Monaco 1982: Someone Had To Win

In all the years that the prestigious Grand Prix of Monaco has been run, almost none stand out as more bizarre than the 1982 edition.

It was a day in which rain played a role in the outcome, as it has many times in the tiny principality. They say that rain is the great equalizer, but I don’t think it equalized anything on this wild day. The key men involved in the finish were Alain Prost (driving for Renault), Riccardo Patrese (for Brabham), Didier Pironi (for Ferrari) and Andrea de Cesaris (for Alfa Romeo).

The weekend began under the gloomy shadow of the death of French-Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve two weeks prior at the Grand Prix of Belgium at Zolder. Villeneuve was a teammate to Pironi at Ferrari. Earlier in the season, Pironi had beaten Villeneuve at the Grand Prix of San Marino in Imola, making a late pass for the lead and ultimately the win. Villeneuve, known for his fiery passion to win, was livid after the race, thinking Pironi had disobeyed team orders and stolen a victory that was rightfully his, and vowed that he would “never speak to that man (Pironi) again”. During practice two weeks later at Zolder, Villeneuve had a massive crash while passing a slower car and was ejected from his car, killing him almost instantly. Many claim that Villeneuve was in an agitated state and wanted nothing more than to top Pironi on the time charts and prove that he was the superior driver. It ultimately cost him his life.

Since this was an era in Formula One that regularly saw driver deaths, the season went on and teams prepared for the sport’s crown jewel event. Prost came into the Monaco race as the current points leader, holding a slim one-point lead over McLaren’s John Watson. Patrese’s 1982 season hadn’t gotten off to a good start, although a third-place result at Long Beach was a bright spot for the Parmalat Racing Team.

Monaco 1982

With Renault teammate Rene Arnoux starting on pole position, Prost had to come up with a fast getaway from his fourth-place starting position on the grid. Arnoux led the opening fourteen laps (76 in total) before spinning his yellow machine at the swimming pool chicane. This allowed Prost to take the lead and dominate the next 59 circuits around the tight Monaco streets.

But with the laps ticking down and rain approaching the action was about to pick up. On lap 74, Prost lost control while leading and slammed nose-first into the barrier just past the Nouvelle chicane that parallels the harbour. It allowed Patrese to inherit the lead with just three laps to go. One lap later, Patrese lost control just as Prost had, heading towards the famous Loews hairpin, although he managed to keep his Brabham off the wall and came to a stop just off the curbs. Because he was on a slight incline, Patrese was able to fire up his car and get going again, but he had lost his short-lived lead. Patrese’s spin left Pironi in the lead and the Ferrari fans in ecstacy. At this point, it looked like Pironi would deliver a big victory which would help relieve the sadness of Villeneuve’s death and bring a happy boost to the garage area.

However, fate had other plans. As the television cameras waited for the leader to come screeching through the Monaco tunnel one last time, Pironi’s Ferrari spluttered into view and coasted to a stop, the fuel tank empty. That would have handed the lead to the Alfa Romeo of de Cesaris, but moments later, de Cesaris also slowed to a stop behind Pironi with no more fuel left. If de Cesaris had been able to finish, he would’ve passed Pironi and won the race.

The Williams of Derek Daly, which had a damaged front wing, could have been the one to slip by the stalled cars and taken an upset win, but his gearbox gave out and also left him without a chance to take the lead. The events even caught the experienced BBC broadcasters by surprise, as former driver James Hunt exclaimed:

“We’ve got this ridiculous situation, we’re all sitting by the start finish line waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one!”

The reports of rain must have come true, as the track became slick and dangerous. Finally, a car came into view, and lo and behold, it was Patrese, who was able to outlast his competition and grab his first career Grand Prix victory. It wouldn’t be his last, as he took a second win driving for Brabham in Kyalami, South Africa the next year. After that, it wouldn’t be until 1990 that Patrese won again.

Patrese finished his career with six victories: none stand out more than that wild day on the streets of Monaco.


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