#414 1985 Austrian Grand Prix

2022-07-29 01:00

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#1985, Fulvio Conti,

#414 1985 Austrian Grand Prix

Austria is enjoying some perfect summer weather when the Formula One circus assembly in the huge paddock at the Österreichring and everything is set f


The black cloud that seems to haunt Formula 1 since the beginning of the season, disturbing qualifications or races at random, also moves to Monza where, from Tuesday, August 6, 1985, free practice sessions are scheduled to continue until Friday, August 9, 1985: a storm in the morning and heavy rain in the afternoon. Thus, only four cars take to the track: a Ferrari with Stefan Johansson, a Toleman with Teo Fabi, a Brabham with Nelson Piquet, and a McLaren with Alain Prost. The crowd, about 7.000 people, gathered in the covered grandstands in front of the pits, regardless of the downpour, awaited Michele Alboreto. But the Italian driver, informed that a storm was raging in Monza, prefers to postpone his arrival until Wednesday evening to practice on Thursday. So the applause intended for the Nurburgring winner is directed at the red Ferrari brought to the circuit by the mechanics. Fans celebrate it as if it were a person, almost as if it could respond with a greeting, perhaps with the roar of the engine. Applause (and some boos) for Johansson and, of course, only boos (a volley) for Prost. The relationship between the Frenchman and Monza is always difficult. Two years ago, the fans insulted Prost several times, and he responded with a gesture. The same story, by the way, at Imola. Alain Prost says:


"I can't understand these boos, but by now I have to get used to such treatment. So I let myself go, I was in a moment of tension. Now I could send kisses to everyone, and I would still get boos. Too bad, I would like to have a different kind of relationship with this audience, which is the most knowledgeable and passionate in Formula 1".


And now the title fight with Michele Alboreto will not improve the situation. But is it really just a matter between you two?


"In this sport, you can never say until there is mathematical certainty. It's clear that with seven races still to be run, it's difficult for any of our rivals to surpass both of us".


What are each of your chances?


"Exactly 50% each. But much depends on circumstances, luck. Our cars are more or less equal. Ferrari is unbeatable on circuits like the Nurburgring. We are strong in the twisty and high-speed ones. It will still be a good battle".


Last year Niki Lauda, now Michele Alboreto. It's getting harder and harder to reach this coveted title...


"It has never been easy for anyone. Besides, it wouldn't be nice to win without opponents. I'm already happy to be able to compete at a high level. I try not to think too much about the championship. Otherwise, I would risk developing a complex".


What do you fear most for the end of the season?


"The third parties. I would prefer a head-to-head battle with Alboreto. Instead, there are people like Rosberg, Senna, De Angelis, and Piquet who want to win races. They can influence the results, make me lose or make Alboreto lose precious points. In addition, unfortunately, I can't rely much on my teammate Lauda. This year he's so unlucky... He can't take a single placement away from Alboreto".


What are the main qualities of your opponent?


"He is strong, has character. I believe that composure is one of his best qualities. I am convinced that racing for Ferrari subjects him to a lot of pressure. But he reacts in the right way, as he did last Sunday. A guy who doesn't give in easily. It will be very tough for me".


On Wednesday, August 7, 1985, Michele Alboreto finally arrives at the Monza circuit. The Italian driver arrives in the late afternoon, and on Thursday morning, he will take to the track with the Ferrari. Alboreto prefers to stop behind the pits, in the paddocks, to avoid being besieged by fans. In the stands, with the return of the sun, about 15.000 people are present, and obviously, everyone is waiting for the winner of the German Grand Prix, the leader of the World Championship.


"I needed two days of tranquility. The result in Germany was needed. A boost of confidence for me and the team. Every now and then, you have to rediscover the spirit of the early races when there was nothing to lose, and you threw yourself into the fray without too many responsibilities. It's nice to hear many compliments, but I can assure you that sometimes it's more difficult and requires more effort to achieve a sixth place in certain conditions than a victory. As for the championship, it's useless to talk about it. Too early, many races are still missing".


While Alboreto speaks calmly, his colleagues are running without stops on the circuit. Or rather, with great commitment. Ferrari, with Johansson, breaks two engines in the morning. But the technician Tomaini is not overly worried, as these were engines that had already undergone tough tests on the bench. Moreover, a McLaren with Prost also breaks an engine, who manages to go play golf and then return to set the best time of the day; 1'29"692. Fabi with the Toleman is also on foot for the same problem for a few hours, while Tambay's Renault has gearbox troubles. Behind Prost, Mansell with the Williams and De Angelis insert themselves. Johansson records the fourth time, despite the stops, completing 61 laps, trying everything, with applause for Ferrari every time it passes in front of the stands. On Thursday, August 8, 1985, Ferrari concludes the free practice sessions at Monza with many doubts. During the morning, there is another engine failure, while in the afternoon, a gearbox problem emerges, so Alboreto only completes 17 laps. The recorded times do not have a precise meaning due to the many tests carried out, but in any case, the fastest is again Prost, who laps in 1'28"195, ahead of De Angelis, Piquet, and Alboreto. Alain Prost says, satisfied:


"Our tests went very well; I hope to have found the solutions to beat Alboreto right here in Monza next Sunday at Zeltweg. In any case, I will attack".


Niki Lauda also takes to the track, and he will continue testing on Friday with his McLaren, along with Williams, Alfa Romeo, and Renault. The Austrian, commenting on the news about his imminent retirement, repeats that he will make a decision after the Austrian Grand Prix. Formula 1 is experiencing the most exciting period of the year. Races follow one another, the challenge between Michele Alboreto, with Ferrari, and Alain Prost, with McLaren-Porsche, for the conquest of the World Championship is increasingly heated. Now it's Austria's turn. On Friday, August 16, 1985, at Zeltweg, the first day of practice will take place for a Grand Prix - the tenth of the season - which will be immediately followed, just a week apart, by the one in the Netherlands. The race will be followed by thousands of Italians. It's the holiday Grand Prix, a race held on a spectacular circuit, easy to reach from Italy. There will be great support for Alboreto and Ferrari. The Italian driver is the leader of the World Championship with 46 points, five more than Prost. Elio De Angelis, Keke Rosberg, and Stefan Johansson seem now detached: they have, respectively, 18, 16, and 13 points. Zeltweg is a track more favorable to the characteristics of the McLaren than to those of Ferrari. It is a very fast circuit, with breathtaking curves, where it is possible to reach speeds exceeding 230 km/h. And indeed, the tenth stage of the Formula 1 World Championship for Ferrari starts badly. While McLaren seems to be super competitive on the first day of practice for the Austrian Grand Prix, the Maranello team spends the most difficult and disconcerting hours of the season. On the one hand, there is the best time and a fantastic circuit record by Alain Prost, as well as Niki Lauda's second place. On the other hand, Johansson is eleventh, and Alboreto is nineteenth (incredibly true), along with a whole series of worrying problems. The Swedish driver's Ferrari reports significant oversteer, the Italian driver breaks two and a half engines and cannot complete a single useful lap. 


With the timing obtained in the morning in the free practice, the leader of the World Championship would have been at least twelfth. Zeltweg's track confirms to be a very fast and curvy circuit, suitable for enhancing the McLaren-Porsche. Prost (a new rear suspension has been fitted to his car) laps in 1'25"490: the previous record was held by Piquet, at 1'26"173. The average speed is 250.219 km/h, another barrier broken (it is the second-highest average in Formula 1 after the 258.983 km/h of Silverstone). Prost, cautious and calm, says:


"Our cars are undoubtedly performing well, but we'll wait until the end of the race to talk".


There is calm at Ferrari as well, despite everything going wrong. An engine failure in the morning, another one just at the beginning of the qualifying, and immediately after, a third one mounted on the first car out of order due to an oil leak. Always with Alboreto. The Italian driver was forced to qualify with Johansson's car at the last moment, with all the difficulties involved (various adjustments, a squeezed car, worn-out tires). Why so many troubles? On Thursday, a strange story of electronic problems was born, those famous control units that now control the cars with their computers. Certainly not a congenital defect but a matter of very difficult adjustments that change in every race. Otherwise, the positive results obtained so far by Ferrari would not be explained. These control units are filled with data provided by Ferrari technicians themselves, based on the needs of the moment, i.e., requested power, consumption, and so on. It is said - but no one confirms it at the moment - that when the parameters are wrong, inconveniences arise. Alboreto makes the best of a bad situation and says:


"Theoretically, I should be at least among the top five. The car is not bad. Let's hope for the second qualifying session, assuming the rain doesn't come". 


On Friday, the track is scorching hot, and the forecasts are good. It's worth noting that Alboreto, despite everything, was the fastest on the finish line (305 km/h), while Piquet's Brabham reached 340 km/h at the end of the main straight. On Saturday, the battle of lap times resumes. Alboreto desperately needs to gain positions. Prost will be attacked by the Williams cars (Rosberg is third, although he lost half a wing and had to use race tires because the softer ones didn't last a lap) and by Piquet. Due to a spin, the Brazilian used the reserve car with recycled tires. Fabi is currently sixth, Ghinzani - debuting with Toleman - is a good fifteenth. In difficulty, almost like Ferrari, are Lotus and Renault. Warwick collides with a guardrail, seriously damaging Tambay's borrowed car. Irishman Kenny Acheson makes his return to Formula 1 with RAM, replacing the late Winkelhock. But luck is not on his side: the pilot breaks the engine in the morning and manages to get on the track while they display the flag for the end of the tests, so his average speed is 5.9 km/h. As if he had walked. As mentioned, unfortunately, on Sunday, August 12, 1985, Manfred Winkelhock, the thirty-three-year-old German Formula 1 driver, died at Sunny Brook Medical Center, where he had been admitted with multiple fractures following an accident on the dangerous Mosport circuit during a World Endurance Championship race. The unfortunate driver underwent a three-and-a-half-hour brain operation in an attempt to remove a hematoma. Winkelhock, who raced in the Formula 1 World Championship with the RAM team, was a professional driver and rarely spent a Sunday without being involved in a race. He had participated with a private Porsche 962 in the race scheduled at Mosport, partnered with the Swiss Marc Surer. During the race, he had an accident, colliding with a slower car. He stopped at the pits to change tires and check the suspension, then restarted like a fury. Shortly after, he crashed into a wall at full speed, destroying his car to the point that it took rescuers 25 minutes to extract him. Winkelhock was then airlifted to Toronto, about 100 kilometers away from the racetrack. His condition appeared desperate from the start. His parents and wife Marianne arrived in Canada from Cologne, where he lived (he was born in Walblingen, nearby, on October 6, 1952). The late German driver had not won anything significant, but he had gained recognition for his courage and recklessness without malice. In 1980, he became famous for a spectacular accident at the Nürburgring when he was racing in Formula 2: his car took off like an airplane and crashed onto the track, disintegrating, but Winkelhock miraculously remained unscathed. 


Thanks to the support of German industries, he joined Formula 1 in 1982. Before that, he had raced with ATS (which fired him at the end of 1984 for speaking ill of his team and not making an effort to improve the car). From the beginning of the season, he was with RAM. He achieved only one fifth place in Brazil in 1982, after the disqualification of Rosberg and Piquet. He had participated in 48 Grand Prix races, going off the track many times. On Saturday, August 17, 1985, Niki Lauda also bids a final farewell to Formula 1:


"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. I still love them. But it's time to think about something else again. Next year, I will not race in Formula 1".


A bit moved, dressed in a racing suit, at 9:00 a.m., Niki Lauda (accompanied by Ron Dennis, McLaren's manager) announces his second retirement from the sport. Lauda, 36 years old, married, two children, residing in Ibiza, Spain, debuted in 1971 with a March in the Austrian Grand Prix, was with B.R.M., four years with Ferrari (from 1974 to 1977), and two with Brabham. In 1979, during the Canadian Grand Prix practice session in Montreal, he suddenly left everyone behind to lead his airline. He returned to racing with McLaren in 1982, with a fabulous contract. He won three World Championships, suffered severe burns in the fire of his Ferrari at the Nürburgring in 1976, nearly facing death, and was both idolized and hated. At the end of the year, he will have participated in 173 Formula 1 races.


"I have no more motivation in Formula 1. Lauda Air is doing well; in 1986, we will buy two new planes for charter flights, and I will be involved in this work that I like. I spent four fantastic years at McLaren, despite ups and downs. The two races that satisfied me the most? In Portugal last year when I won the third World Championship and two weeks ago at the Nürburgring, where I drove really well. But this has been an unlucky season, even though I still want to win because there are seven races left, and I won't back down. In 1979, I made an emotional decision; now I have meditated a lot".


Niki Lauda leaves the door open for the future, although a third return at his age seems unlikely. Even leaving racing, Lauda remains a protagonist. The vacancy left by the Austrian at McLaren triggers a whirlwind of driver movements. Rosberg talks with Prost in the Marlboro van. According to some rumors, the Finn has already signed with McLaren. Other possible movements are also hinted at: Piquet would gladly stay with Brabham but wants more money and threatens to switch to Williams. Brabham is considering De Angelis, but De Cesaris is also thinking about the English team. And Ferrari? Alboreto says that if they don't kick him out, he'll stay; for Johansson, there are exams of the remaining races. The Maranello team, however, has a wide range of drivers in mind, including the German Bellof, Patrese and Cheever are looking for a team. Ghinzani and Fabi hope to stay with Toleman, Tambay and Boutsen have contacts with Beatrice, Warwick would move to Lotus. A few hours later, at the end of the second qualifying session, Michele Alboreto manages to climb ten positions in the lineup. The Italian driver drops from nineteenth to ninth place, so he will start in the fifth row. However, one fact is enough: Michele's time is two seconds slower than Prost's. Four laps to the desperate with the first drops starting to fall, and the miracle has happened.


"I can't say if it was luck or misfortune. In an hour, I would certainly have done better, but it would have been necessary to see the progress of the others too. Talking about tactics for the race is useless. If the car allows me to reach, for example, fifth place, I have to finish fifth. If things go better, I'll try to get a better result; in short, I'll do my best as always. However, reaching McLaren seems difficult. This is not a track that allows overtaking four opponents at the first turn".


Ferrari faces perhaps the most challenging race of the season, at a crucial moment in the Formula 1 World Championship. The Austrian Grand Prix, held on the fast Osterreichring circuit, sees the Maranello team and its lead driver, Michele Alboreto, engaged in a frontal duel with McLaren driven by Alain Prost. Five points separate the two opponents (Alboreto has 46, Prost 41). 


Anything can theoretically happen: consolidation of the position by the Italian driver, reduction of the advantage margin, overtaking by the Frenchman. Unfortunately, the first hypothesis is on paper the least likely. The comparison takes place at the height of McLaren's competitiveness. The track is suitable for the technical characteristics of the English car with a Porsche engine, and Prost, for the first time this season (the 11th of his career), has managed to maintain pole position. Furthermore, Ferrari reported in recent days, just after Alboreto's victory at the Nürburgring and starting from the free practice sessions at Monza, a series of unexplained engine failures. On Saturday, for example, in the non-qualifying tests held in the morning, another engine fails after the three on Friday. Despite this serious inconvenience and despite the qualification tests lasting practically only ten minutes, instead of the scheduled hour due to a furious storm that flooded the circuit, Alain Prost, who did not even go out on the track (in the morning, he slightly burned his back due to a fuel leak in the cockpit of his McLaren), content but measured, says:


"We are in excellent shape, but we will do the math only after the race. You can puncture a tire after a hundred meters, and all dreams could fade away. The important thing is to have confidence in your abilities and a bit of luck".


In those ten minutes of tests, fifteen drivers improved their performances. Mansell with Williams takes second place from Lauda; Rosberg, Piquet, Fabi, and De Angelis slip back. Tambay with Renault inserts himself in front of Alboreto, by 0.014 seconds. Patrese does well with Alfa Romeo, tenth, while Johansson remains in twelfth place. Senna (a broken turbo) and De Cesaris remain distant. The key figure in the race could be Niki Lauda, who won last year and, after announcing his retirement at the end of the season, wants to win at least one more race. Will McLaren discipline the ardor of the World Champion? Niki likes to come first (especially here, where he races at home) and would not give up making a gesture to his teammate, for many reasons. On Sunday, August 18, 1985, the track is dry despite a strong storm hitting the area earlier in the day. This means that the grass runoff areas are still soaked. At the start of the Austrian Grand Prix, Niki Lauda overtakes Alain Prost at the first corner. However, in the meantime, Mansell starts slowly due to an engine problem, while Teo Fabi remains stationary on the grid. Elio De Angelis also has a poor start due to a malfunctioning engine. Patrick Tambay squeezes between the two Italian drivers, while Michele Alboreto, unable to avoid the cars, loses his front suspension. Gerhard Berger comes from behind, colliding with both the Toleman and the Lotus. Following the incident, the race officials display the red flag, interrupting the race, which is then restarted over the original distance. The only driver unable to start the second attempt is Piercarlo Ghinzani, not involved in the incident but who had experienced an engine failure during the first lap. De Angelis, Fabi, Alboreto, and Berger return to the track with spare cars, as does Prost, who encountered mechanical problems with his official car. 


In the second start, Prost maintains the lead, while Nigel Mansell again has a slow start. Keke Rosberg takes advantage and moves into second place, passing close to the wall. Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Elio De Angelis, and Nigel Mansell follow. Rosberg's race ends on the fourth lap due to an oil pressure loss. The two McLarens set an impossible pace for their competitors: by the end of the tenth lap, Alain Prost has a 24.5-second lead over third-placed Nelson Piquet. Teo Fabi enters the points zone, overtaking Patrick Tambay, who had stopped in the pits on the ninth lap to change tires due to a puncture. On the 14th lap, Andrea De Cesaris has an off at the Texaco turn, with his Ligier flipping after hitting a ground depression. The driver emerges unharmed. In the following laps, Teo Fabi loses several positions due to an underperforming engine. On the 18th lap, Nigel Mansell climbs to fourth place after passing Elio De Angelis. Later, on the 23rd lap, the Italian driver loses another position, this time to Ayrton Senna. Meanwhile, Alain Prost realizes that the adjustments to the spare car lead to excessive tire wear. This allows Lauda to reduce the gap to the race leader to two seconds. Mansell's comeback continues on the 25th lap, overtaking Nelson Piquet. On the 26th lap, Alain Prost pits to change tires that are now worn out. After an 11-second stop, the French driver re-enters the race in second place, behind Niki Lauda. Nelson Piquet also decides to pit but retires due to a lack of turbocharger pressure. Shortly afterward, Nigel Mansell abandons the race due to an engine failure. 


While Niki Lauda leads the race, followed by Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Elio de Angelis, Michele Alboreto, Stefan Johansson, and Marc Surer occupy positions three to seven. On the 31st lap, Elio De Angelis makes a pit stop. The Lotus driver re-enters the track behind the two Ferraris of Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson. Niki Lauda has an advantage of almost 30 seconds over Alain Prost, who, with new tires, manages to reduce the gap to his teammate lap after lap. Meanwhile, Stefan Johansson unsuccessfully attempts to pass Michele Alboreto. The change in the lead occurs on the 40th lap when Niki Lauda's car engine explodes at the Rindt turn. Alain Prost finds himself in the lead with over 42 seconds ahead of Ayrton Senna (whose car is plagued by severe vibrations) and over 55 seconds ahead of Michele Alboreto. On the 48th lap, another engine explodes, this time in Patrick Tambay's Renault. At the Sebring turn, the Frenchman skids on the oil spilled by his own car, performing some spins. Alain Prost wins the Austrian Grand Prix, with Michele Alboreto fighting to the maximum of Ferrari's capabilities, finishing third behind a determined Ayrton Senna. The Italian driver manages to avoid losing the lead in the World Championship standings, but the Frenchman draws level with him at 50 points. A thrilling and uncertain battle, at least on paper. However, the defeat weighs heavily on Alboreto's and Ferrari's future. Prost now has four victories in his pocket (compared to his rival's two) with one less race result. If one were to consider the discard rule, which allows a maximum of twelve placements in sixteen races to be counted, the McLaren driver would certainly have an advantage. However, that's not the only concern. The inconsistent performances of Ferrari on different circuits are particularly worrying, while the English team, despite not having the total supremacy of the previous year, has shown on some occasions that it is still at the top. Alain Prost had to focus on beating his teammate, Niki Lauda, once again unlucky, and was not at all threatened by Ayrton Senna or Michele Alboreto. The two direct rivals speak of luck on both sides. Prost says that Alboreto can thank the race director for interrupting the race after the initial incident. If the race had continued, the Ferrari driver would have had to stay in the pits. But the Frenchman has no complaints: Lauda's retirement and the last-minute replacement of the car (the one originally planned for the race had a faulty joint) for the second start are certainly not his achievements. However, Alain Prost performed exceptionally well. He made no mistakes, did not let his nerves betray him as had happened in the past. Alboreto, commenting on the World Championship situation, declares with sincerity:


"He has won five races; now he can only lose the title if he makes a mistake".


This doesn't mean that Michele has given up the fight, but it is a recognition of the strength of his rival and his car. The race itself was not exciting. Only Senna made some overtakes: Warwick, Johansson, and Surer at the start, and then Alboreto on the eighth lap, Fabi when he was already in difficulty, and De Angelis. With the retirements of Lauda, Mansell, and Piquet (Rosberg was already out on the fourth lap with a broken Honda engine), the Brazilian found himself in a well-deserved second place in the end. The only exciting incident, aside from accidents (De Cesaris's was spectacular), could have been a possible duel between Prost and Lauda. The Austrian, who had managed to take the lead at the first start, attacked vigorously. Prost remained in the lead until the 25th lap, with a maximum advantage of about 7 seconds. Then Niki closed in, and the Frenchman (seeing him in the rearview mirrors) decided, making a conventional sign to the pits, to return for a tire change. He had chosen some unusual tires, harder on the left and softer on the right. He replaced them with soft tires, and from the 29-second disadvantage he had with the pit stop, he reduced it, setting a series of record laps, to 17 seconds by the 39th lap. When everyone expected to witness an epic duel, Lauda stopped next to the pit exit with the turbocharger pressure almost at zero. What would McLaren have done if the Austrian had denied the teammate victory or taken away valuable points? The answer is postponed to the next race. For the rest, Johansson's fourth place was honorable in the role of a faithful teammate, De Angelis's fifth position was unsatisfactory for him, forced to change tires on a non-competitive Lotus, and Surer's sixth position was a struggle, dealing with a broken exhaust, just like Piquet. The Osella reached the finish line, with Rothengatter ninth, four laps down. For the first time this season, Alain Prost genuinely smiles, relaxed, calm. The victory brought him level with Michele Alboreto, but more importantly, it gave him confidence. 


During the race, the Frenchman feared being beaten by Lauda. But then the danger disappeared on the horizon, and the first place fully reassured him.


"I must say immediately that this time Alboreto was lucky to secure a tenth place. If they hadn't canceled the first start, he wouldn't have even been able to race. I had some problems, but I would certainly have reached the points and maybe could have distanced him. However, I am happy. Our car proved to be formidable, very competitive. I stopped at the pits to change tires by my decision. I had chosen some strange tires, harder on the left, softer on the right. I felt vibrations and understood that I couldn't push to the maximum, especially considering that Lauda was catching up. So I signaled that I would return, and everything went perfectly. When Niki retired, I was about to reach him. Certainly, I would have overtaken him".


The Frenchman also talks about the World Championship situation:


"I can't complain. We're on equal terms, but I have a slight advantage. Four victories, not counting the one taken away from me in Imola, and a good series of placements. If we were to exclude some points, I would be ahead of my rival. But what gives me more confidence and morale are the car's performances. Everyone said McLaren was in decline, and we've won half of the championship races. In short, finally a favorable situation that I hope to improve in the upcoming races".


But don't you think Ferrari can still be a serious threat?


"Of course. The Maranello car has shown great reliability once again. It always manages to finish and take away valuable points when it's not the fastest. If it were to improve, it would become difficult for me".


While the winner celebrates with champagne, Niki Lauda leaves in his helicopter for home. The Austrian is truly infuriated:


"Nothing is going my way. I can't understand. Prost maximizes the cars and never breaks, I treat them with some delicacy, and I'm always stuck. Anyway, maybe it's better this way..."


Niki concludes his brief interview with a joke:


"If I hadn't stopped, maybe it would have been worse".


Apparently, the World Champion, who has already announced his retirement at the end of the year, is referring to the discomfort he would have caused in the team by taking points away from Prost. It's worth noting that the car Prost raced with, the reserve one, was equipped with an engine built last year, as revealed by Metzer, Porsche's chief designer. A car that had been kept aside without planning to use it, and Prost skillfully brought it to victory. Meanwhile, the atmosphere at Ferrari is serene but somewhat concerned. Michele Alboreto, holding his left wrist with his right hand (due to the impact in the first start), says:


"I knew McLaren could excel on this track. We all knew it. It was clearly superior in qualifying. I was hoping for Lauda, in his great determination. I believed Niki would manage to win another race. I know he aims to beat Stewart's record of 27 victories, while he remains at 24. Unfortunately, it went wrong for him and for me. The race was very difficult; I had understeer and couldn't keep up with the best".


He is asked about the only overtaking he suffered, that of Senna.


"The Brazilian passed me while I was dueling with Tambay: his Lotus got into the slipstream of my car and was faster at the end of the pit straight. He passed me, and I couldn't catch up. My engine was more powerful, but he performed better in the slower parts of the circuit. Too bad because a second place would have allowed me to stay at the top of the World Championship".


About the championship title, is it now all compromised?


"Not compromised, but it's difficult to compete against an opponent who has practically won five races out of ten contested. The statistics would condemn us even though we, of course, haven't lost hope. And in any case, a lot of fighting is ahead. McLaren has made further progress. We had closed the gap at the beginning of the season. They have an impressive chassis, and it's evident that the new suspensions have yielded results. Now we have to respond on the technical front".


Will Alboreto be able to give an immediate response to his great rival in the Dutch Grand Prix?


"We shouldn't perform poorly in the Netherlands. Of course, McLaren has become a formidable opponent again. Now I'll try to address this wrist that hurts; tomorrow I'll have an X-ray, and hopefully, I'll be able to respond promptly to Prost".


For the sports director, Marco Piccinini, the result is neither good nor bad.


"Better third than further back. Is the balance good? We'll see in the next race. We had major problems in qualifying, the race didn't go too badly. Certainly, we're not extremely satisfied".


Fourth place is fine for Stefan Johansson.


"In my situation, getting into the points is always a great result. I even tried to attack Alboreto once, but Michele immediately reacted, and I realized I wouldn't make it. In any case, it's better not to do these things between teammates...".


Now Ferrari stays in Austria. On Monday, all teams work at Zeltweg to fine-tune the cars, then they will leave immediately for the Netherlands. The schedule is tight. Immediately after the race in Zandvoort, on August 28 and 29, two simultaneous test sessions are planned at Monza, where Johansson will be, and at Brands Hatch with Alboreto. Two dramatic incidents, fortunately without consequences, have disturbed the Austrian Grand Prix. One at the start, the other during the race, starring Andrea De Cesaris. The first even provokes a series of controversies, quickly quelled by the race result, which ultimately satisfied those who could protest more vigorously, perhaps excluding Renault, which, with Tambay, started well in the first opportunity and was less fortunate in the second. What happened at the start at 2:30 p.m.? On the two lines, exactly at the third row, two cars failed to start when the green light came on. On the right, Teo Fabi, with the Toleman, remained stationary. Behind him (after many cars had swerved to the inside of the track), Berger descended. The Austrian crashed into Fabi, losing both front wheels of the Arrows. Simultaneously, on the other side, Elio De Angelis, with the Lotus, raised his arm because the car's engine had stalled. Behind the Italian driver was Alboreto's Ferrari.


"I saw the obstacle and tried to move to the left to avoid ending up in the center and not be hit by other competitors moving in the same direction. Unfortunately, there was no space, and I hit the rear left of the Lotus with the front right of my car. The tire came off, and I took a big hit on my left wrist".


The race director, with four cars stopped on the track, with one struggling (Bellof, marginally involved in the pile-up), decided to immediately suspend the race. The regulations state that Grand Prix interrupted before completing two laps are completely restarted with the original starting lineup. This allowed the teams to replace the cars involved in the accident with the reserve ones. Ferrari changed Alboreto's #27, the same for Arrows with Berger, Toleman with Fabi, and Lotus with De Angelis. Ghinzani remains out of the lineup: the engine of the second Toleman, the only one available, is out of order. The decision sparks controversies. Lauda supports it, Tambay and Laffite protest. Prost, at the end of the race, says that Alboreto was lucky, that if the restart hadn't occurred, Michele would have lost valuable points. In reality, the Frenchman was involved in a case and risked being eliminated before the start. The deployed McLaren reported a joint failure during the initial reconnaissance, with unexpected play and an oil leak. The Frenchman tried to change cars, got on the reserve car, and had it moved onto the track. But the race officials immediately sent him back because the regulations don't allow a competitor to be on the circuit with two cars simultaneously. So McLaren decided to let Prost continue with the struggling car. Then, after the incident, the car was replaced. The only off-track incident, on the other hand, was De Cesaris' on lap 13. It was an incredible flight, a series of frightening loops, reminiscent of Villeneuve's tragedy. Fortunately, the Ligier ended up on its wheels, semi-destroyed. The Italian driver recounts:


"I was driving a car with a lot of understeer. Suddenly, it veered off, and I ended up on the grass at the edge of the track. And I started to fly".


Miraculously unharmed in the terrible accident, Andrea De Cesaris receives some bad news. Guy Ligier has decided to drop him, and in the upcoming Dutch Grand Prix, only one car will be raced, driven by Jacques Laffite. Officially, the French constructor claims not to have the time to rebuild the destroyed car, which is why, with only two cars available, one driver has to stay home. However, the incident carries the taste of a punishment. The Italian driver is accused of damaging too many cars, as had happened during his time at McLaren. Indeed, the off-track excursion at Zeltweg, with the incredible series of flips in the air and on the ground, should make the driver reflect, perhaps driven by his competitive spirit and undeniable speed, pushing the cars beyond their limits. Regarding Ligier (which is uncertain about participating in the 1986 World Championship with Renault engines), there is a credible rumor: they have signed a contract with René Arnoux, obviously for the next year. Nothing easier, a completely national team, with two old glories like Laffite and Arnoux. As for De Cesaris, there are talks of interest from Lotus, while Johansson, if released by Ferrari, would be of interest to Toleman. To wrap up the driver market, there are talks of contacts between Patrese and Brabham, and Cheever with Toleman. Two Brazilians were the protagonists of the day, one for a non-racing reason, the other for a splendid race ending in second place. They are Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. The first, retired after 26 laps due to an exhaust break on the Brabham, mainly animated the driver market. Nelson has signed with Williams. The news is not official yet, but it is now public knowledge: the Brabham mechanics jokingly applied the word "Williams" to his car yesterday. There is talk of a $3.000.000 salary. It is a sensational divorce since the South American, after debuting with Ensign in 1978 and participating in three races with McLaren in the same season, started driving for Brabham in Canada. Piquet spent seven years with the English team, winning two world titles and a second place. Piquet has not yet commented on the move, but it is a choice mainly due to Lauda's departure. The Austrian left the McLaren seat to Rosberg, allowing this transfer. Senna, on the other hand, starting in fourteenth position, was practically the only one to make a series of overtakes. After the first lap, he was already tenth, then attacked Alboreto, becoming eighth after four laps. He finished strong, behind Prost.


"I had terrible vibrations; on the straight, I had to let go of the wheel with one hand at a time to avoid cramps. My engine wasn't as good as Ferrari's, and I had to push hard, taking risks, to pass Alboreto. It was a very difficult race, perhaps the most challenging of my career, but I gained great satisfaction. Now, the title fight doesn't interest me anymore, but I want to win again. Unfortunately, with time passing, my car loses competitiveness, so I am forced to aim for some placements".


Senna is bound to Lotus by an ironclad contract. Still, there are rumors that Ecclestone intends to bring him to Brabham to replace Piquet. It will undoubtedly be a fierce battle, with millions of dollars at stake. Meanwhile, the current Formula 1 World Championship starts from scratch, i.e., from 50 points, where Alain Prost and Michele Alboreto are tied. In Zandvoort, there will be another test of truth between McLaren and Ferrari, and obviously between the two rival drivers. In the Austrian Grand Prix, the Frenchman scored a crucial victory, while the Italian, with his third place, just limited the damage. Now, Prost is undoubtedly favored by his results (four victories) and statistics, even though the most optimistic claim that, having had no mechanical problems so far against Lauda's eight retirements, he should make a few mistakes in the next six races. The calculations are challenging, and we can postpone them. The only concrete fact is that the French driver is going through a period of great form and good luck. He is a steering champion, undoubtedly, even though he doesn't have the titles of Lauda, Piquet, and Rosberg, just to name three. In Zeltweg, he achieved his twentieth Formula 1 victory out of 83 races. If he hadn't been disqualified in Imola, he would have had an average of more than one win every four races. Only Stewart (27), Clark (25), Fangio, and Lauda (24) have won more than him. But, for example, the Austrian participated in 167 Grand Prix. Alain Prost, therefore, is unleashed, not only on the track but also in words. He has never been seen so determined, confident, and convinced of his abilities. His analysis of the situation is clear, attentive, and even provocative in some details.


"I aim for the world title, and I'm on the right track, although anything can happen in our sport. In the end, I might even lose by one point, and I'm ready to start over next year with the same spirit. I don't believe in luck or misfortune; I think more about favorable or unfavorable circumstances".


He is asked if he fears Alboreto or Ferrari more.


"It's a combination that cannot be separated. Today, however, the car counts more than the driver. I am advantaged compared to Michele in a way. He is in a more demanding team and has many responsibilities. Also, he is not used to fighting at the top".


Can it be inferred then that Prost wouldn't drive a Ferrari?


"I would very much like to drive a Maranello car, but not at this moment. I read some time ago, in this regard, statements by Enzo Ferrari saying that his team would never have had contact with me. I can take the opportunity to say that we had talks for more than a year. But things were never clear. It wasn't a clear way of dealing. It seems to me that Ferrari doesn't have a high opinion of drivers, or at least, it seems to me that McLaren's managers have more consideration. Take it as you like".


How does Alain Prost see the end of the season?


"The usual commitment, the usual desire to win. It is said that the Ferrari in Zandvoort is better than McLaren. We'll see. As for the future, I heard someone worrying about me in case my next teammate is Keke Rosberg. It doesn't scare me. The Finn is a super-fast driver, has a tough character, but is sincere and loyal. That's what's important. If he has to come, let him come".


These are Prost's hopes and truths. Not everything he said can be taken as gospel (didn't he demand a lead driver contract from Renault to get rid of the inconvenient Arnoux?). The only certain thing, however, is that Alboreto, if he wants to win the World Champion title, will have to beat a very strong opponent.


©​ 2023 Osservatore Sportivo


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