1982 Austrian Grand Prix
: 1982 Austrian Grand Prix: de Angelis Flying Through the Thin Air By Jeremy McMullen
It is almost impossible to predict events and just how momentous they just might be. This would certainly be the case with the 1982 Austrian Grand Prix, a truly special and memorable moment in Formula One history.
Heading into the Austrian Grand Prix in 1982 Formula One was in a bit of trouble and desperately needed a lift. All throughout the paddock there were teams that needed some good news. And then there would be others that needed some good news in order to be able to weather a storm coming their way.
The dangers of Formula One were very real and still very much a part of the sport. Almost every single year since its inception in 1950 Formula One had suffered at least one death. Some years would see more than one driver lose their life. It was rather considered to be a part of the sport even though efforts would be constantly taken to improve safety.
When it came to qualifying, or the actual race, there would be a period following Ronnie Peterson's death in Monza in 1978 where there were no other fatalities. But then came 1982.
In the minds of those that want to point fingers and affix blame, the start of the downward trend in the 1982 season would begin with a hotly political San Marino Grand Prix. In that race Gilles Villeneuve was holding onto the lead heading into the final laps of the race. Right behind him was his Ferrari teammate Didier Pironi. The Ferraris were battling with the Renaults until both of the later team's cars retired. Ferrari then issued an order for its drivers to slow down. According to Villeneuve following the race, such a sign had always meant holding position. Pironi didn't see it that way and he would make the decision to race for the lead and the win. The two would battle intensely, much to the delight of the Italian fans. Then, on the final lap of the race Pironi would gain the upper hand and would come away the winner. The win, however, would draw the ire of Villeneuve who would declare that he would never speak to Pironi ever again.
Less than two weeks later, Villeneuve would be busy pushing hard in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix held at Zolder. Coming through traffic at high speed Gilles would slide off the circuit. The car would overturn violently throwing Gilles out of the car and into some catch-fencing. Villeneuve was dead. Many pointed fingers at Pironi. An already political sport would become even more so.
Villeneuve's death would happen in early May. When the Formula One World Championship turned up in Canada, Villeneuve's homeland, for the Canadian Grand Prix, it would be found the circuit would be renamed in Gilles' honor. Unfortunately and most ironically, Riccardo Paletti would lose his life while driving his Osella in the race. Dark clouds were seriously looming over Formula One and it wasn't even the middle of the season yet.
Dark clouds had been looming over Formula One even before Pironi's questionable pass of Villeneuve and his subsequent death. Prior to the South African Grand Prix Niki Lauda would lead the drivers in a strike against new superlicense regulations. The drivers would lock themselves in the conference room at the hotel until a tentative agreement would be reached.
Then there would be the struggles in technology. Lotus had introduced the ground-effects chassis in 1978. Since then, many of the top teams had been hard at work improving the concept. On top of this, the turbo era was coming to Formula One. Add to this the new technology of carbon-fiber bodies and Formula One was certainly forging the way on the technological front. However, all of this technology cost a lot of money and only the top teams could afford it. Therefore, there would be a good deal of frustration amongst the teams as there would be those that could afford the technology and those that could not, and therefore, the competition up and down the field would not be as equal.
Finally, there was Team Lotus. All throughout the 1960s and the 1970s Lotus had been one of the, if not the, premier teams in Formula One. However, following their introduction of the ground-effects chassis in 1978, Lotus would be on a downward trend and would not win a race in those intervening years. The great and revolutionary Colin Chapman seemed to have lost his touch.
Therefore, over the course of the 1982 season Formula One, everyone inside and out of the sport, needed a lift of some kind. And, on the 15th of August, everyone would get just that.
The much maligned Didier Pironi would be leading the championship following the German Grand Prix despite not starting as a result of an accident in practice. Keke Rosberg renewed his championship hopes with a 3rd place finish in the German Grand Prix while both John Watson and Alain Prost would lose ground as a result of failures.
In the Constructors' Championship standings, Lotus-Ford was languishing badly in 5th place more than 41 points behind the leaders Ferrari. McLaren-Ford was in 2nd place while Renault sat in 3rd.
Coming to the Austrian Grand Prix it seemed the divide and the gloom that had been settled over Formula One would only continue. Situated near Spielberg in Styria, Austria, the Osterreichring seemed to be 3.69 miles of pure heaven for the turbo-powered cars. Sitting at higher altitudes than most circuits it was believed the turbo cars would have a considerable advantage over the normally-aspirated cars on the grid.
The Osterreichring would be built in 1969 to replace the boorish Zeltweg Airfield circuit. What the teams and drivers would get would be anything but boorish. In fact, the Osterreichring would have to be considered one of the fastest and most dangerous circuits of its day. Consisting of no slow corners to speak of, drivers practically just lifted through the corners and downshifted in order to get a better drive off. The runoff around the circuit would be almost nonexistent and this would strike fear in so of the most fearless of drivers, especially when headed into the famous Bosch Kurve with its narrow run-off area and entry speeds approaching 200mph. While scary in so many ways, the Osterreichring was also enjoyed by many drivers for its pure qualities. Filled with elevation changes up and down steep gradients, the Osterreichring was certainly a road course in the purest sense.
Practice and qualifying would prove the notions of the advantage of the turbo-powered to be true as they would dominate qualifying. The 1.5-liter turbo-powered Brabhams driven by Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese would lead the way. Piquet would end up taking the pole with a lap time of 1:27.612 around the 3.6 mile circuit. Just .359 seconds would be the difference back to Patrese in the other Brabham. Therefore, Brabham would have the entire front row of the grid all to themselves. Renault and Ferrari would occupy the second row of the grid with Alain Prost lining up in 3rd place and Patrick Tombay in 4th.
The fastest of the normally-aspirated cars would be Keke Rosberg. His best lap of 1:30.300 would be two and a half seconds slower than Piquet's time and would lead to the Williams-Ford Cosworth driver starting from the third row of the grid in the 6th position. The next fastest normally-aspirated driver would be the Italian Elio de Angelis. And though he represented the best hopes for Team Lotus, the prospects of coming away with a win on such a circuit so heavily favoring turbo power seemed quite remote.
If the weather on the day of the race would be any indication of what the race would end up representing then the bright blue skies and hot temperatures certainly should have given the normally-aspirated entrants a bit of hope.
Still, if there was any doubt or unbelief, the first lap of the race would provide some much needed perspective. As the light shone green, Piquet would get away from the line well but it would be Prost that would get away even better. Heading into the first corner it would be Piquet leading the way with Prost in 2nd and Patrese in 3rd. However, while the front of the field would be streaming up the steep hill toward the Hella-Licht chicane, the middle of the pack would find cars coming together on the very narrow start/finish straight. The tight start/finish straight was infamous for crashes at the start of races precisely because of the narrow portion of circuit. Instead of being able to whip around and pass each other, often there would be crashes because drivers simply had no place to go. Such would be the case at the start of the 1982 Austrian Grand Prix.
On the run up the hill the worse case scenario for any team would take place as Bruno Giacomelli and Andrea de Cesaris would come together taking each other out of the race after just a couple of hundred yards. Also involved in the open lap melee would be Williams' other driver Derek Daly. His involvement in the collision, not by any real doing of his own, would also remove him from the race without having completed even a single lap. There would be others that would be involved in the incident that would find themselves out or struggling the remainder of the race.
Coming around for the completion of the 3rd lap it would be Patrese holding onto the lead having gotten around Piquet. Prost and Arnoux ran in 3rd and 4th while de Angelis would prove to be the best of the normally-aspirated cars running in 5th place early on.
Things would settle down and hold relatively still at the front of the field until the 17th lap of the race when Piquet would drop down the running order and would be plagued by electrical issues for the remainder of the race until his eventual retirement on the 32nd lap. This moved Prost up to 2nd place while Arnoux's earlier turbo difficulties led him to retire from the race after 16 laps. Arnoux's retirement meant de Angelis would find himself in 3rd. Elio's early pace would be most impressive. Amongst the normally-aspirated runners, Elio was absolutely dominating and actually looked as though his car was turbo-powered.
Patrese would be in the lead and would even hold onto the lead through his pitstop for tires and fuel. Prost would retain 2nd place and de Angelis would be surprising many looking incredibly strong in 3rd. However, just about five laps following his pitstop Patrese would be seen sliding through the grass backwards having lost control of the Brabham. The car would finally come to a rest up against an earthen bank with the rear end of the car sticking up in the air. This would allow Prost to go through into the lead of the race while de Angelis would move up to 2nd place.
Prost's lead would be more than a half a minute over de Angelis as the Italian had the duo of Piquet and Rosberg gaining some ground behind him in 3rd and 4th place. This would then change to just Rosberg when the electrical problems finally brought Piquet's race to an end after 31 laps.
Despite the fact the setting for the race was supposed to favor the turbo-powered cars, the very hot conditions would help to level the field as there would be just one turbo-powered car, that of Prost's, still in the running with just 20 laps remaining in the race. However, the conditions certainly didn't seem to be bothering Prost who was still well out front in the lead over de Angelis, who had Rosberg slowly gaining ground on him.
By the time there were just 10 laps remaining in the race it seemed a foregone conclusion that Prost would take the victory. Who would finish in 2nd place appeared to be very much in the air as just about 6 seconds separated Elio from Keke.
Lap after lap, Prost would sweep around Jochen Rindt Kurve and across the line to complete yet another lap in the lead of the race. Almost all attention had begun to shift toward the battle for what would be 2nd place. Rosberg was certainly gaining on de Angelis and only a matter of a few seconds separated the two drivers when all of a sudden a great clamor would rise up from among the crowd along Flatschach as Prost's Renault would have flames shooting out of both sides of it indicating the turbos had failed on the car. And, by the time the car coasted to a stop and Prost climbed out, de Angelis would be rocketing by into the lead with Rosberg within striking distance.
All of a sudden Team Lotus, which had been struggling along since its last victory in 1978 had a clear chance at victory. If only de Angelis could hold on over the remaining four and a half laps.
The race was far from over, however. Elio certainly looked cool behind the wheel of the Lotus but Rosberg was certainly gaining ground with every single lap. Heading into the final lap of the race the tension and the drama couldn't have been any greater as just 1.6 seconds separated the two drivers, this after de Angelis had more than 7 seconds in hand just about 10 laps earlier. It was clear Rosberg had the advantage, but Elio was in the lead. The biggest question was whether the young talented Italian driver could keep the hard-charging Rosberg at bay?
Corner by corner, the pressure on de Angelis would increase, and yet, he would position his car right where it needed to be. But there would be another problem. Yes, Rosberg was catching, but it wasn't entirely the result of the driving of the Williams driver. Being that it was the final lap of the race, there would be tiny moments when the car would shutter just a little bit as it struggled to pick up the remaining fuel in the tank. De Angelis was in more trouble than what it appeared to the spectator looking on.
Heading around the Texaco-Schikane set of left-handers, Rosberg would close right up on de Angelis. It was clear this race was going to come right down to the final corner, or, on the start/finish straight.
Elio had a couple of things working in his favor. He was in front heading into Jochen Rindt Kurve so he could position his car in the best possible place in order to keep Rosberg at bay. Furthermore, the finish line was too far after coming off of the corner. Therefore, he could take a less than ideal line through the corner and hopefully out-drag Rosberg to the line.
Sure enough, de Angelis would need to take advantage of every favor he had coming to him. Heading into Jochen Rindt Kurve, de Angelis would swing over to the inside of the circuit to try and break the tow. Elio would swing out just far enough to give himself the best chance possible of holding his speed through the final curve. The move would also force Rosberg to have to think about going out to the outside, the long way around.
Rosberg would recognize just what was happening and would actually back off just a little bit in order to set himself up for the best possible chance at victory. Sure enough, de Angelis' pace into the final corner would be fast enough that momentum would force his Lotus toward the outside as the two emerged from the corner. This would result in de Angelis losing a lot of momentum and would allow Rosberg to come down underneath Elio on the sprint toward the line.
After 53 laps, it would come down to a short sprint to the line between a Lotus and a Williams. Colin Chapman would be out on the circuit a little past the line waiting to celebrate in his trademark fashion, it just took de Angelis to hang on for just a couple of hundred yards. Rosberg would come to the inside of Elio and he would be gaining ground quickly until his front tires were even with Elio in the cockpit. Sure enough, the other favor, that of the finish line closeness to the exit of the corner would come into play. Despite losing some momentum off the final corner, Elio would put his foot to the floor and the Cosworth engine, the same powering the Williams, would propel Elio toward the line. Approaching the line, Rosberg would be nearly side-by-side with de Angelis.
Coming to the line, Elio would throw up his hand as Chapman threw his hat into the air in his customary, famous fashion. Just .050 seconds would be the margin of victory for de Angelis, but as far as Formula One was concerned, the margin of victory would prove to be far greater.
The victory would prove to be far reaching in so many ways. Not only would the victory help the sport heal the wounds suffered from Villeneuve's death, but the fact the top two finishers would be normally-aspirated meant that turbo-powered cars were still capable of being beaten, even on ground they were meant to dominate.
As far as Lotus was concerned the victory could not have been more poignant. Elio had showed maturity beyond his years over the course of the final lap holding off Rosberg to earn his first win. However, the victory would give Lotus its first victory since the 1978 season and would help Lotus to regain some of its lost greatness that would really culminate in the 1985 season with Elio de Angelis and Aryton Senna teamed together. But, no one at Lotus would realize just how important the race would really be until December of 1982 when the team's founder, the incomparable Colin Chapman, died suddenly of a heart attack.
And so, on that glorious, brilliant day on the 15th of August, Elio de Angelis would provide Formula One, Lotus and himself a reason to love and believe in the sport once again. One of the closest finishes in Formula One history would be just what everyone needed. De Angelis' victory would provide hope and excitement following a period of darkness and death. The victory would also give a man that had bled and died Formula One for more than three decades one last moment of life and peace before departing this earth.
It's amazing, and even perhaps a little inconceivable, a single race achieved all of this. Yet, on that glorious day in August of 1982, with Elio circulating the track with his arm raised in the air, that is exactly what happened. While watching Elio on the parade lap, driving with his arm raised to the air, it would be nearly impossible not to reflect upon just what that first victory truly achieved and meant for so many.