Niki is back!
Long Beach, US Grand Prix West 1982. In Saturday’s qualifying, the cars running on Michelin tires had clearly the edge on the ones in Goodyear.
Niki Lauda (picture above), in his third race with McLaren since returning from a self-imposed two-year retirement, had noticed during Friday practice that the harder compound was actually faster than the qualifiers. Seeing this development, the Austrian intentionally used only one set of tires on Saturday and kept a fresh one for Sunday’s race.
Lauda topped the charts through almost the entire session, but after crashing into a wall early on, Andrea de Cesaris (picture below) threw his Alfa Romeo around to best Lauda’s time by 0.12 of a second. It was the Italians first pole position (his only pole in 208 career starts), and he was (understandably) ecstatic.
Lauda meanwhile, satisfied with second place on the grid, knew he had a fresh set of tires for the race, while de Cesaris did not. The Italian led the race till lap 15, with Lauda behind him, when he was held by Boesel’s March, as he came to lap him.
This gave Niki the momentum he needed to sweep by into the lead at the end of the straight, and the Austrian immediately began to pull away.
On lap 30, de Cesaris’ Alfa Romeo developed brake problems and he decided to be happy with second position. Apparently distracted by smoke coming out of the engine compartment, the Italian lost concentration and hit the wall on lap 34.
Niki Lauda (picture above) managed his fresher tires perfectly and came home nearly 15 sec ahead of Keke Rosberg (Williams) and more than a minute ahead of Riccardo Patrese (Brabham).
Picture below: Andrea de Cesaris (Alfa Romeo) dices with Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham, before taking the first and only pole position of his career.