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Strike-breaker?

NEWS STORY
29/06/2006

At a time when many of us are remembering the shambles that was Indianapolis 2005, it's worth looking back to another race that almost never happened.

The first round of the 1982 Formula One World Championship was the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami.

Although there were thirty-one entries for the race, with teams such as Alfa-Romeo, Arrows, ATS, Brabham, Ensign, Fittipaldi, Ligier, Lotus, March, Osella, Theodore, Toleman and Tyrrell, in addition to teams still contesting F1 24 years later, Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Williams, there were no drivers... for they were on strike.

At the root of the problem was a new form that drivers had to sign in order to obtain their superlicence, which effectively bound drivers to their team. This followed a messy legal battle that occurred when Alain Prost left McLaren for Renault at the end of 1981. On the new form, the driver had to note the exact date on which his contract with his team ran out, consequently he was committed to said team exclusively until that date. A further clause asking drivers to agree not to do anything which would harm the image of F1 didn't exactly help matters.

As the start of the first official practice session drew near, team bosses grew concerned at the fact that their drivers were missing, though there was great relief when one of the Lotus' fired up. Sadly, it was not Elio de Angelis, but a cheeky mechanic wearing the Italian's overall and helmet.

Indeed, at the time practice should have been taking place almost all the drivers were in a bus en-route to a hotel almost twenty miles away, where they would hole up overnight as negotiations took place.

The drivers, led by Didier Pironi, were adamant and were refusing to take part in the practice sessions, far less race. On the other side, the man negotiating with them, and largely responsible for the mess, was FISA President, Jean-Marie Balestre, a man not known for his diplomacy.

Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone was far from amused and threatened to fire his drivers, Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese, while Nikki Lauda (McLaren), back after having retired at the end of 1979, had booked the bus and organised the hotel, as organised as ever.

During the night, as negotiations continued, and numerous drivers considered going over the wall, the drivers entertained themselves, demonstrating that they had other talents in addition to race car mastery.

Most notably, Elio de Angelis and Gilles Villeneuve played piano, the Italian mostly classical, while the Canadian some pop and Scott Joplin.

In the end, the situation was resolved and the race went ahead, with Alain Prost winning from Carlos Reuteman and Rene Arnoux.

Now try to imaging if such a thing should happen today.

Try, if you can, to imagine Bernie's reaction... think of the threats that Max would come up with.

Then again, try to imagine the drivers, most of whom don't seem to get on very well, spending most of their time stabbing one another - even teammates - in the back, uniting as one. Who would they appoint as spokesman?

Imagine Flavio or Ron as their cars sit idle in their garages.

Putting all that aside, try to imagine all the drivers holed up in a hotel room... as Jacques Villeneuve remembers a time when all this happened once before. He reaches for his acoustic guitar and plays the opening chords to 'Accepterais-tu?'

In moments the room clears... the strike is over.

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