth-power Williams for the last two races which puzzle those who support him, but given the tools he can still get the job done. The whole performance of the Williams team has put the Honda V6 engine into perspective for recent races by Johansson with the same engine in a Gordon Coppuck-designed Spirit chassis haven’t been world-shattering, though there are moments to suggest that the Japanese V6 engine can’t be ignore. It will now appear that it is a force to be reckon with by everyone in Formula One. A distinctively different profile on the circuit is present by this new FW09, although few will question that it is very definitely typically Williams in appearance. Its chassis is uncomplicate and construct from honeycomb alloy sheeting, Patrick Head only employing carbon fiber composite to cover the central fuel cell. Although the Honda contract with the Spirit team included the South African event, the team decided to cut its losses and miss the Kyalami race, making use of the time to progress with plans for 1984.

 

Another team who give the South African race a miss is the rather shaky little Theodore team, the Ensign part of the business having pull out with Morris Nunn doing other things and engineer Nigel Bennett joining the Lola factory. This meant that Roberto Guerrero and Johnny Cecotto have nothing to drive and it also meant that only twenty-six cars entered for the race so everyone was assured of a place on the starting grid and Kenny Acheson in the John MacDonald March-Cosworth V8 was able to start his first Grand Prix. The two Osellas were at first post as non-starters by the rule that requires everyone to lap within 110% of the fastest man but by mutual agreement of all the other teams this rule is waiv and Fabi and Ghinzani are allow to take the last two places on the grid. The Brabham camp is in a confident mood by the end of qualifying, its sleek BT52Bs occupying second and third positions on the grid. Both cars sport only minor revisions to their oil cooling systems, but are otherwise turn out to the specification which is use to win at Monza and Brands Hatch. On Thursday morning each car has suffer an engine failure, and during first qualifying Patrese’s mount suffer a turbo failure while he’s on his quickest lap. The failure occurre as he comes through the fast right hand lane just before the pits, but he still manages a 1'08"181 on his second set of Michelins. In an attempt to improve on that situation, he hopes into the spare car and tries to squeeze another quick lap out of the same set. But they are finish and he has to wait until the following day before returning his 1'07"001 best after an over-zealous performance which saw the Italian’s BT52B getting all four wheels on the grass at the fast downhill Barbecue comer. Renault on the other hand are nothing like as confident, even though for the first time they have bring along a set of special engines design to accept more turbo boost pressure during qualifying.

 

They also had a total of four RE40s available for Championship points leader Alain Prost (RE40/05 and 06) and his team-mate Eddie Cheever (RE40/04 and 03). The American tries one of the qualifying engines during runtime practice on Thursday morning, but it suffers a turbo failure and, when a new turbo is fits for first qualifying, Eddie finds it’s about 400 rpm down at the top end. Prost finds the race engine fit in his RE40 is nothing special, but admits with great satisfaction that the car’s handling is absolutely perfect. The McLaren team hopes that revisions to the Porsche-built TAG turbo engine will eliminate the valve gear problems that have plague this new engine during its first three races. They have a third MP4 1E on hand as team spare for the first time, and although this is press into action for Watson on race day, Niki Lauda has a generally trouble-free time in practice. With McLaren and Williams now firmly ensconce within the ranks of turbo competitors, it comes as little surprise to find Michele Alboreto’s Tyrrell 012 heading the list of non-turbo runners. Alboreto, currently looking forward to his somewhat controversial appointment as Rene Arnoux’s partner in the ’84 Ferrari line-up, set his best time of 1'11"096 on Thursday and, when he finds he can’t stay in team-mate Danny Sullivan’s slipstream the following day, he takes over the American’s car for the final session, but he can’t improve on his Friday best. If it is warm on Friday, then it’s a South African Spring scorcher on Saturday with hardly a can in the sky and none of those ominous thunderstorms, which so frequently jeopardize proceedings when the race takes place earlier in the season. In order to keep Kyalami’s narrow and outdated pit facilities as free as possible for cars to make their pit stops, it’s decide that the Toleman and ATS teams should set up their refueling facilities on the wider apron below the finish tower before the line of pits. There is a lot of bad feeling, general lack of organization and flaring tempers as various officials attempt to clear the pits of superfluous individuals.

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In the morning warm-up session before the race, in which everyone runs in full race trim, Lauda records the fastest lap with his McLaren-Porsche V6, which doesn’t go unnotice by the other teams. This very hot weather effectively spelt finis to the hopes of the Goodyear-shod runners at Kyalami, such conditions favoring Michelin’s radials. The first positive indication of this come in the morning warm-up session in which Niki Lauda’s McLaren-Porsche turns a very impressive 1'09"504 on race tyres and almost full fuel load. Patrese, Piquet and Prost are next up, with Goodyear’s best runner, Tambay’s Ferrari, some 1.2 sec slower than Lauda. Watson is still suffering engine problems in his McLaren, the newly install V6 still demonstrating a mysterious loss of power at the top end, and it’s decide that he will start in the spare MP4 1E. Winkelhock’s ATS flew off the road at Crowthorne after a rear suspension failure, while the Williams lads has their work cut out replacing the failed Honda V6 in Rosberg’s car in the two and a half hours available between the end of the warm-up and the start of the race. Sometimes an unlikely or insignificant driver or car makes a fast time in the race-day warm-up and it is not important, but Niki Lauda can never be overlooked, nor can Porsche. From the moment the green light come on Piquet has it all his own way, his start is exemplary and he really gives it all he has got in the opening laps, pulling out an enormous lead even on the first lap. There is little doubt that you need to be on Michelin tyres for this race for the dust of the start has barely subside before the two Brabhams takes charge with Tambay unable to match their speed, nor that of Prost in the Renault, de Cesaris (Alfa Romeo) and Lauda (McLaren) who has rocket through from the sixth row. His team-mate Watson in the second McLaren-Porsche is left behind as the grid moves off on the parade-lap and though he’s push-start he retakes his place in the parade thus infringing the rule forbidding overtaking by anyone once the parade-lap has begin.

 

He is black-flag and disqualify on lap 18. Piquet simply drives away from everyone, so much so that when he makes his routine pit-stop for new tyres and more petrol, he rejoins the race just as his team-mate comes into view and continues to lead the race even while on his standing-start lap from the pit-lane. The Brabham mechanics do a superb job in getting him out in 12 seconds, even though the television count-down made it 9.2 sec. From the very start of the race neither Prost nor Amoux are any challenge at all to Nelson Piquet and they barely figure in the race as such, let alone as challengers for the outcome of the World Championship points-scoring game. Arnoux has never figure among the frontrunners from the start, his Goodyear tyres demoralizing him until he gives up when his Ferrari engine overheat, while Prost is taken aback by being pass with ease by Lauda in the McLaren-Porsche and when the unhappy little Frenchman arrives in the pit lane it’sn’t for petrol and tyres, but to retire from the fray with turbo-charger trouble to quote the Renault team. Apart from Piquet’s domination, Lauda’s progress is the big feature of the race, for after charging up from his position of twelfth on the starting grid, he got into a strong third place a few feet behind Patrese’s second-place Brabham. There is nothing he can do about the Italian, but equally Patrese can’t shake him off and it’s with some relief that he sees Lauda heading for the pit lane for new tyres and petrol. As can so easily happen in these fast pit stops something can go wrong, and the right-rear wheel balk keeping Lauda up on the jacks for more than 23 sec, but he rejoins the race at undiminished speed and set about making up the lost time, the McLaren-Porsche looking very impressive in only its fourth race. Although Tambay’s pit stop with the Ferrari goes smoothly, it’s slow in comparison with the Brabham team, for Patrese is service in just over ten seconds, and the Ferrari lost a place to the Alfa Romeo of de Cesaris as it left the pits.

 

Warwick is running well in mid-field in the opening stages and as others like de Angelis (Lotus-Renault) and Laffite (Williams-Honda) retired he moves up until he is in sixth place, ahead of Cheever (Renault) and Rosberg (Williams-Honda). He moves up another place when Tambay retires, the Ferrari having run slowly for a lap with falling boost pressure before expiring out on the circuit and this put Warwick in fourth place. Team-mate Giacomelli isn’t so lucky, a turbo failure causing a merry little fire at the back of the car as he drowns off to retire. With Prost gone, Piquet has the 1983 World Championship in his grasp, but he can still lose it if Brabham leaves him down or he makes a mistake, for his retirement will leave Prost ahead on points, even though the Frenchman has long since retire. However, Piquet is more intent on winning the Championship than winning the race, so he ease right off and drive carefully to the finish, letting Patrese, Lauda and de Cesaris all go by for those three were still racing to win the South African GP, especially Lauda who has the bit between his teeth and is hounding Patrese once more. Fourth place is quite sufficient for Piquet to finish the season ahead of Prost on points, so he cruises around and lets the others get on with the racing. With only four laps to go Lauda’s car suddenly slows as the boost pressure drops and he pulls off on the left of the circuit after the Clubhouse Comer, his race run and an impressive second place gone. The McLaren suffers an instant loss of power from its Porsche engine as a result of an electrical systems malfunction. Patrese comes home the winner of the South African GP, with de Cesaris in a mature second place, which is another great boost for the Euro Racing Alfa Romeo team after his second place in the German GP. The wily Piquet finishes third secure in the knowledge that he has win the 1983 World Championship on points rather than race victories, though his domination of the last three races is unquestionable. 

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A lap behind comes Warwick in another good fourth place for the Toleman team, follows by Rosberg in fifth place in a very impressive debut race for the new Honda powered Williams. In no way do the 1983 Grand Prix season fizzle out, it ends on a strong note of interest and enthusiasm for 1984. The day of the small private team has long gone and Grand Prix racing is now the province of major motor car manufacturers, using the specialist skills and knowledge of some of the small concerns. While Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo are complete factory teams, with all the research and development facilities behind them that are essential to stay ahead, Brabham, Williams, McLaren and Lotus have the full backing of major factories for the supply and development of engines. BMW, Honda, Porsche and Renault are as keen for their support teams to win as if they are their own teams. Against these giant engine manufacturers Brian Hart struggles gamely with his turbo-charged 4-cylinder in the Toleman, but it is an uphill struggle.

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Rebecca Asolari

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