13 March 1983
With the usual early trip to South Africa postponed, the season opener would take place in Rio with an unusually level playing field – because of the regulation change, every team had a new or heavily revised car, unlike previous first Grands Prix where many teams had run the previous year’s car. The Jacarepaguá circuit was free of some of the quirks of other tracks, meaning that no team would be particularly advantaged or disadvantaged by its characteristics. In other words, this would be a real indication of performance and how the season could pan out.
The FIA had introduced a new computerised weighing system with random checks to further crack down on teams running underweight, and this made its debut alongside all the new cars. Early on during Saturday qualifying, Andrea de Cesaris’ name came out of the hat and he was called in to be weighed. He decided to finish his flying lap first, and was promptly disqualified from the meeting – his misfortune to be the chosen demonstration of FISA’s zero-tolerance policy. Many pundits were surprised when Keke Rosberg took pole in his Williams-Cosworth on Saturday: the turbos had been expected to have pulled even further ahead in the speed stakes, but Rosberg’s trademark gung-ho style had been the difference: the following six cars were all turbos. Second was Prost, then Tambay and Piquet on the second row. In a stunning fifth was Derek Warwick in the Toleman – professing himself disappointed not to be on the front row after an engine failure, given the excellent testing times – ahead of Arnoux. Then came Patrese, Cheever’s Renault, Lauda and Mauro Baldi in the Alfa Romeo. Further back, Jacques Laffite (16th) and John Watson (18th) had struggled, as had Elio de Angelis in the new turbo Lotus, in 13th alongside an impressive Guerrero in the Theodore. Right at the back were Winkelhock, suffering handling problems in the new ATS-BMW and Salazar in the sole RAM. With de Cesaris disqualified, the only non-qualifier was Ghinzani’s Osella.
With the car designed around the concept, Brabham would certainly be making pitstops, as would Rosberg, having found out that the car ran nearly 2s per lap faster on soft tyres. The grid left for the formation lap, except for de Angelis, whose Renault engine had started smoking on the grid, meaning he would start the race from the pitlane in the spare Cosworth car. When the real start came, it was a clean one, with Rosberg moving ahead of the chasing turbos. Patrese got a flyer, moving straight up to fourth ahead of the two Ferraris, with Warwick dropping back behind Arnoux, then losing sixth to Cheever on the back straight. Alboreto, meanwhile, tangled with Mauro Baldi and ended up facing the wrong way, but was able to keep the engine running and turn round to get going again in last place . After the first lap, Rosberg had an impressive lead of 2.5s, but it quickly became clear that Prost’s Renault was holding up the two Brabhams, and Piquet soon got past, followed a lap later by Patrese, and the pair set about reeling in the defending champion. By lap 5, Piquet was right up with Rosberg and blasted past on the long straight, with Patrese now also looming in Rosberg’s mirrors.
Further back, John Watson was doing another of his “burn from the stern” runs, carving his way through the field to 5th while the Ferraris were looking heavy and sluggish once more: Tambay was running sixth but Arnoux was dropping back through the field, being passed by Baldi and with Warwick and a gaggle of Cosworths chasing him down. Up front, Patrese seemed unable to get near Rosberg and started dropping back, being overtaken by Prost, Watson and Tambay before pitting with an exhaust problem on lap 19. By this time, Lauda had also started moving up the field, overtaking Warwick and challenging Baldi, but when the Italian ran a bit wide and Lauda nipped through, Warwick tried to follow through but clipped the Alfa Romeo, which lifted in to the air and spun on landing. Marshals restarted the car with a shove, and Baldi limped round to the pits to retire while Warwick’s Toleman took some damage and wouldn’t handle well for the rest of the afternoon.
Rosberg was keeping in touch with Piquet up front, although the gap had stretched to 12 seconds, with Watson about the same distance behind. On lap 28, the Williams team came out to receive Rosberg for their first ever in-race pitstop. All went well, until the fuel hose came out, dribbled a bit of fuel on the hot engine cover and it caught fire. Rosberg fairly leaped out of the cockpit, but the fire was out so quickly that Rosberg simply hopped back in and got a push from his team to get going again, albeit having lost a full minute and rejoining behind Marc Surer in 9th.
Piquet led Watson by 35 seconds now, and the Brabham would need to stop, so Watson could be in line for the win if things went his way, but on lap 35 his engine broke and that was that, leaving Piquet in plenty of time to take his stop and still emerge in the lead. Rosberg on fresh tyres was on a charge, though, and carved his way up through the field until he was challenging Lauda for second once more, going past on lap 53. His teammate Jacques Laffite seemed also to have finally got the hang of the car, and was moving up as well, getting past Prost and Tambay to take fourth in the closing stages.
Prost leading Rosberg home was a mirror of the 1982 race, and just as then, this turned out not to be the final result: Keke Rosberg was disqualified for getting a push-start in the pits, but the organisers decided not to move everyone up a place, so no points were awarded for second place and a seething Alain Prost didn’t move up to get a point. Mauro Baldi was likewise disqualified for his push-start, despite having retired straight afterwards, and Elio de Angelis, two laps down in 13th, was also ejected from the results for his switch to a different car. WIlliams declared they would appeal due to extreme circumstances…