#406 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix

2022-08-06 00:00

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#1985, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Michela Petrillo,

#406 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix

The curtain rose on the Formula 1 World Championship scene without showing any shocking news. The one who were waiting for a different story, starting


The curtain rose on the Formula 1 World Championship scene without showing any shocking news. The one who were waiting for a different story, starting from the Brazilian Grand Prix, is left disappointed for the moment.McLaren still looked the strongest team, and with Prost it won the eighth consecutive success. Only Niki Lauda's withdraw (when he was already in third position after 13 laps) deprived it of a possible one-two. This is the reality. But the first indications, worrying for the Ron Dennis team's rivals, were positive for Ferrari. The Maranello team immediately placed itself in the role of being the number one opponent of the team again proposed as the favourite in the fight for the titol. A deep analysis of the obtained performance on the Jacarepaguà's track allows a hole series of considerations, data in hand. Just 3 teams deserved the full score, they proved to be competitive at a high level, in order: McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus. The gap between the first and the third, however, has already been relevant, at least on track, considering that De Angelis placed himself behind Prost and Alboreto with one lap out. Lotus still deserves an appeal test because Senna, at the moment of the withdraw, was not lapped and his fellow Roman admitted to have committed a double mistake while preparing his car (too hard tyres,damper strings too soft), with the following result of unintentionally limiting the performance. So the first reason of the World Championship is a head-to-head duel between McLaren and Ferrari. In which also others can be introduced in the next races, because in Formula 1, race after race, a lot of things can change. But for now the discussion seems limited to a fight between the English cars with Porsche engine and the Maranello's ones. The drivers are the ones to admit the validity of these claims. Alain Prost admits:


"Ferrari went strong, and it will be the only one to give us concerns".


Niki Lauda confirms:


"Alboreto impressively overtook me few times on the straight during tests".


Indeed, the 156-85 showed to have a considerable potential. And it is not to forget that it was on his debut, being a car completely new talking about the aerodynamics, the mechanics and the engine (the McLaren only changed the rear suspensions and made some minor adjustments). Alboreto conquered pole position to the sound of track records, and he finished the race with a gap of 3.259 seconds from McLaren. If we consider the lap times during the race of the two protagonists, we can make interesting comparisons. The best time of the French driver has been in 1’36"702 (circuit record vs the 1'36"925 of the Italian driver). A minimum gap. Prost won the race in the first part, before making the pitstop. When he restarted from the box he had an advantage swinging between the 25 and 30 seconds. This means that in the 31 laps left, Ferrari recovered more than 20. It is clear that the McLaren driver slowed down in the end not to risk.But in the tank of his car (545 kg heavy at the technical checks) only 10 litres of fuel have been found. The meanings is double: if Prost had pulled at the maximum until the end, he could have been without fuel or he could have finished underweight (540 kg is the minimum allowed) risking to be disqualified. So it was not a win in souplesse, the transalpine's one, but at the limit of the possibility of the car. 


Now it remains to be seen what will happen in the next races, especially in the ones that will be held on the fast tracks. To all this must be added the weight of the accident with Mansell that caused a malfunction of the left front wheel of the Ferrari of Alboreto at least until the replacement of the tyres. In short the Maranello team seems to be on the right path and the driver himself is optimistic. Alboreto is not one who gets very unbalanced; if he said that McLaren will not have an easy life, he has his reasons. Having made these considerations, on Wednesday April 17 of 1985, again Formula 1 is shaken by a twist.The resignation of Arnoux, announced only four days before the second race of the season, the Portugal Grand Prix and so in this moment quite surprising, provoke a series of questions that for the moment do not have an answer. A lot of  hypothesis have been made, but only with time it will be possible to understand which is the best. The Ferrari's statement that attributes to the French driver the separation initiative, justifies the decision with the precarious physical shape of Arnoux.


"Enzo Ferrari received today at Maranello the driver René Arnoux who exposed him the personal motives that, in relation to his actual physical shape, lead him to ask to be exempted from his current commitments.Ferrari's engineer, noted with regret the decision of Arnoux, expressed him his gratitude for the valuable cooperation during the last two seasons and for the professional fairness and for sports fair play. The driver Johansson will be driving the second Ferrari 156/85 from the Portugal Grand Prix".


Yet the year before the relationship between Arnoux and Ferrari was deteriorate, especially because of some delusional tests of the French and for the opinion - correct- of the driver towards Ferrari. Arnoux once said to Enzo Ferrari:


"Commander, we have everything here, we don't need anything else: if an autoclave is needed, a machine tool, or anything else, you can buy it. But the results are not satisfying, if we relate them to our possibilities, to our facilities".


The transalpine has been reconfirmed only thanks to the pressures of the sponsor that provides for the recruitment of the drivers (Marlboro) and for the promise of the driver for a renewed commitment. During last November the Marlboro, Ferrari's sponsor, expressed the desire for Alboreto to be flanked by Andrea De Cesaris for 1985, and the commander agreed even proposing to his driver the switch to Ligier, together with a substantial compensation. A gratifying exchange, at least considering the economic aspect, which he didn't want to talk about. Some weeks after the driver, without the knowledge of his leader, went to Paris to have a calf muscle operation that, under the strain of the race, were subject to dangerous swelling. Nothing strange apparently but in just such a circumstance Ferrari, that didn't forget the rudeness, found itself with an ace in the hole. Arnoux's contract, indeed, would have been terminable in the case of not perfect physical conditions, and here is found the reason to arrive to the divorce. Arnoux didn't shine in the first race in Brazil (the fourth place in the rank can be considered acceptable, but the nearly two seconds of gap from Alboreto during test are not justified). It already must have provoked some disagreements within the team and in the end it came to down to divorce, consensual, to create least possible damage. In all the story there is a question without answer, at least until now. Arnoux was a really fast driver, a pole position man, the brave who was engaged in the famous duel of Digione with Villeneuve. How did this decision come about? Only Arnoux, if he wants to, can give an answer to this question.With the purchase of Johansson (considerable choice but also obliged because he was the only free driver of a certain level and with a discrete experience) Ferrari reaches like this a dual purpose.It has a fresh and fighting driver to side Alboreto, so that also the Italian driver feels stimulated. It is an already proven tactics. And maybe a prize will arrive also for Toleman who left the driver free. Johansson, 29 years old, ten Grand Prix to his credit (he run the last four with Toleman, while in Brazil he raced with a Tyrrell's car, replacing Bellof), the Swede doesn't have particularly brilliant career requirements. In return, aggression and temper are recognised. And would have been these very qualities to impress the old Modenese constructor. At least for the moment, Michele Alboreto - surprised like everyone for what happened few hours early - prefers not to comment.


"I would like to think about it better, I am surprised like everyone. I don't know my teammate well, with whom I raced years before in Formula 3 and later during same Grand Prix of Formula 1. I will have time to know him.Also on this matter I prefer to wait some time. It doesn't hurt to reflect for a moment".


Some years later, the same Arnoux will confirm that he was the one to ask for resignation, after a single race. This resignation will trigger various theories from the outset, completely unfounded. It will be said that Arnoux had a story with Piero Lardi's daughter (obviously denied by both parts), or even that the French was found in possess of  drugs. To say the truth, Arnoux was meeting Piero Lardi's daughter by accident (Antonella Ferrari) when, going to the pool of Formigine with his chauffeur, it happened for the two to see each other. But both people in the matter carried on with their activities in different places and clearly visible from the offence of the local population. Unuseful to say that the French driver never made use of drugs. Having cleared every doubt on this matter, the attention goes somewhere else, seeing that the Portugal Grand Prix will have a new protagonist: Stefan Johansson, Swedish, 29 years old. The new driver arrives during the evening of April 16 of 1985 in Fiorano and on Wednesday he tries for all the afternoon on the Fiorano's track: 63 laps, same as 190 km, almost half a race, better time of 1'10"3. Arnoux, meanwhile, becomes practically unavailable after having released some embarrassed statement. At first he contradicts himself on the reasons that led to his break with Ferrari, then, with a certain reticence, he admits to not be in a very good physical shape. And meanwhile his substitute take the Ferrari's cockpit. In Ferrari they are saying that it was better like that, that a driver not at the maximum of performance runs even greater dangers than those inherent in this already risky sport. In contrast Johansson lives these first hours with Ferrari almost as in a dream. He shows up at the end tests, with a faced marked by the fatigue but with a big smile. He is willing to talk, also to explain his hole life. But his story is abbreviated, forcibly.


"In my family, there has always been passion for motorbikes. My dad Roland was a driver, my sister Asa, 24 years old, was swedish champion of the A112 Autobiography trophy. I also started soon, and now I think to have gotten to a great position. Between the other things I was born on September 8 of 1956, the day of the Monza Grand Prix".


How did I get to know I was hired by Ferrari?


"It was yesterday afternoon. Hawkridge phoned me. Toleman's manager, and told me to call Marco Piccaninny, Ferrari's sporting director. An hour and a half after I was in a flight to Italy".


What first impressions did you have?


"A great emotion. Arriving to Ferrari has been an incredible experience. Here everything is amazing. It will take more than a day to get used to the idea".


Which aspect of the car impressed you the most?


"An exceptional engine. And the best gearbox I have ever used".


Why have you been chosen?


"I don't know. I don't know maybe because I was the only free driver or maybe because I proved to be pretty fast. By the way I'm not the one to say these things. The only certain thing is that they gave me a great opportunity, and I will try to seize it".


Arno was defined as one of the fastest drivers in Formula 1.


"It is true,René is really fast. I will try to get to know Ferrari and I'll try to show the best of my possibilities. I can't say anything more".


What about the first meeting with Enzo Ferrari?


"I can't even express myself. I was really emotional. I would probably have had the same reactions if I had suddenly found myself in front of the England's queen".


What is the target for the race on Sunday?


"I want to finish the race, I want to work well, I want to know the men of the teams and to learn how to fine-tune the car. Until now I had only a small problem, the one to adjust the seat. But these are things easy to be solved".


Piccini lets Ferrari know that he signed with Johansson a deal of collaborating for all the year 1985. The driver had to wait until 2:00 p.m. to hit the track until all the necessary insurance covers were present. Toleman already gave its consent to FIA and the Swedish driver is enrolled with Ferrari for the World Championship. On Thursday April 18 of 1985 Johansson will set off for Portugal together with the English Dumfries (the Scottish, Ferrari's third driver, will take part in the test of the Formula 3000). And we will already hit the track with his new red overalls. The numbers of Ayrton Senna and Elio De Angelis get out of the roulette of the Portugal Grand Prix, at the end of the first turn of qualyfing. It is not casual that the two Lotus obtained better times in this prologue of the second test of the Formula 1 World Championship. It can be said that the Brazilian and the Italian had a good dose of luck on their side, and it can be said that all the others have been accompanied by a less favourable fate. Senna and De Angelis are ahead of Lauda, Alboreto, Prost and Patrese in the provisional rank, at the end of a hour of troubled tests because of the rain falling, creating different situations for every driver who hits the track. The bad weather considerably complicates the situation, so that it will be necessary to wait  for today's session of times laps to have some clarifications. In particular to see the Swedish Stefan Johansson at work, who debuts at the helm of Ferrari that until a few days ago was Arnoux's. The new driver takes his place in the starting grid, however without any clear indication of his current possibilities, because of a series of some drawbacks that harassed his debut. 


Lotus's exploit were not a surprise. We talk about roulette because it was an eased result. But Senna's and De Angelis's cars confirmed themselves to be genuine qualifying cars. In reality it is De Angelis to pull the sprint to his teammate. The Roman driver immediately hits the track in the beginning of qualifying, while already a few raindrops are falling. Two laps and nothing done because of the wet tarmac. With the same tyres Elio follows shortly after after checking the track's state, and when the rain stops he finds himself doing a great run in 1’22"306, finding himself ahead in the rank of the moment. In the technical boxes of Lotus they let the waiting Senna go right away. The Brazilian, unleashed, overtakes the Roman driver with a time of 1'21"708. De Angelis quickly re-enters in the pits to change the tyres and to try overtaking Senna in turn. But he is blocked by a new downpour. Anyway both drivers say that they can do better if on Saturday the weather will allow that. Ferrari, that in the morning running into problems to fine-tune the set-up of the cars, turned out to be strangely unbalanced, lives qualifying in a diametrically opposed. Basically Alboreto and Johansson can not make a single clean lap. The driver from Milan gets the fourth time with already used tyres. And when he is ready to use new ones, a bit of traffic on track, a bit of again wet tarmac do not allow him to go on. Johansson, a bit emotional but perfectly at ease in the new team, sees all kind of trouble happening to himself. As soon as he hits the track, after half a lap, stops because of an electric problem, with the engine off:


"Unfortunately I had to leave the car in the grass, and I used the reserve car that was prepared for Michele. Pedals to fit my size, a car seat that didn't help me drive.In these conditions, with the rain, the dusty track, I was going from one side to other. We hope that on Saturday everything will be normal and we will see what we are able to do. Do not expect any miracles. It is clear that I have to learn fast, but by degrees".


Alfa Romeo, after the negative debut in Rio de Janiero, seems to have made some progress. The new car was brought last week in a hurry on the track of Balocco, where they tried to run for cover. The front suspension was modified and hardened, the radiator outlet was lengthened, the rear wing was modified in order to have a better aerodynamics. The care has given, at least for an hour, in this first day rank a bit whimsy, positive results, with Patrese gaining sixth position. The joy for the small step forward, however, is immediately dampened by an internal dispute. Nothing rough, but it is an episode that can even disturb the already not too idyllic relations between Patrese and Cheever. The two teammates are involved in an accident in which also Nigel Mansell had a role to play. Behind the boxes there is a hairpin turn, then a short straight, then a turn on the right. The English is ahead, followed by Cheever and Patrese. Mansell is not fast, Cheever flanks him inside, but even further to the right, aligned with the two cars in front of him, comes Patrese. Result: Riccardo passes unscathed, Eddie buffers the Williams that went in the grass in a non-serious way. The British driver accuses Patrese of being the cause of everything. Cheever gets back in the pits ironically cheering his teammate, without commenting the episode but letting him understand that the responsibility is of the driver form Padova, who would have pushed him against the other car. But Riccardo refuses every accusation.


"It looks like I'm back in 1978, when everything that happened was my fault. Those two were less fast. There was a a gap inside, exactly in the right trajectory and I went trough. It doesn't seem to me that I have touched anybody otherwise I would have noticed. Look at my Alfa, it has no scratch".


Niki Lauda comes back to the circuit where last year he won the Formula 1 World Championship, mocking at the last race, for half a point, his teammate and rival Alain Prost. The Austrian is calm.He lost in Brazil, withdrawn, while the French won his first race of the season. But Niki does not despair, has the strength of relaxed nerves. Three World Championships in the meat box and rosy prospects also for the future. Indeed for Lauda the discourse towards a fourth world championship is not prohibited 


"Sure is, Prost has more reasons than me. And in addition he has started on the right foot. But I do not despair, I will try to do my season, getting advantage of the favourable occasions. Last year on this track I arrived second at 13 seconds from Prost. Now I hope to do even better".


Then the world champion decides to make a sensational revelation, to explain a backstage that he had never spoken of until now.


"Now I can say what happened to me right here in Portugal in 1984. I risked of losing the title in the last laps. Nobody knew it but I arrived to the finish line with a broken turbine and the gearbox completely without oil. I think I could have done a km more then I would have been obliged to give up. I wasn't able to overtake Johansson because my car practically had no more turbo pressure.In essence I was in big trouble. But I was accompanied by luck".


Lauda therefore also hopes in his lucky star. For the moment he has to be satisfied with third place in the provisional starting grid. The Austrian follows the unbridled Senna and De Angelis. The two Lotus cars went fast ahead of everyone and clearly left the other competitors behind in a rather atypical practice session, conditioned by intermittent rain that fell at the beginning, during and at the end of the session. On Saturday everything could change or at least not at the top (front row) at least at the back. Above all, a recovery is expected from Rosberg, who completed just one lap in almost 15 minutes (he was obviously stationary on the track) at an average speed of 17 km/h. Perhaps he would have been quicker to walk a lap on the run. It is to be expected that the Finn in his Williams-Honda will throw himself into the fray, just as it is conceivable that Piquet might also catch up. Something should also be done by Ferrari, fourth at the moment with Alboreto and twelfth with debutant Johansson. The Milanese driver, indeed, is optimistic. In the first practice session, as mentioned, he had some trouble, he couldn't find the right lap. But the car seems to be going well and the Italian driver is hoping to take another pole position as he did in Rio de Janeiro.

"Of course, we had a few hiccups. In the morning we couldn't find the right set-up for the cars. Then we solved the problems, at least partially, and now we should be running at full speed. We just hope that the weather will still be bad. If it doesn't rain I will be fighting on equal terms with Senna, De Angelis and co.".


Also making its debut at Estoril was a new team, the German Zakspeed, using a car built entirely in Germany, including the engine. This debut was quite positive, the car renewed, under the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Palmer particular inconveniences. One big problem, the owner of the Zakspeed has not yet been able to set up an electronic power system that gives him guarantees. In short, he can start, perhaps have a good race, but he is not sure he will finish because of fuel consumption. Even on Saturday, 20 April 1985, the Lotus is travelling like a thunderbolt, the McLaren is pressing, the Williams remains at the top. And the Ferrari?It is always in the front rows, but falls back, with Alboreto in fifth and rookie Johansson in eleventh. Last year's story seems to be repeating itself: a dazzling start in qualifying in Brazil, then little by little a decline that led it to be less and less competitive. It is not yet, of course, the case to make trials, but the Portuguese Grand Prix revealed during Friday and Saturday practice a certain intolerance of the Maranello cars for the demanding Estoril circuit. Difficulties in finding a set-up suitable for the track, tyres that cannot be exploited to the maximum, the effort of the drivers thwarted. Today's race, however, could also present a different aspect. We know very well what differences there are between cars prepared for a 300-kilometre race and those tuned up for a single fast lap. The fact remains that Brazilian Ayrton Senna, the rising star of Formula 1, put everyone in line.The 27-year-old Brazilian, in his Lotus, lapped in 1'21"007, setting a new track record (the previous one was by Piquet, 1'21"703) at an average speed of 193.316 km/h. This Senna is truly a potential champion and at the moment has a very fast car, at least in practice. Less fortunate was Elio De Angelis, his team-mate, the only one of the first fifteen not to improve on the opening day's time.

"An incredible series of mishaps practically stopped me in my tracks. With the first set of tyres I found two slower cars in my way. With the second one I was doing a record lap, the timekeepers then signalled that I had been the fastest of all in the intermediate sections, when a turbine exploded before the pit straight".


For the Roman, the Lotus could be the big surprise. He claims that the engine has clearly improved, that in the race together with Senna he will be able to make life difficult for everyone. A somewhat optimistic prediction, because on the front row next to Senna is Prost himself, making further progress. If the Frenchman's car had dominated with some ease in Rio, starting in sixth position, it is to be believed that this time too it will not be so easy to make it difficult. On the McLaren (which also has Lauda in seventh place) there is only the unknown factor of the sophisticated electronic part, which has proved not always very reliable. In Brazil the Austrian had been forced to retire by the failure of the on-board computer that automatically regulates the turbo pressure. Lauda, however, promises a race all on the attack.


"Second place is of no use to me, I have to win. Last year I started eleventh, this time, theoretically, it is easier". 

Very important will be the start, with a series of sprinters lined up in the first rows. In the order Senna, Prost, Rosberg, De Angelis, Alboreto, Warwick, Lauda and the aggressive De Cesaris, author of a great performance with a Pirelli-tyred Ligier (the Italian qualifying tyres are still not tuned) and heavier than the others by about thirty kilos. It may well be that Ferrari will come through in the distance, that Alfa Romeo (promising in free practice, then relegated to P13 with Patrese and P14 with Cheever) will finish in the points. But for the Italian colours the forecast is not favourable. There are no smiling faces at Ferrari. A lot of work, a lot of commitment from everyone, but dull results, relative to the team's potential. The problem is, at least in appearance, still the chassis. There is no question about the engine, so much so that almost all the rivals consider it the most competitive. It is precisely the abundant horsepower that creates the biggest drawbacks. It seems that you cannot get all the power to the ground. Despite looking for impressive aerodynamic loads, tilting the wings, the tyres do not warm up enough and performance is limited. Just one figure is enough to highlight the trouble: Senna on his fastest lap passed the finish line at 309 km/h, Alboreto at 295 km/h. The cars from Maranello are difficult to drive, nervous, have quite unpredictable behaviour in corners and on some occasions appear as if they are stalling at the front. Michele Alboreto admits:


"It is clear that there are still problems to be solved. However, I am not so pessimistic about the race. If there are no surprises, we can also get a good result".

Stefan Johansson is full of enthusiasm, but perhaps he is also suffering from the difficulties of a not easy novitiate and the pressures of the environment to which he is not accustomed. 

"I can't expect miracles, it takes one or two races to get the car in hand, to get the most out of it, I hope to make a contribution to the tuning of this single-seater". 


The new driver still had a rather troubled eve; in the morning he broke an engine and had to compete in qualifying with the spare 156-85. Rumour has it that many interesting novelties are being prepared in the Fiorano workshops for the upcoming San Marino Grand Prix. Ferrari's aim is therefore to get the most out of Estoril, already thinking about the future. On Sunday 21 April 1985, during the reconnaissance lap Mansell is the victim of a spin, due to the heavy presence of water along the track from the rain that continues to fall. Pierluigi Martini also crashes his Minardi and Cheever has an electrical problem. All three are forced to pull out of the pits. At the start Keke Rosberg remains stationary, but luckily all the drivers manage to slip past him on the sides without hitting him; at the same time in the leading positions, Senna lengthens the pace ahead of De Angelis, Prost, Alboreto and Lauda, all of whom are spread out among themselves. In the middle of the pack Piquet could experiment with little pleasure with the disastrous wet weather tyres supplied by Pirelli, with which he barely managed to stay on track, while his team-mate, François Halnaut, went off the track after three laps, following a spin. In the meantime, during lap 4, there is also contact between the neo-Ferrarista Johansson and Patrese, who are fighting right behind Piquet, who unintentionally slows them down. The Swede continues, the Italian of Alfa Romeo has to retire.Alain Prost struggles slightly to keep up with the two Lotus cars; in addition there is Alboreto who undermines him and the rain shows no sign of abating. Ayrton Senna continues to increase his lead, also favoured by the vicissitudes encountered by de Angelis, who from lap 10 onwards runs with a deflated front left tyre and with the car's bottom coming loose. This favours the rejoining of Prost and Alboreto, and the formation of an interesting trio ready to do battle. Senna meanwhile, overtakes the driver in sixth position, Derek Warwick, and continues his attempt to escape, while Alain Prost tries to pass de Angelis on several occasions, and although he is evidently faster, the Lotus' high top speed makes the manoeuvre complicated. The track conditions worsen lap after lap, and even dangerous situations arise, as when Rosberg's Williams remains in the middle of the track coming out of the last corner, following the spin that causes the Finn to retire. The poor visibility fortunately causes no tragic accident. Prost is the next illustrious victim of the day: on lap 30 the track is now impassable, and Alain ends up on a puddle of water, goes aquaplaning and having no more control over the car crashes against the guardrail. 


That the race should be suspended is also shown by the fact that Senna himself at one point, passing the finish line, raises his arm to hint that the track is flooded and the driving conditions have become extremely dangerous. Amédée Pavesi, however, is not of the same opinion and lets it continue. When there are just over ten laps to go, Lotus designer Gérard Ducarouge together with Niki Lauda, who has also retired due to electrical problems once again, go to the race direction to have the race stopped, but again there is nothing to be done. In the final laps the mistake affects everyone, even Senna, who is the author of a small excursion on the grass with all four wheels, but fortunately for him he manages to return to the track regularly to win his first race in Formula 1. A crushing success, under pouring rain, closed with a one-minute lead over the second placed driver, Alboreto, who thanks to Prost's retirement is the new leader of the World Championship. Ayrton put an end to McLaren's streak of eight consecutive successes, brought a Renault engine back to success after two years (the last had been in Austria in 1983 with Prost), and consecrated himself to all intents and purposes as the wizard of the rain. De Angelis was instead forced to give in to the return of the Renault of the talented Tambay, and in the final part of the race Mansell crowned his long pursuit to at least enter the points zone, imitated by Stefan Bellof. The two Ligier cars of De Cesaris and Laffite, fitted with Pirelli tyres, were completely missing. Also out of the fray were the Alfa Romeos: Cheever, after an exceptional start from the rear, for a spark plug breakage (lap 38), and Patrese - as mentioned - for the accident with Johansson. Ultimately, Ayrton Senna won his first race in Formula One, while Michele Alboreto, second with Ferrari, jumped to the top of the World Championship standings. At the same time, after eight consecutive successes, McLaren missed the appointment, with Prost and Lauda retired, the Frenchman due to an off-track accident, the Austrian due to an engine failure, probably, once again, due to an electrical system mishap. These are the three most significant facts of the Portuguese Grand Prix, the second round of the season. A race in some respects spectacular, which saw only nine competitors cross the finish line with numerous retirements, contested from start to finish. But even in the prohibitive weather conditions, the great talent of the 25-year-old Senna, a driver with temperament and superlative technique, emerged. To say now whether the storm helped him or not is difficult. 


The Brazilian's superiority was such that all talk of hindsight is closed. One fact alone is sufficient: Senna lapped everyone, with the exception of Alboreto. The young Ayrton Senna's task was certainly made easier by a car, the Lotus with turbocharged Renault engine, that proved to be perfect, balanced and competitive. A race under normal conditions would probably have stressed the cars more, and perhaps even favoured a different result. But you have to accept the outcome of the day, as far as it went. With an always combative Tambay in third place at the wheel of the Renault, a De Angelis once again blocked by a mishap, in fourth position, a Mansell always discombobulated but also tenacious, fifth, and the other magician of the rain, the German Bellof with the aspirated engine Tyrrell to close the row of drivers finished in the points zone. The top six did not include Stefan Johansson, the new Ferrari driver, placed eighth. However, the Swede had many valid excuses: his single-seater was hit on lap five by Patrese, author of a manoeuvre that was too reckless and later on he was involved in another accident with Winkelhock, which caused him to break the front wing. The chronicle is more full of accidents and crashes than a true story. In practice, Senna started in the lead and arrived in the lead, undisturbed, only risking a few difficult overtakes. The Brazilian thus entered the Formula One roll of honour with a thrilling victory, a full victory, in his second season in the Grand Prix world and his second race with Lotus. An achievement that does not have many precedents, especially in modern times, and which launches the South American into the firmament of the steering wheel champions. It was already known that Senna was a potential champion: the placings obtained in the past, especially the second place in Monte-Carlo last year (another race run in the rain) and numerous significant races, had made everyone's eyes focus on this character who will certainly be the talk of the town. A young man (he is only 25 years old) who works hard, who is always focused, who thinks only and above all about racing. The last laps were a kind of Brazilian samba. Then, when Senna crossed the finish line, his explosion of joy sent the spectators into raptures: Ayrton raised his arms to the sky, he let go of the steering wheel several times, making gestures of great contentment. On the podium the Brazilian barely held back his tears, splashed everyone with champagne, swept away trophies and cups that had been prepared for him without realising it.


"It was a good victory: first place was in my plans, but I didn't expect it so soon. Racing in the rain is always tough. The Lotus was perfect. The engine is very smooth and progressive. I had some uncertainty because of the carbon brakes, which behave unexpectedly in the wet. On the straight, at the end, I was forced to travel in fourth gear, without putting it in fifth, because the wheels were constantly skidding. I don't have anyone in particular to dedicate the victory to, but I think I deserve it, as does the Lotus, which has shown that it is not just a qualifying car. I am not thinking about the World Championship at all, for now I will try to live for the day, trying to collect as many points as possible. Do you want to know where I learnt to drive in the rain? Certainly not in Brazil. It was the school of go-karts that taught me everything. If a driver goes through these little miniature cars, he can learn a lot, especially in driving sensitivity. I have always tried to dose the accelerator well, and I have done well".


But how do you drive an 800-horsepower car like this, on a track that looks like it's covered in oil? 

"It's simple, it's a matter of dosing the throttle well. You have to drive very cleanly, with extreme precision. Then everything comes easy, if the car responds well to your commands. And the Lotus-Renault at the moment is perhaps the best single-seater in Formula 1. With the win I also answered those who criticised me, those who believed that we only prepare our cars for qualifying. Now, however, it remains to get a counter-evidence in the dry. And I can tell you that immediately at Imola we will be the protagonists again".

Senna's opinion is shared by Elio De Angelis who, by his bad luck, only got fourth place while, according to his ambitions, he could have also fought for the full success. 

"Our car is really competitive. It is good in all situations, on all circuits. That's the only way you can win world championships. I am not saying that we are heading for the title, but I am saying that we are fighting for the overall victory".


Even the Italian driver, although very bitter about not being able to fight to the end, recognised his teammate's skill: 

"Senna is certainly a great driver. I unfortunately could not defend myself: racing with only three wheels is impossible. I thought I had a crushed suspension and that's why I didn't stop in the pits. Now, with good reason, I can believe that if I had pitted and had my tyres changed, maybe I would have achieved a better result".

Once again, Ferrari is second with Michele Alboreto, although after Saturday's practice, there was not too much optimism in the Maranello team. There was confidence in the work done, in the skill and commitment of the drivers, but the problems that had arisen in qualifying and also in the free tests in the morning had created quite a few worries. Everything was resolved for the best, even though Johansson was unable to score points. Says Piero Lardi, son of Enzo Ferrari:

"I don't feel anything special, because we are used to racing and negative and positive results. It seems to me that Pironi was the last driver in our team to lead the World Championship. We hope to go on like this".

Was there never any contact between the Italian team and Senna?


"My father, watching television, is always interested in promising young people. There was also an interest in Senna, but the facts did not allow us to reach a meeting. However I believe that in the field of drivers, for the moment, we have no problems. Alboreto and Johansson are both more than good". 

Michele Alboreto, at the top of the championship standings, appears satisfied: 

"It was a very difficult race, very tight, full of risks. At the start I risked hitting Rosberg's Williams. Later I still found myself in the middle of the bend leading into the pits and avoided it by a miracle. When I passed De Angelis I was tempted to close my eyes. I couldn't see anything, I was in a cloud of water and I tried everything".

The car?


"It went well. But we still have a lot of work to do, we need to make further progress. We were almost on a par with the McLarens, but the Lotus was uncatchable this time. They had more traction than us especially coming out of the slow corners. Our engine, however, was perfect and is very powerful. In any case it is completely stupid to race like this with the track flooded with water. I don't know why they didn't stop the race at three quarters time, as the regulations state. Now comes the hard part: it is very challenging to stay in the lead of the World Championship. I always try to aim for victory in every race, but it is not an easy thing. We have a whole programme to run. I believe the title can come not just with placings but with first places".


Is he happy to have a partner like Johansson? 

"I feel good with him. And I also hope he will be strong in the next races. It is better to have an ally who takes points away from the opponents than a squire without temperament".


At the end of the race, Stephan Johansson looked a little disappointed:


"Of course, I expected something better. Unfortunately I couldn't do any better. When Patrese hit me in the first few laps, I thought the race was already over for me. Instead I was able to continue. But after a few minutes I found myself in front of Winkelhock with his car spinning on the track. I had Berger in front of me and could see nothing. The Austrian avoided the obstacle, I plunged into him without almost realising it, avoiding a more serious impact only at the last moment. I went into the grass and bent the front wing".

On the episode of the initial accident, even Patrese himself agrees with the Swede: 

"I feel sorry for Johansson, but I was trying to overtake him. Maybe I rushed the times too much because I felt the car was going well. However, when I saw that the trajectory was closed I realised that I could not have passed without touching the Ferrari".


All the drivers, during the race, complained about the situation, asking for the race to be stopped prematurely, as the regulation requires. Instead, the Portuguese race director, certainly obeying external pressure, decided to continue, at the two-hour limit stipulated in the regulations anyway. If there had been a bit more conscience, the race could have been stopped at least 75% of the scheduled laps, so as to count in full for the World Championship. The most furious of all was Niki Lauda, who was forced to retire for different reasons anyway: 

"It is inconceivable that they make us race like this. You take unnecessary risks. I don't understand why nobody intervened to stop the race".

His team-mate Alain Prost, who was furious about the forced retirement, was of the same opinion: 

"It was like water skiing. I found a big puddle, my car went aquaplaning and I hit the guardrail after a series of caroms. Luckily I hit the rear of the car, but I must say I was very scared".

The winner himself, Ayrton Senna, is not sympathetic towards the organisers: 

"I too cannot give myself a reason for the decisions that were taken. At Monte-Carlo, the race was suspended when I was catching up and was in second position. On that occasion the track was certainly less flooded than at Estoril. Now, however, it went all the way with the danger of disaster for everyone".

The only one not complaining was Stefan Johansson:


"I am used to it, in fact I quite like riding in the wet. My only big problem was the cold. My overalls were soaked with water and I was driving with my teeth chattering. At one point I even feared I would get leg cramps. That's what I suffered most of all, but I think we have to race in all the conditions we find. Of course we must not be careless, but rain is also part of the game".

The two Williams were the cars with the most spins. Mansell on the reconnaissance lap, Rosberg on two other occasions. The Finnish driver, a former World Champion, was also slightly injured on his second spin. Three stitches had to be applied to his left wrist, while his English team-mate returned to the pit box limping with a sore leg. The reason for these numerous crashes was the Honda engine, which discharged its considerable power too suddenly on the ground. On Monday 22 April 1985, adjectives are wasted in the Portuguese newspapers for Ayrton Senna, splendid winner of the Portuguese Grand Prix:

'Worthy heir of Fittipaldi and Piquet, two-time World Champion. A fish in water. A driver capable of giving all opponents a bath. An orchestra professor capable of playing a complete symphony on his own".


The Brazilian certainly accomplished a great feat, proving that his ability to drive in all conditions is not a bluff but a reality. Even the beaten have recognised this, from Michele Alboreto to Elio De Angelis. It remains to be seen whether the rain has enhanced the ability of Senna, a true wizard of the wet, and the competitiveness of the Lotus, which until Sunday was considered above all a qualifying car. The proof, weather permitting, will be at Imola, in the San Marino Grand Prix. The Brazilian is certainly a talent (he has only eighteen races under his belt in Formula 1), of this there is no doubt. However, it will be necessary to see him fight at the top, in different situations, for definitive consecration. A more complicated matter for Lotus, which is currently the most eclectic and balanced car. In the race, on the track flooded with water, at 60-70% stress, it proved to be clearly superior. But in Rio, for example, with the heat and the engine subjected to greater stress, it had shown its limits with Senna's retirement and a third place finish by a De Angelis forced to play accountant to get to the back. But what are the Lotus' secrets?The car was designed by Gerard Ducarouge, the technician who took over the difficult inheritance of the brilliant Colin Chapman. The Frenchman, who had already excelled in his previous experiences at Ligier and Alfa Romeo (one of the many mistakes, on the part of the Milanese company, to have let him get away), put all his skill into this design. An engineer of aeronautical, or rather rocket science, Ducarouge has the ability to get down to the essentials. The French engineer has managed to marry the Lotus well with the Renault turbo engine, which has also shown signs of undoubted progress on the French company's official cars (by the way: those who thought Patrick Tambay was a finished driver should think again). The general impression is that the British team has many chances to become a protagonist in the World Championship, but that in the long run the fight for the title is more a matter between McLaren and Ferrari. Ayrton Senna and Elio De Angelis, however, have faith. They say:


"The Lotus is not only a speed animal in practice, but also a race-winning car".

The Brazilian does not get overly excited, but gives the impression of being determined to launch the challenge: 

"I have no illusions, but I will try to live from day to day, from race to race. It is clear that if other favourable opportunities arise, I will not let them slip away".

Ferrari's balance sheet after two championship races is in the black. Michele Alboreto, second in Brazil and Portugal, is at the top of the Drivers' Championship standings and the Maranello team is only one point behind Lotus in the Constructors' Championship. Again: four starts and just as many finishes. And four accidents highlighted the robustness and safety of the Ferraris, the one between Alboreto and Mansell at the start in Rio, the collision with Arnoux by De Cesaris and the two collisions involving Johansson on Sunday. The part of the 156-85 that has so far garnered the most praise is the engine. The turbocharged six-cylinder, which has been thoroughly modified during the winter break, now holds its own against all engines. The integral electronic fuel injection system developed by Weber-Magneti Marelli, which is decisive for fuel consumption and performance, has at the moment achieved all the desired goals with state-of-the-art technology. The drivers, however, gave the impression that they were struggling, especially coming out of corners, on the demanding Estoril circuit.Lack of grip, inadequate utilisation of both test and race tyres, understeer and oversteer depending on the conditions. The set-up, the suspension, the chassis and even the aerodynamics were accused, as it was impossible to understand where the fault lay that prevented the car's full potential from being exploited. Perhaps the problem lay in the engine. Having sought out so much power (we are talking about more than 900 hp) forced the engineers to modify the operating speed of the engine itself, which may have lost its elasticity. If before, the horsepower delivery was relatively docile and progressive, now it seems to have become brutal and sudden, so much so that it disrupts single-seaters and drivers. But there is no sleeping in Maranello. There are those who have made the absurd assumption that the designer Harvey Postlethwaite, in charge of the chassis part, who was absent at Estoril, was in disgrace, about to be dismissed from Maranello. In reality, the English technician is working extremely hard: at Imola Ferrari would like to present many novelties. There is talk of two-stage turbines, aerodynamic modifications and other interesting solutions. Alboreto and Johansson known ask for better. On Friday 26 and Saturday 27 April 1985 the Maranello team will be on the track at Imola for a series of important tests. Says Alboreto:


"They are leading the championship, but the difficult thing is to stay there. But I assure you that we will do everything we can, all together".

Renault and Minardi will also take to the track with the new turbo engine produced by engineer Carlo Chiti. The challenge is therefore renewed even in free practice, with Renault becoming threatening (three engines in the top five in Portugal). A head-to-head duel between two great industries with McLaren always playing the role of referee.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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