10 min read

The Rule of 11

The Rule of 11
The start of the 1982 Austrian GP

The 1982 season was incredible… It was the greatest season for amount of race winners of all time and saw an amazing title fight between Didier Pironi, Keke Rosberg, and John Watson...

Heading into the 1982 season, the reigning drivers champion was Brabham’s Nelson Piquet, and the reigning teams champion was Williams.

Before the season even started there was much controversy due to the new super licence rules made by FISA, which would have made the drivers race for the same team for up to three years. A late compromise was reached, and the race went ahead. The drivers who were protesting about this were given a large fine and a race ban but then FISA decided that was too harsh. The favourites for the championship were Williams yet again but Round 1 in South Africa proved otherwise with Renault, Brabham and Ferrari locking out the first three rows with Renault’s Rene Arnoux on pole position. Arnoux led off the start until lap 13 when teammate Prost took the lead. Arnoux re-took the lead on lap 41 and led until he developed a problem on lap 67, which dropped him down to third behind Carlos Reutemann’s Williams and race winner and teammate Prost. Renault led the constructors from Williams and McLaren.

Round 2 was in Brazil and Renault yet again took pole with Prost, this became a theme throughout the 1982 season. It was the man alongside Prost on the front row, French-Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, who led laps 1 to 29 in his Ferrari before he crashed out. Piquet led until the end but then it was discovered that both he, and Keke Rosberg’s cars were as light as a feather and as a result, were disqualified from the race standings. Prost won from Watson’s McLaren and Nigel Mansell’s Lotus. Now Prost led from Watson & Reutemann, and Renault led from McLaren and Williams in the drivers and constructors.

Now they had the last round before the European season in America and Williams had found out that Carlos Reutemann had decided to retire due to the Falklands War (although Patrick Head, Williams co-founder, believed otherwise) and as a result, was replaced by Theodore’s Derek Daly. On pole for the US Grand Prix West at Long Beach was, shockingly, Andrea de Cesaris’ Alfa Romeo. De Cesaris led until lap 14 when the returning Niki Lauda took the lead for McLaren. Lauda would keep this lead until the end and moved into second in the championship as only Watson scored points out of the top 5 in the championship. Now Prost led from Lauda and Keke Rosberg’s Williams and in the teams, it was the exact same.

San Marino was an absolute catastrophe though…

As a result of Rosberg and Piquet’s disqualifications in Brazil, all the FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association) teams, which included Lotus, Williams, Brabham, and McLaren all went on boycott, with Elio de Angelis famously playing the piano whilst they all were refusing to move from their hotel rooms. The race was, despite only having 14 starters, quite an eventful one. Arnoux and Prost locked out the front row for Renault but both cars were out by lap 44. Now the only competitive cars left were the Ferrari’s and Michele Alboreto’s Tyrrell. Villeneuve and Pironi had an incredible duel for the lead all the way until the flag, with the lead switching back and forth between the pair many times. Villeneuve believed that Pironi would let him through for the win because of a gentleman’s agreement however Pironi didn’t and as a result, they never spoke to each other again as Pironi, Villeneuve and Alboreto were on the podium. Now Prost & Renault, Lauda & McLaren, and Pironi & Ferrari were the top 3 in both championships.

Then, for the second year in a row, tragedy struck in Zolder, Belgium. Warning – gruesome details will be told.

On Saturday, with 8 minutes left in qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, Villeneuve was trying to get ahead of Pironi, who was in 6th, one tenth clear of Villeneuve. Villeneuve came over the rise after turn 5 and found Jochen Mass’ March travelling at slow speed through Turn 6, which was a fast left hander leading up to turn 7. Mass saw Villeneuve approaching at high speed and moved off the racing line. At the same time, Villeneuve also moved off racing line to overtake Mass. The Ferrari hit the back of the March and was launched into the air at a reported 120–140 mph and was airborne for more than 100 metres before nosediving into the ground and disintegrating as it somersaulted along the edge of the track. Villeneuve was thrown 50 metres from the wreckage into the catch fencing on the outside edge of T8.

Several drivers stopped their cars and ran to the wreckage. John Watson and Derek Warwick pulled Villeneuve, his face blue, from the catch fencing. The first doctor arrived on the scene within half a minute to find that Villeneuve was not breathing, although his pulse continued, he was ventilated before being transferred to the circuit medical centre and then by helicopter to University St Raphael Hospital where a fatal fracture of the neck was diagnosed. Villeneuve was kept alive on life support while his wife travelled to the hospital and the doctors consulted with specialists worldwide. Villeneuve passed away at 9:12pm, leaving his wife and two children, one of whom was a boy, Jacques, who went on to win the Indy 500 and the F1 world championship in 1995 and 1997.

Ferrari withdrew and the whole paddock was in mourning as arguably the most skilled driver on the grid had passed away at the young age of 32. The race was dominated by Rosberg but Watson passed him with a couple of laps left as Rosberg’s tyres were degrading. Renault were finally taken off their perch as McLaren took the championship lead with Prost only leading the drivers but a point from Watson. At this point in the season, 12 drivers had been on the rostrum, with 4 drivers having won a race.

Monaco was the best race of the season at this point as Arnoux took his 3rdpole of the season and led until he crashed out on lap 14 heading out of the Nouvelle Chicane. Now Prost led until he too crashed out with three laps left. Now Ricciardo Patrese led until he spun and then stalled his Brabham at the Loews Hairpin. Then Pironi led for a lap before his car conked out in the tunnel. Somehow, it looked like de Cesaris would wi- and he’s crashed out…. Now Derek Daly led but then hi s gearbox seized and out of nowhere, Patrese got going again and ended up winning from Pironi and de Cesaris… James Hunt, BBC commentator said “Well, we've got this ridiculous situation where we're all sitting by the start-finish line waiting for a winner to come past, and we don't seem to be getting one!” The 1982 Monaco Grand Prix is nicknamed “The Race No One Wanted To Win.”

So now the circus returned to America for the Detroit Grand Prix. Prost took pole and led until a red flag was called due to Patrese hitting an Ensign that had just retired. When the race got going again, Prost led until, you guessed it, he hit problems. Rosberg then led before he too had fuel problems. But now it is time for…. Dominating Performance of The Dayyyyyyyyy!

John Watson qualified all the way down in 17th but made quick progress through the field, as he was in the top 10 by lap 20 and had managed to get past Bruno Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo on lap 30 before he passed Eddie Cheever, Niki Lauda and Didier Pironi in ONE LAP. Yes, ONE LAP. He was now 15 seconds behind Rosberg, who was a street circuit master. Rosberg then lost third gear and had hit fuel problems, resulting in Watson turning the 13 second gap into dust within 5 laps as he took the lead and kept it until the end. Now he led with McLaren with Pironi/Ferrari and Rosberg/Williams following them before yet again, tragedy struck in Canada.

Surprisingly, Pironi took pole in his Ferrari but then, he stalled and young Ricciardo Paletti, who was driving in his second race for Osella, hit Pironi at around 110 mph and was without a pulse. When Dr Sid Watkins tried to extract him from the car, the car was set alight by the fuel tank and Paletti remained in the car for 25 more minutes. He passed away soon after with his mother at the track to celebrate his 24th birthday and yet again, F1 lost a very talented young driver who had a future in the sport.

Arnoux led off the restart which happened two hours later but then Piquet took the lead on lap 9 and remained there for the rest of the race as he won his first race of the year. Now 14 drivers had scored podiums and 6 of them had won. Watson/McLaren led Pironi/Ferrari and Patrese and Williams.

Now it was the final European leg from Netherlands to Italy. Arnoux again took pole in the Netherlands, but Prost overtook him at the start. Pironi then overtook Prost just a few laps later and led until the end. Now it was extremely close at the top between Watson/McLaren and Pironi/Ferrari with Rosberg/Williams just behind.

Rosberg took pole in the UK but Piquet passed him on the opening lap. He then led until lap 10 when Niki Lauda took the lead which he would hold for the rest of the race. Now Pironi and McLaren were championship leaders as the top three in the constructors remained the same due to Lauda moving up to third after the British Grand Prix.

Round 11 was in France and on pole was home hero Arnoux, who took pole number 5 of the season. He duelled with the Brabham’s for the lead before they both retired on lap 9 and 23. Arnoux, after 5 poles, finally won a race!! Renault now were third behind Ferrari and McLaren and Prost was third behind Watson and Pironi. Jochen Mass had a serious crash which ended his F1 career on lap 10 and left him with serious burns. Germany completely changed the championship race in an extremely negative way.

Whilst qualifying in the damp conditions of Hockenheim, Pironi collided with Prost as he couldn’t see him due to the ground effect of the cars. Pironi’s car then had a horrific impact with Prost which led to a shockingly similar incident to Villeneuve’s, but Pironi survived with horrific injuries which led to his retirement from F1. Ferrari didn’t withdraw and this was smart as in the end it was Pironi’s new teammate and fellow countryman Patrick Tambay who won for Ferrari after Piquet led the early stages before retiring following a crash. Now Pironi/Ferrari led Watson/McLaren by 9 and 7 points in both championship races. Several sad facts: Pironi took pole for the race and Pironi never raced again, this contributed to his death in a boat race in the Isle of Man as he took up boat racing as a coping mechanism from not having F1 in his life.

Austria then had the then closest finish in F1 history as de Angelis won his first Grand Prix and the last for the Lotus team with founder Colin Chapman before his tragic death in December 1982. Rosberg finished just half a tenth behind the Italian as the Brabham’s led the early stages before both conked out as did Prost who also led. This made de Angelis race leader but Rosberg was fast on his heels however de Angelis held on to become the 9th winner and the 17th rostrum visitor in 1982.

Now it was squeaky bum time as there were three rounds left and Pironi still led the championship but barely. Now Ferrari had an 8-point cushion over McLaren. The danger man for Pironi was no longer Watson but in fact the Finn Rosberg as he was 6 points back with three rounds to go, keeping in mind that Rosberg could win a maximum of 27 points.

The Swiss GP was in France… Don’t even ask why….

Anyway, Alain Prost dominated until Keke Rosberg overtook him with just two laps left, becoming the 10th winner of the season and championship leader in the process. Now It was Rosberg vs Prost vs Watson with two rounds left.

Italy was the final European race and the penultimate race of the season and it was, shockingly, the 42 year old Mario Andretti who took pole for Ferrari as he was deputising. But it was pure dominance from Rene Arnoux who led from start to finish. Watson finished fourth and as a result, could only win the title if he won in Las Vegas and Rosberg scored no points. Andretti became the 18th and final driver to score a podium as he finished an excellent third.

Heading into the final round, the implications were simple for the drivers: Rosberg finishes 6th or higher and he is World Champion and if he doesn’t Watson must win. In the teams, Ferrari needed 4 points to win the teams if McLaren scored a 1-2.

But remember, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas….

On pole was Prost who led 49% of the race before his tyres developed a vibration. Now Alboreto led in his Tyrrell and Watson was second. However, Rosberg was in 5th and it remained this way for the rest of the race, meaning Rosberg became World Champion despite taking only one win the whole season (The only other driver to do this was Mike Hawthorn in 1958, go check out that article after this one)

Rosberg had several milestones as he became or since became:
The first Finnish World Champion
The Second father-son duo (along with son Nico) to become World Champion
The Last World Champion driving with the Dual Four Valve Cosworth engine.

Ferrari won the teams as Watson only got 6 points for McLaren, meaning Ferrari won the teams by 5 points despite losing half their drivers through fatal or career ending crashes. 11 drivers won races and 18 drivers finished on the podium. Two drivers lost their lives, 26 drivers and 14 teams scored points and most importantly of all, it was an incredible season of motorsport with both triumph and tragedy occurring, with Nigel Roebuck stating, “an ugly year, pock-marked by tragedy, by dissension, by greed, and yet, paradoxically, it produced some of the most memorable racing ever seen.” That quote perfectly sums up the season. From the San Marino controversy to the tragedies in Belgium and Canada, to the amazing title race between Pironi/Ferrari, Watson/McLaren and Rosberg/Williams. Thanks for reading this article.

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