The Ferrari will participate in the South African Grand Prix, unless the FIA, the organizer of the Formula 1 World Championship, decides to cancel the race. In a brief telegram, Enzo Ferrari responds negatively to the requests of the Proletarian Democracy party, which had invited him to boycott the race and join the protest against the apartheid regime.
"I am only a sportsman, and not fully knowing the historical, environmental, and ethno-religious situation in South Africa, I cannot make judgments, even though I am against all forms of violence, including verbal, journalistic, and televised. Personally, I am convinced that when politics enters sports, it ends up distorting it, as demonstrated by the last two Olympics".
Unsatisfied with the response, Proletarian Democracy requests to speak directly with Ferrari. Ferrari's stance reflects that of all the other Formula 1 teams, who had already indicated that they had no intention of boycotting the Grand Prix individually, primarily due to economic reasons. The FOCA regulations stipulate that annual prizes are divided only among the teams that have participated in all races on the calendar. An unjustified absence from a single race (and a protest against apartheid would be considered such) causes a significant overall loss, especially for stronger teams, amounting to billions. Only the FOCA and the FIA could, by deciding not to hold the race, spare the teams the embarrassment of choosing between a deficit and aligning with the global support for the protest against the Pretoria regime. However, the president of the FOCA, Bernie Ecclestone, has always shown a preference for economic issues over political ones, and the FISA president, Jean Marie Balestre, specifies that he will cancel the race only if the South African organizers decide not to hold it. Concerns about potential disorder (the Kyalami circuit is located halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria) seem to prevail, and the assessment is left to the South Africans. Even the sanctions proposed in Luxembourg by the foreign ministers of the EEC seem not to directly affect Formula 1, speaking vaguely of freezing sports agreements and discouraging participation in cultural, scientific, and sports events in South Africa without racial integration guarantees.
This last loophole allows many to argue that the problem does not exist since there are no drivers of color in Formula 1. However, the resistance to global pressure for boycotting the Grand Prix begins to crack from initiatives that directly impact the drivers. The Brazilian government has already informed Senna (Lotus) and Piquet (Brabham) that it will revoke their licenses if they race in South Africa, and the same has been done by the Swedish government for Johansson (Ferrari). The Finnish Minister of Education, Kaarina Suonlo, says she will do everything to prevent Rosberg (Williams) from participating in the race to avoid their national anthem being played in a country practicing apartheid. Constrained by ironclad contracts with their teams, the drivers quickly find a solution. It is possible, with a few formalities, to replace their license with an equivalent issued by another country. Johansson has already announced that he will seek one in England to bypass the obstacle, and Piquet, Senna, and Rosberg are likely to follow suit. What do Formula 1 drivers think about the South Africa problem? First and foremost, they are concerned about the regularity of the championship, as the upcoming races (Kyalami is scheduled for Saturday, October 19, and the Australian Grand Prix on November 3 in the city circuit of Adelaide) could be decisive. Opinions, however, are divided. The most responsible believe that the race should not take place, while others declare themselves professionals and willing to compete if the race remains on the schedule; some fear for their personal safety. Michele Alboreto, for example, says:
"If the Federation decides to hold the race, we will go to South Africa to do our job. I hope that in forty days the local problems will be at least partially resolved, and the situation will be calmer".
Stefano Johansson adds:
"My Federation forbids me to go, but if the team wants to participate in the race, I will go to South Africa, maybe getting another license even though I don't know which one yet".
Jacques Laffite emphasizes:
"It's madness to go and race in a country at war".
Niki Lauda says:
"It would be a colossal mistake to go to Kyalami. There are events serious enough in South Africa not to think about racing with Formula 1 cars".
Alain Prost underscores:
"It's madness to go to Kyalami. But if Alboreto goes, I will go too".
Eddie Cheever adds:
"I don't think it's right to race because the safety of all participants cannot be guaranteed. Politically, I have always felt embarrassed in South Africa even though those in power say these are local problems. I believe no one can agree with them".
Nelson Piquet says:
"I am a professional; I have a contract to respect. The International Federation must make a logical decision".
Elio De Angelis admits:
"For humanitarian reasons, I would be against this trip. I don't know the situation well, but I know that people are being killed there. The Grand Prix could be an opportunity to instrumentalize the case by both opposing factions".
Patrick Tambay declares:
"I personally consider the human problem with the utmost attention. But I don't think the political crisis and motorsport can be put in parallel".
Finally, Pierluigi Martini admits:
"For me, it's not a racial problem. I am certainly afraid to go to South Africa. The situation suggests not holding that race. There are many circuits that would be happy to host our races and replace the Kyalami race".
Meanwhile, Ferrari's tests at Monza continue. On Tuesday, September 10, 1985, Johansson tests at Monza (experiencing a gearbox problem after five laps in the morning, and he has to push the car alone for many meters towards the pits), while Alboreto conducts tests at the private Fiorano circuit. The best news comes from Fiorano, where Alboreto completes 50 laps, testing three cars. Two are similar to the one in Monza, and one is different with technical solutions seen before. It seems that some of the issues that led to Prost's significant defeat have been discovered. According to rumors from Maranello (where Magneti Marelli-Weber technicians also worked), the trouble could be due to piston segments that consumed too much oil. At the end of a working day where Ferrari's men remain isolated inside the gates of the Monza paddock without speaking to journalists, the technical manager in charge of chassis in Maranello, the Englishman Harvey Postlethwalte, says:
"We believe we have identified the engine problem with telemetry surveys simulating the same conditions as the race. The same critical situation occurred. Then there was also the gearbox failure that we sent to the workshop for inspection. The car goes into crisis when certain average speeds are exceeded; we need to work on setups, suspensions, and aerodynamics".
At Ferrari, there is still a glimmer of hope, albeit tied to probability calculations:
"So far, Prost has not experienced the slightest malfunction since the beginning of the championship. Of course, we cannot rely solely on his retirement at Spa, but this is part of the game in Formula 1. On our part, we will try to improve".
The Belgian Grand Prix is around the corner, but in the world of Formula 1, the talk is more about South Africa, specifically the increasingly contested Grand Prix scheduled for Saturday, October 19, 1985, at Kyalami, near Johannesburg. On Thursday, September 12, 1985, Bernie Ecclestone, the head of FOCA (and Brabham), emphatically reiterates that there will be no boycotts, relocations, or schedule changes. However, almost simultaneously, the constructors' front fractures with Renault's equally firm announcement not to field its drivers Tambay and Warwick at Kyalami. The French automaker's brief statement follows less than twenty-four hours after Minister Alain Calmat's call for a boycott:
"The Minister of Youth and Sports has invited French teams and drivers to conscientiously consider the implications of their participation in the Kyalami Grand Prix. Renault announces that it has decided not to enter its cars in this race".
It was rather difficult for the state-owned Renault to ignore the government's call. Moreover, it should be considered that there is a particularly lively anti-apartheid movement in France. The Mitterrand government withdrew the ambassador from Pretoria and banned all commercial relations with South Africa. The powerful anti-racist association Sos Racism organized demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of participants and, among other actions, wrote to Renault, Ligier, Prost, and Alboreto inviting them to boycott. Renault, by not competing at Kyalami, will forfeit all rights to Formula 1 annual prizes. It has no other reprisals to fear since it has already decided not to field its own team in the next season. Bernie Ecclestone, on the other hand, holds a different opinion:
"The South African Grand Prix will take place regularly on October 19, 1985. This is certain".
Seated near the RAM team's motorhome, despite a swollen lip, the English manager speaks with ease and determination. Moral and political issues evidently do not concern him. Or perhaps they are secondary to what matters most to him, as he is personally involved in the organization of the Kyalami race and wants everything to proceed according to plan. It would be illogical to expect a different stance from him. Ecclestone had previously, when asked about the Australian transport workers' union's decision not to unload Formula 1 material from South Africa, stated:
"These people are concerned about what happens in other countries. They talk about racism after exterminating the Aborigines...".
There are no other updates on the official front. Indifferent to the positions of many nations, even to the objections of the moderates, the FIA has not addressed the issue, although the regularity of the World Championship could be compromised. President Balestre, who had clarified the FISA's position in Zandvoort ("The race can only be canceled at the request of the organizers"), states:
"No official statement. It will be discussed at the meeting scheduled for October 7 at Brands Hatch".
A bit late to find a possible substitute venue. In any case, the discomfort over the South African issue is growing. Beyond statements and quoted speeches, there is a growing awareness. On Thursday afternoon, an informal meeting of technicians and team managers takes place. Surely Kyalami is discussed, but no one wants to explain in what terms and with what objectives. The impression is that much will depend on the evolving conditions in which the race can take place and the political pressures exerted in various directions. Balestre had stated in the past few days that Formula 1 did not back down when the Buenos Aires circuit was surrounded by armed military personnel and the Corsica Rally was held regularly amid hundreds of bombs from local autonomists. Perhaps his is a show of strength, and the only hope for a wise decision is that those with the power make their voices heard. Meanwhile, 105 days have passed since the Belgian Grand Prix was suspended due to the poor track conditions and moved to the next Sunday. Since then, everything has changed: the circuit's road surface has been completely rebuilt and seems solid, and, above all, the Ferrari, which was on the rise and had secured provisional pole position on Friday with Michele Alboreto (1'56"046, ahead of the two Lotuses of De Angelis and Senna), now appears to be in crisis. At that time, McLaren was in trouble.
The British team had hit rock bottom with Prost credited with the second-to-last time for qualification and three broken engines in one day. And now, they are dominating the World Championship with the Frenchman leading the standings. Therefore, there is great curiosity returning to Francorchamps, a spectacular and unfortunately dangerous track. For the Maranello team, it is truly the last chance, speaking of the title. Another win for Prost, and if Alboreto does not place at least third (in case the South African race is canceled), the game is over for Alain, even mathematically. Ferrari arrives in Belgium with a relatively favorable tradition (last year Alboreto secured the only victory of the season, but the race was in Zolder). However, technicians and drivers seem exhausted due to continuous changes to the cars and uninterrupted tests. In Belgium, three 156/85 cars have been brought, two in the most modern version with two openings made in the front part of the chassis, a biplane rear wing, and a cut slide. The third seems to be a copy of the one that had secured the best time for the Italian driver on May 31. There are small changes in details, but it is clear that the Maranello team intends to conduct comparative tests to see which path to take. There are no major changes for other teams. Alain Prost displays a certain confidence:
"If I win here, so much the better. But I'm not in a hurry; I feel quite calm. The role of the attacker now belongs to my rival, with all the risks it entails".
Consideration must also be given to the outsiders in the game. The usual Rosberg and Mansell with Williams, Piquet with Brabham, the unpredictable Niki Lauda. And then the Lotuses that had performed well in the spring tests. A focused and attentive Ayrton Senna explains after a lap of the track with a normal car:
"We need to see what has changed. The asphalt is different, more slippery. On the other hand, there are fewer bumps. Everything can change".
The prognosis is therefore open, even though McLaren is the favorite. On Thursday, few drivers are present at the circuit; no one thinks of placing flowers at the spot just after the pits where the young German Stefan Bellof lost his life in an Endurance race. The guardrails remain leaning against a wall and a embankment in that area. Only a row of tires has been added for additional, random protection. After all, in Francorchamps from May until now, three motorcyclists have also died. But motorsports are like that; they travel at 300 km/h and forget just as quickly. The terrible accident occurred during the 1000 km of Spa, the ninth race of the World Endurance Championship, suspended 18 laps from the end when the Lancia-Martini of Patrese-Wollek-Baldi was in the lead, considered winners of the tragic race. Eyewitnesses report that during lap 75, the spirited young Bellof (he was 27 years old and last year had become the World Champion in the discipline, while in Formula 1 he had stood out with courageous races driving for Tyrrell), this time asked too much of his daring skill. He was in third place (the Ludwig-Barllla Porsche was leading), just one second behind Jacky Ickx on another car, the official one of the German manufacturer. Racing in tandem with the Belgian Boutsen, he had taken the wheel a few minutes earlier. After the straight of the old pit, under the eyes of thousands of terrified spectators, in the climb to the Eau Rouge turn, Bellof tried to pass the Belgian on the right. The two cars collided. While Ickx, after two or three spins, ended up with the side of his coupe against the barriers, suffering only a neck contusion, the German plummeted at about 200 km/h, hugging the tangent, against the guardrail on the left edge of the track. The car crashed into the wall placed just half a meter behind the metal barrier and crumpled at the front, catching fire immediately after. Rescue teams arrived immediately, but it took several minutes to extract the near-lifeless driver, who died - according to the organizers' statements - as soon as he was transported to the resuscitation center. Stefan Bellof was considered one of the best talents of the recent generations.
Likable, easygoing, and athletic (he also played football well), he was a true enthusiast of motorsports, and his skill had caught the attention of several teams, although Ken Tyrrell was unlikely to let him slip away. He was unmarried and born in Olessen on November 20, 1957. He made his Formula 1 debut in the Brazilian Grand Prix last year, and in 1984, he won the endurance world championship title by beating his teammate Jochen Mass in the final race. His untimely death undoubtedly created deep sorrow and bitterness in the world of motorsports. The drivers at Francorchamps protested the circuit's danger. The tragedy particularly affected Riccardo Patrese, who was a friend of Bellof and was, for the first time in the season, on the verge of a significant victory, driving the Lancia-Martini with Wollek and Baldi, a victory overshadowed by the incident. Alain Prost continued to dominate his opponents. On Friday, September 13, 1985, the Frenchman set the fastest time in the first qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix, with a time of 1'56"563, at an average speed of 214.339 km/h. In a day that saw Niki Lauda as an unfortunate protagonist of an accident, the McLaren driver made further progress. It was a demonstration of both the man and the car's strength to warn those hoping to snatch a possible decisive victory from him. The results were very interesting, allowing for a comparison with times recorded three months earlier. Thirteen drivers improved, eight worsened, and three had no comparable results. The most significant improvement was made by Prost, who had serious problems in the spring and was twenty-fifth, practically without a valid time. However, on that day, in the morning, at the end of the free practice (when qualifying setup tests are conducted), he had clocked 1'58"102. This time, he had lowered it by about 1.5 seconds. Johansson also lowered his personal limit by about a second, while Alboreto was among the drivers who regressed, going from 1'66"046 (the track record) to the current 1'56"999. Although the road surface had changed, it didn't justify the negative timing outcome. For this reason, the Italian driver, still in contention for the world championship title, seemed particularly upset.
"I always found traffic on the track, and Fabi and Danner hindered me. On the day I could have taken pole position, I find myself sixth".
Alboreto doesn't want to make accusations or justify himself. In the morning, he lost half an hour testing an old car with technical solutions similar to those used on May 31. This comparison turned out to be losing compared to Johansson's new and more competitive car. Also, there's the impression that the engine on Michele's car has lower performance than the one used by the Swede. It can happen.
There are figures confirming this hypothesis: Stefan was faster by 4-5 km/h both at the finish line and at the maximum speed point. The battle for times remains very uncertain as the top six are separated by just 0.4 seconds. Without forgetting that the Williams doesn't seem comfortable on this circuit, the Lotus completely misjudged the setups (Senna then had problems of all kinds), and Piquet broke the engine on his best Brabham. There is a particularly tense atmosphere in this Formula 1 troubled by a thousand troubles. In addition to the events making headlines, there are true facts, rumors, indiscretions, inventions that complicate things and make the atmosphere even more heated. On Friday, for example, Nigel Mansell broke the steering column in the first flying lap, but he immediately noticed and returned to the pits without incident. However, someone immediately found a way to compare him to Nuvolari, who maneuvered the steering with his hands at the Valentino circuit. There is also talk of the difficulties Ecclestone is facing in replacing Piquet at Brabham next year. And then, others insinuate a sensational split between Alboreto and Ferrari. The truth is that the English manager has trouble with sponsors because he found himself without a top driver. In this regard, it seems that Olivetti has threatened to leave, dissatisfied with the situation in the British team. Another piece of news from a British source: Alain Jones, the returning Beatrice driver, stopped for three months in London for drunk driving, has been prosecuted and sentenced to a one-year suspension of his license (but not his racing license). From a technical standpoint, two surprising performances are noteworthy, with Berger's fifth time in the Arrows-BMW and Alliot's thirteenth in the Ram. As for the young Austrian, the explanation is simple: the Arrows, with some aerodynamic modifications, has proven to be quite effective. More interesting is the reason for the RAM's recovery, which has fielded only one car, leaving Acheson at home due to a lack of engines. The British team has used a new type of fuel, and the performances have significantly improved for the Hart engine, as has been the case with Toleman for some time. The curious thing is that it's not the same fuel. Formula 1 has become so sophisticated that now each car must have a different fuel depending on its supercharging system.
These are always special, heavy, chemically produced fuels with particular properties. Today, we start again, with a Ferrari in better shape than at Monza. Much can change, unless the usual storm arrives, which started on Friday a few minutes before the end of the practices. In the meantime, the case of South Africa continues to attract attention in the Formula 1 circus, even if the sporting moment currently reduces discussions and controversies. The only new development concerns Jean-Marie Balestre, who announces a press conference for Saturday at 11:30 a.m. It seems that the FISA president has been given a free hand by the FIA and its top executive, Prince Metternich, to confirm the calendar and thus hold the South African Grand Prix regularly. At least, this is what would be announced in the meeting, pending developments. It is said that the sports authorities would reserve the right to cancel the penultimate championship race if the title fight were already decided. A ridiculously compromising and delaying solution. It must also be considered that Balestre is also the president of the French federation: and the Paris government, after obtaining Renault's withdrawal (a state-owned company), seems determined to persist in its pressures on everything French in Formula 1: Balestre himself, the drivers Prost, Laffite, and Alliot, Ligier (which seems resigned, rather than inclined, to follow Renault's example not to be caught in a pro-racist position in front of the French public opinion), perhaps even Michelin. The problem of a possible shortening of the program directly involves McLaren, which is in difficulty with its second driver: Niki Lauda has been seriously injured, crashing off the track in free practice at Stavelot, due to a stuck accelerator. The car hit the barriers with the broken left front suspension. The recoil on the steering wheel caused the World Champion a strong bruise on the right wrist. When Lauda tried to operate the gearbox, he felt stabbing pain. He immediately flew to Vienna, where he underwent an X-ray and received treatment from his trusted physical trainer, Willy Dungl. He was diagnosed with a traumatic distortion of the wrist ligaments, which was plastered: it seems that he cannot return to racing before October 6, at Brands Hatch. It remains to be seen if Niki will be replaced in the meantime. De Cesaris's name was immediately mentioned. On Saturday, September 14, 1985, Alain Prost is unleashed.
With the world title in sight, the McLaren driver leaves no room for his opponents, closes every gap, and even compensates for the forced absence of Niki Lauda, assuming the Austrian could or would help him. The Frenchman starts in pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix, a race that, if held three months ago, would almost certainly have caused him some regrets. This time, however, he finds himself in the role of the number one favorite. Ferrari (fourth with Alboreto and fifth with Johansson) seems to be able to defend itself well, but the rival's superiority in terms of time, now also in qualifications, is undeniable and evident. So much so that the small French driver has become as bold as the most swaggering of the four musketeers. A kind of miniature D'Artagnan, who repels all attacks and attacks in turn. In the two days leading up to the race, Prost is always the fastest. In the free and timed practices on Friday and in the two sessions on Saturday, delayed by an hour due to dense fog that lingered over the circuit in the morning, then dissipated by the sun. Thirty-six minutes after the start of the second qualifying session, the unstoppable Alain has always been in the lead with a time of 1'55"306, a new circuit record, at an average speed of 216.676 km/h. It is a beautiful battle, very close with minimal differences. Senna immediately starts by placing himself at the top of the provisional standings, then Alboreto enters, then Piquet, but Prost concludes the carousel of fast laps with his record. Alboreto and Senna try again to take away his pole position, but the Italian driver is slowed down by other competitors, and the Brazilian by the deterioration of the tires, which don't last a full lap. Alain Prost says:
"I could have gone faster, done a second less if I hadn't found traffic. I am very satisfied with my McLaren, as normally in qualifying, we have never been the fastest, except at Zeltweg. This means that in the race, I should be even more competitive. Our advantage is to better exploit the tires. I start in the lead, but I don't want to do crazy things to stay there, even if it will be difficult to overtake me. In any case, my race is against Alboreto because I intend to increase the lead in the World Championship standings".
The challenge is taken up by Ferrari. Progress in practice is evident, although it cannot be said yet whether the cars from Maranello have recovered compared to Monza in terms of race pace. There are two concrete data points to consider: here, the race is run with average speeds close to 210 km/h, a speed that so far the Maranello cars have handled well. The other figure to take into account is the weight of the car. Prost's McLaren is checked, with a bit of fuel on board, at 557 kilograms, while Alboreto's Ferrari is at 573 kilograms. If the checks are accurate, and considering that the Italian driver weighs 10 kilograms more than his opponent, this difference is a small but significant handicap for the Modena team. However, these are not the real problems to overcome. The 156/85 cars show good reliability and noteworthy performance. At the end of the tests, in fact, Michele is upset, even with himself, for having missed a favorable opportunity:
"I found traffic again with the second set of tires. The car deserved more, perhaps the pole position. Anyway, it's going well enough. McLaren is always very strong, but we are better prepared in every sense compared to the last three races. If Prost wins again, the chances of winning the title remain only on paper, assuming there are still three races to be held afterward. I am ready to fight. The only doubt concerns the choice of tires, especially the left rear, which could be harder than the other three".
Other protagonists should not play a fundamental role in the Prost-Alboreto duel. Senna and Piquet (who may schedule a tire change) should always be taken into consideration, while the Williams of Mansell and Rosberg do not seem capable of repeating their recent exploits due to poor setup. In the meantime, McLaren tries in vain to replace Niki Lauda with John Watson. The driver arrives in Spa on Friday evening from Stuttgart, but his entry is rejected by the Belgian sports commissioners. The regulations, in fact, prevent changing drivers during the same race. Later, McLaren asks the other teams to vote unanimously for an exception to this rule. But Ferrari opposes it. Ron Dennis, the manager of the English team, admits:
"Unfortunately, the Constructors' World Championship is also at stake. If I were in the position of the Maranello team, I would have done the same".
However, Watson remains available to McLaren and could drive one of their cars at the European Grand Prix if Lauda is not ready to return by October 6. There are rumors that Niki may have also suffered a small wrist fracture. Moving on to the second topic of the day, the South African Grand Prix remains on the calendar as the penultimate race of the Formula 1 World Championship on October 19. This is officially announced by Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, reading a lengthy statement signed by Paul Metternich on behalf of the executive committee of FIA, of which FISA itself is the sports emanation. In summary, FIA does not want to cancel the race to avoid creating precedents that could lead to dangerous divisions within the organization, which includes 93 countries from around the world. The race will be canceled, even at the last moment, only if there are problems for the safety of the participants, which has not been called into question so far.
"FIA stands for peace in the world, freedom, and fraternity among peoples, for the respect of human rights, and considers the automobile and automobile sport an important means of contact between people. We must respect Article 2 of our statute, which prohibits our members from any discriminatory activity or action for political, racial, and religious reasons. Since the Automobile Club of South Africa does not prevent drivers of any nationality and color from participating in races, we cannot take away the organization of the Grand Prix from them. If it takes any action contrary to this directive, it will be immediately excluded".
It is evident that the problem does not exist, as there are no drivers of color able to participate in the Kyalami race. Formally, ethics are saved. The moral and safety issues remain. Regarding the first, Balestre repeats:
"We raced in Argentina with generals, in Corsica with separatists' bombs. We have races and rallies scheduled in the United States, the Soviet Union, Brazil, Mexico, Hungary, Portugal, Israel, Syria. I don't see why we should succumb to pressure not to go to South Africa".
Regarding safety, the French manager responds to questions:
"We have two permanent observers on the spot. We can cancel the race even at the last minute, as was done at the end of May by the decision of the sports authorities here in Belgium, for other issues. If the situation becomes untenable, we will take extraordinary measures".
The president of FISA threatens sanctions, according to the regulations, to teams and drivers who voluntarily give up the race (as Renault did and Ligier seems about to do). Then he recalls that in Imola in 1982, a race was held with only fourteen cars at the time of the break between the constructors.
"At the time when Fangio won world titles, we would have had to prevent him from participating in the championship if we had listened to the pressures that FISA received. So far, no national Automobile Club has asked us to cancel the race. Only two governments, French and Finnish, have done so. But they are not our interlocutors".
On Sunday, September 15, 1985, in the morning, the track was hit by a heavy storm, forcing the drivers to switch to wet tires even though the precipitation had stopped. The air temperature was still very low, around 13 °C.
Michele Alboreto had to switch to the reserve car due to a fuel leak in the primary car. Christian Danner faced a similar fate, having to use the reserve car due to a gearbox failure, starting from the pits. Huub Rothengatter, involved in an incident during the warm-up, raced in the old 1984 Osella FA1F. At the start of the Belgian Grand Prix, Senna made an excellent start, immediately passing Alain Prost. Nelson Piquet also overtook the Frenchman but, at the Source hairpin, he put two wheels on the curb, spun, and was passed by the group without any other driver hitting him, fortunately. Ayrton Senna led the pack ahead of Prost, Alboreto, and Mansell. In the first lap at Pouhon, Mansell overtook Alboreto. The Italian driver, hindered by a clutch problem, was overtaken by many other drivers and decided to retire from the race shortly after. The track was still wet, but on the third lap, Keke Rosberg attempted a switch to slick tires. During the fourth lap, on the long Kemmel straight, Mansell also passed Prost. Meanwhile, the track began to dry, and many drivers, seeing that Rosberg was the fastest on track, opted for dry tires. In the eighth lap, after a spin caused by an engine problem, Stefan Johansson also retired. In the following lap, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, and Alain Prost made pit stops to change tires. Elio de Angelis and Thierry Boutsen took the lead. Mansell left the pits first, ahead of Senna, but the Brazilian, aided by preheated Goodyear tires, managed to pass the English driver at Eau Rouge. At the end of the lap, Boutsen also pitted to switch to slick tires. During the tenth lap, both Senna and Mansell passed de Angelis, moving into first and second positions. Behind the top three, Rosberg climbed, followed by Prost, Berger, and Boutsen. In the eleventh lap, Mansell spun but managed to restart without losing positions. Meanwhile, De Angelis also pitted to change tires, and in the following lap, Berger also returned to the track. After fifteen laps, Senna was in the lead with a 9.4s gap over Mansell, 15.8s over Rosberg, 16.2s over Prost, and over 48s over Boutsen. A few minutes later, a heavy storm hit the pit area and Combes. This forced the drivers to increase their pace by about ten seconds per lap. However, the storm quickly subsided. Patrick Tambay, in sixth place, retired on lap 25 due to a gearbox failure. In the following laps, a duel between the two Williams heated up, with Rosberg attacking Mansell on a track where overtaking was difficult due to the wet areas off the ideal racing line.
The duel ended in the 33rd lap when Rosberg had to return to the pits due to a failure in the left front brake air intake. Shortly after, at Combes, Mansell went straight in the corner, jumped over a curb, crossed the grass, and returned to the track unharmed. After a quick repair, Rosberg also rejoined the race in fourth place, behind Prost. Meanwhile, the track dried up again. Senna led by a wide margin over Mansell, although the engine in his Lotus was not functioning perfectly. Boutsen, in fifth, was also penalized by a technical failure, in his case, a gearbox issue. In the 39th lap, Derek Warwick and Piquet both passed Boutsen. In the 40th lap, the Brazilian driver of the Brabham also managed to overtake Warwick. A few laps from the end, Boutsen retired. If there is water on the track, there are two races in Formula 1. One for Ayrton Senna, the second for the others. This was the case in Portugal under incredible rainfall, and this was the case in the Belgian Grand Prix, repeatedly soaked by wandering storms in the area. The Lotus driver won not only with his acrobatic skills but also with tactical sensitivity and the ability to drive at the limit without making mistakes. The Williams tried to attack him without success, with a unleashed Rosberg in a spectacular comeback; however, Alain Prost did not even try, settling for a third place behind Englishman Mansell. Ferrari was never in contention during the race, plagued by a series of issues that left everyone disappointed after promising performances in recent days. The chronicle of the race for the Maranello cars began in the morning during the usual half-hour warm-up. On the wet track (with various excursions for Fabi, Piquet, Rothengatter, and Martini), Alboreto stayed for a short time. He returned to the pit after a few laps with a fuel circuit problem. A similar issue had occurred to Johansson on Friday. The Maranello mechanics immediately got to work, changing the entire system, testing the engine, as the fuel flowed regularly. However, during the reconnaissance lap, the car had another problem: an oil leak caused a fire near the waste-gate valve. The fire was promptly extinguished, but Michele had to change cars, taking the reserve one that he had only tested for half an hour on Friday. The Italian driver left the pit just in time to line up at the start. When he arrived on the grid, he jumped out of the car and literally ran towards the Ferrari motorhome, quite far away. There were various hypotheses, even the most absurd ones (abandonment of the race like Niki Lauda in Canada in 1979!) and a mass chase of the driver who had only gone to change the dirty helmet visor. Then the start, already with some doubts.
And indeed, while Senna immediately escaped from Prost on the wet asphalt, and while Piquet took a big risk for a spin at the Source hairpin (the two Ferraris passed three centimeters from the sideways Brabham on the track), Alboreto was immediately forced to retire due to a clutch failure. It's still a crisis for Ferrari, beyond the most pessimistic forecasts. It must be said that the Maranello team does not dramatize, immediately after the retirements of Alboreto and Johansson. It is sad to see the mechanics immediately pack up all the equipment and prepare to leave while the others on the track, including Prost, were competing for the points at stake. It had not happened for a long time, indeed it had never happened during the season, that both cars finished out of the race. Alboreto, stopping after four laps, is quite serene, although he naturally feels the blow.
"It's a negative day, now Prost also has an extra advantage over me to take into account. Too bad because the car could have won. We had improved, and in recent days, we had also been cautious in our statements. Everything happened. First, the breakdown of the race car, then in the reserve one, the clutch broke right after the start. Don't talk to me about the World Championship. Miracles? Some say they exist, but I don't believe it".
For Stefan Johansson, another bitterness, another missed goal.
"A real disappointment because I was free to absolutely run my race. The engine suddenly crashed, I don't understand what could have happened, given that in these days we had never had such problems. I think I could have finished among the top, if not even win".
The analysis of the sports director, Marco Piccinini, is also calm:
"We absolutely cannot talk about bad luck. It's our fault. If we had a flat tire or a brick had fallen on us, now we would be here cursing our bad luck. Instead, we had more mechanical problems, and this takes away any chance of complaining. The engine failure of Johansson is worrying because we thought we had solved the problems in this area. Now we go on as planned. There should be no further tests beyond those scheduled at Fiorano. We will study all the technical data and see what to do. On paper, we are not yet beaten, but McLaren has gone beyond, distancing us both in the driver and constructor standings".
Everyone wants to know if Ferrari will be able to overcome this very long crisis, which has now lasted for several races.
"Although there hasn't been much positive in these days, we have achieved an improvement in performance. But we lost three cars in one day, and this is hardly explainable. We will conduct in-depth examinations and see if we can recover, at least in part".
The comments of some competitors towards the Maranello team are severe, especially those of Prost, his direct adversary:
"I can't understand what happened because I really thought they were capable of returning to the highest levels. Instead, I was wrong. I believe that the Italian team has not only lost races but also a bit of focus on what it needs to do. It must be acknowledged that the English teams are cooler in this regard and perhaps handle difficult moments more easily. There is too much pressure around Alboreto and his teammates, and this is certainly a disadvantage. So, I have an additional advantage".
At the same time, there are three happy men but also somewhat disappointed. This is what is perceived during the press conference, where Senna, Mansell, and Prost talk at length.
The Brazilian is not too satisfied because, despite securing the second win of his career, he knows he is out of the running for the world championship, even though he has reached third place in the overall standings. The Englishman, on the other hand, at his best result since starting in Formula 1, hoped to achieve at least one victory, taken away by the South American. As for Prost, the Frenchman is happy with the placement, but clearly, a first-place finish would have been more convenient. Ayrton Senna says:
"It was a nice victory, but not the most beautiful; I preferred the one in Portugal. Firstly, because it was the first, and secondly, because it was more challenging. All under the rain, with a driving style that highlighted the driver's skills more. Here, the credit is 50% for the man and 50% for the machine".
Mansell, who is next to Prost, greets him as the reigning World Champion.
"Now Alain has won, there are no more doubts. As for me, I believe I had a good race. I had problems with the brakes, and when I went straight into the chicane, it was Surer's fault that forced me into a wrong trajectory to avoid a collision".
And we come to Prost, smiling, satisfied, slightly content, now, to be the 1985 World Champion. The Frenchman doesn't say it, but the four points earned also have their weight in the challenge with Alboreto:
"Of course, it's a step forward. Now, there are only three races left, and my task will be mainly to control Ferrari number 27. My car was fantastic; I took no risks".
Why didn't he try to seal the deal for the world title with a win immediately?
"I would have gladly done it, but it wasn't possible. The track was getting wet and drying up rapidly, and taking too many risks to chase the two Williams and Senna was not advisable. At the start, I wasn't quick because we have large turbines that don't allow for an immediate boost. If the rain hadn't come, I would have won with extreme ease. Instead, I had to avoid forcing and try to reach the finish. My minimum goal was to take three points, and it was surpassed".
What did Prost feel when he saw Alboreto immediately stopped in a meadow?
"I realized I had a clear path. But in Formula 1, you never know; anything can happen. That's why I remained calm. It was foolish to take risks. Only once did I fear going off the track due to overtaking an Arrows. Otherwise, I always drove with extreme caution".
A prediction for the upcoming races?
"In three weeks, we'll be at Brands Hatch. I believe McLaren could be favored there as well. I think the main rival for that track will always be Williams. Ferrari? It's a mystery. It seemed like a very reliable car; now, however, they have a lot of problems. I think this is also the secret of our team".
The sparse audience at the Belgian Grand Prix (about 20,000 people) was mostly composed of French fans.
Disappointed by Renault and Ligier, they poured their passion onto Alain Prost, who, until now, was not the French driver with the most support, despite repeated successes. Now that the McLaren racer is about to become the first Frenchman to win the Formula 1 world title in history, everyone rallies around him and shows appreciation for his skills, even when he has to restrain himself, as he did on Sunday. Alain Prost is a champion and fully deserves the world title he is about to conquer. There are no doubts about that. Twenty-one victories (even before entering Formula 1, he had an impressive number of wins in minor series) and staying at the top of the standings for four years demonstrate his commitment and considerable talent. He had been very unlucky so far; now he reaps the rewards of significant effort and talent. Some may wonder how the Frenchman has improved compared to 1984 when he lost the World Championship by half a point. The answer is simple: he followed the teachings of a great teacher, Niki Lauda. Last year, Prost paid for the lessons from the Austrian and now takes revenge with interest. Only mathematics is missing in the conquest of the title. The chances that Alboreto (given the situation of Ferrari) can surpass Prost at the last minute are linked only to an unthinkable series of favorable coincidences for the Italian driver. In essence, the McLaren driver will have the opportunity to become World Champion already in the next race at Brands Hatch, on Sunday, October 6. Assuming that there are still three races to be contested (there is always doubt about South Africa), in the following cases, the Frenchman will reach the goal with two races to spare: If Prost leads Alboreto by another two points (even if Alboreto wins the last two races, he will reach 71 points but lose due to fewer victories).
In this calculation, possible discards should not be considered, which will only be made beyond the eleven results for each of the two rivals (Prost has ten, Alboreto nine). If the two opponents do not finish in the top two positions, and Prost precedes Alboreto in the points zone (up to sixth place). If Prost finishes behind Alboreto, and the Italian does not enter the top two (Alboreto third, Prost fourth, and so on). Everything plays in favor of Alain, even though Michele has not yet given up. In the event that Prost somehow manages to lose this title (he would have to retire three times and Alboreto win at least two races), he should consider changing professions. There is only one word to define the situation of Ferrari in the Formula 1 world championship: crisis. The worst in recent years. It is not only about the result of the Belgian Grand Prix, Alboreto and Johansson's retirements in the early laps. After all, the Maranello team is always second in the Drivers' World Championship (with no concrete hopes of a last-minute overtaking) and in the Constructors' World Championship, where, at most, with a bit of luck, they could still achieve a surprising result. What is worrying is the inability to react positively, to recover against direct opponents. If they lost competitiveness at Monza, in Francorchamps, they also lost the reliability of the cars. A bad day, it's true, but also a sign of a downward trend that could have consequences for the future. None of the professionals feels comfortable criticizing Ferrari directly. Asking John Barnard, the designer of McLaren, or Gerard Ducarouge, the technical manager of Lotus, to talk about the problems of the Maranello team would be impossible. They prefer to remain silent, even if they have opinions. In the past, some had spoken, put forward hypotheses, but now is not the time. They respect each other's work because the risk of making mistakes is lurking for everyone. See Gordon Murray, the genius of Brabham, who apparently did not calculate well this year. Some insight can be gained from Alain Prost and Niki Lauda, who, due to different experiences, have their ideas. Alain Prost says:
"Since the beginning of the season, my McLaren has been improving. I finished all the races, except two, due to off-road excursions. The car is competitive and reliable; Ferrari doesn't have the same consistency. Their technical managers have to simultaneously fine-tune the car and seek new solutions. Sometimes they succeed, other times not. Our car has been modified gradually and in small details. We are in the field of certainty, while our opponents explore unknown areas".
Lauda, on the other hand, is more incisive:
"Ferrari lacks a brain capable of consolidating the work of specialists in various areas. Dividing tasks is right, but especially in Formula 1, there always needs to be a person capable of setting a direction".
These are undoubtedly interesting evaluations, but they alone do not explain the difficulties the Modena team faces. Ferrari has lived since its inception on the resources of excellent engines made in Maranello. A superiority (even in horsepower) that almost always allowed them to overcome any aerodynamic and chassis deficiencies. This supremacy lasted until last year when, in terms of experience with turbocharged engines, the Maranello team was second only to Renault but had surpassed the French brand, tied to a somewhat outdated and unsuitable engine for further improvements. Now cars like McLaren (Porsche engine) and Williams (Honda engine) seem to have significantly superior power in both qualifying and races. For this reason, Ferrari is forced to take risks, to impose unsustainable efforts on its six-cylinder. Hence the repeated breakdowns are explained. In essence, if Maranello wants to recover, it will have to build a new engine since the four-cylinder developed in recent times does not seem to have produced the expected results. But that's not enough. To manage a Formula 1 team, you need someone who, on the technical side, can make decisions without hesitation, with full responsibility. With all due respect to Tomaini and the young Maurizio Nardon, responsible for setting up Alboreto and Johansson's cars, it does not seem that this goal has been achieved. When a technician has to call Maranello every time to ask for permission even to move a screw, his function ends automatically. A sports director, no matter how politically skilled, cannot make certain decisions. At Williams, McLaren, Lotus, designers are in the circuits, they see the other cars, they move independently with full trust from the team manager. They too can make mistakes, but certainly, they have an easier task. Now it's too late to change anything for Ferrari, but certainly, it's already time to work for 1986. And thinking about Indianapolis (at Fiorano, Bobby Rahal's March is running, 48 laps, best time 1'12"74, to start having comparative data when and if the project to race in the United States materializes) appears at this moment a waste of time.