Classic Williams Races

1982 Brazilian Grand Prix

There was a time, many moons ago, when Formula 1 allowed, nay rewarded true innovation.

Twenty six cars would line up on the grid on a Sunday afternoon, each one had its own unique design philosophy and a look so distinct that if the cars were all painted white, you could identify which was which.

As a result of this, loopholes – not strictly illegal, but not necessarily in the spirit of the rules either – regularly appeared for engineers to exploit.

One such occasion came in preparation for the 1982 Formula 1 season, when the naturally aspirated Ford DFV powered non-works constructor teams: Williams, Brabham, McLaren and Lotus, in search of a way to match their turbocharged counterparts Renault and Ferrari, found a cunning way of reducing the weight of their cars in race trim whilst ensuring they were found to meet the minimum weight criteria when in scrutineering.

What resulted was one of the most infamous controversies in F1 history.

Colin Chapman of Lotus, for three decades the source of much of F1’s innovation (and controversy) came up with the idea of adding a reserve water tank to his cars under the pretence of brake cooling, which, when filled would take his cars over the minimum weight limit.

Mid-race, the water in these tanks would be jettisoned making the cars significantly lighter and quicker, before the tanks were replenished prior to being weighed post-race making them once again compliant.

This practice would ultimately determine the result of the 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix at Jarepagua, and sadly not in Williams’ et-al’s favour.

In a demonstration of just how powerful the turbo engines had become, Alain Prost, in his Renault turbo qualified in pole, some six seconds faster than Nelson Piquet‘s pole position at the same event the year before.

Keke Rosberg qualified his Williams FW07 third behind a turbo-powered lockout of the front row with Prost’s Renault on pole and the Ferrari of Villeneuve alongside him.

Slipping back to fourth off the start, Rosberg then lost another couple of places to the Brabhams of Piquet and team-mate Riccardo Patrese making him sixth before their cunning plan kicked in.

Race leader Villeneuve spun out on lap 30 allowing Piquet and Rosberg into first and a close second respectively, where they’d remain until the chequered flag.

After the 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix, FISA (now the FIA) discovered about the water tank trick and disqualified Rosberg and Piquet, handing the win to Prost and Jean Marie Balestre, then president of FISA would, not for the last time, be accused of bias towards his  countryman Prost.

As a result of their outrage at their (according to them) draconian punishment, the British constructor teams boycotted the following Grand Prix in San Marino (another controversy-packed race), but it was to no avail and Prost’s win stood.

Largely thanks to Renault’s heinous reliability and the tragedy that befell Ferrari when first Villeneuve was killed in Zolder and Didier Pironi, Ferrari’s second driver suffered a career ending injury half a dozen races later, Williams put to bed any lingering regret about the Brazilian Grand Prix debacle when Rosberg secured the World Championship at the last race of the year making him Finland’s first F1 champ, and helping Williams to their fourth world title.

Categories: Races


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