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#402 1984 Italian Grand Prix

2021-09-10 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti,

#402 1984 Italian Grand Prix

Last year, at the Zandvoort track, he lost the world title, triggering a foolish incident with Piquet. Now, at the same circuit, Alain Prost has bounc

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Last year, at the Zandvoort track, he lost the world title, triggering a foolish incident with Piquet. Now, at the same circuit, Alain Prost has bounced back, winning the Dutch Grand Prix with a decisive victory.

 

"He was faster. I once again made a mistake: I chose the wrong tires".

 

In this statement by Niki Lauda, the secret of the French driver is hidden. Between the two McLaren drivers, there is respect and even some collaboration in fine-tuning the cars. But Alain always keeps an ace up his sleeve; he doesn't let Niki know which tires he will choose for the race. In practice, despite sometimes conducting different tests, Prost and Lauda work together, exchanging impressions on their cars' behavior at the end of each day. Many times this year, despite starting from very different technical solutions, the two drivers have reached the same conclusions. This means that, as testers, they share many common points and a very similar sensitivity. So much so that Prost himself won two races this season, Imola and Hockenheim, using the reserve car prepared by the two-time World Champion. The paths of Prost and Lauda diverge on Sunday morning, during the warm-up, in the hour of training that is precisely meant to set up the cars for the race. The choice depends on the data collected with lap times, the driver's feedback, and the weather conditions expected for the Grand Prix. A mistake in any component of this difficult equation can lead to difficulties in the race. For some time now, Prost has not informed his friend-rival in the battle for the world title about the type of tires he has decided to use. This tactic raises doubts for Lauda, who must guess at the last moment (when the tires are mounted on the car) what Prost's choice was and draw consequences.

 

"I talked to myself for two hours on Sunday at Zandvoort, and in the end, I convinced myself to use two soft tires and two hard ones to balance the tendency due to the type of track to wear the tires on one side. Prost, on the other hand, used more resistant compounds. And he was right. I was faster at the beginning and was about to catch him when I found myself in difficulty with worn tires. At Monza, I will try not to be beaten in that competition that many do not know but that always turns out to be crucial for the final result".

 

Meanwhile, Enzo Ferrari defends - as it should be - his team. But interpreting the phrases well, one perceives that the words spoken on Wednesday, August 29, 1984, also serve as a warning. Everyone must focus on their specific skills: Mauro Forghieri on mechanics, i.e., engines and gearboxes, the English technician Harvey Pstlethwhaite on chassis and aerodynamics, Marco Piccinini on sports management, without intrusions into other fields. Ferrari, at the same time, tries to gather the team to solve problems that are not simple in nature. Staying or returning to the top of Formula 1 will be increasingly difficult because a car's fate is tied to numerous components. The entry of many major automakers into the World Championship with direct or indirect involvement has substantially changed the situation from past years. If once all deficiencies could be overcome with the exuberance of an engine, this is no longer enough now; action must be taken and explored in all fields, from electronics to material composition, to fuels. For this reason, Enzo Ferrari suggests that if necessary, he will seek the collaboration of other partners. There is no room for individualism anymore; everything must be studied and implemented scientifically. A new chapter opens both in Ferrari's history and in sports car racing. It is a battle among giants in which enormous interests are at stake. The same manufacturer is worried.

 

"Once it was difficult to understand why we won and easy to guess why we lost. Now my great dilemma is that we have not yet understood why our Formula 1 cars are no longer competitive".

 

A calm and even ruthless analysis. An important factor, a sign of vitality not to be underestimated: when curiosity is accompanied by the will to remedy, one can hope.

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"Ferrari is not a football team, where to solve all problems, you can change the coach".

 

With this sentence that summarizes intentions and plans for the immediate future, Enzo Ferrari starts a press conference called to clarify the situation of the Formula 1 team. Essentially, Ferrari confirms confidence in all its men, thus giving counter-news to deny the rumors that have arisen in recent days about imminent Ferrari changes. The Modena manufacturer, as always, takes command of the operations and responds without hesitation to all questions, displaying the usual skill in saying and not saying, in answering and not answering every question.

 

"The team remains unchanged. A race car is composed of many elements. It is necessary for each one to deal with the area in which he is specialized. If, in the current management, there will be a need to bring new forces to make up for what may be lacking, we will do it. Forghieri has been and remains a great designer of power units, i.e., engines and gearboxes, and does not need endorsements. So we will continue to work as we always have".

 

Speaking of drivers...

 

"I gave my word for the confirmation of Alboreto and Arnoux. Again, no news here. Many riders who were supposed to come to Ferrari have been talked about. I don't see why. Alboreto has given me much of what I expected. He made only three mistakes in two days at Monte Carlo. Arnoux made a mistake in Detroit when he hit a wall. But they are two brave, skilled, and capable drivers. They have my full trust. As for the various rumors heard in recent days, I must say that Lauda cannot come to Ferrari. He wants fifteen billion lire in three years, and our company does not have them available. And never in our life have we tried to take a driver away from another team. So it's not happening".

 

As for the engine:

 

"We are convinced that the flaws of our car are not in the engine; indeed, I have data available on this matter. At Zeltweg, Alboreto came out of the corner entering the pit straight at 240 km/h, and at the end of it, he reached 311 km/h. Prost with McLaren was traveling at 258 km/h and 308 km/h. Incontestably, our problem is to put the horsepower we have on the ground, as McLaren and Lotus do".

 

Talking about tires...

 

"Here I have absolute news: this morning I signed a three-year contract that binds us again to Goodyear. The balance of American tires in the races so far contested has been positive. They performed well in seven races, poorly in six. Let's not forget that we started developing radials together only last year, while Michelin had already invented them in 1946. So, even in this field, we trust those who collaborate with us. It is true that we have had contacts with Pirelli in this regard: we agreed to try the tires of the Milanese company at their request. They went well".

 

And he adds:

 

"Some claim that our current drivers are not good testers. Of course, Lauda, when he left us, was a man who had no equal in terms of fine-tuning and exploiting cars. I have never known anyone like him. I have always respected him a lot, but unfortunately, our relationship has been interrupted. Tambay also knew how to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the cars. However, this does not mean that Alboreto does not have this ability or is not demonstrating it. The same can be said for Arnoux, who always gives his best".

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Talking about fans and the four-cylinder engine, Enzo Ferrari says:

 

"I'm sorry to disappoint those who expected something new immediately. We have nothing to propose; we go to Monza with the best we have today, hoping that no other inconveniences will be added to those we have already had. I hope that Ferrari fans take into consideration what we have done in the past. I am truly sorry not to be able to favor them, not to be able to achieve better results. The new four-cylinder engine exists and runs on the test bench. When it is ready, it will find a suitable car to host it. We will use it the first day we are sure it will give us satisfaction. It will be the 163rd engine that Ferrari has built from 1946 to today. And we are ready to build a new engine when necessary if the maximum displacement is brought - as it seems - to 1200 cc or 1300 cc. For now, I can safely say that Alboreto and Arnoux's engine had 730 HP in the race lately. An increase of about 50 HP compared to the beginning of the season. Our problem is to transfer this power to the ground. We will try to find the solution to the most serious problem of all. For the moment, I feel like a father seeing his sick son and not being able to help him. I hope to soon go through a different period".

 

The confidence injection implemented by Maranello seems to be yielding good results, at least in terms of morale. At Monza, relaxed faces and some smiles are noticeable on Thursday, August 30, 1984, during the first day of free practice for the Italian Grand Prix with Ferrari. Even the numerous fans (at least 10.000 people present) seem to have understood the situation, expressing only words of encouragement for Alboreto, who drives the traditional 126 C4 with an extended wheelbase. If the modified car arrives, it will come on Friday with Arnoux. The tests are led by Antonio Tomaini. Engineer Forghieri is in his study office, working for both the immediate and distant future. Michele Alboreto says:

 

"We are already working on the track for the next championship. It's true that there are still three races to go, and we will try in the last opportunities we have to remedy the not-too-brilliant season, but we mainly want to look ahead. These tests are sown to understand the car, uncover problems more than we can do during the winter. We have to find the right way to prepare a winning single-seater in 1985".

 

Even at the beginning of the season, the 126 C4 seemed to be a competitive car. How do you explain the subsequent drop in performance?

 

"In Brazil, I started in pole position. At Zolder, I won with extreme ease. My Ferrari practically ran on its own. I could have achieved an excellent result even in Monte Carlo if I hadn't wanted to overdo it in the qualifiers, making a decisive mistake. I threw away a victory. Then, evidently, the others started to progress, and we remained stuck. If there were a logical explanation, we wouldn't be here having these discussions. Even here in Monza, we are very fast: it's about finding good grip in the corners. The crisis cannot be attributed only to the tires. Goodyear, which weakened this year with radials, did an excellent job. And I am convinced that soon we will be at the level of the opponents in this field too".

 

It is said that one of the major difficulties in Formula 1 is tuning the cars. Lauda and other drivers are known for being excellent testers...

 

"It's not so much about testing the cars as it is about conveying one's impressions to the technicians. I believe that Ferrari cannot complain about my explanations. This year I covered 40.000 kilometers aboard my single-seater...".

 

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza will take place shortly. What does Alboreto ask for this particular race?

 

"I would like to win. But don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that Ferrari will win. I express a desire without harboring excessive illusions. It's a theoretically possible scenario because in Formula 1, everything can change from one race to another. We are close, really close, to achieving some great satisfaction. Many things are brewing in Maranello. Who knows if the right move will work out. It's not just a dream; dreams don't take you far. A recovery may be within our reach in the short term".

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Michele Alboreto has never wanted to talk about the challenge between Lauda and Prost. These are not facts that concern him. However, this time, he expresses a very cautious opinion:

 

"Both McLaren drivers have the chance to win the title. Prost is faster overall, especially in qualifying. We know Lauda; he is a genius in the race. Much will depend on luck; a blink of an eye is enough to tip the balance one way or the other".

 

On Thursday, August 30, 1984, Michele Alboreto completes 89 laps of the track, more than a Grand Prix. However, the best time is set by Nelson Piquet with the Brabham. During the day, Stefan Johansson makes his debut with the second Toleman. The Swede will be able to compete in the Italian Grand Prix being free from Tyrrell. The FIA Appeals Court has confirmed the exclusion of the English constructor from the World Championship, so Tyrrell should not participate in the last three races. Ayrton Senna is expelled from Toleman on the eve of the Italian Grand Prix. The young Brazilian driver, revelation of 1984, sidelined after signing a contract with Lotus, will be forced to watch the race as a spectator. Toleman's lawyers (who have already filed a lawsuit for damages against Senna and Lotus) have obtained this precautionary measure for the upcoming Italian Grand Prix at Monza. A decision will be made later for the two remaining races in the season (Europe and Portugal). Senna will be replaced by Stefan Johansson, while the other available car will be driven by Italian Pierluigi Martini, replacing the injured Johnny Cerotto. The twist was in the air. In fact, Senna had the option to free himself from Toleman by paying a penalty, but the South American anticipated the times by announcing his move to Lotus before the end of the championship. Hence the retaliation from the British team whose executives did not appreciate the behavior of the driver, especially because they thought of using the Brazilian driver to convince sponsors to provide significant funding for the next season. Toleman has been involved in some sensational episodes during this championship, such as the divorce with Pirelli to switch to Michelin. According to a rumor, Senna would have received $800,000 as a two-year contract from Lotus. Senna's exclusion from the Italian Grand Prix (and it's also unlikely that he can compete in the two remaining races) essentially allows Martini to debut in Formula 1 after a long wait. Twenty-three years old from Lugo di Romagna, the Italian driver was the European Formula 3 champion last year. He had started racing in 1980 driving a Fiat Abarth Formula. 

 

During the season, he participated in some endurance world championship tests with a Lancia car entrusted to the Jolly Club. He is a talented young man, although, of course, he has no experience in the top category of single-seaters. His debut, precisely in the Italian Grand Prix, is still a great opportunity to stand out, especially since Toleman has recently proved to be a fairly competitive car, thanks mainly to Senna. With Martini, there are seven Italian licensed drivers in the World Championship (the others are Alboreto, Cheever, De Angelis, De Cesaris, Ghinzani, and Patrese). The young Romagnolo is supported, among other things, by Segafredo, the company that sponsors Toleman. Martini's car, like Johansson's, will be the latest version, technically updated with the adoption of completely electronic injection on the four-cylinder turbo Hart engine. The tests carried out last week at Monza by Johansson had given positive results. The fascinating name of Monza, dedicated to motorsport, is apparently sufficient as an attraction. It doesn't matter if the Italian Grand Prix presents itself this year without great hopes for Ferrari. People show up in droves, and already on Thursday, September 6, 1984, the racetrack is bustling with fans, thirsty for news about the new Ferrari, searching for some mysterious sign to hope again. Many cars with French, German, and Austrian plates are also seen: supporters of the only two candidates for the world title. But the majority is represented by the usual enthusiasts, people who live in the vicinity of the circuit and feed on bread and engines. On Friday, September 7, 1984, when the first free practice session begins at 10:00 a.m., everyone will be in position. At the Lesmo corners, in the stands before the Parabolica, in front of the chicanes, along the pit straight, to see if Ferrari has recovered something, if the care taken on the 126 C4 will have a positive outcome. For the moment, however, these die-hard fans have to content themselves with dreaming, imagining what the modified single-seaters will be like. The Ferrari vans with the new cars arrive only late on Thursday evening. This is because Arnoux continues working until the last available minute on the Fiorano track, conducting the final tests, while Alboreto is nowhere to be seen. 

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Only Tomaini and Nardon, together with the sports director Marco Piccinini, are present in Monza from the Maranello team. The latter expresses very cautious thoughts about the race:

 

"We are waiting for the cars that have some small changes. We hope to have taken the right path".

 

This road inevitably leads to McLaren, the team that has dominated the season. There is now, as has happened in previous years with other cars, a process of copying almost all the single-seaters in relation to McLaren. The fashion of the bottle shape prevails, with the bodywork closing at the rear. It is not dishonorable to follow certain technical indications if they are valid. The problem to solve, rather, is to understand if these solutions are good only for the Prost and Lauda cars or if the result can be positive for others. There is, therefore, considerable curiosity, justified anxiety. This interest should not be confused, however, with the dominant reason for the race, which concerns the two title contenders. This time Niki Lauda can no longer adopt his favorite tactic, that of waiting. Observing what the opponent does and then overtaking him if he makes a mistake or if he encounters difficulties due to some inconvenience. In previous races, Prost had always been on the attack, with more or less success. Now the two of them have to tighten the timings, forced to push hard to win. In the paddock, it is argued that the Italian Grand Prix will be important but not decisive. Certainly, in terms of mathematics, both contenders will have the opportunity to recover in the next two races. But this Grand Prix takes on decisive importance on a psychological level. And Lauda knows very well that this is the direction he must push. A victory could humiliate the fragile Frenchman, who is trying the impossible to prevent him from winning the third world title. Niki also knows perfectly well that the stake is not only the title but involves his future in a total way. A defeat would mean a less interesting contract next year, perhaps it would even force him to change teams (there is talk of a Lotus with a Renault engine ready for him) to cash in the money he believes he deserves for taking certain risks. For others, from Nelson Piquet to Elio De Angelis, the prize at stake is only a personal affirmation, an attempt to say: 

 

"We are here too". 

 

And possibly fight for third place in the overall standings. On Friday, September 7, 1984, about 20,000 fans, crowded in the central stands, would like to push a Ferrari to the top of the provisional lineup of the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix after the first qualifying session. They don't succeed, but they certainly contribute to the fourth place of Alboreto, classified behind De Angelis, Piquet, and Fabi, in that order. A triumph of Italian drivers as has not happened in a long time: three in the top four positions, with the Roman from Lotus leading them all. Elio De Angelis once again demonstrates his great talent, lapping in 1'28"14, at an average speed of 237.234 km/h, a new absolute record for the circuit. And in the end, the crowd applauds the Roman for a day that ended so favorably. The McLarens, with Prost fifth and Lauda seventh, are instead camouflaged. But perhaps it's just a casual result. We'll see what happens in the decisive session. This is because the tests are characterized by adverse weather conditions. Just before the cars hit the track, a few drops of rain fell. The asphalt got wet, so much so that slick tires only came out in the last fifteen minutes when the track dried up, and certain competitors were able to significantly lower their limits. But let's move on to the chronicle of the day, rich in highlights. There was much curiosity about the new Ferraris. Giving an immediate judgment is impossible because the tests of the Maranello team were particularly troubled. Absent were the designer Mauro Forghieri and the English technician Posthlethwaite, and the task of Antonio Tomaini, responsible for the preparation of the cars, is particularly tough. In the free morning practice, Arnoux performs a disaster (not his fault, evidently): he breaks the engine of the race car (new), of the spare (old), and also the gearbox on Alboreto's spare car. The mechanics find themselves with an enormous amount of work. In any case, two 126 C4Ms manage to be ready for qualification. But while in the morning there were no other problems, apart from the breakages, troubles punctually arise in the early afternoon. Both cars report an irregular functioning of the turbocharging system. In simpler terms, low pressure in the turbos. 

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Arnoux goes no further than eleventh place, while Alboreto, also due to an imperfect gearbox, tries the traditional car in the last minutes. With this, Michele secures the fourth position. And at this moment, the public intervenes. When the people in the stands see the race director waving the checkered flag to signal the end of the trials, just at the moment when the Ferrari driver is on the track, they unleash a barrage of screams and boos. Mr. Tavoni may have been distracted for a moment, and Alboreto passes like a rocket in front of the finish line, managing to do another very fast lap, inserting himself among the best. On Saturday, the new cars from Maranello will have the opportunity to face an appeal test. Nothing could be expected on the first official outing, but there is hope that things will go better on the second day, also because there is more time to study the cars. Alboreto, however, is furious: 

 

"I am convinced that I could have done much more with the new car if I hadn't had all those problems". 

 

Even the sports director, Marco Piccinini, is not very satisfied: 

 

"It went wrong because we hoped not to have so many problems". 

 

Instead, it went better for Alfa Romeo, which with Riccardo Patrese secures an eighth position that it had not reached for a long time. Also for the Milanese team, the McLaren treatment seems to give good results. And speaking of the candidates for the world title, Prost and Lauda do not disarm, despite the not-so-brilliant placement. The Frenchman does not find a clear lap with the track empty and is also the author of a spin, while the Austrian complains of a tired engine. On Saturday, the engine will be changed on the two McLarens. Elio De Angelis intends to stay in pole position, Piquet will try to recover, Ferrari wants to climb, McLaren cannot afford to look bad. We will see beautiful things, weather permitting, because the rain could also freeze the current positions. On Saturday, September 8, 1984, Niki Lauda is sitting at the table in the Tag-Porsche van. In front of him is the usual baby food that serves him as a meal. It's 2:30 p.m., the trials have just ended. The Austrian has a dark face, he is nervous: 

 

"The usual misfortune, unfortunately it is not the first time. I had to skip a race in Spain when I broke a rib flipping with the tractor. In 1982, during the era of miniskirts, I had a problem with my back. This time it was a sudden injury. I was facing a chicane when centrifugal force pushed me to the side. The legs and pelvis were well strapped in the belts, but probably I had not fastened the straps correctly on the shoulders. And a vertebra must have been crushed". 

 

Niki continues: 

 

"I had to return to the box to get treated. It seemed that everything had passed, but the ailment reappeared in qualifying. I don't know what I can do. I'll grit my teeth, maybe I'll get bandaged. But if the pain comes back so strong, I'll be forced to skip the race. When it comes, it's as if all the nerves, muscles block. I feel crushed on the diaphragm, I can't breathe". 

 

Lauda has sunken eyes, a suffering face. In front of him, Alain Prost does not speak. Then the Frenchman brings up the technical aspect. Niki answers, asks if Prost had problems with the gearbox. Alain replies that everything is fine for him. Later he moves away and says in a whisper: 

 

"I'm sorry for Lauda the man. But as for the fight for the World Championship, I have to do my own thing".

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Shortly before, Nelson Piquet secured pole position, Alain Prost follows just 0.09s behind, Elio De Angelis fights like a lion and maintains an honorable third place on the starting grid of the Italian Grand Prix, a race that could prove decisive in the challenge for the World Championship. But the news of the day concerns Niki Lauda. The Austrian, who has nevertheless obtained the fourth time, was injured during the last day of trials. The safety belts, perhaps fastened incorrectly or slightly loosened, during the morning workouts do not sufficiently protect the McLaren driver who suffers a big blow to the back when facing a chicane. A quick medical visit confirms the compression of a vertebra, the second one. Niki undergoes the necessary treatments. His physical trainer Willy Dungl intervenes. It seems that the problem can be contained. Instead, in the second qualifying session, the pain, terrible, reappears in all its severity. If there is no improvement at the start of the Grand Prix, Lauda may be forced to abandon the race, leaving the road free for his rival and teammate. While the fight at the top is conditioned by Lauda's injury, for the rest, one must note the ever-deepening crisis of Ferrari. The modified 126 C4s, for the moment, do not solve the problems of the Maranello team. Alboreto, after Friday's fourth place, drops to eleventh, Arnoux is fourteenth. For the first time from 1952 until today at Monza, there are two Alfa Romeos (in clear progress) in front of two Ferraris, with Patrese in ninth position and Cheever in tenth. 

 

The difficulties of the Maranello team, beyond the contingent problems and the chain of inconveniences, have a well-defined face, figures in hand. Nelson Piquet, as fast as usual (seventh pole position of the season), set an incredible lap record: 1'26"584, at an average speed of 241.153 km/h. One of the highest speeds ever reached in the history of modern Formula 1. The Ferrari, on the other hand, stops with Alboreto's Friday time, 1'29"810. Over three seconds of disadvantage, truly an abyss. It is true that qualifications are one thing, while the race could also reserve some small satisfaction, with a desperate but not impossible comeback by Alboreto and Arnoux towards the points zone. But even this hypothesis is quite risky, as the cars show a series of problems that they had never reported before during the season. An oil bath on the Italian's car in the first lap of the official tests and Arnoux dealing with a misaligned gearbox. Then inexplicable engine lapses. In short, a mess that is difficult to understand, to the point that it is not known if the race can be run with the new cars. On the other hand - as mentioned - Alfa Romeo is experiencing one of the best days of the season, also rewarded by the announcement of the sponsor Benetton, which announces the renewal of the contract for another two seasons. This means a guarantee of continuity at least as far as funding is concerned. The 8-cylinder turbo engine has been slightly modified. Another engine will be ready with substantial changes for the next race. There is little to add to the predictions. Only Piquet, in theory, can threaten Prost. The Brazilian promises an attacking race and declares:

 

"I race only to win; I'm not interested in points from second place down".

 

From the battle for the title, we move on to the one not to look bad, in front of 100.000 spectators. At Ferrari, there are dismayed faces. Alboreto and Arnoux don't have much to add to what has been said in recent days. The Frenchman, in a flash of optimism, says:

 

"In the race, it's hard to say. In the morning, my car in race trim was balanced, it was good".

 

Alboreto, on the other hand, appears very dejected. He doesn't say anything more. And Elio De Angelis, who starts in the second row, is also quite discontented.

 

"It's useless to delude ourselves; I don't have a thousand horses at my disposal like the others. I can contribute something of my own; the chassis of my Lotus is excellent, but we're not at the level of McLaren and Brabham. We can only hope for some trouble for others. In any case, I'll put up a fight".

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On Sunday, September 9, 1984, before the start of the race, Niki Lauda is forced to replace the engine of his car, while the other McLaren driver, Alain Prost, decides to start with the reserve car. Derek Warwick and Jacques Laffite also have to use the reserve car. Manfred Winkelhock, after the reconnaissance lap, due to a gearbox problem, decides not to participate in the race. During the formation lap, Marc Surer, due to a fuel supply problem, goes off at the Parabolica turn and is pushed to the pits. At the start of the Italian Grand Prix, Nelson Piquet maintains the lead while Alain Prost is passed by Elio De Angelis and Niki Lauda, who had a bad start, loses two positions, slipping to sixth place. At the end of the first lap, Alain Prost overtakes Elio De Angelis again. Patrick Tambay, Teo Fabi, Niki Lauda, Nigel Mansell, and Riccardo Patrese follow. During the second lap, Tambay overtakes De Angelis and moves up to third place. Nelson Piquet makes a slight driving error, almost going off the track, allowing Alain Prost and Patrick Tambay to close in on the Brazilian. Later, Elio De Angelis loses more positions to Teo Fabi and Niki Lauda. Riccardo Patrese also makes a mistake, leading to him being passed by Michele Alboreto, Eddie Cheever, and Derek Warwick. In the fourth lap, the race experiences a decisive moment for the championship with the retirement of Alain Prost due to an engine failure. Meanwhile, Michele Alboreto overtakes Nigel Mansell, who is then passed by Eddie Cheever after two laps. Michele Alboreto continues his climb, passing Elio De Angelis during the seventh lap, while Nigel Mansell loses more positions. In the eighth lap, Teo Fabi spins at the Variante della Roggia, losing several positions. However, in the ninth lap, Fabi overtakes Derek Warwick, who retires. The standings now have Nelson Piquet in the lead, followed by Patrick Tambay, Niki Lauda, Michele Alboreto, and Elio De Angelis. Teo Fabi continues his comeback, passing Eddie Cheever first, then Elio De Angelis, and finally Michele Alboreto. During the fourteenth lap, Nigel Mansell ends up in the sand at an escape route after a spin and is forced to retire. Shortly after, due to a gearbox problem, the other Lotus driver, Elio De Angelis, also abandons the race. In the sixteenth lap, Patrick Tambay overtakes Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian driver from Brabham then enters the pits and retires due to an oil leak. 

 

Meanwhile, Teo Fabi overtakes Niki Lauda, moving up to second place behind Patrick Tambay. In the nineteenth lap, Derek Warwick loses the fifth position after being overtaken by Eddie Cheever. A throttle problem on Patrick Tambay's Renault allows Teo Fabi and Niki Lauda to close in on the race leader. Fabi attempts to pass Tambay on the 28th lap at the Roggia, nearly colliding with the Renault. In the 32nd lap, Warwick exits the race, ending up in the escape route at the Ascari turn due to an oil pressure loss in his Renault. Fabi slows down, allowing Lauda to attack the Italian driver. The battle between the two ends in the 40th lap when Lauda overtakes the Brabham driver before the Parabolica, even running two wheels on the grass. Two laps later, Stefan Johansson overtakes Eddie Cheever and moves up to fifth place but is repassed by the Italo-American shortly after. In the 43rd lap, there is a change in the race leader as Niki Lauda overtakes Patrick Tambay at the first Lesmo turn. In the 44th lap, both Teo Fabi (due to an oil duct breakage) and Patrick Tambay (due to an accelerator failure) retire. Niki Lauda now leads the race with a comfortable margin over Michele Alboreto, Eddie Cheever, Stefan Johansson, Riccardo Patrese, Piercarlo Ghinzani, and Jo Gartner. In the 45th lap, Eddie Cheever retires due to fuel shortage, while Stefan Johansson loses several positions due to vibrations on his Toleman. The Swede stops in the pits for mechanics to repair a wheel hub. Johansson re-enters the race in fifth place, with a lap advantage over Gartner and Berger. In the 50th lap, Piercarlo Ghinzani retires due to a lack of fuel while he was about to reach Riccardo Patrese. The other Osella driver, Jo Gartner, tries to finish the race with a malfunctioning fuel system, with only the electronic pump continuing to draw fuel. The most honest and dutiful of the thousand images of Monza is that of Lauda, the winner of the Italian Grand Prix, perhaps the World Champion for the third time, who, on the night between Saturday and Sunday, with one of his jets, must have gone to Lourdes to heal his back pain. Then the image of Alboreto on Ferrari, second, and Patrese on Alfa Romeo, third. Honestly, one must also mention the beautiful Austrian statistic: three drivers in the top six. Lauda first, Gartner fifth, and Berger sixth. The wrong image is that of Alain Prost, who, in the fourth lap, near the Goodyear chicane, smokes from the engine, and it's as if he's smoking himself, like a dragon pierced by Saint George. A few meters later (a kilometer from the starting line), Prost's car stops, Prost exits the cockpit, and begins a kind of Via Crucis amid the most vulgar, malicious, insolent crowd. 

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Thousands of people whistle at him, every ten whistling, there is one applauding, but you don't know if it's ironic or genuine applause; peanuts and stones rain down, he raises his arm, his fist hand, threatening people he cannot do anything to. The terrible certainty that such things can only happen in Italy, in Formula 1 lived and insulted and killed by Italian fans, almost ruins the rest of the Grand Prix. In almost, fortunately, there is the good day for the Italians, with the beautiful second place of Michele Alboreto on Ferrari and the beautiful third place of Riccardo Patrese on Alfa Romeo, behind the beautiful and very intelligent first place of Niki Lauda on McLaren, a victory at Monza that 90% means a victory in the World Championship. And in the Italian day, we must also mention the good start of De Angelis, then swallowed up, and even more beautiful race by Fabi, suddenly a protagonist, on par with drivers who until a few days ago seemed unreachable for him. Alboreto was superior to Ferrari fans, Patrese to the Italians, unfortunately many, enemies of Alfa Romeo, and Lauda to the whole world. What else to say about the Italian Grand Prix? It was a sunny day, that is unequivocal, and more people than expected, rewarded by the good progress of the competition. Pathetic appeals from the speaker already ten minutes before the end: do not invade the circuit, risking your pants and something more, we will let it be invaded at the right time, opening the gates for you (this is the spirit of the appeals, if not the letter, however not far away). Too many policemen for Craxi, and then without precise orders other than to say no to everyone, and few policemen around the circuit. 

 

Alboreto, the second-place finisher, still entertains the crowd in a way that makes one think about what will happen, like indigestion, if and when Alboreto wins. Unlike Imola a few months ago, Lauda is applauded: perhaps in Monza, Formula 1 possesses more historicity, due to the circuit's seniority, and people know what Lauda has done in the past and how he has revived now. Lauda, then, is reborn, dragging Italian drivers in Italian cars in his wake, and this is in his own way the maximum: it was difficult, think about it, to think of something more perfect for Monza Monza. Michele Alboreto clings to Lauda, joining in the happiness of the Austrian, who can afford a meticulous calculation in the last two world championship races: two third places will be enough for him, even if Prost wins both races, to become mathematically World Champion. The Italian Grand Prix ends, Niki Lauda, a great driver and now for the people the 1984 World Champion, begins the proto-neo-automobilism in Italy, with Alboreto second and Patrese third. We speak with two men of the day, indeed of the race (Lauda, the winner, is the man of the day, Prost of the race, in the strict sense of the definition). Lauda started, after back pain the day before, with special patches, a kind of plastic plate to keep his spine straight, with the help of very special straps, cushions under the buttocks reinforced on one side, in case his vertebra slipped out again. He was considered competitively dead on Saturday. Instead, he was alive at unbearable levels for his opponents: a splendidly fierce tourist in the first laps, appropriately aggressive at the right moment, a very serene winner.

 

"I suffered a bit in my back after the fifth lap, but Willy Dungl, my physiotherapist, had done a wonderful manipulation job, I could resist. Now I don't know if I'm well or if I'm bad, I'm too happy in my head and heart to even think about my back".

 

And now?

 

"And now I win the World Championship. I think I did a perfect race, considering my physical condition and my possibilities. Prost now seems to me to be objectively in difficulty, in the duel with me".

 

There was also the duel of Lauda with Fabi, and here it is seen from Lauda:

 

"He was faster on the straight, I on the mixed. I passed him at the right moment. What happened to him afterward does not concern me".

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But how did Lauda race? Here's Lauda's answer:

 

"Below his real possibilities, but well".

 

Which means that Lauda is immense.

 

"You figure it out".

 

And now, Prost?

 

"We always fight, as true rivals, great ones, and this, it seems to me, is the real sport. But currently, I am at an advantage. It is up to him to make moves, taking risks. And there are just two Grand Prix left".

 

Alain Prost confirms:

 

"It's up to me to fight to emerge, and so I find myself both beaten and exalted. I have to fight against Lauda, a great champion. And also a true friend, I can say it now. When have two drivers from the same team given each other such an open battle? I am serene, even if sad: this is true sport, gentlemen".

 

Is it still possible for Prost to be World Champion?

 

"I don't know. Anyway, let's say not impossible. But things now don't depend on me. I may win the last two races, but it's not enough. Niki has to stop, in short, I have to be helped by his misfortune".

 

About the race, Prost says:

 

"In the morning, I had water leaks with the race car in the last tests, so I took the spare car: for the planned alternation with Niki, the spare car was my turn. The spare car for us at McLaren is a third race car, perfect, not just any car. And in fact, I want to say that only chance stopped me".

 

Someone asks Prost: do you want to publicly praise Lauda as the future World Champion?

 

"Not praise, also because the season is not over. Recognition, yes. But we continue to be rivals, with the same car".

 

And something to say to the Monza crowd?

 

"Something or a lot, you decide. When I walked back to the pits, a stone even hit me in the head. I don't understand people who insulted me, who applauded my misfortune. I do my best, race, take risks, fight, have bad luck, and they insult me and throw stones, in addition to peanuts. Maybe I'm wrong to always be, by chance, an opponent of the local favorites, at least in Monza: once Arnoux, now Lauda".

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Everyone jumped on the track when the race was over. First, the McLaren team, then the Ferrari team, and then the Alfa Romeo team. It had been a long time since the green uniforms of the Milanese team stood out on the circuit at the end of a race. Patrese, with his third place, brought a breath of fresh air even for Euroracing, which manages the Formula 1 material on behalf of Alfa. Riccardo, at the end, with great calm but also decisiveness, explains the reasons that determined the result:

 

"We had chosen a differentiated tactic for the two cars. I was saving with less turbo pressure and with a five-speed gearbox. Cheever had to act as the hare, with six gears and higher pressure. Unfortunately, it went wrong for him, he ran out of fuel, while I could enjoy this result. It's not a random placement, but wanted by the whole team and by us drivers who are doing our best to make up for lost time. We had a negative legacy with the engine lacking in consumption. We certainly can't use the same pressure as other teams. The turning point came with the new technicians, who were able to do something new on the car, starting from the Monaco Grand Prix. We couldn't expect an immediate clear improvement, but little by little, we're getting there. The car has a different front suspension, and maybe in the last race at Estoril, we'll have a modified version of the eight-cylinder engine. At the same time, designer Giovanni Tonti is working on the four-cylinder".

 

Joy also at Osella for the fifth place of the Austrian Gartner, for the first time in the points in his short Formula 1 career. Happiness is contained for Ghinzani's missed placement, who could have finished in fourth position. But the Bergamo driver was once again unlucky. Despite a fairly precise calculation for fuel, his car stopped while in fourth place. Fabi's race was also unfortunate; he could have even won. The Italian driver had a spin at the beginning of the race.

 

"My foot got stuck between the accelerator and the brake, and the car ended up on the dirty track, and I slipped. Then I recovered promptly, and I am convinced that, if I hadn't had problems, I could have won. Instead, the engine failed once again".

 

Big problems, on the other hand, for De Angelis. The Italian driver, who gave another demonstration of his skill at the beginning of the race until he had to surrender due to gearbox failure and later also due to engine failure, did not have the chance to emerge as he deserved. Michele Alboreto, surrounded by an almost overwhelming crowd, barely makes it to the press room for the usual post-race conference. His eyes are bright, he is finally happy. He did not expect to finish second in Monza. He also received congratulations from Bettino Craxi, the Prime Minister, who watched the race from the stands and then went to the podium, where he congratulated the Italian driver and even wanted to drink champagne (Ferrari, of course) from Michele's cup.

 

"I raced with the traditional car because we didn't have enough confidence in the new one. We were in doubt for a long time; the 126 C4 would certainly have had better performance, but in these days, we had too many problems to take the risk of stopping on the track immediately. In any case, even this car has improved a lot with the longer wheelbase; we are almost there with the tires, and we only have some problems with the front, which still lacks a bit of grip. We needed a bit of luck because this is really a difficult period. In the past, I had a crisis of great discouragement, and this result in Monza rewards me for everything I went through. So far, I had only achieved fifth place with the Tyrrell on the track that I can consider my home. I can say that the engine was perfect, the best I had available in 1984 in a race. We don't know what happened on the new car, but our engineers at the circuit will have the opportunity to understand and remedy the situation".

 

René Arnoux, forced once again to a sad retirement due to gearbox failure, doesn't even take it personally anymore. And he speaks calmly:

 

"The car was going well. When there was the sudden failure of the gear transmission system. Obviously, since this problem has occurred several times, there is something that causes these breakages".

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For the sports director, Marco Piccinini, the balance was quite positive, even if the head of the Maranello team does not indulge in too easy optimism. Ferrari, however, has regained second place in the Constructors' World Championship, behind McLaren, in a period where everything is going quite wrong.

 

"We're not fooling ourselves, but we take this result as encouragement. A recognition of the race pace that Alboreto has been able to maintain, always high, and regret for Arnoux. Regret also for not being able to use the new cars due to the problems we had. A compliment goes, however, to the mechanics, who, more than ever this time, have been engaged in hard and non-stop work".

 

The game seems done for Niki Lauda. With the historic victory in the Italian Grand Prix, the Austrian has practically thwarted the ambitions of his rival Alain Prost. How will the Frenchman recover a 10.5-point disadvantage with only two races left in the Formula 1 World Championship? He should win consistently and hope that the Austrian does not place higher than fourth at the Nurburgring and Estoril. Which is quite unlikely considering the regularity of the current leader and the superiority of the McLaren over other cars. Niki can still implement his favorite tactic, the same as in Monza, that is, wait for the opponent's troubles to go hunting for points. The race unfolded as if an invisible director had insisted on Lauda being the winner at all costs. A Porsche engine had never broken after four laps, and a driver (Prost) had never been so unlucky. Not to mention various Tambay, Fabi, and Piquet who tried in vain to hinder the almost three-time World Champion. Swept away like useless extras for a single protagonist indicated to interpret a great final monologue. Niki Lauda, however, rejects the title of a fortunate driver.

 

"All that I have achieved, achieve, and will achieve is only the result of meticulous preparation. Of course, if my car broke down every time in the first lap, I wouldn't be here telling these things. But brakes, engines, tires don't deteriorate on their own. The skill of a driver also lies in knowing how to exploit the car and the opportunities. Prost is fast, he's good, he's an excellent tester, a really difficult opponent to beat. An additional merit, therefore, for those who manage to beat him. I, not to suffer a situation of inferiority compared to him, have also lost five kilos. I didn't want to give him even a minimal advantage in weight".

 

This is Niki Lauda, a computer. In terms of programming, that is. Because otherwise, he is perhaps more human than others, with his unpredictable and contrasting mentality, with his ailments, his misfortunes, and even with miraculous recoveries. A controlled driver but also an uncontrollable character. In this regard, there is a significant episode that can give a measure of his personality. On Sunday, when he leaves by helicopter, heading to Ibiza for another well-deserved rest, thinking perhaps not to be noticed, he lets himself go in a gesture. Directed at Prost? At the fans? At the team manager Ron Dennis, who does not want to pay him the requested salary for the next year? Who knows. Probably just a release, the first moment of relaxation after masking incredible tensions for so many days. The only certain thing is that Lauda suffers driving Formula 1 cars. For him, driving and taking risks are both pleasure and fear at the same time. He has confessed it several times: the danger inherent in speed attracts him but also scares him. But now his path is downhill and leads straight to another World Championship title. The third, like Stewart and Brabham, champions in legend. The umpteenth victory of Lauda and McLaren was accompanied by the placements of Alboreto and Patrese with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Here the ambitions for the end of the season are much more modest. But they restart with renewed confidence. It's true that on Monday, September 10, 1984, Alboreto is already testing on the Fiorano track. To discover the obscure problems that blocked the modified 126 C4 at Monza. Tests on electronics and systems. Ferrari does not want to waste time, to reappear at the Nurburgring as a less vulnerable outsider. From England, meanwhile, comes the official confirmation of news leaked in Monza. Williams will pair Englishman Nigel Mansell with Keke Rosberg, who has signed for two years, leaving Lotus. Dismissed by the English team, Jacques Lafflte, who, however, has a good chance of returning to his old loves, namely Ligier.


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