#404 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix

2021-09-08 00:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Alessandro Gambirasio,

#404 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix

On Tuesday, 9 October 1984, the Formula 1 Executive Committee, meeting in Paris at the FISA headquarters, took a series of sensational decisions. The


On Tuesday, 9 October 1984, the Formula 1 Executive Committee, meeting in Paris at the FISA headquarters, took a series of sensational decisions. The most significant, which will not fail to arouse controversy, is the exclusion from the 1985 World Championship of the Monaco Grand Prix, the oldest and in a certain sense the most prestigious race in motor sport. The cancellation of this race also entails a change in the calendar. In addition, the world rankings are changed. The main consequence of this change is that Niki Lauda's lead over title rival Alain Prost has diminished: the Frenchman is now only 3.5 points behind. A rift between the Monegasque organisers on the one hand, FISA, and FOCA on the other had been in the air for some time, but it was thought that the dispute could be resolved, peacefully. Instead there was a stiffening and the Committee decided to remove the Monaco Grand Prix from the programme. At the basis of the quarrel was an economic issue: last year the Monaco executives had signed a three-year contract for the transfer of television rights for the race to the American network Abc. Normally these revenues (we are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars) are collected by the FIA and the Manufacturers' Association, which administer them for the management of the sport and the prize money for each race. Michel Boeri, president of the Automobile Club of Monaco, does not comment on the event. But it is clear that the Principality will not passively accept the decision. It cannot be ruled out that legal action will be taken; nor can it be ruled out that an agreement will be reached sooner or later because the interests at stake are enormous for all parties. FISA (which has unanimously reconfirmed its president, Jean-Marie Balestre, for a four-year term) is putting pressure on Monte-Carlo by jeopardising the holding of the rally that opens the World Championship. A demand of 200.000.000 lire was made for the competitors' right of way on the extra-Principal roads where the race takes place. The Committee also decided to redistribute the points acquired by the Tyrrell team, which had been excluded from the World Championship due to irregularities. Practically all the drivers who placed behind Tyrrell when it entered the top six in the classification took advantage of this. Prost (fifth at Detroit where Brundle with Tyrrell was second) gained a point over Lauda. But also benefiting from the measure were De Angelis (2.5 points), Teo Fabi, Laffite, Tambay, Arnoux, Senna and Rosberg (1 point).


The narrowing of the gap between Prost and Lauda will not matter if the two finish first and second at Estoril, but it could also have weight in the event of placings in more backward positions. Theoretically the favourite remains Niki Lauda, because scrolling through the scoreboard of the fifteen races held so far it can be seen that all the times the McLarens have had no problems (failures or accidents) they have always both entered the points zone. If this rule repeats itself in Portugal, Lauda is unlikely to let his team-mate get away but will try to follow him like a shadow. Not an easy task but not impossible in theory, even if Prost has proved to be faster in practice and will presumably have the advantage of starting ahead of his opponent. As already mentioned, the arbiter of the situation will be McLaren, who could bet on one or the other of the candidates. It should not be forgotten, however, that any prediction or consideration can be upset by car failures or accidents. There is also another eventuality to consider. In Formula One, so-called team games are never easy. And furthermore, there is the possibility that third parties can enter the title challenge. If another driver, for example, finds himself in a position to win the race, he will certainly not step aside to favour Prost or Lauda. At the same time, however, indirect help from some competitor is not excluded: Tambay at the Nurburgring, for example, braked violently at the start to avoid a possible collision with Prost. We will have to see if Ferrari will be able to get back into the fight, after the third position obtained at Monza and the second at Nurburgring (with Arnoux in fifth place). Ferrari is regaining competitiveness in this season finale. Ferrari, who before the Italian Grand Prix recalled all their men to specific tasks to avoid dispersion of forces with internal friction has already given good results. If we carefully analyse the last European Grand Prix on the German track we can see several interesting facts. First of all that Alboreto, once again very good, could hardly have caught up with Piquet if the Brazilian had not run out of petrol on the last lap. But it must also be said that, contrary to what was first known, the #27 Ferrari did not have the same problem as the Brabham. A subsequent check revealed that there were still 6.5 litres of fuel left, but they could not be used due to a blockage in the tank vent.


This meant that Alboreto would still have some energy left, while Piquet was forced to increase the turbo pressure and thus consume more than expected. This meant that in theory the Maranello team caught up with the English team in terms of performance. The difference may once again have been made by the tyres, as undoubtedly Michelin tyres proved faster than the Goodyears. With the French company leaving the scene next year this gap should be bridged and put everyone on an equal footing (unless Pirelli, which will equip Brabham, proves competitive). Ferrari, however, still lacks something to aim for victory directly. If the 126 C4s were at the weight limit (540 kilos), the new 126 C4-M2s with a longer wheelbase and new aerodynamic appendages are some forty kilos heavier. Once this problem is solved, the results should be seen. Lastly, petrol: Agip seems to have caught up with its rivals in the production of synthetic superfuels with a high specific weight. But the other racing teams still have the advantage of freezing the liquid in the tank, so as to obtain in the same space (220 litres) more calorific power and thus the possibility of using more pressure in the turbines, having a few litres of margin. When Ferrari adapts, it will have taken another step forward. In the last race in Portugal, Alboreto and Arnoux will probably have a chance to be among the leaders. But it is not so much the results at the end of the season that count, but the premises for the future. In Portugal, with the disputing of the Grand Prix at the Estoril circuit, where the last round of the World Championship was scheduled, beyond any technical argument, all the teams would make a leap in the dark; the inclusion of the Portuguese race was favoured by the lack of agreement to dispute the Spanish Grand Prix, so much so that only on Friday 1st June 1984 the Grand Prix was fixed for 21st October.


But, if the fact of racing on an almost unknown track could create problems for all competitors, the most worried were undoubtedly Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. That is, the two drivers who will be fighting for the title in a challenge that admits no mistakes and is without appeal. Since 1950 Formula 1 single-seaters have competed three times in Portugal: twice in Oporto (1958 and 1960) and once in Monsanto (1959). On the other hand, the World Championship has never touched the Estoril circuit, which is mainly used for Formula 2, sports cars and minor formulae. Now the facility has been upgraded in its facilities to host the closing round of the championship. It can be said, however, that the protagonists of the race are not familiar with the track, although some, like Alain Prost, raced there several years ago. The lap record for the Portuguese circuit dates back to 1977. It was set by the Irishman Derek Daly in 1'34"16 driving a Chevron-Hart B40 Formula 2 car, at an average speed of 166.312 km/h. The engineers who visited the track before its homologation claim that current Formula 1 cars will be able to lap at an average speed of just over 180 km/h. It is therefore a medium-slow track that could also put McLaren in difficulty. The British team, which has dominated the season, winning 11 out of 15 races, has in fact only found problems in the less fast tests. This situation could also complicate things in the head-to-head fight between Prost and Lauda, although it is unlikely that the Frenchman and the Austrian would let themselves be intimidated by their rivals at a decisive moment. Admits Alain Prost:


"I have to go for the victory in any case because I cannot afford to make any calculations, with a mastiff like Lauda who will probably be behind me".


Niki's reply is clear: 


"Logic dictates that I run the race over Prost. It is certain that if the opportunity arises I will not miss out on a possible victory".


The tactics then, barring any surprises, are already mapped out, as indeed the classification dictates: Lauda has a 3.5 point lead and it is only natural that he should try to manage it. A warm and gentle autumn welcomes Formula 1 on its return to Portugal after an absence of 25 years. The protagonists of the World Championship find a beautiful circuit, modern, transformed, spectacular. Which is no bad thing for a race that will have to award the rainbow helmet. Down here people go crazy for motor sports and at least 100.000 people are expected at the last round of the season to witness the ultimate challenge between Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. The French driver paid a brief visit to the autodrome. He claims to be calm, repeats that the situation has changed compared to previous years when he had to defend himself against his opponents. Now he has to attack, that is, he is at ease, engaged in the tactics that are most congenial to him. Lauda, on the other hand, remained on the track most of the day. First he runs about ten laps of the track (also getting the route wrong because of an open connecting road between two bends) then he takes journalists to the asphalt strip in a rented car to explain the secrets of Estoril.


"I like the circuit for two reasons. First because it should suit the McLaren, even if it is not very fast. There are supporting corners, for a car with good aerodynamics, which is ours. Second because it's also to drive. The driver also counts here, I assure you".


It is an extremely calm Lauda who speaks while driving, showing where he puts second gear, where he can overtake, which are the most difficult points. But perhaps it is just a mask that hides the emotion, the tension for a race that decides a lot, that counts a lot for many reasons. And in fact the Austrian at one point blurts out:


"You can be sure that I will put everything I have into winning this third title. I care about it in a special way. I can't race recklessly, recklessly. I have to be Prost's shadow, not let him down for a moment".


But the victory, a demonstration success that makes even sceptics realise that Lauda is the strongest, does not interest him?


"Sure, I'd like that. If the title wasn't at stake. Then if I ran more danger than necessary, if maybe I went off the road, everyone would say: look at that chicken, that burnt Austrian. In so many years he has learnt nothing. I certainly don't want to put myself in this situation. I have already made a commitment. I will push hard in qualifying to start close to Prost, if possible even ahead of him. But don't ask me to do anything crazy. That would be unfair".


Lauda and Prost, friends and enemies. Two drivers who respect and esteem each other. Niki perhaps also knows that 11 Frenchmen are faster than him. But right now he prefers to consider him just a rival to beat: 


"He's been giving me trouble all year and now it's my turn to give him the final blow".


And here Niki gets a bit nasty, perhaps perverse. He pretends and tries to hate those who stand in his way: 


"The best would be if he came first and I came second. I would beat him by half a point and that could also destroy him psychologically".


The Austrian makes no reference, but smiles. Perhaps it is a nod to the story of Stirling Moss, eternal second, with whom Prost has a number in common. The Englishman won 16 Grand Prix without ever taking the world title. The transalpine has won 15 so far and on Sunday he could even the score with Moss. On Friday, two hours of free practice are scheduled, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., for a first contact with the circuit that is not new to many drivers. Even for these tests, Lauda has a theory, a tactic:


"The track obviously betrays, it is still very dirty. I'll try to memorise the lines, but I won't force the pace. Don't be surprised if you find me behind in the times. It's no use going fast, you could end up against a guardrail. I'll let the others let off steam. I wouldn't be surprised if five or six cars go into the grass or crash. Instead, it is important to prepare well for Saturday, when the chronometers will give their first verdict".


Bernie Ecclestone is the master of the new Portuguese circuit. The British manager confesses to having invested a significant sum in the circuit that will host the world race. There is talk of $1.000.000 that Ecclestone would have paid personally in order to hold the race. Obviously, this is not a charity. The agreement with the Portuguese Automobile Club foresees the use of the track for the next ten years. However, it is a very beautiful facility, good in all respects and also a location that complements the geography of Formula 1. There are many fans of motor sports in Portugal, and it cannot be ruled out that one day, a local driver might even make it to the pinnacle of the sport. Tickets for the Portuguese Grand Prix are practically sold out. 1200 accreditations of journalists from all over the world have been requested. In particular, however, these are French, Austrian and Spanish. It is obvious that the duel between Lauda and Prost has attracted especially the directly interested press. The race starts at 2:30 p.m. On Tuesday, 16 October 1984, the Estoril circuit is officially inaugurated by the Minister of Commerce and Tourism, Ferreira do Amaral, and the president of the local Automobile Club. The renovation of the circuit, which cost $1.000.000, not only allowed the recovery of the old circuit, but, in many respects, made the Estoril - according to the organisers - one of the best tracks where the World Championship is raced: from the starting line to the new asphalt, from the traffic lights to the other installations, such as the paddock, the walkways, the heliport, the restaurant, the grandstands and the pits, everything is new. The first driver to arrive at the Portuguese circuit is René Arnoux of Ferrari, who occupies seventh position in the general classification. The Frenchman visits the pit facilities and takes a lap on the new track in a car made available to him by the organisation.


"I like it, and we can have a good race. Our single-seaters should be suitable for this type of track, which is not particularly fast, but challenging".


The day of truth has come for Alain Prost. After aiming for the world title for three consecutive years, the Frenchman has finally come to the end of his effort. On Sunday the McLaren champion will try to snatch the title from Niki Lauda It is not an easy task: the Austrian is really an old fox of the circuits and Prost knows very well that it will not be enough for him to attack, to get to the back, to win if Niki will remain behind him like a shadow and will place second. There are three and a half points of difference between the two in favour of Lauda, and this could have a decisive weight. So the tactics are emerging, a particular game of friendships and enmities that could have their weight in the race, even though in Formula 1 team games or anything else are generally not allowed. Lauda has only one true friend: Nelson Piquet. If the Brazilian were to find himself in a position to help the Austrian, he would do so gladly, even though Lauda's success would take him to three world titles and overtake Piquet, who has won two. But Nelson is an altruist, he doesn't care about such things and takes pleasure in doing things when he thinks about them. As for Prost, on the other hand, there is no telling where help could come to him. Maybe some Frenchmen, maybe Tambay. But it is difficult at the moment to envisage such a tactic. Prost has a great revenge to take: he has to prove to Renault that they were wrong to kick him out at the end of last season. The Frenchman is hatching revenge, seeking personal revenge not only to prove that he is the fastest driver in the world, but also that those who left him have lost a treasure. The transalpine press arrives en masse at Estoril to witness what could be the first success of a Frenchman in the Formula 1 World Championship. They extol the talents of little Alain, his courage, his strength in fighting against a titan like Niki Lauda. But at the same time one is quite cautious. In Formula 1 it is difficult to make predictions, above all it is difficult for things to always go in the dull way. Prost however is quite unbalanced:


"I want to win the race and the title. And there is no doubt about that. I think I deserve both and I don't think there will be opponents who can stop me".


Not everyone agrees on this. There is Ferrari who hopes to end the season on a high note, after having had a below-expectation championship, there is Elio De Angelis with Lotus, who would not give up a win even if they paid him a million dollars. And then there is also Piquet's Brabham, the Brazilian has scored two wins so far, at Detroit and Montreal, he could aim for the third to at least make a small en plein. In this way the South American would achieve a twofold purpose: he would take the victory away from Prost and in this sense give Lauda a valid help and at the same time gratify himself for the end of the season. Everything, however, is still hypothetical. We will have to see how the Formula 1 cars will go on the new Portuguese circuit, see who will go better, who will have a better chance. The tyres will also enter the game: if Goodyear were to demonstrate the superiority shown on some tracks like Zolder, when Arboreto won, then the race would become even more uncertain and interesting. Alain Prost, after seeing the hotel where he was to stay, decided to spend the Lusitanian weekend in an 800-hectare villa surrounded by the people closest to him, including Jacques Laffite. Lauda, on the other hand, stays at the Hotel Sintra d'Estoril with his wife, who makes an exception to the rule and takes part in a race weekend. It had been years since Marlene showed up at a Formula One Grand Prix, but it is clear that Lauda needs her support to succeed. The Austrian driver is nervous, he is staying in a hotel that by his own admission stinks and has horrendous rooms, and what is more, he does not like the circuit at all. But, at least, Willy Dungl takes care of him, cooking healthy food, while the switchboard operator prevents calls to his room. During the Thursday afternoon try-out the skies are ominously grey and a cool wind is blowing off the sea, but it stays dry, which is just as well bearing in mind the primitive and unfinished surroundings of the Autodrome, by Friday morning disaster has struck. The rain pours down for hour after hour and by the time testing is due to start you would have thought the Atlantic has overflowed into Portugal, and the whole place looks like a Bodey Heath used car lot. There are floods everywhere, the car parks and public areas are quagmires, the pits are nearly awash with water and mud, the lower parts of the circuit are flooded and rivers of water are flowing across the track in many places as drainage systems are unable to cope. It all seems grossly unfair on the Portuguese organisers who have tried so hard, but the weather gods are one thing that the homo sapiens has no control over, he can only lie low and hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

By the time some sort of order is established out of the chaos it’s midday and the morning test-session is rescheduled to nine for one hour, instead of the regulation on, and qualifying is put back from 1:00 p.m. to to 2:30 p.m. But disaster time isn’t over by a long chalk. Although the rain has stopped and it’s drying a bit, it’s still wet tyre conditions so that times are not very conclusive. Jonathan Palmer manages to run over an ATS mechanic in the pit lane and the lap times being recorded by everyone are not significant as conditions are never stable, and by the end of the hour some drivers are trying with slick tyres, though such are the conditions that the last car out is clearly going to record the fastest time. There is a mad rush to be first out of the pit lane for more bad weather is heading midland off the sea and it’s open to question whether wet or dry tyres would be advantageous. Prost and Lauda are on wets as are Piquet, Alboreto, Lafitte, Surer and Mansell, the rest are on dry tyres. It only needs one lap to show that dry tyres are the wear, for the sun has actually appeared weakly, but less than five minutes into the session the red flag is shown at the start line and everyone stops, Gerhard Berger has gone off the track in one of the ATS cars, written-off front and rear suspension on the right-hand side of the car and demolished the guard rails. There’s a long pause while repairs to the barriers are carried out, the ATS being beyond repair, and everyone lines up in the pit lane again ready for the restart, with Johansson in the second Toleman having netted pole position in those first few minutes of qualifying. Eventually qualifying restarts with therein turned off and a strong wind drying the track well, but not in all parts, so conditions are continually changing and some intermediate tyres appear in some teams and hand-grooved slicks in others. The last ten or fifteen minutes some semblance of order begins to appear and Prost and Lauda move up to to the top of the lists with Piquet, while Johansson, Ghinzani, and Gartner who are well up by reason of a slice of luck in the opening stages are elbowed back by the regular front-runners. A vast and impressive cloud of smoke goes by the pits, in its midst being Rosberg’s Williams with blown-up turbos on the Honda engine. There are lots of last minute panics as conditions improve and as fast as the engineers and mechanics give drivers the wherewithal to go faster in the form of tyres, aerodynamics and suspension tweaks, some go faster and others blow up or crash.
Rosberg has the turbos blow up in the Williams T-car, Streiff crashes the third Renault into the barriers and richochettes back into the middle of the track, Laffite crashes heavily while dodging the Renault and Piquet avoids it all only to have his engine blow up. Although the final times shows some semblance of reality there are still many odd placings caused by the weather, but Pease (McLaren) come out on top, followed by de Angelis (Lotus), Lauda (McLaren), Johansson (Toleman), Tambay (Renault) and Senna (Toleman). As Winkelhock has still not arrived from Germany there have only been 26 drivers out on the track, so all have qualified in this first session out on the track, so all have qualified in this first session, though Arnoux, Warwick, Patrese, and Rosberg are capable of better results. The tension of the decisive hours in the fight for the world title grips Formula 1. And to complicate the situation, the weather intervenes as well, with a sudden downpour of rain, mist and wind. So the first day of practice for the Portuguese Grand Prix became chaotic, ending late in the afternoon, when the shadow of evening was already looming. McLaren's two great rivals are at the top of the timesheet, almost glued together, with only De Angelis in the role of third wheel, an outsider in this challenge, wedged between Alain Prost and Niki Lauda. Yes, because the little Frenchman, despite the total confusion, did not let the provisional pole position slip away. On Saturday, in the second timed practice session, probably with the return of the sun (the weather report predicts good weather) it will be all to do again. However, he, Alain, did not want to take any risks and continued to impose the law of the fastest, almost as if to make it clear, in the battle of nerves with the Austrian, that he wants to command the dance. Lauda suffered, he swallowed the anger, the provocation of this brazen contender and only thanks to his self-control did he not respond in kind, starting what could have been a dangerous fight. It all happened in the final minutes of practice, in the frenzy to take advantage of the improved track conditions, which were drying out after the storm. The two McLarens were both on the circuit. Prost, who was far behind in the standings, started to turn and quickly moved into the first positions. He was then shown the sign with the order to return. But the Frenchman did one more lap, setting the best time, then pulled into the pits, stopping a few metres back from the car park where he was.
So as to occupy part of the space given to Lauda's car. The Austrian returned in turn to quickly change his tyres and refuel, but found the pit lane occupied by Prost's car. Niki gestured to exit the single-seater but was blocked by team manager Ron Dennis. When the operation was completed with a few moments delay, Lauda was still on track but it was too late to improve and he had to settle for third place.


"Prost made a mistake, these are things that should not be done. However, I hope that on Saturday we will start again under normal conditions. The car is fine, I feel calm".


The Frenchman explained his behaviour by blaming the chaos inside the pit.


"A lot of people were moving in front of me, I couldn't run over someone to advance a few metres. It was very risky on the track today. I'm happy because I'm in pole position again, even though I will probably have to do it all over again. It's not a problem".


This was the finale of a day that saw the ever-quick De Angelis insert himself between the two McLaren drivers. But in fourth place was the Swede Johansson, who had qualified in the first four minutes when the track was still dry and the two Osellas of Ghlnzani and Gartner were sensationally in third and fourth place. Just as the tussle was about to start, the first drops of water arrived and at the same time the Austrian Berger and his ATS went off the track. The driver was not hurt, but a swarm of stones raised by the car hit three marshals, who had to be transported to hospital for fortunately light injuries. Ferrari did not feature in the first positions of the provisional starting grid. Michele Alboreto got the eighth time, a decent result, but René Arnoux was 21st, at the tail end of the grid. What happened? All sorts of things, but above all the Maranello team's practice was greatly disturbed by the weather conditions. At the end the track dried out and Alboreto, despite a spin on the first lap with slick tyres, was able to advance towards the leading positions. Arnoux, on the other hand, was blocked by the consequences of an accident. Piquet's Brabham broke its engine right on the finishing straight, spilling a lot of oil on the track. On this slippery patch ended the Renault of the rookie Streiff, which got stuck at the side of the track. Then Laffite's Williams also slipped and he could not avoid the impact with the parked car and the scream was so violent that the Frenchman's car lost its wheels. At this juncture Arnoux should have tried to improve and it is clear that there was nothing he could do. In today's practice the German Winkelhock will make his return to Formula One, driving the number two Brabham left free by Teo Fabi. The Italian has returned to Milan following the death of his father. 


Whoever has upset the weather gods has made amends by Saturday morning for it’s warm and sunny with blue skies among the sparse clouds so that everything is able to run to schedule and there are no hold-ups or complaints. Manfred Winkelhock is having his baptism in the Brabham team, looking very unfamiliar in a silver driving suit with Parmalat insignia, the Williams team are in good order again with Laffite’s car repaired and new turbo-charger installations on Rosberg’s two cars, retaining the same engines, Streiff’s Renault is repaired, but Berger is in the second ATS car, the bent one being put away. The morning testing has not been going long before Streiff arrived at the pits with the left rear tyre flat on his Renault, and he is followed by de Angelis in his Lotus running on three wheels. The right-front one is pointing upwards with bent suspension members until he pauses at the Renault pit to hurl abuse at Streiff and then drives on down to the Lotus pit, steering on one front wheel. Every picture tells a story. As the morning goes on and drivers become more familiar with the track, the lap times begin to come down dramatically, and whereas 1'26"0 have seemed good it’s now pretty hopeless and the front runner is down to 1'23"0. While Prost is out there setting the pace with Piquet, Lauda is in continual trouble with niggling faults, the worst being when all the electrics went dead when he was about to start his Porsche engine. ‘This is eventually traced to a faulty ignition switch! While the dales are dropping below 1'25"0 it’s becoming very noticeabled that Ayrton Senna is continually in the forefront with the Toleman, and as the session ends he snatches the best time of the morning in 1'21"9. While it does not count for the starting grid position it’s a sharp pointer for the afternoon for the afternoon qualifying session.


Apart from the weather warming up, the pace certainly does when the qualifying hour begins at 1:00 p.m., for Piquet is almost the first away and he doesn’t waste time swanning around. Fastest lap in the old familiar Tcar (BT53/4) is the order of the day while some of the others are still preparing to go out. Returning from his lap in 1'21"79 there’s a blue haze from the giant KKK turbo-charger and while Piquet and Gordon Murray keep an eye on the opposition some heroic work is done by the BMW and Brabham mechanics, floods of cold water and cooling fans as the turbo-charger unit is changed. Any laps in the 1'22"0 are of little use during hero hour, though a lot of the normal front runners are in this bracket; sub-1'22"0 are needed to impress, and Senna impresses with 1'21"998 but that’s all. Tambay and de Angelis are using their team‘s spare cars, the Frenchman because of the new electronic ignition system on his race car was not au point and the Italian because his Lotus that he bent in the morning was not instantly repairable. After a slight lull it’s the moment for the hot-shoes to make their runs on their second set of qualifying tyres, as Prost went out in the leading McLaren, the Toleman team sends Senna off, remarking that Murray doesn’t miss much as Piquet follows them out onto a nearly empty track. If the cars out there are as fast as you are when you are really going for a fast lap you won’t get held up. It’s slower cars you don’t want on the track. Also out there are Warwick and Arnoux (and with a clear road ahead Prost goes round in 1'21"744, a new pole positon time, while Senna holds on third place with 1'21"936 secs on his second run. As the McLaren returns down the pit lane Piquet completes his flyer with a speed of 191 mph through the finish-line speed trap, and a lap time of 1'21"703, back on pole and their cars refuelled with a couple of gallons of petrol and the best pair of tyres from their first set fitted to the left side, and sits back for a bit. Meanwhile the rest of the field are doing their hopeless best. Hopeless being a relative term and anything in the 1'22"0. In this group are de Angelis, Mansell, Tambay, Alboreto, Warwick and Johansson, not exactly a bunch of nohopers by normal standards, but they are by the Piquet-Prost standards.


Lauda has a new engine in his McLaren, as does Prost, but while the Frenchman’s is really singing the Austrian’s is very much off song and he could not even join the hopeless class. Quite late in the hour Rosberg goes out in his Williams-Honda, to make his first run, but before he could get his quick lap completed it jumps out of sixth gear at maximum speed, which did the engine no good at all, and two corners later it expires in a cloud of smoke. At this point Rosberg is twenty-seventh and last, so is not even on the starting grid, but showing remarkable self control he walks back to the pits, rather than run, and arrives cool and calm to step into the T-car which is all ready and waiting for him with just enough time left for one flying lap (1'22"049). Never has the duel been so balanced. The Austrian has a 3.5 point lead, but starts with a metric difficulty. He is in eleventh position, sixth row, and has in front drivers who do not give way so easily: Johansson, Warwick, Alboreto, Tambay, Mansell, De Angelis, Rosberg, Senna, Prost and Piquet in that order. On the other the emerging star, Alain Prost. The tiny Frenchman runs the risk, if he does not win this time either, of becoming an eternal second, like Stirling Moss, who never achieved victory, although he always came very close. The Grand Prix of Portugal presents itself with this dominant motif. Perhaps first place in the race will go to some other protagonist, but it is the Lauda-Prost duel that counts and all eyes are on the two McLaren drivers. Seventy laps to go to pass at least nine cars and get behind Prost, assuming the latter goes on to win. If he were the red baron, famous for his aerial duels, Lauda would have to mark with a cross on the cockpit of his McLaren the number of enemies shot down, either directly with an overtake or indirectly, through accidents and mechanical failures. Prost, on the other hand, will have to attack to stay in the lead and hope his opponent does not get behind him. For Lauda this is a very difficult if not desperate task. However, Prost had to suffer an insult from Piquet. The Brazilian gave him 0.071 seconds, taking away, almost at the end of practice, a pole position that seemed done. And so Piquet equalled the record that belonged to Lauda and Peterson, with nine first places in the season on the grid. But for Prost the front row seemed to be enough:


"My two cars are fine. I am ready. Now I just need some luck: without it you don't win the world championship. You ask me what tactics I will adopt: I will try to win the world championship. Don't ask me anything else. Lauda? It will be tough for him".


The Austrian looked dejected. He hoped to go further ahead.


"A half-breed. In the morning my McLaren had electrical problems. In qualifying the engine was not perfect. With the first set of tyres I made a mistake, braking too late and ended up off the track. Then the engine gave out and I had no more tyres. But I am used to chasing. My wife Marlene will also be there to watch the race. I don't want to make a bad impression".


And the others, what do they say? Everyone is apparently only thinking of themselves. But it is not a priori excluded that someone makes the race easier for Lauda and makes life difficult for Prost. And vice versa. Maybe even unintentionally. Overtaking on this circuit is difficult but, explains Riccardo Patrese, not impossible for the McLarens. In short, we start with many unknowns, including that of Ferrari, which has Alboreto fairly well placed (eighth time) and Arnoux over halfway down the grid, in P17 because a heat exchanger on his car did not do its job. Also absent was Mauro Forghieri, busy at the Fiorano Study and Development Centre, but Harwey Postlethwaite was seen in the Ferrari pits. The English technician, who is mainly responsible for the construction of the chassis for Maranello's single-seaters, is in Portugal on this occasion also to view the work done by the other teams. The designer explains Ferrari's plans for the immediate future.


"By December, on the basis of the experiences made on the 126 C4-M2, an intermediate car will be built. Its development will then allow the development of a new single-seater for February 1985. This car will continue to adopt a 6-cylinder engine derived from the current one, but revised in some parts. The 4-cylinder engine will still have to wait, and it is not possible to know when it will be used. We will put a lot of emphasis on electronic research and will come to the winter tests with very sophisticated equipment for data collection".


Postlethwaite confirms that Ferrari plans to build its own wind tunnel.


"Ideally, it would be a scale facility, with a roller to simulate real running conditions at speed. There is only one of this type in the world, but it is equipped to control and study the take-off of aircraft. For the time being, it has not yet been decided what ours will be like".


On Sunday 21 October 1984 Lauda entered the pits relaxed, while Prost continued to gnaw his nails, looked pale and sleepless. In fact, unlike his teammate, the French driver has had little or no sleep. During the morning warm-up, Lauda is 0.3 seconds faster than Prost. But the Austrian driver does not feel in tune with the engine, the one he won with at Brands Hatch. Lauda asks to be allowed to mount the engine used at Dijon. Prost also decides, following an oil leak, to change the engine of his single-seater. Theattendance at the circuit is not very high, just 44.000, probably due to ticket prices being too high in the country with the lowest standard of living in Western Europe. Race day is superb, just like the travel brochures told everyone that Portugal would be in October, and the morning warm-up goes off well, with only a few minor hitches, like Senna’s engine giving signs of concern and needing changing, Streiff’s Renault stopping out on the circuit, one of the Arrows needing a turbo-charger change, Gartner’s Alfa Romeo giving trouble and Lauda’s engine showing signs of water leaking somewhere. All is now ready for the 70 lap race over the Estoril Autodrome, with Piquet and Prost ready to streak off into the distance, Senna all been to stay with them, Rosberg ready to race with anyone and Lauda down in row six with a lot of fast cars between him and Prost and the necessity of being close to him at the finish if he is going to claim to be 1984 World Champion. After an impressive parade of old cars, most of which had been imported into Portugal when they were new, and looked after and preserved ever since, the Grand Prix cars are made ready to leave the pit lane and assemble on the dummy grid. The start procedure goes smoothly and as the pack accelerates towards the first corner Senna tucked in behind Prost, who in one crosses in front of Piquet, but Rosberg outdoes them all with a real screamer of a start and takes the lead into the first corner, while Piquet spun in the very early stages of the race and abandon the leading positions. The very man who, in agreement with Lauda, was supposed to obstruct Prost. Niki Lauda thinks:

"But why is he not careful? But why does he have to do such stupid things today? He knows very well how much I rely on him. Nelson is my one and only sincere friend in this brigade and we naturally agreed that he should try to thwart Prost in order to help me".


It really is hero time for the Finn as he holds Prost for the first seven laps, but then the McLaren driver powers past and it’s all over as far as winning the Portuguese Grand Prix is concerned. On the opening lap Piquet spins off onto a run-off area, rejoins the race in twenty-seventh place, thereafter working his way back up through the field, Lauda gets boxed in from his eleventh place on the grid, but wisely chooses his moments to move up. Mansell is in a good third place, ahead of Senna, de Angelis and Alboreto, while Lauda is looking for a way by Johansson and Warwick. At ten laps Prost has simply disappeared from the rest while Mansell moves ahead of Rosberg, and one lap later Prost is lapping the tail enders, and Lauda seems to be bogged down in eighth place. It is going to get very exciting as far as the race winner is concerned, for Prost does not make many mistakes, the Porsche engines don’t often blow up and the McLaren cars don’t have bits fall off or break very often, so it was a case of sitting back in the sunshine and watching Prost the perfectionist reel off the laps to win his seventh race this year. Behind him there are all manner of minor dramas, including the various places down the field and to Niki Lauda the outcome of the World Championship. With Prost in first place Lauda has to finish second in order to claim to be World Champion by amassing points rather than race victories, and with Johansson, de Angelis, Alboreto, Senna, Rosberg and Mansell to pass, the situation does not look good. However there’s a long way to go and one by one those ahead either ran into trouble or he picked them off. After 30 laps Lauda was fifth. At this point, in order to overtake Johansson, Lauda is forced to increase the fuel pressure from 2 to 2.5 bar, although by doing so the fuel consumption is excessively high. But Johansson makes a mistake, and Lauda overtakes him. However, at the entry braking of the next corner, Johansson hits Lauda's left rear wheel with his front wing; luckily the contact does not cause significant damage to the Austrian driver's car. In a short time Niki Lauda climbs to third position, passing first Rosberg and then Senna. Now the Austrian driver is convinced he is second, but when he can see the sign with P3 written on it, and with Mansell more than 30 seconds behind him, he begins to pray for something to happen to the British driver.


The Austrian tries to reduce the gap, lapping on average 1.5 seconds faster than Mansell and steadily lowering the track record, but then he has to reckon with the management of the car; he cannot afford to do all the laps at the limit, so he has to give up his desperate chase. On lap 52 comes the decisive turning point. Suddenly Lauda spots a Lotus stopped in front of him because of a brake problem, but it takes the Austrian driver more than a lap to see that he is second through the sign displayed by his team. The situation thus reversed, now it was Prost who had to hope for a failure to catch his direct pursuer, who had passed Mansell and was second. All Prost could do was win the race, Lauda is set to win the Championship and the two red and white Marlboro and TAG sponsored cars chalk up another impressive one-two, and the team’s twelfth victory out of sixteen races. Warwick has a spin early on put flats on his tyres which necessitated a pit stop for a new set of Michelins, and Alboreto has a spin under braking while trying to outdo Senna, the Toleman driver being unperturbed by the closeness of the red Ferrari. At the end of the race, as Lauda decelerates after the finish line, Piquet flanks the Austrian driver and asks him, with gestures, if he had finished second, and if he is therefore World Champion. Lauda displays an unequivocal gesture: the number three, equivalent to the championships won. Piquet responds with a gesture of happiness, throwing his fist into the air. He is then joined by Laffite, who in turn asks Lauda about the result. Having got the answer, the Frenchman walks away without expressing any emotion. It ended as everyone unconsciously expected, even though for an hour and eighteen minutes Alain Prost had managed to tip the odds in his favour. The Frenchman won the Portuguese Grand Prix but Niki Lauda, who came second, is Formula One World Champion for the third time. In 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari, now driving for McLaren. A great, great feat, for many reasons that go beyond the usual rhetorical phrases. Because the Austrian has won in the most human way, suffering, overcoming ancient fears, grinding his inner self, hiding behind a certain bravado the fear of not having enough grit to go on, fighting against an opponent who was stronger on the track or, at least, faster than him. Now Lauda climbs a rung on the scale of all-time motorsport values.

He is alongside Jackie Stewart and Jack Brabham (three titles each), and behind only Manuel Fangio (five-time champion). His story, however, has perhaps more twists and turns, folds into which it is difficult to delve. A man who wins everything, who quits to become an airline manager, who returns to racing because he rediscovers the right stimuli that he had previously lost. A driver who many believed capable of taking the wheel again just to pocket millions of dollars, but who ultimately finds only the pleasure in life in a struggle that even approaches mortal risk. The 1984 edition Niki Lauda was a different Lauda from the one everyone was used to knowing. In order to change, he had to alter a temperament that had made him an unpleasant and uncomfortable character in the past. He also had to become a public relations man. Not only for personal interests but to counter an adversary, his team-mate Alain Prost, who was adept at managing himself within a team, at forcing the hand of his team's managers to attract favours and privileges. It should not be forgotten that Lauda found himself at McLaren this year as an apprentice. For the first time, the British team was fitting their cars with turbo engines. Alain Prost, an up-and-coming star, hired alongside the veteran champion had long experience in this field. But Niki was able to learn race by race all the secrets, all the little tricks to put himself at the level of his friend-rival. Much will be said about this championship. Some will say that Lauda was lucky (he admitted as much) and that Prost was unlucky, as was also evident. However, what will remain in history is the success of this driver with an indomitable will, who transformed himself. From defender he became a driver who also knows how to attack at opportune moments, to make thrilling overtaking moves, to score points when nobody expected it. Except at Dallas, the Frenchman has always started at the front of the grid. A demonstration of his superiority in qualifying. Lauda, however, taking the start behind Prost, was more skilful, certainly more continuous and careful. Fortunes and misfortunes do not fall randomly on men, not even on sports champions. Lauda has been called a master by some. And perhaps never in motor racing has anyone deserved this title more.

"I feel sorry for Prost, but only one wins the World Championship".


Says Niki Lauda, who laughs like you have never seen him laugh. The Austrian throws off his cap, without which he is never seen, and says:


"Now it is no longer needed, the championship is over".


It was thought that he wore it to hide his scars and burnt ear, but now Lauda suggests that it was a good luck charm.


"It was the hardest race of my life. I did the last two laps with a lump in my throat".


And these things are said by a man judged to be cold and emotionless.


"I had a lot of opponents to overtake at the start, and that worried me. Too many overtakes, I told myself. And I also didn't want to risk compromising the race. But it was easier than I thought. Because nobody got in my way with malice".


Then he admits that he was afraid.


"Real fear, when I found myself second. From that moment on, I began to fear a breakdown, even if it was just a trifle that would delay me and I would be overtaken".


Lauda is talkative, he allows himself to make admissions that they have never heard him make, unimaginable in him.


"But yes, I also had a bit of luck. Mansell's brake failure ahead of me made it easier. Who can say how it would have gone otherwise?"

On the other hand, Alain Prost says:


"I did everything I could".


The Frenchman is very dejected, for a moment his eyes seem to glaze over. But with an outburst of pride, he says:


"I won seven races, Niki won five. Some of those ahead of Lauda gave up maybe too early. I was checking Mansell. I could see him second in the rear-view mirror and I was calm. Everything was going well, I felt like World Champion. It was an intoxicating feeling".


Alain Prost was World Champion for 52 laps, for 221 kilometres, for one hour and eighteen minutes.


"When I saw in the mirror that Mansell was no longer there, I realised that by then the race had no history. I was going to win it, I knew it, but I also knew that Lauda would finish second and he would be the World Champion".


On the podium, Alain Prost and Niki Lauda shake hands, then in a flourish embrace. Lauda says to Prost:


"You did well. You have nothing to reproach yourself for, believe me. You must not be disappointed, because you did your part and well. Forget, forget as soon as possible, listen to me, this was my year, next year will be yours. Forget everything else and rejoice for next year".


On the podium is Balestre, president of FISA, who is French and had hoped to award Prost the first French World Champion, and now shakes his disappointed head. Also on the podium is the thirdplace finisher, Brazilian Ayrton Senna. Lauda and Prost represent the schools of the past and today, Senna is tomorrow. The photographers ask Lauda to make three with his fingers.




Lauda asks, pretending not to understand.


"Three world titles, no?"


Prost has a melancholic smile:


"Then I should do a zero".


On the truck that takes them out of the racetrack, Lauda and Prost ask each other questions, exchange confidences about the race.


"To whom do you dedicate the title?"

French question.


"You know I haven't thought about it yet?"


The Austrian replies.


"When did you feel confident about the title?"


Lauda replies:


"Never, until I got to the finish line".


And the Austrian now seems to have a chill.


"I confess that the last two laps were never ending. Other than thinking about who to dedicate the title to".


Prost retorts:


"I really have nothing to reproach myself with. My race was to attack and finish first. That's what I did and I did it well, didn't I?"


Lauda replies:


"You did it in the best way".


Says Prost:


"Now I have to start all over again. It's the third time. In any case, I still have good years ahead of me, and I am the fastest. But to win you also need a bit of luck, and I am in credit with luck".


Niki Lauda's wife Marlene Knaus, mother of Lucas (6 years old) and Mathias (3.5 years old), has returned to a motor racing circuit for the first time in six years. The Austrian's wife, who lives in Ibiza with her children, travelled in the driver's personal plane in the morning, taken straight to Estoril. She lived the day, dazed by the greetings, the hugs, the smiles and even the somewhat ironic looks of those who thought Prost would beat Lauda. Marlene waited for the end of the race in the McLaren pit, her face turned to the wall. As if not wanting to know what was going on. It was her friends, Austrian, German, Spanish, who informed her minute by minute about what was happening on the track. And her smile slowly widened until the joy burst out in the finale amidst a thousand kisses and handshakes.


"Now I love Mansell, because he was great. Niki? I came to see him win, and it was good. At home we never talk about racing. The kids don't even know that their dad is a Formula 1 driver. Only the eldest is now beginning to understand something about Niki's business".

Nigel Mansell, the 30-year-old Lotus driver who will switch to Williams next year, was indeed the great protagonist of the Grand Prix. The Englishman, with his usual impetuous action, managed to annoy the two great rivals engaged in the world challenge to no small extent. To tell the truth, Prost had been hoping for his help since Mansell, on the twelfth passage, got into second position. Lauda, forced to chase, nevertheless said afterwards that perhaps he could have caught up with the Lotus ahead of him. But this extra effort was not necessary. On lap 52, betrayed by the oil line of the front right braking system, the Englishman spun and was subsequently forced to retire.


"If this trouble had not happened, in all probability Lauda would not have been able to catch up and overtake me. At the same time, however, I would not have been able to threaten Prost's first position, in all honesty, I was slower than him and he was gradually pulling away from me. I regret the retirement, which meant I lost a place on the podium. The rest, I don't care. For me Lauda or Prost were the same thing as World Champion".


Third in the World Championship, behind Lauda and Prost. It had been a long time since an Italian driver had managed to climb so high in the world championship standings. Elio De Angelis did it. With 34 points and the fifth place conquered, he sprinted past Michele Alboreto in the Ferrari. The result is fair. The Roman driver had an exceptional season, very regular in his results, even if he lacked the sharpness, which certainly cannot be blamed on the racer. The Lotus was competitive at times in terms of performance, but in races it never proved to be a winning car.


"Of course, this final result satisfies me enough, but it does not fill me with joy. I had a race that was an ordeal, even on this occasion. I made the wrong choice of tyres, which were too hard, but above all the engine was not there. I felt like I was racing a Formula 2 and everyone was passing me in the straight. It's a shame, because given what Mansell did, maybe I could have been fighting much higher up".


De Angelis also talks about the world title:


"Lauda's half-point lead gives the exact measure of what happened. Maybe Prost deserved more, because he proved to be faster than his team-mate. But Niki was great and I must say that in my predictions I always voted for him. That's racing, that's motor racing".


For Michele Alboreto, fourth place came at the end of a season that certainly did not live up to his expectations. The victory in Belgium, a one-off episode, then a series of placings, which actually thickened in the last three races of the season with a second place at Monza, the same placings at the Nurburgring and this fourth place that rewards constancy and commitment.


"I am quite happy, because the car proved to be more competitive than on other occasions. It is clear that we have to work for the future and improve further. I could have even finished maybe third if I hadn't had to fight to the limit with Senna. I braked to avoid running into him as I was trying to overtake him in one of the few possible places on the circuit, and the car took off. Too bad. Lauda's world championship? I had said he would win by a narrow margin. It was not difficult to predict a success for Niki, given his experience and also his great technical ability".


Arnoux ends his season with a kind of self-criticism that surprises everyone a little. The French driver, his eyes glistening with tears, says in summary:


"The car was perfect, it was going very well. It was me who didn't make the most of it. Maybe I'm a little bit out of shape, maybe a little bitter about what happened in the championship".

The day before the race, Alboreto's main sponsor (Aleardo Buzzi, vice-president of Marlboro who pays the Maranello team's riders' salaries) had made it clear that he was not particularly happy with Arnoux. In the past, before, during and after Enzo Ferrari's announcement confirming Alboreto and Arnoux for the 1985 season there had been rumours that the Frenchman might even leave the Maranello team and probably return to Renault. Now that the Parisian team has renewed the signing of Warwick and Tambay, all previous inferences have fallen by the wayside. However, the suspicion remains that something is going on. The fact that Arnoux took all the responsibility for the Estoni's negative or otherwise not good enough result, makes one believe that the Frenchman felt that the team was actually at fault. The situation appears rather confused. It is unlikely that at this point there will be a rethink on the part of Ferrari, also because the places available for an eventual new arrangement for Arnoux are few, and not even too tempting for a driver who wants to remain at the top. At the same time, however, it is known with certainty that Keke Rosberg would like to leave Williams. The Finn didn't like the difficulties he found himself in this year in the English team and, in particular, he didn't like the recruitment at his side of Nigel Mansell, the English driver of whom he has very little consideration and whom he considers an enemy. Rosberg would now like to move to another team and the target could be Ferrari. Without forgetting that the incredible and highly effective start made by the Finnish racer in Portugal must certainly have made the Modenese manufacturer jump on its chair. These are obviously just considerations. Arnoux is a fast, albeit discontinuous driver. At the wheel of a competitive car he can always achieve valuable results. It remains to be seen whether this car will be the 1985 version of Ferrari. The defeat makes Prost very talkative. The Frenchman, who never minced words, seemed very excited on Sunday evening. His face tense, a few hints of a smile, Alain tries to explain in a torrent of words to others, and perhaps above all to himself, the reasons why the world title has eluded him once again. His statements (from which one betrays a naivety that is perhaps the main reason why he lost the battle against the wily Lauda) make one believe that he has accepted the race response as an inevitable fact.


"To be World Champion you have to have the best results. Evidently, Niki managed to achieve more during the season than I did. In 1982 Rosberg won the title by winning just one race. In the last four years I have always achieved more first places than the drivers who have achieved the final goal. I have to accept this, but at the same time I can say that my Formula 1 career so far has been fantastic".


Prost may be deluding himself. Next year he will still be with Lauda at McLaren, and he thinks this will be an advantage:


"I have a great relationship with Niki. In fact, I have found that I have become more friends with him than I was at the start of the season. I believe that if he can help me in 1985, he will".


Then the Frenchman contradicts himself:


"I believe that Lauda will be as motivated as ever in the future championship, he will certainly not rest on his laurels. I have to admit that, thanks also to his vigilant attention, I have made a lot of progress this year. I have learned a lot of things. That is why I will be even stronger and will be able to beat everyone".


Lauda permitting, of course:


"I run, I run to win. Because I like it. And I will do it again".


On Sunday evening Lauda attends, together with Prost, a party held at the Albatros, an elegant hotel in Cascais; his reception is organised by the Arab businessman Mansour Ojjeh, owner of Tag, the company that financed the construction of the Porsche engine for McLaren. Around seventy people, all VIPs. In attendance are Marlene Lauda, his wife, in a splendid black dinner jacket, Stephanie of Monaco, whom some indicate as Prost's friend, dressed a bit punk, with a short black skirt and pale blouse; then the drivers, Lafflte, Piquet, Cheever, De Angelis and Arnoux. Then Balestre and Ecclestone. Champagne galore and, for Niki Lauda, even a whisky out of order. The Austrian stays with Prost for a long time, they hug each other, secluded, making confidences, like two great friends freed from a nightmare. But it is easy to suspect that both still have the knife in their pockets, that mutual esteem always hides an intense rivalry that no one wants to admit. This is clear from the statements of the two drivers, full of fine words, but substantially different. Says Lauda:


"Someone asked me if next year I will still have valid motivation to fight as I did this season. They reminded me of Enzo Ferrari's words about the parable of the champion who, once satisfied, pulls the oars in the boat. I don't think I am like that. I want to win, I have a third world title and I would also like a fourth. Of course, if I found myself with a car from the last row and had to elbow my way to qualify, I wouldn't put myself at risk beyond the limit. If McLaren stays at the top, on the other hand, I will still try to beat everyone".

But it will not be easy to beat Prost again. Niki replies:


"We will work together, we will try to develop the new car. On a technical level we are very similar, there is a perfect understanding. We hope to bring out the best in the McLaren to excel again. I said last year that I would race for two more seasons. Now I am not so sure. Maybe I will stop later, in three or four years".


Was it harder to win this championship or the previous two with Ferrari?


"This. Because Prost was a terrible opponent. Think that he led seven races, that he was always on the front row at the start; I had to engage in incredible chases. It was the most important success for me. And then the last one is always the most important".


When did Niki feel he did something decisive to win the title during the season and when did Prost lose it? The answer is also a joke:


"Sunday in the last lap, both of them".


Lauda is asked if McLaren will be the car to beat again next year, and what are the possible rival cars. The reply is diplomatic:


"Let's talk about today and not about the 1985 championship. For that there will be time".


The Austrian does not even want to take stock of the pilot. He does not pass judgement on the youngsters, nor on his more experienced colleagues. He only talks about his great opponent:


"Above all I saw a great Prost, the best".


It is clear that it suits Lauda to have beaten an ace driver, because that gives more value to his victory. And it suits him to have taught his team-mate a severe lesson. On Thursday he confided:


"The best thing would be if Prost won and I came second. He would lose the world title by half a point. Something to drive a driver crazy, a psychological debacle from which it would be difficult for anyone to come out".


After attending a party hosted by Mansour Ojjeh, at which Dungl tries to fulfil a promise he made to Lauda, which included a drunkenness in the event of winning the World Championship (however, he will not manage to go beyond three glasses of whisky), the Austrian driver and Alain Prost move together with the entire McLaren team to a discotheque rented by the British team. Here Lauda delivers eight presents to his eight mechanics. At 1:30 a.m., however, Marlene is seized with stomach pains, so both she and Niki leave to return to the hotel. Both Alain Prost and the entire McLaren team stay, of course. Returning around 5:00 a.m., Alain Prost finds himself unusually a little tipsy to accompany Elio de Angelis to his hotel, who is also not in perfect condition after having had a few drinks. Arriving at the hotel entrance, Elio asks Alain to accompany him closer to the door, a request that triggers the idea of playing a prank in the French driver's drunken mind.


"Do you want me to come closer? OK".

Exclaims Prost, who turns the car around, engages first gear and enters the hotel lobby by breaking through the glass entrance doors. Then he turns to Elio and says to him:


"OK, now ask for the room keys".


With his car stuck in the lobby, Alain Prost has to call a taxi to get back to his hotel, and luckily for him, Marlboro pays for the damage. For Prost, before starting all over again, for the third time, a bit of leisure and relaxation, leaving aside the destroyed hotel lobbies, can only do him good. Ten days later, on Wednesday 31 October 1984, the Austrian champion was honoured, for the umpteenth time, in a fashionable club in the Lombard metropolis, Italy. It was a magnificent evening, a great party, organised by Saima, the sponsor of McLaren (the only Italian touch in the multinational team that won the world title) and he received lots of presents. Niki is also publicly crowned, a small foretaste of what will happen on Friday evening, in the TV programme Premiatissima on Canale 5, during which Ornella Muti and Johnny Dorelli will present a spectacular crown to the winner of three rainbow helmets. Lauda is honoured and awarded in turn. At his side many other drivers. Among others Alain Prost, ready to respond, meek, calm, almost resigned, at least apparently. The Frenchman expresses the usual justifications. In the meantime, an elegant middle-aged lady waits for Niki Lauda in the entrance hall of the Circolo della Stampa, on Corso Venezia, at 2:30 p.m. sharp. On his arrival, the lady offers a red rose, telling the Austrian driver:


"You deserve so much more. This is a small tribute for a great champion".


Niki Lauda was surprised. He was expecting the usual crowd of kids. Instead, only this kind admirer is waiting for him, who does not even notice the presence, alongside the Austrian, of Alain Prost. The two rival champions are touring the world, at such a frenetic pace that they use Lauda's jet to get around. Monday Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Antwerp; Tuesday Geneva, Lausanne and Alene; Wednesday Madrid, Milan and Vienna. The sponsors have their rights, there are prizes to collect and you have to perform. The occasion is good to have a talk about the future with the World Champion and his deputy. On the evening of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Prost said:


"I will make up for it next year and I hope for Niki's help".


But Lauda had replied:


"I won my third title, and now I'm thinking about the fourth".


Better to clarify immediately: friends or foes?


"My friend should explain to me how I should help him".


Lauda replies.


"Of course I don't expect Niki to stop 50 metres from the finish line to let me pass. One way to help me is to continue the collaboration between us, even if we are each doing our own thing".


This is precisely what happened during the season that has just ended. And the accounts, in the end, proved the Austrian right. But which of the two is the faster driver?


"I was always the fastest in practice, he in the race, but there was a reason. I was in front, he was forced to pull behind, to chase me. We will see who will be faster if Niki manages to start a few times alongside me in the front rows".

Reply from the Austrian:


"This year I was an apprentice with the turbo cars and won the title. I hoped to do better in 1985...".


The two then implicitly embark on another challenge for the new World Championship. But will McLaren still be at the top to allow another challenge between the two?


"You can't say so easily. This season our cars were clearly superior. Now we will have to change the tyres that were part of our advantage. And on top of that the other teams will copy, especially at the rear, the McLaren aerodynamics".


Speaking of rivals, while the two McLaren drivers do their sponsor duties, Michele Alboreto comes close to setting the track record at Fiorano, 1'06"41, stopping the clock at 1'07"67. This was at the end of 35 laps in which the Italian driver developed an updated version of the 126 C4 M2. In the morning, the car was involved in a mechanical accident, as a result of which the entire rear end was engulfed in flames after a turbine broke. The promptness of the driver, who operates the onboard fire extinguisher, means that after three hours the car is able to return to the track to continue the scheduled testing. At the same time, Enzo Ferrari meets with the president of Ferrari, and managing director of Fiat, Engineer Ghidella. Prost, therefore, is already on the warpath. But it is not only the Frenchman who harbours intentions of revenge. Also present are De Angelis, third in the World Championship, and Michele Alboreto, fourth with his Ferrari. De Angelis clearly expresses his intention to aim higher.


"The fact that McLaren will be without Michelin tyres this year and will have to go down with us to Goodyear, putting us all on an equal footing, can be seen as a big advantage for all those who aspire to beat the British team. As for me, if there are no problems with the car, with the confirmation of French technician Ducarouge at Lotus, I think we can have a very good season. My car was already competitive, performance-wise, in 1984, so I am convinced that we will remain at the top".


But Alboreto also has many ambitions. The Milanese driver doesn't admit it openly, he can't do it, but for him last year was a year of apprenticeship and he considers next year to be the real first year at Ferrari. Also because Alboreto expects from the Maranello team finally a competitive car for the whole season. The work continues. Michele, as mentioned, is already hard at work on the Fiorano track with a car that is being modified day by day. New exhausts have been tried, new solutions, waiting to give the Maranello single-seater a totally different or at least more valid configuration. Michele knows very well that Ferrari goes ahead, like all teams of a certain prestige, with ups and downs but that sooner or later it always comes out on top. And so it is certain that 1985 will bring him satisfaction.


"The reference is precisely Niki Lauda. We will try to beat him, and once we have beaten the Austrian, there will be very few rivals to overcome".


Ferrari sports director Marco Piccinini is also present at the party. The Maranello team manager wears a flashy shirt with René Arnoux's name on it. As if to put an end to the jumble of rumours that want the Frenchman to leave. There had been talk in recent days of various types of exchange, of Arnoux moving to Ligier and of De Cesaris arriving at Ferrari. It seems that everything is just an illusion. The name of Rosberg had also been mentioned for the Maranello team, but the Finn is untouchable at Williams. The British manufacturer itself had said:


"Keke Rosberg is always the strongest of all".

And he added, reciting a kind of mea culpa, that if the Finn had a McLaren at his disposal this year he would have driven around Lauda and Prost, leaving them far behind. This, too, is a purposeful revenge. As time goes by, one thing seems certain: Ferrari will almost certainly have three drivers in the Formula 1 team next year. The Modenese constructor had spoken in the past of the possibility of having a spare driver, that is, a young man available for testing at the Fiorano track, ready for possible replacements in the race should the need arise. Now the opportunity to adopt this solution seems to be upon us. Marlboro's sponsor, which pays the Maranello drivers' salaries, has reportedly proposed the inclusion of an Italian racer among those it has under contract (the names of Paolo Barilla and European Formula 3 champion Ivan Capelli are being mentioned, while the possible inclusion of Andrea De Cesaris is still topical, even though the Roman has renewed his commitment with Ligier). This eventuality - which has not been denied - makes one think that the rumours about an Arnoux crisis within the team have some foundation and that the arrival of a new driver, in any case, is the first step towards a future replacement for the Frenchman, because it seems unlikely that Ferrari will field three cars in any race. Even if from Maranello the sporting director Marco Piccinini lets it be known that Arnoux enjoys the utmost confidence. Speaking of the health enjoyed by Formula 1 in this historic period, for years Jean-Marie Balestre, president of the FIA, and Bernie Ecclestone, head of FOCA, have been publicly extolling the success and penetration achieved in the world arena by the sport they practically manage.


"We will have a Grand Prix in Moscow, on Red Square".


Says one.


"We will go to Beijing, Budapest and New York".


The other replies. Now, however, their expansion plans seem to have stalled. Not only was the New York Grand Prix skipped last season, but it is very unlikely that it will be held next season. Dallas, after the 1984 experience, seems to be already lost to economic and organisational problems. True: the 1985 World Championship will take over Australia with a Grand Prix in Adelaide, but it seems to have definitively closed the possibility of racing in Monaco. The clash between FISA and the Monegasque A. C. seems to have ended negatively, with the government of the Principality giving up hosting both Formula One and the Rally. Everyone knows that MonteCarlo on the motorsport plane has never aroused excessive sympathy for its sometimes unfriendly attitudes and for the total exploitation of the event, sometimes even excessive. Nonetheless, these are still two of the most prestigious races on the international calendar that, with their charm and technical prerogatives, constitute a link between the past and the present. To cancel without taking this into account and without attempting all and sundry, rigidly sticking to one's own positions, as has happened, may be foolish on both sides. At the same time, the publication of the updated Formula 1 programme with the almost certain inclusion of a Grand Prix in Rome must make one reflect. Is this Formula 1 or Formula Italy? What other country can afford to organise three races of this magnitude? The Italians have already invented the San Marino Grand Prix to use, in addition to Monza, the Imola circuit; there are the Mugello organisers protesting and knocking on doors, those of Misano Adriatico would like to but do not dare. And then, let's be serious: the clrcus already lives well on the back of this little Italy. Drivers, cars, sponsors, if we do the percentages it's scary. A Grand Prix in Rome can arouse great publicity clamour, tourist interest. But apart from the intrinsic difficulties of placing such a complex event in the old Urbe, you can imagine what will happen in the pits. It will take a special card just for the undersecretaries. The reservation on the choice of the Eur circuit as the venue for a Formula 1 World Championship race will be dissolved in Paris on Saturday 1 December 1984, the date of the convocation of the FISA board, but the guidelines, even in organisational terms, look favourable. Officially an answer is awaited on the possible renouncement of Dallas and New York, but everything suggests that Rome - the first European candidate - has a very good chance of succeeding.

In favour of the Grand Prix of Rome are, in addition to the Automobil club of the Capital, the Ente Eur (which is waiting for a revival of the district after the travails of recent years), the mayor and the CSAI. Perplexed, however, are many Eur residents, sectors of the political party Italia Nostra and urban planning experts. However, the president of the Automobile Club of Rome, Nicola Cutrufo, emphasises that this is not an annual event, but a unique occasion; the excellent road system of EUR, rich in roads and route alternatives, will not disrupt the usual course of life in the district; the exceptional safety of the circuit, which will have 32 emergency posts; the type of circuit (planned in four kilometres, starting from the confluence of Viale Oceano Pacifico and Viale Oceano Atlantico, along Cristoforo Colombo, Marconi's stele, Palasport and artificial lake); the exceptional attraction of sportsmen and tourists, given the duration (a week between arrivals, trials and the race) and the use of the Palasport, not only for the pits, but for a whole series of collateral shows.


"The municipality has already verbally expressed to us its total availability with regard to everything within its competence".


Eur Commissioner Luigi Di Maio is also in favour of holding the tender.


"Obviously subject to the guarantee that no disruption will be caused to the life of the neighbourhood".


But while there is talk of new Grand Prix, the mediation by the French Minister of Sport, Alain Calmai, between the French Automobile Federation and the Principality's organisers in an attempt to settle the dispute concerning the Rally and Grand Prix cancelled by the FIA has failed. The affair is well known: Monaco wants to forfeit the television rights for the Formula 1 race, which are normally distributed between the manufacturers' association and FISA. To show its displeasure, the FIA demanded 200,000 francs from A. C. Monaco for the rights to pass over French territory with the Rally. The meeting, which took place on Wednesday 21 November 1984 and lasted two and a half hours, ended in a deadlock. As a result, Michel Boeri announced at a press conference in the morning a double legal action. Monte-Carlo appealed to the French Council of State to find out whether the FIA can substitute itself for the public authorities by demanding a toll to let the rally pass. For the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Monegasque executive filed a complaint with the civil court of Paris requesting the validation of a contract signed on Wednesday, 18 January 1984 with Bernie Ecclestone (FOCA president) according to which Monaco, by paying $100.000 per year, would have the right to organise its own Formula 1 race. Enzo Ferrari also intervened in the Monaco Grand Prix affair.


"In December 1983 I met President Balestre in Maranello and then the lawyer Boeri, president of the Automobile Club of Monaco. We talked about the problems of the Monaco Grand Prix, and I got the impression that for 1984 everything would go as contractually agreed. For 1985 and the following years, since there was no agreement, I suggested that FOCA and the Automobile Club of Monaco should work out a solution in order to obviate the negative interference that, it was said, existed between the television rights situation of the Monaco race and the American Grand Prix".


Meanwhile, Michele Alboreto sets an absolute track record at Fiorano during a series of tests with Ferrari. The Milanese driver laps in 1'06"15 at an average speed of 163.263 km/h. The previous record belonged to Arnoux, who set a time of 1'06"49 in February. The car with which Alboreto set the new limit was a traditional type, with new rear aerodynamics based on the 1985 regulations, i.e. a smaller wing. Apparently, new special petrol developed by Agip was also used. In any case, the Italian racer completed 44 laps. On Thursday 20 December 1984 FISA officially closes the racing season in Paris, at its headquarters in Place de la Concorde, with an awards ceremony for the drivers and makes that have won world and European titles. Big celebrations are planned for Niki Lauda, who for the third time has won Formula 1's highest laurel, while among the manufacturers the German industry will raid the awards with Porsche at the forefront. In the meantime, rumours about the Formula 1 calendars are confirmed, with the inclusion of the Rome and New York Grand Prix, the cancellation of the Dallas Grand Prix and the freezing of Monte-Carlo, which is still under discussion. As for the Tyrrell case that was acquitted by the civil court, FISA is pretending nothing has happened and continues to disregard the British manufacturer in the scores, which, however, is talking about asking for a total of around $2.000.000 in damages.

Regarding the inclusion of two races in Rome and New York, one can be satisfied with the enlargement of Formula One's area of interest in the world. But this decision does not agree with the way motor sport is interpreted. Racing must be practised in suitable and permanent facilities. Beyond the facile enthusiasms, many in Italy would prefer that the millions of dollars that will have to be spent to set up a circuit in the streets of the capital be used, with good planning, to renovate, for example, the beautiful Vallelunga circuit. The idea, then, of putting mini-cameras on the cars in the race is a spectacular one: it will have an impact on the show and also to better follow certain episodes. On the occasion of the award ceremony for the 1984 champions of motor sport, FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre confirmed at a press conference the rumours of recent days about the 1985 season. The European Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Rome on Sunday 13 October 1985, the Dallas Grand Prix is abolished, Monaco now seems to be excluded from the championship while there is still an open door for the Monte-Carlo Rally. Balestre repeatedly emphasised that Monaco's position was anomalous and that it was unacceptable that one country out of the seventeen taking part in the world championship should not abide by the FIA regulations.


"The International Federation has called an extraordinary meeting for 19 February. It will discuss the exclusion of the Munich Autoclub (which will have a month to prepare its defence) from the association".


Still on Formula 1, Balestre says that a reserve Grand Prix is not planned for 1986, that Germany will have to communicate the chosen circuit (Nurburgrlng or Hockenheim) by 31 January 1985, and that three new engines will arrive by 1986. At the end of the press conference, the annual FISA awards are presented. Celebrating above all is Niki Lauda, the newly crowned World Champion, who says he has neither positive nor negative comments to make about the Rome Grand Prix.


"It's fine with me, I run everywhere".


As at the start of a car race, the European Grand Prix, a Formula 1 race to be held on Sunday 13 October 1985 in Rome, gets underway. Where? On the streets of EUR, announced Mayor Ugo Vetere and the promoters, taking the choice for granted. But on Friday, 21 December 1984 - while the president of the Automobil Club of Rome, Nicola Cutrufo, explains how 3850 metres of Via Cristoforo Colombo will become the Grand Prix track - doubts and grumbling swirl in the city's political palaces. Francesco Spinelli, commissioner of the Ente Eur, almost a governor of the district, protests:


"Here I hear talk of using our facilities, of cutting down trees, of closing Colombo, and no one has informed me. These are solutions that worry us".


The socialists in the city council, including Sandro Natalini, the group leader, are also concerned:


"Vetere got carried away with enthusiasm, and did not assess the impact that event would have on Rome, where traffic is a dramatic problem. We will ask the council to discuss it, not to boycott the Grand Prix, but to hijack it. Perhaps it is more fair to use the Vallelunga circuit".


So, twenty-four hours after the official announcement, made in Paris by the FISA president, the European Grand Prix has already become a political case. A rash decision, the choice of Eur? Irritated, Vetere rebuts the criticism.


"The race won't swallow up any lawns or trees in the neighbourhood, which, indeed, have already sent the thank-you note; for a few days they won't breathe in the exhaust fumes of thousands of cars. The runway is too short, 800 metres are missing, and then there are no adequate access roads and parking areas. Some people are annoyed that Rome is moving out of the mephitic role that history and central power have assigned it. On the whole, however, we had broad support, we will take the concerns into account. Electoral initiative? It was the Automobile Club that dealt with the issue, I'm not part of it".


The stretch of Via Cristoforo Colombo that in the plans will become a motor racing circuit goes from the Marconi Road, which will act as a buoy in a sharp bend, to the intersection, one kilometre further on, between Viale Oceano Pacifico and Viale Oceano Atlantico. A ring that will enclose the Eur pond and the Palazzo dello Sport. Spaces almost designed for a race. A three-lane carriageway, like a motorway, with a side junction lane. Along the ring and inside large open spaces for the grandstands (50.000 seats, 150.000 standing, the organisers calculate). But the drawbacks are not lacking. How long will Colombo, a strategic artery for Roman traffic (it connects the city and EUR to the new settlements close to the ring road) remain closed? Only testing and pre-testing will take a week. And it will be necessary to resurface the road surface, to adapt it to the Formula 1 tyres, erect grandstands, facilities, services. And then: in an office area (Ministry of Finance. Inps, Ina) several parking spaces will disappear. The city police do not care about the problem:


"There will be inconvenience, but we answer to the administration. If they tell us to close, we close".

The prefecture is waiting, the magistrate's court is keeping watch (Gianfranco Amendola, praetor, says: 'We will see what they will do, however any concentration of people without adequate facilities is very worrying'). Formula 1 drivers are also protesting. Many do not like the part of the new gladiators of the Urbe at all.


"Too dangerous city routes, they are a bargain but we take risks".


Rightly observes Clay Regazzoni, who owes his wheelchair to the pitfalls of an urban circuit.


"But the road is wider than at a normal racetrack".


Replies Rosario Alessi, president of the Automobil Club. He adds:


"The race in Rome, in the city and not in Vallelunga, is Enzo Ferrari's wish: and then we will break through the one billion television viewers ceiling. The question will be asked: is the show worth the price of the ticket?"


The 1985 season will start as early as the very first days of January, with tests at the various circuits usually used for testing, tests from which the first indications will be given. The official start will be given on Sunday 7 April 1985 in Rio de Janeiro, barring any last-minute changes. Three races will be held in Italy: Imola, Monza and Rome. The awarding of the European Grand Prix to the capital city has aroused justified enthusiasm in terms of the recognition of the values of Italian motor sport. But on this point there are those who disagree, as there are those who would have preferred a race at Mugello or Vallelunga, since city circuits are a nonsense for Formula 1 and Roman driver Elio De Angelis is right, saying:


"Julius Caesar will turn in his grave".


In commenting on this decision. Rome certainly does not need a Grand Prix to gain publicity. But talking, instead, about the cars that will participate in the next World Championship, with this phrase Enzo Ferrari last spring had defined the 129 C4:


"A car is beautiful if it wins".


Now, almost a year later, the single-seater from Maranello is about to retire and make way for a completely new car that will most likely be unveiled within a month. A few more tests at Fiorano, maybe one at Estoril in Portugal in the middle of the month with a car that is already profoundly modified, then it will be off to the 1985 World Championship. Another challenge for the Maranello team, which has not won a drivers' title since 1979, the year of Jody Scheckter. The 126 C4, while proving to be quite competitive and the only alternative on the reliability plane to the overwhelming power of McLaren Porsche last season, was not a pretty car. Just pretty, perhaps. With the illusions fuelled by the rather brilliant start, and Michele Alboreto's only victory at Zolder and the subsequent disappointment. It is also true that there are others, that the adversaries have become more and more prepared and difficult to overcome, but it must be admitted that expectations have not been met. Perhaps this time Ferrari has sinned a little in presumption, not believing in certain technical solutions that have instead advantaged their rivals, even if at times at the edge of the regulations. Frozen fuel, never adopted by the Maranello team, heavy fuel arriving too late, engine development and other details (not least that of the tyres) certainly weighed on a barely acceptable balance for a name of this prestige. Ferrari, however, has one undeniable talent. It does not lack the will to return to the top, to fight. Nor does it lack the means to fight against giants called Porsche, Renault, BMW and Honda.


To achieve this objective, the Italian team has renewed itself, giving itself a more modern, more up-to-date set-up. The engineer Mauro Forghieri left the technical summit, a man of great talent, capable of solving difficult problems in a few minutes, with a typically Italian, or rather Emilian, genius, but probably too self-centred for today's Formula 1, which requires teamwork. Enzo Ferrari thus composed a management staff without spearheads, calling each of his men to their individual responsibilities. The results seem to have arrived almost immediately: already in the 1985 configuration, or almost, the cars tested at Fiorano have made progress, set new records. This gives hope and one can easily assume that Ferrari is ready to return to the attack. Without illusions, because the competition is tough, but with the conviction of having done all that was possible. On the drivers, both confirmed, there is nothing to say: they are both fast and determined. In any case, the 1995 championship will offer a more balanced panorama than the one concluded due to Michelin's exit from the scene. Now the duel for tyres is played out between two, with Pirelli on one side (the Italian manufacturer has Brabham as its leading team) and Goodyear on the other. This is a technical element, not to be underestimated, which should reduce McLaren's supremacy. Ferrari itself has already said that the revamped engine (still 6 cylinders) provides greater power than the previous model and this is another fact.


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