Elio De Angelis, leader of the Formula 1 World Championship standings, and Michele Alboreto, the extraordinary protagonist of the Monaco Grand Prix, challenge one another for the World Title.
Michele Alboreto says:
"During the next race at Spa, I’ll take the lead".
Elio De Angelis replies:
"Nobody should be under any illusions; I want to stay in the lead until the end of the season".
Good intentions on both sides. To tell the truth, though, it is necessary to acknowledge that, given the first four races of the season, the number one favourite for the win of the World Title is still him, Alain Prost, mocked by Niki Lauda during the last race of the previous year. Three wins (one invalidated) out of four races are a clear example of the renewed ambitions of the French driver.
"Until now, we’ve paid the price of 1984, faced it without any problem, and competed for the win in the family. The others had the chance to work in view of the future, while we were dealing with a relentless battle. Then, McLaren had to change the supplier of tires and modify their cars. For these reasons, our rivals, especially Ferrari and Lotus, caught up in terms of competitiveness. Nevertheless, apart from Belgium, you’ll see the white and red cars stand out again in qualifying and the race. I can assure you that De Angelis, Alboreto, and Senna won't have an easy life, despite the latter being an expert. My only objective is to win the World Championship. And I’ll make it".
Alain Prost, who turned 30 in February, is determined not to lose another opportunity. Being acquainted with his determination, it is possible to believe that he will be the man to beat. Not without reason, at the start of his precocious career, the Frenchman was nicknamed ‘the stubborn’, given that he always reached his goals. Afterward, someone named him ‘the dwarf’, referring to his limited height and also using it in its pejorative sense, maybe to create a negative image of the driver. Nonetheless, lately, everybody changed their mind, and now they call him ‘the professor’ or ‘Amadeus Prost’, considering that the little transalpine man became a very precocious champion, able to realize on track the equivalent of real melodies for those who know how to appreciate an almost perfect driving style. With the success in Monaco, the McLaren driver has, for now, reached three goals. He almost completely killed the possible ambitions of his teammate Niki Lauda, drew all the attention of the team to him, and regained the top spot in the standings. It is no small thing in a single race. And we are only at the beginning. As he said, Prost will trigger the battle at the Belgian Grand Prix. But also on Formula 1, while waiting for the Belgian Grand Prix, falls the tragedy of Heysel Stadium (the Helsey massacre refers to a tragedy that occurred on Wednesday, May 29th, 1985, right before the start of the football Champions League final between the Italian Juventus football club and the British counterpart of Liverpool, at the Heysel stadium in Bruxelles, where 39 people died, of which 32 were Italian, and over 600 people were injured). The environment appears to be in shock on the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix, the fifth race of the World Championship, and there is a lot of talk about the tragedy. The threat of fear also hovers over this sport, which, like football, is a mass sport with huge crowds. Up until now, violence has not erupted in such an extreme way as on football fields. Nonetheless, on a few occasions, the first signs of excesses, which might be ominous, have been noticed. Everyone’s hope is that good sense will prevail and that rooting won’t become hooliganism or an absurd outburst. Michele Alboreto gives a talk, as maybe the most sensitive to the tragedy, as well as struck by it, given that he is an advisor for Torino football club, too:
"What happened on Wednesday night is horrific. I was in front of the tv, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t sleep that night. I also thought about some Ferrari mechanics who, being here in Belgium, expressed the wish to go watch the match. Fortunately, nothing happened to them".
The driver of the team from Maranello hopes that such an occurrence won’t ever take place in Motorsport:
"Here, thank God, fans are never divided into two groups, but into many. It’s already occurred to me, though, to find myself in the middle of the crowd, and I must admit that sometimes I was terrified".
In the meantime, on Friday, May 31st, 1985, races make their comeback. Before the qualifying session, it seems that the pilots’ Safety Committee has the intention to take both Ayrton Senna and Riccardo Patrese to trial for the events that occurred in Monte-Carlo. The involved parties say that they are not afraid at all. Among the changes, it is important to mention the substitution of the Brabham of Francois Hesnault, for scarce performance, with the Swiss Marc Surer. Ferrari has at its disposal a new computerised system to check usage, but it is not certain that they will employ it. There are also new front and rear suspensions. A risk hovers over the race, too: the asphalt is completely renovated, and people fear that it might fall apart, with the dangers that this carries along. Ferrari fights back. Until now, a well-orchestrated blitz with Michele Alboreto taking the provisional pole position of the Belgian Grand Prix. The Italian driver offers an extraordinary show, driving in 1'66’’046, at an average speed of 216.604 km/h. A new record of the circuit, which is extraordinary considering the previous one of 2’04’’616, set by Prost with his Renault in 1983. Over 8 seconds and 15 km/h separate the records. An unbelievable advancement, considering that the asphalt of the track is completely renovated. Ferrari's accomplishment is completed by Johansson’s fifth place, improving, yet not at 100%. It is not easy to reach the top in a short time. Elio De Angelis, Ayrton Senna, and Patrick Tambay insert themselves between the Ferrari drivers from Maranello (three cars equipped with a Renault engine), whereas McLaren seems to go through a momentary period of crisis. Niki Lauda is in tenth position, and Alain Prost is even last, not having driven a single lap. This does not mean that the British-German team does not have a chance, but it is clear that some problems may still arise.
What happened to McLaren, winner of the World Championship and still successful in Monaco? On the eve of this race, there were talks about small changes, a development in the engine. These changes may have led to the issues highlighted during the first day of practice. Over the course of the morning, Prost indeed pointed out a loss of power in his racing car. The engine was changed, and the French driver started his qualifying session with a backup car. Once on track, though, the engine suddenly stopped working. Back in the other car, the same thing occurred. Lauda, on the other hand, complains about not being able to finish the planned number of laps. All in all, a series of issues that require a solution. Nonetheless, if McLaren struggles, it cannot be said that Ferrari is unrivalled. De Angelis is 0.2 seconds behind Alboreto, while Senna is four. Due to the breaking of the turbines, the Italian driver did not manage to use the second set of tires for qualifying. The Brazilian driver encountered electrical problems, and then he was slowed down by Warwick, who drove at a reduced pace. On Saturday, people will witness a great battle without a doubt, with attacks carried out by Lotus cars and the possible comeback of the McLarens, with a probable presence of the Renault, Williams, and Brabham cars. It won’t nevertheless be easy to outperform the Ferraris. During practice, many technical issues arose: two broken engines for Piquet and Surer, and turbines repeatedly damaged. On top of this, there is still the problem of the asphalt, which might totally split apart. At the end of practice, it already crumbled, and some drivers fear that the race may be the repetition of the one in Las Vegas, last year, where qualifying took place on a wrecked tarmac, which led to accidents. Michele Alboreto says:
"For now, I’m optimistic, and I don’t think about the other matters. We can improve something in terms of set-up and general finalisation of the cars. The engine is absolutely phenomenal. When I went for the fastest lap, I found the Zakspeed that had spun in the middle of the track. I had to drive another lap with already deteriorated rear tires. I think I can push to the verge of 1'55"0".
A cautious optimism, then, without making predictions. As for the others, a good De Cesaris, although limited by the not-so-competitive Legler. The Italian driver hopes for the race. The Alfa Romeo cars are, on the other hand, at the back of the group, but there is no point in deluding ourselves. Fabi, fourteenth, decently drove with a Toleman that lacks HP, Ghinzani is dealing with engines that are always less powerful, and Martini does not have the experience that it is required to push to the limit a car that is newer than the driver himself. In conclusion, the anticipated trials regarding the naughty drivers of Monte-Carlo did not take place. Niki Lauda, who wanted to make both Ayrton Senna and Riccardo Patrese appear before a court of pilots, gave up. The Austrian man tried to talk to the Italian driver, but the latter obviously replied that he did not want to undergo another moral lynching, as it happened after 1978. Therefore, Niki Lauda communicates that during the next meeting of the Formula 1 Commission, he will ask sports authorities to intervene with high fines (5.000 dollars) as well as disqualification, in serious circumstances, such as drivers’ unfair behaviour. To tell the truth, it is about time that FISA handled its own sport as the other federations do. Mistakes can be made, but it is clear that some measures may lead to drivers showing greater responsibility in certain situations. On the one hand, problems between drivers can be solved without too much drama, on the other hand, FISA cannot do anything against the cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix. The race may be recovered in September, after the Italian Grand Prix and before the European Grand Prix. Also considering that from Paris, FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre, says that on Monday, June 24th, 1985, in the Federation executive committee, Belgian organisers will be held accountable for the serious mistakes, which affected the Formula 1 World Championship. These are the decisions developed on Saturday, June 1st, 1985, at the end of a day packed with tensions and complaints. Tensions that came back to mind, just a few days after, the tragic events of the Heysel stadium. The levity of the organisation made possible the massacre at the stadium, and without any doubt burdened the motorsports' environment even on this occasion. Fortunately, no tragedies occurred here, but it has become ridiculous. The bad state of the track, which fell apart after the first round of practice on Friday, is at the base of the resounding safety measure taken by the sport's chiefs of the Federation. This is the first time that a race of the World Championship is suspended on the eve. Delays, chaos, and discussions occurred (in Spain, in 1980, the race was not considered valid with respect to the World Championship), but such a serious decision was never made, extensively justified, too.
Drivers, this time determined and united (24 votes in favour, 2 against, apparently the Belgian Boutsen and the German Winkelhock), won the fight after a long debate with organisers and sports authorities. Lauda, Piquet, Alboreto, and Prost pushed the drivers to ask for the cancellation of the race. But everyone essentially agreed. Niki Lauda says:
"It’s impossible to race on this track, it falls apart. It would be a suicide".
Michele Alboreto adds:
"I would have loved to race here, I felt I could win, but it was not logical. Last year in Dallas, we accepted, and it had already been a mistake. Nevertheless, that was a 120 km/h type of circuit, here it is 300 km/h, and in some parts of the circuit, I felt like my stomach was in my throat. Then, when you reached the corner, it was like suddenly ending up in a puddle. The smallest mistake, out-of-phase braking, being out of the trajectory of some centimetres, and you could end up against a guardrail".
Ayrton Senna criticises the track, too:
"I went slower than the others. I didn’t want to kill myself. I don’t understand how they could’ve made such a huge miscalculation. Likewise, I hope this will serve as a lesson".
Even Bernie Ecclestone, FOCA president, and Formula 1 boss, could not take a position against the stance of the drivers. On the contrary, Ecclestone, although unwillingly, admits that it is not possible to race on this track with cars that nearly go at 330 km/h in the fastest part of the circuit.
"I didn’t know that the track would have been completely renovated. The work hasn’t been done well. I’m sorry, I hope that we’ll make it up to everybody. From now on, I’ll personally check these matters".
As for the other races, organisers anyway decide to keep the same program for Sunday. At 2:30 p.m. there should be the Formula 3000 European Championship race, and later the one of the Alpine Renault Cup, to partially try to save the proceeds. Since the early morning, it was clear that the Belgian Grand Prix could not go on under regular circumstances. Drivers carry out a walk around the track and notice that the tarmac crumbles in every fast corner, as well as in the points where cars pass under extreme braking or acceleration. It is therefore unthinkable to find an immediate solution. Free practice starts with a delay of 15 minutes and lasts for exactly 21 minutes until, one by one, drivers go back to the pits shaking their heads. Elio De Angelis sets the fastest lap, with a time of 2'19"0, approximately 24 seconds of difference from the time set on Friday by the Ferrari of Michele Alboreto. At this point, discussions start. Drivers do not want to race, while organisers answer that they would fix the track. The day goes on between postponements and meetings until 8:00 p.m. when the most logical decision is finally made. Responsibilities of such an absurd situation are to be equally divided between Belgian organisers and the FISA. Promoters are guilty of redoing the asphalt too late (on the track, works were still going on until Thursday), and of naively thinking that 1000 HP racing cars could race on this layer of tarmac, still soft and unbalanced. Sports chiefs, though, have an even more serious responsibility, given that they handle the World Championship and send technicians on the spot to verify the state of the installation. It would be a good idea, in such a delicate moment, if employees were asked to leave due to incompetence. Fortunately, no serious accidents took place. Approximately 5.000 spectators are present at the circuit, waiting without seeing anything. In the afternoon, the most agitated ones try to reach the pits to see the cars up close. One officer fights the invasion and ends up getting punched.
Afterward, the police lets people pass. Then, the speaker announces that tickets would be either refunded or considered valid for the following races of the day. It is incredible that it was needed to get to these points in a sport that would present itself as an example of great expertise. It is absurd that drivers must intervene first-hand to safeguard their own safety, after having carried out practice at an average speed of 216 km/h, thus having endangered themselves in vain. Michele Alboreto and Ferrari are those that pay such levity the most, given that they are going through a period of great shape. Nonetheless, Formula 1 is the one that suffers predominantly: now more than ever it deserves the nickname of ‘circus’. On Sunday, June 2nd, 1985, with an attendance of slightly less than 4.000 people, on a beautiful sunny day, Formula 3000 experiences its moment of glory after replacing the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix. Thus, promoters of the unsuccessful event manage to get a bit of satisfaction: a race takes place with no significant accidents. In other words: nobody gets hurt. It would be an outrage, though, to say that Formula 1 drivers were not right about refusing to race. Their colleagues from the minor series are very good at avoiding the biggest risks. But a few figures are enough to give an idea of what happened during this race: eighteen cars were on the starting grid, and only six crossed the finish line. Almost every driver that did not finish the race ended up off track in improbable ways, for instance breaking dampers, suspensions, liveries, and spoilers. It could be said that the sixth race of the Formula 3000 European Championship was an enjoyable Rally.
Cars can be admired while jumping like crickets in the fields, taking escapes with blocked tires, counter-steering in a thrilling way, and spinning, so the show is not lacking. Nevertheless, not many can appreciate it since numerous televisions refuse to broadcast the race live and instead air some parts of the filming at most. In the end, Mike Thackwell of New Zealand deservedly wins with Ralt, followed by Alain Fertè, the German Christian Danner, Gabriele Tarquini, the other Italian Guido Daccò, and Juan Manuel Fangio, nephew of the great Argentinian champion. Ask Ivan Capelli or Emanuele Pirro, though, with the latter managing to stay at the top of the continental standings by sheer luck, what it is like to drive in such conditions and go off track while being unable to do anything on a slimy tarmac as if it was covered in oil.
"We were obliged to race. But we would have wanted to go home, too, as Formula 1 colleagues did. In this way, among other things, we risk falsifying the Championship".
Pierluigi Corbari, former sports chief of Autodelta, is the only person who is truly happy, since the two drivers of his new team come in second and sixth place. In any case, now the Francorchamps episode is to be forgotten (or to be kept in mind as a negative example) and needs to be archived. On Monday, June 3rd, 1985, a new chapter began, with three days of free practice in Silverstone, in which almost every team takes part. And then, in a week, off to America, where the race will take place in seven days (16th and 23rd of June 1985) in Montreal and Detroit, respectively. Two peculiar circuits, the former accepted due to the important role that motorsports cover in the city. Before leaving, Michele Alboreto says:
"We may have lost a great opportunity, but we don’t want to complain. Ferrari showed to be competitive and maybe winning, even though between qualifying and races there are often considerable differences and surprises. The most important thing is to keep on working and stay at the top. Results will come. And, in this regard, I want to clarify something. It’s been days since talks started concerning connections that I may have with other teams. Everything can happen, and everybody must prepare for their own future in the best way possible. But I can also say that I currently feel very well at Ferrari and if new opportunities won’t come up, I don’t see why I would try to abandon them. As long as the team wants me for other Championships. Leave me racing in peace, and you’ll see that success will come for everybody".
Ferrari does not lack rivals. Lotus has a strong and homogeneous package concerning both cars and drivers. McLaren is always to be feared, even though these days problems arose. Too many engines broke, which might be due to innovations or possibly to a fuel that causes dangerous detonations of the cylinders. It is easy to predict that the British team will run for cover in time. Meanwhile, a new change is coming up: a Tyrrell with a Renault turbo engine will make its debut in England tomorrow. Soon, in Formula 1, there will be no naturally aspirated engines any more. On Sunday morning, at 10:30 a.m., two hours prior to the Formula 3000 half an hour of free practice, special vehicles are still present on track to spread a cloak of tarmac in the corners that were ruined the most over the past few days. The solution found for the track is destined to cause controversy, and it will for sure have legal consequences. The FOCA might claim damages for what concerns the missed profit, organisers might sue businesses that carried out the work, the Motorsports Federation might blame the Belgian Automobile Club for incompetence, and so on. Formula 1 regulations speak for themselves. The FISA must inspect the installations and approve them every six weeks before the planned date of the race. Over the following period, until the day of the race, organisers, and promoters (the former generally consists of the local Automobile Clubs, the latter is made up of the sponsors of the event) must guarantee the total efficiency of the circuits. What happened at Francorchamps, then? When Derek Ongaro arrived in March, as FISA technical representative, he had been told that the tarmac would have been completely renovated once meteorological conditions allowed it (at that time, snow was still present in the area). Essentially, the works started two weeks prior to the Belgian Grand Prix and finished on Thursday, the day before practice sessions started.
For the renovation of the track, a special material called Rubberasphalt was employed, made of gravel and a mixture of rubber and bitumen. Given that the area of Spa-Francorchamps is often susceptible to rain and storms, this material had been considered the most suitable (based on previously made tests). Nevertheless, to have sufficiently rapid reinforcement the cloak must be spread - according to what some experts explained - at a temperature of 120° C. Instead, it seems like the tarmac was spread at a lower temperature, therefore the required period for the correct reinforcement had to be longer. When the 26 Formula 1 cars went on track, with approximately 1000 HP each, the asphalt crumbled in the most stimulated areas of the track. At that point it would have been necessary to intervene rapidly, thus interrupting practice to work on the corners. In Dallas last year, Americans repaired the track the best they could, employing fast-setting concrete. On the contrary, at Francorchamps, almost nothing has been done. Marshals’ work was limited to sweeping debris toward the sidelines of the track. Then, during the night and in the evening, some corners were renovated, too. Now one wonders if something could have been additionally done to save the Belgian Grand Prix. An Italian, representative of a specialised company, says that he was consulted to intervene. It seems that, in three hours, a particular powder scattered on the asphalt and then wet with simple water can completely solidify the tarmac as a sort of glue. The required expense for such an intervention was about 130.000.000 lire. A significant amount of money, but not excessive if required to save the race. All these details made doubts arise about the existence of some factor, which was not made public, that led to the final negative solution. On Sunday morning, in the pits, there are whispers, not even in hushed tones, that this is the result of the never-ending battle between the two ethnic groups in Belgium, namely Walloons and Flemings. Francorchamps is situated in a Walloon area, but a Flemish company seems to be responsible for the tarmacking works, due to it being less expensive.
These are obviously almost absurd hypotheses that may lead to the conclusion that a sort of sabotage occurred, given that the Automobile Club is wrecked by these problems of coexistence, too. And it is necessary to remember the rivalry that opposes Zolder and Francorchamps, which concerns the realisation of the Belgian Grand Prix. It looks like the local organisers, to obtain the required financing to improve the circuit over the past two years (4.500.000.000 lire), needed to resort to a subterfuge, which consisted of making the Automobile Club and the circuit look like a Cultural Union. In any case, what resulted in the cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix will have a sequel without a doubt, and it could also be that the episode will have positive consequences in the future. For now, though, it has generated not a few controversies. Notwithstanding the serious responsibilities of sports authorities, also Bernie Ecclestone was in the dock, as FOCA president (Constructors Association), owner of Brabham, as well as promoter of seven races of the World Championship (Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Brazil, Portugal, and a further presence in the practices in Canada and Detroit). During a meeting that was held on Saturday evening, Ecclestone was intensely confronted by some constructors, which brought up the fact that they were not consulted during the discussions that led to the cancellation of the Grand Prix. Moreover - and this is certainly the most important matter - he was asked to pay the cost of both employment and business trip regarding the cancelled race anyway. The British manager, therefore, finds himself in a difficult position. He lost the proceeds, which could be around 2.000.000 dollars, and he also faces the request for further refunds. Having collected several millions of dollars over the course of his by-now-long career, these are certainly not circumstances that put him on the spot. What might preoccupy him are instead the bad opinions about him. According to Marco Piccinini, a policy strategist at Ferrari, who does not easily give anything away, it is understandable that the finger that points at Ecclestone may refer to an attempt at taking away a part of the power from the hands of the FOCA president.
"We’re in front of a situation that keeps on getting worse. Over the past twelve months, Formula 1 made up for poor figures due to organisational deficiencies. In Dallas and Francorchamps, tracks showed to be inadequate for the needs of the sport. In the United States, they managed to resolve the problem with a last-minute intervention, which resulted in many risks. Here, the inevitable occurred. We can’t rely on a man who is managing a series of tasks that require the effort of a real staff of professionals, no matter how expert, efficient, and full of imagination he is".
In the meantime, after the tests at Silverstone, the circus flies to North America. On Sunday, June 16th, 1985, the Canadian Grand Prix is due in Montreal, after seven days Detroit will host the next race. An important trip for two reasons: we are about a third of the way through the season and the values in the game need to be verified; now, Lotus, McLaren, and Ferrari are at the top and the open wound left by the Belgian Grand Prix at Francorchamps should be history. Ferrari was in pole position, three are the second places that Alboreto has to his credit out of four races. Will this be the time when we witness a car from Maranello winning again? We will see, for now, the scenery changes and Formula 1 arrives at the isle of Notre Dame, one of the numerous strips of land that constitute Montreal, the most important city of Quebec, enclosed between two rivers, one of which is the magnificent San Lorenzo. The cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix is already left behind. It is not possible to stop and lose oneself to regret. Races follow one another, circuits are always different, and drivers and technicians turn their attention to upcoming commitments. The track presents very particular features. It is an excessively long circuit (4.410 metres), flat, with a few narrow turns that make the average duration of the lap decrease. The average speed predicted for this year is around 190 km/h, according to the advancements registered on the other tracks from the start of the Championship. The usage of fuel might come into play again on this track. In any case, drivers do not think about race strategies already, but instead the finalising of the cars. Trying to compete well in the race, and making a good impression, here above all, is a point of pride for all the drivers. The circuit is named after Gilles Villeneuve and the spiritual presence of this unforgettable and amazing driver, who passed away three years ago, is always felt. While in Berthierville, the small village where Gilles Villeneuve lived, people are raising funds to dedicate to the racing champion a monument and a small museum, on the track of Notre Dame isle many are the drivers, including those who did not like him, that assure battle and big effort.
Last year, the Canadian Grand Prix disclosed itself as an unconventional appointment compared to the rest of the season. It indeed finished with the success of Nelson Piquet’s Brabham, who then won the next race in Detroit, too. The only two races, together with the one of Zolder won by Ferrari, that managed to escape the dominion of McLaren. It is therefore possible to affirm that this track tends to surprise or at least have a winner who, up until now, always missed the goal of victory by a hair, thus never achieving it. Bearing in mind that Ferrari is a point of reference, and McLaren and Lotus equally split the spoils of the first four races, can be expected a further improvement by Ferrari, which boasts two pole position awards and three second places. In Montreal, the Grand Prix vibe cannot be felt yet. People mainly think about a huge Picasso exhibition that will open on Friday, June 21st, 1985, in honour of which over 725,000 tickets have been already passed out. The city is bombarded with advertising messages, though: newspapers, radio stations, TV, cinemas, and a big Goodyear airship that floats during the night showing enormous light panels, posters, and fliers (to tell the truth, the latter is centred on René Arnoux due to the little time at disposal of the organizers); everything pushes toward the goal of welcoming the biggest audience ever. After all, together with the Detroit Grand Prix, this will be the only American race of the season, since the race in New York, after hesitation, announcements, and denials, won’t ultimately take place, with the aim of organizing the event better. It is such a state of mind that provides the backdrop for the hours prior to the event (hoping for a dry weekend, given that on Thursday, June 13th, 1985, on the eve of the Canadian Grand Prix, it will rain all day long). The Ferrari number 27 is the one to watch. On the one hand, it reminds us of the past, on the other hand, it showed potential up until today. Michele Alboreto, the most awaited driver, does not give away too much:
"If my Ferrari will prove itself strong as in the previous races, I won’t back down. Before talking, though, it’s better to wait. In Formula 1 everything is unsure, and this is maybe the great thing about our sport".
Meanwhile, once arrived in Montreal, Ferrari technicians confirm that they will use the famous equipment meant to measure the usage of fuel. In other words, it is an electronic and computerised tool that measures the levels of fuel consumption required to calculate the necessary engine power to use during the race.
This tool, which will be at the disposal of both Alboreto and Johansson, was fabricated, as usual, by Magneti Marelli. It seems that it is a display fitted to the instrument panel and should provide drivers, when requested, with precise data concerning the state of the facts: the number of litres remaining in the tank, as well as laps that can still be done with that amount of fuel. With such equipment, Ferrari should have caught up with McLaren-Porsche and the cars equipped with Renault engines, which have been used for a long time now. An Italian driver leads the standings, Elio De Angelis, while another one, Michele Alboreto, is in pursuit of the just mentioned compatriot (although in the company of Alain Prost). It is an unusual circumstance for the Formula 1 World Championship, which reaches its fifth appointment. In appearance, the two rivals keep a good fair play, but it is clear that the battle motivates them. Truth be told, Michele Alboreto is a bit advantaged. While Ferrari fully bets on him (without disregarding Johansson), Lotus seems to favour Ayrton Senna, forgetting the points obtained. Andrea De Cesaris, a Ligier driver considered by many as one of the fastest Formula 1 protagonists, is an involved spectator, though currently lacking the vehicle to take part in the battle.
"This time I believe in Alboreto. He’s going through a period of great shape, he’s really fast, doesn’t make mistakes, and has a truly competitive car. Unfortunately, De Angelis is facing some problems related to his team and is required to fight on two fronts. In any case, I don’t think that Lotus can beat Maranello cars at the moment. If anything, if a threat presents itself, it is certainly Prost and his McLaren. The superiority of the British team is nevertheless diminished, thus any result may be possible".
De Cesaris does not want to hint at a classification concerning drivers’ quality, however impossible to make.
"Elio and I present different characteristics. It’s difficult to explain. Maybe Alboreto is evil, of course, competitively speaking. Then, again, he has on his side a series of favourable concurrences. Don’t forget that having a teammate that doesn’t get in the way is fundamental".
A very spontaneous and courageous driver, who leaves behind some unfortunate seasons that also earned him the reputation of ‘cars wrecker’, Andrea De Cesaris talks about those who lead the Championship, but he shares insights into himself, too:
"Ligier doesn’t count on a team with great financial means. We changed technicians at the end of 1984, and we’re working hard. I believe we’ll improve, and that I’ll have the chance to stand out, too. I believe I matured over the past few years. I didn’t change in terms of driving, I always see myself as the one from the first races in terms of desire to accomplish, to win, but I gained experience. Now I can accept the limits of my car. I understood that, if you start at the back, it doesn’t make sense to risk your life just to prove you’re more worthy than others. I still have my short, and medium-term objectives, though. I would like to finish in the points here in Montreal, like I did in Monte Carlo. In Detroit, everything will be different: a street circuit where the driver has a bigger responsibility, we’ll see. I heard that Ferrari is keeping an eye on who’s winning this race…".
A win in 1982, the second came during the following season, and another one last year. These are the achievements worthy of the top step of the podium that Michele Alboreto reached until now, after 61 races in Formula 1. It is not a lot, yet not even little, if we consider that Keke Rosberg, the World Champion, only stood three times on the higher step of the podium, too. Maybe he feels like the time has come, that he needs to make the best out of such a situation. He wants to lead Ferrari to success, starting with the Canadian Grand Prix.
"Our car can now potentially win. For a thousand reasons, I only got second place since the start of the season. In Francorchamps, where I got pole position, even if provisional, we didn’t race. In Imola, I was stopped by a banal malfunction, in Monte-Carlo a tire deflated, in Rio, I still had to pit to change deteriorated tires due to the accident I had with Mansell at the start. So, I could broadly lead the World Championship, yet I’m obliged to chase. I don’t want to go down in history as that cyclist, I think his name was Bellone, who became famous for his placements behind the first positions".
Alboreto examines the situation:
"In theory, overall, Ferrari has at its disposal the best single-seater. We’ve got an engine that is better than the one that Lotus has, and a chassis that is at least similar to the McLaren. Maybe here in Montreal, Brabham could come back at the top, but I don’t fear them. You must make rivals give in straight away, with the hope to keep the best technical level even in the next races".
Thus, the Italian driver is confident about what concerns the race that will take place in Montreal.
"A race that needs to be prepared with the utmost attention. The circuit is similar in some ways to Imola. It will be necessary to carefully finalise the braking system, and pay particular attention to the tire choice, above all the rear left, while the usual consumption issue will present itself. The team with the most significant advantage will be the one that manages to find the perfect balance between the power to use and the consumption of the available fuel. We didn’t prepare enough on this matter, so we hope not to have unpleasant surprises".
In fact, the matter of fuel was at the core of technicians’ interests on the eve of the Grand Prix. Ferrari should employ the most advanced system manufactured by Magneti Marelli, which operates on the deployment time of injectors and therefore controls the flux of liquid that is related to the fuel supply. Everybody knows that they are striving to improve in this aspect. For example, Williams’ cars have a radio transmitter that sends data to the pits to be checked based on the previously made calculations and then communicated to the drivers with specific panels. If Rosberg or Mansell find a difference between the data on the dashboard and the counterpart provided by technicians, they can consequently adjust, increasing or reducing the pressure of the turbines. In any case, already on Friday, we will witness the outcomes of many conjectures. Michele Alboreto launches a challenge to pass Elio De Angelis and leave Alain Prost behind. Michele Alboreto and Ferrari keep their promises. On the first day of free practice of the Canadian Grand Prix, the Italian driver is the fastest, setting a lap of 1'25"127 (a new record for the circuit). A significant result that does not have to raise too much false hope, yet. The very same Alboreto remains calm.
"It’s just the first day, everything can change".
To tell the truth, this was a turbulent day, with two interruptions due to accidents and sporadic rain that did not allow drivers to be on track for the full regular hour of timed practice. Moreover, given the cold weather, everyone had problems with the tires. Qualifying tires could not be used, and Michele Alboreto sets the fastest time with race tires. Ferrari is followed by the usual Ayrton Senna with Lotus and Alain Prost with Mclaren. The French driver seems to be already quite behind (0.8 seconds), while the others have at least a second of disadvantage. Niki Lauda only sets the twelfth time. The Austrian driver clearly states that it is not his fault at all:
"With such a dirty track, you are required to drive in an impulsive and dirty way. This is not my kind of style, and I couldn’t warm the tires at all, so the car didn’t have grip".
Fortunately, accidents had no consequences, but still caused fear. At the beginning of practice, Pierluigi Martini, in his Minardi, feels the rear swerving and ends up against a wall, moving backward for 200 metres. He is not injured, the car is quite damaged, though. Alfa Romeo faces a difficult day, too, despite obtaining decent results (Eddie Cheever ninth, Riccardo Patrese eleventh). Both cars catch fire due to the turbines breaking. Cars do not get damaged too much, but the Italian driver is required to personally intervene with fire extinguishers aboard because emergency services run late. As for the rest, nothing peculiar happened.
Elio De Angelis sets the sixth time (he went straight one time in both free and timed practice, while when it rained, he went wide into the chicane). Once again, the Italian driver found some kind of obstacle on his way. Nelson Piquet is in trouble, too, with an unstable Brabham. What about the new Ferrari man? The continuous interruptions got in the way of Johansson every time he went on track. Anyway, the Swedish driver did not manage to finalise his car, yet, which presents rear balance issues. He is nevertheless sure that he can improve. Many are the talks that do not relate to the race itself. The most important, the Beatrice team, property of an American multinational corporation, a sponsor of Lola, will make its debut at the end of the season, with Alan Jones. This team (in a week, they should announce a partnership with Ford to install a new turbo engine) seems convinced about broadening its horizons in Formula 1. Baked by its dollars, Beatrice is in contact with drivers (Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda among the names known) and technicians. Rumours report that meetings occurred with Gérard Ducarounge, designer of Lotus, Gordon Murray, designer of Brabham, and Mauro Forghieri, current Ferrari Research Development chief. It looks like these are offers worth millions. The equilibrium of the circus is on the verge of collapsing. Talks, or maybe quarrels, also happened during the meeting that took place last night, between the Formula 1 Commission members.
Firstly, some decisions were made. The Argentinian driver Oscar Larrauri, by now Italian naturalised, obtained the super licence together with Jones, who lost it when he left Formula 1. On the contrary, Alessandro Nannini did not make it. On Saturday, June 15th, 1985, Elio De Angelis, and Michele Alboreto are the great protagonists of the qualifying practice. The Lotus driver takes away pole position from the compatriot, but for what concerns the race, it is possible that an exciting and very uncertain battle will take place. It is necessary to say that De Angelis was not lucky and could not defend himself. He would have probably been able to fight on equal terms and go for the first place, but his Ferrari blocked right in the most crucial moment when Alboreto was on his fastest flying lap. Lately, cars from Maranello stopped having problems; this time the issue occurred on a delicate occasion. It is an extremely tight practice day, starting with a delay of three-quarters of an hour due to an electric problem that interrupted the communication among the various checkpoints of sports commissioners. Stefan Johansson is the first driver to set a remarkable time, the Swedish of Ferrari thus reaching the fourth place. Then, chaos happens, and De Angelis sets an exceptional time of 1'24"577, a new record for the track, at an average speed of 187.732 km/h. Ayrton Senna tries in vain to improve, but nothing can beat the feat of the Italian driver. De Angelis had good reasons to go for it: make his abilities clear to Lotus, which looked like it was devoting most of his attention to the Brazilian driver, as well as keeping his prestige as the leader of the World Championship standings.
"I think I can enjoy this partial success, but the race will be tough, very tough. Consumption, tire choice, and race strategy will be fundamental".
Ayrton Senna sportingly accepts the defeat, or at least the superiority of his teammate in practice.
"Elio was very good at taking advantage of his tires. I didn’t manage to do the same, and I must recognize the merit. In any case, having two Lotus cars in the front row means being advantaged; it will be troubling for the others".
Michele Alboreto, after setting the best time the previous day, gets third place. He is the only driver, among the favourites for the win, that does not improve with respect to Friday. At the end of practice, Michele is furious:
"I’ll do anything I can to win this race. It’s not possible to be this unlucky. I had chosen two types of tires, softer for qualifying and harder for the race, respectively. The first choice didn’t work at all, they were worn after a lap. When I put on the others, I tried to go for a very fast lap, but I was obliged to retire the car instead. Unfortunately, something must have occurred to the turbines or the supercharger, a huge burst of flame appeared, and I had to stop in a corner to activate the onboard fire extinguishers, which made the flames die out straight away. The fire almost reached the cockpit already. I got scared a lot".
What occurred on the single-seater of Michele Alboreto is probably the breaking of either an oil or fuel canal system. We do not fall short of shivers. A similar episode involves Nigel Mansell; the engine of his Williams explodes right in front of the Ferrari pits and the car leans over the guardrail. Alain Prost plays the role of the outsider, too, but he right away broke his super-compressed engine precisely prepared for this qualifying. McLaren must anyway be considered as one of the favourites, since it presents one of the best-balanced cars. Fuel usage will play a key role. On Sunday, June 16th, 1985, Elio De Angelis, and Ayrton Senna, both starting on the front row, divide their commitments and do not get in the way of one another. The Italian driver of Lotus starts well and keeps the lead, followed by his teammate, while Michele Alboreto is in third position. Stefan Johansson, on the other hand, gets surprised by Derek Warwick, with his Renault. The leading group proceeds, without particular shocks in terms of positions, at least until the fifth lap when Ayrton Senna boxes all of a sudden. Lotus mechanics are required to intervene on the manifold that was losing pressure, and the Brazilian gets back on track with no possibility to win any more. His race indeed becomes a platonic race. Then, Elio De Angelis’ advantage (not more than 5–6 seconds) on Michele Alboreto diminishes, and the Italian driver starts to close the gap. The overtake takes place over the course of lap 15, after two attempts that Elio De Angelis managed to fight back. Michele Alboreto realises a manoeuvre out of an instruction manual and strongly passes on the outside of the second corner after the pit lane, exploiting the power and solidity of his Ferrari. After taking the lead, Michele Alboreto continues the race at non-excessive levels, hoping not to consume too much fuel and make mistakes. He manages to do that perfectly. The race unfolds regularly, until lap 52, when also Stefan Johansson overtakes Elio De Angelis, already in difficulty. The Swedish driver brutally takes advantage of the slipstream of the Lotus and passes on the inside of the corner, even going on the grass with the tires and raising a lot of dust. Starting from now, Stefan Johansson keeps a strong pace and closes the gap to Michele Alboreto, who leads the race at a pace that is definitely lower. Johansson, driven by the evident enthusiasm of being in second position, almost attacks his teammate, yet without really bothering him. Ferrari experiences a moment of panic in the pits.
And maybe they fear a repetition of what happened in Imola between Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve, in 1982. Therefore, firstly the Swedish driver is asked to slow down a bit, and then various panels saying ‘slow’ are shown to him in quick sequence. Fortunately, Stefan Johansson understands the situation and slows down, while Michele Alboreto keeps driving his race unbothered. In the back, though, with a continuous progression, Alain Prost steps forwards, recovering threateningly. The French driver, after having saved himself over the first part of the race, increases his pace towards the end. When Stefan Johansson passed in second position, the French man was fourth, 29 seconds behind. At the end of lap 62, Ferrari has 11 seconds of margin, and during the last laps, Alain Prost manages to even attack Stefan Johansson. The Swedish, though, clearly has a further supply of fuel at his disposal, useful to fight back possible threats, thus Alain Prost is obliged to be happy with the third place. Michele Alboreto wins the Canadian Grand Prix, followed by Stefan Johansson, Alain Prost, Keke Rosberg, Elio De Angelis, and Nigel Mansell. It is obvious what happens in the Ferrari boxes after the race: hugs, kisses, and congratulations from everybody. People of Goodyear, Longines, Magneti Marelli and Weber come together to celebrate. The engineer Antonio Tomaini does not manage to refrain and bursts into tears, while Piero Lardi Ferrari compliments everyone, until the last mechanic. This is a deserved success, long seeked and awaited. The win was meant to be for Ferrari, and it arrived in the best way, with an historic one-two. From now on, for the team from Maranello and Michele Alboreto the journey seems open, with the latter seemingly headed to a season full of gratification. It had to be a win, it turned out to be a triumph. Ferrari dominated the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, with Michele Alboreto leading the standings and Stefan Johansson in second place. It has been two years, autumn 1983, since two cars from Maranello conquered the first two positions. At that time, in the Netherlands, it was the pair Amoux-Tambay. Nevertheless, the Canadian Grand Prix brings back to mind a more vivid memory, the race of three years ago in Imola, when Didier Pironi humiliated Gilles Villeneuve once crossed the finish line. On this occasion, regulations were respected, and the Italian driver won, conquering the lead of the World Championship standings. It was not a great race, but anyway engaging and exciting, with a thrilling finish thanks to Alain Prost's beautiful recovery.
To tell the truth, Michele Alboreto raced cleverly, realising a tactic race, unfortunately influenced by fuel consumption (in this regard, Ferrari did not use the fuel usage equipment). It was not possible to continuously push to the limit, so the Italian driver, once in the lead, tried to save every drop of fuel. His race, in any case, was outstanding and intelligently managed. Stefan Johansson proved his worth, taking away precious points to the rivals. Alain Prost got third place, always energetic and determined, while Keke Rosberg, author of an extraordinary race, obtained fourth place. Elio De Angelis only got fifth place, slowed down by a Lotus that showed to be poor, with tires that did not render to the fullest and an engine speed that fell gradually, lap after lap. Ayrton Senna was knocked out from the race straight away, stopped by the breaking of a manifold of his Lotus’ forced induction system. The Brazilian driver, once back on track after a long stop in the pits, got the satisfaction of at least setting the fastest lap, even though this is not enough to make him gain positions in the Championship standings. Over 120.000 people witnessed the Ferrari one-two, with grandstands full of red and yellow banners displaying the prancing horse. In the end, people come together to cheer for the drivers on the podium: applauses, American-style booing, high-enthusiasm. Michele Alboreto is radiant, but he remains calm and even-minded as usual.
"It wasn’t a difficult race, I only had to watch out not to make mistakes. The most tough part was to overtake De Angelis. I struggled to catch up for a lot of laps because he was very fast on the straight. But I knew that sooner or later he had to slow down due to the fuel. As for the rest, no issues arose. The car was amazing, and I knew what I had to do tactically to win, so this is why I didn’t take big risks. For what concerns the World Championship, don’t even mention it. The only thing I can say is that we finally managed to actualize the potential that we have been showing. We have to work hard, keep on putting ourselves under pressure so as not to make the other teams catch up. This is our objective and for this reason we’ll commit for the next months".
This is Stefan Johansson’s first podium since he arrived in Formula 1. The Swedish driver, with a big smile on his face and shiny eyes, winks at his fans and especially at girls.
"Why did I try to catch Alboreto? It’s simple. I was doing my race and I feared that someone was going to catch me, too. When I saw the panels saying I had to slow down, I immediately removed my foot from the accelerator. This is normal in a team. Moreover, I had another problem: my car’s engine did not work regularly and if I didn’t push, above all in the straight, I found it difficult to go into the corner. In the end everything turned out well and when Prost closed the gap on me, I could easily keep him under control, as I indeed did. I’m very happy for Michele especially, he deserved this win".
Alain Prost is quite satisfied with third place, but he obviously aimed at more:
"I didn’t attack straight away because I wanted to do a progressive race. But nothing can be done against Ferraris nowadays".
Satisfaction fills up Williams’ boxes. Keke Rosberg did a truly amazing race. He pitted two times and crossed the line fourth, with a gap of only 27 seconds from the Ferraris.
"For the first time after a while, I can say I had fun. It was a fantastic race for me and I happily settled for this position. We’ll see in the next races if we’ll manage to do something more".
This time, positioning himself among the first six drivers was not enough for Elio De Angelis. The Italian driver is very disappointed at the end of the race.
He raced showing determination and skill, but, as usual, his Lotus proved to be ultimately inferior compared to the cars of the rivals.
"Tires were too hard, and then the engine lost pressure. Under such circumstances you can’t beat a Ferrari, a McLaren and a Williams. Compared to us, I believe Ferrari has an advantage equivalent to at least 150 HP. Alboreto passed me as if he was lightning".
The nightmare is over. After a year, Ferrari and Michele Alboreto are back at winning. Above all, they finally overcame that obstacle made of bad luck and inconveniences, which impeded both the team and the Italian driver to collect all the results that were meant to derive from the competitiveness shown since the start of the season. Nonetheless, the success obtained at the Canadian Grand Prix, with Stefan Johansson’s second place topping it off, won’t make clear-headedness and pragmatism fade away from the team of Maranello. On Sunday evening, men and women of the team celebrate the win with great joy, having dinner together by invitation of Alboreto, who wanted to share such emotions with mechanics and technicians, principal masters of the positive result. Then, the Italian driver allows himself to relax for two days. On Monday, he flies to New York with his wife Nadia. Firstly, he pays his debts: 100 dollars to Luigi Montanini, known as Pasticcino, the chef of the team (he had bet on a win), and the Canadian Grand Prix trophy to Maurizio Nardon, the young in charge of the finalisation of his car. The Italian driver sheds some light on the current World Championship; always true to his cautious mood, he says to the media:
"We have overcome our obsession for the win. It’s important since now we’re more relaxed and thus more dangerous for our competitors. I was sure that Johansson and I would have finally got a win. The car was too good not to believe it. After all, we’ve been close to success since the start of the season. In Brazil, we missed the opportunity due to the change of tires, which were too ruined after having hit the Williams of Mansell at the start, while in Portugal the rain was at fault, in Imola we had a small failure, and in Monte-Carlo we got a puncture. Afterward, in Belgium, we had the chance to start on pole, but the race got cancelled. I got three second places, so an improvement in terms of results was to be expected".
The speech inevitably ends with the episode that generated a bit of panic in the Ferrari boxes: Johansson’s final attack that ended up threatening Alboreto’s position. Marco Piccinini minimises the occurrence, yet in reality they worried a lot under such circumstances, and the Swedish driver got hit by a series of warnings meant to make him slow down. First, Tomaini with his hands, then a panel saying ‘slow’, followed by a second, one of which was exhibited by Piccinini himself, almost pushed on track by Piero Lardi Ferrari, in charge of the team. Michele Alboreto explains:
"I wasn’t worried at all. When Stefan caught me, I thought that I had a slower pace due to some kind of issue. Then I started pushing for a lap, making him understand that it was not the case to go to the limit. I would have been ready to fight back any attack, but I wanted to save the car and fuel, as well. Johansson immediately got it. I would like to have fifty teammates behind me, instead of Prost or De Angelis. Sooner or later, though, if things won’t change, the Swedish will have his chance to win, too. We don’t currently have a first driver in the team, even though it’s quite obvious that the interests of the team are the ones that need to be preserved".
Johansson, in his naïveté, says:
"I tried to overtake Alboreto, believe me, but it was impossible, I had an inconsistent engine and I couldn’t do it. Then I saw Michele pushing even more and I understood the situation. Why did I push? I saw Prost closing the gap and I feared that he was going to attack both me and Michele. That’s why I wanted to expand the gap between my Ferrari and the McLaren as much as I could. I’m happy with how it played out".
There are also talks about the future, immediate and near, after some compliments that Elio De Angelis received, for his sportsmanship and fair play. Michele Alboreto concludes:
"We go to Detroit with another win in mind. I say this based on the results obtained in Monte-Carlo, which was a track vaguely similar to the American one. But we don’t talk about the World Title, yet. The journey is still long. Our biggest rival is still Alain Prost. Nevertheless, many cars are improving. Senna, Rosberg, the two Renault drivers, and De Angelis can’t be forgotten either. All in all, we took the first step. Now it’s time to work even harder, if possible, to keep on going like this".
How is this Ferrari so good? Until now, it was said that Ferrari currently had the best engine in Formula 1. Not the most powerful, but the most reliable for sure, with a longer period of use as opposed to the competitors. Now, this explanation is not enough: the car from Maranello (the 156/85), at the start of the season proved to be valid in all aspects, from aerodynamics to the chassis, from the systems engineering to all the other components. The new regulations, which impose the best compromise between the necessity to use a lot of horsepower with a maximum consumption of 220 litres per race, were perfectly interpreted. For instance, in Canada, thanks to the computerised electric injection manufactured by Magneti Marelli, Alboreto’s Ferrari still had in the tank at least fifteen litres of fuel (once checked, the weight of the car was 561 kg as opposed to the one of Johannson that, having pushed more, was 549 kg; the weights are similar among McLaren, Lotus and Williams cars, which had little left to use). Prost himself acknowledged such superiority:
"Towards the end, I prayed for Ferrari to finish the fuel. I hoped, but I realised that it was impossible. I had to save fuel over the course of the first half of the race, and then I didn’t manage to pass Johansson and Alboreto. On the contrary, I had to stop right after the finish line because I feared that the same problem I had in Imola, which got me disqualified, would come up again, that is when I ran out of fuel and finished the race with an underweight car".
Ferrari demonstrated to have the best carbon braking system (Brembo brake calliper, and Sep disks and brake pads), as well as an unparalleled reliability. It is now available also the fuel consumption equipment that tells the drivers how much fuel is left, even though the tool is currently only employed experimentally, to check the precision and resistance when under all sorts of race stress. Michele Alboreto explains:
"But we can still improve. We need to focus on the rear-end to obtain the maximum grip and make the best out of softer tires. If we manage to finish this programme, we’ll be even more competitive. The car suits every kind of circuit, presents many qualities and little weaknesses. The consumption calculations made before the race always match reality precisely. Us drivers can increase turbo pressure based on our needs, all thanks to a tool present in the cockpit. There’s an average click, two forward clicks and two backwards. If more horsepower is required for an overtake, we can increase it and then, to go back to normal, we need to recover by diminishing it for the same number of laps. You can’t go wrong in this way".
The World Championship, though, is long and tough.