#403 1984 European Grand Prix

2021-09-09 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti, Giulia Noto,

#403 1984 European Grand Prix

A certain amount of testing have already taken place before everyone arrives for the European Grand Prix, so a little knowledge of this new computer d

A certain amount of testing have already taken place before everyone arrives for the European Grand Prix, so a little knowledge of this new computer designed circuit is known, but there is nothing like the real thing of official practice to get people going. Friday morning is dry, the sun is shining and it is not actually cold, so tyre testing, consumption testing, suspension testing, brake testing, aerodynamic testing and noon took place as usual, the information being sorted out into category A of immediate interest for the afternoon qualifying session for places on the grid, and B for race day and race conditions over 67 laps of the new track, rather than one flat-out lap to record a time. There are no problems for the rabbits at the back of the field, for there are only 26 drivers entered, so it means that everyone is assured of a place on the starting grid, providing they are not hopelessly slow. In accordance with the FIA Tribunal findings the Tyrrell team are absent, though Ken Tyrrell and one of his engineers are seen lurking round the paddock, and after the start-line fracas at Momara the boss of the ATS team has sacked Manfred Winkelhock and not replaced him. The Toleman team have re-instated Ayrton Senna, after slapping him on the wrist with suspension from the Italian Grand Prix, and he is back in car number 19, while the amiable Johansson is given car number 20, it’s rightful driver Johnny Cecotto still convalescing after his British Grand Prix practice crash. The Spirit team have Mauro Baldi back in their car, in place of Haub Rothengatter, which is all simply a question of money into the team’s meagre budget. As would be expected so near the end of the season, there is nothing startlingly new to see in the pit lane, though Renault has a new system of electronic fuel injection on the engine in Warwick’s car (RE 50/08), but it is not working very well, and he switches to the spare car. Ferrari only have three cars, all to the latest M2 specification, which is the McLaren-style rear end which appears briefly in practice at Maim.
Alboreto has 074, Arnoux 077 and the T-car they share is 072. Brabham has a brand new car for Piquet, BT53/6 (although the identification plate has been in use on the Tear for some time!) and Williams have a new car for Laffite (FW0913/09). The Ligier team have done a half-hearted McLaren look-alike to the rear end of one of their cars, calling it a JS23B and Toleman are back on their double-layer rear aerofoil for use on medium speed circuits, this modern Motordrom having a projected lap speed of around 120 mph. Having done all their morning work in the dry, with the sun shining and the Eifel region on its best behaviour, the skies cloud over as the morning session finishes and you can smell the rain on its way. This is timed neatly for 1:00 p.m., just as the first qualifying session is due to begin, and as the first cars leave the pit lane the first drops of rain begins to fall. The McLaren team are in a bit of a shambles, for during the morning Lauda’s car has been misbehaving and he is forced to use the T-car, and Proses car needs a lot of lunch-time work an it so that it is not ready as qualifying begins. Needless to say the Brabham team is on the ball, and Piquet is one of the first out, putting in a very sharp lap as the rain-drops are descending. During the morning it has looked as though laps in the 1'20"0 are going to be the order of the day, but Piquet re-writes the standards with a quick one in 1'18"871. While Piquet is doing this his little Italian team-mate Teo Fabi is kicking his heels, waiting for his car to be finished. By the time begets out on the track it is wet, as it is for Lauda and Prost and many of the others. By 1:30 p.m. all is quiet, the rain is drizzling down, the 1.000 or so spectators look cold and lost in the huge concrete grandstands and there is not too much enthusiasm for Dent Natal Niirburgring. About 1:45 p.m. the drizzle stops, the sun comes out and there is a mad rush by those who have missed the first five minutes.
Prost shows his remarkable talent by putting in a lap at 1'19"175, amidst all the traffic and on a far from dry track, and Patrick Tambay does an equally impressive job with 1'19"499, thus putting them second and third to Piquet, which is to turn out to be vital for their race prospects. Nobody else brakes the 1'20"0 barrier. Lauda is plagued by a misfire on the engine in the McLaren T-car and Johansson never gets a clean run in the second Toleman, nor in the third one, the Tear also misfiring and popping and banging. The rain comes back in the night and when testing begins on Saturday morning there is still a lot of spray coming off the tyres, even though the sun is shining weakly. Having started off on wet-weather tyres and wet suspension and aerodynamic settings, it looks as though it is going to dry up, but by the time everything has been changed to dry the drizzle and gloom returns. See what I mean about being a Formula 1 engineer in charge of a car. By the time the afternoon qualifying hour arrives the rain is here tossup, so that the times record on Friday afternoon are going to stand for grid positions, but there are other problems. If this weather is settled in for the week-end and the race is going to be run in typical Eifel conditions, there is the need to acquire some knowledge to suit the conditions. Consequently all except Laffite (no interest) and Tambay (no car) splash round in the rain, many of them having mild excursions off onto the grass, including Frost, Alboreto and Piquet, but by the time the hour is finished most drivers have a pretty good idea of what they are in for on race day, unless the weather Gods relente. Elio de Angelis records the fastest time, some 20 sec slower than Piquet’s pole-position time, but even that is averaging just over 100 mph. Prost and Lauda know what they are up to and cover 19 laps each in the hour, doing stints of seven or eight laps on the trot, to really get the feel of the new track in diabolical conditions.
When it is all over the sun comes out! By any standards testing and qualifying have been a shambles and the line-up for the start is far from normal, though it does offer some interesting situations, some of which are enhanced on Sunday morning during the half-hour warm-up period. The Eifel weather Gods having made their point on Saturday afternoon relent on Sunday and provide bright sunny weather, but a fairly low temperature, though not as low as that employed by the Williams team to their Mobil petrol in order to squeeze as much as possible into the fuel tank. The LEC refrigerator unit is recording minus 46 degrees Centigrade as the petrol passes through it. Some engineers are trying to arrive at a compromise for the conditions, while others with a surplus of material are hedging their bets. Lauda has his regular car (MP4/2-1) set up for dry conditions and the T-car (MP4/2-3) set up for wet conditions, it being his turn at this event to have the spare car at his beck and call, the McLaren drivers alternating thus from race to race. Piquet has two Brabhams available to him as usual, and Warwick has opted for the spare Renault with the normal fuel injection, as the electronic set-up is not to his liking. After his troubled two days of practice Johansson is trying both his own car and the spare Toleman, settling to race the spare car, and Alboreto is going nicely and looking confident, which augurs well with his place on the third row of the grid. Rounding the last corner, a fairly fast hairpin leading onto the Start u Ziel Plan, Prost gets his left rear wheel over the edge of the track and promptly spins, heading for a wall of tyres. He misses these and hits a Rescue Car which is parked at the end of the tyre-wall instead of behind it.
The car suffers badly and the McLaren gets away with a broken rear wheel and upright, but the engine inhales a lot of dirt. With Lauda staking his rightful claim to the spare McLaren there is nothing for it but for the hard-working McLaren mechanics to get stuck in and change the engine on Prost’s car and replace the damaged suspension parts. Fortunately there is no structural damage to the monocoque. Nobody really believes that the sunny day would last, so pre-race decision time is car of doubt and guesswork, but the sun does stay and the track is nice and dry, though the wind is cool, to say the least. As soon as the pit lane is opened Frost is out and away in his rebuilt car (MP4/2-2) with its replacement engine and he gets in three laps before lining up on the durnmy-grid. As there have been a lot of guesswork by the engineers at least half the entry put in two laps, the system allowing this by making a return to the pit lane, running down its length and out onto the circuit again. By the time the pit lane is closed everyone is lined up on the dummy grid, waiting for the signal for Piquet to Lead them round on the parade lap to the starting-grid proper. With Piquet and Prost at the front things look normal, but with the two Ferraris on row 3 there is obviously something amiss. Lauda is on row 8 and de Angelis on row 12, both as a result of practice problems and the rain, and Johansson is in last place, whereas one can expect to see him somewhere near the top ten. These three are going to do some heroic carving through the field in the opening laps, of that we can be sure. A crowd estimated at 60.000 has turned up to watch this 67-lap European Grand Prix, and in a stadium built to accommodate 150.000 they are rattling about a bit in places, though the terrace opposite the pits and the start is well supported.

Piquet leads them round quietly, and in relation to their normal approach speed to the last corner they seem to be crawling, but eventually all 26 cars wok up their places and an orderly start is given at 2:30 p.m. Frost simply leaps away in a superb start and there is the sound of engines bouncing off the rev-limiters as they all charge down to the first corner, a clinical right-and-left run-bead called romantically The Castrol-S. Frost is in the lead from Tambay and Piquet as they head down the slope to the Valvoline Corner and the Ford Corner before arriving at the Dunlop Hairpin. Meanwhile all hell has broken out behind them, for Rosberg has been slow off the mark and most of the nod-field runners have passed him before the Honda comes on song. As he goes into the first part of the Castrol-S he is alongside Senna’s Toleman, who has Cheever’s Alfa Romeo on his other side. It is all getting a bit tight and in moving left to avoid a collision with the Alfa the Toleman rides up and over the Williams-Honda, leaving a big tyre mark along the right side of the cockpit alongside Rosberg’s head! Naturally there is a lot of heavy braking and dodging about and taking to the grass, and when the dust settles Rosberg is out with a damaged right rear suspension, Senna is out is a bent rear end and only half a rear aerofoil, Surer is out with a bent Arrows, and Berger has gone off in the lone ATS and Ghinzani in his Osella also. Fabi is out on the grass on his own, but a rescue vehicle tows him back onto the track, where he re-starts and joins in late. The other five cars have run their race. The order at the front is Prost, Tambay, Piquet, Warwick, Alboreto, Arnoux, Patrese, Cheever, Lauda. Boutsen, de Angelis, the two Ligiers and then Johansson. Apart from Fabi, Mansell is last, having avoided the fracas but loses a lot of time.


It only needs a lap to see the pattern of things, Prost is waiting for no-one, least tel all his team-mate, Tambay is comfortable in second place, but Piquet is a miserable third, his BMW engine turnes down for reliability rather than performance so that he has no hope of getting to grips with the leaders. Alboreto and Arnoux are lucky to be fifth and sixth, on their known standards, and the Alfas are equally lucky to be just behind them. Lauda is slicing his way past slower cars, losing no time in making up for his poor grid position, and de Angelis is doing likewise, while Mansell is using all the power the Renault engine can deliver to get back up near the front where he belongs. It takes Lauda a mere four and half laps to get his McLaren between the two Ferraris, but there his progress ends, for Alboreto is holding on to Warwick’s Renault nicely, no that there is not room for Lauda to pick them off one at a time. He is going to have to pass the Ferrari and the Renault in one go, or stay behind them and it is soon apparent that he is staying behind them, being unsure of taking them together. Frost is pulling out a leisurely half a second a lap over Tambay and Piquet can only sit and watch the red and white car disappear into the distance, being barely able to keep up with the yellow and black French car. Boutsen makes a pit stop with his BMW-powered Arrows for a change of tyres, which drops him to the back of the depleted field and then Johansson stops with his Hart engine overheating due to a loss of coolant. Frost drones on and on round the little Motordrom, a bare 2.8 miles to the lap, looking so smooth and confident that it is difficult to accept that there is a human being in the cockpit. You begin to wonder whether Porsche has not arrived at the ultimate black-box to guide the McLaren round the computerised circuit. A study of the lap chart would show that the rest of the hour-and-a-half that Frost takes to win the Europe.

Grand Prix is not exactly filled with drama and excitement and the crowd can do little except sit or stand on the concrete embanlunents. There are no camp-fires or tents to return to on this new Islarburgrmg, or trees to climb, or forests to wander through, just a concrete stadium with cars so far away that they look like toys. Apart from Mansell working his way up to a creditable sixth place, there are no real changes other than when a car runs into trouble or stops at the pits. At the end of lap 22 there is some excitement for those lucky enough tube in the vicinity, but it does not affect the lap chart. The trio of Warwick, Alboreto and Lauda have reached a situation of stalemate and are lapping the tail enders. As they come up the slope to the final hairpin they catch up with Baldi in the white Spirit and the first two nip by under braking, leaving Lauda to either make a third into the closing gap, or hang back and follow Baldi round the corner. The Austrian makes to follow through, realised in the nick of time he isn’t going to make it and stands on the brakes. The McLaren spins in a cloud of tyre smoke and goes off onto the grass on the outside of the corner. Brilliantly, Lauda keeps the engine running and is able to drive back on the track and give chase again, without losing his place on the lap chart. However, de Angelis is now close behind the McLaren and Lauda’s Michelins have a flat spot on them which makes things vibrate a bit, but does not visibly slow him down. In spite of stories saying that his flat-spotted tyres hold him up, he goes quicker and quicker according to the Longines-Olivetti time sheets. Before his spin he has been lapping in the mid-1'25"0. By lap 29 he is down to 1'24"6 and reduces this to 1'23"9 by lap 43 and makes his fastest lap in 1'23"729 sec on lap 48. Lauda is giving it all he has got to make up for that error. One by one they begin to drop out, de Angelis with a turbocharger failure, Laffite and Alliot likewise, Fabi with gearbox trouble, Mansell with a spectacular engine blow-up which spews oil all over his rear tyres just as he brakes for the last hairpin, which spins him smartly off onto the grass, Palmer with engine trouble, Gartner with a shortage of fuel and Cheever with plenty of fuel but no pressure from the pump.


Both Renaults fail to last the distance, Tambay dropping back from a certain second place when his engine begins to cut-out on left-hand bends. It becomes so chronic that he makes a pit stop to see if anything can be done. The ignition unit is changed and he tries once more, but this is not the trouble, and after two snore laps he packs it in. Warwick’s comfortable run in fourth place, which becomes third when Tambay slows, evalwated when the left-hand exhaust system splits, making a horrid noise and losing boost-pressure on that bank of cylinders. He struggles on as best he can but eventually the lop-sided power output is more than the engine can stand and it brakes. This leaves Piquet pursues by Alboreto, in second and third places respectively, with Lauda fourth and the Ferrari driver is doing all he can to close the gap on the Brabham, but the little Brazilian has it all well under control. As Prost finishes lap 67, waving both hands at the chequered flag in relief that everything has gone right for him for a change, Piquet and Alboreto are coming up the back leg of the circuit. Suddenly the BMW engine coughs and dies, the fuel tank running dry, and the Ferrari surges by into second place, but as it rounds the last corner its engine also dies through lack of fuel. The momentum carries it towards the finishing line and behind it Piquet is weaving the Brabham about to try and get the last dregs from the tank. The BMW gives one more burst of power which accelerates the Brabham up to the tail of the Ferrari and then past it, but they are then both beyond the finishing line. Alboreto is second and Piquet third as they coast to a stop at the end of the pits lane. At the same time Hesnault’s Ligier runs out of petrol and he also coasts to a stop. Luckily being three laps behind the winner so he only has to complete 64 laps. A chastened Lauda arrives fourth, his McLaren-Porsche going as well as ever, and Proses McLaren-Porsche has run to perfection throughout the race, while the curly-haired little Frenchman has driven it to perfection to win his fifth race of the season and the 1th for McLaren International this year.



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