A Short View Back to the Past: The 1982 F1 Season

The 1982 F1 Season was one for the history books. ATRL’s Aino Ylitalo breaks down the turbulent season in these historical flashbacks.

Written by Aino Ylitalo

August 25, 2021

1982 Season Notes:

Tyre Manufacturers: Avon, Goodyear, Michelin, and Pirelli.  
Engine Suppliers: Ferrari, Hart, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Cosworth, Renault, and Matra.
Teams: Ferrari, McLaren-Ford, Renault, Williams-Ford, Lotus-Ford,
Tyrrell-Ford, Brabham-BMW, Talbot Ligier-Matra, Brabham-Ford,
Alfa Romeo, Arrows-Ford, ATS-Ford, Osella-Ford, Fittipaldi-Ford,
March-Ford, Ensign-Ford, Toleman-Hart, and Theodore-Ford

Niki Lauda’s first win for McLaren at the United States Grand Prix West, 1982 (Photo via McLaren)

While F1 is on the summer break, many have been going back and rewatching some of the best seasons. One of the best and most turbulent eras of the sport was the 80s. F1 was very different then, from one win champions to driver strikes; this era of Formula 1 honestly had it all. We’ve compiled some of the most historic moments here. 


The One Win Champion of 1982

The 1982 F1 season saw the first-ever Finnish driver claim the world title in Keijo Erik “Keke” Rosberg. He was born on the 6th of December in Solna, Sweden, and quickly took an interest in motorsport as his father competed in Finish rallying. Keke started karting at a young age and moved to single-seaters around the age of 17. After years of competing in single-seater racing, he finally made his F1 debut at 30 in 1978. 


His F1 career will forever be remembered by his 1982 championship win, where he beat runner-up Didier Pironi by a mere 5 points. Pironi suffered a big crash in the German Grand Prix, which caused him to miss the last 5 rounds of the season and ultimately stopped his racing career completely. Much different than today, there were 18 teams and 40 drivers that season, with Ferrari ultimately taking the constructors’ title. Rosberg is the second driver in history to win the championship with only one GP victory in said season. In the 16 rounds of the 1982 season, 11 different drivers won a race. The Swiss Grand Prix was Rosberg’s only win. During that season, he got 5 other podiums, with 3 retirements and one disqualification. 


After quitting F1 in 1986, Rosberg drove in the 24 Hours of Spa, the World Supercar Series, and DTM. He retired conclusively and ended his racing career in 1995 with a few entries in arctic rallying as a pastime. He drove his final race to date in 2005 and eventually became a manager to some of the biggest names in F1, including Mika Häkkinen and his son Nico Rosberg. 


One could argue the name Rosberg is better known in relation to Keke’s son. Nico Rosberg famously won the 2016 F1 world championship after narrowly beating out Lewis Hamilton. His name will forever be associated with his intense and infamous rivalry with Hamilton, who was not only a teammate but a friend.

Villeneuve’s Run Cut Short

Gilles Villeneuve was one of the rising stars in F1 during the 80s. Villeneuve had been called “Canada’s first superstar of motorsport” on many occasions, and as the name suggests, he truly was a force to be reckoned with. Many say that Gilles was a future F1 world champion, and the statistics tell the same. Even Niki Lauda has said, “I think Gilles was the perfect racing driver. He had the best talent of all of us.” Unfortunately, tragedy struck, and Villeneuve’s chance for greatness never came. 


Gilles tragically died at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. A horrifying crash during the qualifying session left him severely injured, and he eventually succumbed to his injuries. Right before the crash, Villeneuve’s teammate Didier Pironi had set a time 0.1 second quicker than his. Their fierce rivalry led to Villeneuve pushing too hard in his final lap, and he, unfortunately, met his limit.  


Gilles is still remembered in the world of motorsport, having a chicane named after him in Imola, a “Sault Gilles” message on the start/finish line in Montreal, and even eventually having Montreal renamed to “Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.” All beautiful tributes to the great talent lost in 1982. 


Like the name Rosberg, Villeneuve also divides attention. Many dedicated fans think of Gilles immediately, but ultimately, his son Jacques brought the name to the books of world champions, finishing what his father had started after winning the 1997 season against F1 legend Michael Schumacher. 


Riccardo Paletti and the Heartbreak of the Canadian Grand Prix

Unfortunately for the sport, the death of Gilles Villeneuve wasn’t the only loss that was suffered during this season, with the former Alpine Skier Riccardo Paletti having a deadly crash at the Canadian Grand Prix that made his second F1 start his last. 


Pole-sitter Didier Pironi’s engine gave out on the starting grid because the wait for lights out was taking longer than usual. He raised his hand to signal there was a problem, but no yellow flags were waved. This led to a messy start, where all the drivers had to try and avoid his car. Paletti could not react fast enough, which led to him crashing into the rear of Pironi’s Ferrari at a 180 km/h speed. It is believed that he died from internal bleeding as the high impact crash broke his ribs, among other things.  


He was the second driver to pass away that season, only a few weeks after the tragedy of Gilles Villeneuve. He was the last F1 driver to die in a race until the 1994 season. Paletti is still remembered by the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti in Italy that was named in memory is of the 23-year-old racer.


1982 Drivers’ Strike

The drivers’ strike is probably one of the most memorable moments in F1 history. After the FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) introduced a new superlicense that could keep drivers at one team for up to 3 years, the drivers decided to protest. On the 20th of January 1982, during the South African Grand Prix in Kyalami, they all got together for what has become such a historic day. 


Niki Lauda and Didier Pironi were the leaders of the strike. Lauda dealt with the press, herded drivers, and wouldn’t take anything from anyone. Pironi, on the other hand, stayed at the track to negotiate a deal with the FISA about this new superlicense. On Thursday, the drivers took off together in a bus to stay at the Sunnyside Park Hotel. They locked themselves into a boardroom, and when no deal was reached, they elected to stay overnight. 

Like always in F1, the aftermath was messy. FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre lied to the drivers, saying that they wouldn’t face any punishment for the strike and that the new license would be forgotten as long as they agreed to race. Believing this, all the drivers returned to the track.  The race went smoothly with René Arnoux was unable to convert his pole to a victory, finishing 3rd with fellow Frenchman Alain Prost taking the victory with the late Carlos Reutemann rounding up the podium with his P2 finish. 


After the race, however, Balestre handed the drivers fines and suspended race bans as a punishment for their actions. The drivers luckily appealed the penalties, and all won their cases, with their fines reduced and race bans canceled. Most importantly, the superlicence was changed. You could say that it wasn’t just Alain Prost who won that day, but the whole paddock.  


My earliest memories of F1 were the Sundays I spent searching for the red Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen. I guess you could say I was one of the kids Enzo Ferrari used to talk about. The ones who always drew a red car.

I’m currently a student hoping to focus on management & media in the future. Outside of motorsport I take interest in watches and music.

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