22 May 1983
The majestic 14km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, set in the rolling forested hills of the Ardennes, had been one of the most feared and respected of the European road tracks. Like the Nürburgring or Le Mans it was known as a supreme test of skill and speed but also as a deathtrap. Safety concerns had led to the race’s boycotting in 1969 and subsequent removal from the calendar in favour of Zolder, but in 1979 a new, 7km layout was introduced, keeping the famous La Source hairpin and Eau Rouge, Raidillon and Blanchimont corners but with a purpose-build section linking the two arms of the old track. Feedback from April testing and feeder series races was positive, and fans looked forward to seeing it in action for the first time.
Local driver Thierry Boutsen had raised sponsorship to fund a drive and would take over the second Arrows from Chico Serra, while elsewhere on the grid, Tyrrell were the latest team to run Ford DFY engines. Ligier announced that they had struck a deal for Renault Turbo engines for 1984, while Lotus were rumoured to be in talks with Gerard Ducarouge to try and sort out their Renault powered car.
Thierry Boutsen began his racing career at the age of 18, joining the Pilette Racing School at Zolder in 1975 as an engineering student. Soon giving up his academic career to concentrate on racing, he bought himself a Formula Ford 1600 car and entered the Benelux series in 1977, moving to a customer chassis the following year and winning the championship with an 11/16 win record. This moved him up to F3, where he won three races to come second to Michele Alboreto in the European F3 series, and onwards into F2 with the works March team for 1981. He finished second to Geoff Lees in the 1981 championship and moved to the Spirit-Honda team who were preparing an F1 challenge for 1983. He won three times for the team but ultimately his reputation as a coming man ended up working against him – Spirit wanted a low-key entry into F1, and opted for Boutsen’s teammate Stefan Johansson who was seen as having blown his earlier chance.
Rain on Saturday meant that Friday’s times ended up deciding the grid, which saw Alain Prost on pole for the third time in six races, but only by a hundredth of a second over Patrick Tambay. Andrea de Cesaris turned some heads in third, two tenths off Tambay’s time, while Piquet in fourth was nearly a second off pole. Arnoux and Patrese filled row 3, then Winkelhock and Cheever. Rosberg was once again the top non-turbo down in 9th place, alongside Marc Surer’s Arrows – both drivers had been entertaining in qualifying with their ragged-edge style. Guerrero qualified well again in 14th, with teammate Cecotto 25th, Thierry Boutsen would start a creditable 18th, and the McLarens made it into the race this time, 15th (Lauda) and 20th (Watson). Last on the grid was Raul Boesel in the Ligier, with Ghinzani and Salazar the non-qualifiers – the latter a massive six seconds off Boesel’s time in his RAM.
Race day was overcast but dry, and there was the now-traditional Belgian startline farce: Surer stalled his Arrows on the grid, so the red lights were followed by a yellow to signal an aborted start – only De Cesaris reacted too quickly and shot off the line, chased by Prost. The pair went at it hammer and tongs for a third of a lap until they finally registered the black flags being frantically waved at them, then toured sheepishly back round to the grid to line up again. After a short delay, and with Surer now starting from the pits, his excellent qualifying all for naught, the lights went green this time and the whole field got away cleanly. De Cesaris once again got a great start, threading between Prost and Tambay and into the lead chased again by Prost, this time with Tambay, Arnoux, Piquet and Patrese in tow – at least until Patrese’s BMW engine blew, promoting Winkelhock to 6th.
Andrea de Cesaris was driving with a maturity and skill that surprised many, gradually pulling away from Prost until by lap six he was leading by three seconds, while Winkelhock was also doing a sterling job in staying with Piquet – until lap 12 when electrical problems sent him into the pits for repairs which lost him six laps. On returning to the race, he managed six more laps before a wheel fell off, pitching him into the catch-fencing. By then, Boutsen was out with suspension problems, Jarier and Watson had collided and Baldi’s throttle had packed in, and then it was pitstop time. Elio de Angelis was first in, then de Cesaris from the lead – but the Alfa Romeo team bungled the pitstop and took an extra ten seconds before sending him out in sixth. When Prost came in, the Renault crew did a great job and he was able to take the lead on the track once all the stops had shaken out, but de Cesaris was still second and was gaining on Prost again, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process. Arnoux continued his disappointing season so far with a blown engine, and de Cesaris’ Alfa turbo followed suit three laps later, leaving the young Italian wondering what might have been.
Prost thus led by a handy margin from Nelson Piquet, who was having to drive within himself to conserve fuel, and the Brabham soon lost 5th gear into the bargain, allowing the chasing pair of Tambay and Cheever to catch up. On lap 33, the Ferrari got past and four laps later the Renault followed. By this time, the race was in its closing stages with just three laps to go. Piquet was holding on to fourth ahead of the two Williams cars of Rosberg and Laffite, but the latter had Niki Lauda worrying at him until the McLaren’s gearbox broke on lap 34, which left Giacomelli in seventh place in the Toleman, leading his team leader Warwick. Then, on the last lap, Giacomelli spun, letting Warwick through before continuing himself to finish 8th and last of the unlapped runners.
Alain Prost became the first man in 1983 to win two races after five different winners in the first five races, and it seemed that Renault had finally fixed their reliability problems, with Cheever third. Patrick Tambay’s second place kept him in the championship battle