The French team’s 1982 had been a story of promise and disappointment, with the cars clearly much faster than the rest of the grid at most circuits, but simply unable to finish. The rivalry between Prost and Arnoux had not helped: Arnoux refusing to move over when ordered to let Prost take the win in Paul Ricard had cost the team any chance of a drivers’ title, while on several occasions Arnoux had thrown his car off the track chasing Prost for the lead rather than accept coming second. Rumours about the manufacturer’s growing impatience with the F1 team’s lack of results had quietened during a more successful second part of the season, but how much longer they would continue to bankroll an expensive and very public failure was a question still being asked.
Renault worked hard over the winter to improve reliability and a new RE40 car was being readied to debut at the team’s home race in France; in the meantime a revised RE30C would be used by Prost and his new team-mate Eddie Cheever. The American had been impressive in inferior machinery with Tyrrell in 1981 and Ligier in 1982, and although widely seen as a commercial appointment by a Renault management seeking to expand its US market appeal, there was excitement to see what he could do in competitive machinery.
Alain Prost knows how to play politics off the track almost as smoothly as he drives on it – from a surprising signing in 1981 after a disappointing McLaren debut, he had quickly eclipsed Arnoux on the track and got the whole team on his side off it. This naturally led to a great team-mate rivalry which almost always ended badly for Arnoux, and Prost didn’t do much wrong in 1982 except for his accident in Monaco. If the team could actually put together a car capable of finishing, Prost could do great things in it.
During 1981 and 82, Cheever had built a fine reputation for putting in solid, unspectacular but reliable drives that took bad cars to good finishes; moving to the Ligier team was supposed to be his big break after their fine 1981 season, but instead he was landed with a dog of a car and a team mired in politics and still managed to end up with three times the points of “Mr Ligier” Jacques Laffite. Although contractually a number 2 driver to Prost and expected to support him, Cheever clearly has the talent to make a star of himself at Renault.