28 August 1983
After months of treading water waiting, McLaren finally had a new turbo TAG engine available for Niki Lauda, mounted in an adapted chassis designated the MP4/1E. Nobody really expected miracles at the first race, but the team would be happy with reliability and a finish today. Watson would soldier on with the Cosworth car until a second engine could be made available for him. Meanwhile, the Spirit-Honda team arrived with a smart new paint-job in Honda’s red, white and blue colours and would have a purpose-built Formula One chassis available at the next race (their current car being an adapted F2 chassis).
Nelson Piquet was the one who finally broke Ferrari’s stranglehold on the front row with Pole Position, though Tambay was second. Third was Elio de Angelis, his Lotus finally working for him, ahead of Prost and Mansell. The Tolemans had a new turbocharger unit, which helped Warwick into sixth spot, followed by de Cesaris, Winkelhock and finally Arnoux who had been suffering mechanical glitches all weekend. Niki Lauda, with throttle-response issues, was down in 19th, while the meeting’s non-qualifiers would be the familiar grouping of Acheson, Cecotto and Ghinzani.
As the lights went green, Tambay slipped his clutch and rolled forwards, allowing much of the field to swarm past before he finally got underway in 21st, which let Piquet hold a decent lead even before the first corner, with Eddie Cheever getting a fantastic start to leap from 12th to 2nd and being followed through by Prost, Patrese, de Cesaris and de Angelis. It was four laps before Prost could get past his number two, but once he did, he quickly set off in pursuit of Piquet, with Patrese following through past Cheever soon afterwards. As usual, the Lotus cars on their Pirelli rubber were left behind very quickly on race day, while Arnoux’s engineers had fixed his gremlins and the title challenger was making his way quickly up the field, getting past both Cheever and Patrese but unable to make much impression on Prost.
Piquet’s tyres began to go off as the first half of the race wore on, which allowed Prost to catch up to the Brabham, but not sufficiently to get past, while further back, Warwick in 6th was being caught by Nigel Mansell. On lap 27, the Lotus got inside the Toleman at the first turn, but Mansell didn’t brake in time and ended up in the sand trap. Lauda by this stage was long gone (though the problem was his brakes, not the new TAG engine), but Watson was tigering away in the Ford car and took over 7th place from Mansell. The pit-stops were approaching and Cheever and Patrese came in together from 4th and 5th – only for the Renault’s engine to start cutting out and misfiring as soon as he rejoined. He went round and came back into the pits – only to find the team awaiting Prost’s fuel stop and he was sent off with a flea in his ear, only to conk out halfway round.
Prost, meanwhile, was trying everything to get past Piquet before the stops, knowing that if he came in behind him, he would lose time while Piquet peeled off into the Brabham pit before Prost got to the Renault box. The usually-clinical Prost made the same mistake as Mansell, shooting up the inside of Piquet at the first corner and losing the car under braking – though unlike Mansell, he actually hit the car he was trying to overtake. Piquet was punted unceremoniously into the barriers while Prost had damaged his front wing and understeered into the armco a couple of corners later. Not only had Prost taken himself out of the race, but he had also promoted his great rival Arnoux into the lead. The Ferrari driver, who had qualified back in 10th place, was now some 45 seconds ahead of second-placed Riccardo Patrese, with Patrick Tambay third after an excellent recovery drive and Watson fourth after a typical “burn from the stern”.
And that was how it remained for most of the race. Tambay caught Patrese but the Italian used every trick in the book and a few more besides to keep the Ferrari behind him – only for his turbo unit to expire just five laps from the finish, dropping him from second to ninth as he crawled home, seeing probably his last chance of a contract renewal go up in smoke. Ferrari took a completely unexpected 1-2 and Arnoux took his third victory of the year to move to within 8 points of Prost. The two French drivers had been trading wins for the last five races, with Tambay and Piquet still theoretically in touch but looking increasingly unlikely to challenge the leading two. John Watson took a fine third place for McLaren, consolation for an underwhelming debut for the TAG turbo, and a snook cocked at the team who had practically ignored him all weekend. In a fine fourth place was Derek Warwick in the Toleman, for his and the team’s first-ever points. The team celebrated as if they’d won the championship, and everyone in the paddock was pleased for the hard-trying Toleman guys. Mauro Baldi took fifth and Alboreto sixth – the Italian’s first point since his win in Detroit.
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