The 1983 Dutch Grand Prix returns to its more usual date of the end of August after last year’s diversion and results in a very satisfactory attendance for the three days, especially on Saturday, a lot of spectators making a week-end by the sea as part of the Grand Prix visit. Unfortunately the weather does not play its part and though Friday is warm and sunny, Saturday and Sunday are grey and cool, but thankfully without rain of any consequence.
On the starting grid Patrick Tambay is in second position in his C3 Ferrari, alongside pole-man Nelson Piquet (Brabham-BMW) but Rene Arnoux’s C3 Ferrari (the spare one at that) is down in row five due to various troubles with engines, electronics and turbo-chargers during practice and qualifying. At the start Tambay makes a complete nonsense of things, his clutch over-heats and slipps, and he crawls away to be passed by nearly everyone. Arnoux is heavily boxed in in the scramble for the first corner and at the end of the opening lap he is in seventh position and Tambay is 20th, having nursed his clutch while it cools off and then gets going properly. On the face of things Arnoux has little hope of winning for Piquet, Prost, Cheever, Patrese, de Cesaris and de Angelis are all in front of him and going strongly, while Tambay’s future looks very forlorn. Piquet has leapt into the lead from the pole-position he gains with confidence on Saturday afternoon, and Cheever makes a meteoric start from the sixth row to nip into second place at the first corner just ahead of his Renault team- leader, but after four laps Prost asserts his authority and elbows his way by into second place and sets off after the flying Piquet. Up to half distance it is a two-car race, the V6 Renault against the 4 cylinder BMW powered Brabham, both cars on Michelin tyres and little to choose between the drivers. Piquet leads all the way but Prost has closed in and is looking for a weak point in Piquet’s driving, but there isn’t one. Meanwhile Arnoux has disposed of the Lotus-Renault of de Angelis and then the Alfa Romeo engine disposes of de Cesaris, so the Ferrari is up to fifth place. Patrese and Cheever cannot keep pace with their respective team leaders but have a good ding-dong together until Arnoux passes them both and takes third place, but that is as far as he is going to get, it seems.
Tambay’s climb up through the field is one of those smooth drives that puts a driver into a special class, no matter what car he is driving, and from 20th place on the opening lap he is up to 10th place on lap 15. Then he takes a long time closing on Baldi’s Alfa Romeo, but finally gets by on lap 33 and at the halfway point, on lap 36, he is seventh. Pit stops for new tyres and more petrol are due around the half distance point but then a most remarkable thing happens: the two cars which have run first and second for so long are eliminated and Arnoux finds himself in the lead. For five laps Prost is right on the tail of the leading Brabham, but cannot find a way by and as pit-stop time is approaching he wants to be in the lead as the Renault pit is further down the row than the Brabham pit. It seems likely that both Prost and Piquet are going to be in at the same time, so if he (Prost) is leading he would have a clear run to his pit-crew and a clear run away, but if Piquet leads into the pit lane the Renault might get slightly baulked by the activity in the Brabham pit, and if Piquet gets away first Prost would have to start all over again on the closing in and taking process. As the two cars start lap 42 Prost dives to the inside to try and outbrakes the Brabham into the Tarzan hairpin, but he gets into a sideways slide under the braking and though Piquet gives him room the Renault driver slides helplessly into the right side of the Brabham, puncturing its right front tyre, pushing it onto the sand and into the tyre barrier and out of the race. The Renault bounces off the Brabham seemingly undamaged and pointing the right way and as the engine is still running Prost drives off, leaving apologies until afterwards. He does not realize he has damaged the mounting of the left side nose-fin and as he heads into the fast right hand corner leading onto the final straight the fin revolves on its mounting and throws the car into a terminal understeer which takes it off the road in spite of Prost standing hard on the brakes.
The Renault clouts the barrier and breakes the rear mounting of the lower front wishbone on the left and spans round to a stop, a very chastened Alain Prost stepping out unhurt but very reflective, after making such an untypical mistake as to misjudge his braking for the Tarzan hairpin. From that point on Arnoux has it all his own way and driving in the peculiar head-down stance that is his characteristic he completes the race without fear of being beaten. Tambay, in fifth position, naturally finds himself third at the point when the two leaders have retired, and has reached that fifth place by reason of Cheever’s Renault expiring with an electrical fault in the ignition and Patrese making his routine pit-stop. Then Tambay himself stops as John Watson does, who has his McLaren- Cosworth V8 among this lot and when it is all sorted out by lap 44 the order behind Arnoux’s leading Ferrari is Patrese (Brabham), Tambay (Ferrari) and Watson (McLaren). The Ulsterman is doing one of his heroic drives, more than a little “needled” by the attitude of team-owner Ron Dennis who is all over Niki Lauda and the new Porsche engine, almost to the point of ignoring Watson and being very evasive about his future with the team. In his effort to show them Watson drives at his inspired best and really comes through the back markers in a fine display of cool, confident and aggressive driving. He overtakes Laffite (Williams), Rosberg (Williams), Alboreto (Tyrrell), Baldi (Alfa Romeo), Johansson (Spirit) and is just about to take Warwick when the Toleman driver makes his pit-stop. When Toleman makes his own stop the McLaren team excell themselves with a 10.63 seconds stop and the McLaren heads the Toleman comfortably. By dint of this hard and aggressive driving Watson is actually in second place while others make pit-stops and settle down again in fourth place after the pit-stops are over, still ahead of Warwick’s Toleman which is running splendidly.
In the closing laps Patrese’s BMW engine has turbo-charger trouble and loses all its boost so that he is left with a normally-aspirated 11/2 litre engine and that doesn’t produce much power, but as the finish is in sight he keeps going. Up to this point Tambay has been trying all he knows to get by the Brabham, but cannot make it and suddenly, in the same way as Arnoux has been presented with first place, Tambay is presented with second place as the BMW engine lets Patrese down. The lucky Ferrari lads cruises home to a 1-2 victory for the Maranello team, while poor Patrese is passed by Watson and Warwick who are not far behind on the same lap, and then by all the tail-enders as he struggles to keep going to the finish, ending up ninth from a pretty secure second place. Watson’s third place is well deserved and if there was a Driver of the Day award he would undoubtedly have won it, and while Watson fans know that he can drive like that when he puts his mind to it, his detractors ask rather pointedly why doesn’t he always drive like that? Throughout practice and qualifying Watson is faster than Lauda, who is driving the new McLaren-Porsche turbo-charged car, but it is not very significant as this is very much a toe dipped in the water for the Porsche project, and the handling and balance of the MP4/1E is far from right. In straight-line speed down the long straight it is well in amongst the Ferraris, BMWs and Renaults, but loses out on braking and cornering. In the race it runs quietly in mid-field until Lauda is forced to retire having used up all the brakes. Warwick’s fourth place with the Toleman-Hart is a real morale-booster for everyone, none more than himself, and the Hart engine has run perfectly and nothing has broken or fallen off the Toleman chassis. Apart from the sheer joy of being able to race for the full distance with only a routine pit-stop for petrol and new Pirellis, Warwick’s day is made when he sees Nigel Mansell’s Lotus spin across the track in front of him and disappears into the sandy run-off area at the Tarzan hairpin, after the Birmingham driver has made a real nonsense of trying to outbrake the Toleman on lap 27. Warwick laughs so much his visor steams up.