Music stirs memories. Long Beach last Sunday was like the old days, and nothing reminded you so much as the Austrian National Anthem after the race. It took you back to countless times in the mid-seventies when Niki Lauda was dominant. Long Beach 1982 was a week in the Lauda tradition, the sort of victory he used to make a matter of routine.
From the beginning of practice, all the smart money was on him. It was not that he took pole - he qualified second - but that he made the matter of lapping Long Beach quickly seem deceptively undramatic and simple. There lay his class, and that is what won the race. Class.
The qualifying battle, though, brought a surprise - nay, a shock. Andrea de Cesaris and Alfa Romeo took pole position, and rarely can a driver have put more into a single lap. In the race de Cesaris kept his head, got away well, and led for a few laps until Lauda inevitably moved in. And later the Alfa hit the wall, one of many to do so.
For Keke Rosberg, Long Beach was a repeat of Rio: another gritty and brave drive in the Williams, another six points. Rosberg now leads the world championship from Alain Prost, who retired after losing his brakes. Third place belonged to Gilles Villeneuve's Ferrari, which used an unconventional rear wing - too unconventional for Ken Tyrrell, who protested it successfully. The Canadian drove his heart out on Sunday for nothing.
Marco Piccinini of Ferrari once more protested the first two cars - McLaren and Williams - on the 'water tank' controversy, but that was thrown out by the organisers. Surprise!
Andretti replaced the retired Reutemann at Williams © LAT
With Villeneuve blue-pencilled out of the results, third, fourth, fifth and sixth places went to Riccardo Patrese (Brabham), Michele Alboreto (Tyrrell), Elio de Angelis (Lotus) and John Watson (McLaren).
It was a race of incident, rather than excitement; of people smacking the wall rather than fighting for places. Among those to fall foul were Nelson Piquet, Didier Pironi and Prost, while the unfortunate Rene Arnoux was taken out in a simply ludicrous manoeuvre by Bruno Giacomelli in the early stages.
Many of the drivers were angry afterwards about the track surface, which broke up badly in places, and there was also deserved criticism for the tow truck drivers, some of whom moved around on the track as if oblivious to the presence of racing cars.
Above all, though, the day belonged to Lauda, with a most conclusive victory in this, only his third race since returning. Even he doubted that success would come so quickly. The Austrian National Anthem has sounded alarm bells throughout the rest of Formula 1.
Entry and practice
Saturday afternoon, a couple of minutes before 2pm. Everyone knows - if ever they doubted - that Lauda is very serious about this comeback business. The Long Beach Grand Prix is only his third race since returning, and he is on pole. This, the last qualifying session, has been a typical Lauda demonstration: seven laps only, the last one his quickest. There has been no flamboyance, no apparent dash. He has not looked among the quickest, and there lies the greatness of the man, this sublime ability to make it seem easy. He has threaded the McLaren between Long Beach's concrete walls, averaged over 87mph, left you believing anyone could do it. As he stood in the pits (for most of the session, of course!), not a bead of sweat apparent, his 29 rivals pounded round, redoubled their efforts, to no avail. It had been a simple show of intelligence and efficiency of the kind which has made him a legend.
But wait! What's this? The Alfa crew is leaping about! At the very end, the position has changed. A new name heads the list. De Cesaris, in the embers of the hour, has put it all together with a lap 0.1 seconds faster than Lauda. Two cars, very similar in appearance, both with carbon fibrechassis, both sponsored by Marlboro, are on the front row, but how different their means of getting there!
De Angelis and his Lotus team-mate Mansell were not at all impressive © LAT
De Cesaris came in to some kind of hero's welcome from his crew, but a glance at the young Italian told you the extent of his effort. He was in a very emotional state, weeping and shaking in the enormity of the moment. After a 1981 season that was little short of calamitous, de Cesaris had vindicated himself, and at the expense of his former team, which must have further sweetened the experience.
Alfa Romeo had looked like frontrunners from the very start of practice, with Giacomelli second fastest in the first unofficial session, and de Cesaris sixth. The Gerard Ducarouge-designed 182s were getting their power down out of the many slow corners better than anything else in the place, and 12-cylinder torque has always been in its element at Long Beach. If anything was going to keep the Italian cars from the front, it was the exuberance of the drivers. On one occasion, de Cesaris dived for a gap between Mario Andretti's Williams and the barrier, which simply wasn't there, the Italian realising almost too late, standing on his brakes, slewing across the track and almost into the wall.
Yes, he sometimes looked a little wild, and a couple of times he spun, but the fact remains that he looks altogether more confident this year. A lot of inspiration went into that pole position lap, the 18th of his session. Giacomelli looked a little morose at the end of practice and you had to sympathise with him. For three years he has worked hard at Alfa Romeo, now the glory was going elsewhere. For all that, though, Bruno was in good shape, fifth on the grid, and perhaps a better bet for the 75-lap race.
Neither Alfa man, however, looked as strong as Lauda, simply because the great Austrian was smooth and effortless in achieving the same end, never looking close to an accident. It was therefore a bit of a shock to see the number eight McLaren return to the pits sans nose on Friday morning. Lauda spun. For all that, you thought about de Cesaris' position on Sunday, and you didn't envy him.
The Ferraris appeared with unusual-looking dual rear wings © LAT
Practice at Long Beach was as exciting as that at Rio had been dull. Here, with no fast corners worth the name, qualifying tyres lasted longer and the single banzai lap syndrome was less evident. There was a tingle throughout the pitlane when pole position changed hands at the end, which is how qualifying should be. Most drivers controlled their enthusiasm for the circuit changes without much difficulty, but agreed that there is a special kind of exhilaration in street circuit.
After the first day, most people's favourite for the pole was Rosberg, fastest on Friday afternoon with the Williams FW07, the circuit bringing out all his flair and dash. But the Finn spun at the end of Shoreline Drive early in the final session, and burnt out the clutch as he rejoined the circuit. Later he took the T-car but was unable to improve on his time. With the track markedly quicker on Saturday, that meant a drop from first to eighth.
Andretti admitted that the sheer downforce of the Williams was something beyond his previous experience: "Jesus! The g-forces are unbelievable in this car," the 1978 world champion said. Ideally, he would have liked more time with the car than his single day's testing at Willow Springs permitted, but he was not too unhappy after practice, 14th fastest, adding that "I think the race might go rather better for me". By Williams' standards, though, the fourth and seventh rows were a disappointment, and it could be that the FW08 is arriving at precisely the right time.
Two years ago Arnoux qualified his Renault second at Long Beach and everyone said the game was over. The turbo cars, they maintained, were now competitive everywhere, and would sweep all before them. On that occasion, however, the result was achieved more by driver inspiration than anything else. This time, the Renaults were quick because they were quick - and both cars were right up there, third and fourth, with Arnoux ahead of Prost, as is often the case in practice.
At one stage, on Saturday afternoon, Arnoux was on pole, but halfway through the session he lost second gear, which was replaced in only 15 minutes by the crew. Generally, his two days were less troublesome than his team mate's. At Rio, you may recall, Prost was hampered throughout the race by a high-rev misfire, and this was still present when the team went testing at Willow Springs, and during the first day at Long Beach.
Borgudd took Alboreto's tyres and lay as high as fourth at one point © LAT
On Friday evening the problem was finally traced. In Brazil, it appears, a piece of fire-proof coating from one of the pipes leading into the intercooler had worked itself loose and been sucked into the intercooler itself, thereby jamming a filter. Once everything had been cleaned out, Prost had no further misfire trouble, although he was not thrilled with his brakes during the last session, nor with a new set of springs which had been fitted just before it.
For the leading British teams, practice was not a great success, Lauda's McLaren apart, of course. If Williams had a disappointing couple of days, Brabham had a disastrous time. Early in the untimed session on Friday, Patrese clouted a wall very hard with his BT49D, destroying the right-front corner and damaging the monocoque.
In the final timed session Brabham's problems became acute when Piquet smacked into the wall at the foot of Linden Avenue; It had brought just the BT49Ds and a single spare BT49C. Patrese was out in the C, and both Ds were heavily damaged, one beyond repair. For the world champion and his team-mate, therefore, qualifying was an outstanding disaster. On Friday afternoon Piquet had lost an engine, and now was without a car for the closing minutes of practice. At the end of it all, he was sixth on the grid, with Patrese, last year's pole man, down in a disastrous 18th. The Italian had been regarded as one of the heavy favourites. Pole position was again a novelty featuring an Italian this year, but Patrese never looked like a challenger for it.
Through Saturday afternoon it became clear than Michelin was enjoying a significant qualifying tyre advantage at Long Beach. The first timed session had been something of a fiasco for it thanks to an inexplicable mix-up somewhere along the line, most of their leading runners, including Renault, were supplied with the wrong tyres - although Lauda got the good ones. On Saturday, however, everyone was properly-equipped, and as the track surface acquired a thicker coating of rubber, so Michelin's advantage grew. Everyone agreed that the circuit was quicker on Saturday, but you really needed to have Michelins for a serious shot at pole. Their turning-in ability was definitely superior.
Piquet was the fastest driver on Goodyear tyres in qualifying © LAT
After Piquet's Brabham, the quickest Goodyear runner was the Ferrari of Villeneuve, which was hurled around with all the Canadian's usual zeal and abandon. Compared with the likes of Brabham and Williams, the cars were pitifully slow and clumsy through the slow corners, but they were of course swift down Shoreline Drive.
Both Ferrari drivers were unimpressed with the ludicrously tight right-left-right at the start of Shoreline Drive. "It's odd," commented Villeneuve. "We cannot seem to get the right gear ratios this year, not working in harmony with the turbo, anyway. Everywhere seems to be too high for first and too low for second."
During the session, we watched Pironi's car go by, and we blinked. Surely that rear wing looked a little strange that lap? Why, it was as wide as the car's rear track...Indeed it was, but Mauro Forghieri was quick to stress its legality, pointing out that it was, in effect, two wings bolted together and staggered, one in front of the other. It looks altogether odd, but Pironi persisted with it: "I think the car is a little quicker on the straight, and maybe a little better through the quick corners." Most people thought it some kind of spoof when first they saw it, but no, it was serious. Villeneuve also used one during the first session, and reported that they would both be using them for the race.
Ferrari's biggest worry, of course, was tyre wear. As at Rio, it would have to use hard 'B' compound Goodyears, but Villeneuve was not too concerned: "In practice I found them quicker than the Cs..."
Separating the Ferraris on the grid was, believe it or not, the Osella of Jean-Pierre Jarier. Some cynic remarked that this was a response to the fact that the Williams drive was up for grabs, but Jarier has always been good at Long Beach and looked neat and controlled throughout. Needless to say, his was the only Osella in the race, for Riccardo Paletti never looked like qualifying.
Guerrero's Saturday pace ensured he would make his first GP start in the Ensign © LAT
Row six belonged to Watson's McLaren and Alboreto's Tyrrell. Friday was a washout for the Ulsterman, for he spent most of the timed session in the pits with a troublesome fuel pump, finishing up only 26th and last of those to make the cut. But he improved significantly on Saturday: "I can't say I'm altogether happy with the car, but I think the race will be a different matter. I wasn't at all impressed with the Q-tyres I had - in fact, I set my best time on race tyres, so we should be in good shape for the race, I think," he said.
Alboreto is perhaps the rising star of the moment, and looks better every time out. For much of the last session he was well in the top 10, and worth it. On Friday morning he had a brush with the wall at the end of Shoreline Drive, but the Tyrrell was not heavily damaged. Some idea of the worth of qualifying tyres may be gained by the fact that, with Alboreto temporarily sidelined, Slim Borgudd was given a set during the untimed session. For a while, the Swede was fourth fastest! By the end of practice he was 23rd, 2s away from his team-mate.
Twelve months ago, Eddie Cheever had his best race of the season at Long Beach, his Tyrrell battling for a long time with Andretti's Alfa and Pironi's Ferrari, eventually to finish fifth. In the Ligier team this year, he qualified 13th, two places ahead of his team-mate Jacques Laffite. With 12-cylinder torque, the French cars were much happier through the Californian streets than at Rio, but still their excessive weight worked against them. Laffite blew an engine on Saturday, and complained of too much understeer: "Better in the race, hein?" It was a sentiment that everyone seemed to have.
After looking potentially strong on the first day, the Lotus 91s faded badly. "I just don't get it," commented a glum Nigel Mansell on Saturday afternoon. "We come to a circuit, and we seem to be in good shape at first. Everyone finds some more grip on the second day - and we lose it." Mansell lost more than half the morning session with an exploded radiator, and said he could have used that time to get the car set up for the final hour. As it was, he qualified 17th, immediately behind Elio de Angelis.
Prost was shaded by his team-mate Arnoux all weekend © LAT
One of the outstanding features of qualifying was the form of young Roberto Guerrero, who qualified the Ensign easily, and whose smoothness round the tight track was excelled only by Lauda. "We were a bit disappointed with the tyres in the last session," reported team boss Mo Nunn. "Because Roberto did a 29.5 on Saturday morning. We didn't touch the car after that, and we had exactly the same tyres in the afternoon. On the first set he couldn't get under 32.6, so we changed them, and he did a 30.1 on his first flying lap! I think he might go really well in the race."
Next to Guerrero was the only Arrows to qualify, that of Brian Henton. He was less than thrilled with the car, but made the cut all the sam, despite having an exhaust break (with a resultant loss of 500rpm) on his quickest lap. Mauro Baldi did not get through.
The elegant Marches of Jochen Mass and Raul Boesel both qualified, 21st and 23rd, with Derek Daly's Theodore between them. Daly was happier with the car's new sidepods, but had several moments of distress during practice with cracked uprights. In the final session, the car's undertray broke away at the front, and in the closing minutes Derek found himself with a broken steering wheel.
The back row was all yellow, the two ATS D5s of Manfred Winkelhock and Eliseo Salazar. Both had their troubles. The German was suffering with a heavy cold, first of all, and then clobbered a wall in the last session, thereby failing to improve his Friday time. And Salazar lost virtually the whole of the first untimed session, stuck in the pits with an inoperative clutch.
For Toleman it was another weekend to forget, with Derek Warwick, understandably growing despondent, failing to pre-qualify, and Teo Fabi again missing out on the race by 0.1s. The Italian's efforts in the last session match those of anyone in the field, but the chassis simply wouldn't have it, making even the Ferrari look nimble by comparison! A new car for the team is now a matter of urgency.
The grand prix
You had to sympathise with de Cesaris, for who would want to be on pole at a street circuit, with the relentlessness of Lauda right behind? On Sunday morning the Austrian had a few quiet words with his fellow front-row starter about the opening laps...
Yet, with the Californian sun burning down, the Italian got his start absolutely right, leading the herd down Shoreline Drive with Arnoux powering by Lauda to take up second spot into the right-hander at the end. Up through the swerves and onto Ocean Boulevard to begin the first full lap, the Alfa sounded magnificent, with de Cesaris driving betraying no signs of nerves. He was going to make the best of this.
At the end of lap one, it was thus: de Cesaris, Arnoux, Lauda, Giacomelli, Villeneuve, Prost, Pironi, Rosberg, Piquet, Alboreto, Watson, Cheever, Andretti, Jarier. At this point, it was all very orderly - or nearly all. There had already been contact between Borgudd's Tyrrell and the ATS pair, which put Winkelhock out on the spot, and sent the Swede to the pits for a new rear wing. A lap later, Salazar completed the job, clouting the wall at Turn 4, and that was it for ATS.
The Alfa led by almost 2s at the end of the third lap, with Arnoux, Lauda and Giacomelli running as a group and starting to open out a gap to the rest, who were led by Villeneuve. The real star of the early laps, though, was Watson, who was simply scything up the lap chart. From his indifferent grid position - 11th - the McLaren driver was up to 10th on lap two, ninth on lap four, eighth on lap five, fifth on lap six, fourth on lap seven and third on lap nine. This was a very determined Watson, passing people with precision and great confidence. He had been right: he was in good shape for the race.
Watson made up a lot of ground early on; helped when Giacomelli lost time © LAT
Watson's path towards the front partly was cleared by outside influences, however. On the sixth lap, Giacomelli decided to take a run at Lauda at the Turn 11 hairpin. Down the inside he plunged, braking far too late. Lauda made no attempt to block him - the object of the game, after all, is to win, and to do that you have to stay on the road.
The victim of this piece of business was the luckless Arnoux. Having shot by Lauda, Giacomelli locked up and slide into the back of the Renault. For the second time in a fortnight, the Renault driver had been punted out of a grand prix when running strongly. Italy 1, France 1, and now Lauda was untroubled in his pursuit of de Cesaris. It was all coming together beautifully.
For a few laps, though, McLaren made no impression on Alfa, its lead was almost 5s after eight laps. Thereafter Lauda slipped into that clinical precision we remember so well from his Ferrari days, taking away a tenth here, a fifth there. The Alfa was doomed.
Ten laps: de Cesaris, Lauda, Watson, Villeneuve, Rosberg, Piquet, Alboreto, Cheever, Prost, Andretti. Gone from the reckoning was Pironi, who smacked the wall at Turn 2, leaving the Ferrari where it was. These are unhappy times for the Frenchman, whose confidence seems a little below par since his horrific Ricard accident.
A lap later, Prost, too, was out, after his virtually brakeless Renault contacted the masonry. 'Twas not a happy weekend for the French...
The inevitable lead change happened on the 15th lap. Through the fatuous "chicane" at the start of Shoreline Drive, de Cesaris was held up by Boesel, and at its exit he chose to vent his feelings at the Brazilian, shaking his right fist with vigour when he should have been using it to change. In an instant Lauda was right with the Alfa, and the McLaren was very swift in a straight line. Down to the right-handed Turn 1 they came, with Lauda moving smoothly and easily to the inside, leaving de Cesaris with no option other than to cede the corner. Once by, Lauda quickly began to clear, working the traffic with all the guile in the world. Undaunted, de Cesaris charged on, but a simple comparative lack of experience lost him ground every time there were cars to be lapped.
Cheever battled with Laffite and Andretti for a while... © LAT
For some time Andretti had been involved in a scrap with the Ligiers of Cheever and Laffite, but the American's sad weekend came to a close on lap 18 when he hit the wall at Turn 4, bringing the Williams into the pits directly. With a top-link broken, the left-rear wheel was almost literally hanging off, but the mechanics changed it, and sent him back out. A lap later, Andretti was back, reporting that the car was virtually undriveable.
On lap 21 we had some good old vintage Villeneuve fun. Earlier in the lap the Canadian had been overtaken by Rosberg, who now led the Ferrari down Shoreline Drive. As they approached the corner at the end, Rosberg braked - and Villeneuve appeared not to. Just when it seemed that he had decided on going to Santa Monica the quick way, he pressed the middle pedal hard and the Ferrari began to slew sideways. Round came the tail, the car finishing up backed into the escape road. And now here came Piquet. Quick as you like, Villeneuve had engaged first gear, smoked the tyres and done terrible things to the driveshaft, to slot into the track again juuuuust in front of the Brabham. Had he rooted the tyres? Apparently not, for red led white by a distance the next time around. Behind, the crowd, its interest having started to sag, buzzed with excitement.
Further back in the field, Guerrero was again impressive in this, his first grand prix. Earlier he had been passed by Mansell's Lotus, but he clung on well, and when Lauda came up to lap the Briton at the end of Shoreline Drive, Guerrero cheekily - and very neatly - followed him through. A few laps later, however, he was another unfortunate victim of the Long Beach wall. Earlier he had lost a side plate from the rear wing, and he reported that the car suddenly snapped out of control. No matter: he had shown up well.
So, too, had Alboreto, whose Tyrrell had been in the picture from the start. At one stage, indeed, he hauled himself up to Villeneuve, the two of them having an anxious wheel-banging moment at the end of Shoreline Drive. Unfortunately, though, the Tyrrell's left sidepod was becoming loose, and Alboreto gradually dropped back into the clutches of Patrese's Brabham.
Rosberg closed down Lauda's lead from 50s to less than 20 by the finish © LAT
By now, Patrese was his team's sole representative, for Piquet had hit the wall at Turn 3 on lap 26. It had, Gordon Murray gloomily reflected later, been a very expensive weekend.
Watson's spectacular early charge had faded considerably by now, to the point that he was steadily dropping back, falling to sixth place. On lap 30 the McLaren was in for fresh tyres, and its driver resumed in eighth place.
Lap 35 brought about the end of de Cesaris, whose Alfa crashed heavily at Turn 5. Eyewitnesses reported that the car had been on fire before it hit the wall, and de Cesaris later confirmed that he had been looking at the smoke and flame in his mirror, this causing a momentary - and understandable - loss of concentration. It was a very sad end to all his efforts. He deserved better.
By now the field was decidedly thin. Jarier had retired with a blown engine, and Laffite, avoiding a 'moment' by Patrese, got out on the marbles, braked hard and stalled his engine, which he was unable to restart. Daly's Theodore had done into the tyre barrier at the right-handed Turn 9, and Henton's Arrows had also gone off.
The picture, it seemed, was set, for Lauda had a lead of 50s, colossal by any standards. Rosberg, whose oil pressure warning light had been flashing on right from the start, was still pushing hard, but his task looked hopeless. Typically, though, he did not simply settle for second place, but continued to drive really hard, stabbing at the throttle between the tight corners, aggression in the exhaust note.
And, sure, enough, the gap began to come down. Lauda, of course, was not hurrying as he had been before de Cesaris' exit, and he further gave hope to the Williams team by most untypically missing his braking point at the top of Linden Avenue on one occasion, just managing to keep the car on the road, but losing nine seconds of his lead in the process. It was his first and last mistake of the afternoon.
Villeneuve finsihed third on the road © LAT
Rosberg's efforts apart, the closing stages were enlivened by a fine charge from Patrese, who had earlier spun and lost his right front wing. After passing de Angelis with a beautiful feinting manoeuvre into Linden Avenue, he set off after Alboreto, getting by the Tyrrell on lap 59. Patrese was really wound-up towards the end. The final retirement of the day was that of Cheever, whose Ligier expired with a broken gearbox after a fine drive by the American.
So Lauda did it. In the last few laps the Austrian was cruising round in the company of Borgudd, unconcerned that his lead was being diminished by the energetic Rosberg. The Williams driver never let up, hoping to be close enough to take advantage of any last-minute problem that Lauda might incur, but the McLaren swept on, finally taking the flag a little over 14s to the good. The race last almost two hours, and Lauda was quite refreshed afterwards. He had, after all, expended far less energy than most of his rivals. It was cool, analytical and brilliant.
In his recent book, Alan Jones theorises that Lauda retired at the end of 1979 because Brabham was reverting to the Cosworth engine, and that he had only ever felt comfortable with a twelve.
Alan, I have news...
*Villeneuve would later be disqualified from third place due to an illegal rear wing.
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