1982 Canadian Grand Prix flashback
Young Italian racer Riccardo Paletti, making only his second F1 start, was killed when he crashed into Didier Pironi’s Ferrari at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix.
The recovery effort was hampered by an inferno which erupted moments after the crash. Paletti later succumbed to the injuries he suffered in the initial impact.
After the race was restarted, Nelson Piquet scored the first win for BMW’s turbo engine. But the second F1 fatality in consecutive months plunged the sport deeper into gloom.
“It won’t be the same without Gilles”
The circuit on the Isle Notre Dame was held the Canadian Grand Prix for the fifth time in 1982. But it was missing the crowd’s local hero. Following the death of Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder a few weeks earlier, the track had been renamed after him.
Race organiser Normand Legault did not attempt to disguise the effect Villeneuve’s death would have on the race. “Let’s not kid ourselves: this race won’t be the same without Gilles,” he told the Montreal Gazette.
“He was always successful here and always put on superb battles here. It certainly won’t be the same because of the spectacular aspect of his driving.”
Villeneuve’s absence was also felt in the Ferrari pit, where the team were starting their third race with just a single entry for Didier Pironi. They had already confirmed Patrick Tambay would fill Villeneuve’s vacant seat after the Canadian race.
Pironi, whose actions in the San Marino Grand Prix caused some him to blame him, indirectly, for Villeneuve’s death, kept a low profile. At first he made few public statements at all.
But after claiming pole position for the race he tearfully addressed the media. He “appeared anguished, almost distressed” remembered Maurice Hamilton.
“It is my first pole position for Ferrari,” Pironi began, “and it gives me great pleasure to win it on the circuit bearing the name of the man who was not only my team mate but also my friend.”
“And I dedicate this achievement to him because I know that, if he had still been amongst us, he would have been on pole.”
But in a brutal irony, Pironi was involved in another tragedy on race day.
The Grand Prix had been moved from its usual September date to June. This, it was hoped, might mean the race would be held in better conditions than the pouring rain of the previous year’s race, or the deep chill that greeted teams for the track’s first Grand Prix in 1978.
It didn’t quite work out that way. The weather was unseasonably cool, though that proved good news for those running turbo engines. The track, though twistier than it is today, demanded good power and acceleration, which the turbos offered in spades.
The majority of teams were still using Ford-Cosworth V8 engines. But the move towards turbo power was spreading: Renault were in their sixth year of racing with the technology, Ferrari their second and making great strides.
Brabham’s association with BMW had got off to a faltering start. The unreliable cars had been kept away from some races until BMW demanded their attendance. In the previous round at Detroit world champion Nelson Piquet failed to qualify his turbo car.
For Canada Brabham again fielded cars in two different configurations: Piquet had the newer BT50 with a BMW turbo while Riccardo Patrese continued to campaign the Cosworth-powered BT49D.
The only other turbo runners didn’t even make it to the race: Toleman’s transporter had been involved in a crash after the Monaco Grand Prix, damaging their race cars, forcing them to skip the North American double-header.
But it was a Cosworth pilot who led the championship. McLaren’s John Watson had sensationally won in Detroit from 17th on the grid, taking the lead from Pironi by six points.
Alain Prost was third for Renault, who had shown excellent performance but dismal reliability. He had also thrown away a potential win at Monaco, and was still limping from his crash late in that race.
Fistfight in the pits
Pole position was contested solely by the turbo-powered teams, and won easily by Pironi. Using an updated 126C2 he set his pole position time without needing to the faster qualifying tyres.
The battle for the final places on the grid was just as fierce. Even with Toleman’s absence there was only room on the grid for 26 of the 29 drivers present.
One of those who failed to make the cut was Chico Serra, driving the sole Fittipaldi entry. On Friday he angrily confronted Raul Boesel, who he believed had held him up, and a fight broke out between the pair in the pit lane. (Warning: the full version of the video below includes footage of Paletti’s crash):
Serra’s miserable weekend ended on Friday when a fuel line fire on his car left him unable to qualify.
1982 Canadian Grand Prix grid
The four turbo-powered cars occupied the first two rows of the grid. Behind Pironi were the two Renaults, Rene Arnoux ahead of Prost.
Piquet may have been last of the quartet but fourth on the grid was a considerable improvement over not starting at all.
Bruno Giacomelli’s V12-engined Alfa Romeo took fifth while Watson led the Cosworth runners.
Along with Serra, Manfred Winkelhock also failed to make the cut in the ATS. During practice he incurred the wrath of some of his rivals including Eddie Cheever, who he blocked, and Arnoux, who he collided with.
|Row 1||1. Didier Pironi 1’27.509
|2. Rene Arnoux 1’27.895
|Row 2||3. Alain Prost 1’28.563
|4. Nelson Piquet 1’28.663
|Row 3||5. Bruno Giacomelli 1’28.740
|6. John Watson 1’28.822
|Row 4||7. Keke Rosberg 1’28.874
|8. Riccardo Patrese 1’28.999
|Row 5||9. Andrea de Cesaris 1’29.183
|10. Elio de Angelis 1’29.228
|Row 6||11. Niki Lauda 1’29.544
|12. Eddie Cheever 1’29.590
|Row 7||13. Derek Daly 1’29.883
|14. Nigel Mansell 1’30.048
|Row 8||15. Michele Alboreto 1’30.146
|16. Marc Surer 1’30.518
|Row 9||17. Mauro Baldi 1’30.599
|18. Jean-Pierre Jarier 1’30.717
|Row 10||19. Jacques Laffite 1’30.946
|20. Roberto Guerrero 1’31.235
|Row 11||21. Raul Boesel 1’31.759
|22. Jochen Mass 1’31.861
|Row 12||23. Riccardo Paletti 1’31.901
|24. Eliseo Salazar 1’32.203
|Row 13||25. Geoff Lees 1’32.205
|26. Brian Henton 1’32.325
Did not qualify:
Manfred Winhkelhock, ATS-Ford – 1’32.359
Emilio de Villota, March – 1’34.045
Chico Serra, Fittipaldi – 1’37.678
Paletti makes the cut
Among those who did reach the final 26 was Ricardo Paletti. The Osella driver qualified for the third time, and this would be his first start on a full grid.
The 23-year-old had begun racing just four years earlier. In 1981 sponsors Pioneer helped him into a Formula 2 March run by Onyx. He placed second in two of the first three races of the year, but his season tailed off after that with no further points scores.
His backers were keen for him to move up to F1 for 1982, and he secured a place with Osella. In his first six races he only qualified at Imola, and that was because a strike meant there were only 14 cars on the grid.
He qualified in Detroit but did not start after damaging his chassis in a practice crash. Canada was to be his first F1 start on a full grid.
Pironi stalls, Paletti crashes
In 1982 the grid and start/finish line was at the exit of the final hairpin, followed by a series of fast curves which are no longer part of the track. Pole position was on the right-hand side of the track.
Two years earlier at the same track, Pironi had received a one-minute time penalty for jumping the start. Well aware that such a severe penalty was likely if he repeated the offence, Pironi was mindful of not getting away too quickly as the cars lined to take the start.
But once again his clutch began to creep. This time the revs dropped too low and the engine died – just as the lights were changing.
Arnoux sprinted off into the lead while Prost dodged around the Ferrari. Watson did likewise, Mansell only just spotting the move in time to take evasive action.
Paletti started on the same side of the grid as Pironi, back on the 12th row. Car after car in front of him dodged left to avoid the stationary Ferrari.
The last of them was Boesel, and he was travelling so quickly he clipped Pironi’s left-rear wheel, breaking the suspension on his March. “When I saw Pironi in my front there was no time to change direction,” he said.
By the time Paletti was upon the Ferrari he had reached 10,500rpm in third gear and was doing up to 120mph. The Osella struck the car with such force it launched Pironi down the track, striking Lees’ Theodore.
The unhurt Pironi was the first man on the scene, followed quickly by Professor Sid Watkins and his medical team. But Watkins had barely enough time to inspect Paletti’s eyes and insert an airway into his mouth before the the Osella erupted in flames.
The impact had damaged the fuel tank on FA1C, and the petrol leaked and ignited causing an inferno. Marshals were quickly on the scene with fire extinguishers, and Paletti suffered no burns from the fire, but the process of extracting him from the shattered car was delayed while the conflagration was doused.
As the flames died down the rescue team saw the extent of the damage to the Osella. The front of the car was crushed, Paletti’s legs rammed into his chest. It took almost half an hour to remove him from the car, and though he was rushed to hospital, he died later that day.
The cars formed up on the grid for a second time two hours after the original start. The long delay meant many fans at the track missed some or all of the race.
The start of the race had already been put back from 2pm to 4:15pm at short notice to fit TV schedules. The restart was after 6pm, and with local Metro drivers on strike many spectators had no choice but to leave early to ensure they could get home.
Osella withdrew its other car belonging to Jean-Pierre Jarier, and Lees also missed the restart as Theodore had no replacement car.
Mercifully, there was no incident at the second start, and Pironi took the lead. But it was to prove short-lived.
Pironi’s damaged car had been the only only example with the team’s new pull-rod suspension. Having reverted to the heavier rocker arm version he struggled in the race, losing the lead to Arnoux at the start of lap two. Prost and Piquet demoted him on the next lap, and thereafter he continued to fall back.
Arnoux had the lead but Piquet was gaining quickly. He passed Prost on lap two and by lap eight he was on the tail of the other Renault. He got alongside as they headed into the fast right-left sweep after the pits and was through into the lead.
Halfway through the race Renault were plunged into despair as both their cars retired. Still holding second, Arnoux spun to a stop halfway around the track and couldn’t restart. Two laps later Prost was out with yet more engine trouble.
As was often the case in 1982, the Cosworth runners profitted from the demise of the turbos. Riccardo Patrese took up second in the other Brabham, followed by Andrea de Cesaris, Eddie Cheever, John Watson and Derek Daly.
Bruno Giacomelli and Nigel Mansell had retired at the hairpin on lap two: Giacomelli had been heading for the pits but his early deceleration caught out those behind him. Daly scraped past but Mansell hit the back of the Alfa Romeo.
Mansell’s arm got caught in the spokes of his steering wheel during the crash. The bone was fractured, forcing him to miss the next race.
Three weeks earlier in Monaco the race had ended in sensational fashion as several front-runners retired in the final laps. A minor repeat followed in Canada involving some of the same drivers: Cheever, de Cesaris and Daly all parked up in the final laps, their teams having underestimated their fuel needs at the track.
That promoted Watson onto the podium ahead of Elio de Angelis and Marc Surer, while de Cesaris’s late breakdown allowed him to hold onto a point for sixth.
On the flipside of this was Brian Henton, who was still running at the end but hadn’t completed enough laps to be classified. He went off early in the race and climbed out of his car, which was lifted back onto the track by a crane. Incredibly, he then got back in his car and continued, perhaps inspiring Lewis Hamilton’s antics at the Nurburgring 25 years later.
1982 Canadian Grand Prix result
|4||11||Elio de Angelis||Lotus-Ford||69||1 lap|
|5||29||Marc Surer||Arrows-Ford||69||1 lap|
|6||22||Andrea de Cesaris||Alfa Romeo||68||2 laps||Out of fuel|
|7||5||Derek Daly||Williams-Ford||68||2 laps||Out of fuel|
|8||30||Mauro Baldi||Arrows-Ford||68||2 laps|
|9||28||Didier Pironi||Ferrari||67||3 laps|
|10||25||Eddie Cheever||Ligier-Matra||66||4 laps||Out of fuel|
|11||17||Jochen Mass||March-Ford||66||4 laps|
|4||Brian Henton||Tyrrell-Ford||59||Not classified|
|26||Jacques Laffite||Ligier-Matra||8||Fuel system|
|23||Bruno Giacomelli||Alfa Romeo||1||Accident|
Safety advances since Paletti’s death
Paletti’s crash, and that involving Siegfried Stohr and Riccardo Patrese at Zolder the year before, led to changes in F1 start procedure to reduce the risk when a car failed to start.
At Brazil in 1984, de Cesaris became stranded on the grid, unable to select a gear. The start of the race was delayed while his car was moved out of the way. Today it is well-established that the start is not given if a car stops on the grid, and races in wet weather are started behind the safety car because of the heightened risk at the start in poor visibility.
The extent of the damage to Paletti’s Osella showed what little protection drivers had from front impacts. One of the most significant advances in this area had already been made with the introduction of a full carbon-fibre chassis by McLaren.
Watson had emerged unscathed from a high-speed crash at Monza the year before. In 1982, Osella were one of several teams still using a sandwich aluminium construction.
Stricter crash-tests have since made this area of the car far stronger. In 2007, 25 years after Pironi’s crash, Robert Kubica survived a 230kph (142.9mph) impact with a solid wall at the same circuit.
Piquet handed Villeneuve trophy
Piquet’s win, his first since winning the 1981 world championship, made him the sixth different winner in the first eight races of the year. Watson retained his championship lead ahead of Pironi, with Patrese moving up to third.
At the halfway point in the season the man who went on to claim the title, Keke Rosberg, was fifth. He had an anonymous race, running eighth before his gearbox failed.
After a difficult start to the year. Brabham finally scored their first win with BMW. Patrese made it a one-two with the Cosworth-powered car, giving a rare one-two finish for the same team albeit with different chassis and engines.
On the podium, Piquet was handed the race winner’s trophy. Like the track, it was also named after Gilles Villeneuve. From the start of the race to its end, death cast a shadow over the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix.
Grand Prix flashback
- Today in 1973: Last-lap heartbreak in first Swedish GP
- 25 years ago today: Senna’s first win for McLaren
- Today in 1993: Senna’s last great race at Donington
- Today in 1953: Peron’s Grand Prix ends in carnage
- 20 years ago today: Mansell finally wins the title
Image © Philip Kozloff