The desire to win races is something that shines through when you talk to F1 drivers. They all want to win. Being second is losing. And yet, there is one famous Grand Prix when no-one seemed able to win.
The Monaco Grand Prix of 1982 was so strange that if one wrote it as fiction, no-one would think it credible. It was, plain and simple, unbelievable.
The race meeting began only 10 days after the death of Gilles Villeneuve in qualifying for the Belgian GP at Zolder and Ferrari was still in a state of shock and arrived in Monaco with just one car, for Didier Pironi. In qualifying that year René Arnoux lapped the track in 1m23.281s, just over half a second faster than Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham-Cosworth, with Bruno Giacomelli’s V12 Alfa Romeo two-tenths behind, with Prost fourth in the second Renault turbo and Pironi fifth in the turbocharged Ferrari 126C2, with Keke Rosberg sixth in his Cosworth-powered Williams FW08.
The start at Monaco is often messy but in 1982 it was neat and tidy with Arnoux leading Giacomelli, Patrese and a slow-starting Prost. Alain quickly overtook the Brabham and when Giacomelli retired after just four laps with an axle problem, Prost was second and Renault had a 1-2. They were chinking glasses in the Renault hospitality until the 15th lap when Arnoux spun and stalled. Prost moved ahead with Patrese chasing him, keeping up the pressure. It was fairly stable race after that until rain began to fall lightly on the circuit in the last 12 laps of the race. Rosberg hit a barrier on lap 65 and his team-mate Derek Daly did similarly but managed to keep going, minus his rear wing, part of his front wing and leaking oil from a damaged gearbox.
Two laps from home Prost came through the chicane, the car snapped to the right and ploughed into the barrier, bouncing back across the track for a second impact before coming to rest back on the inside of the track. He hobbled away, having banged his legs inside the cockpit. Patrese, who had never won a race, came through into the lead, with two and a half laps to go. How could it possibly go wrong?
He set off on the last lap but as he headed down into the Loews Hairpin,the car slid sideways, spun around and stalled. The TV commentators were bouncing off the walls as well as Pironi took the lead, the Ferrari missing its nosecone. Also seemed to be well until he arrived at Tabac where a gaggle of lapped cars caught him and all went past before Sainte-Dévote. The Ferrari seemed slow as it climbed the hill, but it was still about 10 seconds clear of de Cesaris’s Alfa Romeo. As the Ferrari came down the hill from Loews it was slower than ever. In fact, it was coasting. It was out of fuel and Pironi parked it in the tunnel.
The lead should then have gone to de Cesaris, but when the TV cameras found the Alfa Romeo it was stopped beside the track at the top of the hill, having run out of fuel as well. The driver was distraught. Everyone scrambled to figure out who was next. The TV cameras zoomed in on Daly just as he climbed from the battered Williams, his gearbox having died just before Tabac. This meant that the two Lotuses, two laps down, would finish 1-2 – if they could make it to the finish line. Elio de Angelis was leading at that point, but would be overtaken in those confused final minutes by Nigel Mansell. This was overlooked by many as Patrese suddenly appeared at the final corner and took the chequered flag. His Brabham had been pointing out into the road in the middle of the Loews Hairpin and the marshals arrived and pushed the Brabham to get it out of the way. It was downhill from there and Patrese realised that he might be able to bump-start the stalled car. It worked but he was beside himself, thinking he had thrown away his first F1 victory. He did not see Pironi’s car parked in the tunnel. He had no idea he had won the race. Mansell and de Angelis eventually came round but they had finished only 74 laps, whereas Pironi and de Cesaris had each done 75. So the Ferrari driver was classified second, with de Cesaris third, Mansell fourth and de Angelis fifth. Daly was given sixth.