One thing that the British sporting world is not short of is the ability to step in and take advantage of a situation. It is just that which gives us the opportunity of two Formula One races in one season in 1983; and it happens again this year. When the 1985 calendar is drawn up, the mythical New York GP is entered in the list and the European GP is scheduled to take place in Rome, even though neither city has a circuit! The idea of a street race in Rome is about as likely as the race in New York, and it is no surprise when both mythical events are withdrawn. Never one to miss a chance, John Webb and his Brands Hatch associates moves smartly in and collares the European GP for their Kentish circuit, as the British GP is held at Silverstone this year. To organise a major event at short notice would deter most people, but not the Brands Hatch management, though their powers are sorely tried when FISA/FOCA changes the date twice, before settling for October 6th. That it is a rip-roaring success says all there is to say for Mr Webb and his workers. Apart from being able to put on a big show at a moment’s notice, Brands Hatch is also readily available for pre-race testing, so by the time official practice starts on Friday October 4th any worthwhile team pounds round the Grand Prix circuit, and learns most of what it needs to know. There are a few minor changes in the scene as the teams assemble in the-pits, notably the absence of Niki Lauda who is still nursing the wrist he damages in practice at Francorchamps three weeks before. His place is being taken by John Watson, though logically it is difficult to see why, unless someone in McLaren or its sponsors Marlboro, is suffering an uncharacteristic touch of conscience over Wattie’s dismissal at the end of 1983, and is trying to make amends.
Although Ken Tyrrell is down to only two Renault-poared 014 cars, due to Brundle crashing 014/1 in testing, he takes a chance and nominates the Italian Ivan Capelli for his second car, Ken is impressed with his form in the recent Donington F3000 race. Jonathan Palmer is still on crutches so Christian Danner is deputising for him once again in the Zakspeed, and the Beatrice-sponsored team reappears with Alan Jones and its two cars, called Lolas because of Carl Haas’ long association with the Huntingdon-based marque. On the mechanical front the two Williams-Honda cars driven by Rosberg and Mansell are uprated to B-spec with new wishbone and pull-rod rear suspension replacing the rocker-arm layout, and this also entails a new gearbox casing. The T-car is to the old specification. Brabham produced a brand new car for Piquet (BT54/9) and Ferrari produced a brand new car for Johansson (156/85-086). There are two signs of confirmation that the Regie Renault is disbanding its team at the end of the year, one that John Gentry is no longer looking after Warwick’s car, and has joined Brabham, and the other that Tambay announces that he has joined the Carl Haas Beatrice-Ford team for next year. Derek Warwick has not finalised his 1986 plans, but has done a lot of test-driving for Lotus before this event, and he will be a very silly boy if he does not accept an offer to play a very strong number two to Ayrton Senna if such a proposition eventually comes his way. All this season the strides forward in engine power from BMW, Ferrari, Porsche, Honda and Renault are spectacular and the control of that power has enabled lap records to be shattered at every appearance. The chassis designers have been panting to keep up and even the tyre firms have had their work cut out to handle the horsepower.
Consequently it is no surprise when all previous fast laps at Brands Hatch are put in the shade once the serious business got under way. Similar to all season we have become used to a black and gold Lotus setting the pace, driven by Ayrton Senna in his first season with the team, and both days of practice saw no change in this pattern. Previously the natural pace-setter is Nelson Piquet and his Brabham, but the switch to Pirelli tyres holds him off the pace for quite a while, but as the season progresses the Italian tyre firm makes serious strides forward and once Piquet has the tyres to match those of the Goodyears on the Lotus he is up at the front once again, and the qualifying sessions for the European Grand Prix sees a royal battle between the two Brazilian drivers, Senna coming out on top by three-tenths of a second, with a time of 1'07"169, an average speed of 140.1 mph, and we think the old fastest lap of 132 mph is spectacular. The incredible thing is that there is no real straight at Brands Hatch, nor any really flat surface, the circuit undulating up and down all the way round, and the bit down Pilgrims Drop looks straight, but at Formula One speeds by the time you gathers it up out of the climbing left-hander out of the Stadium, you have to start aiming across to the other side of the road ready for Hawthorn Bend. While the lap times and speeds are pretty shattering, it is the maximum speeds recorded through the Longines speed-traps that takes the breath away. There is a light-beam speed-trap on the finishing line that gives Mansell the highest speed with 191.4 mph and Rosberg in second place with 190.2 mph, and another one at the cut-off point for Hawthorn Bend on the back of the circuit that gives Mansell fastest at 196.5 mph and Rosberg second at 195.3 mph. For the last few races it has become increasingly obvious that Honda has been in the lead of the horsepower and torque race, and these figures confirms it. That Patrick Head is keeping up is indicated by Mansell and Rosberg being third and fourth in qualifying, behind Senna and Piquet.
The acceleration of a modern Grand Prix car from 140 mph to 190 mph is something you have to witness to only begin to appreciate. What it is actually like in the cockpit is beyond the imagination. A big surprise in qualifying is the position of Philippe Streiff, the young French driver who replaces de Cesaris in the Ligier team. Throughout both practice days he is consistently faster than his experienced team-mate Jacques Laffite, and ends up a most praiseworthy fifth despite spinning wildly on the flat-out approach to Hawthorns during final qualifying when the gearbox casing broke! He is ahead of Prost, who is clearly coasting towards gathering points in order to claim the 1985 World Championship crown, Surer, Warwick and de Angelis. These days, once you have gone below sixth place, and sometimes eighth place, you are getting into the Formula One grey porridge but make no mistake, grey porridge in Formula One is of a very high standard as you can see by the number of drivers who are not at the top of the Grand Prix tree who become heroes in other Categories, such as Endurance racing, Indycars and so-on. The sight of Alboreto and Johansson with their Ferraris down in 15th and 13th places, respectively, does not bear thinking about. It has become very hard for Maranello to admit that they are losing out on horsepower to Honda, BMW, Porsche and Renault, for Mr Ferrari always maintains that his engines are the best, though history has never confirmed that statement. They are the best when the opposition is poor, but when serious engine people get down to it the Prancing Horse is invariably seen to be a Prancing Pony! When you have a surfeit of power over your rivals you can exploit aerodynamic drag to create down-force for cornering purposes, but when you are lacking in power you have to ease back on the down-force game in the hope of keeping up. The Ferraris are trying to keep up with the opposition by reducing drag but this finds them wanting on handling, so they are in trouble on two scores.