#419 1985 South African Grand Prix

2022-07-24 01:00

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#1985, Fulvio Conti,

#419 1985 South African Grand Prix

The fact that the Renault and Ligier teams both make the gesture of missing the 1985 edition of the South African Grand Prix is hardly noticed as 21 c


No news about the South African Grand Prix. That is, the race remains scheduled for Saturday, October 19, 1985. However, it seems that the planned free practice sessions at the end of this week have been canceled. Officially, there is talk of ongoing work at the Kyalami circuit. Ferrari, which had planned to send a team with a car on Wednesday, October 9, 1985, cancels the trip and is expected to travel in the following weekend. It is not excluded, therefore, that tests will be carried out on the Fiorano track, as usual. However, the decision to skip the South African tests can also be interpreted as a consequence of the result obtained at Brands Hatch, even though the discussion about the Constructors' World Championship is still open. There is time for a more in-depth analysis of the reasons that led to the downfall of the Ferrari team. Collecting Michele Alboreto's statements in recent days, we can attempt to assess the balance of the Maranello team, certainly not negative in an absolute sense but certainly poor compared to expectations and the results of the first part of the season. Why this collapse? And why has the car, the 156/85, which was highly competitive, become unreliable?


"The difficult period began at Silverstone in July. Only in that race, despite a second-place finish, Ferrari realized that it was clearly inferior to McLaren. Previously, we had achieved excellent results, winning in Montreal and at the Nürburgring, risking taking the first place also at Imola and Monte Carlo, where things went wrong. We had a good car on some types of circuits. They started with some small adaptation problems to the new tires, but they quickly recovered and have a more versatile car".


Now there is talk of purges at Ferrari, of heads that will roll...


"In terms of performance, we are missing something, and that something needs to be found. It's not up to me to say how; the team takes care of that. We need to find a way to develop a better engine and more effective aerodynamics".


Alboreto said that races are won in the workshop, not in the pits. Can you clarify this judgment?


"If a car is not good, it's difficult to fix it on the track. Many times, we knew what wasn't working, but there was nothing we could do to remedy it. In a race, you can aim for the first position if the car handles well in the corners; gaining some meters on the straight is not enough at top speed".


What are the major flaws of your car?


"It's complicated to set up, it bounces too much, and now it also lacks reliability. But this is perhaps a consequence of the continuous changes we have made. In Formula 1, when you move in a certain direction, you often run into problems. We found many of them". 


Two races are missing, the Constructors' title is still at stake...


"At this point, it's difficult to make predictions, without the danger of making a glaring mistake. I can only say that the commitment of the drivers and the team members is always the same: we try to give our best. But our gaze is already on the future, on next year, to take an immediate revenge".


Meanwhile, the rise to power of Jean Marie Balestre in the world of automobiles continues. After modifying the FIA statutes on Monday, October 7, 1985, the French executive manages to be voted president of the same Federation, replacing the resigning Prince Von Metternich. 


After leading the FISA (the sporting branch of the FIA) for three decades, Balestre, to whom credit is due for revitalizing the decrepit Federation, reaches the absolute pinnacle of world motorsport. However, the fact cannot be positively welcomed. Despotic, irascible, politically questionable, the new head of the FIA has reached his current position through compromises, aligning himself with the leaders of national entities with no automotive tradition but counting in numbers at the time of voting. For the motorsport, Tuesday, October 8, 1985, is certainly not a happy day. Tuesday, October 15, 1985, devoid of its main point of interest, the awarding of the Drivers' World Championship, the Formula 1 circus arrives in South Africa. At the moment, the situation seems calm: apparently, the city of Johannesburg, about thirty kilometers from the circuit, shows no signs of disorder, and life goes on normally. If something happens, even in the vicinity, it is not seen or not even known. The calm before the penultimate race of the season invites the drivers to issue challenges, to talk mainly about the race, avoiding more involved discussions. We are in the final stages of the championship, and everyone has some interest in making a mark. The first of all is Alain Prost, not at all stunned by the celebrations for the world title won with two races to spare.


"Now that I am free from all constraints, I can also attack and try to achieve the sixth victory of the year. Indeed, I want to consecrate the World Championship with a first place, just to show that I haven't stolen anything".


The intentions of the McLaren champion, moreover, coincide with those of his team, which should also find Niki Lauda, despite the Austrian having injured himself again in recent days (incredible) in an accident with a taxi. The English team, in fact, aims for victory in the Constructors' World Championship, where it leads with 86 points, ahead of Ferrari with 77, in turn threatened by Lotus, which has 71. Even the men of the Maranello team, therefore, are committed to the only remaining goal. But the task is very challenging, even though there will be only twenty-one cars at the start, after the defections of Renault and Ligier under pressure from the French government, RAM remaining without money, and Zakspeed participating only in European practices. The twenty-first South African Grand Prix starts regularly on Thursday, October 17, 1985, with the first day of qualifying. All protests, political pressures, embarrassment of the majority of Formula 1 protagonists are in vain. The race will proceed as normal, even though the country is going through very difficult times, with the anti-apartheid struggle marking new dramatic episodes of violence every day. In Johannesburg and at the nearby Kyalami circuit, there is no particularly tense atmosphere. People of color carry out their work inside the racetrack, and no special surveillance measures have been noticed. 


There are private police officers (but there were also in previous years), and as a precaution, Ferrari has had Alboreto and Johansson escorted. For the rest, the events that disturb South Africa are read in newspapers, heard on the radio, or seen on television. It is terrible to think that on Thursday morning, three hours before the start of the tests, about fifty kilometers away, the poet-writer Benjamin Malescia Moloise, a guerrilla member of the African National Congress, will be executed by hanging for taking part in the killing of a policeman in November 1983. But here they say that it is the law, that even three white youths, guilty of raping and killing a black girl, are awaiting the gallows. If Formula 1 races in South Africa, it is certainly not to support the regime in power. As always, it is an economic issue. Organizers pay, and teams run, according to a long-established schedule. No one has officially moved to avoid this exhibition; no government has taken steps to cancel the Grand Prix, not even the Italian one. Interests are enormous, and thousands of Italians live, work, earn, and prosper in this nation. Local champions argue that sports can and should be a tool for peace among peoples, and a boycott would probably have an even more negative outcome, completely isolating South Africa. Even the not forgotten oriundo of athletics, Marcello Fiasconaro, who has been living in Johannesburg for some time, is of this opinion.


"Something must be done, but it is better to talk, discuss, see, and not hide behind a screen".


In any case, most likely, even if they didn't have much more serious problems to think about, people engaged in defending their dignity, their rights against a racist minority (but let's not forget that South Africa is also troubled by tribal conflicts, that black mafia is no better than the white one), have no interest in motorsport. Here, they play football, rugby, and the poorest turn to a more popular sport like boxing. Not a single colored spectator is expected at the circuit on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, the day the race is scheduled. The battle between McLaren and Ferrari for the victory in the Constructors' World Championship, the end-of-season revenges among the drivers, are here a matter for insiders, a show reserved in any case. And to think that the race, despite everything, is as always awaited with trepidation. The main reasons have already been outlined, but there are also other situations to verify. First of all, the supremacy shown at Brands Hatch by the Williams-Honda must be checked, to which Nelson Piquet, who will race for this team alongside Nigel Mansell next year, is particularly attentive. We must follow the ambitions and hope for victory of the Brazilian driver himself, who wants to beat the young emerging compatriot Senna by relying on Pirelli tires, in which technicians, after recent progress, have great confidence. Family fight also in Ferrari. Finally free from championship obligations, Alboreto and Johansson can confront each other directly, even if they have to keep an eye on the Constructors' World Championship standings. 


There is Alfa hoping to score the first points of the year; everyone wants to perform well. But it would be nice if the drivers, in some way, demonstrated their sensitivity, even just with a statement, to let it be known that they are aware of a problem that exists and cannot be hidden. Four years ago, the racing champions at Kyalami went on strike for economic and regulatory reasons. Now much less would be enough for a gesture of solidarity. On Thursday, October 17, 1985, in front of a few hundred spectators, many fewer than those attending any free practice in a European circuit, the South African Grand Prix begins. As expected, there is not even a hint of any form of protest and contestation. There are no more police officers around the track than are normally present elsewhere; certainly, there were more in Monza during the Italian Grand Prix, and anyone who might have thought of organizing some demonstration probably had much more important problems to solve. It must even be said that there are even those who, with doubtful humor, joke about the situation. While FISA Secretary-General Leon calls Paris to President Balestre (who has taken care not to come and see a race that he himself has supported), Max Mosley, former lawyer of FOCA and right-hand man of Ecclestone, picks up the phone. And, imitating in French the accent of a person of color, he says:


"Mr. President, come to South Africa because we are only waiting for you to start the protest against the race".


Then there's a hearty laugh. From the news coming in, it seems that there are no disturbances or violence in the country during the day, although there is a lot of tension in anticipation of the execution of Benjamin Moloise at the Pretoria prison, scheduled for Friday at 7:00 a.m. The only sign at Kyalami of something unusual is the removal of logos from some sponsors' cars (Marlboro, Barclay, Beatrice) who prefer not to be associated on this occasion. So the drivers, despite almost all of them systematically claiming to be morally against this race, take to the track, and it must be emphasized that they do not hold back. The best time, confirming the team's good moment, is set by Keke Rosberg, who clocks an exceptional time of 1'03"073, at an average speed of 234.243 km/h, a new circuit record. The previous record was held by Piquet, who set it last year at 1'04"871. An improvement of almost two seconds that has turned the Kyalami track, with its nine curves, some of which are not even too wide, into a speed ring. Incredible speeds are reached: 333 km/h on the finish line, 339 km/h at the end of the straight, always with Piquet's Brabham in the spotlight, even though it is Rosberg who secures the provisional pole position ahead of teammate Mansell. The performance of the Ferraris is decent, especially when compared to their recent performances, with Alboreto in seventh and Johansson in ninth, preceded not only by the aforementioned rivals but also by Senna, De Angelis, and Boutsen. Niki Lauda, returning to the track, squeezes between the two Ferrari drivers, while the World Champion Prost is only eleventh. In essence, at least in qualifying, McLaren and Ferrari, both aiming for the Constructors' World Championship, share a lackluster performance. 


The English team, despite trying different types of turbines, both small and large, cannot get power from the engines. Perhaps it's due to the altitude (we are at 1700 meters, the parameters to provide data to the gearbox computer change completely), or maybe McLaren does not have a qualifying engine like Williams-Honda and Lotus-Renault. The situation is different for Ferrari. Alboreto breaks, as is now customary, a turbine and then probably the exhaust, if not the engine. But the major problem lies elsewhere, in aerodynamics, chassis, and suspension. The other cars return to the pit with worn tires, full of holes, while those of the Ferrari 156/85 seem new. Michele Alboreto says:


"We have no grip; if we load the aerodynamic pressure, we are very slow; if we unload, we can't stay on the track. We tried to find the best compromise, but the prospects are not comforting".


Ferrari will change its approach. They go back, as much as possible, given the different chassis, to the old setup. Out with the triple planes, back to the full slide, setups like at the beginning of the season, hoping for some improvement. Alain Prost arrived at the circuit on Thursday morning just half an hour before the start of the tests. The French driver had missed his flight on Tuesday and risked not being able to take part in the first qualifying session.


"It had never happened to me before; I was supposed to leave Geneva at 11:55 p.m., but the time on the ticket was wrong by an hour. I had to go to London and take another flight. Then they practically brought me to the track by helicopter. Now I'm very tired, but I'll try to recover".


Prost is approached by Marco Piccinini, Ferrari's sports director, with whom he exchanges some witty remarks. The French driver says:


"Now I can finally win without problems".


Piccinini cleverly replies:


"If you keep coming in first, people will end up thinking it's all thanks to the car".


On Friday, October 18, 1985, in this final stretch of the World Championship, Ferrari hits rock bottom. Beyond the contingent result in qualifying (Alboreto fifteenth, Johansson sixteenth, out of twenty-one competitors), the worst of the season, the crisis at the Maranello team is particularly worrying for the future. This World Championship can only end negatively, but no one could have expected such a debacle. Ferrari is regressing while other teams are improving from race to race, and Englishman Nigel Mansell remains in the spotlight, with Williams, setting the fastest lap with a stunning 1'02"366, at an average speed of 236.898 km/h, after a beautiful battle with Piquet, Rosberg, and Senna, who lined up in that order on the starting grid. Almost 3 seconds behind Mansell on a circuit of only 4104 meters, with Alboreto being the only driver not to improve, dropping from seventh on Thursday to fifteenth. And certainly not through any fault of his own. A few data are enough to understand that the 156/85s did not allow Michele and Stefan to do any better, despite trying many solutions, including a car with a setup similar to the competitive one at the beginning of the season. At their fastest passages on the finish line, Piquet records a top speed of 331 km/h, Rosberg 327 km/h, Senna 318 km/h, Johansson 306 km/h, Alboreto 304 km/h. The lowest speeds in absolute terms, aside from Osella and Minardi, which are not relevant. Jones with the Beatrice (Hart 4-cylinder engine, experimental car) reaches 315 km/h. At this point, it can only be said that Ferrari has to start over. Thinking about next year, the Maranello team will have to create an entirely new car: engine, gearbox, chassis, and aerodynamics. 


How and with which technicians, the 87-year-old Enzo Ferrari has to say. A difficult situation on which Michele Alboreto himself puts emphasis in the presence of sports director Marco Piccinini. Harsh, severe, and justified words:


"I'm at a loss, nothing makes sense anymore. New engines arrived on Thursday evening, and they perform worse than the others. Last year we were faster. I didn't expect such an end".


He continues, doubling down:


"We have to throw everything away, even mentally: as they say in psychology, the problem must be removed. We need to take two weeks off, including the sports director, and then roll up our sleeves. It's impossible to explain what our troubles are: we don't know. And if we can't resort to foreign technicians like Metzger and Rosche, we have to solve the problems ourselves. I always have faith, and I don't like abandoning ship when it's sinking. Next year will be tough too, but we'll try even if others go forward, and we go backward. This race? We can only try a fast lap, then we'll see. I spoke on the phone with Enzo Ferrari. He was more disappointed than angry".


Marco Piccinini adds:


"There is no one to replace in the team, but perhaps to add. Except for the drivers, everything needs improvement. We're not concerned about who is ahead of us but how many. It will take time to overcome this situation".


These few sentences are enough to understand the morale and prospects of Ferrari for the South African Grand Prix. A race that will again see Williams on the attack, with Brazilians Senna and Piquet in pursuit. Nelson has the special weapon of tires at his disposal: he is the only one among the favorites, with his teammate Surer (an outsider), to have Pirelli tires. Then there's McLaren, making small progress. Lauda, last year's winner, sets the eighth time, ahead of teammate Prost. Two drivers who could provide surprises, although the Williams seem unbeatable. Also, in pursuit of at least one point, the first of the season, are the Alfa Romeos, both ahead of Ferrari. But Patrese is very honest:


"They should withdraw several [drivers] so that I can aim for sixth place".


Nigel Mansell, after winning at Brands Hatch, developed a taste for the first position. The English engineer from Williams secured the second pole position of his career, the first being in 1984 with Lotus in Dallas.


"I could have gone a few tenths faster if I hadn't ended up off the track in the turn before the pits. My car is fantastic, but I am convinced that we will have to fight, both me and Rosberg, with Brabham, Lotus, and McLaren".


Piquet, who held the first position 20 minutes before the end of qualifying, jokes about Mansell, who will be his teammate at Williams next year:


"He will teach me English well, and certainly, he has become a tough competitor. In this profession, it is important to have confidence in oneself. Few would have thought that Nigel would outperform Rosberg".


Bernie Ecclestone, the owner of Brabham, confirms negotiations with Lauda.


"I have a preliminary contract with De Angelis and Patrese, but everything is still possible".


There is talk of $6.000.000 to hire the Austrian driver. In any case, Brabham will announce the composition of its team on November 4, 1985. No problems at the circuit regarding racial issues. The spectators are all white, except for a few Indians. Inside the racetrack, many black workers are present for services. In the pits, only one person of color is seen, as a guest. He is with Ferrari, brought by Michele Alboreto:


"He's been a friend of mine for several years, works for an acquaintance's family, and is studying at the university. He told me he would like to see the trials, and I brought him. It's not a provocative move".


On Saturday, October 19, 1985: At the last moment, Alan Jones with Beatrice does not line up on the track. The Australian stays in bed, a victim of a mysterious virus causing a high fever. However, years later, Jones himself will admit that, in his case, it was also a boycott related to apartheid, forcibly disguised not to put his team's sponsor, Beatrice Foods, in media trouble. In his autobiography, Jones will recall being summoned to Ecclestone's penthouse on Friday afternoon, where the conversation began with:


"How many chances do you think you have to win tomorrow?"


To which the Australian replied:


"If I were to leave now, I would probably have a good chance".


To this, Bernie continued:


"Well, I've had an idea. If tomorrow you pretend to be sick and don't race, we'll give you a cash prize equal to that of the race winner. Go home and visit Australia".


And so, the next morning, Jones checked out of the hotel and returned to Australia. Only the team president, Carl Haas, and his team manager, Teddy Meyer, were informed of what happened. The rest of the team was told that Alan had been hit by a virus.


"If the driver is weakened and cannot drive, the car will not go on the track. It would be a case of force majeure".


In this way, at least officially, it did not appear that the Beatrice team and Jones had yielded to threats, but in practice, the car did not take to the track just as they had requested. The altitude of the circuit (1700 meters) and the sudden heat (28 °C in the shade, 38 °C on the asphalt) cause an engine massacre: after ten laps, there are only eleven cars in the race, also due to an incident that immediately eliminates both Alfa Romeos. Mansell confidently maintains the first position at the green light. Piquet has some uncertainties but does not block his row and remains in second place. However, at the first corner, Ghinzani, trying to get noticed to find a place for 1986, throws himself between the cars of Patrese and Cheever, the former on the inside, the latter on the outside of the fast right turn that closes the pit straight.


The Toleman hits the Alfa of the Paduan driver, and the blameless Riccardo goes sideways, hitting the teammate's car at 160 km/h. Cheever's Alfa remains without a wheel. Ghinzani stays in the race after returning to the pits to replace the Toleman's nose, but then he is forced to retire with a broken engine. It is precisely this failure that triggers another key episode of the race. On the oil from the Hart engine of the Toleman flooding the asphalt, Rosberg, who had just forcefully passed Mansell, skids. The Finn performs a great spin, raising a dust cloud, and then resumes in fifth position without having suffered any damage to the car. Meanwhile, Mansell continues his lead until the end, only threatened for a few laps by Prost. During the third lap, Surer stops with his Brabham, and during the sixth lap, Piquet is also forced to retire, both with their troubled BMWs. Alboreto, starting in fifteenth place, forcing the pace and benefiting from numerous retirements, is seventh. But a few minutes later, the Italian driver returns to the pits with a smoking turbine. Later, the carousel of tire changes due to the abrasive asphalt begins. Some shuffling, but the situation remains more or less the same. Mansell in the lead, followed by Prost, Lauda, and Rosberg. After the retirement of the Austrian driver, due to a turbine failure, only the three unleashed continue to battle, albeit at a certain distance. The Ferrari mechanics stand out for an exceptional tire change (7.77s) on Johansson's car, but so much effort proves useless to improve the Swede's position: the car is not up to par with the others. In the finale, Mansell, Prost, and Rosberg lap everyone, but the Frenchman begins to lose ground noticeably. The struggling McLaren is overtaken by Rosberg's Williams. Prost slows down further and crosses the finish line slowly, with the driver swaying his body to cover a few more centimeters. Johansson passes him, and this suggests that the Swede may have managed to secure third place. But Johansson does not step onto the podium: after a few steps, he is stopped. After counting, Prost is still third. After over four years, Williams achieves a spectacular one-two in South Africa with Mansell first and Rosberg second. The English team is dominating the final part of the season, and the mustached British driver has secured his second consecutive victory. Mansell says, still racing with a dull rib pain from the September accident in Monza:


"I was also a bit lucky because Rosberg, after overtaking me, spun on the oil on the track and allowed me to avoid the same fate".


Keke Rosberg replies:


"I had fun, even though I let slip a victory, not because of my fault. I had tire issues after going off track, then brake problems. I was bothered by understeer for a while. Of course, our Williams cars are fantastic, and the Honda engine is exceptional. We go to Adelaide as favorites".


For Prost, the third place doesn't sit well.


"I wouldn't have had trouble overtaking Mansell if an electrical issue halfway through the race hadn't made the turbo response longer. In the end, the car was sluggish. It's a shame because I could have crowned my world title with a first-place finish".


The explanation doesn't convince everyone. But much more than Prost, Alboreto could complain. The Italian driver, for the fourth consecutive time, couldn't even finish the race: he was stopped by another turbine failure on the eighth lap. Despite this negative result, the Ferrari driver achieved the best result by an Italian driver since 1953 when Ascari won the World Championship. Michele is, in fact, mathematically the Vice World Champion, finishing in second place behind Prost. Senna, trailing by 15 points, can no longer catch him in the last race in Australia.


"A slim consolation. This was certainly not my goal. We need to work for the future. I chose a car similar to those used at the beginning of the season to conduct some experiments. It wasn't bad, and perhaps, given how the race unfolded, I could have finished in the top three. But it's useless to think about these things. The reality is that others are faster".


Not even Stefan Johansson, fourth at the finish line with about seven kilometers behind the winner, is satisfied.


"It's nice to finish a race, but the car is no longer competitive. We should do better in Adelaide on a street circuit. Hopefully".


But the numbers are not favorable. In lap times, the Swede set the best time at 1'10"413, the ninth overall, even behind Brundle's Tyrrell. A tough day for Alfa Romeo. Just when the sporting future of the Milanese team needs to be decided, both Patrese and Cheever's cars retired from the Grand Prix right after the start. The drivers are blameless, but luck also plays a role in motorsport. Says Piercarlo Ghinzani:


"I was slipping between the two Alfa Romeos, Cheever moved to the inside, and I had to move to the right. So, I hooked onto Patrese's car".


For Cheever, the incident had a different origin:


"I was ahead of Ghinzani and on the outside. I was following my trajectory, and he shouldn't have slipped in there. It's his fault".


Even more dismayed is Riccardo Patrese:


"I practically didn't notice anything. I was on the right, in a good position, when I heard a big bang and flew off the track. I even risked getting hurt".


The fact remains that, once again, in a race where a good placement was possible given the many retirements, Alfa Romeo missed the opportunity to make a good impression. Family problems also for Lotus, with a sensational quarrel between De Angelis and Senna. The Italian driver says:


"He made me risk my life with a criminal overtaking. At the end of the straight, he pushed the engine's pressure to the maximum, breaking it almost immediately. Then he overtook me on the left, outside, while I, in turn, moved in that direction to avoid Ghinzani coming out of the pits after replacing something on his car. I had seen Ayrton in the rearview mirrors on the right, then he extended the braking, and he almost blocked in front of my car. If we had collided, we would certainly have been injured".


70.000 spectators witnessed the South African Grand Prix. The race was a success for the organizers. There were no significant accidents in the circuit, as was widely expected. However, some incidents can give an idea of the tension with which this Formula 1 trip was experienced. Among the protagonists of these events is also Alain Prost. On Friday night, the Frenchman received pressure from France not to race. Phone calls, telexes, the driver seemed bewildered.


"I already have risks to face; I don't understand why they have singled me out. I am a professional; I have commitments to fulfill, even if I know certain problems".


General nervousness also cost a young man of Italian origin who was at the racetrack with his girlfriend. Some drunken troublemakers made heavy comments to the girl; he reacted and was attacked when he started speaking in Italian.


"You denigrate South Africa".


To show publicly that apartheid is not total, the organizers organized a mid-distance race of 4000 meters and a cycling race for white, black, and mixed-race competitors. The first was won by Simon Malebeng, applauded by the stands. The absence of Jean-Marie Balestre, president of the FIA, FISA, and the French Federation, was noted. Did he perhaps want to boycott the race he supported to the end? Changing the subject, with the uninspiring third place earned by Alain Prost in the South African Grand Prix, McLaren achieved another goal. The English team practically won another title, the Constructors' World Championship. This brings prestige and money since, in the distribution of FOCA prizes at the end of the season, this ranking is also taken into account. Ferrari's fourth-place finish in the race with Stefan Johansson allowed the Maranello team only to limit the damage and still retain a theoretical chance of surpassing the rival in the last race in Adelaide on November 3, 1985. McLaren has 90 points, compared to the 80 of Alboreto's team. To overturn the situation, it would be necessary to score at least 11 points in Adelaide (a win plus a finish, at least, in fifth place), hoping that Prost and Lauda do not finish in the top six. A dream, although in Formula 1, anything can happen. However, it's not a recovering Ferrari that was seen leaving Kyalami. The almost desperate attempts to solve the problems, the continuous modifications made to the cars, have not allowed any improvement. Mistakes that were previously avoided have even been recorded. On Friday, the cars didn't have top speed because the assembly, i.e., the coupling between turbines and compressors, was wrong. On Saturday, at the end of the race, someone on the team wasn't sure if Johansson was third or fourth, so much so that the driver left to go to the podium, only to be disappointed when he saw that Mansell, Rosberg, and Prost were already there. A tachometer is not so difficult to control. However, these are not the inconveniences that the leading team in Formula 1 has to overcome. In Adelaide, a street circuit still unknown to everyone (it has been completed in recent days), Ferrari theoretically shouldn't perform poorly, given the behavior of the 156/85 on similar tracks, such as Monte-Carlo and Detroit.


"But the cars have changed a lot since the beginning of the year. Everything needs to be verified. Certainly, an injection of confidence would be needed to start the work for next year well. I am ready, it's a matter of committing fully. On a personal balance sheet, all in all, I can't complain. I am the Italian driver who has achieved the best placement in the championship after Ascari, and above all, I don't have to reproach myself for mistakes. I am convinced, without presumption, to be one of the few drivers who has not made a single mistake in the fifteen races. I have always maximized my and the car's possibilities".


Now begins a period of research for Ferrari. New materials, extensive experimentation, perhaps the search for additional technicians to add to those already present. They need to create a cutting-edge engine, incorporating ceramics, fibers, electronics, aiming for simplicity, reliability, and maximum power while considering the reduction in fuel consumption to 195 liters per race. A new, more accurate aerodynamics is needed, along with more effective chassis and suspensions. In short, as already mentioned, everything needs to be redone. A new challenge that starts immediately, even before the championship officially ends. It's important to keep in mind that the competitors are not just McLaren, Williams, Brabham, Lotus, but also Porsche, Honda, BMW, Renault, and Ford. The American team will make its debut shortly, installing the new 6-cylinder engine on Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay's cars for the Force team, which uses Lola chassis and is commonly called Beatrice, named after the sponsor, a multinational food company that has invested tens of millions of dollars. With only twelve years of existence, Williams, dominating this end of the season, is certainly the most successful young team in Formula 1. After a necessary apprenticeship from 1973 (when it was founded as Iso) to 1978, the team had to overcome quite a few difficulties. Inexperience and a chronic lack of money forced its owner, Frank Williams, a former medium-caliber driver, to perform many acrobatics, including emigrating to Italy, to find some funding. But Frank Williams, even in those difficult times, highlighted his qualities as a great organizer, making him resemble, in a different and partial way, Enzo Ferrari, more than his more well-known colleagues Colin Chapman and Ken Tyrrell. Williams is a kind of ascetic in Formula 1. Absolute dedication, great seriousness, meticulous planning, great trust in the team members, each with specific tasks. Frank himself reserves the role of sports director and behaves in life as he does at work. Every day, at least an hour of physical training (running and gymnastics), controlled diet, no drinking or smoking. 


The money earned is all invested in the company, which has a well-equipped workshop and its own wind tunnel (something Ferrari still doesn't have). But Williams' great skill is finding high-level sponsors that allow him to have considerable resources. He was the first to turn to Arab oil sheiks and the Japanese. Only this year, the logos on his cars are worth tens of millions of dollars: Canon, Honda, Mobil, ICI, Denim, all multinational companies with practically unlimited possibilities. The team became competitive practically only in 1979. Since then, it has won 21 races, two world titles, and a second place. When difficulties arose, after 1981, when rival teams began to have turbo engines, Frank Williams achieved his masterpiece, convincing Honda to entrust him with their engines that had been in development for at least a couple of years. It was a winning move. The Japanese company's technicians, with method and progression, have now reached the top, overcoming quite a few problems. Not least the distance between the engine factory and Williams, about 15.000 kilometers away. A team of about fifteen Japanese technicians moved to England, where they are replaced every three months. The extraordinary thing is that with the continuous evolution of the engines, when there is urgency and parts need to be moved from one place to another, this group of men travels on commercial planes, each with a particular or a series of spare parts packaged and carried by hand, to save time. Even in choosing drivers, Williams has always been very careful. Fast, aggressive drivers. Generally, he has focused on a lead driver, leaving the teammate only a covering role. With him, Alan Jones and Keke Rosberg won their world titles. Frank Williams admits:


"Working with us is tough and difficult. Not many can withstand it. For this reason, I believe that Keke Rosberg, one of the drivers I admire the most, will leave at the end of the season. It's not a matter of money. In our team, you have to go straight, obey instructions. I do it myself: with the Japanese, I have an excellent relationship, but without communication. I tell them what I need, they make the engine, and they deliver it to me like a package to be mounted on the car, including the supercharging and electronic system. We can't touch anything, we don't know anything. The only certainty is that it has become powerful and competitive. But the credit is not only due to the engine. The car has also improved, and now it allows us not to exploit the horses we have excessively, so we've also found reliability. Now we race with less pressure than before and don't break anything".


Williams has compensated for Keke Rosberg's departure next year by signing another champion, Nelson Piquet, who is also an excellent test driver, perhaps as good as Lauda. The team should, therefore, be at least as strong as it is now, also considering the progress shown by Nigel Mansell. The Englishman, until recently, was only considered a heavy-footed driver, i.e., fast but certainly not a complete standout. Instead, the 31-year-old Briton is proving to be a talented and matured driver, capable of aiming for the world title in 1986. One thing is certain after what was seen on Sunday at Kyalami (the last races of the season are always quite indicative for the following ones): two Williams cars will be the ones to beat from the first race of the 1986 World Championship.


©​ 2023 Osservatore Sportivo


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