25 September 1983
The title “European Grand Prix” had been, since 1923, an honorific title given to one of the European events every year alongside its national title. This practice had been abandoned after the 1977 British Grand Prix, but the title was revived for the Brands Hatch race in the same way as the “Swiss Grand Prix” which it replaced was a flag of convenience for a second French Grand Prix.
Williams had planned to attend the race with their new Honda-engined turbo car, but eventually decided to wait until South Africa to debut it, a decision winked at by Keke Rosberg who applied an “I heart Turbo” sticker to his helmet. Williams did, however, bring a third car along to give a F1 debut to their test driver Jonathan Palmer as a thank you for all his hard work over the year. The entry size didn’t change though as Johnny Cecotto had finally got fed up with the lack of progress of the Theodore team (and the seeming disinterest of owner Teddy Yip) and had quit, with the struggling team opting not to replace him. Spirit were also in – well – low spirits, after having been informed by Honda that since they wouldn’t be able to supply two teams in 1984, they’d only be supplying Williams and Spirit would have to look elsewhere.
Son of a doctor, Jonathan Palmer studied medicine himself and did his first racing while a student at Guy’s Hospital Medical School. He achieved his doctorate in 1979, and Dr Jonathan Palmer took up a position in a hospital in Sussex, but quickly found that hie enjoyed racing more than medicine and couldn’t do both at the same time. In 1981 he took a sabbatical from the hospital to race in Formula 3. Quick right out of the box, he won four races early on in his West Sussex Racing Ralt chassis and did enough to take the title ahead of Thierry Tassin and Raul Boesel. This landed him a Formula Two works drive with Ralt-Honda and an opportunity to test for Williams. His first year in F2 was difficult, but in 1983 it all came good and after a slow start he took five wins in a row to take the European F2 championship on 4 September.
With a four-way title battle between Piquet, Prost, Arnoux and Tambay still very much on, there was a good attendance for qualifying and a cracking battle ensued between the four title challengers – but with a pair of interlopers in the shape of the Lotus pairing, with de Angelis and Mansell both on song in the Renault-powered car, much to the delight of Imperial Tobacco, whose John Player Special brand sponsored both the Lotus cars and the
Brands Hatch event. The Brabhams, running larger rear wings, were the only cars who could live with the Loti and in the end it was Elio de Angelis on pole for the first time in his career, with Mansell fourth and the two Brabhams in the middle, Patrese outqualifying Piquet for once. The Ferraris filled row three, with Arnoux ahead of Tambay, then the Renaults on row 4, with Alain Prost down in 8th, unable to even beat his team-mate Cheever. Winkelhock’s ATS and Watson’s McLaren-TAG rounded out the top ten, with Rosberg down in 16th and Jacques Laffite once again failing to qualify after simply failing to get the hang of the track. To further embarrass the experienced Frenchman, Jonathan Palmer put his car 25th on the grid for his debut, just ahead of Michele Alboreto who according to rumours was no longer really trying with a Ferrari drive as good as in the bag for next year. Indeed, Alboreto was almost bumped off the grid altogether by Kenny Acheson, who was just a tenth off the Detroit winner’s time.
With the weather unseasonably warm, the turnout for race day was good and when the lights went green everyone got away well (except an unhappy Jarier, whose gearbox went crunch), with Patrese getting ahead his countryman de Angelis, Mansell dodging past Piquet and Cheever leaping off the line to take a look at Mansell before slotting into fifth. It was immediately obvious, though, that the second Lotus was having trouble, and Patrese and de Angelis quickly pulled away while a queue built up behind Mansell, whose tyres were, as usual, the cause of the problem. Piquet got back past into third on the second lap, with Cheever diving through as well, while Prost and Arnoux following the following lap. The two Italians at the front had pulled out quite a lead over Piquet, but the Brazilian soon caught back up, while Prost seemed finally to wake up and got past Cheever on lap 9 to take fourth. When Piquet came up behind Patrese, there was some debate among commentators about how much of a team game the Brabham number 2 would play – would he let Piquet through for the championship battle or try and take the win himself to retain his seat?
In the end, it was all moot – de Angelis had been trying hard to get past and went for a gap that wasn’t really there on lap 11, making contact with the Brabham and put himself backwards over the kerbs and Patrese onto the grass. Both Italians kept their engines running and rejoined, but Piquet was straight through into the lead. Two laps later, de Angelis’ engine blew anyway, and Prost was catching Patrese’s damaged Brabham. Prost was probably overly-cautious taking five laps to get past Patrese, who dropped back into the clutches of Cheever, the pair pursued by Arnoux, while Tambay was making up the positions after a bad start, and was behind Mansell, who’d finally got some heat into his tyres and was running better.
Arnoux was perhaps trying a bit too hard with his title aspirations in front of his eyes, and went wide at Surtees, spinning and ending up stuck on the kerb. It was a dangerous spot, so he got a push-start from the marshalls, restarting 20th. Patrese, meanwhile, had built up a bit of a queue behind him, with Cheever, Mansell and Tambay and de Cesaris all being held up by the Brabham. Cheever opted to come in early for his pit-stop, in an attempt to get some quick laps in and overtake Patrese in the pits. De Cesaris and Arnoux followed, then Patrese finally peeled off into the pits to the relief of mansell and Tambay. The collision damage had buckled Patrese’s rear suspension and his stop was delayed as the mechanics struggled to release his right-rear tyre, and by the time he got going he had spent twice as long stationary as the others and was well down the field.
Piquet’s stop was also a problem for the usually very slick Brabham crew, with the right-rear air gun now malfunctioning and losing ten seconds, which cut down Piquet’s lead over Prost to just ten seconds on the track. However, the Brabham was just that much better on the circuit than the Renault, and he was soon able to pull back out another few seconds, before dialling back the boost and settling into a rhythm. Prost tried to catch him, but soon decided he’d be better off maintaining position, not breaking his car, and scoring points. Tambay had made his way up to third, but the Ferrari just wasn’t working well at Brands and he was being caught by Mansell, now on much better tyres. On lap 66, Mansell caught him, and he simply moved over to let him through, his brakes now fading badly. Two laps later, his brakes failed entirely, locking solid on the right-front wheel at Druids and sending him into the tyre barrier and out of the title race (assuming his rivals finished, of course). De Cesaris went through into fourth – he had been chased for most of the race by Derek Warwick, until the Briton had had one of the more bizarre accidents of the year, his cockpit fire extinguisher suddenly going off in his face and spraying him in foam for an entire lap before it was exhausted. He kept going, now 8 seconds behind and still fifth, though at least Tambay’s retirement put the other Toleman up into sixth place, ahead of Patrese.
And that was where they finished: Piquet took his second win in a row and his third of the season – Prost looked a distant and beaten second, with Mansell happy with third after his trying first half. De Cesaris was equally happy with fourth, only his fourth finish of the year, with both Tolemans finishing in the points for the first time ever.
For the third year in a row, the title race would come down to the last race of the season, with Prost two points ahead of Piquet, and Arnoux also still in with an outside chance if he won and the other two only scored a point or less.
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