Next year will be my year, next year will be my year, a mantra that Alain Prost repeats in his head all winter, to start from scratch once again after the scorching half-point defeat suffered in Portugal.
He and Lauda spend a good part of the winter break attending galas, award ceremonies and sponsor-related events, where they receive prizes or gifts of all kinds. The two friend-enemies continue to have an excellent relationship of friendship, which they hope to be able to maintain for the following season. Despite the defeat, Prost does not feel inferior to Lauda at all and indeed, in one of the many interviews released, he declares:
"I don't think that Lauda can have another season like the one that passed. I'm sure my superiority will come out even if we continue to be friends and collaborate together. I'm faster than him in every sense and this time I'll beat him".
The supremacy of McLaren is not given to remain intact: the various teams defeated in the 1984 season immediately got to work to try to fill the gap with the cars designed by John Barnard, perhaps taking inspiration and copying something from the MP4/2.
This unknown is also reinforced by Michelin's departure from the circus, which forced teams that benefited from French tires, such as McLaren itself, to contact Goodyear. There is also Pirelli, which however does not enjoy the favor of the teams; it is no coincidence that Ecclestone's Brabham only decided to accept the Italian bet among the top teams. Ferrari is seen as the main antagonist of Lauda and Prost. In the Fiorano test track they are working intensively with Alboreto to bring the 156 back to the top after a disappointing championship.
McLaren is waiting and together with Williams they are the last to unveil the new car, on March 22nd, 1985, in England. The opinions of the opponents about the delay of the presentation are mixed: there are those like Elio de Angelis who see Ron Dennis' team still there in front, unattainable for the competition, and those like Piquet who feel confident that the delay will cause problems of reliability as well as of adaptation to the new car for the drivers.
In fact, the MP4/2B, an evolution of the reigning Champion car which after a good season has not been turned upside down, made only a few laps in view of the opening Grand Prix of the 1985 season in Rio de Janeiro; this is characterized by new rear suspension necessary to adapt to the new Goodyear tires, and other small details, such as the elongated and reinforced nose.
The new World Champion Niki Lauda says he is worried, not at all convinced that the hegemony of his team can continue. Not only that, the Austrian also predicts his favorites for the title fight:
"My favorites for 1985 are Ferrari and Lotus. In the tests of the last few months they have been clearly the fastest. After that I think of Brabham, which however is an unknown factor because of the Pirelli tires. McLaren is a big unknown. The new car has only been prepared in the last few weeks. We were able to test it for four days at Brands Hatch, but the rain didn't allow us to push".
In view of the new championship, there is concern, mixed with curiosity, for the qualifying engines, the engines that touch the thousand horsepower now within the reach of all the teams, which however tend to break after a few laps completed. This creates doubts regarding the security issue.
As every year, the eyes are focused not only on the established champions and eligible candidates for the title, but also on the numerous young talents who want to make their way among the greats. The first to be under the magnifying glass is Senna, de Angelis' new teammate at Lotus, who impressed so much with Toleman in 1984.
The Italian, free from a bad partnership with Mansell, reacts this way to the engagement of the ace from the brazilian:
"Anyone can come. I was a teammate of Mario Andretti, one of the greatest ever, and even though he treated me as a second driver, I never got into controversy with him. There were some contrasts with Nigel Mansell, but also moments of great affection. In Netherlands I went to congratulate Senna: he answered me coldly, with pride. If this is how he intends to set up relations, there is no problem. Lotus does not have a large budget, we hope that the team will be structured to prepare two cars in the same way. I've been here for five years, it's not in my character to veto anyone".
Senna, on the other hand, has other things to think about during the winter: while he was relaxing during the Christmas holidays by organizing a barbecue with friends, the Brazilian begins to experience a problem on the right side of his face; unable to close the eyelid properly or move the mouth.
Then, as the days go by, it gets worse, and Senna is no longer able to control the facial muscle. Worried about what was happening, and fearing serious consequences, Ayrton went to some specialists, who discovered an inflammation of the facial nerve, probably due to the physical tension suffered during the races on the track, and he was recommended absolute rest together with cortisone.
Due to this inconvenience, Senna is forced to skip the first tests with his new team. He returns only in February, when he drives the Lotus for the first time at Snetterton. There he wears a lemon yellow helmet, which he immediately sets aside due to the bad contrast it made with the colors of the Lotus sponsors.
Despite the regulation imposed limits on fuel consumption, the French engineers at Renault decide to adopt pneumatic distribution, which certainly increases the level of reliability, but also that of consumption, given that the rotation speed reaches 12.800 rpm, against 11.000 for the competition. Thus, thanks to a supercharging of 4 bar of pressure, the Renault engineers are able to guarantee over 1.200 horses in qualifying to the Lotus drivers, but as mentioned they cannot guarantee a sufficiently low fuel consumption to give Ayrton and Elio the opportunity to manage their own race without having to finish it prematurely.
The media attention, we said, is all about him, not something impressive if we consider it's the eve of the Brazilian Grand Prix, in Jacarepaguà. The Brazilians show more interest in him than in the two-time world champion Nelson Piquet, who appeared a little annoyed by all this, and ready to denigrate as much as possible the kid who is stealing the show.
Lauda's predictions seem well founded after the two qualifying sessions: Michele Alboreto wins the first pole of the year and the two Lotus are in the second row, with de Angelis in front of Senna. The surprise is Keke Rosberg's Williams-Honda, which is placed second a tenth away from the poleman.
The British team worked hard together with Honda to try and improve on the disappointing performance of 1984. The start looks promising. Piquet's Brabham has very high top speeds (325 km/h at the end of the main straight, compared to Ferrari's 309 km/h), but as expected Pirelli tires do not currently offer performance on par with Goodyear.
After Friday it was de Angelis who held the best time, but he was unable to keep the first place due to traffic found during his good laps in the second session on Saturday. Is McLaren hegemony at an end?
Judging from the qualifications, one could say yes, since Prost is sixth and Lauda is ninth, but it must be remembered that for large stretches of the past season the Anglo-German team showed its superiority especially in the race.
The great heat and the uncertainty over gasoline consumption hold the stage ahead of the race. In fact, the new regulation has not lowered the threshold of fuel to be loaded, but has prohibited its freezing. The race direction therefore decides to shorten the race by one lap. For the heat, however, everyone does what they can.
Senna, for example, uses a particular cooling suit, characterized by a synthetic ice container placed in the back, and with a kind of small tubes that branch out throughout the suit. On Sunday, McLaren's big bluff comes to an end.
In the first twenty laps of the race Prost lets Rosberg and Alboreto entertain, limiting himself to chasing them. Then the Finn was stopped by engine problems, while Alboreto made a mistake on leaving the Vitòria corner which Alain immediately exploited. The Frenchman takes the lead and runs away.
Having accumulated an advantage of almost thirty seconds, Alain slows down conspicuously both to manage the car and for the various lappings to be performed; the gap decreases to ten seconds (at the end of the race there will be only three), but the situation remains calmly under his control. Alain triumphs at the first round of the 1985 championship.
Realistically it could have been a double for Ron Dennis' team, but right at the best, with an imminent fight for second place, Lauda must go back to the pits due to a failure in the electronic system. The mechanics put him back on track, but there is nothing to do: the reigning champion starts the season with a retirement.
It is no better for the two home drivers, as Piquet's Brabham is already broken after just two laps (a fact that clashes with the optimistic declarations of the Brazilian as regards the reliability of the Brabham), while Senna, able at the start to overtake de Angelis is on the vitual podium after Lauda's retirement, he stops as in the case of the Austrian due to electrical problems.
The great proclamations made by the various Lotus, Williams and Brabham are silenced by the domination of Prost who, apart from Alboreto, has outperformed everyone. Elio de Angelis is third but lapped; the other Ferrari, that of Arnoux, fourth, two laps away.
At Lotus, however, they do not despair. Senna was not lapped before the retirement, while de Angelis complained of a wrong choice of tires which slowed him down. In any case, even according to Prost, Ferrari is the antagonist for the World Championship. In addition, the MP4/2B, despite the sudden slowdown of Prost in the second phase of the race, in the routine checks was at the limit as regards the question of weight, with 545 kg compared to the 540 kg expected.
In the meantime, on Tuesday April 16th 1985, a few days before the Portuguese Grand Prix, Renè Arnoux is summoned to Maranello by Marco Piccinini, who communicates his immediate dismissal in no uncertain terms. The official press release from Ferrari, however, makes it known that it was the Frenchman who asked to leave the team:
"Enzo Ferrari received today in Maranello the driver Renè Arnoux, who explained to him the personal reasons that in relation to his current physical form lead him to ask to be exempted from his current commitments. Engineer Ferrari acknowledged with regret Arnoux's decision, he expressed his gratitude to him for the valid collaboration during the last two seasons and for the professional correctness and sporting loyalty. Swedish driver Stefan Johansson from the Portuguese Grand Prix will be driving the second Ferrari 156/85".
The drastic decision of the men from Maranello comes after the far from exciting results during 1984; that already in the first outing of the new championship did not seem to change in trend. Despite Arnoux finishing fourth, the difference with his teammate had been evident throughout the weekend. In addition, there would have been an operation on the right leg that Arnoux had undergone during the winter, with Ferrari not knowing about.
The mystery deepens, but Ferrari will never expose itself clearly on the decision taken. The Estoril circuit, following the numerous criticisms received in the previous edition, has been redone and has much fewer critical issues than before.
Where Mansell's retirement took place a few laps from the end in the last appointment of the year 1984, the black and gold cars now driven by Senna and de Angelis are now exalted. Specifically, the Brazilian is the fastest, given that by lapping in 1'21"007 he makes his first career pole. For Elio, the first creaks of his authority inside the garage begin to be felt: the second of gap inflicted by Senna weighs a lot. Senna and Prost are in the front row for the first time.
Lauda is seventh, but we will hear less and less of the Austrian with the passing of the races: as predicted by Prost during the winter, Niki is unable to replicate in the least the extraordinary year of 1984. He will get only one success in Zandvoort, then nothing. Niki is never at the level of Prost, even if the continuous reliability problems have a certain specific weight in his colorless season, to which is added the fact that the team, by the will of Ron Dennis, has started working mainly to enhance the driving quality of the Frenchman, already much faster than the most experienced Austrian driver.
Sunday April 21st, 1985, it rains. In Estoril, only 11.000 spectators braved the weather to watch the race, and those who do not have a short memory, associating the two names of Prost and Senna with the rain as a side dish, cannot help but think of the controversial Monaco race of the last year. Senna has a chance to take what he believes was taken from him in the Principality, his first career win.
The conditions, however, are at the limit: during the formation lap Mansell spun and Martini lost control of the Minardi ending up against the barriers. Together with Eddie Cheever, who instead suffered from electrical problems, all three sprint from the pit lane.
At the start Keke Rosberg remains stationary, but luckily all the drivers are able to pull him off without hitting him; at the same time in the leading positions, Senna runs away in front of de Angelis, Prost, Alboreto and Lauda, all bunched up.
In the middle of the group Piquet can experience the disastrous wet tires supplied by Pirelli, with which he can barely stay on the track, while his teammate, François Helnaut, leaves the scene after a few laps, following a spin.
In the meantime there is also a contact between the neo-Ferrari driver Johansson and Patrese, fighting each other immediately behind Piquet who acted as their stopper. The Swede continues, the Italian from Alfa Romeo has to retire. Alain slightly struggles to keep up with the two Lotus; in addition there is Alboreto that threatens him and the rain shows no signs of abating.
Ayrton continues to increase his advantage, also favored by the vicissitudes faced by de Angelis, who from the tenth lap onwards runs with the left front tire flat and the bottom of the car loosening. This favors Prost and Alboreto, and the formation of an interesting trio ready to battle. At the end of the race Elio is frustrated by the progress of his race, and entering his van, he throws his helmet on the ground. Then he exclaims in the direction of his father Giulio:
"Of course it's strange, on my car so many problems due to a brief preparation, but on Senna's one nothing ever happens".
Paranoia, those of de Angelis, which are transformed into certainties from the Monaco Grand Prix, where he realizes that the team has turned its back on him to support the young Brazilian star.
Meanwhile, Senna has already lapped the sixth in the race, Derek Warwick, and continues his dominion, while Alain tries to pass de Angelis several times, and although he is evidently faster, the great top speed of the Lotus makes the maneuver complicated.
The track conditions worsen lap after lap, and dangerous situations also arise, such as when Rosberg's Williams remains in the center of the track at the exit of the last corner, following the spin that causes the Finn to retire. The poor visibility fortunately does not cause any tragic accidents.
Prost is the next illustrious victim of the day: the track is now impassable, Alain ends up in a pool of water, goes into aquaplaning and having no more control over the car, he crashes into the guard rail.
That the race is to be suspended is also demonstrated by the fact that Senna himself at a certain point, crossing the finish line, raises his arm to suggest that the track is flooded and the driving conditions have become extremely dangerous. Amedée Pavesi, however, is not of the same opinion and lets it continue.
When there are just over ten laps to go, the Lotus designer Gérard Ducarouge together with Niki Lauda, who was also retired due to electrical problems once again, go to the race direction to stop the race, but once again there is nothing to do.
In the last laps the error is around the corner for everyone, even for Senna, who is the author of a small excursion on the grass with all four wheels, but luckily for him he manages to get back on track regularly to get his first win in Formula 1.
An overwhelming success, under pouring rain, ended with a one minute lead over the second classified, Alboreto, who thanks to Prost's retirement is the new leader of the World Championship.
Ayrton ends McLaren's streak of eight consecutive successes, brings a Renault engine back to success after two years (the last one was in Austria in 1983 with Prost), and consecrates himself to all intents and purposes as the wizard of the rain.
On the podium, the Brazilian lets himself be carried away by joy, so much so that while spraying the champagne he unknowingly bumps into the trophy he was given. But he doesn't even notice, he's too busy celebrating, as it should be.
"It was a good win. A first place was in my plans, but I didn't expect it so soon. Racing in the rain is always tough, but the Lotus was perfect, the engine was smooth and progressive. I had some uncertainties about it. because of the carbon brakes that in the wet sometimes behaved unexpectedly. On the straight, in the final, I was forced to pass in fourth gear, without putting in fifth gear, because the wheels were spinning all the time. I absolutely don't think about the World Cup, for now I will try to live up to the day, trying to collect as many points as possible. Where did I learn to drive in the rain? It was the go-kart school that taught me everything. If a driver passes by these small miniature cars he can learn a lot, particularly in driving sensitivity. I have always tried to measure the accelerator and I went well".
The complaints of the drivers after the race regarding the choice of the race direction to continue the race were not long in coming. To be heard are the two of McLaren, with Lauda infuriated at the microphones of the journalists:
"It is inconceivable that they let us compete in this way. There are unnecessary risks. I don't understand why no one intervened to suspend the race".
Not least the criticisms of Prost, who saw a practically certain podium fade in front of his eyes:
"It was like water skiing. I found a big puddle, my car water-planed and I hit the guard rail after a series of carom. Luckily I hit the back of the car, but I must say that I was very afraid".
The same Senna, albeit a winner, was disappointed, recalling with some promptness the decision taken in Monaco the year before which prevented him from going to win:
"I too can't give myself a reason for the decisions that have been made. In Montecarlo he stopped when I was recovering and I was in second position. On that occasion the track was certainly less flooded than that of Estoril. Now instead, it went all the way with the danger of a disaster for everyone".
Controversy aside, the Lotus finally achieves an excellent performance also in the race, proving that it does not have a competitive car only in qualifying. But to be sure that Peter Warr's team can fight with McLaren and Ferrari to win the world title, we have to wait for the counter-test on a dry track. The first occasion is Imola in early May, home to the third Grand Prix of the season.
Italian supporters are crowding the stands since Friday; supporting the Maranello team, based less than one hundred kilometers from the Imola racetrack. A cheer that, unfortunately, as happened in previous seasons, often falls into fanaticism.
The fervent hatred towards Prost is a constant, but so is the whistling of the Mameli anthem, or the exultation at the retirements or misadventures of Italian drivers, as when Riccardo Patrese retired a few years ago (in 1983), or Elio de Angelis at the end of this same race. Supporting the Red team does not include doing the same with fellow countrymen who take to the track at 300 km/h, but in an equally exaggerated way it does not even accept bad performances from their bearers.
Despite this, Johansson, after the fifteenth place in qualifying is unfairly covered with whistles, while Arnoux, recently on foot and present in the paddock, is welcomed as a local idol. Not to mention vandalism such as stone throwing or full beer cans. Football cheering, dirty cheering and love for sport that seems to fade away.
In any case, on the Imola circuit on Saturday the script is widely respected: as we wanted to prove, the Lotus are very strong on the flying lap and Senna wins the second pole of his career, a second faster than the track record set by Piquet, and beating for twenty-seven thousandths a stubborn Keke Rosberg, who showed up in the paddock with a fractured thumb. Frank Williams contacted Arnoux to replace him, but after the latter's refusal, Keke gritted his teeth and hit the track.
De Angelis and Alboreto make up the second row, both half a second behind the Brazilian, who in the space of a couple of weeks shows great solidity regarding the fast lap, as well as the special sensitivity shown in the wet. The two McLarens also stick to the custom that sees them struggle in qualifying: Prost is sixth while Lauda is eighth, both held back by breakdowns in the TAG-Porsche.
On Sunday, as in Estoril, the rain also falls on Emilia Romagna a few hours before the race. This causes the rubber layer on the asphalt to disappear, a problem that adds to the great unknown of petrol consumption, which on this medium-high speed circuit is very difficult to manage. The winner, therefore, will probably be the most thrifty to manage gasoline consumption by carefully driving his car.
After a regular start, a leading quartet formed by the two John Player Special Lotus of Senna and de Angelis, closely followed by Alboreto and Prost. Ayrton must constantly guard against his team mate, who needs to react to the Brazilian's success in Portugal.
However, de Angelis himself is the first to realize that he has to start managing his car after his aggressive start. Alboreto and Prost take advantage of his slowdown to pass him.
In the following laps the situation becomes interesting, as Alboreto must at the same time try to overtake Senna and guard against Prost, who seems to be the quickest of the new leading trio, given that de Angelis has definitively lost contact and is even reached and passed by Lauda.
In the meantime, regardless of the whistles received the day before, Johansson makes a comeback until he reaches the points, transforming those whistles into shouts of enthusiasm from the Italian fans.
On the twenty-third lap Alain tries to overtake Alboreto first at the Tosa, and then successfully at the Rivazza,taking second position. Overtaking is all too easy: the general feeling is that the Italian driver has something wrong with his Ferrari. And in fact on the next lap he is framed as he returns to the pits. The mechanics begin to work frantically on the car to repair the electronic system, and they also seem to succeed, as Alboreto returns to the track and sets the fastest lap, but he is only fourteenth.
The joy of returning to the track did not last long, as Michele had to retire permanently due to problems with the alternator. A nasty disappointment for him and for the Italian fans, who were thrilled just a few minutes earlier to see a Red team fight for victory on the home circuit. Now two are left in the lead: Senna and Prost.
The Frenchman found himself three seconds away from the brawl with Alboreto, a gap that rapidly reduces until the two are bunched up. The Professor carries on his attack.
For three laps, he tries at Tosa and Rivazza, puts pressure in every corner, but Senna manages to resist very well. Then comes the lapping of Patrick Tambay, which proves harmful to Prost who loses a couple of seconds. The Frenchman looks at the on-board computer of the McLaren: he must save petrol or risk being left on foot.
The display positioned on the dashboard of Prost and Lauda's cars offers little information, but continuously updated by the computer. Example: Prost reads on the thirtieth lap one hundred and twenty liters already consumed (therefore more than half of the tank which is two hundred) and minus four; it means that if he continues like this he will stop four laps from the end.
The computer measures the instantaneous and total fuel consumption, keeps an eye on the number of revs and temperatures as well as the pressure of the turbo. The alarm not only indicates that it is impossible to finish the race but also blocks the turbo pressure valve which the pilot can no longer maneuver at will.
Lap after lap, the computer recalculates everything and if the driver has kept a more convenient pace, it cancels the dangerous situation and indicates how many laps he can still run.
In doing so, the French driver begins to lose ground from Senna's Lotus, who, realizing the slowdown of Prost, opts for the same strategy and reduces the pressure. However, he does not have an on-board computer, so he can only hope that the savings made will be enough to make him finish the race.
Prost suddenly raises his times, to the point of being joined by the surprising Johansson, the fastest on the track in the second part of the race. Alain thinks only of fuel, and does not even hint at resisting the overtaking maneuver of the Swede, who, nine seconds from the tread, dreams of an incredible victory in his second race in Ferrari.
Three laps from the end, when everything suggests that Ayrton's second success in a row is a done deal, there is the twist: coming out of Rivazza, just after Mansell's Williams has been lapped, Senna suddenly slows down. Behind him comes Johansson who sends the Italian public into ecstasy by conquering the leadership of the Grand Prix.
Ayrton managed the fuel after Prost's attacks, but not enough to finish the race, so he has to park his Lotus in the grass and walk back to the pits.
The euphoria of the fans, however, lasts just half a lap, because in a tragicomic race finale, at the Variante Alta even Johansson realizes that he has run out of fuel. His exceptional comeback costs him so much so that it is made in vain.
After getting out of the car, the Swede is still smiling, happy for a capital performance shown through spectacular overtakings. The fans of the Red team give him stands and already baptize him as the new Villeneuve.
The new leader becomes Prost, the driver most targeted by the crowd, who in Monza replied with the gesture of the umbrella to the many whistles, who was the victim of stone throwing on other occasions, and who was forced to walk with the security guards in 1983.
Alain managed the fuel maniacally and crossed the line as a winner, after a very slow last lap with his heart in his mouth. He does it in front of de Angelis, who is also very wise in managing fuel, and the Arrows of Thierry Boutsen, who also ran out of fuel in the tank in the very last corners.
Boutsen reached the finish line without petrol in a more unique than rare way: with the front wheels in front of the finish line and the rear wheels behind. But having run out of fuel, he got out and pushed the car over the finish line.
Given that the finish line has already been crossed and also the dangerous position in which he was authorized to push, the Belgian driver was not disqualified. The fact that Prost remains on foot right on the lap back to the pits, suggests how much the Frenchman was at the limit with fuel consumption.
On the podium, the Professor celebrates his second seasonal triumph, flanked by a discontented Elio de Angelis and a much happier Thierry Bousten. However, the Grand Prix is not over yet. After checking the car weights, rumors filter out that both Prost and de Angelis were disqualified as their respective cars were found to be underweight. The confirmation arrives, but only for Prost's car, found with 538 kg instead of the 540 kg allowed.
Indeed, Alain's car is weighed five times, and three times it weighs 538 kg, while twice the scale stops at 536 kg. Among the other cars weighed, Johansson's was 560 kg, twenty kilos more than the McLaren affecting performance, while Senna's Lotus stood at 546 kg. The disqualification is inevitable and the insult is atrocious for Alain. The joy is unspeakable for Elio de Angelis, who gets his second win in Formula 1.
He was the driver who first of all began to slow down his race pace, effectively disappearing from the attention of the cameras, but in the end his conservative strategy paid off.
McLaren had already risked in Rio de Janeiro, when the car registered a weight of 545 kg; on that occasion they were saved by the reduction of the race laps, this time there is little to do, their risk of running to the limit did not pay off. Alain, having discovered the decision of the stewards, states:
"We will go on with the complaints, I think we will talk about this story for a long time. I only say that before the race they did not allow us to weigh the car on the official scale. For us, for our internal weighing machine, everything was fine, maybe the official balance would have put us on who goes there, maybe it would have clarified something. It seems crazy to me to lose a race and maybe even a World Title".
Then, he also takes it out on the regulation:
"The bad thing about all this is that drivers do things well, give their best, risk their life and then they are punished like this, and they have the feeling of being the only ones to pay for regulations that are foreign to them. As well as the regulation of the petrol, which forces you to go slowly, which partially cancels your enthusiasm and your skill".
The Professor is also asked his opinion on the tussle that saw him involved with Alboreto and Senna:
"They drove me crazy. Both of them went to the limit, and to overcome them you had to take risks. No, I'm not talking about unfairness, no, I'm not talking about full fairness. However, between the two, Senna was the one who behaved better, or less worse".
Senna, on the other hand, barely holds back the tears of anger and frustration. He lost a race from the start, and above all to win it was his main rival, teammate de Angelis. How he didn't have the same problems as the Brazilian?
According to Ayrton, it is not just the way in which de Angelis managed the race, in a much more wait-and-see way than him, but also of the new V6 Renault F15, which consumes less but only features the current first drive.
The massacre of pilots, due to fuel economy, awakens the spirits of the latter, who rise against the regulation. From Prost to Senna, passing through Johansson, de Angelis himself and Piquet, everyone criticizes this Formula 1 for saving.
Piquet suggests shortening the races by a few laps, but that would lead the engineers to use that gasoline to benefit from more power. The only solution must be offered by the engineers, who must scramble to find the most suitable solution, as they did the year before with the freezing of gasoline, now prohibited.
In this context, after three races Elio de Angelis leads the general classification with 16 points, ahead of Alboreto who is still at 12 points. Prost and Senna, the future rivals who have finally had the opportunity to battle on the track, remain tied at nine, even behind Patrick Tambay, who has ten points.
The two, at least for now, have completely different moods, since Ayrton, despite the two retirements in three races, is beginning to consistently enjoy the top positions; besides, in Portugal he won a fantastic race and everyone is talking about him very well.
Alain, on the other hand, relives the old ghosts: after the first triumph, a retirement and a disqualification came in two races where he could easily get on the podium in the first, and win in the second. Circumstances similar to 1984 are being created for him, with those inaccuracies and trifles that stole him the title by half a point. To worsen his mood, the Italian press takes care of it, which begins to repeat on the front pages the curse of the eternal second, who will never, ever be a World Champion.
Lauda is no more able to battle with him, being targeted by continuous failures, but with even more competition, his task of winning his first world title becomes even more difficult.
"Senna is an idiot. He is an unsportsmanlike fool. After setting the best time he only took care to brake the others. I found him in front of me six times and he always blocked me. Exasperated, I forced him to go long at the Rascasse. He endangers everyone's life for a pole position. He will also be fast, but he will never be a real champion: one with that mind does not make the way. I swear to you that the next I will throw him in the stands".
Signed Michele Alboreto, Monaco Grand Prix, Saturday, May 18th 1985. Young Ayrton begins to get noticed among the greats, and not just for his heavy foot. What perhaps the furious Alboreto does not know is that Senna has already had criticisms of the genre in the years preceding his arrival in Formula 1. Little respect for his colleagues, dangerous, rude, etc. All qualities that have often clouded the crystalline talent of the promising 25-year-old from Lotus.
The same thing happens juxtaposed after qualifying for the fourth round of the World Championship in Monte Carlo: Ayrton conquers the third pole position in a row, the one that probably has the most value, as it is conquered on the track where the driver's skills are enhanced more than in other circuits. His extraordinary lap, however, goes in background after the heavy accusations of Alboreto, who is also backed by more experienced drivers such as Lauda and Prost.
Senna is accused of having specially slowed down anyone who could pose a threat to his pole position, but Ayrton does not reply to all this, he merely talks about the importance of sprinting well and the danger of having an aggressive driver like Mansell at his side. Away from the cameras he tries to apologize to Lauda, who answers with his middle finger.
Anyway, Alboreto's allegations are well founded, Senna deliberately slowed down his opponents, and the order came from Peter Warr, who asked his driver to get back on track with that goal. The only one to spend words on honey for him is Sir. Jackie Stewart, who compares the Brazilian talent by temperament to such sacred monsters as Fangio, Moss, Clark and Lauda. According to him, Ayrton also has something more than Prost, who is indeed a champion, but lacks the same sensitivity that Senna has.
The race for the Brazilian is not going well: after being in the lead for the first thirteen laps, his engine misfires and forces him to go back to the pits. The mechanics remove the hood of the car to try to put it back on the track, but there is nothing to be done. Prost wins, by taking advantage of the vicissitudes of Alboreto.
Even if, even in this circumstance, Prost's car reached the finish line at the minimum weight limit allowed by the regulations: only for 800 grams. Alain is saved and keeps the victory. Jo Ramirez, speaking with Tim Wright, Prost's car engineer, confesses that if this had been the case throughout the championship, he would have aged prematurely.
The Italian, on the other hand, is among the drivers who slip on the oil left on the track by Riccardo Patrese's car, following the accident that sees him involved with Nelson Piquet in turn 1. The Brazilian from Brabham tries to overtake Alfa Romeo, which, however, pushes to the wall causing a spectacular carom during which Patrese's car catches fire for a few moments.
The accident caused oil to be spilled on the track, not properly reported by the commissioners, so first Warwick and Laffite, then Alboreto and Lauda lose control of their cars. Lauda is unable to avoid the wall and has to retire, Alboreto is save by centimeters, but has to give the leadership to Prost. Meanwhile, left on the track, Patrese and Piquet laugh out loud at the misfortunes of others, clinging to each other.
A few laps after winning the first position against the Ferrari driver, Prost made a mistake engaging the gear out of the last corner, and Alboreto, who was back in his slipstream, took the opportunity to get back in front. Michele is way faster, and Alain does not even think about resisting the overtake.
In Monte Carlo, however, the slightest burr is not contemplated, and Alboreto pays for the contact with the wall at Loews, which causes him a puncture. Changed his tires, he came back fourth behind de Angelis and de Cesaris, but with a full-hearted comeback he is two seconds per lap faster on the two in front of him, overtakes them and crosses the finish line in second place. However, a bitter placement for him, given the great competitiveness shown by Ferrari.
Alain remains in total solitude until the end of the race, even if the rain does not facilitate the task. Also mindful of the mistake in 1982 in the same circumstances, the Frenchman drives cautiously and never loses his temper.
Lotus is still leading the two championships, with Elio de Angelis leading the drivers' standings with 20 points, but Peter Warr's team's dreams of glory are extinguished along the way. Those of Elio, to tell the truth, already a few days after the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
During a four-day test session at Paul Ricard, Elio only takes to the track for three laps, in the last few minutes available, when there is practically no one left in the pits: the rest of the time he wanders around in the garage. A clash by Lotus against the leader of the World Championship, wanted by Peter Warr himself, which leads de Angelis to decide that same evening to leave the team at the end of the year.
It is no coincidence that after the podium in Monaco, he will never go beyond a few fifth places in the race, and will end the season in the worst way: at Monza he publicly accuses the team of giving Senna a more powerful engine than his; at the South African Grand Prix, de Angelis lets out all the frustration accumulated over the weeks, and after having suffered a rather dangerous overtaking on the outside by Senna, in the garage he hits the Brazilian and puts his hands around his neck. Peter Warr and Bob Dance split the two. Later de Angelis remembers what happened and he too expresses himself, as Alboreto did in Monaco, describing Senna not in an elegant way:
"In South Africa, during the stages of that famous overtaking I realized that Senna races without respect, neither for him nor for the others, a situation that I do not tolerate. Senna is very fast, but he still has little experience and probably risks too much. control himself, he will become a champion. As a person I have not been able to know him thoroughly, he has a closed, introverted character. You can hardly understand what he is thinking. He is typically Brazilian, I would call him a Machiavellino. In order to achieve his goal, he does not look in the face no one uses all means, of any kind, to obtain a thing".
Senna too, like de Angelis, soon abandons all ambitions of the world championship: after the mockery of Imola and Montecarlo, even in Canada Ayrton is blocked by an inconvenience, in this case the failure of a manifold of the supercharging system. After a strenuous work of the mechanics in a long pit stop, Ayrton is back on track, but he is far away from the lead. The fast lap is only a small consolation for him.
On the Detroit street circuit, Ayrton scored an extraordinary pole position, trimming more than a second to the direct pursuer Mansell. In the race, however, he nullified the first position with a wrong choice of tires, and had to return to the pits twice to change tires. In his comeback attempt, he crashes into turn 2 while he was in the Alboreto exhausts, also remedying a bruise on his right wrist. Ayrton thanks the Lotus chassis, which he said saved him from breaking some leg bones.
At Paul Ricard, the engine failure causes oil to be sprinkled on the rear tires, and as he travels along the fast bend in Beausset, Senna spins, crashing into the barriers at a speed of 250 km/h. Fortunately, Ayrton emerges unscathed from a scary accident.
Two weeks later, at Silverstone, Senna proves, if still needed, that he is a very fast driver, but he still has a lot to learn about race management, where it is not enough just to be fast. The lesson is given to him by Prost, who remains behind him for most of the race until a few laps from the end, when he brings the attack that earns him the leadership.
Senna reacts to Alain starting their second seasonal melee, after the one in Imola. The Brazilian goes in front again, but about twenty kilometers from the checkered flag he remains dry, just like he did in Imola.
A consequence not impossible to foresee, since Ayrton had kept a frenzied pace throughout the race, with which it was unthinkable to reach the finish line. When the car returns to the pits, the mechanics encounter an electrical problem on the Renault V6, which runs on alternating current; this caused irregular petrol consumption. Surrounded by journalists, Ayrton lashes out against the Renault technicians:
"It is not possible that the fuel ran out, everything had to be calculated, I didn't have to take any risks. I have never raised the pressure of the turbo beyond the allowed limit. You cannot do a race like this by working hard and then picking up a punch of flies. Is it possible that there is always something that doesn't work? When will I be able to compelte a race without problems? By now I can consider myself definitively cut off from the fight for the World Championship".
Electric problems or not, undoubtedly Senna's hyper-aggressive strategy with cars that need constant fuel management is debatable. Prost, due to his experience and proverbial intelligence in certain circumstances, shows how to win: the Frenchman starts quietly, does not force more than necessary, and only when he sees on the display that he has a fairly wide margin that he can push, he goes hunting.
After the magical victory under the Portuguese flood, Senna put in a streak of seven consecutive races without earning even a point (even in the following race, at the Nurburgring, he retires while he is in the lead due to the broken drive shaft); between his mistakes that still highlight a certain immaturity, and problems that afflict Lotus, the ranking sees him in ninth position like Thierry Boutsen, seventeen points away from teammate de Angelis, the driver already discharged for the following year , which will perhaps be less spectacular, but makes fewer mistakes and above all always brings home points. In the second part of the season, Ayrton needs a radical change.
Meanwhile, with Peter Warr's team out of action, the World Cup has become a personal matter between Prost and Alboreto. In this central phase of the championship, McLaren and Ferrari are by far the fastest cars in the race, while Alain and Michele are the most consistent drivers.
In Montreal, Ferrari completes the installation of a new sensor that calculates fuel consumption. During the tests, a large liquid crystal display is quickly stuck on the dashboard with adhesive tape on which, at the request of the pilot, who must press buttons, the engine temperatures, rpm and liters of petrol remaining in the tank will appear. The electronic control unit that measures the passage of petrol at each opening of the injectors is not yet very precise, giving an error of eight liters more or less on the total. This is why the Ferrari technicians will leave the driver the satisfaction of having a rough indication on the dashboard but reserve the right to give them the necessary signals from the pits.
On the other hand, the system adopted by Honda on the Williams of Rosberg and Mansell is more complete. The system is practically identical to that of the Ferrari but it instantly transmits the data to the pits where the technicians also know what the driver is seeing and can process those data in real time with a computer in the event that the race, as happened for example in Imola, takes a different course than expected.
The McLaren instead continues with its proven system, which unlike those adopted by its rivals, provides greater accuracy because the sensors that measure the fuel, rather than on the injectors, are placed at the bottom of the tank. Prost and Lauda will therefore be more autonomous in the race and will be able to regulate themselves. Or rather, the little robot hidden in the bowels of printed circuits and microprocessors will decide for them. And the Lotus?
"Many still do this, during free practice they put twenty liters of petrol and then tell the driver: you now run on the edge of 1'27, assuming that this is the lap time considered good to stay in the top positions. Then they measure how much they have consumed and see if the count needs to be adjusted or not".
Gérard Ducarouge explains. A somewhat simplistic system which, however, with time and experience has ended up being efficient, but also creating dangerous habits, as in Imola when all the calculations went up, leaving many cars running dry, including the Lotus. Now everyone is running for cover and the testing of the various systems will take place in Montreal:
"You must always go fast - Senna says - stronger than the others because participating is no longer enough. But it is terrible to be in there struggling with calculations and reasoning that at any moment can mislead you from the problems of driving. You have to overtake one while you have another opponent pressing you from behind. What do you do? The instinct takes you to press the accelerator and reason instead wants you to think on the engine speed, turbo pressure, how much fuel will remain in the tank. It's easy to say: this is not the way to do a race. The truth is that you drive this way, with these limits, with these additional problems because technology wants it to be; the industry has an interest in running this way and you pilot demonstrates your skill, your professionalism by adapting to this reality".
Ferrari's great competitiveness is revealed transparently in Montreal, the fifth race on the calendar, with Alboreto and Johansson dominating the race and celebrating a double that Maranello missed from Zandvoort in 1983, with Arnoux and Tambay. Prost ends the race four seconds behind, but in truth only comes close in the final while the leading duo manages every drop of fuel.
At the end of the race McLaren says they're worried about the great performance of the opponents, Prost talks about a poor race, in which he had to deal with excessive consumption again, finding himself forced to stop the car immediately after crossing the finish line, so as not to fall into another disqualification.
After the checks, in fact, there is just one liter of petrol in the tank. The Mp4/2B is faster on the straight than the 1984, but has a much more fragile engine, plus it exaggerates the brakes. According to Alain, more than the progression of the rivals, we need to talk about steps backwards made by his team, in example the problem with the brakes, whose carbon discs tend to overheat too easily, that McLaren obviously suffers on the hot Detroit track, where Alain, similarly to Senna, crashes into turn 2 and is forced to retire.
To prevent the second consecutive double of the men in Red there is Keke Rosberg, at the wheel of the Williams-Honda, which as usual is exalted on the city tracks. Alboreto, thanks to his third place on American soil, at the same time as Prost's retirement, becomes the number one favorite in the title race. Still, Michele doesn't have the dazzling smile of Montreal:
"Nine points on Prost are still few: practically equivalent to victory in a Grand Prix and the championship is still very long. I did my race to get to the finish and take as many points as possible and so I will do in every next race. Unfortunately in Detroit it went worse than I hoped. Here in Detroit I was unable to win because of the brakes, and also because we lacked time for a good set up of the car. For most of the race I was forced to use the brakes as little as possible. carbon fiber: but this is hindsight. Of all the cars that used them, Ferrari is the only one that finished the race. Before the race we had discussed it with the technicians and in the end we preferred them to those in cast iron. Instead, whoever had the latter type of brakes won. That's how racing is done. On Friday we realized that there were several adjustments to be made, then on Saturday in the rain we could hardly do anything. And so on Sunday, five minutes before the race, I was still there to have the suspension springs changed. This one. it's a track full of undulations, the cars jump and need exact adjustments".
"I signaled Johanssonn to go ahead. Besides, if at that moment he had a car that was better than mine why would he have to stay behind me? If I had finished second I would have taken two more points, of course, but he deserved second place. We don't have these stable games or at least it's too early to play them. It is true that we did not have much time to test but we could not afford soft tires like the ones that Rosberg mounted, after all he was the only one to have used them. It was too risky to fit those tires there: we chose the normal racing ones".
"I must now add Williams to McLaren and Lotus. Better that way; the more the fight widens, the more interest around Formula 1 grows. I don't think McLaren is in crisis at all. I think on the contrary that on the fast circuits, where now we will race, it will be the opponent to beat. The Lotus is fine but I have the impression that it still has fuel consumption problems. Williams is proving to have an excellent engine. On the next circuit of Le Castellet there are two long straights where you need a lot of power. In short, a track where the engine counts more than the chassis, so we should be fine. We should also be fine at Silverstone in England, but it's the home track for McLaren, the most familiar circuit to them. In Germany, at the Nurburgring, I would say it is open to all cars capable of going fast. Zeltweg in Austria is a track where I would love to win; Zandvoort is a very technical circuit. Then comes Monza where we at Ferrari must necessarily win".
The situation remains virtually unchanged in the subsequent races, as Alain and Michele alternate the results, making sure that the gap that divides them always remains the same: at Le Castellet, Formula 1 finds a Nelson Piquet who, paired with Pirelli, finally returns competitive, and wins after a year of abstinence. During the race, everything happens.
On lap fifty, Rosberg returns to the pits where they remove a paper bag that blocked the radiator and change his tires. When he starts again he has only two seconds of advantage on Johansson, who however is unable to attempt any attack. Meanwhile, Ayrton managed to reach Alboreto, but as he tries to overtake him with an impossible trajectory he goes straight to a protective barrier. The race is over for him and he will get away with a simple dislocation on his wrist.
On the penultimate lap Johansson slows down a lot due to a disintegrated brake; thus, Prost reaches the finish line third, while Alboreto has in the meantime retired due to turbo problems.
A disastrous Friday, a disappointing Saturday, a Sunday that saw Alboreto retire from the very first laps, four engines broken for still mysterious reasons, never ending problems with the suspensions. The balance of Ferrari, still leader of the world championship even if with a very narrow margin, at the first super-fast race is really negative. Failed in chassis, failed in engines.
Nor is it worth mentioning the umpteenth and exciting comeback of Johansson, who started sixteenth and finished in fourth place, nor the luck that made Prost, Alboreto's direct rival, gain some precious points.
But what worried the Ferrari was above all the breakdowns on the engines, all characterized by one element in common: the failure of the first front cylinder on the left. This detail suggests that the cause of the breakdowns is unique in all four cases, even if Marco Piccinini, Ferrari sports director, declares that the real reasons for these anomalies have not yet been discovered.
At Silverstone the script doesn't change: Alain wins, followed by Michele; however, Alain does not hold back from cursing Senna's lack of tactical intelligence, who was left dry and allowed Alboreto to gain positions.
"Alboreto was lucky. If my partner hadn't stopped and even if Senna had been able to settle for a placement instead of attacking blindly, I would now be leading the World Championship".
The mistake of the marshall who waves the checkered flag with one lap in advance is rather unusual; the fact creates a bit of chaos. Prost, in order not to take risks, slowly makes another round. Jacques Laffite celebrates instead, and stops without fuel at the side of the track, immediately after passing under the premature checkered flag; if the entire duration of the race had been respected, the over 40-year-old would not have finished the race and could not have celebrated third place.
A podium that the Frenchman however does not celebrate, as he does not find anyone willing to give him a ride to the pits, where the usual podium ceremony is held. Curiously, therefore, only Prost and Alboreto are present.
The ninth stage of the World Championship, which begins the second part of the season, takes place at the Nurburgring, where the German Grand Prix is held. Here, the president of FISA, Jean-Marie Balestre, meets the various team principals of the stables to discuss cost reduction and safety, the latter closely linked to the reduction of engine power. Obviously, there are various disagreements: Renault is opposed, although it cannot be said for sure whether the French manufacturer will remain in the circus for long. In any case, under the Concorde Pact, everyone must agree on any new reforms.
McLaren reacts strongly to the problems encountered up to that point of the season: the V6 TAG-Porsche is powered by German fuel, no longer with that supplied by the French, judged to be poorly performing if not defective. In addition, the engineers introduce a new front suspension geometry extensively tested during testing at Silverstone and ultimately make substantial changes to the braking and cooling systems.
These changes are also due, if not above all, to the complaints of the two drivers, Prost and Lauda, who already witnessed lack of power for several Grands Prix. Indeed, the Austrian driver seems on the point of retiring, given the situation that has arisen, as he himself confesses on July 23, 1985:
"Yes, it's true, today I am tired of racing, I no longer have the same motivations as I had last year. For some time now I've really been thinking about retiring, I wanted to make this decision but then I said to myself: Niki wait, don't decide so quickly. So I'll wait, I want to see how things go, how certain situations evolve".
"It's the wrong car, especially the engine that is no longer at its maximum level. We still have two big problems: horsepower and consumption. Power is not what we need to keep up with the best and how much to consumption, the engine still asks a little too much. Then there is the problem of the engines for the tests that have reached monstrous powers and we instead go to the track with the same racing engine. I do not know how many horses the others have, but I know that in France, for example, on the straight, Rosberg was at least twenty or twenty-five kilometers faster than me".
"Maybe precisely because we were ahead of the others, at Porsche they always told us: what we want more is you to always keep winning. In short, there was no reason to work and develop an engine that went well and won. We had at least a year worth of it. And now here are the results. So everyone is working to improve but in the meantime we are already halfway through the championship. Formula 1 is like this. But the desire to retire does not arise only from this. The truth, I must admit, is that I no longer have the same motivations as last year and in the past years. The trouble for someone like me who loves to change, always find new stimuli, is that now everything is terribly the same as before. The car is always the same, the tracks as well, there is Prost who wants to win the world championship, there is also the fact that I am doing badly. It is not my fault, once there, electronic control unit, another time something else, there is always something wrong. Only in Montecarlo it was my fault, I ended up on the oil left by Piquet and Patrese and so far not bad, but then I had the engine turned off and that race also ended with a retirement. Of course, if something changes, I could also continue racing. If I start again, for example, to do good results, or if things improve at McLaren, then I could change my mind. Making hasty decisions would be wrong, I must first get back to having some good performance, then we'll see. In the meantime, I leave all the doors open".
"So, of course, I'm not going to continue. But I still have every chance to change, I wouldn't want to leave Formula 1. I have received many offers, even from Beatrice, but there is still nothing in that team, nor the car, nor the engine, you have to start from scratch. So I said, be patient we will talk about it again. For now I have to think about finishing the races and maybe with good placings. Anyway, I either stay in Formula 1 or just stop racing. I don't need to end my carreer with second-rate races, I have other interests, I already have a job, Lauda Air, ready to absorb me, my airline had almost gone bankruptcy but at that moment all the airlines were going badly, then there was a recovery and today we work well. I have two Bac 111, excellent airliners that charter Greece and Spain and travel every day with full load. Other than crisis, we would need to expand".
Then the good Niki indulges in a little controversy against his former employer, Bernie Ecclestone:
"Ecclestone says that we drivers earn too much? And I believe it, Bernie has never paid anyone. Only now that Prost and I earn well and the others want to reach our level too, he complains. Of course, now he will have to do the races, counting on Piquet who is tired of taking less than us. The value of good drivers is high because without drivers Formula 1 is nothing. Televisions, sponsors, audiences come and pay because there are certain drivers, certain characters. Apart from Ferrari who is Ferrari with any driver and maybe even without it, the other cars alone don't count for anything, they don't appeal. But if Piquet, Rosberg, Prost etc. are inside, then yes they are worth it. Sponsors and public still love this sport. Costs are rising, it is true, and the fault lies with the super-powerful qualifying engines, but there is nothing that can be done to change the current testing system. I have studied the problem myself and can assure you that a good solution does not exist. costs then will go up even more when the new 1200 cc engines are adopted. But Formula 1 will not die for this".
Complaints aside, the results of the improvements brought to Germany are evident: the Anglo-German car seems to be again the fastest in comparison with Ferrari. However, at the Nurburgring Michele Alboreto comes up, defending himself from the attacks of Prost, who also takes a big risk, grazing the grass and going into a spin. The error is caused by the locking of the carbon discs of the front wheels, but Alain luckily manages to start again without having suffered any damage, but having to settle for second place. Alboreto therefore conquers his fifth career victory, strengthening his leadership in the championship and bringing the lead over Prost to five points.
At the Nurburgring, however, the news is that Enzo Ferrari, in entering his cars for the European Grand Prix that will be raced in October at Brands Hatch, and not in Rome as was originally planned to act as a counterbalance to the happiness for the victory, he also informed the British organizers that that will be the last race for his cars if the International Automobile Federation persists in changing the regulations; doing so throws everyone into the deepest consternation. After the more or less vague threats of wanting to transfer to American racing, Ferrari moved on to much more precise and concrete threats.
The five points that divide Prost from Alboreto will be zeroed in Zeltweg, in the following Grand Prix, but let's go in order, given that the days that bring Formula 1 closer to the Austrian weekend are full of sad events both on a sporting and human level: Monday August 12, 1985 RAM driver Manfred Winkelhock dies at the Sunny Brook Medical Center in Toronto, where he was hospitalized following a serious accident during a World SportsCar Championship race. The three and a half hour operation to try to remove a hematoma from the brain was worthless.
The 33-year-old German leaves behind a son, Markus (who will become a F1 driver himself), and his wife Martina, for whom teammate Philippe Alliot organizes a fundraiser. At the same time as the fight for the top between Prost and Alboreto, the unrepeatable year of 1984, the stormy relations with Ron Dennis and the continuous technical problems that targeted him for an entire season, completely demotivated the reigning champion, Niki Lauda, who, on the eve of his home Grand Prix, Saturday August 17, 1985, at 9:00 am announces a press conference in which he announces his definitive retirement from racing. Ron Dennis, having heard of the conference, decides to organize one himself in the name of McLaren. On Saturday mornings, journalists flock to Zeltweg, at the circuit.
"I have spent eleven years of my life giving and receiving a lot from this terrible and fascinating sport. I have loved cars and racing, and still love them. But it's time to think about something else. Next year I won't be racing in Formula 1. I have no more reasons. In 1979 I made an emotional decision, now I have meditated a lot".
Next to Niki is also Dennis, who is asked what the future of his team will be now that his top driver will no longer be there. Ron is careful not to praise Niki, and attributes much of the success of this McLaren to the genius of John Barnard. Lauda leaves the room in a rage, and doesn't speak to Dennis for the whole weekend, except to insult him.
Lauda defines the attitude of the McLaren team principal as stupid and painful, as could also be deduced from the expression of the journalists. A little later, in the pits, Lauda approaches Dennis, to whom the Austrian driver says in no uncertain terms that he is an asshole and that shortly before he had made the figure of an idiot in front of everyone. Dennis replies with the classic:
"We are not all perfect, we can all make mistakes".
Over the course of the weekend, Dennis will be able to understand that he has caused a wave of dislikes, even among the British media, so he will apologize to Lauda by saying that he had been drinking the night before, he was in a daze, and the bilateral press conference embarrassed him. But continuing with Dennis' speech to Lauda, his real problem finally emerges:
"Barnard and I work fifteen hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year for this car, for this team. When you win a race it's Prost or Lauda who have won and nobody talks about us. This is wrong and unfair, we should appear in the newspapers in the same way as the drivers. That's why the press conference should have been called by McLaren and not by you. You stay in Ibiza, you are in the sun while we work and when you come back all the photographers stick to you".
Lauda is shocked. And coldly, he responds by telling Dennis that he is complex and that arguing with him bores him and disgusts him, so now a barrier is erected between them. Keke Rosberg was hired in place of Lauda, and is made official as Prost's new partner. For now, he can be seen frantically wandering around the paddock, or chatting with Alain himself.
At the same time, Nelson Piquet greets Brabham to take the place of the Finn in Williams. After seven years and two World Championships, the carioca leaves the team which made him great. Although he has been out of the world for some time, in his last home Grand Prix Lauda manages to find the right motivation to return to the top. Already in qualifying the Austrian recorded a promising third place, behind poleman Prost and Nigel Mansell. When the traffic lights go out, he even manages to take the lead, but at the end of the first lap he sees the red flag waving in front of him.
While Niki sped in front of everyone, in the center of the group Teo Fabi and Elio de Angelis remained stationary and caused a traffic jam (also due to the too narrow straight) in which Alboreto's car, started from ninth position, was damaged. Thanks to the interruption of the race, the Italian can get on the forklift and take part in the second start.
A decision that obviously displeases Prost, but he cannot complain too much, given that at the first start he had to use a car that had a substantial oil leak. The mechanics, a few moments before the start, had brought the forklift to the grid, but the regulation does not foresee that there can be two cars of the same driver on the grid, and therefore the McLaren mechanics were sent back together with the reserve car.
Given the interruption, even Alain, like Alboreto, can get on the forklift and take away any worries about the reliability of his car. The reserve car, however, was not set up regularly, and Alain suffers from excessive tire wear throughout the race.
This inconvenience forces him to the pits to change tires, thus giving the lead to Niki Lauda. The two McLarens, in Zeltweg, return to racing alone, thanks to the many innovations made to the car that are paving the way to the world championship.
Lauda is in the lead, Prost second, approaches him lap after lap with fast laps. Lauda will let his teammate pass, helping in the World Championship, or will choose to fight to win his home Grand Prix, the last of his career, with a thought also to the record of twenty-seven wins - Niki is at twenty-four - held by Jackie Stewart?
The chances of witnessing a great duel cease when for the umpteenth time this season Niki is stopped by technical problems. This time it is the engine that betrays him thirteen laps to go. The reigning champion is really angry in the post-race, it is not explained why these problems are highlighted only on his car, while Prost can push freely without suffering any breakdowns. Finally, reflecting on the negative consequences in terms of ranking and internal atmosphere that his success could have brought, he declares:
"Anyway maybe it's better this way. If I hadn't stopped, it would have been even worse".
Alain sees his task facilitated all at once, he can manage his car to the finish line, and then celebrate his twentieth career success, the one that takes him to the top of the standings at 50 points, the same as Alboreto, who concludes the race in third position.
If these are the performances McLaren wants to get used to again, for the Italian the chase to the world champion becomes really tough. Alain is once again the favorite, he is in great shape, but to attest him among the greatest ever the conspicuous number of successes are not enough (in front of him only Stewart, Lauda, Fangio and Clark remain), obtained among other things in just eighty-three races: the World Cup must be won. Prost also spends a few words for his rivals, Alboreto and Ferrari, using terms that are not too flattering:
"I have an advantage over Michele, in a certain sense. He is in a more demanding team and has many responsibilities. He is also not used to fighting at the top. I would very much like to drive a Ferrari car, but not at this moment. I read some time ago statements by Enzo Ferrari according to which his team would never have had contact with me. I take this opportunity to say that in truth we have had talks for more than a year. But things weren't clear, it was not a clear way of dealing. It seems to me that Ferrari does not have a high regard for the drivers, or at least, it seems to me that the managers of McLaren have more. Take it as you like".
To spice up an otherwise flat race, Senna was in the show, recovering from fourteenth position on the grid to second. Not even the anomalous vibrations that force him to drive with one hand in some places prevent him from getting on the podium. After a negative trend that seemed infinite, Ayrton gives an important shift to his season in view of the final rush. A final rush in which he can hope to be the referee of the World Cup contested by Prost and Alboreto.
There are two question marks in view of the final sprint for the world victory: the painful experiences that Prost has had to swallow in recent years, what effect will they have on him? Will they affect him negatively, or will they help him maintain the right coolness without losing his mind?
And Ferrari? Will they be able to respond to McLaren's superiority in Austria? At Maranello they say they are certain that the fight will be on an equal footing, but from the qualifying for the Zandvoort Grand Prix, a week later, it is clear that it will not.
With serious problems of grip and road holding, on the Dutch circuit Alboreto is tragically fifteenth, two and a half seconds behind poleman Piquet. To confirm the black crisis, teammate Johansson is seventeenth. Michele, disconsolate, already talks about the finished World Cup. The problems encountered when cornering are not solved in the blink of an eye. Prost under his mustache laughs at the end of qualifying which sees him qualified in third position, even indulging in jokes like:
"I'm sorry for them, I'm really worried".
Lauda, on the other hand, analyzes the situation of his old team, and tries to give an explanation of why the Red has taken such a sensational step backwards:
"I can only make a hypothesis: I think there are too many heads to think. Teamwork is fine, but there must be only one brain. In terms of the technical setting of the car, of course. I believe that the Ferraris can pass this difficult moment, but it could be too late to win this World Cup".
In qualifying, Senna also stands out, but this time not for his great ability on the flying lap. Due to a broken turbine, Ayrton stops at the side of the track at the Hugenholtz corner as flames begin to rise from the Renault engine. The Brazilian waits for someone to come and put out the start of the fire, but when he realizes that no one comes to his rescue, he takes an internal road that takes him directly into the paddock.
Ayrton hurries out of the car, while the stewards with the fire extinguishers arrive immediately, also because in a place where there were numerous flammable materials, it would have been easy to trigger explosions or catastrophic fires. This behavior obviously does not comply with the rules, so Ayrton is summoned by the commissioners, who wanting to be strict, could even exclude him from the race.
But considering that the gesture was due to the lack of rescue, the judges are lenient and sanction the young Lotus driver with a fine of 5.000 dollars. However, Senna is not satisfied with the decision, and comments outraged:
"I wonder: who would have paid if I had left the car on the track to burn?"
Senna therefore starts regularly, starting from fourth position, unlike his compatriot Nelson Piquet. All the drivers avoid the two stuck cars, which only start their race later at the push of the stewards. Race that is decided above all by the pit stops made at different times.
Before everyone returns, as the abrasive track does not allow anyone to finish the race without stopping, Prost is in the lead followed by Lauda, who started tenth. The two McLarens got rid of Senna and saw the engine of Rosberg's Williams-Honda, in first position up to that point, catch fire.
At this point in the race, Lauda's car oversteers, as he has chosen the wrong tires, and especially the left rear tire, which is hard. Niki already agrees with the pit crew that if he had returned immediately, during the first laps, they would have prepared harder tires or four soft tires instead of three soft and one hard as he has been using since the start of the race.
So, almost halfway through the race, on the same lap in which Rosberg retires, Lauda returns to the pits to have four soft tires fitted. However, the car continues to maintain a bad set-up, and Lauda cannot understand why. The Austrian therefore decides to act on the accelerator with prudence, dosing with great attention the speed in the slow corners to hold to a minimum the vacuum wheel spins and hence the wear of the tires. Despite this, the car continues to oversteer.
Shortly after, it was Senna's turn to return to the pits, and when he hurt back the track he found himself in front of the Austrian driver, but on cold tires he was unable to keep behind the faster McLaren. The last to change tires are Prost and Alboreto.
The Ferrari driver, who started from the rear, faced the difficulties of his car without throwing himself down, and made a great comeback with risky overtaking and thanking some premature exit from the scene; after the stop he is eighth, but with new tires he overtakes Mansell, Berger, Surer and de Angelis quickly and without too many problems. Michele also has enough time to target Senna's third place, several seconds away, but in the following laps he has to deal with the engine overheating and the usual excessive fuel consumption.
Prost's problematic stop and Lauda's great race pace relegate Alain third to about ten seconds behind his teammate, with Senna standing in the way of the two. Halfway through the race, Lauda has a nine-second advantage over Alain, but there is something he is not aware of: he will only discover at the end of the race that when changing tires, Ron Dennis has re-installed a hard left rear tire on Niki's car, while Prost, who was stopped after a couple of laps, received four soft tires.
Again, the cooler soft tires facilitate rejoining. Senna, lost in his thousand problems, is not a problem for Alain to pass him easily. It is at this point, a week later, that we are told what Lauda would have done in Austria if his engine had not abandoned him.
Alain can achieve better lap times, his car oversteers less than Lauda's. Now, not wanting to take excessive risks, at any point on the track Alain can only overtake his teammate if he makes a mistake; therefore the Austrian driver concentrates to always fit particularly well in the entrance curve to the main straight to come out clean, in order to be able to quickly resume at full throttle.
"There is no such thing as Prost winning this fucking race".
Thinks Niki while he is behind the wheel. On the last lap, Alain performs an incredible maneuver, tries to make his way into the chicane, but Lauda has foreseen it, so he stays in the middle line, forcing Alain to end up with two wheels on the lawn.
No team order arrives from the pits, Lauda for his part shows no sign of leaving even half a crack open. Alain finds himself catapulted in 1983, when in the same conditions he lost his coolness and made a serious mistake that started his debacle of results.
Two years later, however, the Professor is certainly more mature, and understands that Lauda wants this victory at all costs. Alain feels satisfied, finishing second behind Niki and ahead of Senna.
In the final Alboreto attacks Ayrton, who anyway and perhaps in a somewhat incorrect way, as the Italian will later complain ("he would not let me pass and went zigzagging. This is certainly not the correct way to behave"), climbs third step of the podium.
Everyone is waiting for the podium scenes, to see how the two McLaren standard bearers will behave, perhaps hoping, in the case of the various journalists looking for controversy, in some skirmish. Alain and Niki instead warmly shake hands, smile and chat amiably as always; the esteem they have for each other is at its peak.
Alain knew that the Austrian would not help him, at least in this race, as Niki himself points out at the time of the interviews:
"Alain will be world champion alone, without my help. I have a contract identical to his, and it says that I can do what I want, and that's what I did today. Why should I let him pass? said that if he needs help in the last race of the season, he can count on me, but until then, I'll only think about myself. In my opinion, however, I think he won't need it to beat Alboreto".
Alain also confirms that everything took place in accordance with the agreements:
"We agreed not to do us any favors. And in fact I didn't expect anything from him".
And on the fight for the World Cup he adds:
"It was important for me to put Alboreto behind me before the Monza race. I hope there are no excesses there. The Italian fans don't want to realize that we are faster than Ferrari, so they whistle at me. But even Michele risks being mocked. Those who drive a Ferrari and are not competitive certainly do not like Monza fans".
In the evening, Partick Tambay confesses to reporters that Renault has officially decided to leave the circus at the end of the season; the French company left with fifteen wins and thirty-one pole positions, but no World title won. In any case, it will remain as an engine supplier for Lotus and Ligier.
In Monza, two weeks later, Ayrton never raced, having been suspended by Toleman the year before, and on Thursday evening he was unable to take the classic walk after sunset, useful for understanding the layout of the circuit.
So on Friday morning he takes to the track without knowing the track. After facing the bend, Ayrton forgets that before the Lesmo there is the variant of the Roggia, and almost goes off the track.
At this point he should have learned from the mistake, and instead, by his own admission, the next round forgets the presence of the variant again. After this episode, Ayrton swears to himself that he would never tackle a new circuit again without first walking it.
Before the Italian Grand Prix, the world of motorsport claims another victim: Stefan Bellof, a twenty-seven year old German with excellent potential, also courted by Ferrari in view of 1986, died on September 1th in Spa-Francorchamps while he was competing in the 1000 kilometers with the Porsche team. The accident, which took place at the Eau Rouge, took his life instantly.
The whole Formula 1 environment is shaken, team managers are also starting to question the freedom given to their drivers to race elsewhere. There is also the grain of the South African Grand Prix to be disputed on October 19th, 1985. Apartheid is underway in South Africa.
The international community had launched a series of sanctions on South Africa and even the states initially hostile to such measures, such as the US and Great Britain which preferred a conciliatory policy known as constructive engagement, starting this year began to align themselves with the others.
There was also strong international pressure in the world of sport, with South Africa excluded from participation in the Olympics until the 1980s, and the boycott of thirty-three African nations at the 1976 Olympics, in protest against the New Zealand rugby team that had accepted to play a few games against the South African team.
Now, almost all the drivers are called into question as to whether or not to carry out the Grand Prix, but initially they do not seem opposed to leaving for South Africa for the simple fact that they prefer not to link politics to sport:
"It is not up to us to say whether it is good or bad to race in South Africa. We are paid to race, there is a world championship underway, South Africa has to host one of its rounds, if they tell us to race we must race. And then I don't think that sport and politics should be mixed".
Says Alain Prost, reflecting the attitude of the whole Formula 1. Even Ferrari does not create problems, on the contrary Ferrari will leave for Kyalami immediately after the European Grand Prix on October 6, 1985, at Brands Hatch in order to have an extra week available to fine-tune the cars in South Africa, at 1000 meters above sea level, where, as is known, turbos have quite a few power problems.
Not even the Swedish ban on Johansson from participating in a sporting event in South Africa will stop Ferrari: Stefan will in fact give up the driving license issued by the federation of his country to take another one in England.
The same will be done by Piquet and Senna who, according to the recent provisions of the Brazilian government, should not have relations with South Africa. In fact, article two of the FISA statute says that discrimination cannot be made for political, trade union and racial reasons:
"If we were to decide whether or not to race in South Africa we would end up violating the statute that we have given ourselves and that we must respect first. The same duty is valid for national federations affiliated to us that cannot discriminate for political reasons. plus: if some team wanted a black driver to race in South Africa and the local federation were to oppose it, it would be in the wrong and we could then intervene".
Jean-Marie Balestre declares.
"For all the rounds of the world championship there are long-signed contracts that must be respected. Formula 1 is not just a sport, it is above all a business with its own rules. And we do not cry scandal because in sports considered to be much purer there are ultra-minor boys and girls who are placed under contract and must also respect certain rules".
Instead, FOCA president Bernie Ecclestone explains. All the teams agree to race: Ken Tyrrel said he is even willing to put three cars on the track, in case some defection arrives. Not even the possibility of Eurovision blocking the broadcast of the race scares the Formula 1 bosses:
"It is an eventuality already foreseen in the contracts that does not alter the payment of television rights".
According to Alec Whittaker, FOCA TV manager. The only element that worries everyone is only that relating to safety. The possibility of an assault on the white citadel of racing forty kilometers from Johannesburg is frightening. Internal sources of FOCA let it be known that:
"On this we must trust what the South African organizers assure us, namely that the race will take place in guaranteed conditions of safety".
There is no doubt about this, given that for South Africa the Grand Prix scheduled at Kyalami is the only event that still links the country to world-level sport. For no reason they are willing to give it up.
Meanwhile, in Monza, a protest is planned in front of the racetrack to raise awareness among spectators and car manufacturers on the problem of Apartheid in South Africa, in which Dario Fo and Franca Rame also participate. Protesters demand the South African Grand Prix to be held in any other country where Apartheid is not practiced. Meanwhile, Ferrari works day and night to fill the gap with McLaren, and brings lots of news to Monza and Brands Hatch in tests, the week before the Italian Grand Prix. The lap times are promising.
But after qualifying on the Monza circuit, Alain is fifth and Alboreto is seventh; the overwhelming power of Senna on the flying lap, followed by Piquet's Williams and Brabham does not mislead anyone, much less the two rivals for the title. Prost knows he is the favorite ahead of the race, while Alboreto is disappointed: he expected much more from qualifying.
The lap of peace is also staged on Saturday: Prost and Alboreto, in the company of Balestre, go around the track aboard a Lancia Y10, greeting the many fans who have come as always for the long-awaited event. The goal was to settle the historical differences between Italian fans and Prost. Does it work? Absolutely not.
The race, even if not mathematically, puts an end to what already seemed utopian world probabilities: while Prost goes on to win as expected, Alboreto stops six laps from the end due to engine failure.
Not that the zero obtained changes the disaster that much, considering that Alboreto was sixth and lapped. To silence the fans definitively, Johansson's retirement on the last lap, for running out of fuel. The disappointment is such that there is not even the strength to whistle Prost, now world leader with twelve points ahead. At this point in the championship, there are still four races to go.
Anything can happen, this is true, but the effort of the Ferrari team on a technical level, led by Harvey Postlethwaite, was worth nothing except to be lapped and to increase the unreliability of the car. The debacle was made even more painful by the overtaking in the constructors' classification, where McLaren took the lead with 79 points. The British team now seems unattainable, and Alboreto is the first to no longer believe it:
"It's over. We should have progressed here, but it was the other way around. We haven't improved on either the engine or the chassis. I don't believe it anymore".
In fact, he does well not to delude himself. Starting from Monza until the end of the year, Michele did not finish even one race, all of which ended prematurely due to reliability problems with the Ferrari engine.
The worst way to lose a World Cup is probably this, without being able to play it, and Alain himself knows something about it, but now he finds himself playing the role of who has the best car, which never breaks. The Mp4/2B fails only when it can afford it, and that is in the last race in Australia. In fact, the Professor has already been able to celebrate his first World Title at Brands Hatch, on October 6, 1985, at the fourteenth round of the sixteen scheduled.
In between, however, there is the Belgian Grand Prix, and the controversy surrounding the South African Grand Prix that is far from dormant. In fact, in the days following the Italian Grand Prix, the opposing positions taken by the various governments intensified. On September 11th, 1985, the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs announced that he will prevent Piquet and Senna from taking part in the Grand Prix, and Joaquim Cardoso de Mello, president of the Brazilian confederation of motor sports, declares that he will ask FISA to cancel the race.
Pressure in this sense continues to be exerted also by the Swedish government against Stefan Johansson, while the Finnish ministers want to prevent Rosberg from racing in South Africa with a license from their country. Alain Colmat, the French minister of sport, also spoke out against the dispute of the Grand Prix. Many in Italy are also against the Grand Prix. Also on September 11th, 1985, Franco Carraro, president of Coni, also talks about it, after the meeting of the Board:
"Italian sport has long since complied with the directives of the IOC, not accepting relations with South Africa, to protest against racial discrimination in sports. However, if the international federation keeps the Grand Prix on the calendar - and in my opinion it would be wrong because the conditions advise against it - the Italian drivers will be able to participate. Of course if the government withdraws their passport they would not be able to go".
Much has also been said about the South African Grand Prix at the Italian Parliament, while the radical ecological association that sends a letter to Enzo Ferrari with another proposal: to participate in the race and to employ drivers and mechanics in Ferrari team's pits color.
As far as television is concerned, what filters is that Swedish and Brazilian television want to adopt a diametrically opposite position. The former, obeying the decision of his government, will boycott the grand prix, while Brazilian television O Globo has announced that it will broadcast the race. Austria, Italy, Australia and France decide to broadcast the Formula 1 Grand Prix if the race takes place, unless the government intervenes:
"We have absolutely no thought of canceling the program. It is not our responsibility. Only the government could intervene on such an issue. So far, no one has spoken out".
They say in the italian television channel RAI.
"It is a sports report and as such we will pass it on. We fight so that politics never enter sports. We would only bring more confusion. If the French government then takes a rigid position, everything will have to be re-discussed".
This is how Christian Quidet, head of Antenne 2 in France, expresses himself, while the West German television, which only broadcasts the German Grand Prix live, announces that it will broadcast images of the Kyalami race on a deferred basis. And the drivers? Michele Alboreto, generally one of the most aggressive, declares:
"If FISA says yes, I will go to Kyalami".
Teammate Johansson echoes him, saying:
"If Ferrari goes, I'll go too".
The only team that let know their absence is Renault. The initiative of the transalpine team follows a specific request from the French minister of sport, Alain Calmat, who had asked the French manufacturers and drivers to evaluate in their conscience the implications that their participation in the South African Grand Prix would have had. Renault therefore decided not to take part in this round of the championship. The decision, even if in part it was undoubtedly facilitated by the already announced retirement from racing for next year, gives considerable weight to the discussion.
For this, Balestre and Ecclestone get together in a hurry to talk about the thorny issue. As for Minister Calmat's invitation to cancel the race, Balestre merely said that he had not received any official request to that effect, but that he had learned the news by reading the newspapers.
Alain Prost, who until a few days earlier was in favor, now proves his opposition, aligning himself with the request of Minister Calmat, but underlines that:
"It's crazy, but if Alboreto goes, I'll go too".
Even the Brazilian drivers, as anticipated, are strongly under pressure from their respective ministers, as underlined by Ayrton Senna, who declares:
"My country has broken off all commercial, cultural and sporting relations with South Africa. But I still don't know if and how they can prevent me from going, also because I work for a non-Brazilian company such as Lotus".
The same is the fear of Piquet who has instructed his lawyers in Brazil to examine the real terms of the matter. In the meantime, however, on September 14, 1985, Niki Lauda was not present at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, he stayed in Vienna where his wrist was put in plaster. McLaren, which had brought in John Watson, its old and glorious driver during the night, finally decides to race with only one car, as Ferrari has opposed the replacement, vetoing it.
The reason is simple: in this way the Cavallino can still hope to win the constructors' championship if not the drivers' championship, given that the points of two cars are added up in the first.
But in the race things do not go as they would have liked in Ferrari: after three laps, Michele is stopped with the clutch no longer working, while Alain takes advantage of it and reaches the finish line third, acquiring four fundamental points. Having reached this situation, arrived in England, Alboreto does not get lost in chatter after qualifying and sadly declares:
"Tomorrow Prost will be World Champion".
With 16 points ahead of the Milanese, two more are enough to put an end to the games.
Alain spends the weekend arguing with an unusual instability in the curves, but on Sunday, while Alboreto still retires due to an engine failure, he just does his homework, finishes fourth and earns three points, enough to allow him to take off a huge boulder that he had been carrying on his shoulders for a while.
At thirty, after six seasons and twenty-one victories, later a substantial growth as a man and as a pilot, from being called the dwarf for his small stature to becoming the Professor for his superfine intelligence, Alain Prost finally celebrates his first World Title at Brands Hatch.
On the podium there is also exceptionally him to celebrate together with Mansell, who sends the British public into ecstasy by winning his first race in his career, together with Senna and Rosberg, who, however, are slightly darker in the face. The Finn joins the group of drivers who label Senna as a dangerous driver for the safety of other drivers, calling him one who maneuvers as a Formula 3 driver.
Ayrton in fact, during the race repeatedly closes the trajectory to Keke, until, when the latter is trying to overtake him, the two touch each other, also involving Piquet, who was immediately behind, and who must also retire after having centered the Williams of the Finnish driver.
At this point Keke returns to the pits, changes the tires following a puncture, then exits and stands in front of Ayrton, preventing him from lapping, favoring Nigel who takes the lead and runs to the victory in front of 120.000 cheering people. Piquet, who was involved in the accident, after the race invites Senna to the Brabham motorhome to quarrell.
The attentions, however, are obviously for the men in tears sprinkling champagne all over the place. Mansell looks exhausted in the face, he almost does not know what to do so much is the emotion, the same goes for the French long-haired next to him, who after the race declares:
"Finally the title has arrived. I knew that someday I would succeed. In the next few hours, in the next few days, maybe I will realize this success with greater intensity, I will enjoy it fully. But I have an incredible schedule of commitments: I'm not going home until Thursday to say goodbye to my wife Anne-Marie and my son Nicolas, who turned four the day I won the Zeltweg race".
"I understood that the title was achiable at Monza, when the Ferrari crisis became evident. I was so sure of winning the World Championship that I would not even have cared about taking the points I got in England. I could have done it very well in the next two races as well. When I saw that Alboreto was stopped anyway, I was worried not to take any risks. Now that I have taken off the weight of the World Championship, I will try to win other races, which is the greatest satisfaction for a driver. McLaren has done its part, I think I have done mine, without having any particular help. The team's technicians have been very good, especially in fixing the chassis which was not the best at the beginning of the season. I hope McLaren will still be able to give me a competitive car. Rosberg my new teammate? Let me breathe, I'll think of Keke in 1986".
Alain returns to Paris the same evening, where he celebrates together with the team at the well-known L'Entrecôte restaurant. McLaren is the second team, after Brabham in 1967, to win the drivers' title two years in a row. During the evening, Mansour Ojjeh, Saudi businessman from TAG, reveals to everyone between one glass of wine and the other, that Frank Williams in 1982 refused the supply of their engines. Looking at the results, that certainly wasn't one of the wisest choices in Sir's sporting life. Then we move to the disco, where the celebrations go on for a long time.
The next day Alain is in the company of his friends Jacques Laffite and Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the Bordeaux cellars, to whom he reveals his next goal, definitely within his reach: to beat the record of twenty-seven wins held by Jackie Stewart.
The first French champion in Formula 1 history, however, fails to win further races in 1985. In South Africa, where in the end the only teams to boycott the event are the French Renault and Ligier on the instruction of the French minister of sport (Alain takes a lot to change some criticism from his country for not doing the same), Prost is third, while in Adelaide he retires due to engine problems, but he can still celebrate the constructors' championship with his team.
In addition, between the two weekends, together with his wife Anne-Marie he was privately received by the Pope in Rome. Undoubtedly a very touching moment for him, who never hid his Catholic faith. Despite the lack of successes at the end of the season, it is common opinion that the record of Sir. Jackie will be short lived.
On the other hand, unfair, disrespectful, irresponsible, dangerous, foolish, idiotic, mad, and so on and so forth, are the adjectives that Senna has seen himself given during the season, and not from classic bar chatter, but by the veterans present on the starting grid, such as Alboreto, Rosberg, Lauda, Mansell, Prost or compatriot Piquet, or others already retired, such as James Hunt. Ayrton, for now, has done a lot of magic, but is put under the magnifying glass more for his numerous incorrectness and exaggerations, than for his magic.
The last victory of the season was given in Belgium, the race preceding that of Brands Hatch. The weekend in Spa-Francorchamps should have taken place on June 2nd, 1985, but the unacceptable conditions of a crumbling asphalt as the cars passed, forced the Federation, under pressure from the teams and drivers, to postpone everything to September. On that occasion, the pole position was for Alboreto, who, given the situation in which he finds himself then in September, undoubtedly is in pain.
The pole this time goes to Prost, closely followed by Senna. On Sunday it rains all morning until a few moments before the start, so the track is wet but with a very slight dry trajectory, and just like in Estoril, in such conditions Ayrton does another job, passes Prost when the traffic lights go out and tries to make a vacuum.
Ayrton has to fight with the others only when changing the wet tires to fit the slicks: out of the pits, Nigel Mansell manages to stay in front of him, but before climbing for the Eau Rouge, Senna takes back the position with audacity.
From there begins the ride towards the second career victory, certainly not without some headaches, since the engine on the straight tends to shut down several times.
At the end of the race, Ayrton is so happy that he ignores the directions of the marshals who invite him to immediately enter the pits to go to the parc fermé; he avoids them and goes for the lap of honor, a custom that does not exist in Spa. But Ayrton doesn't care about this, nor about the weight of the car, nor about the fact that on the podium the organizers only play God save the Queen, not having any recording of the Brazilian anthem. Small gaffe that Senna doesn't even seem to notice.
"The race was tight for all phases, especially in the middle and towards the end, because I always had to go to the maximum to keep the advantage I had over Mansell within the safety limits. I don't know how the race would have gone without the rain, it was certainly an advantage for us, I got off to a good start, I immediately sprinted away from the first laps when everyone was with a full tank of petrol and I managed to keep the gap despite the comeback of Mansell. Now I'm leaving immediately for Brazil, I'm tired of Europe, I'm going to rest a bit in my country, I'll be back a few days before the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch".
At the end of the championship Ayrton is fourth in the standings with 38 points, two less than Keke Rosberg. The future McLaren driver, together with Mansell, is the latest in the long line of drivers who harshly criticize the young Brazilian during the last race in Adelaide, where Ayrton is the author of overly aggressive maneuvers that he does not like:
"He is fast but he is far from being a good driver. He is crazy and irresponsible, and I stop here because anything else I say would be bad words".
Is Mansell's opinion. For his part, however, Senna refuses to take responsibility for the contact with Rosberg, hit by the Lotus while he was returning to the pits and, on the contrary, accuses the Finn of having braked in his face on purpose. What happened?
During the Australian Grand Prix, on lap forty-third Rosberg returned to the pits to replace the tires, but his sudden slowdown displaced Senna, who collided with him and damaged his car.
The Brazilian driver tries to continue the race, but the aileron turns upwards, lifting the front of the car, preventing him from turning. With the car heading off the track, Ayrton considers two possibilities, brake or keep the throttle open while attempting to make the curve on the grass.
In a split second, Ayrton chooses the second option, because during the classic patrol lap he had noticed that in that part of the track it was possible to swerve in the event of a spill. Despite the skilful and spectacular control of the car, Ayrton is forced to return to the pits to carry out repairs on the damaged car, leaving second place to Lauda, who in the meantime has taken advantage of the various retirements to get back in the standings. Later, Ayrton returns to the lead of the race, but must subsequently drop out on lap 61 due to engine failure.
Seven pole positions decree him as the best ever on the flying lap, two victories and many spectacular performances have thrilled all the insiders, but at the end of his first season among those who count, Ayrton still remains an immature talent, which if does not put his head in order risks becoming a meteor.
In the meantime, he has at least concentrated all the attention of Lotus on him, forcing de Angelis to emigrate to Brabham, and Peter Warr to hire a driver who cannot bother him, the seventh Marquess of Bute, John Colum Crichton-Stuart, known by all as the Earl of Dumfries, and thus commonly known as Johnny Dumfries.
For 1986 a huge leap in quality is required, because Warr is waiting for now, after all Ayrton is still young, but you know, in Formula 1 things change from one day to the next.
November 3rd, 1985, is also the date on which Lauda disputes his last Grand Prix.
The Austrian driver, four days earlier, arrived in Adelaide exhausted from the long flight and irritated because the same evening he had to attend a McLaren party. Niki drinks a couple of glasses of wine, jokes with Ron Dennis, who is strangely in a good mood, and at three in the morning he throws himself on the bed.
The next morning is tragic: Lauda wakes up with a severe migraine and during the first hour of track activity he feels bad. As if that weren't enough, the car runs into one defect after another: problems with the electrical system and engine failures affect the Austrian driver's tests. All this inevitably affects the qualification, where Lauda marks the sixteenth time.
On Sunday, the Austrian's approach to running is cautious. Niki notices almost immediately that the rear wheels of Johansson's Ferrari are showing signs of wanting to come off, so he changes the pressure from 3.5 to 3.2 and acts on the accelerator with as much caution as possible. Despite everything, he proceeds fairly smoothly through the group and quickly takes sixth position, noting however that the tires are still in excellent condition.
Lauda then returns to normal pressure and makes his way towards the leading group, while Rosberg and Senna, in particular, destroy their tires in a short time, stop in the pits to change them and pushes so hard that after fifteen laps their tires are back to the ground.
There is nothing left for Lauda to do but pass the Seine and lead the race. Now the Austrian driver is really satisfied with himself and his performance. But when he least expects it, carbon brakes fail. The disc thinned unevenly and therefore vibrates, the brake linings no longer hold, and the heavy blows, produced by the irregularities of the ground along the lattice, do the rest. Nothing happens at the first pedal stroke, so Lauda has to press repeatedly, if necessary even with his left foot, even while turning on the gas, to obtain any effect.
However, the Austrian driver was forced to accelerate at the same time, as Rosberg came out of the box, sixteen seconds behind and with fresh tires set a very fast time. At the end of the straight, the two competitors pass at almost 300 km/h: Lauda presses on the brakes, but nothing happens. Then he pumps a second time, always nothing. Another pedal stroke: only the rear brakes take hold, they block and the car swerves to the left where there is the wall. The McLaren's nose curls up against the concrete, the car crawls along the wall and stops. Lauda says to himself:
"Forget it, it's the last race, it doesn't mean anything, it's over, you managed to survive".
The spectators clap their hands, and all the way to the garage they accompany Niki with shouts of approval for his incredible career. Upon returning to the pits, all the mechanics are present to greet Niki before the farewell along with dozens of journalists and the dean of German-speaking motor sport reporters, Ernst Graf, who with wet eyes says:
"It's the end of a myth".
Before he started sobbing, Niki runs to the helicopter. Ron Dennis thanks him on behalf of the McLaren team and the Austrian driver thanks him back. Dennis insists for him to stay for the big party that night, but Niki has had enough, the plane is waiting for him. That same evening he returns to Ibiza, where Marlene has organized a party.
Niki, who would have sworn that after that monstrous crossing he would have thrown himself on the bed, is now thinking of nothing else but celebrating.
Davide Scotto di Vetta