Back from South Africa, on Monday the 21st of October of 1985 Niki Lauda flies to Paris. While his colleagues enjoy a vacation (almost everyone is in Mauritius, in the Pacific Ocean) before the last Grand Prix of the season, scheduled on Sunday the 3rd of November of 1985 in Adelaide, Australia, the Austrian driver takes care of some business. Or rather, he lives days full of tension. After the official announcement of his retirement, the second one from agonistic activity, occurred in the middle of August, Niki finds himself in the position to rethink his plans and decide maybe to race for at least a couple more seasons. The World Champion of Formula 1 (a title he will hold until the end of 1985, when he will hand it to Alain Prost) is torn between opposite emotions.
"I am tired, just like a while ago I don’t have any more stimuli to keep driving racing cars".
But since he is cunning and devilish, he adds:
"Yes, I have seen the Brabham project. Gordon Murray explained to me how the new car will turn out extraordinary. A different car, a team to change, an engine to test. In short, there are prerogatives to think about it. If they had told me earlier, in July, this would have been a done deal".
The truth is that Formula 1 still needs Lauda. To the point where Bernie Ecclestone who has never paid the drivers willingly, after having lost Nelson Piquet for a much smaller amount of money, pressed by the sponsors that want a prestigious name on their cars, makes him an offer he can’t refuse: 6.000.000 dollars. One of the highest amounts paid to a champion in any sport. It is possible that Lauda was joking, but this is the situation and in the following days a decision will be taken. Furthermore, the story is rather confusing since Brabham should have already signed Patrese and De Angelis. One of them risks his place. On the other hand, right now there is an escalation of prices of the top drivers (Prost, Piquet, Rosberg are worth around 3.000.000 dollars) Formula 1 is risking a lot, a sort of failed rupture that could mark the beginning of an irreversible crisis. Just like it happened in Formula 2, a few years ago in vogue with a much-followed European championship and now disappeared from the scene. The problem comes from the escalation of the prices that could significantly reduce the number of teams subscribed to the World Championship. With few cars at the start the races would lose credibility and interest, bringing this motorsport grown enormously on the verge of collapsing. Giancarlo Minardi, young constructor from Faenza, arrived in Formula 1 at the start of the year, after an honorable rigmarole in the minor series, sends a loud cry.
"My budget for 1986, supported by figures, is beyond 7.000.000.000 lire. And we have to consider that I offer to my young driver, Pierluigi Martini, a wage of 120.000.000 lire, much less than what an average football player earns. The issues are considerable, it’s necessary that the richer teams help us in some way. Without the small teams, they would face many difficulties as well".
The logic is valid. Renault retired, Ligier is struggling, RAM hasn’t taken part in the South African Grand Prix because they didn’t have enough money. Next year some teams may also not find any engines available. In the first place because the companies that build them aren’t willing to give engines to everyone, second of all because the thrusters for one season, between purchases and reviews, are around 3.500.000.000 lire. Without Minardi, Osella, RAM, Ligier, Formula 1 wouldn’t lose the absolute protagonists, but the necessary outline to guarantee a bit of show and the expansion of interests. Moreover, it appears that Alfa Romeo’s retirement from Formula 1 is almost confirmed. The new administrative directors of the company quit for economical difficulties. The question is under what condition. At Autodelta, the Milan House sports society, is developing a new four-cylinder engine that could be eventually sold to the other teams (among the others there’s the Ligier’s name). It seems to be confirmed the abolition of the new collaboration with Euroracing. In the meantime, the circus arrives in Australia to take part in the last Grand Prix of the season.
Starting from Thursday the 31st of October of 1985 there will be the first laps on the circuit that on Sunday the 3rd of November of 1985 will host the last round of the World Championship of Formula 1. The official qualifying from Friday will start a much-crowded weekend in this city of 1.000.000 people in the South of Australia. There is a lot of excitement in the whole subcontinent. The newspapers and television keep presenting the event on Sunday like one of the most important dates in the story of Australian sports. All the drivers have already seen the track and they have given extremely positive feedback. The champions are coming back from a holiday interlude between the Gran Prix in South Africa, the second-to-last round, and this last date in 1985, afterwards many of them will change suits. Wednesday the 30th of October of 1895 Niki Lauda arrives in Adelaide too, surrounded by a big interest regarding the possibility of him still racing the next year. Lauda, after getting off the plane, announces that the attempt to establish a relationship with Brabham is gone, there is no sight of a deal with Bernie Ecclestone. The economical story of this relationship has gone like this: Bernie Ecclestone has given Lauda the possibility of racing in 1986 for an amount of money around 4.500.000 dollars. Niki raised it to 6.000.000, the sponsors would have divided the obligation into thirds: 2.000.000 dollars Pirelli, that provides Brabham with pneumatics, 2.000.000 dollars Olivetti and 2.000.000 Brabham. There has even been the rumor of Lauda taking off 1.000.000 from the deal for Ecclestone.
This would have allowed the English manager to have his sponsors pay 4.000.000 dollars each and he would have paid only 500.000 dollars. This all seems to have sunk due to the too high requests coming from the former Champion of the world. Olivetti and Brabham tried one last chance and proposed a peculiar formula: 3.500.000 dollars paid immediately and another 1.500.000 dollars in case the Austrian managed to gain 70 points in the following season. It’s important to mention the return of Capelli in Tyrrell and the positive judgements from every driver on the grid. 80.000 tickets have been sold already. This last iridescent round on a street circuit could favor Ferrari that has felt at ease on this kind of track this past year. However, the Italian team seems shaken by the latest defeats and there is some internal controversy about the statements made by Michele Alboreto. The driver supposedly received a reprimand of 42 lines via telex from the Ferrari commander himself. On Thursday the 31st of October of 1985 a series of impressive spins that involve expert drivers as well, such as Prost, Piquet and Rosberg, enliven the day of free practices that inaugurate the new circuit in which there will be on Sunday the grand prix of Australia, last race of the Formula 1 Championship. However, two hours and a half of training provides the first relevant data on this track, judged by everyone as very beautiful. After the test drive a few drivers don’t find it very favorable. De Angelis finds the circuit too short, extremely simple, and therefore little selective. Teo Fabi shares the same opinion and says:
"The track is less interesting than when you look at it from outside. Moreover, the road surface is wavy, especially where we need to break hard. All of this affects our and the cars’ behavior not conclusively but considerably. We have to be careful, otherwise we may risk crashing into the protective walls".
On the other hand, almost everyone else says that the track is very good. Some, like Prost himself, define it as wonderful and pleasant to face. The fastest of them all is once again Ayrton Senna, but his performance doesn’t have an absolute value. The times are approximate, and it is sure that during the official practices, especially in the qualifying valid for the starting grid, the lap speed will be higher. In addition, the road is very thin and the dust that is on the track makes the surface very slippery. Everyone pays the price for this by spinning around the track. For some drivers, like Prost and Piquet, it’s just a moment of fear. Others, like Nigel Mansell, collide mildly against the walls and the mechanics only have to change the front wing. What happens to the Italian driver Ivan Capelli is much worse, he crashes with his Tyrrell violently against the concrete barriers. The young driver was engaging the fifth gear (therefore he was in full speed) when the rear end of his car slipped on the side and after a sort of a spin, he ended up brutally against the obstacle. Aside from Senna, the Belgian driver Tierry Bousten stands out from the rest, he manages to take his Arrows behind the Brazilian, gaining the second performance of the day… Right behind there are Nelson Piquet and his teammate, Marc Surer.
The Swiss, on more than one occasion, shows a spectacular drive that sends the numerous public that attend this first day of practices into rapture. Great performance from the two Williams drivers, Rosberg and Mansell that occupied the positions next to the best, while Alboreto with Ferrari had to settle for seventh place. It's a tough day for Alain Prost too. The World Champion suffers either of a flu attack or an intestinal virus. The little French man suffers from vertigo all day and driving in those conditions requires no small effort. Quite behind, in terms of performance, is Niki Lauda. Ferrari is bad in Australia too and Michele Alboreto is more depressed. But he keeps quiet. After the first day of practices, he simply says:
"Let’s talk about anything, about kangaroos, about koalas but not about cars".
He doesn’t add anything else if not a charming smile. The Italian driver sets the twelfth time and Johansson the fourteenth. Ma what could he say after all? It’s the same old story. For example, Keke Rosberg with his Williams-Honda keeps shining with Ayrton Senna. The Lotus driver is slower than the Finnish by one infinitesimal millisecond. But Senna wants to set the record straight:
"I got held up on purpose by Mansell when I was looking for the best time".
If there is a surprise, it comes from Alfa Romeo that places Cheever and Patrese in fifth and sixth position. Ferrari is struggling – despite the discreet premises in Thursday’s free practice – even on Adelaide Street circuit where, in theory, it should have emerged like in Monte-Carlo, Montreal and Detroit. On these tracks there is no need to release so much power like on the fast circuits. Cheever and Patrese’s exploits are the living proof: the two of them, with the Alfa’s, achieved performances quite close to the top, even if they can squeeze a few horses out of that engine and in qualifying, they usually don’t place anywhere higher than tenth. Rosberg and Mansell’s Williams clamp onto Senna in a vice, but the Brazilian explains that he put on already used qualifying tires. The soft tires on this track create problems for many drivers. Almost none of those who use Goodyear tires can use a full set since there is degradation after one lap. Here there is another advantage for Senna to whom Lotus not only allows the use of softer tires, but also lets him reuse them. Also, Nelson Piquet has real chances of getting into the fight. The Brazilian with Brabham is fourth, even if he partially ruins the tires the moment he comes on track among the first, when the circuit doesn’t provide the ideal grip. Nevertheless, Piquet is satisfied with the car, and he already books a place among those who aim for success. Niki Lauda and Alain Prost are in crisis. The two McLaren drivers don’t set times that live up to their fame. In addition, the Frenchman still has physical problems. A touch of the flu with intestinal issues and violent dizziness pains the French driver to the point where he commits several mistakes. He even hits the protective barrier when returning into the box.
"I was feeling dizzy and because of this unconsciously I spun three more times. I think it’s for the physical tiredness accumulated in the last month between races and representative plans with the sponsors. Besides, the car has big braking issues. I wish to come back stronger and drive a good race".
Lauda is more concise. The Austrian sums up his problems like this:
"The brakes aren’t working, and I think I’m the one who has the car with the least grip".
It’s not the first time that McLaren struggles on the first day of practice, but it has the strength to arise before the race. There are goals to strike back for De Angelis too who, due to the issues with the engine, can only manage to use one set of qualifying tires. Teo Fabi is the second-to-last because he stops on the track, betrayed by the thruster during the warm-up lap.
In the meantime, the silly season in Formula 1 is more alive than ever and tries to complete the transfer window for the next season. Benetton will announce officially the future plans that anticipate the use of BMW engines on Toleman. The German House will take care of the review of the thrusters, although all of this doesn’t please Ecclestone at all. Brabham patron clearly preferred avoiding possible comparisons between his cars and Toleman’s. And Hart? Left by Toleman, the constructor of four cylinders has been negotiating with RAM directors to buy the engine. Regarding the drivers, it’s almost certain that Berger will be Fabi’s teammate at Toleman. The Austrian is backed up by Bmw: without him there is no deal. At Brabham there are several hypotheses. These are the latest statements made by Eccleston in regard to the future team:
"I will announce the drivers for 1986 in December. Everything is possible with Lauda, the barrier that divides his yes from his no is strictly economical. I would like to have an American driver on the team though, it would be an advantage for everyone in Formula 1. At this point I am negotiating with Willy Ribbs who is a valid black racing driver".
On Saturday the 2nd of November of 1985, whilst the Italian racing fans were dreaming about a Ferrari win in Adelaide, Australia, where they are nine hours and a half ahead of Italy, a long season of Formula 1 came to an end. Sixteen races, an already appointed champion and two goodbyes, Niki Lauda and Renault’s. In the last day of practice there are remnants of emotions thanks to Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell. The Brazilian achieved the seventh pole position of the year with a breathtaking lap. Senna’s prowess points out the easiness with which Lotus adapts to most tracks keeping a high level of grip. Mansell is fast in this golden season finale for him. The English driver, after having overcome the second driver complex and the reverence towards his award-winning teammate Keke Rosberg, with the team support, he plans on becoming in 1986 Nelson Piquet’s alter-ego with no half measures. The English driver explains:
"Adelaide is a track that puts tires, brakes, and drivers to the test. The double turn on the right, after the start, is a crucial point, a true funnel, we will have to be careful. I think the starting is decisive".
In the qualifying session, Rosberg had to settle for third place. Says the mustached Finnish after practice, implying that his move to McLaren has caused at Williams a transfer of attention onto Mansell:
"I don’t understand why I went so slow".
Slightly recovered by the stomachache of the past days, Alain Prost honors the fresh Champion of the World title by placing fourth in qualifying.
"It has been hard balancing the car, even because at the end of the season our car hasn’t improved like Lotus and Williams".
Then Prost confesses he’d like to achieve one last success before closing his iridescent year in the best way possible. Johansson is quite behind, whilst Michele Alboreto, after a patient job done in the past days, sets with Ferrari a fifth time that puts him in the third row of the grid. The Italian hops in his carbon brakes and increased turbines car ("To have more chances on a track where brakes become as fundamental as tires and driver") so he found a car that was better than on Friday.
"It is useless to point to a placement, so it is worth risking something on the technical side to go for the podium. For this reason, I will race with carbon brakes tomorrow".
Alfa Romeo retrocedes compared to Friday for some problems with the engine. Cheever (whose brother Ross won the Formula Mondial race, a sort of Australian Formula 3) is left stranded after the breakage of the thruster while Patrese complains because on the straight, due to a drop of power, he drives 20 km/h slower than the best’s top speed. For Lauda, on the last race of his career, unless he retraces his steps, it’s a bad qualifying.
"After all, I’m happy to start sixteenth, because if I had reached the first rows, maybe the excitement would have come back and maybe I wouldn’t have left Formula 1. During practice the car suffered from electrical issues, and I had to opt for the reserve car. However, I would like this race to end in the best way possible".
Once practice is over, the supply of BMW engines to Toleman for 1986 is official. The English team, that starting from January the 1st will be named Benetton Motorsport, will have in the team board of directors not only the directors of the Italian company, but also the designer Rory Byrne. A move to avoid the English technician accepting any offer from Ferrari which may want to hire him for next season.
"The choice of German engines has been made necessary because the new Alfa Romeo engine isn’t ready yet and we couldn’t risk another season of failures".
Alfa Romeo won’t entirely leave Formula 1. The House from Milan, after having closed Autodelta that represented his racing department, and the gradual disengagement from the sport, plans on staying in the World Championship as an engine supplier. Doctor Felici, general director of the sports field at Alfa Romeo, states that:
"The new four-cylinder thruster is now ready and we already have five engines that have been bench tested since June. Another five are in an advanced stage of assembly and for next season we are already negotiating with Ligier. At first, we wanted to provide these engines to Toleman and for this reason we wrote a deal according to which Toleman would have adapted one of its cars to the thruster and run the first tests. Unfortunately, the relationship has ended since the English team has stuck with BMW for next season. Nonetheless, this doesn’t affect our decision. Alfa Romeo, independently from the deals with other teams, will continue on its own the development of the new thruster".
On Sunday the 3rd of November of 1985, at the start of the Australian Grand Prix Mansell overtakes Senna in pole position. After a few hundreds of meters the Brazilian attempts a desperate overtake. The Englishman, who has set the right direction, finds his way blocked and the collision is inevitable. Senna pushes towards the outside and Mansell does not want to give in. This all ends up with a big hit against the Williams, the gear shift breaks and Mansell is left stranded. Rosberg takes advantage of this and takes the lead ahead of Senna, who has come out unscathed, and of Albereto who overtakes Prost, and of a wild Boutsen and just as aggressive Surer. From the center of the group in the meantime Lauda makes his way. De Angelis, who started last to do the warm-up lap, instead of starting from last position he gains his position back from the start and gets disqualified. Cheever and Piquet retire too. Alboreto is the first to change the tires: with the tank full the harsh braking of this track wears out the tires and on lap 12 the Italian driver comes into the box. Rosberg creates a gap, Senna resists at a distance and the race loses another protagonist: the engine betrays Prost and he can’t honor the World Champion title he just won. The competitiveness of Rosberg’s car leaves little to no room for his rivals, only Senna is ready to slide into his slipstream when the Finnish’s tires are starting to wear out. In the rush the Brazilian takes himself a few millimeters away from the rear wing of the Williams, when he starts to slow down to enter the box Ayrton touches him, losing his front wing. Senna wants to overdo and, instead of stopping to fix his car, he pushes to the limit with the result of spinning, before the necessary pitstop.
Rosberg is ready to take the lead, while Senna has to overtake Lauda who with a comeback by the book is in the midst of the fight. The Austrian champion sees the chance and, despite his brakes being in crisis, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to overtake the Brazilian and take the lead because, in the meantime, Rosberg has pitted again to change the tires. The public applauds, once again Lauda has given everyone driving lessons. From sixteenth to first, one overtake after the other, with the same tires, whilst his rivals have already changed them once or twice. It’s a dream for everyone: Niki in his last race, one step from the win. But one of the McLaren brakes gets stuck and the car stops, slides sideways and against one of the cement barriers. Unfortunate. Ahead Senna takes the lead, pressed by Rosberg and Alboreto is third. A few laps and the race reaches a breaking point. Alboreto retires because of the unscrewing of a bolt which secures internally the rear shift lever. Senna is retiring because of an engine breakage. Rosberg starts the triumphant march. But the emotions aren’t over. Latiffe, who with his experience is ready to give Ligier an important place of honor, is forced to defend himself from his young teammate Streiff who is tired of the third place his team-manager is prescribing him with a slow sign. The Frenchman ends up hitting his teammate, he bends the front left tire and crawls with the bottom of his car against the ground. Well done Rosberg and well done to the young Ivan Capelli too, who is fourth. The Italian driver, forced to race with a seat too big, is in a lot of pain but he endures. In the end, sorely tired, with his back muscles contracted, he faints in the box and when he wakes up he doesn’t remember finishing fourth. Johansson is fifth, author of a good race, with an overtake on Berger by the book. But it’s not enough for the Maranello team that ended this season quietly, which had many hopes after the first races. Seventy-nine years in two, an average of 39 years and a half each, a retirement age for Formula 1 drivers. On the other hand, on the podium in Adelaide, Rosberg and Laffite look like young kids. This race was anything but relaxing.
"It’s been the toughest race of the season, in comparison the other street circuits Monte-Carlo and Detroit are a joke. This track doesn’t leave you time to breathe. It’s deadly for the brakes. Maybe the key to the victory has been the choice of the brakes. I used the old conventional ones rather than the carbon ones, they’re more efficient but also harder for a track like this one".
Senna accuses him of having braked on purpose on a turn where you can’t brake…
"Ayrton is a good driver, undoubtedly a fast one, but he doesn’t have the experience. I didn’t brake on purpose, I slowed down because I had to pit to change the tire. I didn’t even acknowledge the collision, nevertheless he has to be careful when blaming others".
Nigel Mansell is also particularly hard on Senna, as expected:
"He’s irresponsible, he could have caused a big accident, every time he hazards overtakes that aren’t possible. I don’t want to add anything else because it would be all curses".
Obviously, Senna sees things differently:
"Keke was smart when he braked. He waited for me to be as close as possible before braking somewhere unimaginable. I couldn’t avoid the collision. It’s probably the moment when I lost the race. It’s a shame because the car was efficient and if Rosberg hadn’t pitted again, I would have won".
But he has also something to say about Mansell and his behavior:
"Nigel started better than me but, on turn two, I was next to him and he didn’t want to take his foot off the pedal. He tried to go through the turn side by side, where only one car can get through and the impact was inevitable".
It wasn’t easy for Laffite to step on the podium in second place. His young teammate Streiff was the one blocking his way in order to overtake him and then violently crashed into him. Gerard Larouse, Ligier manager, harshly criticizes his behavior:
"He risked ruining everything, one unforgivable mistake that will cost him the seat for next season".
Stefan Johansson’s fifth place is bittersweet for the men in Ferrari. Marco Piccinini, the team sports director, comments on it:
"Two points that could have been so much more because today the win was in Michele’s league. Second place in the constructors championship, 8 points behind McLaren is still a good result".
Alboreto’s dream to fix a season finale full of disappointments has faded due to a bolt of the gear shift, of a few hundreds lire, that unscrewed and took away from the driver the possibility to change gears.
"It’s a shame because in this race I could have easily gotten on the podium. After a good start I had overtaken Prost and halfway through the race I was gaining a lot on Rosberg. The car was perfect, the carbon brakes were efficient. In short, it was a missed chance".
"My brakes, instead, were a torture and by the fifteenth lap I had to reduce the pace in order to cross the finish line. Also the tires were an ordeal, they were constantly degrading and I had to pit twice to change them".
This Australian Grand Prix was stingy with the results for Prost and Lauda too, both forced to retire when they were in good positions. Lauda, betrayed by the brakes, was even in first place:
"For over ten laps the braking pedal lengthens the stroke at every braking. Then suddenly, it got stuck and the car turned to the left and my race was over".
On his last race with Lotus Elio De Angelis was disqualified on the eighteenth lap: during the warm-up lap his car stopped and was started with a push. But instead of starting last on the grid, like the regulations say, De Angelis positioned himself in his previous fifth row. Great joy for Ivan Capelli, who in the second race of his life achieved a brilliant fourth place. This is the end of the Formula 1 World Championship. Alain Prost had already won the title with two rounds to go. McLaren finished its job by winning the constructors championship, even if its two drivers didn’t make it to the finish line. An impressive result for the English team that is powered by the Porsche engine: two consecutive successes (last year Lauda won) are a good show of strength, an achievement reached by few teams. The last one-two dates back to 1966-1967 (Brabham). The Championship is over also with the third consecutive success from Williams. After Nigel Mansell’s one-two in Brands Hatch and in Kyalami, the last race in Adelaide has seen Keke Rosberg’s triumph, who leaves the team with his second personal win of the season: in 1986 he will be in McLaren next to Prost. Great driver, great car, given that the first place has been achieved despite his three pit stops to change the tires.
It’s a shame that Mansell retired because of the gearshift breakage, or better because of Senna’s impulsiveness, protagonist of the race for better or worse. However, there was nothing to say on McLaren's double win in the World Championship. The English team has proved to be the most consistent and competitive throughout a Championship that has seen cars race for 4800 km. Ron Dennis’ team was able to survive tough situations (firstly the change of the tire supplier), developing efficiently the evolution of the car. Alain Prost - matured from his past experiences- didn’t do anything wrong. It remains unsolved the series of failures that didn’t allow his teammate Niki Lauda to reap the rewards of his talent. It’s a shame because the Austrian has proved himself to be a champion and he has been the main character of many races. Behind McLaren, with figures to back it up, the best team has been Ferrari. Alboreto has conquered, with the second place in the World Championship standings, the best placement ever achieved by an Italian driver since Ascari. The Maranello team has kept the vice champion position among the constructors. A summary that can be considered positive if Ferrari hadn’t last won a race in 1979. But what stings the most is the illusion created in the first part of the season when the fans had started to dream thanks to the victories in Montreal and Nurburgring and with Alboreto leading in the standings.
In the sport you can either win or lose, but when defeated it would be nice to at least fight back. Ferrari suffered a progressive drop in performance that mortified its drivers. It’s difficult to explain what really happened. Perhaps it has been a series of factors that sum up together and led to this drop in competitiveness for the red cars. When the engine was enough to overcome the chassis and aerodynamics’ deficiencies, the results came regularly. As soon as the rivals made some progress and it was necessary to ask for more power, here came the troubles. And to think that Ferrari was also unlucky because in some key moments it could have put McLaren under pressure. Alboreto’s puncture in Monte-Carlo, the silly breakage that stopped the Italian driver in Imola, the Belgian Grand Prix being canceled in spring: three missed chances. Now Ferrari has to start from zero, design and build an entirely new car. Other teams’ technicians are ahead, in less than a month we will see the first practices on track. It will be tough to recover immediately but it is necessary to set a relaunch schedule under tight deadlines. It won’t be easy: Williams-Honda is the car to beat in 1986, McLaren-Porsche isn’t to be underestimated, BMW counts on a revolutionary Brabham, on Arrows and on Toleman. Since Renault will only focus on engines it will push Lotus and Tyrrell. Then there will be the Ford debut with Beatrice. This time the challenge is going to be a hard one for Enzo Ferrari, turning 88 on the 18th of February.