#404 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix

2021-09-08 01:00

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#1984, Fulvio Conti,

#404 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix

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 bea

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. Only one Brabham is out as Teo Fabi has been compelled to return to his family in Italy as his father had died suddenly and the Brabham team are busy trying to get Manfred Winkelhock from Germany to Portugal’ but weather and air lines are not helping much. Dr 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. 
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. And that’s some lap, for a Williams-Honda - 1'22"049 - fourth overall and at the head of the hopeless group. See what I mean about hopeless being a relative term.
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. 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. Prost simply runs away from everyone, leaving a trail of woe and frustrations behind him. 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. As he outbrakes Johansson down the slope in the middle of the circuit he clips the Toleman’s front aerofoil and the Swede has to stop for a replacement. De Angelis drops back, Lauda passes Alboreto, Rosberg’s Honda breaks, Lauda deals with Senna and Mansell has brake trouble, so by reason of hard driving and a quantity of luck the wild old Austrian works his way up to second place. 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. Piquet has an unsatisfying drive from last up to sixth place and only the first three finishes could be really proud of their day’s work.



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