17 April 1983
The three weeks between the race in Long Beach and the first European race of the season had seen a major tyre test by Michelin and Pirelli users at the Paul Ricard circuit, but also, the previous weekend, the “Race of Champions” at Brands Hatch in England. With the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this year, Brands’ owners had decided to hold a non-championship race – a common occurrence during the 1970s, but with the increasing cost and complexity of hosting F1, plus the expanding calendar, there hadn’t been one since 1979. Nonetheless, there had been a decent turnout of Formula One cars there – eleven teams had sent at least one car, Arrows and Theodore had sent two – with some variation in drivers. Brabham entered Hector Rebaque, Piquet’s 1980-81 teammate; Jean-Louis Schlesser drove a RAM March with a view to getting some laps in before his paid drive at Paul Ricard, Alan Jones drove the second of his two races for Arrows alongside Chico Serra, and Brian Henton bought a seat at Theodore to put himself in the shop window. The race was won by Keke Rosberg with Danny Sullivan second in the Tyrrell and Alan Jones third in the Arrows.
Also of interest was the debut at Brands Hatch of the new Spirit-Honda team. The Formula Two outfit had been chosen by the Japanese firm to spearhead their return to Formula One with their new V6 Turbo engine in an F2 chassis upgraded to F1 regulations. Stefan Johansson, a Swede who had failed twice to qualify a Shadow in 1980, drove their entry. It wasn’t a spectacular debut – Johansson started from the back after failing to set a qualifying time due to engine problems, then retired on lap 5 after colliding with Guerrero – but there was interest from major teams who were beginning to court Honda as a supplier of turbo engines for 1984.
Back to Paul Ricard, then. Having failed to raise the sponsorship needed despite his fine drive at Brands, Alan Jones stood down from the Arrows team, handing his car back to Chico Serra (and letting it be known generally that he was back and looking for a drive), while Jean-Louis Schlesser got his drive in a second RAM.
A nephew of French driver Jo Schlesser (after whom Ligier named their chassis JS), Jean-Louis grew up in Morocco, racing bicycles then motorbikes, before being sent back to France to school in 1963. Although uncle Jo was killed in 1968, two years later he enrolled in the Le Mans racing academy. He struggled with a lack of finances holding up his progress, which eventually got going in 1978 when he tied with Alain Prost for the French Formula 3 championship. He continued to progress slowly, racing with Martini in European Formula Three and coming second at Le Mans in 1982 while driving a factory Maurer in European F2. His reward was a test with Williams, before being offered the possibility of a full F1 drive with RAM.
After a disappointing first couple of races, Renault had spent the intervening weeks tweaking the new RE40 and – to their relief and the crowd’s delight – they were best of all in qualifying at a circuit that rewarded pure grunt. Alain Prost was fastest, a humungous 2.3s ahead of Cheever in second. In fact, Andrea de Cesaris had gone faster than Cheever on Saturday, but was found to have been running with an empty fire extinguisher and his times were disallowed, dropping him to seventh based on his Friday session. Instead, Patrese lined up third, Arnoux fourth in the Ferrari, de Angelis in the turbo Lotus and Piquet sixth. The Alfas were next, then Warwick (Toleman), Winkelhock (ATS), Tambay (Ferrari) and finally the first non-turbo was Lauda in 12th place. A huge crash and roll by Chico Serra didn’t stop him putting his Arrows on the grid in 26th place, meaning the RAM cars and Ghinzani’s Osella would not be taking part on Sunday.
With most teams planning to make a pitstop during the race so as to be able to go flat out on the fast circuit, there was potential for a dangerous situation as multiple cars all came in together, so the teams co-operated for once and agreed that they would all co-ordinate and come in on different laps. When the start came, Prost as expected shot out of the traps like a scalded cat, while Patrese got a good start to get ahead of Cheever, Piquet got another to tuck in behind the American and Tambay did really well to leap from 11th to 6th, behind Arnoux. The Renaults clearly on song, Cheever made quick work of getting second place back, but wasn’t able to catch Prost. During the first lap, Rosberg carved his way through from 16th to 9th, while Watson bent his nose on the back of Baldi’s Alfa and sent them both in for repairs.
Rosberg was on one of his famous charges, elbowing his way past de Angelis and Arnoux, whose Ferrari was running a lot of wing in order to compensate for a grip problem, while Prost drew away from Cheever, who was having trouble keeping the Brabhams behind him – Piquet now taking over from Patrese as his chief attacker. Behind Rosberg, now 6th, Arnoux and de Angelis were being harried by a queue headed by Winkelhock, de Cesaris and Warwick. The Pirellis on the Ferrari and Lotus were already fading but they still had enough straight-line speed to make it difficult for the others to pass.
Piquet finally got past Cheever but could make no more impression on Prost than the American had, while Patrese’s car was handling badly and his engine was starting to overheat, so he retired it on lap 20. The pitstops started a few laps later, with Arnoux the first man in from 6th, out in 11th. A good stop for Cheever saw him only lose one place – to Tambay – but Rosberg’s went horribly wrong when a wheel wouldn’t go on and he slipped back to 8th from 5th. Prost also had a slow getaway, but was at least far enough ahead to only lose one place, to Piquet, which he regained when the Brazilian stopped a lap or so later (despite Brabham having a much slicker stop). Piquet’s stop had caught him up to Prost, but like Patrese his car was understeering and the tyres took longer to heat, so he soon dropped back again.
The rest of the race settled back into something of a procession: Prost leading Piquet, Cheever third, Tambay a lonely fourth, the Williams cars 5th and 6th. Laffite had overtaken Rosberg in the pits with a faster stop, but Rosberg was soon back into 5th on the track as Laffite’s tyres got up to temperature. Winkelhock, whose ATS-BMW was running very well at last, had been as high as 6th during the stops, but collided with Baldi’s Alfa and they both retired. Perhaps significantly, at this high-speed, high-rev circuit only one of the major teams’ turbo engines broke (Patrese’s), leaving the Williams and McLaren non-turbos nowhere.
A dominant home win for Prost, a 1-3 for Renault and the distinct impression that Prost v Piquet was the battle to watch in 1983.