This week we're going to take a look back at the 1982 F1 World Championship. A year that started with a drivers' strike, contained a Grand Prix postponement, involved controversial disqualifications, a boycott, tragedy, last lap dramas, and a world champion who only won one race. Never mind a blog, there is enough material for a whole book from this entertaining period in the sport.
The season had barely begun before the chaos started. Unhappy with certain elements of the new super licences proposed by the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), the drivers took the decision to strike during the practice sessions of the opening race in South Africa. Thirty drivers boarded a coach - Jochen Mass was unaware of the group actions and was staying in a different location to the other drivers - and departed the Kyalami circuit en masse. Strength in unity was very much the mantra for the group, as the rebels barricaded themselves in a conference room in the Sunnyside Hotel so that they could not be pestered individually by their teams and the relevant authorities.
The room was turned into a makeshift dorm, mattresses laid across the floor with drivers sharing beds, and the group being royally entertained by Elio de Angelis and Gilles Villeneuve on the piano. Stories from this episode are boundless, the feeling of camaraderie growing amongst the usually independent drivers. Only one man backed down - Teo Fabi, who was rumoured to have fled through a bathroom window - a move which hardly endeared him to the other drivers throughout the remainder of the season.
There were two main gripes with the super licences. Firstly, that each individual driver had to sign a contract stating that they would drive for a given team for a defined period of time, up to three years, thus preventing them from entering contract negotiations with other teams. And secondly, that they could no way speak in a way which would reflect badly on the governing body FISA.
Represented by Ferrari's Didier Pironi, with the returning Niki Lauda acting as group spokesman, the drivers were determined to stay strong throughout. The situation was looking desperate at various points, with teams actually looking into the option of bringing in other drivers to solve the problem, and the South African Grand Prix was in serious danger of being called off. With only Mass taking to the track for the practice session, a sense of farce descended over proceedings.
Eventually the drivers returned, given verbal assurances by FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre that they would not be punished for their misdemeanours. Unfortunately Balestre was not totally honest, his fury over events leading to fines ranging between $5000-$10,000 and suspended bans varying from two to five races being imposed on the 29 men who stuck things out until the end. This was a row that would rumble on and on.
Alain Prost won the South African Grand Prix on Saturday January 23, but it would be almost two months before the next race of the season in Brazil. The scheduled follow-up to South Africa - the Argentinian Grand Prix on March 7 - never took place, as the 1982 F1 World Championship lurched from one crisis to another.
The Argentinian Grand Prix was postponed after race organisers declared that various sponsors had backed out of the event due to the indecision caused by the drivers strike in South Africa. With potential heavy losses, the Argentinian authorities simply could not afford to take any risks.
Eventually, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) Court of Appeal adjusted the super licence contract issues, and reduced the fines and suspended race sentences dished out after South Africa. The circus moved on to the Brazilian Grand Prix, but you may have guessed that the controversy did not end there.
After the hassle of South Africa and the postponement in Argentina, it appeared to be business as usual in Brazil. Nelson Piquet delighted home fans by winning the race in his Brabham, with the Williams driver Keke Rosberg in second place. In 1982 though, nothing could be taken for granted.
Renault and Ferrari immediately lodged a protest against Brabham and Williams, insisting that both drivers had raced in cars under the minimum legal weight. Another race - the US Grand Prix West at Long Beach, won by Lauda - had taken place before the appeal was heard by the FIA. When Piquet and Rosberg were disqualified, Prost was promoted to first place, thus taking an early lead in the championship, and in the process, opening up a whole new can of worms before the next race in San Marino.
The disqualification of Piquet and Rosberg was one thing, but when a decision was taken by the FIA to adjust the weighing procedures of cars after a race, another messy situation developed in the already volatile world of F1.
Post-race weighing of cars had previously seen oil and coolant levels topped up before a reading was taken, but now the FIA seemed to be moving the goalposts. After Brazil, the FIA announced that cars would now be weighed before any liquids were added, greatly impacting on any team which used the ballast water tank for cooling brakes through the race (and refilled after finishing). The British-based Formula One Constructors' Association (FOCA) were up in arms over this new development.
An emergency meeting was held, with FOCA decreeing that any British-based racing teams were to boycott the forthcoming Grand Prix at Imola. Although some teams (Tyrrell, Osella, ATS and Toleman) ignored this course of action, only 14 cars took part in the San Marino Grand Prix, with the Ferrari's of Villeneuve and Pironi unsurprisingly dominating after both Renaults had retired.
Even a race involving only 14 cars caused some rancour, however. Villeneuve and Pironi swapped positions at the head of the field five times, but after Pironi regained the lead on the final lap - apparently ignoring team orders to slow down - Villeneuve was furious, allegedly vowing never to speak to Pironi again. Which makes the subsequent disaster in Belgium even sadder.
Just two weeks after Imola, Villeneuve was killed during the closing stages of qualification for the Belgian Grand Prix. An accidental coming together with Mass' slow-moving March car saw Villeneuve's Ferrari catapulted into the sky, bodywork strewn in all directions, and Villeneuve thrown from the car. Villeneuve was given the kiss of life and a heart massage by track marshalls, but after being helicoptered to Louvain hospital with severe neck and brain injuries, he passed away later that evening. Ferrari instantly withdrew from the race, and F1 mourned the loss of a popular and supremely talented driver.
Sadly this was not the only fatality during the 1982 season. Italian Riccardo Paletti, participating in only his second race, crashed into Pironi's stalled car at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix, and he later died due to massive internal haemorrhaging. It was estimated that Paletti had been travelling at 120mph at the time of the collision, but before Pironi and race marshalls could get to the Osella, Paletti's car burst into flames. The fire was extinguished, but there was a delay of half an hour, until Paletti was cut free, and his death, coming so soon after that of Villeneuve, shook the sport further.
These were not the only safety incidents, however. After surviving a serious crash at the French Grand Prix in July, Mass was a lucky man to hobble away with minor burns, but such had been the impact of Villeneuve's death on the German, that he took his own accident as a sign that he needed to quit the sport. He would never race again in a F1 Grand Prix.
As ever in sport, the show went on, and it appeared as if Pironi would go on to claim the title. Yet in this troublesome year there would be one more incident which shaped the destiny of the championship.
During qualification for the German Grand Prix (in wet conditions), Pironi crashed into the back of Prost's Renault and was flung into the air. "Suddenly I felt something hit me very hard in the back. Then I saw the red Ferrari flying over me. It was doing 140 miles an hour," said Prost. The injuries to Pironi's legs were so hideous, that the first driver on the scene vomited at seeing the damage caused to the Ferrari driver. Doctors feared that Pironi would never walk again, and despite recovering after numerous operations, the German Grand Prix would be the last F1 race of his career.
The German Grand Prix is also remembered for Nelson Piquet's infamous attack on Eliseo Salazar. This was no ordinary season.
The race after Villeneuve's death was in Monaco, unsurprisingly conducted under grey clouds, both metaphorically and in terms of the weather. For 73 of the 76 laps there had been little to write home about. And then pandemonium.
Alain Prost looked to be coasting to victory with just two laps to go, until the light rain showers that had hit the circuit started to have an impact. Prost spun out of the race, handing the lead to Riccardo Patrese, before he too appeared to throw away his chance at glory, sliding across a bend at Loews and stalling his Brabham.
The chaos continued. Pironi now took a turn to be race leader, but agonisingly his car developed an electrical fault on the last lap, ending his hopes. Andrea de Cesaris was briefly promoted to first place, only for his vehicle to run out of fuel. All eyes then turned to Ireland's Derek Daly, yet as the cameras cut to his Williams car grinding to a halt, confusion reigned.
In the mess, Patrese had been pushed back into a safe position by race marshalls, and had managed to bump start his car whilst moving downhill. On crossing the finishing line the Italian had no idea he had won his first Grand Prix, mistakenly thinking he was in second place. "On the finishing lap everybody was waving flags and so on, while I was thinking I'd thrown it all away," declared Patrese, who remained unaware of his win until he was ushered towards the podium.
Five different leaders in the last two laps; it's hardly surprising that Murray Walker described the race at the time as "Certainly the most eventful, exciting, momentous Grand Prix I have ever seen".
In Pironi's absence, the world title was up for grabs. With just four races left in the season, the table indicated just how close things were: Pironi 39 points, John Watson 30, Rosberg 27, Prost 25, Lauda 24. In a crazy race for the title, even Pironi still had an outside chance.
Indeed Pironi was only knocked off top spot with two races to go. The man who finally took charge of the championship must at one point have wondered if he was ever destined to win a Grand Prix at all. Keke Rosberg's win in the Grand Prix of Switzerland - hosted in France due to Switzerland's laws on hosting motor racing - was a decisive moment in the season. It gave Rosberg his first ever Grand Prix win and the lead in the championship. After the dramatic events at the previous race in Austria, Rosberg's joy was twofold.
Rosberg had been denied his maiden win in Austria in one of the closest finishes of all time. With a lap remaining, the Lotus of Elio de Angelis led Rosberg's Williams by 1.64 seconds, but in a gripping finale, the Finn closed the gap, pushing desperately for an opening. De Angelis held on for his first Grand Prix win, beating Rosberg by 0.050 seconds and by just four feet.
The win in France ensured Rosberg's Austrian agony was quickly forgotten, and come the final race of the season held in Las Vegas - the third Grand Prix to have been held in America in 1982 - the Finn needed just a point to secure the title. His fifth-placed finish saw Rosberg crowned the 1982 world champion, even though he had only won one race during the season. Consistency was the key, although Pironi's career-ending crash was obviously a significant turning point.
Overall, the 1982 season was fairly unusual. No driver won more than two races, five men secured their maiden wins - Patrese, Patrick Tambay, de Angelis, Rosberg, and Michele Alboreto - with eleven different men winning the sixteen races. From the strike shenanigans in South Africa to Rosberg claiming the title, it was a season touched by tragedy, clouded in controversy, and enveloped in excitement.
It has been a delight researching this piece, finding out information on a season which was interesting from the beginning to the end. In fact it has whetted my appetite so much for the sport, that I may go to the loft and dust off my Scalectrix set....