#392 1984 San Marino Grand Prix

2021-09-20 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti, Giulia Noto,

#392 1984 San Marino Grand Prix

On Friday morning the skies are still grey and the air is cool, but no matter there is a large crowd of spectators and four Ferraris in the pits. Ther


On Friday morning the skies are still grey and the air is cool, but no matter there is a large crowd of spectators and four Ferraris in the pits. There are also three Renaults, three McLarens, three Williams, three Lotuses, three Tyrrells, three Alfa Romeos and all the rest, and even two Osellas, the extra one being one of last year’s Southgate designed cars with V12 Alfa Romeo engine for new boy Jo Gartner from Vienna. In other words, in spite of the previous race having been only five days before and 1.000 miles away, everyone is ready to go. When the start of the first morning of testing is delayed by 30 minutes because of the non-arrival of the medical helicopter we should have taken note of the warning. At 10:30 a.m. activity begins, and for Cheever ends almost immediately as he returns to the pits in a cloud of smoke from a wrecked turbo on his Alfa Romeo V8 engine. There is much to see around the pits, for Lauda’s McLaren is being taken apart to investigate some water-pump trouble. Warwick’s Renault is having its springs changed, Surer is trying the BMW-powered Arrows for this race and the Osella mechanics stuff asbestos bungs up the tail-pipes of their turbocharged Alfa Romeo V8 engine when Ghinzani stops, to suppress the frightening-looking flames that come out as the driver switches off. With so much activity in the pits and pits garages I have overlooked the outside world, and when I do look up for a moment I am reminded of Alex Henshaw’s classic remark, used the title for a series of articles in Aeroplane Monthly about testing Spitfire aircraft in wartime. There is a deafening silence. Not a cheer, not a scream no flags waving, no arms waving, nothing, the stands might have been empty.


Just the harsh boom of a Porsche engine, the flat drone of a Renault engine, the hard crackle of a BMW engine, the scream of a Cosworth engine and then the sight of a Ferrari passing the stands and not a movement. This is bad news. A look at the Longines-Olivetti read-out of lap times on the VDU in the Renault pit reveal all. Renault are fastest, followed by McLaren and the best that Ferrari can do is Arnoux in fourth place. Yesterday’s hero, Alboreto, is in tenth place. This doesn’t call for a stiff upper lip, it is sadness time. The two Renault drivers seem to be having it all their own way, if Tambay isn’t fastest, then Warwick is, but Lauda is keeping them both on their toes. When this first session ends the rain begins to fall and the final order is Tambay, Warwick, Lauda, Arnoux, Winkelhock and Piquet, but as it has only been a test-session the times are unofficial and do not count for grid position. The huge crowd sits like a solid block of stone, now huddle under umbrellas and once more the silence is deafening. In the Renault pit a roastbeef can be heard saying damn good show of young Warwick, always knew he had it in him, y’know. Outside you can actually hear the rain falling. While the rain does not develop into anything catastrophic it is enough to thoroughly wet the track so that everyone prepares to tackle the qualifying hour on heavily treaded rain tyres. With the morning session starting a half-hour late the regulations insist that the afternoon times session should also start a half-hour late so it runs from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The silence is broken only by the Renaults droning sound in the first and second places, Arnoux is in this T-car, but nowhere near the front and there is a panic to prepare Alboreto’s T-car as he comes walking back having parked his number one car on the grass when it brakes. Lauda is back in his own car, as is Cheever, but Piquet is in the lightweight spare Brabham.


The silence continues as neither Arnoux nor Alboeto show any signs at all of getting near the Renaults and it is made all the worse as others like Prost (McLaren-Porsche), Rosberg (Williams-Honda), Piquet (Brabham-BMW) and de Cesaris (Ligier-Renault) begin to move towards the head of the list of times. There is a small ripple of interest as Warwick comes into the pits with smoke coming from one of the Garrett Turbo-chargers on his works Renault, but an army of mechanics in asbestos gloves fall upon the car and replace the offending instrument in a bare 18 minutes. Meanwhile the track is beginning to dry rapidly and dramatically and every time one of the real factory drivers do a lap it is a new fastest time. In quick succession the Longines-Olivetti screen shows the names of six or seven different drivers as being on pole-position and it is now a last minute battle to see who can be the last one out on a fast lap on qualifying tyres as the minutes tick away. Neither of the Ferrari drivers are on the pace, but most of the others are and more and more often the name Piquet appears at the top of the list, but Prost is never far away, nor is Rosberg, Lauda and Tambay. The excitement is instant, the conditions are changing so rapidly that there is no time for the public address to make any announcements for the order would have changed before they have got half way through the first statement. The pity of it all is that the paying public does not have a huge VDU above the pits, with which to follow the split-second drama that goes on right to the chequered flag. When it finishes Piquet is on top, but one lap more and it can have been Prost, Tambay, Warwick, Fabi, Lauda, de Cesaris, or Rosberg, it is almost like musical chairs. When the timing machine stops ticking and the computer stops sorting out the times, the order is Piquet, Prost, Tambay, de Cesaris, Warwick, Rosberg, Fabi and Lauda. Arnoux is 10th and Alboreto is 24th and to cap everything the Belgian GP winner has run out of petrol in the last few important minutes.


Number 27 comes in on the end of a tow-rope when it is all over! Black armbands are on sale everywhere, not only for Ferrari enthusiasts but also for Toleman followers, for neither Senna nor Cecotto have been allowed out all day. A telex from the Toleman Group headquarters has stopped the team in its tracks, while some strange negotiations go on between Toleman and Pirelli. This means that only 26 cars have been circulating so that everyone has qualified of the grid, even Palmer and Garner, the two mobile chicanes who seem incapable of keeping out of the way. With more than 15 seconds time-spread from Piquet to Palmer the fast boys are continually falling over the rabbits and some of them are pretty unpopular when they don’t get out of the way. It is raining on Saturday morning and a light drizzle keeps falling throughout the test-session so that nobody really know what they are trying to achieve and nobody really has any useful yard-sticks by which to measure adjustments and alterations. While there is an overall impression created by the drivers that they are all of equal ability in the dry, and only the cars and entries prevent them all being on pole position, it is a different story in the wet. You do not have to go far to see ability and bravery. Arnoux has a brand new engine installed in his Ferrari, with the latest 12 pipe exhaust manifold and Alboreto’s new engine has the earlier siamesed six pipe system. The RAM team have suffered trouble in both their Hart engines on the previous afternoon, but are now back in good order and the Toleman management has now given permission for their cars to start practising, though it seems that it is to be their last event on Pirelli tyres. The whole morning is rather wet and meaningless and if there is no improvement in the weather it looks as though the Friday qualifying time would settle the starting grid. As luck would have it, by the time 1pm approaches, the rain has stopped, the sun comes out and it suddenly gets quite warm, while the track dries rapidly. It is now a question of those who know what they are doing applying their knowledge to the rapidly improving conditions.


After trying his own car Prost switches to the spare McLaren and finds it even more to his liking and is soon vying with Piquet in the lightweight Brabham and Rosberg in the Williams-Honda. Warwick is not far behind them and these four are the only drivers to get below the 1'30"0 barrier, a reasonable time considering that the fastest practice lap still stands a 1'29"765 set up by Arnoux in 1982 in a Renault. By the end of the hour all four have beaten this time, Piquet and Prost being well down into the 1'28"0 area. Although the rabbits improve, there is still over 10 seconds between the fastest and the slowest on the starting grid, which can mean that in the race the tail-end-Charlies would be lapped every ten laps, or six times during the 60 lap race. And the Ferraris? The team never do get all the variables pointing the same direction and neither driver ever look like making the front of the grid and the crowd has nothing to get excited about. There hasn’t been such a deafening silence at an Italian motor-race for a very long time and you begin to wonder if any of them would bother to stay for the race. Of the 29 drivers attempting to get into the race, the two who fail are Ghinzani and Senna, and neither of them deserve the ignominy as both their cars give trouble before they can really get under way, and in the frantic rush of the qualifying hour there is little time for a second chance, consequently Palmer and Gartner find themselves on the back row of the grid more by luck than speed. With Arnoux in sixth place and Alboreto in 13th place at the end of the day, the grid layout has an unfamiliar look about it, though with Piquet on pole-position, with Prost alongside, Rosberg and Warwick in row two and Lauda in fifth place there isn’t too much room at the top for anyone else. The first six places on the grid can be considered the worthy ones and Tambay and Alboreto should have been in there, while de Angelis, de Cesaris and Patrese are all capable of being in that select half-dozen. At the moment it is very tough at the top.


At last the weather becomes normal, Sunday morning sees bright sunshine and clear blue skies, which is fine for the spectators, and a sizeable crowds in spite of the poor showing of the Ferraris. There is always hope. For the teams and drivers it is a different matter altogether. Track conditions are now perfect and the cars have to be adjusted and set-up for the new conditions and tyre choice has to be made and decisions on whether to make a pit-stop halfway through for tyres, or do a Brabham and run through non-stop. Ride heights, suspension settings, aerodynamic settings, mixture settings all have to be guessed at for the warm dry conditions and triy out in the brief 30 minutes available on Sunday morning. The amount of knowledge accrues by the numerous top teams is such that not many wrong decisions are made. Times recorded in this warm-up session can usually be considered as genuine race-times, for there is no room for gamesmanship at this late stage and the McLarens and Ferraris both look very strong. Tambay is in trouble when he finds his Renault engine overheating which is not surprising when it is discovered that the engine-side-pod cover has been fitted without removing the protective cover from the radiator. A hurried engine change is started. Prost has elected to race the McLaren T-car (MP4/2-3) and Mansell is to race the Lotus T-car (95T/1). FISA-FOCA regulations call for a four-hour break between the start of the morning warm-up session and the start of the race and during that time clouds begin to gather but the sun wins the battle and though it becomes overcast it is warm and dry, in fact excellent racing conditions. The leading six drivers in the World Championship points-standing set off on what is supposed to be a FISA-inspired parade for the benefit of the spectators, but once more degenerates into a straggly bit of extra practice for those concerned, some doing a single lap, others doing a couple of laps, but with no semblance of order.
Then the pit lane exit is officially opened for all 26 starters and one by one they do a lap (or two laps) and form up on the starting grid, except that de Cesaris is missing. Eventually he arrives sounding like a Renault V4 and disappears into the pits. After a bit, the sound of Renault V5 can be heard and then it chimes in on all six, but it is too late, the pit exit has been closed and the Italian driver is destined to start the race from the pit lane, his place on the grid being left empty. The 25 cars set off on the parade lap and Piquet brings them all round in tidy line-astern order through the bends before the start. They all take their rightful places on the grid, the travelling doctor in the 400i Ferrari on Modena Prova plates and three Alfa Romeo GTV coupés full of fire equipment make ready behind the grid. As far as the starter is concerned it is a good clean start, only some of the drivers mess it up. When the green lights come on Prost is off to a superb start, as are Alboreto and Tambay, but Lauda does not move as he is still struggling to get into first gear. Immediately ahead of him Rosberg has shot off the line and then virtually stops as the Honda engine hesitated just when he needed full power. Those behind who were dodging round Lauda’s McLaren then has to dodge round the Williams, and at the back of the grid Palmer has stalled and is being push-started, so that the doctor’s Ferrari and the three Alfas are having a busy time avoiding everything. Meanwhile de Cesaris comes out of the pit lane like a scalded cat. Laffite and Hesnault have a collision and the Ligier-Renault subsides onto the edge of the track, while at the Tosa hairpin Tambay and Cheever go for the same piece of road at the same time and the result is a Renault on the grass with it right front suspension broken and an Alfa Romeo limping up the hill with a flat left rear tyre. Rosberg and Lauda are in the middle of all the strife and the Finn’s Japanese engine is playing up, coming on song when he doesn’t want it to and vice-versa, and before the end of the lap he has had a hair-raising spin without contacting anything.
And that is only the opening lap! In fact that is the excitement for the day for after that everyone settles down and Alain Prost cruises away in his rather unemotionally smooth style and nobody, not even Piquet, can get near him. Twenty-four cars complete the first lap and last man is Cheever who limps into the pits for a new left rear tyre. The order is Prost (McLaren), Piquet (Brabham), Warwick (Renault), Arnoux (Ferrari), Winkelhock (ATS), Alboreto (Ferrari), Patrese (Alfa Romeo), de Angelis (Lotus), Fabi (Brabham), and Lauda (McLaren), while Rosberg (Williams) is 19th. It looks as though the fighting Finn is going to do another heroic drive up through the field, as he has done in Zolder, but the Honda engine thinks otherwise and dies on him on the third lap due to an electrical fault and he walks back to the pits. By the fourth lap a pattern has formed, with Prost way out ahead and looking so fast and smooth it is almost boring to see, then comes Piquet with Warwick close behind and looking confident enough to overtake when the time is ripe. A fair way back comes the two Ferraris of Arnoux and Alboreto but the Italian public does not waste their efforts in urging them on as it is clear that neither of them can approach the flying Prost. The brave Winkelhock is hanging onto the Ferraris, but he is having to abuse his brakes and it is not long before they begin to fade. The next group comprises Patrese, Lauda, de Angelis, Fabi and Brundle, the young Tyrrell driver doing a fantastic job with his obsolete Cosworth-powered car. After two slow laps amongst the traffic at the back of the field Lauda now shakes himself free and really storms away, lapping appreciably faster than the leader, who isn't hanging about. Two more cars have fallen by the wayside, Mansell’s quite literally when a front brake disc mounting brakes in two, which pitches the Lotus off into the gravel run-off area, and Patrese’s Alfa Romeo when electrical trouble stops the engine. Lauda zooms up on the two Ferraris, picks off Alboreto on lap 12 and Arnoux on lap 13 and the crowds are stunned into total silence; this is unbelievable.
The McLaren with its dreaded german engine and Lauda the traitor who has left Ferrari to join ranks with Bernie Ecclestone, is now with the german and humiliating the pride of Maranello. As Lauda closes up on Warwick the two Ferraris hang on grimly and there is a sigh of embarrassed relief on lap 16 when smoke comes out of the back of the TAG-sponsored Porsche engine and Lauda pulls off on the grass and his race is over. Short and very sweet, but no results. Alboreto is beginning to pressure his team mate, so that is the moment for Arnoux to head for the pit lane for a new set of Goodyears and at the same time Warwick passes Piquet in order to get the remaining red car out of his mirrors, for you can never underestimate a Ferrrari. National pride makes me want to cheer as Warwick moves up into second place, but motor racing loyalties suppress the cheer as Piquet is back in third place and neither of them look like approaching the leader. One should always be partisan or biased, but at the moment it is all rather confusing and it is hard to decide where one’s loyalties lie. The crowd know full well where their loyalties lay and as Alboreto heads up the pit lane at the end of lap 24 the silence is deafening. And he does not re-appear. One of the multitude of exhaust pipes has split, which would not have been serious in the pre-turbocharger days, but now it is fatal for the turbine relies on all the exhaust gases to keep the compressor spinning, and any loss of exhaust pressure inevitably means loss of compressor pressure, so that is the end of Alboreto’s race. Arnoux has rejoined the race in sixth place, just ahead of de Angelis in the sole remaining Lotus-Renault. There is really very little to get excited about, Prost is droning away in the lead, fast and unflurried, Warwick is in second place but worried about his fuel consumption, so is easing off on the rpm and the boost-pressure, Piquet has his fingers crossed that his BMW engine would keep going, Fabi is a long way back in fourth place, followed by Arnoux, de Angelis, Winkelhock, de Cesaris and Brundle.
The eager young man in the blue Tyrrell is going splendidly, a long way ahead of his German team-mate, and about to lap the two RAM cars with their Hart turbo power. He is also ahead of the new Arrows with BMW turbo power, driven by the competent Marx Surer. Yes, Martin Brundle is a real trier. As half-way approaches, de Angelis is into the pits for a new set of Goodyears and when he comes out again, de Cesaris and Brundle have gone by, and Eddie Cheever has appeared on the scene. The tall American from Rome has been getting really stuck into the job after his disastrous first lap and his perseverance is paying off. He has caught and passed all the tail-end-Charlies and is now dealing with the mid-field runners, passing Bellof, Surer and Winkelhock in quick succession. At exactly half distance 30 laps, Prost is into the pits, new Michelins are put on and he is away before Piquet and Warwick come into view, the Renault driver having reluctantly dropped back to third place. There is no emotion from the crowd, they are not very interested in McLaren, Marlboro, TAG, Porsche, Michelin, Ron Dennis, John Barnard, Hans Mezger or Alain Prost. Suddenly there is a brief ripple of excitement, Arnoux has actually passed a Brabham, but it is only Fabi, so the noise soon dies down, though it does put Arnoux into fourth place. Fourth place! Ferraris are supposed to be in the FIRST place, not fourth. On lap 40 there is another feeble cheer as Warwick lets the Ferrari go by into third place, as he keeps his eye on his fuel contents counter and gives up racing, resigning himself to cruising also on an economy run. His job isn’t helped by his gear change from third to fourth, so he is missing out fourth gear and changing up into fifth from third. The crowd are not deceived, they know that Arnoux is not catching the cars ahead and is only in third place because Warwick has let him go by. Brundle has to give way to the superior power of the Lotus-Renault of de Angelis, who regains one lost place, and though he catches up with de Cesaris in the Ligier-Renault there is nothing he can do about passing him. It seems hard to believe that a Lotus 95T is no better than a Ligier JS23, for it certainly looks better, and they have the same customer specification Renault engines, so it must be the tyres, Goodyear against Michelin.
It can’t be the drivers, they are both Italian. Brundle now has Cheever chasing after him, and Bellof has latched onto the Alfa Romeo’s slip-stream for a tow, but the Kings Lynn lad is not giving up. We are now at two-thirds distance and the Tyrrell comes up behind Palmer’s RAM-Hart again, to lap it for the second time, but unfortunately catches it at the wrong point on the circuit and Brundle has to lift off and break his rhythm through a few corners. Palmer does nothing to help and poor Brundle is badly held up for six whole laps, which let Cheever and Bellof close up on him. He has been lapping 1½ seconds quicker than Palmer and is now forced to lose all the advantage he has built up. The Cosworth DFY does not have the power to run round the outside of the RAM-Hart on the long left-hander after the pits, but if Palmer has had the decency to move over to the right, the Tyrell can have scuttled through on the inside. On the straight to the next corner, the Hart power keeps the RAM ahead, so that the Tyrell has no hope of out-braking it into the Tosa hairpin. This embarrassing situation goes on for lap after lap and one wonders if Palmer is aware that Brundle is lapping him for the second time. On lap 47 Brundle is called into the pits to take on water-ballast and Cheever and Bellof go by in pursuit of the slow moving RAM-Hart and while they are doing this Prost laps the lot of them, Palmer for the third time and the other two for the first time. At the end of lap 49 the crowd by the pits raises a small cheer, more from relief than anything else, for as Piquet lifts off and brakes for the corners before the pit area a puff of white smoke comes out of the back of the Brabham. As he opens up after the first corner a huge cloud of smoke belches from the back of the BMW engine and the reigning World Champion trickles in to the Brabham pits to retire. He has hardly stopped before Fabi appears going slowly in the second Brabham, with a similar trail of smoke from a ruined turbocharger, and Bernie heads off for his helicopter. Four races and not a single finish between the two Brabham drivers. It can only get better.
This leaves a bewildered Arnoux in second place, but nobody is impressed, for Prost is miles ahead, the McLaren running superbly, its German engine running like a Swiss watch. There has been one anxious moment when a front brake, McLaren’s own carbon-fibre design, has locked on momentarily as Prost is braking heavily downhill on lap 20 and he does a neat 360 degree spin without going off the road. Imperturbable as ever the little Frenchman carries on, keeping an eye open for a recurrence of the trouble, but it does not re-appear. It is now all over and Derek Warwick would have loved to have got stuck in and done some racing, but his pit signals and his fuel contents gauge prevent it, and he even has to grit his teeth and let the battling Italians go by, de Cesaris still leading de Angelis. The Tyrell pit call Bellof in for water ballast and as they do so Brundle’s Cosworth engine dies on him as his fuel pick-up system goes on the blink, and he coasts to a stop out on the circuit. With five laps remaining, the unruffled Alain Prost laps poor Warwick and, with two laps to go, de Cesaris pulls off the track his Ligier-Renault out of petrol, which means that de Angelis is now third. Prost sets off on his last lap, followed by Arnoux’s Ferrari and the Lotus of de Angelis, then Warwick, Cheever and Bellof, all a lap down. Prost completes the 60 laps to some feeble cheering, Arnoux does like wise to slightly louder cheers and the wave of a flag or two, and that is it. It is all over, and de Angelis is stationary on the far side of the circuit, his Lotus out of petrol. Warwick completes 59 laps, but Cheever does not appear, his Alfa Romeo also running out of petrol, so Bellof takes fifth place, a position rightfully belonging to Martin Brundle. If ever a race fizzles out at the end, the 1984 San Marino GP does, but perhaps this is reality and those previous races on the splendid Imola circuit don’t really happen. Racing in 1984 is for engineers and Research and Development departments more than ever before, and after this race there are a lot of furrowed brows and steely looking faces of English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and South African origin.


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