The early-season McLaren marker laid down by Alain Prost in Brazil was emphasised by his team-mate Niki Lauda, who scored a runaway victory at the South African Grand Prix. Although his margin of victory of more than a minute ensured the result was never in doubt barring mechanical issues, behind him there was no end of action.
Prost had qualified in fifth with Lauda back in eighth, behind Nelson Piquet on pole alongside Keke Rosberg. But as the cars completed their warm-up laps Prost's spluttered to a halt with fuel pump failure. This delayed the start as the stricken McLaren was removed and left Prost scrambling into the reserve car in which he had to start from the pit lane.
Rosberg made the best start in his Williams and led away with Piquet's Brabham in touch and on the second lap Piquet surged past. Rosberg, who was also passed by the second Brabham of Teo Fabi, was fighting a lack of grip and he was unable to hold off Lauda.
Lauda passed Fabi on lap 10 and on the 20th lap he overtook Piquet as he pitted his Brabham. "I was shadowing Piquet not trying to keep up with him," said Lauda. Minutes earlier Fabi's race had ended with a blown turbo. The same fate accounted for Piquet before the halfway point.
As Lauda gradually increased his lead, attention turned to Rosberg, who had resolved his tyre issues, with the rampaging Prost up to third. Rosberg slowed when the heat generated by his carbon-fibre brake discs caused his CV joint to seize and that allowed Prost up to second place.
There was a gripping battle for third between Derek Warwick's Renault and Michele Alboreto's Ferrari which was only resolved when the latter retired with ignition failure, allowing Warwick to hold on to his place despite running at the end with a puncture and having to change gear without a clutch for 25 laps.