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#418 1985 European Grand Prix

2022-07-25 01:00

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#1985, Fulvio Conti,

#418 1985 European Grand Prix

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

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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a street race in Rome is about as likely as the race in New York, and it is no surprise when both mythical events are withdrawn.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.

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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.

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They aren’t lacking driver ability, like some teams. As far as Renault are concerned it would be unfair to say they gave up, with the end in sight after the Australian GP, but it certainly looks as though they have. In spite of unsettled weather over most of the Country, the gods seems to be smiling on Brands Hatch, in recognition of Mr Webb’s handling of the FISA/FOCA deals he has dealt, and dry but cool weather attracts an enormous crowd for the practice days and an even bigger one for race day. The Kentish Circuit is well and truly packed, and the usual day-long scene of activity on the ground and in the air is laid on for the paying public. There is racing for almost every category you could think of, including historic racing cars, in which there is an unfortunate fatality when Stephen Langton is thrown from his B-type Connaught and is run over by a following Competitor. Within the day-long activity two hours are put aside for a Formula One race, given the grandiose title of The Grand Prix of Europe, but in reality it is just another event in the 16 race programme to decide who would be 1985 World Champion. The Sunday morning warm-up period gives all the signs that Pirelli has got a very competitive tyre for their users, and top of the list is Nelson Piquet’s Brabham-BMW, and as he is in second place on the grid things looked good for the Brazilian’s fan club. In the time that the cars are allowed a lap or two before lining up on the dummy-grid Warwick’s Renault is misfiring badly, and there is some dickering about as to whether he should swap to the T-car. However, the decision is made for them when the pit-lane exit is closed, so he has to resign himself to starting the race in a car that isn’t running properly. With the first two places on the grid occupied by Brazilian drivers you can make of that what you will, but behind them are the two Honda-powered Williams cars, and that is significant.
 
When the cars line up again after the parade-lap Piquet does not move up to his marker line, and by rights the start should be aborted, but the green light is given at which Mansell did a really storming getaway to get up level with Senna’s Lotus which is not hanging about. Rosberg’s Honda engine fluffs slightly and, thinking it is going to stall, Prost jinked sideways from behind it, taking to the grass with the idea of going round the Williams. At that point the Japanese engine came on full song and Rosberg just disappears, leaving Prost on the grass with no reason to be there. At the front Mansell is being very brave in trying to run round the outside of Senna’s Lotus as they plunge down Paddock Hill, but Senna is on a line across to the outside of the corner so Mansell has no option but to back off. Senna actually uses the run-off area at the exit of the bend and goes up the hill to Druids on the left, with Mansell right behind him. The incredible Rosberg has a shot past Piquet and stormes up the hill on the right, diving into the hairpin behind Senna while poor old Mansell gets elbowed off line and puts two wheels on the grass on the outside of the corner, which lets Piquet through into third place. Within half a lap these four are pulling away into a race of their own, while behind them de Angelis is leading the rest of the field, all jumbled up into a crocodile. From his position down at the back of the grid Alan Jones makes a very aggressive start and passes a whole bunch of cars before he reaches the timing line, and Derek Warwick does a similar start, but to no avail as his engine is running terribly badly. He is to retire from the race before the dust of the opening lap settles. Although Senna is leading he is very conscious of the fact that the Honda-poared Williams are more than a match for his Renault power, and Rosberg is making it very obvious that he’d like to get by, especially as Piquet is right behind him and the combination of Piquet-Brabham-BMW and Pirelli looks to be well set for victory.
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For once there isn’t a McLaren-Porsche in the picture, for Prost is driving carefully down in mid-field and Watson’s McLaren is almost last. As the leaders goes along the Bottom Straight aiming for the climbing left-hander that would take them out into the country on lap seven, Rosberg makes a desperate plunge up the inside of the leading Lotus. There is a brief nudge and then the Williams is into a graceful 180-degree spin, leaving Senna to go on his way. The Williams rolls backwards across the track right into the path of Piquet’s Brabham and the left front wheel of the Brabham struck the left rear of the Williams. With the front wheels pointing different ways, and the nose fins off, Piquet’s car stopped in the middle of the track as Mansell went by on the inside, and then Rosberg did a 180-degree turn, using the grass verge and continues on his way, with a flat left rear tyre, going into the pits at the end of the lap for new rubber. Piquet has no option but to sit tight in his derelict car until everyone goes by, and then to return to the pits on foot with some rude things to say about Rosberg, while marshals drag the stricken car off the track. As Rosberg re-joins the race Senna is hurtling along from Clearways, with Mansell charging along behind him. Senna caught Rosberg as they head for Druids, and has to follow the Williams round the corner and down the hill, which allows Mansell to close right up. On the Bottom Straight Rosberg is not really into his stride and is baulking Senna, but before the Lotus driver could decide to try and go to the left, the hard-charging Mansell zaps through on the inside, into a yellow flag no-passing zone caused by the retrieval of Piquet’s derelict Brabham, and the two Williams-Honda cars lead the Lotus up the hill. Rosberg soon lets his team-mate go by and then magnanimously decides to help him by blocking Senna round the back of the circuit. It is a very pretty, and unusual, bit of team-driving which we don’t see very often in these selfish days. Mansell makes the most of it and is gone, and Senna settles for second place, knowing that he has not got the performance to catch a Honda even without any obstructions.
 
As far as the lead concerns, that is it. The race is now Mansell’s and all he has to do is concentrate on not making a mistake or damaging his car or blowing up the engine. Not much to ask, except that only nine of the 75 laps are run and for the next hour and a quarter he concentrates so hard that he is completely drained by the finish. He doesn’t make any mistakes, he doesn’t damage the car and he doesn’t blow the engine up, but it is no easy afternoon drive, for he has been in this situation before and thrown it away. For the rest of the runners there is some first class racing going on. Laffite is finding his Ligier going splendidly and his Pirelli tyres working really well, and Surer is in the same situation with his Brabham. Consequently these two make the most of it and become instant heroes, which everyone enjoys seeing as two more sympathetic drivers would be hard to find. Jack Lafferty has a real chuckle to himself as he passes the future World Champion Alain Prost, and his all-conquering McLaren, and Marc Surer out-drives de Angelis and goes by on the fast Hawthorn Bend, which puts him into third place behind Mansell and Senna. Dealing with Prost’s McLaren, Laffite tackles Johansson’s Ferrari and deals with him in the same way, moving into fourth place. He doesn’t have to deal with Alboreto’s Ferrari as the dejected Italian goes into the pits at the end of lap 11 for a change of tyres, in the forlorn hope that they might make his car feel better. Two laps later a turbocharger fails and sets the back of the car on fire, but Albert drives it back to the pits with a most impressive bonfire going on behind him, standing on the seat for the last few yards, ready to step out and leave the fire-marshals to put out the conflagration. As half distance approaches we see the remarkable sight of first Surer passing Senna, and then Laffite going by; confirmation that there isn’t much wrong with the Pirelli tyres, nor the two drivers. One could not help wondering where Piquet would be if Rosberg has not put him out, for with all due respects to Surer’s ability, if he could get into second place, Piquet would be a long way ahead.
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At half-distance the order is Mansell, well out on his own and looking very confident for a change, then Surer and Laffite, followed by Senna, de Angelis, Johansson, Prost, Brundle, Streiff and Rosberg, the fiery Finn really having a go following his contretemps, but then I never saw Rosberg not having a go, regardless of where he is. There are only eight other cars still circulating, these being Boutsen’s Arrows, Patrese and Cheever in their Alfa Romeos, Watson in the second McLaren, Berger’s Arrows, Tambay’s Renault, Capelli’s Tyrrell and Danner in the Zakspeed. The rest falls by the wayside, some like Martini with a sickening thud as he hits the barriers, others like Alan Jones quietly with overheating troubles. Prost now came in for a tyre change, it taking the McLaren team a long 16.9 Seconds as the right-front wheel baulks, but once back on the track with no-one in front of him Prost shows that he could still drive by reeling off a series of fastest laps. From lap 40 his lap times are as follows: 1.12.5; 1.12.4; 1.12.2; 1.13.1 (as he got baulked); 1.11.8; 1.11.6. The hall-mark of a master-driver, even if he drives like an old woman up to this point, intent on claiming the minimum number of points to become World Champion, with Alboreto retired, rather than trying to be a race winner. This progress by Prost continues until he comes up behind Patrese’s Alfa Romeo, whereupon his lap times drops by three seconds while he follows the Italian at a discreet distance. Meanwhile Rosberg I driving hard, but not as fast as Prost is, but the relaxation by Prost allows the Williams driver to catch up and go by Prost, Patrese, and Boutsen and Streiff who are ahead of the Alfa Romeo. Brundle retires at the pits with a lot of smoke rising from the back of his Tyrrell, and Laffite stops for another set of tyres, only to suffer engine failure a few laps later, which means that Prost is promoted from seventh place to fourth aided by a pretty manoeuvre at Paddock Hill Bend when he goes up behind de Angelis as they come up to lap Watson.
 
In the sort of manoeuvre that you and I do at 20 mph in traffic, where you neatly box your rival in behind a slower car, Prost does just that at 120 mph or more, leaving de Angelis behind Watson as he pours down the hill into fifth place, which becomes fourth as Johansson goes into the pits with a lack of electricity in his Ferrari. With the end in sight Mansell keeps going by sheer will power and determination, so much so that he is completely flaked-out at the finish. Not surprisingly he is getting terrific support from the partisan crowd, who are all willing him on to the finish. Surer’s fine race has finished in a cloud of smoke and flame from the engine compartment as the BMW turbocharger fails coming down the hill from Druids, and this let Senna back into a distant second place, follows by the ever charging Rosberg in third place, with Prost the only other driver on the same lap as the leader. Thus it finishes with heroes all round. Nigel Mansell at last wins a Grand Prix, after trying for so long and letting a number of likely victories slip through his fingers. This time he has a firm grip on the situation and nobody denies him his glory for he really deserves it. Senna is simple and frank about the situation as always, there is nothing he could do about the combination of Mansell/Williams/Honda. He is glad to make it into second place. Prost does exactly what he sets out to do, without taking any risks, and makes himself World Champion, even though there are two more races to run. Rosberg in third place is one of those things that cannot happen. You can’t have an accident, do a slow lap on a flat tyre, make a pit stop, and finish third while others are racing all the time; or perhaps they aren’t racing, but merely going through the motions. Rosberg races all the time. Moments of glory for Surer and Laffite and a great shame that they have little to show for it, though Happy Jacques does get fastest lap. A pity that the race is not called the Grand Prix of Kent, with HRH The Duke of Kent as patron of the race, for it would then have been a right royal occasion for Mansell to wave the Union Jack to show that British drivers can win Grand Prix races, even if they don’t do it very often.
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