McLaren is strong and dominates races. Four wins out of five races without too many problems. It is useless to explain the reasons behind this supremacy. There are no secrets: an exceptional British chassis, a reliable German engine, an aerodynamics that takes partial advantage of the ground effect as the skirts times, tyres with constant performance and two very good drivers. The most consistent mix. At the monegasque event, the British team shows up after having seriously risked not being able to take part in it. In fact, on May 22, 1984, rumours from Stuttgart talked about a German steelworkers strike that was paralyzing the car industry and that could have cause problems to Lauda and Prost, given that even Porsche, which provides engines to McLaren - equipped of new turbo for its TAG Porsche engines with a new camshaft - , was affected by the strikes, therefore it was assumed that it would have been difficult to prepare the engines and have spare parts. Hans Metzger, the design engineer of the Porsche engine, said:
"Our difficulties will increase by the Canadian Grand Prix in mid-June".
In the end, the problem is solved in time, so all the attention of the spectators for the Monaco Grand Prix is of course on the two championship contenders, as well as McLaren teammates: Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. However, the favourable moment of the British team corresponds with a negative period for most of the rival teams. Currently, there is no alternative on who could worry Lauda and Prost. Ferrari is the only alternative, but even the Maranello team has to solve many problems. The 126 C4 was only competitive in Belgium, where Alboreto won. Someone, after many retirements of the Italian driver, starts to have doubts on his skills that, instead, cannot be discussed: he doesn’t lack dedication, skills, courage and rationality.
You just have to see his starts to realise how Michele lives up to the situation. Just with an intense work of car setup it is possible to recover. It will be interesting to check the performance of the Ferrari in a street circuit like Monte-Carlo. The engine is good, the chassis is exceptional - this is what the drivers said - , and the asset is good, too. There could be some doubts about the tyres and the aerodynamics. Concerning the tyres, they have to hope that Goodyear will be able to improve in time. Concerning the aerodynamics - and having seen the lack of speed in France - , we have to think that to have grip the Ferrari should slow down giving a lot of incidence to the spoilers. It is a difficult matter that surely the technicians will evaluate, especially waiting for the most challenging tracks on a speed level.
On Monday, May 21, 1984, Niki Lauda goes to Clermont-Ferrand to try out the tyres and the following day flies to Texas, where he will be flying a new Lear Jet, his dream plane, which costs about 7.000.000 dollars. At his comeback, he will spend some days in Ibiza, together with his wife Marlene and his 5-year-old son Lucas and 3-year-old son Mathias. Then, Niki Lauda will go to Monte-Carlo to win the Monaco Grand Prix that will be held in two weeks.
"I have to strike while the iron is hot. At this moment, McLaren is the better car. I know the track very well and I like it. In short, I can really continue my climb for the World Championship".
At 35 years old, the Austrian driver, who came second behind his teammate Prost, seems to be living a second youth.
"This is the best proof that these kinds of talks are not always true, at least not for all drivers. My career is not coming to an end yet".
The two-times Formula 1 world champion doesn’t mention anyone, but this was a clear reference to Enzo Ferrari who in his book wrote that some drivers, after having reached the top of their careers, are not the same anymore because they are sated with wins and success. Lauda has never been more certain, almost presumptuous. What happened to this driver who has always been considered as very talented, smart, but not always bold? What made him change into a spectacular driver, capable of doing thrilling overtakes and fighting at the limit? Who changed the driver that retired in Fuji 1976 because he was afraid of rain?
"Absolutely nothing. I’m always the same Nikolaus Lauda, born on February 22, 1949, in Salzburg, of the sign of Pisces. I didn’t become more reckless. I have maximum respect for the difference between what goes on inside a driver’s heart and the recklessness that he can’t have. The only secret is that I like racing, I have fun doing what I now call my job. We are not talking about money. Rumours say that I came back after two years because I wanted money. Some malicious person states that I was full of debts with my airline company. I don’t even want to answer these accusations. I’m getting paid for what I am worth. If I get paid a lot it is because this money in some way comes back to whom invested them. Nobody gives anything for free. If someone is shocked by saying that I earn more than Zico and Platini it is because this person didn’t understand anything about life".
Lauda has never been so unchained like in Dijon.
"I attacked, that’s true. On some occasions I had to take a risk because of the traffic and the many cars to lap. However, I don’t think I have done anything exceptional. If a car goes better and faster than the others, as it is for McLaren, everything becomes easier. Actually I think that Tambay suffered more, threatened two times by Prost and I. First, I waited for the right moment and then I overtook him when he made a little mistake. The second time I was clearly faster".
Concerning Prost, on Sunday the Frenchman got the fastest lap. If we consider all his laps, without two pit stops, he was faster than Niki. So, it is assumed that, if he hadn’t had problems, he could have fought for the win.
"Prost is a very good driver, the strongest rival. I have maximum respect for him. Having seen all the data, I have to point out that when he was ahead of me, with a 5-seconds advantage, I was gaining 0.5 seconds per lap. Then, when I was in the lead, I didn’t go that fast. I say it again: Prost is the one to beat for the championship, but he will have to fight with Niki Lauda. We have two wins each, he has a 6 points advantage thanks to his second place in Kyalami. I will try to catch him in Monte-Carlo".
On Thursday, May 24, 1984, René Arnoux will be on track at Fiorano to get ready for the Monaco Grand Prix.
"I’m confident because now I know Ferrari’s potential well. We’ve had some problems - not too many - until now, but they didn’t allow us to reach the results that we expected. There’s nothing to be surprised about, Formula 1 is like this: one day you’re on top and after twenty-four hours you are at the bottom. You just have to do small changes, get the setup of the car wrong and everything becomes harder. Luckily, Ferrari has always recovered in this kind of situation".
A question that Arnoux gets asked many times is: what is that the 126 C4 is lacking to be at McLaren’s level?
"First of all, we are the only team that kept up with the British team, even if partially. Alboreto’s win at Zolder is undoubtedly the proof of our competitiveness. Lauda and Prost have had a car that is good on every track, while we’ve been discontinuous".
So, what is that the 126 C4 needs to be back winning?
"Not much. We need to exploit all the engine power that is certainly not slower than those of the others. On the contrary, I think that we have an advantage in this area. Now the biggest problem to solve is to regain top speed. At Dijon we’ve seen that to have the perfect grip in the fast corners we had to increase the aerodynamic pressure on the car. With the spoilers that slow down the car it is difficult to go very fast. This is what we need to solve. Then, there are also the tyres because in some races they have been slower than the competition. It is necessary to remember that Goodyear has only started this year to produce radial tyres".
Aerodynamics should have less impact in Monte-Carlo in two-weeks’ time.
"I’m sure of that, too. Anyway, this is a matter that we’ll have to face on other tracks. For the Monaco Grand Prix we will try the electronic injection again. It is us, the drivers, who want it because this system allows us to save fuel and to have better performance and adaptability. In Monaco, McLaren will still be the car to beat. However, Ferrari accepts the challenge. We have many upgrades to bring and maybe among them there will be the one that allows us to change the situation. I think that the championship is still open".
On Wednesday, May 30, 1984, the Principality is full of people: the track, which is located between skyscrapers and liberty houses, and between guardrails and cement, is ready to come to life with the roar of the engines. On Thursday the forty-second Monaco Grand Prix will begin, which is one of the most prestigious race of the Formula 1 championship: the first round of qualifying will be from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.. Before the start of the event, the race direction (who is leaded exceptionally by Jacky Ickx, rather than Amédée Pavesi) chooses not to run the pre-qualifying session, that would have eliminated just one driver; as always, only the best twenty drivers of qualifying will take part in the race.
In 1983, the race was in doubt because the organisers, so the Automobile Club of Monaco, sold part of the television rights to the American channel ABC, violating the Concord Agreement and robbing the FISA and the FOCA of their share of television rights. At first, the Grand Prix would be reintroduced in the calendar for 1984, only after the ACM had renounced the contract with ABC. But this didn’t happen and on May 7, 1984, the FISA sent a protest to the organisers, urging them to pay up 7% of television rights of 1983 before the race of 1984 and to respect the Concord Agreement to be reintroduced in the calendar for 1985. Just before the race, the matter is taken to court. ACM’s advocate states that the contract with ABC was signed thanks to a dispensation from the Concord Agreement and would have initially lasted until December 31, 1984, which is the expiring date of the Concord Agreement itself. Then, at the beginning of 1983, ACM extended the television contract until 1986 before the FISA and the FOCA extended the Concord Agreement in turn. But the judge declines jurisdiction and, despite this, the Grand Prix is held nevertheless.
This time, qualifying will have a particular meaning, on which the rest of the season probably depends. In fact, there is one question to answer: is McLaren unbeatable even on street circuits? If the answer is positive, the title fight will certainly be between the two teammates of the British team: Lauda and Prost. If, instead, there are some surprises, then the championship will be open to different solutions. The only certain thing is that every team is allied against the dominant team of the first half of the season. No tactics, of course, but an attack by those who have a theoretical chance to stop McLaren, so Ferrari, Renault, Lotus, Brabham and Williams. Every team has prepared the cars at its best to the particular kind of circuit on which on Sunday there will be the race.
The Maranello team goes there with big air intakes for the brakes and the spoilers which have incredulous inclinations and dimensions to get more grip, so better traction. The brakes have to undergo the hardest work, together with the gearbox and the transmission. Ferrari lines up two cars with traditional exhaust pipes and two with those already seen, more divided, nicknamed with the curious but effective name of spaghetti. No carbon brakes, no integral injection. Renault brings new and smaller whirlwinds; Williams brings different suspensions; Brabham has an innovative rear aerodynamic solution. In short, everything possible is done to stop the leaders of the championship. But McLaren hasn’t rested on their laurels, too: they bring carefully studied suspension geometries, engine calibrations calculated especially for the best performance at low rpm. This is a true technical and sporting battle.
The cars powered by Renault, so Renault itself but also Ligier and Lotus, are equipped with Garrett turbines, which have a smaller diameter that should guarantee lower inertia. ELF brings a new fuel for Ligier. Hart brings a new engine version for Toleman which has an electronic injection control system and four injectors per cylinder. The debut of Corrado Fabi on the Brabham, alongside Nelson Piquet, is also to mention. The 22-year old driver from Milan takes his brother Teo’s place, who is racing in the United States. The young driver had already done eight races in Formula 1 with Osella. For the first time he has the opportunity to drive a competitive car, after having won the European title of Formula 2. For this Grand Prix, Brabham changes the aerodynamics of the BT53, waiting for a new car, to try and get a greater inflow of hot air towards the rear pontoons.
This change won’t be approved after the first session of qualifying. Arrows entrusts the A7, powered by BMW, to Thierry Boutsen, giving the old A6 to Marc Surer. There is news concerning Euroracing-Alfa Romeo, which doesn’t allow the new KKK turbines, while the technician Tonti, who left Lancia after many years of work, has arrived. His new tasks are top secret. Obviously, there are rumours: some say that engineer Carlo Chiti, who has worked for Autodelta for twenty years, is dropped.
The news is not official yet, but it seems certain it might happen. It is not only a technical matter, but also an innovative measure. We will see if this eventual change will bring important results in the next races. However, for now, Patrese and Cheever’s objective is to conquer a place in the Grand Prix start. In qualifying, both will do their best, one to stay among the first twenty drivers, the other to get in there. That does not mean that they won’t do it, but that is a lot of risk, especially if there will be bad weather.
While Ferrari is living a new shining moment and seems to be a McLaren rival, Alfa Romeo is not competitive at all. The rescue of the team from Milan is underway. We will see what they will be able to do in a short time. It seems that at the engine level some interesting innovations have been tested, which could be fitted soon. Rumours talk about an electronically controlled pump for injection, which would ensure better performance of the 8-cylinder turbo engine. A problem that should be solved is the fuel consumption, that for now represents the greatest obstacle to race serenely.
Spectators are interested, everyone wants to see what is going to happen. The Principality’s attendance is huge, maybe higher than last year’s. No more seats available and no more tickets in the grandstands. The only tickets available are those of the unnumbered seats and spectators keep coming. Among the audience, there is an exceptional figure, who is directly interested in races. It is Paul Belmondo, the 21-year old son of the famous French actor. The young guy looks much like his father, but he is taller and skinnier, he races with cars for some seasons. Currently, he is racing in the Formula 3 championship and on Saturday he will be one of the protagonists of the Grand Prix of this category. Stefania, Ranieri of Monaco’s daughter, is Paul Belmondo’s girlfriend. The princess is a nice girl with black hair that follows him on every track he races.
"The fact that she is my girlfriend is not very important. If she is a princess, a celebrity, that’s nothing to do with our relationship. We love each other and this is what matters. I’ve always loved motorsport; I like it and I want to reach the top of this professional career because I’m not interested in cinema. Maybe when I am older I will become a director or a producer".
Paul Belmondo has an eye on Formula 1. He looks at the champions as models, but he doesn’t want to take inspiration from any of them.
"I want to race in a minor category again, it may be that even in 1985 I will not try to get into Formula 1. I have to gain experience. I’m not rooting for any driver who is fighting for the championship. I like them all, I’m trying to learn. However, I am not sure I identify myself with anybody. I will try to be myself. I have this sport in my blood, maybe it is a legacy. As everyone knows, my family is from Cefalù, in Sicily, where the famous Targa Fiorio was held. Maybe my passion was born when I read all the legendary endeavours of the drivers in the very difficult Sicilian track".
Does the fact of being under the eye of the Ranieri's family of Monaco - who are the kings of this little Principality - embarrass you?
"No. They all root for me but they don’t put me under pressure nor try to tear me away from this activity. They will watch the race on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. from a balcony. They won’t break protocol that wants them on track, on the stage of honour, just for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Anyway, I’m feeling good and I will try to go onwards".
Paul Belmondo will race with a French car, the Martini-MK2, one of the most competitive cars. His main rival will be the Italian Ivan Capelli, who is currently leading the European championship. There will be thirty-one drivers in the race which has always launched the greatest champions, but they will have to fight for positions during qualifying. This is the first aim for the young Belmondo that makes his debut in motorsport with car number 8.
Michele Alboreto proves to be a great driver in every track and the Ferrari proves to be a great car on this type of track. This is the result of the first practices for the Monaco Grand Prix: an Italian duo is ahead of the best drivers, from Warwick (Renault) to Prost (McLaren), and from Piquet (Brabham) to Lauda with the other McLaren. And René Arnoux, with the second Ferrari, is sixth. We already knew that Alboreto was a quick and precise driver with a very clean drive. However, on this track, where driving with your heart is not enough, he gave further proof of his skills. We don’t have to forget that the Italian driver got two of his three wins (Las Vegas and Detroit) in street circuits; there is another little secret behind his success. Alboreto, in agreement with Mauro Forghieri, is able to choose the best tyres.
Goodyear’s tyres are not better than Michelin’s, given that there are four cars with French tyres in the first five places, but Alboreto transformed the two available sets for qualifying in four: the Italian driver does the first laps with three soft tyres and a hard tyre in the rear left. Then he goes on track with two used tyres on the right side and two new tyres on the left, and comes back with another two new tyres and two used tyres, reversing the order. At the end, he does some laps with four used tyres. This magic trick succeeds. He gets the best lap time (1'23"581, 142.654 km/h on average) with the third solution. To explain the reasons why he chooses to do this, we have to say that in Monte-Carlo the rear left tyre is the one which suffers the most. With a hard tyre, he was able to do more laps and get a better performance of the car. After Thursday practices, Michele Alboreto states:
"I’m happy, of course, even if it isn’t over yet. I’m confident in one thing: I’ve liked the Ferrari with the race setup. It’s easier to drive".
Arnoux, instead, - who wastes the first set of tyres (three softs and one hard) due to a spin - is angry. The Frenchman finds too much traffic on track when he goes for his lap with a soft compound that allows the driver to do just one lap at full speed. However, many teams had problems, except for McLaren. If Lauda wears out the tyres immediately, Prost says that his car is great:
"On Saturday I can steal the pole position from Alboreto".
Alfa Romeo has the biggest problems with the setup of its cars. Patrese finishes last with the twentieth lap time, but he could have done better if he hadn't broken a turbine in his flying lap. Cheever is out at the moment, with an undrivable car. It is an embarrassment for him, if we consider that the Osella, powered by Alfa Romeo, driven by Ghinzani does a step forward with the fourteenth lap time in Monte-Carlo. Winkelhock, instead, crashes against the guardrail and destroys part of his car. The rookie Corrado Fabi has troubles too, with his Brabham in the pits for different problems.
On Friday, June 1st, 1984, Giovanni Agnelli, Fiat’s president, arrives in the Principality by helicopter together with Luca Montezemolo. They land on a yacht, the Atlantis, which is one hundred metres long and has 50 crewmen. Agnelli, in sporting clothes, does a panoramic tour in the teams stands and then, in the afternoon, goes inside the Ferrari’s tent. Nobody expected him and the mechanics didn’t know if they should greet him or wait for him to greet them. The advocate walks slowly around the disassembled cars. With his sharp eyes, he looks at every detail:
"It’s a curious car but, from an aesthetic point of view, it conquers you immediately. It’s made for pleasure".
Agnelli speaks with Michele Alboreto and René Arnoux for an hour and a half. Then, surrounded by journalists, the advocate speaks briefly about sport:
"Alboreto is a very good driver. But we don’t have to compare the present and the past. It’s always difficult to compare sportsmen, even in athletics, which is an almost exact science sport. Yesterday I spoke with Ferrari. He was happy for Alboreto’s lap time. If there is a track in our favour, it’s this one".
Concerning the integral electronic injection which has to be fitted on Maranello’s cars, he says:
"Yesterday I spoke about it with Ferrari. It’s coming, let’s just hope that it doesn’t come too late".
Even if the Monaco Grand Prix gives the drivers a day off between one round of qualifying and another, it can’t be said that this pause reduces the pressure. On Sunday there will be a close fight between McLaren and all the other teams that can challenge them. Inside the British team there is the problem to maintain the supremacy they’ve shown until now and to decrease the rivalry between Niki Lauda and Alain Prost, which is a difficult problem to solve. On the opposite side, there is the need to change the situation, trying not to favour future rivals and to take advantage of an eventual false step of the Austrian and French drivers. Prost is the most calm. The former Renault driver is convinced that McLaren will have big opportunities in the Principality, too:
"I didn’t score important points in Dijon but, looking at the data, I’ve seen that I could have beaten him if I didn’t have a series of failures that forced me to a double and useless recovery. Concerning lap times, I was quicker than him, except for those laps where I had to pit. Ferrari is a threat, but we can’t hope to win without fighting. In the meantime, I will try to get pole position from Alboreto and this should be the first step to succeed in the race. I’m not afraid to fight against the Italian driver".
Alboreto, who is called into question, doesn’t respond:
"This track suits us, so I absolutely have to win. I won’t settle for second place. For tomorrow’s practice I’m afraid that Lotus, especially with Mansell, could conquer the pole position: I will defend myself. Concerning the race, the McLarens worry me. They don’t seem to have any problem and if Lauda or Prost win here, it will be hard for everyone else to fight for the championship, beginning with us: the points gap will be unbridgeable. So, at the moment my problem is not thinking about Prost or any other rival. I have to focus on the setup of the car to start the race with a good setup for this particular track. It’s extremely important and, from this, the outcome of the race will depend on. We can’t do anything wrong in the setting up and in the tyre choice. It’s a foil duel, not a sword one. I think that in qualifying our lap times will be better. To be quick we have to have a great car and to focus on the limit of human possibilities".
And René Arnoux? The Frenchman is still angry for the sixth place of Thursday:
"I could and I should’ve done better because this is a track where I’ve always been quick. I think that you need to have technical skills and heart in order to drive well here. And I think that this is my case. I’ve never backed out. Besides, I’m in a positive moment and I have to take advantage of this to still be fighting for the title".
It seems almost an exclusive matter between McLaren and Ferrari but the rivals are a lot, actually. And some of them don’t renounce a priori. It is the case of Warwick, who accepts every challenge with his Renault and of Tambay, who seems to be very determined. Then there is the Lotus with De Angelis, who would like to shine, thinking about the future. The Roman driver explains:
"We’ve arrived in Monte-Carlo sure to be strong, after some positive tests at Le Castellet. However, the first practices proved us wrong. I’ve completely changed the asset of my car. I hope to repeat the exploit in Rio de Janeiro, when I started the race ahead of everyone else".
As always, many drivers are in contention for predictions. For this reason, the last round of practices - which will be on Saturday, June 2, 1984, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. - will be a Grand Prix preview.
On Saturday, June 2nd, 1984, Ferrari fans are angry after qualifying because there won’t be a Ferrari in the first row of the 42nd Monaco Grand Prix: Alain Prost takes the pole position away from Michele Alboreto. The Frenchman of the McLaren-Porsche keeps the promise he had made on Thursday: I will overtake Alboreto. However, Nigel Mansell too, with his Lotus, overtakes the two Ferraris. Prost does a great job in the last round of qualifying: he goes on track 30 minutes after the start of the session, controls the situation finding a space between the cars and does three perfect laps. The result is: 1’22"661, 144.242 km/h on average, beating the previous unofficial record of René Arnoux (1’23"281, 1982, Renault). Then Prost goes back in the pits and remains in his car waiting, while his rivals are trying everything to overtake him. It is all useless. The only one that maybe has scared the Frenchman a little is Mansell, who goes second.
"Tomorrow I will lead the race. Starting from first place on this track is almost half a victory. I hope to build the other half in the race. I’m really happy with myself. I’ve not even used the second set of tyres available. Lauda? It seems to be far behind. If he wants to see the back of my car he has to do a lot of overtakes. The McLaren has been amazing. If there won’t be any surprises, on Sunday I will be toasting with champagne and looking at the future with more optimism".
Ferrari does not stand idly. But Arnoux and Alboreto conquer only third and fourth place after having both been first at the start of the session. The Frenchman, too, overtakes the Italian, but the performance of the two drivers are extremely equivalent: 0.002 seconds gap. This happens despite the fact that Arnoux finds traffic on track, while Alboreto would have liked to be quicker but crashes against a guardrail at St. Devote and brokes a suspension. With the spare car and without the C compound tyres, which are harder, available (they are still on the broken car) is useless to deceive ourselves.
Now Prost has an important occasion to extend his gap in the standings and to shake his friend-rival Lauda. Question remains whether Mansell’s Lotus, the two Ferraris or some other rival will have the possibility to challenge him. Of course, starting from pole is a great advantage. If McLaren shows the same supremacy of the previous races, it will be easy for Prost to get first. Otherwise (and the tyres performance will be crucial) we will see its true potential. Prost beats Lauda (eighth time for the Austrian driver) but, of course, the gap depends on technical reasons. Niki used more pressure on the turbines of his Porsche engine: not a good choice. It is clear that, in these conditions, the excessive power becomes a negative element and the car is more difficult to drive.
"I had too much power, but the team chose like this".
But Niki doesn’t give up:
"People are here to have fun. It’s almost like a holiday. There is the sea, now even the sun, the hot weather, the possibility to play at the casino. The Grand Prix is an extra opportunity, a social event, a curiosity. For us drivers, instead, it is the most difficult race. It’s a challenge that this year is held in a particularly delicate period of the season. It’s a true exam for me. My entire career depends on it because in Formula 1 everything is forgotten easily. My victories with Ferrari in 1975 and 1976 are far behind. What counts is what you do today, it’s a continuous test. All exasperated by turbo cars solutions, by the one thousand details that can lead you to success or to disaster. From today to July 8, four races will be held in Monte-Carlo, Montreal, Detroit and Dallas. All street circuits, basically. Starting well here means having an additional guarantee. I think I’ve never faced an obstacle so difficult, not even at the start of my career nor when I came back racing. It’s like you run a company and all of a sudden you have to draft a budget".
And, speaking about Monte-Carlo, he admits:
"The track becomes more absurde every time. The acceleration of the cars and the supercharged engines make this track even more narrow, in some way. You see the guardrail and the cement alongside you and ask yourself how not to make mistakes. Luckily, the organisers are real professionists and make up for the flaws of the circuit with exceptional skills. You have to drive with extreme precision, study the trajectories to the millimetre, calculate the fraction of second for the eventual overtake. You have to think about all the things that are in different tracks at once. However, Monte-Carlo gives you an extra psychological factor: spectators’ closeness. While in authodromes spectators are far away, almost absent in a way, here you feel them and they can also give you a boost".
To face this challenge, Lauda asked for a particular setup of his McLaren:
"It’s a real challenge driving here with a 700 horsepower car, at the limit of the superhuman. But in Monte-Carlo it’s not important to have a lot of horsepower, but to have a sweet and progressive power delivery. We should not slip the tyres. We won’t have the maximum pressure of the turbines. We have reinforced the transmission, the brakes and the gearbox, which are the elements that have to undergo a greater effort. But even when everything is fine, with a perfect asset, it’s not easy to go at 240 km/h on the main straight or on the Casino uphill".
The conversation moves inevitably to Alain Prost, the most inconvenient teammate that a driver can have.
"This Frenchman is strong. I’ve always known and said so. It’s difficult to beat him in skills, speed and determination. You have to focus on his weaknesses. The best strategy is to try and stay behind him, follow him like a shadow and wait for him to make mistakes".
And Ferrari? At the magic name of Maranello, the Salzbourg champion shows off a smile full of implications:
"What do you want me to say, that Ferrari doesn’t count? It would be a lie. Ferrari is quick and at the moment Alboreto is a great driver for the Italian team. If I was at home watching the race on television, I could even cheer for Ferrari. However, given that I’m driving on track and I have to aim for the win, I hope that both Ferraris will be behind me but ahead of Prost".
Despite that, the drivers and the Ferrari team are convinced to have a lot of cards to play. The two 126 C4 which have a race asset have shown to be competitive and Alboreto, who is very good at starts, will try to take the lead. Everyone can expect a spectacular and very close Grand Prix. Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari’s technical director, doesn’t despair and admits:
"Second row is quite satisfying in Monte-Carlo. Concerning Alboreto who went off track, these things can happen when you are trying to find the car’s limit and are going very quick. And now tell me that Prost is a great driver and that McLaren doesn’t count...".
Probably Alboreto is still convinced that if he hadn’t got a bent suspension against the guardrail, he could have been close to Prost. But the Italian driver, who is very concrete, analyses the reality:
"It was my mistake. I arrived too fast at the turn. But there aren’t any problems, tonight we’ll analyse everything".
According to René Arnoux, Ferrari could be the winning car.
"It’s very well balanced, especially for the race. I’ve always done good races in Monte-Carlo and I hope to do it once again. In practices I’ve always found terrible traffic, then, at the end, the turbo pressure decreased. Maybe it was due to a sleeve leak. And I had to stop. Anyway, I didn’t have any tyres left".
Elio De Angelis is quite disappointed because he is beaten by his teammate Mansell. The Englishman breaks a turbine at the first lap and Lotus’ mechanics have to take the spare car, changing the turbocharger system with a smaller one. During practices, Martin Brundle’s Tyrrell crashes terribly at Tabac curve. The car turns upside down and slithers for several tens of metres and the British driver’s helmet will bring the signs of the asphalt. Among the elimination from qualifying, there is Eddie Cheever with an Alfa Romeo that the Italian-American driver defines as undrivable. The team from Milan saves itself partially with Patrese, who gets fourteenth. But it is believed to be more thanks to the Paduan driver than the car. A confirmation and great enthusiasm for Ghinzani and Osella. It is the first time that the team qualifies for the Monaco Grand Prix. It is already a success.
On Sunday, June 3rd, 1984, Monte-Carlo is hitted by a violent storm in the morning. The start of the race is delayed first to twenty minutes and then to forty-five minutes, waiting for better weather. Besides, to see a Formula 1 wet track has never happened before: it happens for the first time before the start of the Monaco Grand Prix. The track, under the pouring rain, is full of water and the drivers are worried about the running of a very dangerous race. When the formation lap is underway, many drivers, when they go under the tunnel that leads towards the port downhill, realise that in the tunnel the situation is really dangerous. When Niki Lauda comes across the line for the line up, he goes to all other drivers to know their opinion. At the end, the Austrian driver asks the race director to wet the part of track under the tunnel.
"Coming from a completely wet asphalt we had a very strange sensation of lack of grip. For this reason I asked, in agreement with my colleagues, to wet the part of track under the tunnel with a tanker of the fireman. This solution spared us further risks, even if in the tunnel the trail of water was so impressive that we couldn’t see anything".
This odd event is only the start of a particularly strange Grand Prix, as we haven't seen in years. At 3:45 p.m. the race starts and Prost, who started from pole, keeps his position without any risk, while behind him Derek Warwick, to avoid Arnoux, crashes against the barriers at Sainte Devote. Further behind, his teammate Patrick Tambay finishes against the Englishman’s Renault; Riccardo Patrese and Elio De Angelis are blocked by the two Renault and have to stop to manoeuvre. Both Renault drivers are in bad shape. Warwick gets out of his car limping while Tambay is quickly rescued. However, the marshals on the crash site, St. Devote chicane, immediately realise that the Frenchman has a quite serious injury. The driver is lifted and carried away on a stretcher by the marshals. In the hospital wing, he is diagnosed with a fracture in the fibula of his left leg, caused by a suspension that pierced the frame in the impact.
The impact was really violent but it hasn’t caused too serious damage: in fact, the fracture is clean, without fragments and, on this matter, doctors release a statement declaring that a three-weeks prognosis is needed. Patrick Tambay is really unlucky. When the Frenchman finally seemed to be able to get back in shape after a rather bad start to the season, he was the victim of a serious incident. The driver will be released from the hospital with the left leg in a cast. Tambay will probably have to renounce all the American Grand Prix: Montreal, Detroit and Dallas. René Arnoux, directly called into question, will explain his point of view on the incident:
"I started normally and I was following my line when in the chicane we were three. What could I do? If I moved to the right I would have touched a car, if I moved to the left I would have touched another car. I tried to keep the trajectory but I felt a crash. I’m sorry for what has happened but I certainly didn’t do it on purpose. I started the race with the aim to avoid any risk, seeing the track conditions".
After his leg has been put in a cast, Tambay asks to be carried to his hotel and the next day he will be carried home in Switzerland. Tambay does not make any statement, but it is clear that the French driver is disappointed by what happened. Meanwhile, Renault says that they will race in the United States with just one car and that the injured driver won’t be replaced. These are the first decisions. Warwick, saddened for what happened to his teammate, explains that he wasn’t aware of anything:
"I don’t know exactly what happened. I was on my trajectory. I felt that somebody touched my car, then the car was sideways, I hitted the guardrail and I couldn’t move anymore. Then I felt a big hit and I tried to save myself by moving away from the area".
In the fourth lap, Lauda overtakes Alboreto at Loews, getting fourth place. Two laps later, on Beau Rivage uphill, Lauda succeeds to overtake Arnoux’s Ferrari, too. At the ninth lap, Alboreto spins at Mirabeau, just under the windows of his Monegasque home; he is able to restart the race a minute later, thanks to the help of marshals. In the twelfth lap, Corrado Fabi’s Brabham stops just before the tunnel entrance and a marshal tries to push his car to make him continue the race. In the pouring rain arrives Prost, the race leader, who can’t avoid the man entirely and hits him in the leg, without causing him serious injuries.
Nigel Mansell takes advantage from this situation and overtakes the Frenchman. In the same lap, Senna, at the port chicane, goes too much on the kerb and damages the front right suspension. Toleman’s driver, who tried to overtake Rosberg but without success, locks up his tyres and goes on the kerb, miraculously avoiding the guardrail. However, a few laps later the Brazilian driver succeeds to overtake both Rosberg and Arnoux. Meanwhile, Nelson Piquet has to retire due to an electric system failure, such as Corrado Fabi, who stopped at the ninth lap, and François Hesnault, who stopped at the twelfth lap.
During the sixteenth lap, Nigel Mansell, who is leading the race, halfway through the Beau Rivage uphill, loses control of his Lotus due to the aquaplaning and crashes against the guardrail. Mansell tries to continue with the folded front spoiler but at Mirabeau he is overtaken by Prost; the Englishman spins again, continues his race and stops a few metres later at the hairpin. At the same time, Bellof overtakes Winkelhock for sixth place.
At the nineteenth lap, Senna overtakes Niki Lauda too, getting into second place. Meanwhile, Bellof continues his recovery and, at the twenty-first lap, he passes Rosberg at the end of the tunnel. At the twenty-third lap, Manfred Winkelhock has to retire after making contact with Rosberg. On the following lap, Niki Lauda spins at the Casino, touches the sidewalk and breaks the front wing. Niki jumps immediately out of his car, giving the impression of going quickly away from a dangerous fight. Going back to the box, the Austrian driver will say:
"With rain, the carbon brakes were working very badly. I don’t want them on my car anymore".
This leads Arnoux and Bellof to fight for third place, with the German driver that tries to overtake Arnoux on the Beau Rivage uphill. Bellof tries again at Mirabeau, succeeding to overtake him, going on a kerb. At the twenty-fourth lap, Riccardo Patrese too has to retire for a steering wheel problem. Rain gets more heavy with every passing minute. Senna is able to reach Prost, with Bellof who is the quickest driver on track because his aspirated engine Tyrrell is the lightest car of all and has an engine that on the wet is more manageable than a turbo engine car. At the thirty-first lap, Prost, on the crossing line, asks to stop the race with gestures. Besides, Alain has brake discs in composite material fitted on his car, which struggle to get up to temperature and do not give him the right feeling with the car, while Ayrton, who has steel discs, has less problems with braking. This is one reason why Senna gets between three and five seconds per lap on Prost, and is about to reach him.
But it is true that Ayrton is in second place, followed by the German Bellof, despite an odd incident affecting his driving for the whole race: Ayrton, in fact, from the previous day feels a strange burning sensation on his hips. On Saturday, he changed his shirt, convinced that that was the problem, but the same problem comes back in the race. It turns out only at the end of the race that the cockpit is flooded with water and that this has irritated the young Brazilian driver's skin.
A lap later Jacky Ickx, the race director, red-flags the race when Senna overtakes Alain Prost. Ickx also displays the black flag, which forces the drivers to stop in the pits. Alongside the Belgian there is also a stewart with the chequered flag. There is a general confusion and many teams are convinced that the race would be resumed. Prost, who is aware of the red flag, slows down. Senna overtakes him and, on the finish line, believes to have won the first race of his career. So, the Brazilian driver starts to exult, as Bellof does, who is on the podium after having started the race from the last row.
The following are moments of uncertainty. Then, the final classification is drawn up at lap 31 and Prost is the winner of the Monaco Grand Prix, which will give half points because the 75% of laps weren’t covered, while Senna has to settle for second place. Bellof, instead, is still third and can enjoy his podium without too many recriminations (some months later Tyrrell will be disqualified from the championship and the third place of the German driver will be cancelled and given to Arnoux). Into the pits, there are doubts and slanders:
"In Monte-Carlo was all decided in favour of the Frenchman, we had to expect it: French driver, Marlboro as a sponsor, it is clear that the race had to be suspended before Prost was reached by Senna".
So McLaren conquers four points and a half: the British team scores half of the points available in the Monaco Grand Prix. The race was stopped thirty-one laps after due to heavy rain in the Principality. The suspension of the race one hour after the start favoured Alain Prost, who was in the lead. Thus, after this race the Frenchman extended his gap in the championship, even if he was obliged to settle for half points as established by regulations when a Grand Prix is interrupted before two-thirds of his length. Behind the Transalpine driver, there are two Formula 1 rookies, the Brazilian Ayrton Senna and the German Stefan Bellof, both on the podium for the first time. In fourth place there is Arnoux with his Ferrari, ahead of Rosberg and De Angelis. Alboreto is seventh, out of the points, after a spin that cost him a lap. This is the summary of a Grand Prix full of tension with a lot of controversies, too. Jacky Ickx was chosen to be the race director because Balestre, Fisa’s president, has forbidden French directors to be race directors for the Monaco Grand Prix. Ickx explains his decision to interrupt the Grand Prix after sixty-two minutes, at 4:47 p.m.:
"Between the twenty-nineth and the thirtieth lap I decided to end the race because the rain was heavier and that could have been dangerous. I perfectly remember that when I raced in Formula 1 I came second in 1972 behind Beltoise. You have to feel the effort and the risks that the drivers have to face in this kind of situation. I didn’t have to take into account anything, the standings nor the Senna’s spectacular recovery. I was interested only by the technical side and I believe that the decision is indisputable because continuing to race was too dangerous. If something serious had happened, everyone would have asked me why I didn’t stop the race".
The opinion of the World Champion in the Endurance championship, who races for Porsche, the same company that supplies the engines to McLaren, obviously is the opposite of what some of the drivers concerned think. First of all, the young Brazilian Ayrton Senna, who came second, just over seven seconds behind Prost.
"I was reaching the McLaren and I would surely have won. I was convinced that I had finished first when I saw Prost’s car parked on one side. Then, they told me that the race finished one lap earlier. It was a very difficult race. However, I’m not satisfied with this second place. I’m angry, I would have won quite surely. It’s not fair to end a race like this. If there is rain, the drivers should race at a speed that is at the limits of the car. We can’t miss an opportunity like this, especially in Monte-Carlo, where there is no guarantee of having another chance. I’m happy for the team. It’s the first time that Toleman reaches this result and I can assure you that it isn’t the last time either. With a track in such difficult conditions for driving I tried to make as few mistakes as possible to finish the race. I almost reached Prost only due to the fact that the Frenchman slowed down and not because I could scare him with my car. In such conditions, a driver fighting for the title can do nothing but slow down in order not to take risks".
Then he goes on:
"This decision didn’t favour me, but it was right to take it because the track was becoming more and more dangerous. Of course, it would have been better if they waited some laps more in order for me to overtake Prost. I had so many problems, you can’t even imagine: to the gearbox, the brakes, and then in overtaking with those who, despite being slower, don’t let you pass easily. Anyway, I did a solid race for me and for the team. I also had a bad start. Before the start I felt a burning sensation on my shoulders and I was afraid that there was a fuel leak but it was just water. At the start I even managed to avoid the incident at turn one".
And what about the incident with Rosberg?
"I was behind him and I tried to overtake him many times, but he was doing his race and was trying to not let me pass. The only place where you can overtake is the chicane. I got out of the tunnel faster than him and I braked less at the chicane to overtake him".
Alain Prost’s statement is the opposite:
"I wasn’t interested in winning. For this reason, I’m okay with four points and a half. I just wanted to finish among the first six drivers and not make any silly mistakes that could have ended my race. If Mansell had attacked me, I would have let him pass. Senna could have overtaken me too and maybe he could have won the race. I had some problems with the carbon brakes because the tyres were locking up too quickly. I extended the gap in the standings. It was useless to continue the race this way. We were facing even greater risks and visibility was poor. So, the race director has made the right decision. In today's racing conditions it matters a lot how you set up the car and how you use the brakes. The power of the car alone it’s useless, but the driver's reliability can push it forward. Senna did a race without mistakes and had a car with a good setup. These conditions move forward the outsiders like him and Bellof, who has done a good race".
Speaking with Arnoux, we realise that the Frenchman suspects that the interruption was in favour of his great rival Prost.
"We started the race with rain, a true storm, I don’t see why the race director wanted to end it in advance. We were getting used to it, many things had happened, we could have continued until the end. And I’m sure that I could have achieved a good result, better than the one that I got. This was made to help Prost, who didn't really need it. Then, there are other things which are absurde, like running a race reserved for old Bugattis just before the start of the Grand Prix. The tunnel was full of oil left by those vintage cars. I don’t think that was advisable. Of course, now it’s difficult with Prost. We couldn’t see the true potential of our cars in normal conditions, we should see what will happen in the United States. I will speak after the next three races".
Ferrari goes back home with one point and a half conquered by René Arnoux. It isn’t much, on the contrary: it is a quite modest result, below expectations. Everyone expected an attack on McLaren, hoping that the British team - with his cars powered by Porsche - could interrupt its winning streak. Instead, Alain Prost won again, even if in an odd way. Engineer Forghlerl, after the race and under the pouring rain, doesn’t talk a lot:
"I think I saw that Prost was about to lose a tyre. I don’t know if this is what was about to happen, but surely that interruption favoured him. For our side, the cars were lacking a bit of traction, but we have to say that we had never raced with Goodyear’s new radial tyres on a wet track like this".
Michele Alboreto is laconic too, and declares:
"I spun but it was not my fault. The situation was very unstable and I think that every driver was having troubles. I was in a dangerous place and I asked the marshals to push me forward to move away from that position. They didn’t want to understand. Regulations are clear on the matter, so I insisted, I grabbed one marshal by the arm and I screamed at him to push me. And he, maybe because he was smarter than the others, finally told the others to push my car forward. I restarted the race but it was clear that, having lost one lap, I couldn’t do anything anymore. However, it’s never fun to race this way".
After the Grand Prix, the majority of the staff states that interrupting the Monaco Grand Prix was a mistake. According to them, the race either did not even have to start or had to be disputed in its entirety. Carlos Reutemann, former driver considered to be a moderate and thoughtful person, speaks for all:
"There are two cases. The race director and the stewarts, having seen the weather, should have taken the courage to not let the race start. However, given that they’ve decided to run it, the race should have lasted two hours as written in the regulations - except for serious incidents. We must not forget that maybe in Monte-Carlo it is more dangerous to drive in the dry than in the wet because the drivers are quicker. I think that Ickx’s decision to suspend the race after thirty-one laps was ridiculous and deprived the very good Ayrton Senna of a likely win".
Controversies burst. The Belgium driver - the race director - is blamed, even if it has to be said that the decision was taken together with the stewards panel. However, the fact that Ickx races for Porsche in the endurance championship continues to arouse protests, the Arnoux one among them:
"It’s not logical that the race was interrupted when Prost, crossing the finish line, was reporting the danger of the situation with his hands. Why hasn’t Alain given the alarm when he had a 30 seconds advantage? Then, why didn’t the race director interrupt the race when Tambay broke his leg in the first lap? Thus, the race result was distorted to the advantage of only one competitor. The decision of having granted Prost the victory can have a decisive weight in the fight for the world title. It’s true that the Frenchman scored half points but if the race had continued maybe he would have been further back in the standings. Anyway, there is no turning back because regulations have been formally respected".
The consequences of his decision don’t calm down: in the following days, The Brazilian Automobile Federation accuses the race direction of having wanted to end the Grand Prix before the end of the connection with the television. Meanwhile, the International Automobile Federation and the Constructors association announce that in 1985 the race won’t be in the calendar. But not for safety reasons. It’s just a matter of money because Monte-Carlo didn’t pay the television rights to Fisa. If the advocates and courts solve the problem, everything will be as before. Furthermore, Formula 1 races in the streets of Detroit and Dallas, doesn’t it?
The Monaco Grand Prix is not over yet: on July 18, 1984, the FIA’s Executive Board will examine Jacky Ickx’s behaviour and decide whether to give the monegasque organisators sanctions. The criticisms were particularly harsh in the report sent to the FISA by the two international observers, the Dutch Corsmit and the New Zealander Frist. Ickx is under accusation for the decision of finishing the race in advance and, above all, for the fact of having exposed the red and the chequered flag at the same time, which is not written in the regulations.
As a race director, Ickx should have exposed only the red flag to stop the drivers and then waited for the stewarts’ decisions. The Brazilian Federation protests also for Ayrton Senna’s damage after the race interruption. On July 18, 1984, the Fisa will fine Jacky Ickx with 6.000 dollars for the interruption of the race without telling it to the stewarts. Besides, the race director's license will be withdrawn from the Belgian driver. As a consequence, Ickx will sue Fisa’s director Jean Marie Balestre for defamation.
The results obtained would already be enough for Prost to win the title if he still gets some good positions and, above all, if none of his rivals emerge over the others. The Frenchman has to hope that the number of contenders will continue to decrease. Prost’s luck lies in the fact that he has been able to diversify the rivalries. After Monaco, his teammate Niki Lauda is going through a crisis: Prost has become the driver to be favoured. For the British team the situation isn’t ideal before going to North America, where three street circuit races will be held. But appearances could be deceptive. It is said that power wears you down. And in McLaren there are some signs of nervousness. After the race Ron Dennis, team manager and former Brabham mechanic, rudely shushes Porsche’s design engineer Hansi Mezger, who was about to tell how many engines the team has available. An information which is not so secret. However, controversies aside, there is a technical aspect that emerged in the Monaco Grand Prix that could worry Prost and Lauda for the next races. It seems to be confirmed that, when the race was interrupted, a front tyre was about to detach from the Frenchman’s car, which had already happened in another race. In addition, the Austrian driver clearly said that he doesn’t want the carbon brakes - that caused him to go off track - fitted on his car anymore. And Prost too confirmed to have had these kinds of problems. This means that probably McLaren should go back to the traditional brakes. Twelve kilograms more on tyres are a significant handicap and in a sophisticated sport like Formula 1 every technical change can hold surprises. Well, it is too early to state that the team that is leading the championship has a flaw, given that every other team is going through a difficult time, but it is clear that a small problem in the leading team could change the situation.
Ferrari, who declared itself as the number one rivals, doesn’t find the winning strategy. One time it is due to tyres, another time to turbines, then there are little but different problems. The fact is that, at the moment, the team from Maranello has to settle for poor results. Michele Alboreto and René Arnoux get by, coming to the fore when the car allows them to. However, analysing the first part of the season, there is some interesting data. The Italian driver finished an entire race just once, while Zolder has established himself successfully. The Frenchman, instead, has become a sort of accountant: goodbye to pole positions or attempts to win at all costs. Third in Belgium, second in Imola, fourth in Dijon and Monte-Carlo. Arnoux seems to have achieved a great maturity. He realised that if he wants to win the title, he now has to settle for these positions, then we will see. Arnoux knows very well that the final success would be a guarantee for staying at Ferrari, since rumours say that his contract will not be renewed until the end of the season. There are many candidates to replace him, from Andrea De Cesaris to the Brazilian rookie Ayrton Senna, from Rosberg to Piquet, until Lauda and Prost. It is true that these are just rumours, but it has to be said that sometimes they anticipate reality, given that around the race in Monte-Carlo the team from Modena usually decides the lineup of the following season. It is therefore not excluded that Ferrari has questioned drivers to guarantee itself an alternative to Arnoux for the future. Alboreto’s situation is different. There is no need to question the skills of the Milanese driver just because he spun three times in Monaco, as some have already done. Many praises after Zolder and now a lot of criticism. The truth is simple: Alboreto is an aggressive driver, who always wants the maximum result and who pushes his and his car’s limits. And since he doesn’t have too much experience yet, he can make mistakes; but give him a winning car and you will see that he won’t miss this chance.
Translated by Monica Bessi