#398 1984 British Grand Prix

2021-09-14 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti, Rebecca Asolari,

#398 1984 British Grand Prix

After the Demolition Derbies in Detroit and Dallas the Formula One “circus” must have breathed a sigh of relief when they returned to Europe to start

After the Demolition Derbies in Detroit and Dallas the Formula 1 circus must have breathed a sigh of relief when they returned to Europe to start some serious Grand Prix racing. The Brands Hatch circuit, scene for the 1984 British Grand Prix, may not be the best in the world for Formula One cars but at least it is quick and challenging in its own small way, with a lap speed of over 130 mph for the really fast drivers. When you look at a map of Brands Hatch it seems to be all corners and curves, with negligible straights so that you wonder how the front runners can possibly be lapping at over 130 mph. A speed trap at the start / finish line in practice indicates how it is possible, for the Brabham, Lotus, Ferrari, Renault and Williams cars are all recording well over 170 mph on the short undulating straight past the pits, having come out of Clearways corner at 130 mph or more. The high-speed acceleration of today’s Grand Prix car makes the eyes water just to think about it. The highest speed record over the start/finish line during practice and qualifying is 177 mph by de Angelis in a Lotus-Renault. On race day, under race conditions, most cars are 10 mph slower, including the Lotus. As always, Brands Hatch has the circuit all set up and in prime condition for this great event, which is to attract a record crowd thanks to pre-race publicity and the interesting nature of the Grand Prix season so far, and practice got under way at 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning in warm and dry conditions but under a thickly overcast sky. In spite of the workers of the world striking and unions causing disruption, the racing world worked overtime and got everyone and everything to the Kentish circuit on time even if some things aren’t as tidy and orderly as they can have. As always the teams is working flat-out since their return from the USA and Renault has a brand new car for Warwick (RE50/08) with structural improvements, while RAM has build a new car to replace the one destroyed by Alliot in Dallas, and Osella have build a third car in their V8 turbo charge Alfa Romeo-engined series for Jo Gartner, who is returning to the scene.


The Toleman team has complete a fourth car in their 1984 series and this is for Johnny Cecotto. The Brabham team has modify their BT53 cars to a B-specification which includes many improvements develope over the first part of the season, including a more steeply mount intercooler and radiator in the side pods, which entail new fairings and new intakes, and the rear suspension is modify. The Williams team appears with their three cars in B-spec which involve waisted side pods at the rear, like the McLaren MP4/2, a longer oil tank casting between the engine and gearbox, which give a five inch longer wheelbase, and modify rear suspension. Ferrari has four cars in attendance, two as race previously and two with different radiator mountings in the side pods, and square air entries with large exits on the top, rather than the previous sharper angle pods. Alboreto and Arnoux have one of each type to experiment with. The day before practice begins Team Tyrrell is banned from all further participation in the World Championship series by the governing body of international motor racing, for a number of infringements of rules concerning the carrying of ballast and pit stops. The rights and wrongs of the case will come out later, but Ken Tyrrell applies The Treaty of Rome, The Strasbourg Convention, The Geneva Convention on Human Rights, The Court of Personal Justice, and the East Horsley Labor Party Workers’ Rights Articles of Administration, and a High Court Judge rules that his cars can take part in the British Grand Prix. FISA steps back and hands the responsibility to the RAC Motorsports Association, mentioning that the World Championship series belongs to FISA and Team Tyrrell are still being thrown out of that. The whole Tyrrell scene these days is a sad one, when you look back to the great days of Jackie Stewart, but the saddest part for many people is that Martin Brundle is unable to take part in his own GP due to his broken ankles suffer in his crash at Dallas.

As a temporary replacement Tyrrell has signed up Stefan Johansson to join Bellof in the last stand of the unsupercharge Cosworth-engined cars. Practice is going for four minutes when everything stops. Cecotto has crashes very badly at Westfield Bend in his brand new Toleman and marshals are having difficulty getting him out of the wreckage. He is eventually flown to hospital by helicopter suffering from severe ankle injuries, and after the Armco barriers are repair, practice resumes. As a consequence of this, the morning session is reduces from an hour and a half to one hour and the all-important qualifying hour is put back from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Not a good start to a three-day programme of events and a time-schedule that will take many business firms a year to accomplish. There are all the usual dramas, real and imaginary, with drivers either elevate or depress, depending on their lap times and a rosy glow is emanating from the far end of the pit lane for Ayrton Senna isn’t only going very quickly in the Toleman-Hart but has make fastest time of the morning, heading Prost and Lauda with the standard-setting McLaren-Porsches. The Renault team are floundering about a bit, Lotus are near the front as usual, Ferrari are there or there-abouts, but Brabham are in real trouble for their new tweaks aren’t giving the expect results. In the serious one hour session when times are counting for grid positions, the scene doesn’t change a great deal, though Prost and Lauda assert themselves at the front and de Angelis shows that the Lotus 95T lacks nothing as a car, but most interesting is the fact that Senna’s speed in the morning isn’t a fluke. He repeats the effort in the afternoon and scores fourth fastest, overall, admittedly while Piquet is still in trouble, Warwick is out very late and only got in one quick lap, Ferrari aren’t their usual selves and Roserg is unhappy with his WilliamsHonda. Nonetheless, Senna’s performance is up with the best, in the 1'11"0 bracket, with only Prost, Lauda and de Angelis ahead of him.


Obviously neither the Toleman chassis nor the Hart engine are lacking anything, and it is very interesting that Senna seems to have start his career with the Toleman team at about the level at which Derek Warwick left off. Apart from Piquet being in real trouble with the modified Brabham, there aren’t real surprises down the list of runners, the tail-enders still being at the end; the mid-field runners being in the middle, and all things look pretty orderly. Apart from engines blowing up, turbo-chargers failing, potential race-winners (in their own view) being hold up by slow cars, cars being off the pace whatever that may mean, drivers not driving at their best, Michelin tyres being better than Goodyear and vice-versa and so on and so forth, the qualifying scene is much as always, apart from that Toleman-Hart in fourth place, which is interesting. Saturday’s practice and qualifying appears to be going on as the previous day, under cloudy skies behind which a very hot sun is lurking. However, behind the scenes things are happening, especially in the Brabham pits for Gordon Murray has quickly cut his losses on his B-spec car and a long session of work (no union rules in the Ecclestone world) by the Brabham mechanics have put the cars back to normal BT53 specification, retaining some of the rear suspension improvements. The result is electrifying for Piquet is immediately up among the front runners and is soon setting the pace ahead of the two McLarens. Senna is still there, but Renault and Ferrari are still in trouble and the French team’s problems are add to by Warwick sliding off into the catch fencing when his car grounds at the top of a rise on the back of the circuit, which put it into a pitching movement, and takes the car out of his grasp.


During the break before the final qualifying hour the cloud base break up and a very hot sun appears, which is fine for the vast crowd of spectators who are enjoying all the pleasure and leisure provide by the Brands Hatch organizers, and there is a lot of it, but it’s a headache for the engineers who have make all their guesses and their settings for the cooler overcast conditions. Those who really know their business aren’t put off by such simple things as a sudden rise in ambient temperature, and it’s not long before a satisfactory pattern appears that bore complete confirmation of reality. Piquet is the fastest, in a bracket of his own with 1'10"869 (132.7 mph), Prost, Lauda, de Angelis, Rosberg and Warwick are line up behind the World Champion, all in the 1'11"0 bracket and then come the rest. In this final session Senna is down in thirteenth place, but his Friday time put him up into seventh place, just behind Warwick and in the 1'11"0 elitist bracket, all of whom have lap at over 130 mph, which is still remarkable bearing in mind the slow parts of the track. Last on the list of 27 runners is Gartner with the new Osella, and as the High Court Judge affair over the Tyrrell suspension is still a bit problematical as far as the actual race is concern, the Stewards of the meeting obtain the agreement of all the teams to allow 27 cars to start the race, thus obviating any justifiable grievance that Enzo Osella may have feels, at being exclude by having possibly illegal cars in the race in the shape of the two Tyrrells. The two practice days were very full with practice for supporting events, supporting races themselves, hilarious chat-shows for the Press by FISA and Team Tyrrell, wining and dining, extravagance on the part of sponsors, hospitality, entertaining, rip-offs and rackets, hustle and bustle, huge crowds, buying and selling, all the fun of the fair and Derby Day and all in a most happy atmosphere.

The Sunday morning traffic heading for the quiet corner of Kent in which the Brands Hatch valley is situated is unbelievable and car parks are full, as are the overflow parks, and cars are abandoned on the grass verges for miles in all directions. It’s a warm and sultry start with the promise of being a splendid day and everyone seems to be heading for the fairground in the right frame of mind. In previous years, Brands Hatch is full at around 70.000 people, but this year the figure is far in excess of this and is probably nearer 90.000 and somehow they are all pack in, ready and waiting for things to happen. When the day starts it’s non-stop action in all directions, on the track, in the air, on the grass, behind the scenes, in front of scenes, over the trees, behind the trees, out in the open, behind locked doors, it’s happening everywhere. It’s impossible not to find something happening. The circus is in full flight, with four rings going on at the same time. As a feat of organization by the RAC Motorsport Association and all its member clubs and club members it’s a monument to enthusiastic effort, and then at a little before 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon it all stops and the only movement is the gentle swaying of advertising balloons on their tie-ropes. Jonathan Palmer has put a stop to the whole fantastic affair by crashing his RAM-Hart car into the tyre barriers coming out of Clearways binds onto the pits straight. He is unhurt but the car has its front end smashes off and the wreck lay on the grass in what the chief corner-observer decides is a vulnerable position so the British Grand Prix is stop after 11 laps. For about 45 minutes the whole steaming affair of the British Grand Prix fizzled out into total silence.


Not the uneasy silence associate with a bad accident, where you await the outcome, but a bored silence while the mess is being clear up after someone is sick on the best carpet. The morning warm-up session has gone well, the McLaren team are looking as strong as ever, Piquet is confident, Warwick is happier, Senna is enjoying everything, Mansell is whining, de Angelis is looking surly, Tarnbay is beaming in spite of being too far down the grid, the Ferrari team has the gray look of Italians who don’t understand, Tyrrell’s silly grin has go from his face, Cheever and Patrese are wondering how they has make such a mistake as to join Alfa Romeo, Laffite is beginning to wish he has retired last year, Rosberg is doing his utmost as always and Gartner is pleases to be allows to race. Everything is normal and amid the confusion of air displays, supporting races, demonstrations, parades, marching bands, flag waving and the side-shows, the count-down for the 1984 British Grand Prix begins. Piquet leads the field of 27 cars round on the parade lap from his pole-position on the grid and the enormous crowd waits expectantly for the start of the big event. It’s a good clean start and the blue and white Brabharn leads down Paddock Hill, followed by Prost and de Angelis. Piquet is away and waiting for no-one, with the pack hard after him, but down the hill from Druids hairpin the tail-enders got into a terrible mess, causes by chain-reaction. Patrese is trying to make up for his poor grid position and got a bit cross up as he goes into the bend onto the bottom straight, and Cheever who is right behind him brake, as did Gartner and Johansson who are following, but Alliot doesn’t have Patrese in his vision and knew nothing of what is happening ahead, and runs into them.

The outcome is the Osella stuffs into the barriers, the RAM off on the grass after somersaulting, Cheever’s Alfa with a smash in rear-end, and Johansson’s Tyrrell likewise smash in at the back. While the Tyrrell manages to get back to the pits, the Alfa succumbes, and at the end of the first lap the field is down 23. Up at the front there is some pretty serious racing going on, with Piquet leading Prost and Lauda, the three of them pulling away from the rest who are lead by Warwick. After only five laps Rosberg pulls out of the race and heads for the pits with trouble in his Honda engine, and Teo Fabi’s BMW engine is going on the blink with electrical trouble. Winkelhock spins off, or is spins off by someone else, along the bottom straight and by ten laps a pattern has form that is looking good. The two McLarens are pressuring Piquet and he is having to over-stress his Michelin tyres to stay ahead of the German-powered cars from Woking, even though they are also on Michelin tyres. As Prost begins to have a go at the Brabham, Lauda is right behind watching closely. Piquet parries the thrust twice, but on the third occasion Prost gets by on Paddock Bend as they start lap 12, and Lauda follows through as they go up the hill to Druids. Just at that moment Palmer comes round Clearways onto the pits straight, lying in 17th place, with only Bellof, Hesnault and Rothengatter behind him, and runs wide onto the grass and thump the tyre wall and the Armco barrier really hard. The white and green RAM car bounces back, minus most of its front end and lay stricken on the grass mid-way between the edge of the track and the barriers, right in the line of fire for anyone else running wide out of Clearways. Palmer climbs out unhurt and a small fire around the turbo is quickly put out by the marshals, leaving the second of John MacDonald’s cars a derelict heap.


In accordance with the rules and regulations the race is stops as Palmer’s wreck car is deem to be an undesirable hazard so early in the race. Some of the cars stop on the starting grid, others go into the pit lane, and the whole British Grand Prix and all its razz-a-ma-razz fizzle out. While they are at it the organization gathers up all the other wrecks around the circuit, dust and polish the barriers, re-erect tyre walls and Armco, and generally tidy the place up. The restart is schedule to take place after the repairs and another 20-minute count-down, with the survivors lining up in the order they are in on lap 11 when Palmer causes the race to be stop, which meant that Piquet is back on pole-position and he is allow to fit a new set of tyres. The ATS is retrieve, and makes ready to restart but is refuse permission as it has officially retire in the first part. Fabi and Rosberg can have rejoin, being in the pits at the time of the stoppage, but neither car can be revives, so 19 cars take the restart. Somehow all the life has now gone out of the event, and the interest too, for the overall result is going to be base on the addition of times for the first 11 laps and the subsequent 60 laps which are about to be run, making a total of 71. The original race is schedule for 75 laps, the missing four being absorb by various regulations. Prost takes the lead of the re-start, followed by Piquet and Lauda, Warwick and Tambay, but as it’s going to be one of those results that need mathematics to decide the outcome, one can’t get too excite, so activity along the way plays a more important factor than the eventual outcome. There are clearly three drivers who deserve to win this British Grand Prix and they are Piquet, Prost and Lauda, if anyone else is adjudgs the winner at the end of it all it will be a travesty of justice.

Warwick is clearly the best of the rest and doing a good job after two trouble practice days, and Ayrton Senna is showing that he is well able to play among the big boys. The young Brazilian is hounding de Angelis unmercifully, making the Italian driver think up all sorts of excuses about tyres, understeer, grip and similar things, whereas in fact he is driving hard and actually achieve his fastest lap of the race on the one before Senna does his fastest. The Toleman driver kept up the pressure all the way and takes the Lotus on the run into Paddock bend in classic style on lap 69, just two before the end, at which point the Lotus lost boost on its Renault engine and is lucky to crawl round to the finish; Senna finishes in a splendid third place, on the same lap as the winner. Justice prevails up at the front for Lauda is the dominant winner, driving with all the smoothness and precision that has become his hall-mark, the McLaren MP4/2 running perfectly throughout. The wily old fox has never be more than a few meters away from the two young tear-aways ahead of him, passing Piquet on lap 29 and then formatting of Prost in a very impressive one-two for the red and white cars from Woking and all points east to Weissach. On lap 38 Prost slows dramatically and Lauda and Piquet go by and the natural leader goes into the pits where he refires with gearbox problems. Towards the end Piquet’s BMW engine begins to fade and eventually all the boost pressure has disappeare and he is reduce to as unsupercharged 1½-liter engine with which he struggles on to the finish, dropping from second place to seventh. Derek Warwick profit from this to move up into second place, a position well deserve after a good sound drive.


Andrea de Cesaris manages to hold up both Ferraris for most of the race until Lauda slices in amongst them as he laps them, whereupon Alboreto out-fumble his team-mate and the Ligier driver and begin to go motor racing. On lap 52, de Cesaris spins at Druids, derange the back end but continue slowly to finish a lowly 10th, leaving the Ferraris to finish an unimpressive fifth and sixth. Another walking-wounded at the end is Patrese’s Alfa Romeo which ground to a halt by the finish line with gearbox trouble, and Tambay’s Renault begins to fail on the last lap and sets itself on fire as it breastes the rise out of the stadium. Fires don’t last long in British motor racing, for marshals are quickly on the spot to deal with it. Niki Lauda chalkes up his third British Grand Prix victory and his twenty-second overall and Ron Dennis, on behalf of his team says how happy he is for his Marlboro-sponsored team to have wins the John Player-sponsor British Grand Prix! One should ask whether the RAC Motorsports Association tries to do too much on the occasion of our premier motor sporting event? Will half the effort for half the cost perhaps provide an equally enjoyable event for half the people? The very knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd gives Derek Warwick a huge ovation as he finishes second and a similar one for Ayrton Senna. The vast three-day spectacular really fizzles out when the final race of the day, for Formula Ford, has to be stops and abandone due to a nasty accident involving two drivers. A sad note to end on.


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