He is still far from breaking Carlos Reutemann’s record, who managed in his long and rather unfortunate career to enter the points zone (i.e., among the top six finishers) fifteen consecutive times. But, in any case, Elio De Angelis holds the record for seasonal placings with six useful results out of as many races held. A tangible fact about the talent and reliability of the Italian driver, who once again, despite an accident caused by Gerhard Berger at the beginning of the Detroit Grand Prix, was able to bring his Lotus to fifth place in a very difficult race. Something that celebrated drivers like Prost and Senna did not do, however. Second in the World Championship standings behind Michele Alboreto, detached by seven points, the Italian driver nevertheless finds himself in a difficult situation. He is not being protected in the best way by his own team where the sporting director, Peter Warr, dotes on the exuberant Ayrton Senna and drives a car that is very competitive in terms of speed performance, but is globally less reliable and more erratic than the Ferrari. Plus it will be up against new opponents such as the emerging Keke Rosberg, with whom everyone may have to contend in upcoming races.
"In fact, the World Championship has become very hot. But this does not worry me unduly. If the number of favorites for victory in each race increases, it becomes even more important to have the ability to always go all the way, and finish among the frontrunners, which I seem to have shown so far. I can still win the world championship, that's for sure. And I can also assure that I will do everything to win this title, which is my true and only goal as a driver".
The Italian driver is convinced that he has not yet had a chance to express his full potential.
"In every race I had problems, both serious and negligible ones. I won at Imola, that's true, but it was a flat-out success that I'm not fully satisfied with. The Lotus is the fastest and most versatile car at the moment, and I have to be able to make the most of it sometimes. The other day if Berger had not cut me off, forcing me to stop in the pit box to change the damaged front wing, I could have been fighting for the win with Rosberg. Instead, I had to settle for a placing".
De Angelis' confidence is bolstered by the World Championship schedule, which includes moving to real high-speed circuits.
"In terms of lap times we fear no one. The Lotus is a thunderbolt, and already in free practice on both tracks we got the best times. It is a sign that we will be able to fight at the top. As for Ayrton Senna, he is undoubtedly a very good and classy driver. But perhaps he lacks some experience. However, I do not fear him and I must say that we have a very good relationship".
At the same time, after the Detroit Grand Prix, Frank Williams tries to downplay the importance of the radio intervention that allowed Keke Rosberg to enter the pit, have his car's radiators cleaned and tires changed in just ten seconds. But in reality, the system of direct communications with its racing drivers implanted by the British team is very interesting, and can grant considerable advantages. This is not an absolute novelty. Similar devices are normally used in the endurance world championship, both by Lancia and Porsche, and also in the World Rally Championship. In Formula 1, even Renault had set up two-way radios on the single- seaters driven by Tambay and Warwick but then abandoned the venture, partly because it was plagued by a thousand other problems. However, the British manufacturer, a great perfectionist, has fine-tuned the link with Rosberg and Mansell to the maximum and is beginning to reap the results of its work.
"We have a code of conduct. We generally do not call the drivers. The reason stems from the fact that the intercom headsets built into the helmets are very powerful to overcome the din of the engines. If you intervene suddenly, the driver, perhaps engaged in a risky maneuver, runs the danger of becoming devolved and running into an accident. So we set check-up points based on the number of laps in the race".
"When in a quiet part of the track, Keke and Nigel intervene on the radio, relaying to us the data they detect from the fuel consumption gauges placed on the dashboard. For example, 120 liters of gasoline still allows a certain number of laps to go by at a given boost pressure. We check the figures with the computer we have in the pit. If they don't match we can give the variation to the driver so that he can adjust to finish the race without problems".
However, the use of two-way radios (the weight of the equipment on the cars is about four kilograms) has other results. Had Keke Rosberg not warned his team's engineers in Detroit that the engine was rising in temperature, he would have lost valuable time during the stop to explain what was going on. The use of radios could also have other important uses. Take the case of Montreal, when Ferrari was forced to make repeated signals to Stefan Johansson to let him know that Michele Alboreto was not in trouble but had slowed down to save the car and win safely. A few words would have been enough to control the situation better. Be that as it may, after the North American trip, Formula 1 returns to the European circuits. The races held in Montreal and Detroit were doubly successful. They succeeded in increasing the enthusiasm of both the Canadian and U.S. public (who also still do not know the sport thoroughly) and, above all, the uncertainty and balance that had been evident since the first races in 1985 were confirmed. Thus a forced stop was imposed, at least for the time being, on the supremacy of McLaren, who, last year, had made the World Championship exciting only because of the fine family fight between Lauda and Prost. The six races held so far have featured tracks of various types. Unfortunately, however, the cancellation of the Belgian Grand Prix prevented testing on a veryfast track such as Spa-Francorchamps. Here, then, the landing at Le Castellet and later at Silverstone takes on decisive importance. These are circuits with very high hourly averages, on which it will be possible to check those values that so far have not been expressed to the maximum, that is, the resistance of the engines to the highest stresses and the validity of the chassis and aerodynamic solutions to the highest performances. The superiority shown by Ferrari in this first part of the season, concretized with Alboreto's victory in Montreal, the various placings of the two Maranello drivers and the leading position in the World Championship standings conquered by the Italian, now risks being called into question.
Not so much because a possible défaillance of the Maranello team is in the air, but because of the predictable reaction of the rivals. To be feared above all, in addition to the usual Lotus and McLaren, there is Williams undergoing a revival and Renault, which will present a completely new car for the French Grand Prix. In short, the tussle is assured with Prost, who was very fast in the tests held at Silverstone, at the forefront, and with a Niki Lauda who, in spite of everything, has not yet given up, as one might believe from the results so far. For Ferrari, therefore, a particularly delicate moment begins, on which the outcome of the season will probably depend. Fortunately, the news concerning Stefan Johansson is positive. The Swedish driver is indeed ill (not with rubella as had been rumored at first, but with chickenpox) but he has let it be known from London that he is undergoing appropriate treatment and that, barring complications, he will certainly be on track at Le Castellet. That's one less problem, because the Maranello team will need more than ever to be at full strength to withstand the attacks that will be brought by rivals. It opens with the French Grand Prix not only the European stage but also what many call the decisive stage of the Formula 1 World Championship. Why can one race be considered so important when nine others remain to be contested? It's simple: the Paul Ricard is the first of those fast circuits, with straights and corners that will stress engines, chassis, and aerodynamics to the limit. Ferrari stays at the foreground at Le Castellet testings. Having practically dominated the first part of the season, Maranello's team must now retain that minimum advantage needed to achieve at least two more successes. It is the minimum needed to get to the title, even in Michele Alboreto's opinion. There is a lot of news for this race. Ferrari itself has modified its cars in the front part of the chassis and bodywork, where two openings have been made to intervene more quickly on the suspension and shock absorbers.
The geometries of the suspension arms themselves have been slightly varied, and the chassis has been reinforced with two beams. Renault has a totally new car (everything redone minus the chassis), lower and lighter entrusted to Tambay. And there is a brand new Ligier for Laffite. Everyone, however, has been working to cope with a circuit that has a 1.800-meter long straight where the engines are used to their maximum and top speeds of 340 km/h can be reached and exceeded (the Signes corner can be run at 300 km/h). From the Formula 1 infirmary comes comforting news for everyone. There should be no problems for Johansson, who has recovered from chicken pox, for Senna, Mansell and Prost, who have practicallyrecovered from the bruised wrists suffered in Detroit. The Frenchman is the first to throw down the gauntlet to Ferrari.
"I am very confident, because I noticed comforting progress in Silverstone practice. We have a new front suspension in and soon a different one will come for the rear end as well. Now the McLaren is easier to drive and adjust. You will see us being competitive again".
The same applies to Niki Lauda, who is eager to return to the top, also to prove that he is by no means finished and to find another top team, since at the end of the season - it is almost certain - he will be let go by McLaren. It is the Austrian who explains in great detail why he has so far failed to achieve good results:
"I had to settle for a fourth place in Imola for now. An off-track at Monte-Carlo due to oil spilled on the asphalt and four failures. Engine, turbines, on-board computer, brakes, I've seen it all. I have not been lucky. But I haven't changed".
Rumor has it, however, that Beatrice, the American team that will make its Formula 1 debut in
the Italian Grand Prix, is contacting him to partner with Alan Jones.
"I have relationships with several teams. We'll see. For now, however, I'm not thinking about it and I'm not thinking especially about Beatrice. I am not interested in a team whose potential is unknown. What will the engine be like? What about the car? What technicians will the team have? If they will do something concrete, I am ready to discuss. If not…".
Otherwise, Lauda might look elsewhere, as on Friday, July 5th, 1985, at the Paul Ricard circuit, Lotus was confirmed, Williams grew in performance, McLaren rose again, Brabham resurfaced and Ferrari unexpectedly gave way. Here is a summary of the results of the first day of practice for the Formula 1 French Grand Prix. The constant value is called Ayrton Senna, a guy who continues to amaze with his performance. The Brazilian accomplishes another feat, lapping in 1'32"835, at a fantastic average of 225.302 km/h, erasing one of the oldest records in Formula 1.
"It wasn't very difficult, I was just bothered by the wind pushing me out at Signes turn and my hand, which still hurts after the Detroit accident. You can go harder".
Bravo to the Brazilian, who in the Signes corner travels in fifth gear at 300 km/h, but you must also have a competitive car. This is not the case for the Ferrari drivers. Alboreto and Johansson set only the 11th and 18th best times because of their 156/85s. And there is also a serious fact to record, as far as the Maranello cars are concerned: two engines failed, first on the Swede'ssingle-seater and immediately after on the Italian's. This has not happened in a long time. Apparently, the powerplants were not modified from previous races, and at most the turbines were changed. But perhaps this is the minor problem. Says Michele Alboreto:
"I am quite worried. I knew it would not be easy to emerge here. But I thought I could place at least in the top four. We have no grip. Work has been done in every direction: set-up, suspension adjustment, springs, ailerons. No acceptable solution can be found. The engineers will study on it all night, we hope to get back up in the second round".
Trouble seems to arise from the new suspension. With the old ones, in May during testing, Ferrari had lapped in 1'34"06, now in 1'35"421. For this reason, the team's technicians (Postlethwaite is present) reportedly asked for the previous suspensions to be urgently brought in from Fiorano. With what results, we will see. To be recorded is an increase in the performance of Williams, which takes second place with a wild Keke Rosberg. Says the Finnish driver:
"The engine is so powerful, it has such acceleration that you have to dose the throttle so as not to deteriorate the soft tires before finishing a single lap".
Good debut for the new Renault, which Tambay leads in eighth. No surprises instead for McLaren's return to the top, with Prost third and Lauda fourth. The Austrian driver explains:
"I always drive the same way, the car has changed. I urged to make a different suspension. Here is the result".
At the top of the provisional standings Nelson Piquet also re-emerges, credited with the fifth best time. Thanks to the power of the Bmw engine in the fast parts of the circuit - the fastest at the end of the Mistral straight is Marc Surer, with the other Brabham, 338 km/h. Let’s now talk about the Italians and the Alfa Romeo drivers. De Angelis, sixth, still disputes with Lotus, accusing it of shamelessly favoring Senna. They allegedly fitted him with an engine used by the Brazilian in testing at Detroit. One thing is certain: the race will be charged with tension, uncertain and open to surprises. This is how the French Grand Prix, the seventh round of the Formula 1 World Championship scheduled at Paul Ricard, looks after a tense and suspenseful eve. At the end of practice, Bernie Ecclestone gathers Italian journalists to conduct a press conference of sorts. His team has Italian sponsors.
"Formula 1 is 50 percent Italian, with commitment from teams, drivers, industries and financiers, not to mention the appeal of Ferrari and the presence of numerous fans at all circuits".
Here is the summary of his speech.
"If I were Piquet, I too at this time would leave Brabham. I don't think, however, that the Brazilian will move on to another team. Alboreto? I consider him among the top six in Formula 1 but not in the top three, which are Piquet, Rosberg and Prost, someone told me that designer Gordon Murray may leave me. It is difficult: he is a shareholder in the team".
Still on the drivers:
"They ask for too much money. To get two top-drivers on a team takes $4.000.000 to $6.000.000, 40% of a good team's budget. They need to lower their demands. You will see that there will not be much market movement".
Saturday, July 6th, 1985, came close to drama for a frightening off-track crash by Nigel Mansell. The Williams driver is hospitalized in Marseilles, in shock and with a minor head injury. He will not take part in the race and will be transported home to England on Sunday for further examination. Mansell went off the track due to a tire blowout. Goodyear engineers explain:
"A small puncture could also have caused the explosion".
The Williams, which at the end of the Mistral straight runs at 322 km/h, ends with devastating violence against the guardrails, losing its left wheels. One of the tires hits the helmet of the Englishman, who is taken first to the infirmary and then to the hospital. A terrible blow that hopefully has no further complications. Meanwhile, a terrible struggle for pole position develops, and in the end Keke Rosberg, still him, the Detroit winner, beats Ayrton Senna. Another track record, 1'32"462, set at an average speed of 226.211 km/h. In third place surprisingly enters Michele Alboreto, with a Ferrari miraculously affected by the total change of set-up and the return to the old suspensions, those already tested in May on this same circuit. Bravo to the Italian driver, who set a time of 1'33"267 (while Johansson, for a series of circumstances, did not go beyond P16), but exceptional above all were the mechanics of the Maranello team, who in twenty-four hours completely rebuilt two cars and replaced three engines. Old school, great temperament and passion. And what a resilience. On Saturday morning Alboreto and Johansson found themselves with two single-seaters of the usual type and a spare with the new configuration, which turned out to be still bad. The Swede was mocked by engine failure (the third one in two days) and had to use the third car in qualifying while he waited for the one to be prepared for repair. Unfortunately, the work was lengthy and Stefan was forced to wait for Alboreto to finish his practice to get into his teammate's car. When he finally got on the track, he realized that his gearbox was stuck in fourth gear and there was nothing more he could do. Says Michele Alboreto, at the end of practice:
"I am very happy with the progress made. Ideally, I would drive a Ferrari that had the old suspension in front and the new suspension in the back. I would have a perfectly maneuverable car. Don't ask me for predictions about the race. It is too difficult also because we still have some problems to sort out. We are trying to figure out what happens to the engine. We take a look at everything from the electronics to the fuel system, we hope to solve this complicated equation".
And meanwhile, opponents paw the ground. There is Rosberg, who asks for an all-pink Vespa as a prize and dedicates the record to himself. The Finn explains that after the lap that earned him the record he had his heart racing for at least ten minutes. And what about Senna? The Brazilian, after Rosberg had taken the best time away from him, threw himself, the only one among the twenty-six drivers, into the Signes curve without taking his foot off the accelerator: in full fifth gear, over 300 km/h. At the end of the straight the fastest drivers are: Piquet, 341 km/h, and Rosberg, 339 km/h, while Alboreto does not go over 322 km/h. Incredible courage, but soon after the Renault engine of his Lotus exploded. Alboreto must defend his position as World Championship leader also and especially from Prost. The Frenchman will start ahead of Piquet and Lauda. In France McLarens could play a very important role. Nor should a regularist like De Angelis be forgotten. Elio could not defend himself because of an overly worn engine, but he will start in sixth position with a race car that, according to his own statements, should be very competitive. Sunday, July 7th, 1985, at the start of the French Grand Prix Ayrton Senna is the author of a good start, which, however, does not allow him to overtake Keke Rosberg. Alain Prost, on the other hand, makes a bad start and slips to seventh position. Nelson Piquet is third, followed by Michele Alboreto, Elio De Angelis and Niki Lauda. On lap five, both Andrea De Cesaris, with a broken driveshaft, and Alboreto, who sees his car's engine explode at Signes, retire. Two laps later, taking advantage of the competitiveness of Pirelli tires Piquet takes the position from Senna. Shortly afterward Lauda also climbs one position, passing De Angelis.
On lap 10 Senna is forced to return to the pits with the gearbox stuck in third gear. The Brazilian hopes that the mechanics' repair will allow him to rejoin the race. Meanwhile, on lap 11 Nelson Piquet successfully attacks Keke Rosberg at the Beausset, taking the lead in the race. The Williams driver tries to make a counterattack at Bendor corner, but is unable to regain the lead. On thesame lap Alain Prost passes Elio De Angelis. Piquet is able to create an early margin over Rosberg, who meanwhile drives a car limited by lack of grip. This allows the two McLaren drivers to get closer. A few laps later Rosberg, and the overtaking Lauda, find themselves having to lap Pierluigi Martini; the Minardi driver lets the former pass, but closes the trajectory to the Austrian, who is forced to brake abruptly and pass over the curbs to avoid a pileup. This allows Prost to close the margin on Lauda. When Martini makes Lauda pass, he does not notice the arrival of Prost, who must make a gap, too, to avoid an accident. After twenty laps Piquet has a 9.5-second lead over Rosberg, who, in turn, has a 0.5-second margin over Lauda, and one second over Prost. De Angelis, fifth, is more than 17 seconds behind Piquet, while Marc Surer, sixth, is more than 33 seconds behind his teammate. On Lap 21, Gerhard Berger, also struggling with lapping Martini, ends up making contact with the Italian driver. The two drivers end up in the escape route, forced to retire. On lap 29 Ayrton Senna, who has meanwhile returned to the track, is forced to retire due to the explosion of his engine at Signes. Oil falls from the rear of the car onto the rear tires of the single-seater, and the Brazilian spins, ending his race against the barriers. The driver, fortunately, gets out of his Lotus unharmed. On lap 31 Lauda is also forced to retire, due to a gearbox problem, which occurs as the Austrian tackles the Bretelle straight. Over the next few laps Prost closed in on Rosberg again, failing to pass him. On lap 37 Stefan Johansson was sixth, after passing Patrick Tambay. Two laps later Alain Prost finally manages to pass Keke Rosberg, at the Verriere S. Prost, now second, is able to gain a second a lap over Piquet, who has a lead of 17 seconds, while Rosberg returns to the pits to make a tire change, thus climbing to fourth, behind De Angelis. Surer also decides to put on new tires: the Swiss driver drops to eighth. This pushes Nelson Piquet to reduce the pace, in order to save his tires.
Therefore, the margin over Alain Prost is reduced to 11 seconds. On lap 44, Keke Rosberg recovers position over Elio De Angelis. Alain Prost, who at the end of lap 50 reduces the disadvantage on the front runner to less than 10 seconds, is limited by an engine malfunction. With each slowdown, the engine loses power; this forces the Frenchman to keep the throttle open, even under braking and when changing gears. This problem, in addition to depriving the French driver of any chance of victory, allows Keke Rosberg to get close again, so much that on the last lap, on the Mistral straight, he took second place from him. A few seconds later Elio De Angelis was also passed by Johansson, at Signes. On the Italian driver's Lotus, a turbocharger leak occurred. Nelson Piquet wins the French Grand Prix, followed by Keke Rosberg, Alain Prost, Stefan Johansson, Elio De Angelis and Patrick Tambay. Seven races, six different winners. And it’s always top drivers, or at least considered as such. After Prost (two wins, plus one taken away at Imola for disqualification), Senna, Alboreto, De Angelis, and Rosberg, Nelson Piquet's name could not be missing from the roll of honor of the 1985 Formula 1 World Championship class. The Brazilian of Brabham won, somewhat surprisingly, the French Grand Prix, making a powerful comeback one year after his last success. It had been since June 1984 (win in Detroit,immediately after dominating in Montreal) that the Brazilian driver had not stood on the top step of the podium. It was a tight race, which featured the almost immediate retirement of Alboreto's Ferrari, the second place of an always spectacular Rosberg, and the third-place finish of Prost in a McLaren that is probably paying this year for having won too much last season. Fourth, good and combative, Stefan Johansson in the other Ferrari, preceding by a few moments at the finish line the usual De Angelis and, more detached, Tambay in the new Renault. The awakening of Piquet, 32, a two-time World Champion, coincides with another resounding comeback, that of Pirelli. The Italian tire company, which supplies Brabham, beat the giant Goodyear, its great and only rival, for the first time since its return to Formula 1 (1981). A great satisfaction for Pirelli and a stimulus for the Americans who will have to react. The Italian company had won its last Formula 1 victory back in 1957, at Monza, with the Vanwall driven by Stirling Moss. Now, after having long dominated the field in rallies, it has resumed an endeavor that is not only a matter of image, but also and above all a matter of technology.
Piquet, with his Brabham, makes himself and the whole team, with Bernie Ecclestone in the lead, happy. He is a nice man, Nelson, a kind and spontaneous Brazilian who has found in Italy a second homeland. His fiancée is Milanese, spaghetti is his favorite food, he speaks Italian fluently.
"It was not an easy race. I had to concentrate hard. In the initial part I had no problem to pass Alboreto right away, then Senna and Rosberg. From mid-race on I saved the car, waiting for them to attack me. When Prost tried to shorten the gap I slightly increased the pace and the rest was history. Only in the last five laps I had to be very careful because the rear tires had deteriorated. I also could have stopped in the pits to change them, but I preferred to continue, I had a good lead".
Piquet says he is absolutely not thinking about the title this year.
"The favorites are Ferrari’s and McLaren’s drivers, namely Alboreto and Prost. Maybe more the Italian than the Frenchman".
Then Nelson makes a surprising statement. Until recently he had often stated that he did not dig the Maranello cars. In 1982 he had even disputed with Enzo Ferrari, albeit indirectly. Now, however, with a candid air, he says:
"Ferrari, although it did not shine particularly well here, has the best car this year, the best potential. It is also the best-looking car, aerodynamically it seems to me to be the most apt. It just needs some work on the set-up and then it should have no problem overtaking rivals".
A way to mend relationships with the Maranello team? Or is there some other mysterious reason behind these statements? We are in the middle of the driver-market phase, and having good relations comes in handy. Either they get what they ask from their team or possibly prepare for a switch. Pirelli engineers explain the reasons why Brabham was able to achieve surprising success. The tires prepared by the Italian company were particularly suited to the kind of environmental conditions under which the French Grand Prix was run. Engineer Mezzanotte affirms:
"We did a lot of work under these conditions, and we were waiting precisely to check our chances. For the first time in the course of the season we were able to race a car all the way through, with great results. There are no hidden secrets but just some hard work and exhausting testing we have done so far. We know very well that another period of intense preparation awaits us, but we will be able to face it with a different spirit".
Also present for Pirelli was engineer Carlo Banchieri, product manager for the Italian company.
"Our aim has always been to run an entire race with one set of tires. We succeeded, and we also showed that our tires can give remarkable performance and exceptional stability to the car. Did you see how easily Piquet was able to overtake Rosberg?"
But how come Pirelli has not yet developed competitive qualifying tires like Goodyear?
"We had to prioritize racing first but little by little we will try to get to the other field as well. Give us some time to work. One must also consider that it has only been one year since we are working with a team of a certain level".
It sounds simple, but it is not. The chemistry of tires in motor sports is crucial. In Formula 1, engineers go to great lengths to build a 1500 cc powerplant with over 1000 HP to gain perhaps 0.2 seconds per lap. But then all it takes is one wrong detail, such as the tire, to lose two seconds in one go. There are hard, intermediate, soft, dry and wet tires for racing and qualifying. Goodyear marks its products with the letters A to E, based on softness, the former more durable, the latter deteriorating in practically one lap. Pirelli uses the numbers to recognize the tires: for example, number 3 is used for soft tires, 2 for the hard ones. Rosberg, being in a risk-taking mood, had chosen three B tires and one A. Piquet had four 2s, Lauda four A's, Tambay three A's and one double A (very hard). It makes you lose your mind. But the problem lies mainly in the making of the tires, which are made with a technology that is both sophisticated and artisanal, as the series is quite limited: between Goodyear and Pirelli they produce about 2000 tires per race. But the most impressive fact however concerns the assembly of the tires. The compound, that is,the actual rubber, is made with at least thirty components (rubber, carbon black, etc.) and more are the possibilities to make the carcass, which bears a variable design, thicknesses, compositions, all different from each other. If you add up all these variations, with the percentages of materials according to needs, internal and external temperatures, the types of track and asphalt, billions of combinations come out. 3% more or 3% less is enough to change everything. This is just to explain in summary how the rubber-factor is so crucial and how much value Pirelli's success has. This factor also contributes to making this Formula 1 World Championship more and more interesting. From race to race the struggle develops, uncertain, new and old protagonists come to the fore. Alboreto is still leading the standings, but his lead over De Angelis has shrunk by one point. In addition, the Lotus driver has been joined by Prost, on 26 points, while he starts to overwhelmingly close on Rosberg - fourth in the standings. Then Johansson, whom no one honestly expected in this position, and then Tambay and Piquet. Once again, the Brazilian Ayrton Senna hasn’t finished in the points. More than 70,000 people were present at the Paul Ricard circuit, with the airport next to the racetrack crammed with 400 airplanes, including 25 with more than 50 passengers. A sign of an ever-increasing interest and a passion that is rampant. As mentioned, Nelson Piquet won. A race in which the choice and type of tires used played a decisive role. As for Alboreto, on the other hand, still an inconvenience blocked the Italian driver. Michele despite getting a good start did not go beyond the fourth lap. His Ferrari returned to the pits, sadly, with the engine smoking conspicuously. Alboreto left immediately. Someone said they heard him muttering:
"We hope Alliot wins".
As if to say, let's hope that none of my rivals take important points. Instead, this was not the case. Many direct opponents have entered the upper part of the standings, and from now on the battle will be harder and tougher. The protagonists of the race were practically two. Nelson Piquet, who made an amazing start, which took him to first place from lap 11, and Rosberg author of a spectacular attack, then of a comeback that confirmed, once again, his incredible balancing skills. With them struggled, almost on a par, Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. But their race was not particularly lucky. The Austrian had to stop, while in third position, he tried in vain to attack Rosberg, because of a broken gearbox. Lauda actually had a problem in an overtaking move with Martini, driving a very slow Minardi. In the action Niki hit a curb rather violently. Immediately afterwards the gearbox gave way. It is not known whether it was a consequence of the incident, or whether the mechanism was about to fail. The fact is that Lauda, who was hoping for a breakthrough, now finds himself having to chase the competition. If Piquet rejoices with the men of Brabham over his success, as far as the other teams are concerned only Williams was able to achieve a completely positive result. And indeed Keke Rosberg, always easygoing, always willing to joke, says he had a good time:
"Second place is good for me, and maybe I could have even won if I hadn't waited too long to change the tires that had deteriorated. But that's what happened, and I was able to show that I was always up to the task. When Lauda and Prost attacked me I was smiling inside my helmet, watching their McLarens in the rearview mirrors. They would never have been able to pass me if I hadn't had any problems. When I then changed tires I went after Prost with ease. The car runs well and was particularly balanced. I think we'll go some way together although I'm not thinking about the World Championship at all yet".
Dark faces in the already all-black Lotus environment. Elio De Angelis could not hold back gestures of annoyance as he arrived at the finish line. He stalled the car causing the brakes to smoke, got out, jumped over the pit division wall and threw off his helmet and gloves:
"This way you can't go on, you can't walk around the track while others are passing you from all sides. Nothing was wrong with this car, from the brakes to the engine to the tires. In short, we lost competitiveness, and we have to put in the work to improve".
Ayrton Senna was also very nervous, put out of action by a double trouble. The Brazilian first was forced to stop in the pits having his gearbox stuck in third gear. Then when he rejoined the track, looking for an impossible comeback, he ended up violently crushing himself against the rubber guards of the famous Signes corner. But it all wasn't the young South American's fault.
"My engine suddenly broke down, I saw the oil pressure light come on suddenly. At the same time some fluid must have gotten on a tire because I slid off as if I were on ice. Among other things, I experienced quite a scare".
For Prost it is still a day marked by some bad luck.
"It was difficult to pass Rosberg. At the start my McLaren's engine was running erratically and I even struggled to keep in Lauda's slipstream. Then when Niki had to stop and I had less gas in the tank the car began to behave in a balanced way. I thought I could attack Rosberg and succeeded after several attempts. At one point I even thought I had won the race because I was getting closer to Piquet. But a problem, almost certainly electrical, stopped me. Every time I braked, the engine suddenly dropped in rpms and was in danger of stopping. Because of this, Rosberg was able to pass me very easily. I cannot throw away a third place but I am not happy either".
Niki Lauda is even furious.
"I couldn't get a break, I was keeping pressure on Rosberg, I was about to overtake him when a failure forced me to line up at the edge of the track. And to think that McLaren were the most reliable and most competitive car in all of Formula 1 last year. I really hope that in the next races I can prove that I am still capable of winning a race".
On the eve of the French Grand Prix, no one would have bet on a positive test for Scuderia Ferrari. There had been every indication to expect a decline in the performance of the Maranello cars. What this step backwards was caused by is difficult to answer. Not even the team's engineers at the moment could explain what the reason for the setback was. Says the sports director, Marco Piccinini:
"Actually we are not very happy, because we are not even on the podium. But I must say that we are already working to try to fix the inconveniences we found on our way. At this very moment, in the Fiorano workshops, they are bench testing engines with conditions of use similar to those found in the race. That is, we are trying to find out why there are so many breakdowns and lacks of performance. On the other hand, as far as the set-up of the cars is concerned, the fact should be contingent and we hope that it will not be repeated in the next race, at Silverstone".
At the end of the race, Stefan Johansson is very fatigued. The Swede expresses few words, but it is clear from his tone that the race has been particularly difficult for him:
"Terrible understeer and then at the end I had no more tires. It's a miracle that I was able to catch up to De Angelis and pass him just in the last few meters. I had no problems with fuel consumption, but I assure you it was one of the most challenging tests of my racing career".
In the opinion of engineer Antonio Tomaini, Johansson's performance was remarkable. But if we look at the chronometric lap results, we can see that the times achieved by the Swede were far below expectations. Rosberg, who set the record, put on a lap time of 1'39"914. Piquet lapped several times under the 1'42"0 mark, as did Prost and Surer. Faster than Johansson were also Boutsen, Fabi, De Angelis, Senna, Alboreto himself and De Cesaris. The best time set by Stefan was 1'43"411, which meant that the car was not competitive. It was only thanks to the driver's perseverance and the mishaps encountered by the other competitors that it was possible to salvage what could be saved. Now Ferrari had a very busy schedule. On Tuesday, July 9th, 1985, one team will leave for the Nurburgring circuit, while another will be in Zeltweg on the samedays. An attempt will be made to verify through testings on track what could be understood in the workshop. However, Michele Alboreto, although bitter, is not particularly pessimistic:
"There is still a long way to go. I said it not to get our hopes up. We have to keep working and it is only this way that can be taken with some confidence".
The Maranello team still leads the Constructors' World Championship by a good margin over Lotus (15 points). This means that overall it has been the most reliable team so far and that the French Grand Prix one could be considered just a bad adventure. In 15 days time, at the English track of Silverstone, however, there will be an important counter evidence to pay attention to, from which Ferrari absolutely must try to come out with its head held high. Meanwhile, Nigel Mansell has been transported home to Britain. The driver, the victim of a very bad accident on Saturday morning, appears to be out of danger. But the terrible blow to his head from a wheel that came off his Williams has certainly left its mark. Mansell will undergo meticulous examinations. At the moment he still reports a state of shock and an instability in his balance. The Williams team, however, was quick to say that in all probability the Englishman will already be available for the next British Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, July 21st, 1985. A possibility, however, that will have to be submitted to the doctors for approval. On Sunday evening, cashiers at the Paul Ricard circuit are amazed. The organizers finish counting the money late at night and cannot believe their eyes. Public attendance has set a new record, as far as the Formula 1 French Grand Prix is concerned: to give an idea of the movement created by the race, suffice it to say that at the private airport located next to the racetrack, five hours after the conclusion, jets are still queuing to take off. It is a tangible sign of the interest aroused by an uncertain and hard-fought World Championship, which features different protagonists and winners at each stage. This time it was Nelson Piquet who crossed the finish line first. In the midst of so many wild drivers, the Brazilian showed that his class has certainly not waned and that his will to win has remained intact.
"It's strange, because in our environment I think I always enjoy a good reputation, at least among drivers and engineers: but I'm convinced that outside, in the fan world, someone no longer believed in me. The story of the champion's parable: some people think that once the money is made, once the thirst for glory is quenched, everyone loses motivation, concentration. I fortunately am not like that, I still enjoy racing and driving, in fact I really enjoy it, especially when I can reap the fruits of my work. And it must be acknowledged that in all this time, about a year, in which I have not been able to reap a major result, I have put a lot of effort into it. This winter I have done thousands of kilometers of testing, by not including transfers".
What was behind Brabham's victory in the seventh round of the season?
"The will to do, to win. We did not skimp on our efforts: the team, collaborators like the men from Pirelli, from Bmw, the sponsor Olivetti. It would have been easier to cry about our misfortunes. Instead, we reacted in the right way. And I can also say that I have no illusions. It may also happen that some time will pass before we win a race again. But it's not a problem, I know very well how to wait".
Piquet, like many of his colleagues, is also now cautious in his predictions. The Brazilian does not say that in two weeks, at Silverstone, the supremacy demonstrated at Le Castellet could be repeated:
"The circuit is suitable for our car. Among other things, for the British Grand Prix we should also have some interesting new upgrades. But that doesn't mean we can beat everyone. Every race is its own story, and we especially need high temperatures to perform at our best".
How can this need be explained?
"It's simple. It depends mostly on the tires. Pirelli started from scratch with us. In past years, the Italian company's tires were great during tests normally performed in winter, with cold temperatures. Then, when the races came in the summer, unforeseen problems would pop up. So we started from the principle of making tires that would resist a lot of wear and tear, in hot weather. We tested In South Africa and Brazil for months. And the results showed. Now we have to move forward, prepare the vehicles also for cold conditions, rain and qualifying. In short, we have to broaden our field. And I believe we will succeed because the Pirelli technicians, led by Mezzanotte and Turchetti apply themselves methodically".
Does this mean that Piquet can aim for the world title this year? Then again, the fight, with nine races still to go, is wide open.
"I don't think so. I am sure it will be a matter between Alboreto and Prost, with a possible inclusion of Rosberg. I would bet on Ferrari, and I also explain why: at Le Castellet the Maranello team experienced the most difficult day since the beginning of the championship. But it managed to limit the damage. Johansson took points away from De Angelis and I, involuntarily, denied them to Prost and Rosberg".
One last clarification. Before the start, the winner of the French Grand Prix switched cars and tires. What happened?
"On the formation lap I felt strange vibrations in the engine that had been changed in the morning. And then I decided to be cautious, choosing more durable tires. With a hundred Formula 1 races behind me, experience counts for something".