#396 1984 Detroit Grand Prix

2021-09-16 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti, Rebecca Asolari,

#396 1984 Detroit Grand Prix

Piquet leads every lap at Detroit from pole position, but there are two very interesting facts that make his performance all the more remarkable. His


Piquet leads every lap at Detroit from pole position, but there are two very interesting facts that make his performance all the more remarkable. His pole position lap is achieve on the second of a two lap run in final qualifying on Saturday afternoon. At the wheel of his qualifying sprint car, the team's spare, Piquet scores round to grasp pole position, first in 1'41"290 and, on his second lap, in 1 min 40.980 sec. Not only is this more than four seconds faster than the best Friday time, establish by Nigel Mansell’s Lotus 95T, but it may well be even quicker has the Brabham not laps into three cylinders a couple of corners before the end of the lap. We can’t quite believe it, smiles Brabham designer Gordon Murray, because when Nelson came into view coming up to the chicane before the pits, we could hear that the engine sounded sick, so we thought we might have lost the quick lap. It had dropped a valve, in fact, so he was lucky to scrape across the line, let alone set the pole position time. One is bound to wonder whether Piquet will have broken the 1'40"0 barrrier if the engine has survived the complete lap intact. Thus, Nelson is able to line up on pole position, flank as he has been at Montreal, by Alain Prost’s McLaren MP4/2. On the inside of the second row sat Nigel Mansell’s Lotus 95T, the English driver having again proves remarkably adept during practice on this somewhat acrobatic circuit, and alongside the Lotus sat Michele Alboreto, his Ferrari 126C4 again sporting the electronic Marelli/Weber fuel injection system which has been progressively develops during the course of the season but which is’t race since Kyalami.
When the starting signal is given, Mansell makes a superb, over-prompt getaway, and tries to poke his Lotus through the gap between the Brabham and McLaren ahead of him. Unfortunately, as he manhandles his machine across to the right, the Lotus begins to fishtail, striking Prost’s car before bouncing back into the pole position Brabham. Suddenly, Piquet’s car snaps sideways and shoots across to the right of the circuit, T-boning Alboreto’s Ferrari against the concrete wall on the opposite side of the circuit. The Italian car comes wobbling out of this little fracas with derange suspension and a broken water radiator, but Piquet’s Brabham moves no further, its rear aerofoil and right rear wheel is ripp off in the impact. Hardly has the dust settle from this initial impact than Marc Surer’s Arrows-Cosworth (built up around a replacement chassis after Teo Fabi has push his original car into the wall during practice!) slams into the stationary Brabham, jarring Piquet’s neck painfully. Wisely, the organizers immediately stops the race and restarted it half an hour later. Mansell’s Lotus, amazingly, has survive the skirmish without any damage: just as well, really, because team mate de Angelis has already appropriate the team’s spare car after engine problems on his own during the race morning warm-up session. Alboreto is obliged to take the spare Ferrari, equipe with the old Lucas mechanical injection, Ayrton Senna, whose Toleman has receive a nasty smack on its front suspension by the wayward Brabham wheel, also has to take the spare and thus lost out on trying Brian Hart’s new development engine (complete with electronic injection) and, finally, Piquet is also bundle into the Brabham spare for the restart. It’s enormously satisfying for the Brabham team to watch Piquet, who has received quite a shake, waltz away with the revived Detroit Grand Prix at the wheel of the spare car, proving that it’s possible to virtually duplicate the chassis set-up between two machines.
Using the same Michelin tyre choice that is to prove so troublesome on the McLarens, Piquet fends off an early, exploratory challenge from Mansell’s Lotus 95T and after the Englishman initially slows and then retires with gearbox problems, the Brabham team leader cruises happily home to victory. Although Brundle’s performance with the Tyrrell is quite outstanding - he not only manages to finish second despite a routine pit stop for water ballast but, even more impressively, qualifies in 11th place between Lauda’s McLaren and de Cesaris’s Ligier. For much of the second half of the race the Tyrrell’s engine sounds really sick, but it’s only due to a broken exhaust pipe and Martin doesn’t find himself unduly handicap. For many laps his Tyrrell is embroil in a spectacular midfield scrap which also involves Senna’s Toleman, Bellof in the other Tyrrell and Thierry Boutsen, whose Arrows A7 is showing improved form now that its wheelbase is slightly lengthen. Brundle is the sole survivor of this group at the finish; Bellof has glance the chicane before the pits, wiping the left rear corner off his Tyrrell, Senna has crash at the first corner on his own and Boutson’s BMW engine fails on him. Twelve months ago Michele Alboreto scored what was regarded as a lucky win for Ken Tyrrell at Detroit: Brundle’s second place this time is similarly fortunate, but no less well-earn. In the McLaren International camp there is an atmosphere of mute confidence prior to the start of the race, but the anticipate threat from Prost and Lauda never materializes. Prost eventually opts to use his spare car on Saturday afternoon after he finds the Montreal race engine, about which he has complain the previous weekend, is still install in his race car. Lauda finds his Friday second fastest time disallow when post-practice scrutineering reveals the rear aerofoil on his McLaren to be one millimeter too wide. Heat distortion is officially blames by the team for this unintentional infraction of the rules, but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day because the Austrian manages to qualify comfortably the following day on 1'43"484.
In the race both McLarens lost grip early on and Prost makes an early stop for fresh rubber on lap 16 - perhaps a little hastily, as events will subsequently suggest. He is then obliged to make a second stop for tyres after a deflating rear Michelin pitches him into a quick spin: fifth after two pit stops? He may well be second if he hasn’t make that initial decision to come in! Lauda is similarly handicap, but his race eventually ends after he has come in to investigate a misfire and, after the plugs are change, a further exploratory lap suggests that something is about to break inside the Porsche-built engine. He takes the prudent route and withdraws before an expensive engine failure ensues. Elio de Angelis’s consistency earns him a third place which may be second if his Lotus 95T hasn’t develops gearbox problems, similar gremlins causing the retirement of both Renault RE50s. Derek Warwick concentrates his weekend’s activities on the team spare car after a minor accident during the first untime session on Friday which badly damaged the front end of his race car and saw a front wishbone penetrate the footwell (again!) to bruise Derek’s legs. Nonetheless he qualifies sixth and, after an initial stop to change onto harder Michelin rubber, performs splendidly in the race to climb back from 16th on lap 15 to third on lap 32, setting the fastest race lap in the process. Then fifth gear broke and, soon afterwards, the gearbox packs up altogether. With Tambay suffering a similar affliction, it has to be say that the Renault Elf team doesn’t seem to be making a great deal of forward progress. When Warwick first tested for Renault, at Imola last autumn, he made the comment that something had to be done to improve the car’s gearbox. Fine performances are also produce by Cheever, Alboreto and Rosberg. The relatively short, 157-mile Detroit race means that the Alfa Romeo drivers for once doesn’t have to keep their fingers cross about the fuel consumption capabilities of their thirsty V8 engines and Cheever really got into the swing of things beautifully.
In the early stages of the race he climbs as high as third, ahead of Alboreto, before a split turbo intercooler spelt the beginning of the end for his game efforts. Alboreto has his spare Ferrari up to third before engine failure, prompts again by a leaking intercooler, ends his chances on lap 49, and Rosberg has climbed from an embarrassing 21st position on the starting grid to fourth before his Honda engine overheats and also cries enough. The Williams FW09 cars had an absolutely frightful time at Detroit, largely because the chassis are flexing quite dramatically and no amount of minor suspension adjustments seems to be able to sort the problem out. Laffite simply exists at the tail of the field, by contrast, driving round in totally uninspired fashion - ending up a surprise sixth and last when the checkered flag is finally shown. In fourth place, as much to his own surprise as to most observers’, is the diminutive Teo Fabi at the wheel of the second Brabham BT53. The little Italian has another nightmare practice session and frankly admits that the strain of attempting to dovetail an Indy car racing programme with an intermittent Formula 1 schedule mean that he is doing neither category particularly well. He qualifies 23rd, keeps his nose clean and wound up with only three cars in front of him at the end of the day, as content with the Brabham-BMW return to reliability as his victorious team-mate. The Detroit race is on the international calendar for three seasons now, but although we have some fine racing through the streets of this important American industrial city, the organizers do not seem to have learnt a great deal about international racing practice in the meantime. Practice is interrupted by far too many intervals in order to retrieve damaged cars - which should be simply moved out of the way while qualifying continues and, indeed, will be at most European circuits. There are insufficient cranes for this purpose, the like of which abound at Monaco, and there was a general atmosphere of tension amidst the organization which reflected, perhaps, that they didn’t fully understand the ways of European-style Formula 1. Perhaps things will improve in the future — they certainly have time to do so, because Mr Ecclestone tells us that the Detroit Grand Prix will be taking place regularly for the next five years.


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