#389 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix

2021-09-25 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti, Rebecca Asolari,

#389 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix

In sharp contrast to previous years, the Formula 1 close season has been much longer this winter, stretching from Kyalami in mid-October 1983 until th

In sharp contrast to previous years, the Formula 1 close season has been much longer this winter, stretching from Kyalami in mid-October 1983 until the Brazilian Grand Prix opened the 1984 season on March 25th. In the past many teams have spent time moaning that the break is far too short, giving them nowhere near sufficient time to complete development programmes and construct new cars. Now for some, it seems that the gap is too long: many of those who complain on the previous count can now be heard grumbling that the off-season is far too long! There are some contrary, forgetful people with short memories in this Grand Prix game. To those watching with review enthusiasm from the touchlines, the long winter break has born worthwhile fruits. Instead of fumbling through the first few races relying on last year’s machinery, the vast majority of the teams have brand new 1984 cars all are ready to race and, moreover, extremely well test. There are lots of interesting new faces strap into familiar cockpits, but probably the main technical interest surround how easily the engine manufacturers are going to cope with the problem of running a full Grand Prix distance (up to 200 miles) on the regulation 220 liters (49.5 gallons) of fuel without encountering consumption problems. Pit stops for refueling are now prohibite by the 1984 Formula 1 regulations, but there is nothing to stop people running on soft tyres for the first part of the race and stopping somewhere beyond half distance for a set of fresh rubber. The much-discus and debate question of the minimum weight limit comes to the forefront of attention once again with plenty of rumor and speculation as to the way in which several teams will circumvent the spirit of the rules: water tanks for the injection system, or the brake cooling systems - or just water tanks for no real purpose apart from ballast - are regard as the most popular choice.


First past the flag at the sun-scorch Autodromo Riocentro for the past couple of years was Nelson Piquet at the wheel of a Gordon Murray-designed Brabham and, from the way in which he completed the ’83 Championship season at Kyalami last October, it was really rather difficult envisaging a change in overall form. However, the new BMW-engined Brabham BT53 doesn’t take part in the recent week of testing at Rio, and although this factor didn’t prevent the brand new BT52 from scoring a début victory in last year’s race, the tempo of Formula 1 competition ensure that this feat isn’t about to be repeate. Visually similar to the BT52 from which it is developes, the Brabham BT53 is built round a totally new alloy monocoque with some carbon fiber composite panels, has a larger fuel cell than the BT52 and sports bigger side pods containing the turbocharger intercooler and water radiator. Aerodynamics and suspension geometry are revise, although the inboard coil spring/dampers are still activate by push-rods. Piquet feels that the new car simply lacks test miles “but it really feels quite reasonable. On the first day of practice, Piquet candidly confess that he ran wide on one corner during what he otherwise feels will be his quickest lap, and his efforts are spoilt on the Saturday when his regular qualifying spare BT53 suffer engine failure as he starts his quick runs, the Brazilian being obliged to take over his race car to establish a 1 min 30.149 sec best to start the race from ninth position. The second Brabham seat will be share this season by the two Fabi brothers, former European F2 Champion Corrado deputizing for his brother Teodorico when CART racing obligations in North America make first call on Teo’s services. On this occasion it’s T. Fabi at the wheel: hamper by throttle linkage and gearbox problems on the first day, he got his BT53 running well only to spin into the catch fencing at the end of the back straight during the final time session.


That meant he wound up a lowly 15th with a best of 1'33"277, an untypically poor starting position for an Brabham-BMW. With the Brabhams out of contention so far as the battle for pole position is concerne, the contest turns out to be between Lotus, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault. The weather, although pleasantly hot, is by no means as swelteringly oppressive as it frequently can be in these tropical regions, so there aren’t cases of overt driver fatigue or dire engine overheating. In the Lotus camp, the team’s French designer Gerard Ducarouge has produce another brand new design for the 1984 season, closely base on what he has learnt from the interim 94T which appear in the middle of the 1983 season. Power by the latest Renault EF4 alloy block V6, the Lotus 95T looks visually very similar to its immediate predecessor but is aerodynamically different, obviously features a bigger fuel tank, sport pull-rod suspension and is shod with Goodyear tyres in preference to last season’s Pirellis. The switch of rubber is an absolutely crucial factor which enable both Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis to compete for the fastest times during qualifying, Mansell emerging at the top of the lists on Friday while his Italian team-mate beat him to pole position with a 1'28"932. De Angelis has change the aerodynamic configuration of his car during the Friday untimed session, but Mansell doesn’t think it’s worth changing his until the break before the final qualifying session when he finds his engine running hotter than his team-mate’s. His efforts to match de Angelis’ time come to an unexpect end as he spins wildly trying to find a way through between Alain Prost’s McLaren MP4/2 and the Ligier JS23 of Andrea de Cesaris. Mansell is left to ruminate quietly over the fact that he’d earlier inadvertently hold up Prost’s McLaren when the Frenchman is going for a quick time - so he has just been on the receiving end of a rather silly tit-for-tat response.


Mansell’s 1'29"364 earn him fifth place on the starting grid, second place on the front row falling to the smooth, stylish Michele Alboreto at the wheel of a new Ferrari 126C4. Last season Alboreto’s tidy driving earn him little in the way of dividends at the wheel of Ken Tyrrell’s Cosworth DFY-engine also-rans. This year, equippe with the very latest Formula 1 machinery, Alboreto’s efforts translate into a fine 1'28"898 - second quickest. There are three 126C4s on hand in Brazil for Alboreto and René Arnoux to choose from, the two race cars fit with large water tanks within the cockpit seats for the purpose of ballasting up their water injection reservoirs during the routine pit stops. Alboreto’s C4 is fit with the latest Weber Marelli electronic injection system while Arnoux’s car features the earlier Lucas system. Whilst the Italian driver enjoys a relatively trouble-free run throughout qualifying, his French team-mate is bugged with minor problems. On Friday his engine cut out intermittently, due to probably a sticking valve somewhere deep in the fuel system, while he’s badly balk on Saturday and suffers a turbocharger failure for good measure in the final session. As a result, Arnoux wound up 10th on 1'30"695. Derek Warwick takes full advantage of his highly competitive new Renault RE50 to qualify third in 1'29"025. The new Renaults hasn’t look an immediate threat for pole position from the start of practice, both Warwick and team-mate Patrick Tambay bugged by a feeling that the cars are not quite right and only improve during the final hour of qualifying, after the decision is taken to change them back closer to the high downforce configuration which is employ on the cars during the pre-race Rio tests. This change improves the RE50 track manners quite considerably and Warwick’s 1'29"025 best is briefly good enough for pole position until de Angelis and Alboreto improve further. Tambay is left languishing in a rather disappointing eighth place on the grid, having manage a 1'30"554 best. 


The McLaren International team rounds off the 1983 season with Niki Lauda producing a very encouraging performance at Kyalami, but most of his rivals have a clever explanation for his apparent freak outing. The team lags behind slightly during off-season testing, the new John Barnard-designed MP4/2 only making its début at Paul Ricard a few weeks prior to the first race of the season. Obviously owing a lot to the prototype car which make its début at Zandvoort last summer, the latest McLaren is visually similar but features a lot of redesigning around a totally new carbon fiber composite monocoque. Considerable progress has also been made by Porsche on development of the TAG-commission V6 turbocharge engine and, from the outset of Rio qualifying, it’s quite obvious that this car, engine and tyre combination isn’t only supremely competitive but also outstandingly reliable. The presence of Renault refugee Alain Prost in the team really makes Niki Lauda rise to the occasion, his performance in the race reminding us just what a fine driver he is when fully motivate. But for Prost’s unfortunate moment with Mansell’s Lotus, the Frenchman may have got his MP4/2 onto the front row: as it’s he qualify fourth on 1'29"330 with Lauda in sixth place, working hard to keep up, on 1'29"854. In contrast, the Williams team is having a largely disappointing time with its Honda V6-engined FW09. This machine has also makes an impressive début at Kyalami late last season, Keke Rosberg coming home an encouraging fifth, but over the winter the FW09 has receive a new rear end with very effective pull-rod suspension - so effective that the front end of the car didn’t give a corresponding level of grip. The result, according to Rosberg, was acute understeer just about everywhere round the Rio circuit, a factor which keeps the former World Champion’s best time down to 1'30"611 earning him ninth place on the grid between Tambay and Arnoux.


Team-mate Jacques Laffite is hampered for much of practice by his race car’s reluctance to rev cleanly with the result that he can only manage 13th on the grid. The two new carbon fiber composite Alfa Romeo 184Ts, despite being short on pre-event testing, prove a well-match duo in the hands of Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever although, between them, they suffer the usual high level of engine and turbocharger failures during qualifying and practice in typical Alfa fashion. Now looking unfamiliar in green Benetton livery, these new Alfas can run on Goodyear rubber since Michelin said that it can’t continue to service so many teams this season. Patrese and Cheever are both impress with the levels of grip affordable by their new cars. Andreas de Cesaris, looking unfamiliar and not altogether at home at the wheel of his carbon fiber composite Ligier-Renault JS23 manage to squeeze in 14th on the grid ahead of Fabi, while Brazilian new boy Ayrton Senna, winner of last year’s British Formula 3 Championship, hold everybody’s attention with some aggressively positive laps at the wheel of his Toleman TG183B. Senna replaces Derek Warwick as Toleman team leader and he quickly underlines that he has all the hallmarks of a future Champion. He knows only one way to drive - flat out - and his intolerance over the Toleman’s also-ran status, as well as his dissatisfaction with Pirelli’s very troubled tyre situation at Rio, means that he’s going to be a bit of a handful for Alex Hawkridge and Peter Gethin to handle during his formative stage. The initial impression is one of a cocky youngster who could do with a clip round the ear - but watching him manhandle the Toleman round Rio left the writer suffuse with enthusiasm.


Having said that, of course, we’re bound to say that Britain’s new hope Martin Brundle impresses us equally for totally different reasons. One has to accept that a taut, good-handling Goodyear-shod Tyrrell 012 is probably a nicer car to drive than a Pirelli-shod Toleman on which the tyres are delaminating almost before anybody looks at them, let alone tries to drive on them, but Brundle certainly took full advantage of his new-found situation. But at the end of qualifying, with Stefan Bellof also qualifying his Tyrrell comfortably in 22nd position, Ken Tyrrell’s team is collectively grinning fit to burst. The tail end of the grid had much the same look to it as in 1983, although the only team apart from Tyrrell still to rely on normally aspirate Cosworth power is Arrows - and it’s only using its old A6 cars as a stop-gap measure until the BMW turbo-engine A7 is complete for the European programme. Mauro Baldi has now find a home in the little Spirit team, now employing Hart 415T engines, Piercarlo Ghinzani now has an Alfa Romeo V8 turbo in his Osella and Hart 415T engines power both the John MacDonald RAM entries which make up the last row of the grid. Originally it looks as though 1983 European Formula 2 Champion Jonathan Palmer will be the unlucky 27th, the sole man not to qualify, but Manfred Winkelhock’s ATS D6 found itself exclude from the meeting after a rule infringement during qualifying. The organizers’ decision to threaten exclusion after ATS mechanics push the German car, against stewards’ instructions, in the pit lane entrance is feel by many people to be carrying things a little far - but when team chief Gunther Schmid toss his comments into the debate, the stewards harden their resolve and the luckless Winkelhock finds himself out of the race.


In the past one has always had to wait for the half-hour race morning warm up session to obtain an accurate barometer of true race form and, in the case of this year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, nothing could have turned out to be closer to the truth. Lauda and Prost are comfortably quickest at the head of the field, a trend which is to be continue strongly once the race gets under way. The start turns out to be a protract, delayed affair. With the customary carnival atmosphere absorbing the enthusiastic Brazilian crowd, it’s a bit of an anti-climax when de Cesaris finds he can’t select any sort of gear in his Ligier JS23 and begins waving his arms frantically just before the green light is given. The start delay signal is shown, so everybody switch off their engines and sat for the best part of another half hour in the blistering sun, filled-to-the-brim fuel tanks shade by reflective asbestos sheeting in order that as little as possible of the 220-liter fuel load should be lost through evaporation. Eventually everybody is given the signal to begin another parade lap, this being to knock off the total race distance which is now set at 61 laps. This time 24 of the 26 runners got away cleanly, but the Brazilian crowd has no interest in the fact that Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari C4 has got the jump on its rivals and led into the first right-hander. Above the engines all that can be heard is a sigh of disappointment as it’s seen that the World Champion Nelson Piquet has stall his Brabham BT53 and been left behind along with Johnny Cecotto’s Toleman. Both cars eventually got away, aid by push-starts, but by that time the sleek Ferrari number 27 is leading off down the long back straight chase hard by Warwick’s Renault, the Lotus 95Ts of Mansell and de Angelis and a fast-starting Niki Lauda’s McLaren. Lauda nips through into fourth place by the end of the opening lap, but the race leader quickly got into a smooth, reliable rhythm and gradually begins to ease his Ferrari away from Warwick’s Renault, the Englishman nonetheless feeling confident and content with his car’s behavior.


Lauda begins to eat into Warwick’s advantage and outbreak the Renault going into the fast left-hander at the end of the back straight on lap 10. It’s an overtly aggressive maneuver by the normally placid Austrian and the McLaren’s right rear wheel bumps Warwick’s left front in the process: “It may not have looked much, but it was quite a bang!” muse Warwick after the race. Hardly has Lauda moves into second place when he finds himself promote into the lead of a World Championship Grand Prix for the first time since the summer of 1982 (Brands Hatch) when the leading Ferrari suddenly spins violently braking for the right-hander before the pits as Alboreto comes up to complete his 12th lap. To the casual observer it simply looks as though the Italian driver makes a straightforward error of judgment, but there is more to it than that as, after regaining the circuit in third place, Alboreto again spins wildly when he applies the brakes for the next corner. He cruises round to the pits where an initial inspection suggests that something might be wrong with the right front brake caliper: he resumes for another slow lap before retiring. Detailed examination reveals that one of the bolts holding the two parts of the caliper together have broken and the caliper has lost its fluid. Alboreto’s misfortune left Niki Lauda in a commanding lead, with Warwick a comfortable second and Prost sizing up Mansell’s Lotus for third, eventually moving ahead of the Englishman on lap 16. Arnoux, Tambay and de Angelis are next up, while early retirements have already include Ayrton Senna’s Toleman-Hart (loss of turbocharger boost pressure), Stefan Bellof’s Tyrrell (broken throttle cable) and Mauro Baldi’s Spirit (distributor malfunction). Timing of mid-race pit stops for fresh rubber is a crucial aspect of team strategy, so when Warwick stops (along with Mansell) at the end of lap 29 and manages to resume without losing what is now third place (behind the two McLarens), the Hampshire driver is clearly sitting pretty.

When both the TAG-Porsche-engined cars arrived in the pit lane at the end of lap 38, the best-placed Renault is thus able to surge confidently into the lead. It now doesn’t seem there is any way in which Warwick can fail to win his first Grand Prix at the wheel of a Renault, particularly as Prost’s stop took almost half a minute as one of the wheel securing nuts proved reluctant to tighten correctly. As for Lauda, his arrival in the pit lane at the same time as his team-mate isn’t the result of bad planning, simply bad luck. The Austrian was coming in to retire with what turned out to be a minor electrical plug failure between the wiring loom, and the battery. A bitter disappointment after such a smooth, confident performance which goes a long way to re-establishing Lauda’s partly-forgotten reputation. However, if Lauda’s retirement is a large slice of bad luck for the McLaren International team, it is quickly to be follow by a large slice of good luck. Warwick is gradually becoming aware of a vibration from the front end of his Renault, the cause of which becomes dramatically apparent to him when the left upper wishbone breaks as he brakes for the slowest hairpin on the circuit with 10 laps to go. Derek spins gently to the outside of the corner and then limps back to the pits where he retires - Prost’s McLaren booms past into the lead in the process and from that point onwards the race is over. Almost certainly, the failure of the Renault is directly cause by Warwick’s earlier brush with Lauda’s McLaren, so the eventual outcome of the Brazilian Grand Prix is directly and ironically related to this incident. Throughout all this drama at the front of the field, Williams team leader Keke Rosberg is gritting his teeth and driving his Honda-engine FW09 as fast as he can all afternoon. In an effort to counter the inherent understeer, the front aerofoils are set at quite a steep angle with the result that the FW09 now pivots nervously round its front end.


But the one thing that Rosberg clearly doesn’t have to worry about is the Honda engine’s fuel consumption which is quite easily inside the 220-liter-per-race limit. For a short while it looks as though de Angelis may be able to counter-attack on behalf of Lotus, but the Italian driver complains that his Renault engine is pulling properly from the start so he has to be content with third at the checker flag. Eddie Cheever drives smoothly at the wheel of the new Alfa Romeo 184T to finish fourth, Patrese having retire much earlier with gearbox trouble. In the closing laps of the race the American driver pace himself with reference to the Tyrrell of Martin Brundle which is close behind, the young Englishman having driven a copybook race on his first Formula 1 outing. The top six is complete by the unfortunate Patrick Tambay whose Renault RE50 seems destine for a strong third place until it spluttere to a halt with just over two laps left to run: either the fuel injection system isn’t picking up the last few pints in the tank or there is some similar consumption problem. Either way, it’s a grim defeat for the Frenchman and a possible indication of more problems to come if one of these fuel economy Grand Prix should be closely contest right up until the final lap. Behind Tambay, only the two Arrows A6 and Palmer’s slow RAM-Hart are running at the finish, a list of exalte names featuring in the retirement list including Arnoux’s Ferrari C4, Laffite’s Williams FW09, Mansell’s Lotus (which crashed), both the new Ligier JS23s (de Cesaris started his spare car from the pit land after the grid had finally been unleashed) and both the Brabham-BMWs. Nelson Piquet has haul his way conscientiously through the field after stalling at the start, entertaining his compatriots in grand fashion but in fact doing no more than reasserting himself in the position he should have occupied in the first place. He eventually succumbes to engine trouble on the same lap as his team-mate Fabi stops with turbocharger failure: it’s as bad a race for the marque as one can possibly have imagined.



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