The following drivers and constructors contested the 1983 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Williams retained defending world champion Keke Rosberg, but their number two seat, which had been occupied on a temporary basis by both Mario Andretti and Derek Daly in 1982 after the departure of Carlos Reutemann, was filled for 1983 by Ligier's Jacques Laffite. During the season Frank Williams signed an exclusive deal to use the turbocharged Honda V6 engines in his cars to replace the Cosworth DFV. Honda engines first appeared in the back of a Williams at the season ending South African Grand Prix.
Ligier also lost Eddie Cheever to Renault. Team boss Guy Ligier replaced them with Jean-Pierre Jarier, signed from Osella, and Raul Boesel, formerly of March. Jarier would gain a reputation through the season as a "mobile chicane". Ligier also lost the use of the V12 Matra engines and were forced to use the Cosworth DFV.
Osella filled Jarier's seat with Corrado Fabi, the younger brother of Teo Fabi, who had raced for Toleman in 1982. Fabi was joined by fellow Italian debutante Piercarlo Ghinzani, who filled the seat which had been vacant since Riccardo Paletti's death in Canada.
The March team united with RAM Racing and became RAM March. As well as Boesel, Rupert Keegan was also replaced by the team, who shrunk to just one car, for Eliseo Salazar of ATS. The German team were also reduced to one car, run for Manfred Winkelhock who had driven alongside Salazar in 1982.
Tyrrell kept Michele Alboreto as their team leader after the Italian won for the first time at the last race of 1982. They replaced Brian Henton in the other car with 33-year-old American rookie Danny Sullivan.
The Brabham, McLaren and Lotus teams all retained both of their 1982 drivers – Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese for Brabham, John Watson and Niki Lauda with McLaren and Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell at Lotus. Late in the season McLaren would abandon the Cosworth DFV engine in favor of a 1.5 Litre, turbocharged V6 TAG engine.
Lotus would be without team founder Colin Chapman in 1983 after the legendary team boss's sudden death from a heart attack on 16 December 1982 at the age of 54. Chapman's right-hand man Peter Warr took over as team manager. Lotus would also change from using the Cosworth DFV engine to the turbocharged Renault engine during the season after Chapman had secured use of the French engines in late 1982.
Renault held on to team leader Alain Prost but lost René Arnoux to Ferrari, and poached Cheever from Ligier to replace him (the rumor mill was that Renault wanted to sell more cars in North America and signing Phoenix native Cheever to the factory team was a good promotional tool as there were 2 races in the United States and one in Canada). Alfa Romeo also kept their team leader, Andrea de Cesaris, but replaced Bruno Giacomelli with Mauro Baldi, signed from Arrows. Alfa had also moved into turbocharging with the 890T V8 engine replacing the V12 it had used for the previous four seasons.
Arrows replaced Baldi with Chico Serra, signed from the remnants of the now defunct Fittipaldi team, while Marc Surer remained as the lead driver. Serra was replaced by 1980 World Champion Alan Jones in Long Beach (Jones also raced for the team in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch). Serra lasted only three more races before he was released from the team after Monaco. He was replaced by Belgian driver Thierry Boutsen who made his F1 début in front of his home crowd at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix.
Ferrari retained Patrick Tambay, who had replaced Gilles Villeneuve after his death in Belgium, but Mario Andretti as a replacement for the injured Didier Pironi was never a permanent solution (in a 2012 Grand Prix Legends interview, Alan Jones revealed that Ferrari had initially contacted him to replace Pironi, but that he regretfully gave them the run around, remembering that Ferrari had gone back on an agreed contract back in 1977. Instead Ferrari signed Andretti. As Jones was looking to make a full-time comeback to F1 in 1983 its likely that as a former World Champion driver with 12 Grand Prix wins to his credit, Ferrari would have retained the Australian for the 1983 season had he signed in 1982). Instead the second Ferrari seat was filled by Tambay's fellow Frenchman, the fast and talented René Arnoux who had defected from Renault.
Theodore broke the trend by expanding from one car to two, but Tommy Byrne, the last of four drivers to drive their car in 1982, was not retained and the seats were filled with two South Americans. Débutante Venezuelan ex-Grand Prix motorcycle World Champion Johnny Cecotto was joined by Colombian Roberto Guerrero, a refugee from the defunct Ensign outfit. Ensign was absorbed by Theodore. The Ensign N181Bs were modified to comply with the new rules and rebadged as "Thedore N183s". The team principal Mo Nunn and the designer Nigel Bennett became manager and technical director of Theodore.
Toleman, meanwhile, retained Derek Warwick as their lead driver, but replaced Teo Fabi (who was racing IndyCars) with ex-McLaren and Alfa Romeo driver Bruno Giacomelli.
The South African Grand Prix which had started the 1982 season had been moved to the end of the year, and so the season began in Brazil. At the Jacarepagua Riocentro Autodrome in Rio de Janeiro, defending champion Keke Rosberg did something he had done only once in 1982 and took pole position for the race. However, his race gradually deteriorated from there as he lost the lead early on to Nelson Piquet and then caught fire during his pitstop. With the fire extinguished, the Finn valiantly fought his way back from ninth to finish second behind Piquet, but was subsequently disqualified for receiving a push start in the pits. This left an unprecedented situation, as the organisers decided not to award second to Niki Lauda, who finished third, as was convention, but to leave the position vacant. As such, only five drivers scored points, and other than Piquet and Lauda, these were Rosberg's teammate Jacques Laffite, whose presence in fourth was a surprise given his 18th place grid slot. Ferrari had a difficult race and had a best finish of only fifth with Patrick Tambay, who had started a promising third. The final point went to Marc Surer, whose charge from 20th was equally as impressive as Laffite's, and could well be attributed to his magnificent start, which left him 14th at the end of the first lap.
The next race was the first of two to be held in the USA, the popular United States Grand Prix West, held at Long Beach, California near the sprawling Hollywood-dominated landscape of Los Angeles. The circuit had been changed for the second time in 2 years- in addition to some corners added and the run up to the Le Gasomet Hairpin shortened, the slight climb up to Ocean Boulevard had been eliminated, and the parallel Seaside Way was used instead. Tambay started the race from pole, and he led until lap 25 from Rosberg, who had made easy work early in the race of both the other Ferrari of René Arnoux and his own teammate. With all of the top six in very close attendance, Rosberg found that he had to pass Tambay or else be passed by Laffite. In a moment of desperation, the Finn charged down the inside of the Ferrari and put both cars into a spin. Tambay was out on the spot, while Rosberg was able to continue, relatively undamaged, and in the lead. However, this did not last long, as Laffite, now even closer than before, attempted to pass his teammate later on the same lap. His attempt punted Rosberg into the wall, and he too was out. Jean-Pierre Jarier's Ligier was also caught up in the trouble, and he was forced into retirement a lap later. Laffite, meanwhile, was able to continue in the lead, and was left to battle with Riccardo Patrese for the victory. However, by the time the race reached lap 40, the McLaren pair of John Watson and Niki Lauda were looking extremely dangerous, despite having started from 22nd and 23rd on the grid. Both Laffite and Patrese were struggling with worn tyres, and were being caught at a vast rate of knots by the McLarens. Patrese attempted to pass Laffite on lap 44 but slid wide, and was passed by both McLarens. They also both found a way past Laffite on the next lap. From there Watson was left to lead home his teammate for a 1–2 victory, and one that still stands as the most places climbed from a lowly grid position to win the race. Patrese looked as though he would hold on for third, but an engine failure three laps from home gifted this position to Arnoux, with Laffite following home, a lap down in fourth. The points were rounded out by Surer, consistent in his Arrows, and the presence of Johnny Cecotto's Theodore. Chico Serra had been booted out of the second Arrows in order to give a chance to 1980 world champion Alan Jones, but the Australian's return to F1 was unsuccessful, and Serra would be back in the car for the next race.
Unfortunately, this was the last time Formula One would race in Long Beach- the event was too expensive to run and the CART IndyCar series was seen as a cheaper alternative, and this series would run at Long Beach from 1984 onwards.
As the F1 circus headed to Europe, Lauda led the championship despite not having yet won a race. The two winners, Piquet and Watson, were joint second, just one point behind. This meant that McLaren held a commanding lead in the Constructors' Championship, ten points ahead of Brabham.
The only driver change for the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit near Marseille was at RAM, who decided to run a second car for local boy Jean-Louis Schlesser, just for his home race. The Frenchman failed to qualify. This race was being held in mid-April instead of its usual early July date, in order to avoid the southern French summer heat- which was a real problem during last year's race. To the great delight of the French fans, the race was dominated by another home favorite Alain Prost. The French hero took pole position, victory and fastest lap and led all but three laps of the race. These three were led by Piquet during the pitstops, and he eventually finished second to reclaim his championship lead. Eddie Cheever came home third in the second Renault to complete a brilliant day for the home fans. Tambay was fourth in front of his home crowd, and Rosberg finally managed to get some points on the board with fifth place, followed home by teammate Laffite. Piquet now led the championship by five points from Lauda, with Watson and Prost just one further point behind. McLaren's lead in the Constructors' Championship had been severely narrowed by their failure to score, and Brabham were now just four points behind, with Renault also in close attendance.
The San Marino Grand Prix was much better than the previous year's race, a farcical result of the FISA–FOCA war. In 1983, all the teams were present, but it was still Ferrari that were most at home in their own back yard, and Arnoux took pole, to the delight of the fans. Even better, Tambay surged up from the second row to join him at the head of the pack in the opening laps. The delight for Ferrari was short lived, however, as a local driver, Riccardo Patrese, fought past them both to put his Brabham in the lead. Despite the best efforts of first Arnoux and then Tambay after they swapped places during the pitstops, he stayed there. However, on lap 34, Tambay finally found a way past, and he remained in the lead until the chequered flag, giving Ferrari a win on home ground. Patrese looked set to come home second, but more wretched luck saw him fail to finish once again after an accident in the closing stages. To add to the Italian heartbreak, Prost passed Arnoux in the last five laps to prevent a Ferrari 1–2 finish. Arnoux came home third, however, to make it an all-French podium, leading home the last points scorers: Rosberg, Watson and Surer yet again. Piquet's failure to score due to an engine failure, an all too common occurrence for the Brabham-BMWs, meant that he and Prost were now tied at the top of the standings with Tambay only one point behind. The McLaren pair of Watson and Lauda were also in close attendance. Ferrari seized the lead in the Constructors' Championship, but were only separated from McLaren and Renault by a total of three points. Brabham's inconsistency saw them slip to fourth, some way behind.
Prost took his second pole of the year in Monaco, almost a second home race for the high number of French drivers in the field. Arnoux completed an all French front row. However, both were passed at the start by a fast starting Keke Rosberg who despite the damp track took the gamble of starting on slicks while those around him were either on full wets or intermediate tyres, and as Prost dropped back through the field after a few laps the Finn was left with no serious challengers. Despite the rain, and multiple collisions further down the field, the most notable victim being Arnoux early on, the race was somewhat uneventful for the leaders, and Rosberg led every lap to record his first victory of the year. Jacques Laffite had looked set to record a Williams 1–2, but a gearbox failure continued the Frenchman's run of bad luck. This gave the two remaining podium spots to Piquet and Prost, allowing Piquet to open up a two-point lead in the championship. Tambay was fourth, ahead of Danny Sullivan's Tyrrell and Mauro Baldi's Alfa Romeo, neither of whom were frequent visitors to the points. Patrese's bad luck also continued, as he suffered from an electrics problem ten laps from home. Prost remained second in the championship, with Tambay only two further points behind. Rosberg's victory moved him up to fourth, while Ferrari retained their lead in the Constructors' Championship, two points ahead of Renault, who were in turn two points ahead of Brabham, McLaren and Williams, all on 21.
Formula One returned to an place that had a reputation for speed: the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in southern Belgium. This was the first time Spa had hosted a Grand Prix since 1970; although the circuit had been shortened in 1979 to 4.3 miles (7 km) from 8.7 miles (14 km) and had been made a lot safer than its extremely fast original version but had still managed to retain the fast, flowing nature of the old circuit. Zolder and Nivelles had hosted the Belgian Grand Prix for most of the 1970s and early 1980s. Prost took pole yet again at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, although his qualifying performances were not reflected in his points tally at that point in the season. Andrea de Cesaris leapt into a surprise lead from the second row of the grid, and spent the first twenty laps pulling away from Prost, and with none of the driving that had earned him the nickname "de Crasheris", the talented Italian looked set for a maiden victory before engine trouble cruelly slowed and finally stopped his Alfa Romeo. This left Prost free to record a victory only briefly challenged by Piquet, who slipped away at the end to fourth. Tambay was second with Cheever third, making it two Renaults on the podium again, while Rosberg and Laffite rounded out the points, their Cosworth powered cars proving no match for the turbo's on the fast Spa layout. This gave Prost a four-point lead over Piquet, with Tambay only one further point behind. Renault also assumed the lead in the Constructors' Championship by five points from Ferrari, with Brabham, Williams and McLaren slipping farther behind. Arrows, seemingly determined to get rid of Chico Serra, replaced him for a second time, this time with local rookie Thierry Boutsen. The Belgian, more known at that point for driving sportscars, performed well, and kept his drive for the rest of the season.
The teams then travelled to Detroit for their customary mid season stop off in North America, the first stop effectively being the US Grand Prix East, and this street circuit in downtown Detroit was acknowledged to be the slowest, toughest and hardest circuit of the season. This was second pole of the year, but he was yet to record a victory this year. This record looked to continue as Piquet jumped into the lead at the start. However, the Frenchman found a way back past the Brabham on lap 10. He held off both Piquet and Rosberg to maintain the lead on the tight track, and looked set for victory when the electrics failed on the Ferrari, leaving Piquet back in the lead again. He wasted no time in moving away from Michele Alboreto's Tyrrell, which was well suited to the twisty circuit. However, the Italian was more than happy to inherit Piquet's lead when the Brazilian developed a slow rear puncture, dropping him to fourth. This was Alboreto's second career victory, both of which had come in the United States. Rosberg came home second with Watson third, while Piquet recovered to finish fourth. Laffite was fifth and Nigel Mansell came home 6th to score Lotus's first point of 1983. Prost's failure to score left him just one point ahead of Piquet with Tambay and Rosberg both in close attendance. Renault's lead in the Constructors' Championship was narrowed to four points, with Williams overtaking Ferrari for second, with only one point separating them.
The Canadian Grand Prix at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Montreal a week after Detroit saw the debut of Jacques Villeneuve, Sr., brother of the late Gilles Villeneuve. He was given a debut by RAM at his home Grand Prix, replacing Eliseo Salazar. He failed to qualify for the race. Arnoux took pole again and led for most of the race, his lead only being surrendered during the pit stops. He became the year's seventh victor in eight races as he won for Ferrari for the first time. Patrese had looked set for second before yet another technical failure, this time a gearbox failure, saw him continue to fail to score points in 1983. This left Cheever free to come home second, his best result of the year, with Tambay putting the second Ferrari on the podium in third place. Rosberg, Prost and Watson rounded out the points. Prost held on to his championship lead, now just three points, with Tambay and Piquet joint second. Rosberg was just two farther points behind. Renault and Ferrari now held a joint lead in the Constructors' Championship, with Williams, Brabham and McLaren all slipping off the pace.
The teams returned to Europe for the British Grand Prix at the fastest circuit of the year: the Silverstone circuit between London and Birmingham, England. Although Salazar had been expected to return to the RAM in place of Villeneuve, it was actually Brit Kenny Acheson who made his debut in the car. He performed well enough to retain the seat for the rest of the season. The race also saw the debut of the Honda-funded Spirit team. The team would run a limited programme in 1983 with a view to running a full season in 1984. Stefan Johansson would drive the car. For qualifying Arnoux took his third successive pole position in the brand new 126C3 Ferrari. He lost the lead to teammate Tambay at the start, and with Prost in third all the top three were French. Although the Ferraris had a straight line speed advantage over the Renault, overall Prost was the fastest of the three and had passed both Arnoux and Tambay by lap 20. But for pit stops, he remained in the lead until the finish. Piquet also overcame the Ferraris before the end to finish second, with Tambay in third. Mansell, with Renault turbo power for the first time in his Lotus, took his best result of the year to be the highest home driver in fourth ahead of Arnoux and Lauda. This allowed both Prost and Renault to extend their championship leads. Piquet was now six points behind, with Tambay two points further back. Rosberg was now more than a victory behind and it was becoming increasingly obvious that without turbo power, teams like Williams, McLaren, Tyrrell and Ligier were simply making up the numbers. The Constructors' Championship was becoming a two-horse race, with Renault leading Ferrari by three points.
The next race was the German Grand Prix at the very fast Hockenheim circuit near Stuttgart, and Tambay secured Ferrari's fourth consecutive pole position. He lost the lead to Arnoux early on however, and later suffered an engine failure to promote Piquet to second. The Brazilian inherited the lead briefly during Arnoux's pit stop, but the Frenchman could not be stopped and recorded his second victory of the year. A dramatic fire three laps from home prevented Piquet from picking up second, which instead went to a delighted Andrea de Cesaris, collecting some badly needed points for Alfa Romeo. Patrese was third, finally scoring his first points of the year ahead of Prost, Lauda and Watson. Prost therefore extended his points lead to nine points over Piquet, but both Tambay and Arnoux were joining the fight with the Brazilian. Ferrari also reassumed their points lead, three ahead of Renault.
It was another pole for Tambay and Ferrari in Austria, but at this spectacularly fast Osterreichring circuit near Graz, this time he did manage to hold on to the lead, at least until around the time of the first pit stops, when low oil pressure brought his race to a premature end. This should have allowed teammate Arnoux to pick up the victory, but he was passed by Prost in the closing stages, giving the Renault man a crucial boost in the standings. Piquet came home third with Cheever fourth, Mansell sixth and Lauda rounding out the points. Prost now held a commanding lead over Piquet, with 51 points to 37. Arnoux and Tambay were still just clinging on to the fight. Renault went back into the lead of the Constructors' Championship, three points ahead of Ferrari.
Piquet took his first pole of the season at the Dutch Grand Prix at the beach-side Zandvoort circuit near Amsterdam, and the Brazilian led until lap 41, when Prost attempted to pass his championship rival for the lead. The two collided, and both were out on the spot. This left Arnoux to cruise and collect an easy victory for Ferrari, which surprisingly turned into a 1–2 when Brabham's woes continued and Patrese suffered a problem near the end which dropped him to an eventual 9th. John Watson was third, but a race of high attrition allowed for a very unusual top six, with Derek Warwick, Mauro Baldi and Michele Alboreto rounding out the points. Johansson came home 7th in a very good result for the new Spirit team. Arnoux now moved into second in the championship, eight points behind Prost. Tambay and Piquet were now joint third, 13 points behind the leader. Ferrari's lead in the Constructors' Championship, however was now 12 points over Renault. Piquet's pole ended a run of pole positions by French drivers, which extended back to Tambay's at Long Beach, ten races prior. This race saw McLaren join the turbo ranks when Lauda debuted the new TAG V6 engine, though Watson still drove the Cosworth powered car. It would also be the final time a McLaren would be powered by a naturally aspirated engine until the opening round of the 1989 season.
With three races left to run, the teams headed to Italy in early September. The Monza Autodrome near Milan, ever a Ferrari heartland, saw them lose pole to Patrese, although they were second and third. Piquet jumped both Ferraris to run second behind his teammate in the opening laps, but it did not last long, as electric problems claimed Patrese on lap 3, reliability proving the undoing of Brabham once again. Piquet was then unchallenged for the rest of the race, and came home to record his first victory since the opening race in Brazil, some six months before. Arnoux took second with Cheever third and Tambay fourth. Elio de Angelis scored his first points of the year with fifth, with Derek Warwick surprisingly scoring points for the second time in a row in sixth. The strong performances of Piquet and Arnoux, coupled with Prost's failure to score, left the championship in a very interesting position with two races left. Prost still led with 51, Arnoux had 49, Piquet 46 and Tambay 40 with 18 points left on the board. Ferrari maintained their lead in front of their home fans, now with 17 points back to Renault.
A third Grand Prix in the United States, supposed to be held at the Flushing Meadows Park in the New York City borough of Queens was canceled at short notice due to local protests, so in England, the popular Brands Hatch circuit just outside London was able to organize a Grand Prix to make up for this failed US event in just 9 weeks. Theodore travelled to Brands Hatch just outside London, England with just one car, with their funds not stretching far enough to allow Johnny Cecotto to race in the last two races. After the race, the team folded completely, and did not appear at all at the last race. The Spirit team also announced they would not travel to the last race, in preparation for their first full season in 1984. Williams had run a third car in the Brands Hatch race, for Jonathan Palmer. The local boy finished 13th, the only Williams to finish after Rosberg retired with an engine failure and Laffite failed to qualify.The action for the European Grand Prix, the second that year to be held in Britain, saw de Angelis take a surprise pole for Lotus. The Italian was jumped at the start by compatriot Patrese, who led until the first pitstops. After this, he slipped away from the pace, and an engine failure for de Angelis gave the lead to Piquet. He led until the finish, becoming the first driver all season to win two consecutive races. Prost fought through for second, with Mansell taking Lotus's first podium of the year with third. De Cesaris was fourth, and Toleman continued their strong finish to the season with both cars in the points, with Warwick ahead of Bruno Giacomelli. This left both championships in the balance with just one race left. Prost still led, but now by only two points from Piquet. Given extraordinary circumstances, Arnoux could also be champion, but it would require him to win with Prost not scoring and Piquet no higher than fifth. Renault were still 11 points behind Ferrari, but with 15 points available for a 1–2 finish, the championship was still up for grabs.
The season finale was the South African Grand Prix at the fast, high-altitude Kyalami circuit between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Tambay took pole with Piquet the best positioned of the title contenders, in second. Arnoux was fourth with Prost fifth. If the race finished like that, Piquet would be champion. Piquet assumed the lead at the start to further enhance his chances. Prost fought his way up to third, while an early engine failure for Arnoux put him out of the running. With Prost in third and Patrese in second, Piquet's teammate did well to keep Prost behind him and stop him from challenging the Brazilian. However, when Prost's turbo failed on lap 44, Piquet knew all he had to do was finish in the top four. He backed off, and eventually surrendered the lead to Patrese, who was free to take his first win of the season, becoming the season's eighth winner. Piquet also allowed Lauda through into second place, but the Austrian's electrics failed three laps later. De Cesaris also found his way through before the end, though, and was able to secure his second podium of the year for Alfa Romeo. Third for Piquet was enough to secure him his second world championship, while Warwick once again was in the points for Toleman in fourth. Rosberg and Cheever rounded out the points. Only two points separated Piquet and Prost at the end, but the Frenchman was furious, having led in the title race for most of the season. Renault also lost the Constructors' Championship, with Ferrari securing the title for the second year in succession.There was originally a race on the calendar called the New York Grand Prix, which was supposed to be held in September. It was to be held on a temporary circuit in Flushing Meadow in the Queens borough of the city; but after certain problems, the event was cancelled 10 weeks before it was due to be held and the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch replaced it.
The Swiss Grand Prix was originally scheduled for 9 July at Dijon but was cancelled.
Championship points were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race.
Championship points were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis to the top six finishers in each race.
The 1983 season also include a single Formula One race which did not count towards the Formula One World Championship. This event, the 1983 Race of Champions, was to be the last Formula One event to be held outside of an FIA World Championship.