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Honda power moves Williams back up the grid



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Keke Rosberg


Williams-Honda FW09




Southern Sun Hotels South African Grand Prix (15 October 1983)


Bordering to the city of Stockholm, Sweden, lies Solna, a town with some 15,000 inhabitants. There Keijo Erik Rosberg was born on 6 December 1948. His parents, Lars and Lea Rosberg, were living in Sweden as Lars was studying to become a veterinarian, an impossibility at that time in his native country, Finland. At the age of one Keijo, already known as "Keke", moved back to Finland, where he spent a rather wandering life as his family was moving about depending on where his father got work as a vet. As both parents were amateur racing drivers, it was no wonder that Keke from a young age became interested in cars and racing.

Much could be said about Rosberg's racing career but we'll keep it brief. Here is a list of Rosberg's achievements year by year from Formula K amateur to World Champion:

Kyalami 1983, the 15th and last round of the World Championship. It had been the year in which the turbo engines had made their final breakthrough, dominating events. In 1982 a Cosworth-engined car had still been able to take the championship but at Kyalami in 1983 three drivers were fighting for the world championship. All of them in turbo cars.

Alain Prost had led the championship tables since the Belgian GP in May. However, during the last races he had seen his lead disappearing, the Renault team struggling to keep its form. As the first F1 turbo construction the V6 Renault now seemed to have a disadvantage against the more modern constructions, especially during practice when the drivers were using "turbo boosts", taking out everything the engine could stand during a one-lap rush. Prost was still leading the tables with four victories and 57 points but he had huge pressure on him as a driver for a state-owned company. The French demanded that Prost "must become champion". The Elf fuel company had created a competition in which 4.5 millions of their customers sent an "Allez Prost" telegram to the driver, ten of the competitors winning a ticket to South Africa. The fact was that most knew that this was the last chance for the Renault team. In 1984 every team would use turbos.

After a terrible 1982 Ferrari had been in a good position for 1983 but curiously the team came to Kyalami in disorder. Patrick Tambay had been their championship contender for the early part of the season, but after scoring victories at the Canadian, German and Dutch GPs René Arnoux had managed to turn the tables in the team. Coming to South Africa with 40 points Tambay had not only lost the championship, he had also lost his place at Ferrari for 1984. Inside the team sympathy seemed to be with Tambay, even when he announced that he would go for a win and wouldn't care to help Arnoux become champion. With 49 points Arnoux not only needed to win the last round, he also needed some bad fortune for his competitors.

After a good start the Brabham team and Nelson Piquet had been struggling during the middle part of the season, at one time slipping behind Prost by 14 points. But by taking victories in the Italian and the European GPs Piquet had closed in the gap to a mere 2 points. Piquet was in fact the driver most of the spectators and the other teams expected - and hoped - to win. As Keke Rosberg said: "I don't think anyone has anything against Alain, but Renault has tried every political manoeuvre in the book."

The FISA-FOCA wars had only just ended. History shows that the teams had good reasons to feel hate and suspicion against the major manufacturers, who started to enter Formula 1 at that time. Now lost in history are the likes of Brabham, Lotus, ATS, Ligier, RAM and Osella. Toleman (Benetton) will be the next one to disappear.

The championship situation before the last race was as follows:

The season had been a troublesome one for the Williams team. The FW08C car had proved to be understeering heavily and all the Cosworth users had had problems with tyres made primarily for the turbo cars. Williams had concluded a deal with Honda during the winter of 1982/'83 but the team had not used the Honda RA163E engines during the season, Honda preferring to have the little Spirit team acting as their engine evaluators. In the summer of 1983 Patrick Head began to design the FW09 turbo car and the first car was tested at Donington in early September. The team then made the late decision to race the turbo cars in South Africa. With the engine project proving to be a success Honda said hello to Williams and goodbye to Spirit.

It had otherwise been a troublesome season for Rosberg, as during a sponsor trip to South America he had caught a "bug" that created problems with his liver and made him very tired.

For the qualifying that started on Thursday the Williams drivers were restricted to race boost but results were encouraging, Rosberg finishing 5th and Laffite 7th. On Friday Rosberg lost much time with a misfire created by a sticking valve. The Williams drivers were unable to better their times, falling back to 6th and 10th on the grid. Tambay held pole position, Piquet was second, Arnoux fourth and Prost fifth. Arnoux was in great pain as the marshals had rolled the car over his right foot when he had parked in a dangerous position after a mechanical failure.

At the warm-up Rosberg's engine blew up and with no spare car available the engineers put in a new turbo in just 95 minutes. Niki Lauda was fastest during the warm-up showing the potential in the new TAG-Porsche engine. That engine had made its debut in Lauda's McLaren at the Dutch GP in August.

When the colors changed to green the two Brabham cars of Piquet and Patrese were fastest away, followed by Tambay, de Cesaris, Prost, Rosberg and Arnoux. Tambay was soon in trouble and dropped back to fifth. While coming down towards Crowthorne Laffite was pushed out by Cheever's Renault and crashed into the catch-fencing.

It was soon clear that Piquet had started with a very low fuel load as he was flying away from the rest of the field, opening up a gap by 2 seconds a lap. Prost had to wait until lap 9 before he found a way past de Cesaris, advancing to third. Even with a clear track in front of him Prost lost a second a lap to the leading Piquet. On the same lap Arnoux's championship hopes were over, the Ferrari rolling into the pits with an engine that had lost most of its water.

Now a new car was entering the fight for top positions. Lauda had gambled on soft tyres and the McLaren driver advanced from his 12th start position through the field. On lap 18 he passed Prost and took up the chase of Patrese.

With 28 out of 77 laps gone Piquet entered the pit for fuel and new hard tyres, the team taking a cautious approach. Not believing the pit boards and unsure of his position Piquet, with an extra heavy car, put in five quick laps in a row, each one a second faster than the rest of the field, as soon as he came out of the pits. He should not have worried. Incredibly he was still in the lead after his pitstop.

Both Rosberg and Lauda made their pit stops on lap 33. Rosberg's car wasn't designed for refueling so the pitstop was a slow one. The McLaren pit stop was even slower as the mechanics had problems with a wheel so Lauda lost 23 seconds. Rosberg, who had started the race with hard tyres, found out that the car behaved much better with the soft ones fitted at the stop and started trying to improve his 10th position.

On lap 35 the race changed face as Prost entered the pits and climbed out of his car. The turbo had given up. As soon as Piquet got the information he turned the boost to minimum and started to cruise.

Rosberg was up to 7th but rubber from the circuit had found its way into the radiator causing it to overheat. Turning down the pace Rosberg was passed by Cheever, but he later retook his position with ease.

Tambay, who had had a boost problem during the whole race, was in on lap 46 and a lap later Patrese made his pitstop without losing his second position. That second position became a first position when Piquet on lap 60 waved his team mate by. On lap 70 Lauda also passed the Brazilian and started closing in on Patrese. Then with 6 laps from the end Lauda had to retire with electric failure and Patrese could take the flag as victor in a season where his points score was restricted to one third place thusfar. De Cesaris (Alfa Romeo) finished second, Piquet third as the new World Champion, Warwick (Toleman) was fourth and Rosberg fifth, giving the Honda engine its first points at its first attempt.

Rosberg had been ordered by the doctors to have a complete rest so after the race he said "Merry Christmas" to the Finnish TV reporter (no joke!) and disappeared. He had decided to go to Mauritius for six weeks. During that holiday he took the opportunity to marry his girlfriend Gesine Dengel. For Alain Prost the next days continued in a low note. He demanded certain changes in the team for next year, but the team decided to take the easy way out and change the driver instead...

Reader's Why by John Cross

1983 was certainly the pivotal year in the turbo era - the 1st generation turbos of Renault, Ferrari & BMW had reached their peak and fought for the championship to the very last race here at Kyalami (which was the season-closer for the first time since 1963). It was the first of 6 championships to be won by turbocharged cars, and little did the 'big three' know that they would soon be made obselete - first by the McLaren-TAG which made its debut halfway through the season, and then by the Williams-Honda whose debut we see here. In fact it was the 7th race of the season for the McLaren-TAG and it had yet to finish a race - little did the other teams know how that would change over the next three years.

And they could not have foreseen that this would be the start of something big - here is the very first Williams-Honda on its way to 5th place in its first Grand Prix (actually more of a test session). Three years later they would break the McLaren-Tag domination of the middle turbo years and would go on to dominate the last three years of the turbo (famously jumping ship to McLaren + Ayrton Senna in 1988 and leaving Williams in the lurch). It is also worth noting that the FW09 (and the derived FW09B) were the last aluminium Williams's before the carbon FW10 appeared in 1985.

The race will be best remembered as deciding the outcome of the first World Championship to be won by a turbocharged car. Piquet was the favourite in the Brabham-BMW, while Prost's Renault and Tambay's Ferrari also had a chance. In the event, Piquet led for most of the race and when Prost's turbo let go at half distance, he eased right off to let his team-mate Patrese win the race, with de Cesaris' Alfa 2nd and Piquet ending up 3rd. It had taken the turbos a long time to kill off the Cosworth V8.

Keke Rosberg's early experience had been gained in Formula Vee single-seaters, and he gradually worked his way up the motor racing ladder, scoring a significant victory in streaming wet conditions at the 1978 Silverstone International Trophy meeting. The Finn's lightning reflexes and tremendous wet-weather skills were highlighted in this performance in the Theodore. Even though Keke had achieved this success in his second F1 race, he vanquished opposition of only a modest standard and his triumph could be regarded mainly as an interesting pointer to possible future form. Happily for the Williams team, Rosberg had lost none of that instant flair by the time he started the 1982 season armed with a competitive car. At one stage it seemed as though he might become the first World Champion to take the title 'on points' without scoring a single Grand Prix victory, but he squeezed in a good win at the Swiss Grand Prix and clinched the title after beating off a challenge from Ulsterman John Watson in the final race of the year at Las Vegas.

The Williams team was late picking up the threads of turbo engine development and had no such powerful unit available in 1983. Nevertheless, Keke managed to reward them with a brilliant victory in the Monaco Grand Prix. Gambling correctly that the rain-slicked track surface would dry out quickly, he started the race on slick tyres and out-ran the more powerful opposition in an awesome display of raw car control. He failed to win another race that season, but by dint of some heroic motoring kept the naturally aspirated Williams within sight of the turbos on all but the fastest circuits. Rosberg was armed with turbo power at last in 1984, thanks to the Williams-Honda alliance. He fought an uphill battle against the all-conquering McLaren-TAGs, but gave the Williams team its first turbo-charged win in the one-off Dallas Grand Prix. As most of his front-line opposition slid into the walls or collapsed with heat exhaustion beneath the boiling Texas sun, Rosberg kept his cool to notch up probably his most impressive victory of all. At the start of 1985 Keke was distinctly apprehensive about the prospect of Nigel Mansell joining Williams as his team-mate.

With characteristic openness, he voiced these reservations, but later acknowledged that he had been too hasty in reaching such a judgement. He won at Detroit and Adelaide, but then decided to switch to McLaren in 1986 for one final stab at the title. That final season was a disappointment. 'I thought I was the fastest driver in the world until I went to McLaren with Alain Prost,' he would later remark. No wins came his way, but the chain-smoking Finn did not reverse his decision to retire. He kept away from racing for almost four years before signing to drive for the Peugeot team in the Sports Car World Championship. He did a full season in 1991 before switching to drive an AMG Mercedes-Benz in the 1992 German Touring Car Championship.