1 May 1983
The San Marino event had been massively popular in 1982 even with only a few teams present – because the only team the 100,000 + spectators cared about was Ferrari. The team, whose Maranello factory was just 55 miles from the Imola circuit which bore their name, arrived in a similar position to that which Renault had been in at Paul Ricard: disappointing so far and a weight of expectation on them. Team and Tifosi alike would be hoping that they would rise to the challenge like Renault had.
One of Italy’s other teams, Osella, arrived with their new engines in tow – a single example of the Alfa-Romeo V12 for Piercarlo Ghinzani in a new FA1E chassis penned by Tony Southgate. Also with new engines were McLaren and Lotus with three of the new Ford DFY short-stroke engines for Lauda, Watson and Mansell (de Angelis continued with the Renault in his Lotus). Jean-Louis Schlesser had left March under a cloud when his sponsorship cheque bounced, so RAM were back down to one car for the weekend.
The throngs of red-clad spectators weren’t disappointed in qualifying as a ding-dong battle between their beloved Ferraris and the Brabhams. When the dust settled, it was Arnoux on pole, recovering his reputation after a disappointing season so far. Piquet was second, then the second Ferrari of Tambay. Alain Prost stuck his Renault fourth ahead of the other Brabham, with Cheever in sixth making the top three rows a Ferrari-Brabham-Renault lockout. The next four for the top ten were also turbo runners – Winkelhock (ATS), de Cesaris (Alfa-Romeo), de Angelis (Lotus) and Baldi (Alfa-Romeo), with Rosberg top of the non-turbos. The new DFY engine didn’t seem much of an improvement, with Mansell 15th, Lauda 18th and Watson 24th, while the other new engine on show, Ghinzani’s Alfa V12, was suffering teething troubles and didn’t make it into the race. Salazar’s RAM once again sat out Sunday afternoon as well.
The start could not have gone better for Ferrari and their fans – not only did the two cars both get great starts to head off into Tamburello first (Arnoux) and second (Tambay), but their main challenger Piquet stalled on the grid, causing a few hairy moments. Thankfully, everyone got past the stationary Brabham without incident and the marshals ran on to push-start him to get him out of the way. So it was the Ferraris, chased by Patrese and Prost, who started to pull out a lead from de Cesaris, de Angelis, Winkelhock and Baldi, while Cheever toured off with a smoking engine almost straight away. Patrese was looking to spoil Ferrari’s party, though, and on lap three he got past Tambay before taking the lead from Arnoux along Tamburello on lap six. Mauro Baldi and Keke Rosberg had made their way ahead of de Angelis and Winkelhock, both struggling with handling problems. The leading four had split into two pairs, Patrese leading Arnoux by a second or two and Tambay and Prost circulating together a little further back, and it seemed clear that they were waiting for the tyre stops rather than try anything on the track just yet. By the time the midway point approached, Lauda and both Tyrrells were already out, while Lotus – doing a pitstop race for the first time ever – were doing OK by their standards for the year so far, in 8th and 10th. Piquet was cruising up through the field as expected, and was up to 9th.
The pitstops came and Patrese was the last to stop, with a large lead over Tambay (who had had a better stop than Arnoux and got ahead) but he neglected to keep his foot on the brake and his rear wheels rotated while the mechanics tried to change tyres, leading the normally-slick Brabham team to send him out after 23.2s (compared to Tambay’s 15s) and losing him the lead. As in France, the midfield had strung out during the race so there was relatively little incident lower down the order – though Warwick, struggling on race tyres as usual, got it all wrong at Rivazza and contrived to park partially on top of the tyre barrier. A couple of laps later, Danny Sullivan did the same thing, colliding with the stationary Toleman. Winkelhock and de Angelis had given up on their evil-handling cars for the afternoon, Jarier had retired with a punctured radiator, baulking Tambay badly in the process, and Piquet’s engine finally gave up, putting him out from 5th.
Tambay’s Ferrari engine had developed a slight misfire and Patrese smelled blood, reeling him in and harrying him for three laps before getting past at Tamburello once more, only to make a complete pudding of Acqua Minerale and slide sideways into the wall, to the delight of Tambay and the delirious cheers of the Tifosi. The Ferraris were now running 1st and 2nd, but Arnoux had been anonymous most of the afternoon and Prost was only still behind because he was also misfiring and losing fourth gear. With just five laps to go, Arnoux lost concentration and spun just past Acqua Minerale, ending up facing the wrong way on the grass. He kept it going, turned round and got going again, but not before being overtaken by Prost and lapped by Tambay.
Tambay took a popular victory, crossing the line with both fists in the air, steering with his knees, and Prost was delighted with second place in a broken car. Arnoux was grateful for third but commentators were openly wondering if his tenure at the Maranello team would be brief. Rosberg came home fourth – Williams now having scored three points in every race so far – Watson fifth and Marc Surer picked up his third points finish in four races in sixth.
As Patrick Tambay emotionally dedicated his win in the number 27 Ferrari to the memory of its previous occupant: Gilles Villeneuve, who had last seen the checquered flag at this race the previous year in contentious circumstances. Ferrari were back with a bang, taking the lead in the constructors’ table while Tambay moved up to third in the drivers’ standings, just a point behind Piquet and Prost tied in first. Perhaps it would not be a two-horse race after all.