As a life-long Formula One and motor racing fan there will always be one season that remains firmly etched in my mind.
In many ways 1982 was a formative year for me: I turned 17 that year, and was on the cusp between youth and adulthood, and following the Grand Prix season proved to be an eye opener.
So it was with a mix of pleasure and less than pleasant memories that I read the excellent 1982 – the Inside Story of the sensational Grand Prix season by the late Christopher Hilton.
Hilton wrote the book from his perspective, that of a new boy in the F1 press room, and it was to be a baptism of fire. This beautifully presented book draws on his first hand experiences, but also uses a clever selection of photographs provided by fans who were at the individual races – a neat touch that guarantees ‘never seen before’ material. It covers the 16 races of the season one by one, and in detail.
1982 was a year that had it all: triumph against the odds, tragedy beyond all belief, and political in-fighting; you couldn’t have written a more sensational script.
Indeed, when there was talk of making a movie about F1, Mario Andretti commented that they didn’t need a script, they already had 1982 (Andretti would, famously, make guest appearances for both Williams and Ferrari during the season).
Hilton covers the pre-amble to the season in detail, describing the ongoing ‘war’ between the teams aligned to the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and those who stood with FISA (the FIA as we now know it); the former were largely the UK-based teams such as Williams, McLaren, Tyrrell and so on, the latter the ‘works’ outfits including Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo.
He also covers the infamous ‘drivers strike’ that affected the season-opening South African Grand Prix, instigated by Niki Lauda over concerns about contractual obligations. This amusing prelude to the season would be overshadowed by the tragedies to come.
To put into perspective how competitive F1 was back then consider this: 11 different drivers, in seven different makes of car, won races that year, and the World Champion – Keke Rosberg – won only one race.
In fact, Rosberg was a last minute choice for Williams, who had seen Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann quit the sport at short notice.
Where Hilton is a master is at describing the tragedies that affected the season without being mawkish or ghoulish: for the uninitiated, the great Gilles Villeneuve was killed in a horrific accident during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder; this came straight after the San Marino Grand Prix – boycotted by the FOCA teams – at which he was beaten home by his Ferrari team mate Didier Pironi in circumstances Villeneuve believed to be against team orders.
The Canadian vowed never to speak to the Frenchman again, and was clearly unsettled by the situation. The loss of Gilles was a blow, as he was one of the most popular men in F1.
Hilton also covers the tragic demise of young Riccardo Paletti, an Italian driving for the backmarker Osella team, in a start line accident in Canada, and does so with a fitting tribute to the youngster who was very popular with his team.
The tragedy didn’t end there: during practice for the German Grand Prix, Pironi – who’s Ferrari had been the car hit by Paletti in Canada – hit the back of Alain Prost’s Renault in pouring rain, and was catapulted high into the air. The resulting impact broke both his legs, ending a promising career. Ferrari, then, had lost both their drivers in a matter of a few races.
1982 is an excellent read, a reminder of times when F1 was far more dangerous than now, and Hilton uses his first hand knowledge and experience to good effect. It’s a book one can dip into and read fascinating insight into a remarkable and tragic season, and one I can’t recommend too much.
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