1983 South African Grand Prix


15 October 1983

Moved from its usual slot early in the year to allow teams to change cars for the new regulations, the South African race would take place in spring for the first time, which had pundits wondering if weather would be a factor. The championship would be decided here, with Alain Prost holding a two-point lead but Nelson Piquet holding the momentum after two wins on the trot. Kyalami was a fast, turbo-friendly track which everyone hoped would see a high-octane battle for the lead between the two drivers.

Prost prepares for battle
Prost prepares for battle

Speaking of turbos, Williams finally had them – arriving with a pair of new FW09 chassis with Honda power, to the delight of Keke Rosberg who had been gamely persevering but being left further and further behind. Absent, on the other hand were the Spirit and Theodore teams, the former beginning the process of trying to source an engine deal for 1984 and the latter having withdrawn rather than having to pay large air freight costs to get to South Africa.

Shortly before the meeting, Ferrari held a press conference and announced that their driver lineup for 1984 would be Michele Alboreto and Rene Arnoux, with Enzo Ferrari reiterating once again that a car would be available for Didier Pironi as soon as he wanted to try again. With this news, qualifying began and Patrick Tambay, now knowing this would be his last race for Ferrari, put himself on the market for 1984 with pole position, ahead of championship challenger Piquet, and his team-mate Patrese (almost certain to be on the market as well), then Arnoux and finally Prost down in 5th place alongside a delighted Keke Rosberg in the new Williams-Honda. The top ten were filled out by Mansell, Winkelhock, de Cesaris and Jacques Laffite, back after his embarrassing DNQs in Holland and Italy and also enjoying the new turbo power. With only 26 cars entered, Kenny Acheson finally made his grand prix debut for RAM, having outqualified both Osella-Alfa Romeos into the bargain. In fact, the Osellas had had little running time and were so slow that they were outside 110% of the pole time and failed to qualify until Enzo Osella did the rounds and asked all the other teams nicely, and they all agreed to let Ghinzani and Fabi race.

SAF PatreseA relaxed, smiling Piquet and a haggard, haunted-looking Prost took to the grid with the rest on Sunday afternoon, and everyone set off on the parade lap – except John Watson, who stalled, then got away and threaded his way through the field back to his 15th place grid slot. When the lights went out, Piquet blasted off into the lead and Patrese followed through into second place. In fact, Patrick Tambay seemed to be having some car trouble and lost places to both de Cesaris (getting a great start from 9th) and Prost before the end of lap one. Laffite’s unhappy 1983 came to an end in the kitty litter on lap two, while on the same lap Winkelhock’s BMW turbo engine did its usual hand-grenade impression and Ghinzani’s Alfa expired too.

Rosberg was hanging onto sixth, while Lauda in the McLaren-TAG was also powering through the field, overtaking Arnoux for seventh on lap five. Prost, meanwhile was being held up by de Cesaris and it was another eight laps before he finally found a way past the Alfa Romeo, only to lose third six laps later to a charging Lauda – whose team-mate Watson (another man yet to have a confirmed drive for 1984) was black-flagged on lap 19 after his parade-lap overtaking. By this time, Arnoux’s championship challenge had expired in a cloud of steam along with his engine, and the first half of the race saw a SAF Prostseries of engine failures as tired and worn parts met a demanding circuit. On lap 28 out of 75, Piquet came in for his stop – the Brabham team back to their usual slick best sent him back out, still ahead of Patrese, who was dicing with Lauda over second place. That battle effectively ended when the McLaren pitted and a stuck wheel-nut added another 10 seconds to the stationary time, and Prost took third place. On lap 33, the Renault was into the pits – only, instead of changing tyres and taking on fuel, the Frenchman climbed disconsolately out of his car: a blown turbo. All Piquet had to do now was finish better than fifth to take his second world title. He looked dominant enough in the lead so far, but the BMW engine had had more than its share of mechanical issues this year and it was by no means a dead cert.

SAF RosbergOnce the pit stops shook out, Piquet led Patrese who was being chased down again by Lauda, with de Cesaris fourth, Tambay fifth with tyre problems and Warwick sixth, and the second Ferrari would pull over on lap 57 with an overheating engine – a sad end to Tambay’s Ferrari career, but with Prost failing to finish the Scuderia were at least guaranteed the constructor’s title. With Prost gone, Piquet relaxed, knowing he needed only to finish, and eased off. So much so in fact, that Patrese caught up and Piquet simply moved over and let him by, before doing the same for Lauda. Commentators everywhere went ballistic, thinking that Piquet had car trouble – an impression seemingly confirmed when a fired-up de Cesaris caught and passed him in the closing stages. Fourth place would still net him the title, though, and Warwick was making no inroads – and in any case fourth became third when Niki Lauda’s electronic engine management software went haywire and shut the whole thing down just two laps from the end.

SAF PodiumPatrese took his second career win to (as most assumed) leave Brabham on a high after a frustrating year, de Cesaris took a delighted second place after a similar 1983. Nelson Piquet stood on the bottom step of the podium but was the happiest man there – his second World Championship in three years, achieved when at mid-season he’d looked dead and buried and Alain Prost was champion-designate. Derek Warwick took fourth place in the Toleman to round off his season with a fourth points finish in a row, with Rosberg bringing the new Williams-Honda home fifth and Eddie Cheever picking up a sole point for Renault in 6th place, as if to illustrate their disappointing end to the season.

Post-race interviews saw Patrese claim he would have moved over and let Piquet have the necessary points for the championship if it had come to it, Piquet express general satisfaction with the way things had turned out, and Prost say he hadn’t really been that surprised to lose out, as his car just hadn’t been competitive for the last few races. And indeed, the Renault team could look forward to some difficult questions being asked back home, having pioneered turbocharged engines only to see the BMW engine, in its second year racing, pip them to the first turbo drivers’ title.

Drivers Championship – Final Standings
1 Nelson Piquet 59
2 Alain Prost 57
3 René Arnoux 49
4 Patrick Tambay 40
5 Keke Rosberg 27
6 John Watson 22
= Eddie Cheever 22
8 Andrea de Cesaris 15
9 Riccardo Patrese 13
10 Niki Lauda 12
11 Jacques Laffite 11
12 Michele Alboreto 10
= Nigel Mansell 10
14 Derek Warwick 8
15 Marc Surer 4
16 Mauro Baldi 3
17 Danny Sullivan 2
= Elio de Angelis 2
= Bruno Giacomelli 1
21 Johnny Cecotto 1
Constructors Championship – Final Standings
1 Ferrari 89
2 Renault 79
3 Brabham 72
4 McLaren 36
= Williams 36
6 Alfa-Romeo 18
7 Tyrrell 12
8 Lotus 12
9 Toleman 10
10 Arrows 4
11 Theodore 1

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