#390 1984 South African Grand Prix

2021-09-24 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti, Rebecca Asolari,

#390 1984 South African Grand Prix

Early season Formula One form can frequently be misleading, but be that as it may the McLaren International team catch all its rivals off guard in the

Early season Formula One form can frequently be misleading, but be that as it may the McLaren International team catch all its rivals off guard in the first two events of the 1984 Championship calendar. Two weeks after Alain Prost opened the year with victory in the Brazilian grand Prix at Rio de Janeiro, the Porsche-built, TAG-engined McLaren MP4/2s enacted an even more convincing demonstration, but this time it’s Niki Lauda who returns to the winner’s circle for the first time since the 1982 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. There are a couple of question marks hanging over the McLaren-Porsche performance in Rio, not least their ability to shape up in a straight fight against Formula One’s established pacemaker, the Brabham-BMW team. In the Brazilian race reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet had a troubled time in qualifying at the wheel of his revised BT53, an evolutionary design developed from the very successful 1982 BT52, but at Kyalami the Brazilian ace was bang on his customary scintillating form and qualified convincingly for pole position. Piquet demolished Patrick Tambay’s previous pole position time with a stupendous lap in 1'04"871, beating the Frenchman’s best time on his last outing at the wheel of a Ferrari 126C3 last October by almost two seconds. If this has reflected technical progress over a complete season it will have been quite remarkable, but the fact that the Formula One fraternity’s last appearance at Kyalami was for the final race of the 1983 season and they are now back at the South African circuit barely six months later, is astounding. Piquet, of course, isn’t in the least surprise. He makes the very valid point that most people seem to have unrealistically high expectations from the team in Rio: after all, in 1983 they’d won the race with an untested BT52 on its race début, and bearing in mind the pace of Formula 1 technical development it was a little much to anticipate a repeat performance with the BT53.
Also, one should remember that the latest Brabham hadn’t made an appearance at the week-long Rio test session in January, so it was to be expected that it would take a short time to get in the groove. With a record top speed of over 190 mph on the long Kyalami straight, Piquet’s Brabham BT53 is visibly quicker than its opposition, particularly on that stunning fastest lap when the Brazilian goes through the downhill right-hander at Barbecue and into the Jukskei kink in a manner which make most observers close to the track side step discreetly back a yard or two. It’s really only a question of seeing who can get closest to the Brabham and at the end of the day the man who manages that is Williams-Honda team leader Keke Rosberg. The Finn has complain about excessive understeer at Rio and although the two race FW09s for himself and the team-mate Jacques Laffite is fitt with new differentials (with less locking effect, intended to allow the rear end to slide a bit more) Rosberg still felt the car isn’t quite to his taste. The 1982 World Champion freely admits that he can’t handle understeer, his whole driving style being attuned to tail-happy, oversteering machines. Team-mate Laffite, on the other hand, is content with a reassuring touch of understeer. At the end of qualifying, however, Rosberg hurtled round in 1'05"058, which is easily second quickest and fastest of the Goodyear radial users. Laffite finds himself left to use the team’s spare car during the first qualifying, but finds himself unable to break the 1'07"0 barrier as this FW09 isn’t geared correctly. The following day he is back in his regular machine and manages 1'06"672 to secure 11th position on the grid. Team Lotus starts the weekend full of optimism, Nigel Mansell’s Renault-engined 95T fits with Garrett turbochargers on the occasion while it’s Elio de Angelis’s turn to use KKK units.
The Englishman proves significantly quicker than his team-mate from the word go, eventually lining up third after a fine lap in 1'05"125. By the end of the first qualifying session de Angelis clearly isn’t very please about this disparity of performance and, as a result, his 95T is fit with Garrett turbochargers in time for the second day’s practice. The Italian improves his time by four-tenths to 1'05"953 to qualify seventh. After his disappointment in the Brazilian Grand Prix, where the combination of a leaking fuel cell and a cracked turbocharger intercooler resulted in his RE50 grinding to a halt, apparently out of fuel, a few laps before the finish, Patrick Tambary is full of optimism at Kyalami. His car fit with big Garrett turbochargers for qualifying purposes, the amiable Frenchman set third quickest time in the first session and feel he can have got the Renault onto the front row of the grid if he hasn’t be inadvertently balk at the very fast Jukskei kink in the final hour of qualifying. His 1'05"339 eventually earn him fourth place on the grid, five positions ahead of team-mate Derek Warwick. After the English driver’s late-race disappointment in Brazil, practice at Kyalami suggests he may be lock into a run of bad luck. Throughout qualifying he’s in trouble with low turbo boost pressure and the car seems to be reluctant to pull cleanly from low revs. He also finds himself hold up by other cars on both his runs on soft qualifying rubber, and on the second day he lost turbo boost pressure right at the end of the timed session with the result that he can’t improve on 1'06"506. In the McLaren International camp there is a brand new spare car on hand for the first time. The crates spare monocoque which is on hand in Brazil is air freighted back to Britain and built up into a complete spare car, number MP4/2-3. It’s given its first warm-up in Prost’s hands in the Thursday untime session at Kyalami during which the gear linkage came adrift and the McLaren stops out on the circuit, smoldering gently as a turbocharger heat-shield briefly catch alight.
At the wheel of their two regular race cars during timed qualifying, both Prost and Lauda complains of intermittent misfires between 7.000 and 8.000 rpm, stemming from the difficulties involve in adapting the Bosch Motronic injection system to run cleanly at Kyalami’s 5.300 ft altitude. Prost eventually wound up fifth on 1'05"354, fractionally slower than the unobtrusive Teo Fabi’s best at the wheel of the second Brabham BT53. He uses the spare car to set this time, fitted with more responsive smaller turbochargers than his race machine, and Lauda laughs behind slightly in eighth place on 1'06"43. Both drivers are extremely optimistic about the performance of their McLarens, feeling that they may not be potential challengers for pole position, but that the MP4/2s would be highly competitive propositions when it comes to a race over 200 miles or so. This confidence is in no way share by the Ferrari team whose two drivers Michele Alboreto and René Arnoux spent most of the two timed qualifying sessions grappling with chassis that seem torment by unpredictable handling and lack of traction out of Kyalami’s two tight corners. Screwing on additional downforce to enable the cars to generate reasonable traction out of Leeukop corner out onto the long start/finish straight simply left both drivers swamp by their rivals before they arrive at Crowthorne corner. If they back off their aerofoils to develop any vestige of competitive straight line speed, the Ferraris slid round so alarmingly everywhere else on the circuit that they quickly blister their Goodyear tyres. The best Ferrari qualifying time is Alboreto on 1'06"323, earning tenth place on the grid (and only fractionally quicker than Tambay’s 126C3 pole position at the previous Kyalami race) while Arnoux looks completely at sea and can only record 1'07"345 which was 15th quickest, way down amongst the also-rans.
Manfred Winkelhock handles his ATS D7 quite respectably to qualify as quickest of the Pirelli runners on 1'06"981, the German relying on his new car throughout the weekend and retaining his older D6 only as a spare. Brazilian Formula 3 graduate Ayrton Senna is only fractionally slower on 1'06"981, the South American newcomer displaying tremendous flair and determination throughout the two days of qualifying. Team-mate Johnny Cecotto is oblige to use the team’s spare TG183B during the two timed sessions after crashing his designate race car coming out the fast Barbecue corner during Thursday’s untimed practice session. Those qualifiers between the two Toleman drivers on the starting grid includes Andrea de Cesaris’s Ligier JS23, Arnoux, Eddie Cheever in the faster of the two Alfa Romeo 184Ts, François Hesnault in the second Ligier and Riccardo Patrese in the second Alfa which is bug by a leaking turbocharger during the final session and misfir its way round for the entire hour. Mauro Baldi in the neat Ferrari lookalike Spirit 101B is just pipped by Piercarlo Ghinzani’s Osella-Alfa, while the last few rows are complete by the Hart 415-engined RAMs of Philippe Alliot and Jonathan Palmer, while Stefan Bellof’s Tyrrell 012 and Marc Surer’s Arrows A6 had the benefit of a tow from their friend Manfred Winkelhock which enable them to slip into the race just ahead of Englishman Martin Brundle’s Tyrrell 012. This left Thierry Boutsen’s Arrows A6 as the only official non-qualifier, but when Ghinzani crashes his Osella spectacularly at the Jukskei kink mid-way through the race morning untimed session, Boutsen finds himself promote into the race The Italian driver is extremely fortunate to escape from this spectacular accident, but although the Osella erupt into flames, the driver’s cockpit is largely undistorte and Ghinzani is rescue very promptly thanks to the intervention of several brave marshals and some other drivers who stop at the scene. Although he’s taken to hospital, initial worries that he has broken his right arm proves premature and the good news was that, although he has incur some nasty burns to his neck and eyebrows, he has survive without any fractures. The car is totally a wreck.

As the 26 starters line up on the dummy grid just prior to the start, there is something of a major panic surrounding Prost’s McLaren on the inside of the third row. The bodywork is taken off and mechanics are swarming all over the car, desperately trying to coax it into life. Eventually the whole project is abandon, the race car pushes to the side of the circuit and Prost sprints over the pit lane where he’s immediately strap into the team spare. The problem seems to be a reluctance on the part of the engine to run when the electric fuel pump is switch off: the speculation is that the pre-cool fuel might have frozen in the fuel lines, but there isn’t time for a detail and thorough diagnosis. Prost cruises down to the end of the pit lane while the remainder of the grid goes off on its parade lap. The Formula One regulations state that any car failing to take its proper position on the dummy grid must start from the pit lane after the rest of the field has start. Unfortunately, a well-meaning official waves Prost onto the circuit and he chases round to join up the main grid proper: seeing this, the officials indicate that the start will be delayed as Prost is sent back into the pit lane once again and the whole countdown begins again. When the green light is finally given, Piquet’s pole position Brabham briefly goes off the boil and for a few agonizing seconds it seems as though the World Champion is about to stall his car for the second successive race. Rosberg’s Williams goes charging away down the hill towards Crowthorne as Mansell’s Lotus 95T zig-zags through from the second row, briefly snatching second place as the field goes under the bridge beyond the pits. Mansell’s machine suddenly hesitate, dropping back into the middle of the seething pack, while Piquet got his BMW engine on cam and simply rocketed back into second place, amazingly, by the time the field has arrive at the first corner. Rosberg knows full-well that he’s handing an unexpect bonus, but he can’t have imagine the way in which Piquet’s Brabham gobbles up his advantage as they sped round that opening lap.


Up into Leeukop, the climbing right-hander which leads out onto the start/finish straight, the Brabham-BMW is crawling all over the Williams and Piquet pull out and surge through into the lead as the two cars crest the rise just beyond the pit entrance as they complete their first tour. On the second lap Teo Fabi’s sister Brabham BT53 surge through into second place and Ecclestones’s two sleek blue and white cars quickly pull away from the remainder of the field, Rosberg holding up the remainder of the field in tight formation. Lauda’s McLaren is a strong fourth at the end of the opening lap and only takes until lap four before he streaks ahead of Williams to begin chasing the two Brabhams at the head of the field. By the end of lap 10 Lauda has close in on Fabi’s BT53, relieving the Italian of second place as they run down towards Crowthorne: the speed of Fabi’s car is such that he almost has sufficient impetus to nip back ahead of the Austrian as they rush down to the first corner. But the eagle-eyed Austrian isn’t having that and gently eases over to the middle of the track in an effort to dislodge the second Brabham from his slipstream. Once he has successfully arrive at the corner ahead, Lauda is so much quicker than his rival down the hill through Barbecue and Jukskei that he hasn’t further trouble from the new Brabham recruit. Both Brabhams have start on a marginal choice of Michelin rubber, bearing in mind the fact that they are both running with a full fuel load and setting a very fast pace in the race’s opening stages. Initially it seems as though Piquet may be able to sustain his advantage, but as Lauda got into his stride it quickly become clear that the Porsche-engined McLaren is every bit a match for the BMW-engined Brabham. Slowly but surely the 35-year old Austrian veteran eases his way up onto Piquet’s tail and, as the World Champion realizes that his tyres are finish, he pulls off into the pit lane for fresh Michelins at the end of lap 21. From that point onwards Lauda is never challenge as Piquet last only another eight laps on fresh tyres before succumbing to a turbocharger malfunction.

For the remainder of the race there are two distinct aspects to consider. Firstly, the McLaren-Porsche performance, both in the hands of Niki Lauda and his team mate Alain Prost. Lauda’s performance is a copy book demonstration of precisely why the Austrian has won so many races in his decade-long Grand Prix career: he is smooth, and predictable to the point of boredom, whilst at the same time tremendously quick. It’s worth considering that while Prost starts from the pit lane, some twenty seconds or so behind the main grid, at the end of the race he is more than a minute (and the best part of a lap) behind Lauda. Even allowing for the fact that Prost has to fight his way through the field, passing cars with smooth precision on every lap, one is bound to speculate that he will have a hard time matching Lauda even if he is able to start from his original grid position on the third row. Behind the two victorious McLaren-Porsches, the rest of the grid is left to scrap over the remaining positions. Rosberg’s Williams is gradually worn down by the opposition and eventually retire with a fail driveshaft constant velocity joint, leaving Derek Warwick’s Renault to run through to third place, despite one schedule stop for tyres and a second when he has a puncture rear Michelin on that replacement set. Despite all these tribulations, he races determinedly with Alboreto’s Ferrari C4 (which is intent on running the race non-stop) and actually passes the Italian car twice (after each of his pit stops) under hard braking for Crowthorne corner. Towards the end of the race it seems as though Alboreto may take a steady fourth, but with 70 laps complete he coastes to a standstill with the same fuel evaporation problems that has sideline his team mate René Arnoux much earlier in the contest. Behind Warwick the finishing order is very much a question of survival: Riccardo Patrese’s Alfa Romeo 184T finally emerges fourth, but he is over five miles behind the winner (two laps down).


Andrea de Cesaris last to finish fifth after an unimpressive showing in his Ligier JS23, while young Brazilian rising star Ayrton Senna kept his head down at the wheel of his Toleman TG183B and emerged sixth, despite losing part of his car’s nose section in the heavy traffic on lap three. Elio de Angelis’s Lotus 95T is hanging on to the leading bunch in the early stages and briefly runs as high as second before making his schedule pit stop, only to return to the pits with a derange throttle linkage a lap after stopping for new tyres. The problem is eventually sortes out but there is no way in which the Italian driver can regain his lost ground and he finally finishes a very disappointing seventh. Nigel Mansell’s similar car never feature after his early loss of places on the opening lap and eventually retire when the carbon fiber plenum chamber crack and his engine lost turbocharger boost pressure. One of the biggest disappointments occurs when Jacques Laffite’s Williams FW09 shed its right rear wheel as it negotiates the Esses on lap 61, the wheel securing nut coming off and leaving the Frenchman to slither to an indignity halt at the side of the circuit. At this juncture Laffite, another driver intending to run non-stop, is well place behind the McLarens and is displaying more flair than we are for some time. Behind de Angelis the only other cars running at the chequered flag were Mauro Baldi’s Spirit-Hart, the Arrows A6s of Surer and Boutsen, Hesnault’s Ligier JS23 and Martin Brundle’s Tyrrell. Stefan Bellof’s Tyrrell had skated off into the dirt at Crowthorne after encountering a braking problem, while Brundle had charged into the right rear wheel of Hesnault’s Ligier at Leeukop as he tried to find a way past the obstructive Frenchman. The English novice lost a lot of time in the pits having a new nose section fitted, but at least he was still running at the finish. Small consolation, one might think, being four laps behind those impressive McLaren-Porsches. But on the other hand, at least he managed to keep running: something that Brabham, Williams and Ferrari singularly failed to do out of the leading teams, not to mention RAM and ATS.

Patrick Tambay’s Renault RE50 ground to a halt in the closing stages as well, the French driver apparently stricken with a repeat of his Brazilian frustration: this time, however, the problem proved to be a faulty fuel metering unit which was consuming his precious Elf petrol at a dramatic rate, preventing him from lasting the full 75 lap distance. He wasn’t amused, but then neither were Piquet, Rosberg, Laffite or Fabi. At the other end of the scale, Niki Lauda and Alain Prost looked quietly content, their demeanour shared by their colleagues from McLaren, Porsche, Bosch and Michelin.


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