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Poachers turned gamekeepers: how the FOCA became the new FIA
Part 5: 1982 – all is fair in love and war



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So, at the end of 1981, we had a happy Brabham team boss and FOCA chairman and a happy FISA president in control of his own FIA F1 championship. We also had a Concorde Agreement – which we today know as the alpha and omega of F1 racing. Did that mean that we were in for a quiet 1982?

Not exactly.

The question of money seemed out of the way but the power issue was far from settled. The fact that 1981 ran out quietly came because of the understanding between the FISA and the teams that hydropneumatic suspension would be allowed, which effectively meant the on-going existence of ground effects. During 1981 the manufacturers became increasingly disgruntled about this, and soon the traditional divide between ‘grandees’ and ‘garagistes’ was becoming visible again. As it became clearer that turbo engines were getting more powerful and reliable the manufacturers sought to maintain their advantage while the independent constructors did their best to come up with ways to close the distance.

To confuse matters, Brabham was going to race their BMW turbos in anger for the first time while still remaining the figurehead of FOCA, certainly in the first part of the season when they were still running their final Cosworth-engined BT49 evolution. Indeed, they would lead the rest of the FOCA teams in another novelty aiming to ‘legally’ cut the gap with the turbo cars.

And then it was announced that Niki Lauda would be making a comeback with McLaren.

The Austrian would return in a Grand Prix environment significantly changed from the one he left behind at the end of 1979. In the divided world of FISA vs. FOCA the drivers had gradually lost their power, as the GPDA was torn apart by the different loyalties of its members. This was exacerbated by Balestre forcing his way upon the teams through their drivers by including the rules about driver briefings – a seemingly harmless edict which happened to be the spark igniting the fireworks of 1980.

In this new reality, and in an attempt to claw back some of the power he had lost to Ecclestone, Balestre again used the drivers in another attempt to gain full control of ‘his’ championship. He forgot that there was one driver who was still living in 1979. When ‘the Rat’ found a letter from the FISA on his doormat on Christmas Eve of 1981, he sniffed at it and smelled a rat. It was a request to sign and return the application form for a new FISA super license.

Normally, this would have been done in the blink of an eye but Lauda glanced at some of the clauses further down the one-page form and was worried:

3. A super license will only be issued when a driver has entered into a commitment to drive for a particular team and signed the super license form issued by FISA.

4. The license issued to the driver will name the team with which he has a commitment to drive.

If there still seemed some logic in this – what use for a license if a driver doesn’t have a car supplied to him by some team? – but the words of the actual application were worrying indeed:

I (blank space for driver’s name) of (blank space for driver’s country of birth) holder of international license No. (blank space for number) issued by (blank space for national motorsport authority) hereby apply for a FISA super license to drive for (blank space for team name) in the 1982 FIA Formula One World Championship.

In consideration of the issue of this license I undertake and agree as follows:

1. I am committed to the above team to drive exclusively for them in the FIA Formula One World Championship(s) until the (blank space for end date of contract).

Lauda was perplexed. The license for which he was about to apply wouldn’t be granted to him as a driver but to Lauda and McLaren as a driver/team combination. This meant that he wouldn’t be able to swap teams in mid-season or risk the penalty of his super license becoming invalid. This in turn could probably be settled by agreeing to transfer fees or contract buy-out clauses but it would be the end of the driver as a free agent. This stuff is all very common in today’s F1 world but in the eighties it wasn’t. In fact, the new license was inspired by Alain Prost walking out of his McLaren contract at the end of 1980 to drive for Renault leaving Teddy Mayer to find out there was nothing he could do to stop the Frenchman.

In another historic echo of today’s bringing-the-sport-into-disrepute article in FIA’s sporting regulations the application form came up with a clause that stated that:

5. I will do nothing which might harm the moral or material interests of image of International Motorsport or the FIA Formula One World Championship.

Just as the disrepute article is open to use at will by current FIA president Max Mosley, as he sits on the prosecutor and judge’s chairs at the same time, clause No.5 on the 1982 super license application form seemed to provide a similar threat. To Lauda it felt that his signature would equate to being gagged and handcuffed.

When the festive season was over and drivers were available for phone calls again, Lauda rang GPDA president Pironi, who explained that it was all discussed and agreed on in the early-December meeting of the Formula 1 Commission. Lauda being Lauda, he didn’t take no for a answer and in no time found Didier on his side. The Frenchman went on to phone the rest of the drivers but most of them had already signed. Six of them hadn’t, and ironically the majority were driving for the teams Balestre saw as his allies: apart from Lauda and Pironi, they were Villeneuve, Giacomelli, De Cesaris and Arnoux.

This meant that the issue could only be dealt with in South Africa in the run-up to the first Grand Prix of the season on January 23. The testing days on the Monday and Tuesday preceding the race would be the first time the drivers would all be gathered together. With the race due to run on Saturday, with practice on the two days before, Wednesday January 20 was used for a meeting of the F1 Commission, in which Pironi calmly explained why the drivers objected to the team-name and moral-harm clauses.

The obvious FISA rebuttal was that this would have to go before the FISA Executive Committee. This caused a deadlock since the committee wouldn’t be gathering until everyone returned to Europe while Pironi stated that the drivers would not start practice on Thursday until the issue was resolved. This created a stalemate between Balestre and the drivers, since the FISA president apparently told his countryman in no uncertain terms where he could put his refusal to drive, his point being that the cars wouldn’t pass scrutineering if their drivers didn’t have a proper superlicense.

The mutual ultimatums didn’t help the parties to find a way out. Lauda and Pironi suggested that the teams’ side of a driver’s contract should be made binding too, which made matters even worse. And so, on the early morning of Thursday, hours before first practice was due, a Nissan bus appeared at the circuit gates. Arranged by GPDA secretary Trevor Rowe it was meant to transport all the drivers to the Sunnyside Park Hotel in Johannesburg for a crisis meeting. As they arrived in the paddock one after the other was picked up by Pironi and Lauda and invited to join them in the bus. Some joined voluntarily, others needed some persuasion to agree on the arguments put forward by the GPDA. Rosberg, for example, was eager to make his mark with Williams, in what he considered his big breakthrough opportunity – and rightfully so, as it turned out later. The promise of a meeting pulled him in but he later confessed that he thought it was Niki Lauda’s one-man show, suspecting that the Austrian used the superlicense row to instantly become top dog among the drivers again, right after his comeback.

In the end, only Mass and Ickx weren’t present – the Belgian as he was only going to sub for the injured Surer, and the German because he stayed with friends of his South African wife and didn’t know about the bus. Not that that would have mattered since Jochen had always been his own man and indeed would be among the few to eventually go out to practice while the others were still on strike.

What followed quickly passed into Grand Prix racing folklore – 29 of the best racing drivers in the world cramped into one big hotel room in the Johannesburg suburbs, having been followed to the Sunnyside by hordes of journalists and camera crew. The promised meeting of minds did happen but it wasn’t quite the exchange of views on the superlicense issue that Rosberg had been hoping for. Instead it was simply the resolve that comes with solidarity among those on strike, as they found themselves stuck while Pironi – who stayed behind to negotiate with Balestre and Kyalami track owner Bobby Hartslief – was on a hotline with the hotel room, where Lauda kept his colleagues posted.

The drivers would stay for 24 hours and this is what happened in the meantime.

Shortly after 10 am, the track opened for practice. Nothing happened, on which the organisers threatened to impound the cars for non-performance. On behalf of the team owners Ecclestone was having none of that and in turn threatened the drivers to sue them for the costs incurred if the cars were to be impounded. Indeed, he made it known that drivers were a replaceable commodity and none too subtlely hinted at the fact that the man leading the drivers’ strike right now hadn’t had any qualms in dropping out of his contract by simply abandoning his Brabham drive at the end of 1979. And putting his money where his mouth was, he announced that his current drivers Piquet and Patrese were fired.

First qualifying was due at 1 pm but the cars remained silent as Pironi quit his talks with Balestre and Hartslief to join the others at the Sunnyside. He had a very bleak message for them: they would be facing life bans if they did not give in. This had a varying effect on the drivers: the old guard toughened its stance while those with a career still ahead of them started to waver.

In the afternoon the stewards of the meeting issued a statement which said that the South African GP has been postponed for a week and that all drivers on strike were suspended with immediate effect. The money lost on the postponement would be recovered from the drivers. For next week, the teams would select new drivers from the pool of 150 superlicenses.

As a way out, Balestre offered the drivers to ‘clarify’ the moral harm clause in writing. After consulting Lauda, Pironi declined.

Later in the afternoon, as a result of a team managers’ meeting, the stewards declared that the team managers had come forward in an attempt to save the Grand Prix. They suggested that the drivers could appeal their suspension prior to the postponed race. It didn’t help. On the contrary, the drivers’ wives and girlfriends bombarded Balestre with bread rolls during diner at the Kyalami Ranch. What were the drivers going to appeal if they didn’t acknowledge the sentence to begin with?

It was the start of a very strange night. Elio de Angelis played Chopin, Villeneuve played Scott Joplin, Lauda kept telling jokes to keep everybody’s spirits up, while Bruno Giacomelli explained the inner workings of Kalashnikov’s infamous AK-47 machine gun. Meanwhile, team bosses were trying different ways to lure their drivers out of the stronghold, which at one time even needed barricading of the doors. Mo Nunn even used Roberto Guerrero’s girlfriend’s soft and curvy powers of persuasion to make the Colombian jump ship. It took a brave guy not to succumb to that kind of pressure but Roberto did. Nunn, Jean Sage and Jackie Oliver were unsuccessful in their attempts, but Toleman’s Alex Hawkridge struck a coup by getting Teo Fabi to break the ranks. Fabi remained the only one, however, as the rest settled for the night. They moved to a nearby dormitory, again all staying in the same room using an honour system for the use of the toilet in the hallway. Lauda shared matrasses with Patrese, Warwick with Reutemann.

On Friday morning the deadline for first practice approached. Teo Fabi duly appeared at 9.30 am and while practice was due to start at 10 am, negotiations were still going on. Hartslief had told the drivers earlier that practice would be on at 11 am if they signed the forms before 10.30 am but then the call came, some time after 10 pm. Pironi told Lauda they had won the day, and the Austrian agreed on the guarantees that Balestre had apparently given. The team bosses explained the truce as a ‘freeze’ of negotiations and that the matter would be settled after the race. One way or the other, the drivers returned to the track just before 11 am and Friday’s first practice would be getting underway after all, with a one-hour qualifying session following in the afternoon. This was after a false start at 10.07 am when Jochen Mass took to the track in his March while being applauded by all the teams. When the news of the agreement arrived he was blackflagged back into the pits.

There were some ill feelings still to be sorted – Guerrero was stood down by Nunn while Piquet was forced to undergo a medical before being cleared to qualify. Tambay told Oliver he’d had enough and was retiring from F1. Brian Henton, who had been on hand all weekend if anyone would lose his drive, was quickly drafted in. Tambay remembered the drivers’ strike as the best time he had had in years but he wasn’t prepared to race without the practice time lost on Thursday, in a car that he didn’t like anyway because the ground effects were still there.

Furthermore, Tambay was among the few to realise that the team owners had been right about the ‘solution’ that was reached between Balestre and Pironi. He also saw another instance of Ecclestone siding with his former nemesis in his now all too apparent quest to gain total control of the sport. Having the drivers act like loose canons, ready for industrial action at the smallest sign of a threat to their position, wasn’t part of that scenario at all. Indeed, as soon as the race was over the suspensions were swiftly reinstated. Eventually the South African motorsport body announced that all 29 drivers present at the Sunnyside (except Mass and Fabi) would receive a fine of 10,000 dollar and a suspended two-race ban. For good measure, Balestre added the previous season’s Zolder driver briefing boycott to the crimes of some of the drivers, which meant they would be facing five-race bans. Of course, the drivers refused to pay and by means of retaliation formed the Professional Racing Drivers Association, still headed by Pironi but open to all professional drivers. It said to the FISA that racing drivers couldn’t be simply hassled around with.

Remarkably, FIA’s own Court of Appeal agreed. It criticised the FISA for its conduct for not allowing the drivers to have a say in matters that were affecting them directly and as a token of that point of view lowered the fines to 5,000 dollar and turned to the two-race ban into a suspended one-race ban. And so in the end the drivers were seen as winners after all, since the cancellation of the Argentinian GP allowed the matter to be dealt with in the FIA Court of Appeal before the start of the Brazilian GP. The court’s verdict led to the superlicense returning to its harmless form. After that, saving face was the thing to do and the best way to do it was to simply ignore questions and be silent about the entire affair.

So finally, some peace and quiet at the Brazilian GP? No way José. With the drivers issue out of way, this would be the FOCA teams’ last stand against the turbos and the manner in which they went about it was comfortably outdoing 1981’s hydropneumatic suspension – if not in ingenuity then certainly in deviousness.

The core to their solution was another loophole in the weight regulations. These stated that during the post-race scrutineering the car must be weighed with all coolants and lubricants on board. This was cleverly interpreted as these being needed to be topped up after the race. And if that was so, what if the cars used a lot of coolant during the race? Thus the water-cooled brakes were invented, and several of the FOCA teams appeared with them in Brazil. The brake cooling would be done during the first few laps of the race after which the cars would drop the fluids… to run underweight all race!

Although Rosberg had delivered a mammoth qualifying performance to line up third on the grid the rest of the atmo cars had been two seconds or more off the turbo’s pace. And even though it sent the Brazilian crowd into a frenzy it was peculiar to see Piquet quickly move up the field after three laps. And Villeneuve went off defending his slim lead, Piquet and Rosberg drove home a ‘FOCA one-two’, leading Prost in his turbo Renault by a massive 50 seconds. After the race, Ferrari and Renault duly protested the water tanks on the Williams and Brabhams. The protest was rejected by the stewards but that didn’t stop the two manufacturers – their appeal with the Brazilian federation would go the FISA court in Paris, where there would certainly be another home favourite.

It would be a while until the Paris ruling, however, which meant that Piquet would have wait until after the Long Beach GP whether he collapsed on the Jacarepagua podium for nothing or not. The old FISA vs FOCA antipathy was back to its old strength at the Californian event. And as soon as the Ferrari 126C2s were rolled into the pits, it was clear that it had gone into the ridiculous zone. The cars were sporting a double rear wing, not on top of each other, but side by side, one ahead of the other. It didn’t win any beauty prizes but that hadn’t been Ferrari’s intention. It wanted to show what would happen if the rules were interpreted according to the letter of the law instead of its spirit. With both wings being of a legal size and the rules not expressly forbidding the use of two rear wings, it looked like it was legal. Of course, for Ferrari’s point to come across its cars had to be disqualified and it seemed that the Italians were well prepared to run that risk. So here was the most famous Grand Prix team in history accepting the possible loss of a win or at least some World Championship points simply to make a statement. Insane…

It’s exactly what happened. Ferrari decided to run the double rear wing in the race and Gilles Villeneuve indeed brought his car home in third. Ken Tyrrell – who else? – protested it and Gilles was consequently disqualified.

It is unknown whether this episode affected the Court of Appeal’s judgement but when it spoke it was clear that the Cosworth teams had been reasoning to deaf ears. Both Brabham and Williams argued that there was nothing in the regulations that deemed the topping up of liquids illegal, thus making the practice legal. It was the ‘thus’ part that was thrown out by the court, along with the rest of the two teams’ appeal. The verdict resulted in Piquet and Rosberg being removed from the results of the Brazilian GP, with the rest of the finishers moving up two places in the order. Ironically, several other FOCA teams also running the controversial water tanks profited from this since they had been spared from being protested against.

To no one’s surprise the FOCA was livid with the Paris verdict, although it seemed entirably reasonable to others. The FOCA teams regrouped on the eve of the San Marino GP at Imola, which happened to be next on the F1 calendar, and came out with a postponement request. The argument was that they needed time to ponder the ramifications of the ruling. Of course, they well knew that Balestre would utter his usual ‘Non!’ but it was needed for the next step to surface without too many recriminations from the general public – they would boycott the San Marino GP, and for that matter all GPs following if needed, until the ruling was reversed.

The FOCA had used the boycott threat as a bargaining instrument on many occasions but until now never acted on it. This time, however, it was for real. There were no transporters coming over to Imola from the British Isles. Would it mean the end of the San Marino GP, as was indeed feared by the organisers? The FISA-aligned number of cars had slimmed down to a mere six in 1982 after Guy Ligier switched back camps to the FOCA. But help arrived from unexpected corners. New arrival Toleman wasn’t allowed to be a FOCA member yet and chose to go its own way. They were running a turbo car anyway, which is why the team had aligned itself with the FISA in 1981 while team boss Alex Hawkridge – being British – tried to act as a middle man between Balestre and Ecclestone.

Two continental Cosworth-powered teams, ATS and Osella, decided to race as well, ATS owner Günther Schmid stating at Imola that he didn’t see what he had gained from being a member of the Brit-centric FOCA organisation. That allowed the grid to swell to 12 cars. It was still one short. Some obscure paragraph of the sporting regulations stated that a Grand Prix would count towards the championship if it had at least half of the regular number of entries. With the field at 26 cars, 13 would be the minimum for allowing the San Marino GP to be points-paying race.

In the end, 14 cars started the race, effectively wiping out the effect of the FOCA boycott and giving its teams one race less against their turbo rivals. So who was the culprit? To everyone displeasure at FOCA it was Ken Tyrrell’s team. Tyrrell had been amongst the most vocal of FOCA members – an example of which we shall see later on – but he had also run sponsorless cars in the first three overseas races and was desperately short of cash. For Imola, he had picked up a two-race deal with Ceramiche Imola for his young Italian star, Michele Alboreto. He had also pinched the Candy sponsorship back from Toleman and the Italian electrical appliances firm loved to see the Tyrrell cars race at Imola. On the short term it looked like a wise business decision but it’s safe to say that Tyrrell will have regretted his move for years to come.

The Imola organisers weren’t pleased with a grid of 14 cars, and who would be, but the FISA showed how much power the organising clubs had lost since the new FIA F1 World Championship had replaced the old WDC. It simply said take it or leave it, and the Italians wisely decided to move ahead. At least they were in the knowledge that Ferrari would race, so not all would be lost. And even better for the tifosi, the race turned out a Ferrari benefit when the Renaults failed yet again.

However, what would not have been lost on the many Gilles fans present was the team-order ‘misunderstanding’ between the Canadian and his French team mate while cruising to a Maranello one-two. It would turn an already tense weekend at the next race at Zolder into one of anguish when Villeneuve became the victim of a true misunderstanding when he erroneously guessed that Jochen Mass would not be moving over for him on his banzai qualifying lap, as he tried to relieve Pironi from pole. The split-second decision would be fatal. Then, just over a month later at Montreal, Pironi stalled on the grid and young Riccardo Paletti got himself killed when he ran into the back of the Ferrari. Two deaths in a row.

Looking back people often wonder how this most vicious of FIASCO episodes simply petered out. Was it time that took care of it? Were the commercial interests just too big to continue this mid-season fight? Or did these two tragic fatalities create some sense in the big-headed minds of all involved?

We will never know for certain but the fact is that the war came to a halt at a moment when everyone was expecting it to heat up to temperatures hitherto unknown. It certainly appeared so during the post-Imola FIA meeting at Casablanca, announced by Balestre to discuss new regulations that appeared to do away with the Concorde Agreement. As could have been expected, these talks were postponed amidst vitriolic accusations of foul play coming from both sides. There was a huge amount of tantrum from the FOCA teams about the Brazil disqualifications, which they felt directly contravened the Concorde Agreement, but the commercial pressure to put on a show was just as huge. In the end, the FOCA teams gave in. They agreed to appear at Zolder with ‘ballasted’ cars while the Imola results were allowed to stand. What was left in the open was an agreement on what a car was allowed to weigh on various moments during a race weekend. The teams finally agreed on two additional measurements but that still meant that a car could be up to 12 kilos underweight simply due to component wear…

So yes, it might have been the acceptance of several faits accomplis, combined with the tragic reality of Grand Prix racing striking hard twice, that eventually dealt with the crisis. The month after Paletti’s horrible death several loose ends were wound up with nobody seemingly all too worried with the outcome. People simply had their minds somewhere else. In July came the final verdict on a protest – or is that counter protest? – lodged by Ken Tyrrell right after the Brazilian GP. The FIA Court of Appeal conveniently ignored ruling on it at the same time that it handled the Piquet and Rosberg appeals. But now, with the enemy on the verge of being counted out, it was ready to deal with this unfinished business. It seemed simple enough since Tyrrell had fathered a rather frivolous protest based on the premise that the 1.5-litre equivalency formula applied to supercharged engines only. In a sense he could have scored since a turbocharger is a very different animal compared to a less effective supercharger, which gives considerably less lag but a considerably smaller power hike as well. But Tyrrell didn’t follow that particular path. Instead he pointed to the turbine ban at the end of 1971, arguing that a turbo was a similar device, also revolving (excuse the pun) around a turbine spinning at a huge amount of revs. This was all nice and well as an experiment of thought but as a matter of fact there is as much similarity between a turbine and a turbocharger as there is between a turbocharger and a supercharger.

So it came as no surprise that the Court of Appeal threw out Tyrrell’s protest as being gratuitous. Apart from that, he was rather late with his protest – five years to be precise – while further irony was supplied by the fact that Tyrrell had been among the first to approach Renault for a supply of their turbo engines back in 1977. He was turned down then and would be punished again by becoming the last team to eventually get a turbo supply – by Renault… In a further twist, it was Tyrrell’s appearance at the San Marino GP, against FOCA’s will, that contributed towards the Renault supply being kept on hold when the FIASCO war long since over, as the new entente allowed Bernie Ecclestone to stretch his influence into the realm of the manufacturers. And that’s not to speak of the draconian punishment the Tyrrell team would endure in 1984 over their use of the infamous lead balls.

The summer of 1982 was all about joining instead of beating them. The FOCA teams had counted their blessings and decided that the only way forward was adapting to turbo engines themselves – if they hadn’t already. In fact, the team that usually led their FOCA allies in ‘technical innovation’ had been running a BMW turbo car since 1981…

The ranks were closed even further when the FISA decided to ban sixwheelers and 4WD as of 1983 – after they had been allowed back in less than a year before. This came after very successful Williams tests at Donington Park, where Keke Rosberg ran a modified twin-rear-axle FW08 (FW08D) to set stunning times. When Rosberg’s title challenge suddenly picked up pace after Pironi’s unfortunate exit from Grand Prix racing, the Renaults continued faltering and Watson’s run of five DNFs the Williams team stopped seeing the need for arguing too strongly with the FIA while the other teams were probably tired of someone moving the goal posts yet again. Furthermore, Williams were about to ‘sleep with the enemy’ too, having signed up with Honda for the Japanese manufacturer’s return to F1.