"During my years at Renault, I don't remember exactly what year and what race, during free practice I decided to fit hard tires on the left side, and soft tires on the right side. Pierre, Michelin communications officer and a friend of mine, told me doubtfully that this was a solution that could never work in the race. I replied simply "let me do it, I know what I do." Well, I won that race, and that day Pierre called me for the first time Le Professeur, the Professor. Since then that nickname has accompanied me throughout my career".
Alain Marie Pascal Prost actually could have become a professor. In fact, being a gymnastic instructor, together with being a professional footballer for his favorite team, Saint Etienne, was his dream since he was a child.
Raised in the tiny commune of 5.000 inhabitants of Lorette, in the Loire department, little Alain is the son of Andrè Prost and Marie-Rose Karatchian, who work in their own factory: "l'Établissements Prost, meubles de style", where Andrè manufactures equipment kitchen, tables and chairs.
Alain is a rather suspicious boy, who has the bad habit of biting his nails, he likes sports, but motoring is not among his primary interests, on the contrary he prefers soccer, wrestling and skateboarding, which as a child he practices with such passion and vehemence to break his nose several times.
It is during a holiday in the south of France, on the Cote d'Azur, when Prost is already fourteen, that the spark between him and the engines strikes. Andrè takes his two children to a go-kart track, mainly as a gift for his older brother Daniel, who already shown a passion for engines, with Alain accompaining them although his thoughts were more for football and he played in the Saint Etienne amateur team.
Love at first sight. This way only the first encounter between Prost and karts be described, up until then an entity completely unknown to him. Despite an arm in a cast, Alain starts last in an organized race after a few laps of running-in, and incredibly goes to win.
No more football, no more skateboarding, no more for everything. Alain just wants to keep racing, but there is a problem, and not an insignificant one: money.
Parents can't even afford to think about buying him a kart, so Alain spends a year and a half trying to raise the necessary sum between various jobs and a life-saving, to be able to buy it himself. With the sum of about 700 French francs, about fifty pounds in 1971, he buys a second-hand kart, and he's finally able to race.
Four years later, in 1973, Alain has already made his way into the world of karting, he continues to finance himself with some work here and there, he begins to fix and prepare engines until 2:00 am at the Parisian kart company managed by a certain Michel Fabre, to then go to school the next day.
He conquers both the French and European junior karting championships, results that convince him to definitively abandon his university studies to devote himself now to what is his passion in all respects, so much so that not even the military service carried out in those years prevents him from going on racing.
In 1974 he participated in the prestigious Alazar Trophy in Paris, where he faced the two-time champion of the competition, François Goldstein, considered one of the fastest drivers around at that time. The two arrive at the last race with the title still up for grabs.
Alain is clearly dominating when Goldstein's teammate, already lapped, slows down and pushes Prost off the track, who returns to the track just behind Goldstein, who goes on to win the race and the title.
Prost does not accept the conspiracy against him, and on the honour lap, at the first corner he blocks Goldstein's kart, gets out of his cockpit and punches him in the throat. The result is a five-month suspension from competitive activities, which does not quench Alain's thirst for victories. Indeed, perhaps they make it even stronger.
In 1975, the national senior championship was also added to his curriculum vitae, but Alain took the fundamental step for his career in October of the same year: the Winfield Racing school, sponsored by Renault and Elf, organized an important event to find young talents in Italy, held simultaneously on the Paul Ricard and Magny-Cours circuits.
Among the numerous drivers taking part in the Paul Ricard contest there is also him, who despite living with his parents in Saint Chamond, a place much closer to the Magny-Cours circuit, decides to go further south in search of better weather, without risk of rain. But the paradox wants Prost to get noticed just when the rain suddenly falls on the track: most of his colleagues go into a spin, unable to deal with the slippery track.
Prost, thanks to his extraordinary sensitivity, seems to drive his kart as if it were on a dry track. He does not break down even for a moment, and is noticed by the school instructors for continuing to use the same braking point in both dry and wet conditions.
Alain has no problem entering the list of twenty drivers who will play the only five places available for the final, driving equally competitive single-seaters produced by Martini.
The drivers are divided into two groups, Prost is part of the group that will compete first, but, both because he is aware that the cars are not always truly equal in terms of competitiveness, and because he wants to better understand their behavior, he wants first of all to observe them from the outside. Therefore, he shows up late at the racetrack pretending to have had a puncture in the car. Hardly credible or not, he manages to get what he wants, being moved to the second group of pilots. Observing the cars on the track, he notices that the red number 4 has something more than the others. In any case, he is of course also in the final on October 25th.
Judging who will be the best of the five finalists is also the President of FISA Jean-Marie Balestre, together with the winner of the 1972 competition, Didier Pironi, and Ken Tyrrell. Names that make it clear how important this competition was to allow young talents to make the definitive leap into the world of racing, a very relevant question to Balestre, especially when it comes to his compatriots.
Five laps available in order to record the fastest lap, and needless to say, the fastest of all is Alain, who beats the runner-up by a few tenths. To deliver the trophy that the new Elf Pilot decrees, it is Ken Tyrrell.
The prize does not consist only in the trophy, but also and above all in participation in the Formula Renault championship in the upcoming season. At the age of twenty, the young Prost gives up karts, now he gets serious.
However, the situation does not change: in his first year in Formula Renault and driving for the Martini Renault Team, Alain humiliates his rivals, who can do nothing to counter his superiority. A row of twelve impressive victories out of thirteen disputed, the last one escaped due to a technical problem with the car; which pissed off Alain, who appeared frustrated at the end-of-season party organized by Renault and Elf. He wanted to win them all.
In the meantime, Alain met François Guiter, the Elf manager in charge of bringing the oil company closer to motoring, also favoring the rise of young French drivers. Determined to compete at an European level, Alain asks Guiter to provide him with the budget necessary to have his own team in the European Formula Renault championship, which is not prohibitive since he only has two mechanics.
An affirmative answer arrives, but only in the event of a championship victory, Alain would have had the budget available also for the following seasons, otherwise, everything would have gone to pieces. From the national level to the European level, and even here, although to a lesser extent, Prost manages the pressure of having to win compulsorily and wins the championship at the last race.
His arrival in Formula 3 in 1978, on the other hand, did not go as expected, due to problems with the uncompetitive Martini chassis he himself was unable to adapt. There is only one victory in that championship, but in the following championship in 1979, there are nine victories out of thirteen races, which also earned him the title. Prost dominates the race in Monaco, considered by the environment to be the most prestigious of all, capable of fully enhancing the most crystalline talents, in the circumstance the now 24-year-old Alain.
The logical consequence of his impressive results is the interest of numerous Formula 1 teams that arises in him. Brabham and Ligier are options, in particular the French team is liked by Guiter, but Teddy Mayer's McLaren offers Prost the chance to race in the last Grand Prix of the 1979 season in the States, at Watkins Glen International. Prost, however, is not upset, he is not yet physically ready for a Formula 1 race, moreover, according to him, one and only race in such circumstances would not have benefited him or McLaren itself.
The gentle refusal is followed by weeks in which Prost eats his hands, convinced that he has lost the chance of a lifetime, until in November 1979 he receives a call to carry out a test at Paul Ricard in the company of an experienced driver like John Watson and the young Kevin Cogan, with the latter being initially Teddy Mayer's first choice for the 1980 season.
"No matter how fast he went, that bastard always managed to take at least half a second off my time".
John Watson's exclamation at the end of the test. No, he's not talking about Kevin Cogan, but obviously about the kid who came from Formula 3, who leaves everyone stunned by his unspeakable speed.
As soon as he got out of the car, Mayer is waiting for him with a bunch of papers in hand; Alain thinks they are the lap time notes he recorded, but in truth it is his contract, which the McLaren team principal wants him to sign immediately.
A contract as a second driver, alongside Watson himself, in view of the 1980 season. From Formula 3 to Formula 1, a transition so direct that few, very few have managed to do it, but Alain is special, it has already been understood by time.
Replacing Patrick Tambay, Alain spends his first year in Formula 1 as a teammate of seasoned John Watson, but the McLaren powered by the 1980 V8 Ford Costworth DFV is even poorer than the 1979-year Watson was successful in, but however collects fifteen points and a podium at the first outing of the season.
Between the two seasons, FISA opens to the banning of turbo engines, whose superiority over cars equipped with Ford-Costworth engines (i.e. the rest of the grid with the exception of Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo) seemed evident. The teams that had them, Ferrari above all, opposed this novelty, since they were already in the design phase, consequently, in the end it was decided to postpone this change to 1983.
Prost debuts on the M29 designed by Gordon Coppuck on the Buenos Aires circuit, in the first round of the new season. In qualifying he places twelfth, two and a half seconds from Alan Jones, poleman of the day, but what catches the most attention is the second full trimmed to his expert boxing mate, who after the test at Paul Ricard, is again clubbed from the newly arrived.
The scorching heat that impregnates the Argentine air, making it heavy and muggy, puts the regular running of the race at risk: the asphalt in some parts of the circuit cannot withstand the heat, and begins to flake off. There are those who propose to run early in the morning, in order to avoid high temperatures, or those, like Bernie Ecclestone, who propose to use the track number 12, the longest. Hypothesis to be discarded because according to the regulations it was necessary to run where the tests had taken place.
Someone else, on the other hand, talks about suspending the race if the asphalt has deteriorated beyond repair. In the night between Saturday and Sunday, in order to fix the track, a new layer of asphalt is spread in the most critical points.
Fortunately, the race takes place regularly, and is won by Jones, aboard the Williams FW07, and in spite of the presumed domination of the Turbo, the points area features five cars out of six powered by Ford Double Four Valve engines. Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg get their first joy on the podium; Bruno Giacomelli, fifth, brings Alfa Romeo back to the points after almost thirty years; to close the points is the McLaren number 8, the one of Prost, who in the first race can immediately celebrate his first career point.
And given the premises, with a McLaren in a clear performance crisis, it is a result that acquires even more value than it already has in itself.
The second round of the championship takes place in Brazil, on the tortuous Interlagos circuit, at that time almost eight kilometers long, a version of the circuit that will be used for the last time in 1980, the year in which it should have been raced on the circuit of Jacarepaguà; the stage near the capital is canceled due to disputes with the mayor of Rio, who complains about the excessive costs for organizing the Grand Prix.
The asphalt conditions and the safety measures of the Interlagos racetrack do not satisfy the drivers at all, who threaten to desert the race if their safety is not provided. The protections are strengthened at various points, the track is completely resurfaced, and despite some imperfections that persist as noted during his inspection lap by Jody Scheckter, president of the GPDA, we run.
During qualifying, Prost stays on the standards of the previous race: he places himself in the middle of the table, thirteenth, and once again gives a good gap to Watson, who will have to line up in the penultimate position instead.
Capitalizing to the best of the retirements of several drivers who were in front of him, and a masterful driving, Alain is sixth again just a few laps from the end. In front of him is Riccardo Patrese, in great difficulty due to extremely worn tires and also due to some problems with the brakes. The two are hooked, and give life to a spectacular battle valid for the fifth position.
On lap thirty-three Alain manages to overtake the Arrows on the exit of turn 15, now known as the Junçao, but the Italian does not give up, takes the wake of McLaren for the whole straight and gets back in front with a courageous maneuver on the outside. Prost is much faster, he shows himself in Patrese's rear-view mirrors at every corner, and with four laps to go he overtakes him definitively in fifth position. Two races, twice in the points. Alain repays the trust of his team in a big way.
Paradoxically, it is the team that does not pay Alain in the right way. McLaren is too prone to breakdown, and these breakdowns sometimes lead to potentially dangerous crashes. During the tests on February 13, 1980, at Paul Ricard, just where it all started a few months earlier, Alain goes off-piste, injures his leg and reports a suspected fracture of a toe.
He is in luxury, one could say, when compared to what happens two weeks later in South Africa, where the third Grand Prix of the season is held at the Kyalami circuit. During the rehearsals, Alain bumps into Esses violently, comes out unscathed but with a great pain in the wrist. John Watson trivializes his teammate's complaints, but that same evening he himself has to get out of bed to take Prost to the hospital, as the pain had become unbearable. Triple fracture to the wrist, as well as to the scaphoid, that is to say no race of the Kyalami, and no race in Long Beach, at the end of March. Alain is back on track only in early May, for the Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder.
The season is a succession of retirements, caused by some accident or by the poor reliability of McLaren (which during the season brings new versions of the car to the track, which will be as poor as the M29), and excellent performances such as the Monaco Grand Prix, where Alain qualifies tenth - with Watson who instead appears among the unqualified for the race - but at the start he is involved in the carom triggered by Derek Daly's Tyrrell.
Or like the other two races in which he manages to score points, at Brands Hatch and Zandvoort, sixth at the finish line on both occasions; between the two races, precisely on August 1, 1980, Alain gets married to Anne-Marie, on a day made bitter by the death of French driver Patrick Depailler, victim of a serious accident while testing Alfa Romeo at Hockenheim. The Frenchman had been the driver who had helped Alain the most during his first year in Formula 1; for the first time Prost deals with the loss of a pilot he knew.
In New York, on the Watkins Glen circuit, Alain closes the championship with a bad accident during qualifying, following yet another failure, this time due to a suspension. The result is a bruise in the head that prevents him from taking part in the race, and effectively puts an end to his first experience at McLaren.
When he discovers that someone in the team, including Mayer, blames him for some of the accidents that have occurred, takes the ball, and also decided to run for high-ranking positions, he does not respect the two-year contract signed at the beginning of the season with Teddy Mayer's team, and does not even let himself be charmed by the latter's replacement, Ron Dennis, who tries to hold him back with all his strength along with the other newcomer John Barnard.
Alain returns home, decides to sign with compatriot Renault, capable of signing three successes in 1980. With the right moves, Alain could also have a say in him for the title. Paradoxically, his first successful move is to extend his partnership with Marlboro, which will prove crucial in the future as the romance with Renault also comes to an end.
For him, the one with Gérard Larrousse's team will be an intense marriage, full of ups and downs, which will only be missing the icing on the cake, the World Championship.
Alain Prost's three-year period at the Renault court is studded with many extraordinary performances that make the whole of France dream, but also with moments of frustration due to the car's poor reliability, which on too many occasions, especially in the first two years, abandons Prost just on the most beautiful. Different is the case of 83, the year in which the title was a palm away, and where it is not only reliability that ruins Alain's plans.
Flanked by compatriot Renè Arnoux, idol of French fans with whom he will have more than a few frictions, Alain makes his debut on the RE20B on the Long Beach track, a test valid for the first stage of the 1981 World Championship.
The Kyalami Grand Prix, in South Africa, should have been the opening, but this was rendered null and void by the war waged throughout the winter by FISA and FOCA, resulting from Balestre's decision to make the so-called miniskirts, an aerodynamic device, illegal. used by Ford-Costworth motorized teams, providing a competitive advantage over turbo-powered teams. Relations between the two sides, already exacerbated by past events such as the cancellation of the Spanish Grand Prix of the previous season, worsened further, and extended to many other issues on which there was already disagreement.
Ecclestone officially sued FISA for the decision to ban the miniskirts, and also threatened to create an alternate championship, called The World Professional Drivers Championship. The South African Grand Prix was held despite the diatribe showing no signs of stopping, although only a few teams participated (including Williams, McLaren, Brabham and Lotus), and the winner was Carlos Reutemann, on Williams.
In any case, the race is not considered to be part of the Formula 1 World Championship, which therefore officially begins on March 15th in Long Beach, two weeks after the signing of the famous Concorde Agreement between FISA and FOCA, announced through a press release from FISA:
"Agreements have been found on all the problems of the Formula 1 World Championship between FISA, FOCA and the other manufacturers. Motor sport has found solutions that strike a balance between all the parties involved, and may serve as an example to other international sports disciplines. The championship now brings together all the conditions for a great success".
Although the press release does not specify the agreements reached on some key points, on all the number of FOCA seats on the FISA executive committee, it is clear that the Federation headed by Ecclestone recognizes the sporting power of Balestre, and that at the same time the FOCA maintains the control of the financial organization.
Returning to Long Beach, Alan Jones wins the race followed by teammate Reutemann, who thus completes the Williams double.
Prost, on the other hand, struggled with Renault, sprinted behind the lines and at the first corner was already stopped in the middle of the track, hit by Andrea de Cesaris.
In Brazil things already seem to be going better: Alain qualifies fifth, almost a second faster than Arnoux, who is only ninth.
Once again the Frenchman risks retiring during the very early stages of the race, following a bad start conditioned by the incessant rain. In fact, his box mate Arnoux is rammed from behind and spins right in front of Prost, avoided by a matter of centimeters. During the twentieth lap, however, a contact with Didier Pironi's Ferrari saw him also prematurely finish his second race in Renault.
At the third Grand Prix of the year, in Argentina, there is a change in trend compared to the first two outings: Alain sets the absolute best time during free practice, and remains in the front row after qualifying, beaten by three tenths only by the Piquet's Brabham.
Despite a bad start that attests him in sixth position at the end of the first lap, Prost manages to recover, has the upper hand in his battle with vibrations that make it more difficult to control the car, and manages to conquer his first career podium. Third at the finish line, sandwiched between the two Williams of the home driver Reutemann, second, and Alan Jones, fourth.
Piquet is the race winner, which further inflames the controversy regarding the irregularity of the Brabham, which by exploiting dark areas of the regulation, through technical subterfuges is continuing to use the much talked about miniskirts. The sporting authorities are unable to clearly demonstrate that the Brabham skims the asphalt while it is at full speed, to take advantage of the so-called ground effect in such a way. The clear supremacy of Brabham is also attested by the great comeback of the other driver, the Mexican Rebaque, who moved up from sixth to second position before retiring due to electrical problems on his car.
Balestre declares Ecclestone's cars to be regular, but after the race Renault sends a document of protest regarding this decision. Everything ends in a stalemate, and the other teams can only try to bring the exact same solution to the track to remedy the superiority of the British cars.
In any case, the French car, with the excellent race in Argentina, is currently the best of the cars powered by turbo engines, given the great effort of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, with Gilles Villeneuve and Pironi who have not yet seen a checkered flag. in the first three races.
For a month and a half the checkered flag becomes a mirage also for Prost, betrayed in order by gearbox, clutch and engine for the three races following Argentina, while in Spain it spun and has yet to retire, thus recording the fourth DNF consecutively.
For him an unexpected ordeal after his first joy on the podium, which foreshadowed a different following for Renault, which began to be judged as the great disappointment of the year, considering the difficulties also encountered by Arnoux, short of points later.
At the same time, the Ferrari has unexpectedly got better, and Gilles Villeneuve wins both in Monaco and in Spain, and thanks to Pironi's fourth place in the Principality, he wins 21 points in two races, more than he had collected in the previous nineteen races (just 13).
A sensational turnaround in Maranello, even in a world championship key, although Reutemann’s Williams is still quite a long way off. The three consecutive retirements of the other contender for the title Piquet, however, bode well: anything can still happen.
Dijon hosts the eighth round of the World Championship, valid for the French Grand Prix, which every year sees the alternation of tracks with Paul Ricard. The hostess immediately proved to be at ease within friendly walls, with Arnoux signing the Pole and Prost third beaten by John Watson's revived McLaren.
But Renè's pole is immediately vanified by a stunted start, also caused by the person in charge of switching off the traffic lights, Derek Ongaro, who turns off the lights before the canonical four seconds, and then turns them back on and off again, creating a bit of chaos. The poleman slopes tenth and with a damaged aileron, but will still be able to get back on top.
The race proceeds smoothly with Nelson Piquet in the lead followed by six seconds by Prost, whose race pace is not fast enough to worry the leader. But then a violent downpour breaks out on the circuit.
There are just two laps to complete seventyfive percent of the race, but the race direction decides to display the red flag. In doing so, according to the sporting regulations, it is necessary to restart as soon as conditions permit, with the starting grid decided in relation to the classification until the moment of interruption. The final ranking will then be drawn up by adding the times of the two races.
The situation favors those like Prost who use Michelin tires. In fact, the French manufacturer offers soft tires, called the 005s, which, according to them, are capable of completing the twenty-two laps of the mini-race. Compound which, on the other hand, does not have Goodyear. Piquet, Prost, Watson, Reutemann and Arnoux are the top five on the grid when the sun has returned to Dijon.
At the restart, Alain overtakes Piquet, author instead of a horrible shot and caught into the positions behind. Watson tries to worry Renault, throws himself inside the braking corner of the Double Gauche de la Bretelle, but ends up long, allowing Prost to get back in front.
Then the young Alain leaves no way out for his opponents, makes the most of his soft tires and goes to cross the finish line first. Even the total calculation of the times sees him in front of everyone, followed by Watson and Piquet, visibly disappointed on the podium, since before the suspension, the race was firmly in his hands. The Brazilian does not mince words after the race, arguing that if there had been a French driver in the lead, the race would not have been stopped like that. Moreover, with a polemic he sprinkles champagne on Jean-Marie Balestre, who must run away.
Alain celebrates on the podium, he is a bit awkward, certainly excited, on the other hand, at the age of twenty-six and a half, he has just won his first victory in Formula 1.
After the race, the race director Pavesi is accused, the one who decided to stop the race when there were only a few minutes to reach seventyfive percent of laps completed. There are some rumors that they wanted to favor the victory of the home team, Renault, which in normal conditions could not have reached Piquet. Handling the interruption wasn't great either, as many drivers were forcibly recovered from their campers, as they were sure the race was over. Alain doesn't care about all this:
"Don't even ask me if I'm happy. I have a whole rollercoaster of feelings inside me. I tell myself that I have learned, if nothing else, that the Formula 1 Grand Prix are within my reach. But then I just get moved. I was hoping to win when I was chasing Piquet, in the first heat, I knew his tires were degrading. He started too aggressive, sooner or later he had to pay. He couldn't keep that pace, when the race was stopped I thought at first that his victory was now done, because even resuming the race I would not have made it, because he, Piquet, had new tires, plus with the naturally aspirated engine he could enjoy more power compared to my Renault Turbo. But after the away from the second heat the miracle happened: even the fourth gear, which was giving me problems, started to enter regularly. And then I could not help but win".
Renault can silence the controversy over a win judged dirty as early as two weeks later, at Silverstone, and in fact proves that the success of its young talent in France was no accident.
Six consecutive pole positions, equally divided between Prost and Arnoux: the RE30 becomes unbeatable in qualifying, but manages to capitalize on the starts in the front row only three times, all with Prost, who, after the victory in Dijon, also makes the races his own in Zandvoort and Monza (where, however, he started third, behind Arnoux and Reutemann), despite not taking advantage of his first career pole at Hockenheim, where he finished second, mocked by turbo problems. Alain's pole positions are undoubtedly more valuable, as team principal Larrousse allows Arnoux to use a higher level of turbocharging during qualifying.
The victory in Netherlands, on the other hand, is made special by the battle against Alan Jones: the Australian, once he got rid of Arnoux, approaches the new RE30 driven by Prost and on lap eighteen, exploiting the lack of a gear of the latter at the exit from the last corner, he joins him and passes him. Sure of having overtaken being able to take advantage of the slipstream of a lapped, Jones must change his mind when the yellow of Prost reappears on his right, who pulls a super detached Tarzan and takes the lead back to the conclusion. A maneuver that allows him to earn the respect of the Williams veteran. A success made even sweeter by the birth of his son Nicolas on August 18th.
On the historic Monza track, while Piquet and Reutemann continue their head-to-head in the World Championship, paired at 45 points, Prost watches his teammate set the new track record, in 1'33"467, a second faster than his time trial, which attests him in third place.
This does not break Prost, who in fact, the next day, at the first corner is already in front of everyone; Arnoux is unable to contain his teammate at the first brake, and has to give him a leadership that lasted only a few moments.
Prost wins undisturbed, even the rain can't bother him in the slightest, followed by Jones and Reutemann, the new leader of the general classification given the sixth place of Piquet, retired on the penultimate lap due to engine problems while he was third, but still classified, having covered the ninety five percent of the distance.
Alain, on the other hand, climbs to third position, paired with Alan Jones at 37, and can even hope for the title by winning the two remaining races and with Piquet and Reutemann never doing better than a third position.
The victories of the young Frenchman do not go unnoticed, comparisons with the best ever begin immediately; Alain becomes a hybrid between Niki Lauda's constancy and Villeneuve's unscrupulousness. The comparison with Arnoux is merciless, since while Alain, only in his second year in Formula 1, seems immune from mistakes, Renè, even if at times faster, is definitely more inconstant and prone to make mistakes.
However, his world championship hopes are extinguished at the penultimate round in Montreal, where he is put out of the race by Nigel Mansell, who hits him right at the hairpin while he was returning from an off-piste excursion with his Lotus.
Alain ends the season in fifth place with 43 points, just six points behind the World Champion Nelson Piquet, with a curious statistic: out of fifteen races on the calendar, Alain has finished only six, but he finished them all on the podium, thanks to his three successes, two second places and third place in Argentina.
In short, when the car does not leave him by foot, Alain is there to play it, he is fast, intelligent and proves to be extremely important in the development and fine-tuning of the car. For 1982, he is therefore the top driver of Renault.
A season, that of 1982, which began with fireworks for Prost, winner of the first two races, but which were followed by disappointing results, which made his championship full of regrets.
The first of the two wins arrived on January 23rd on the Kyalami circuit, once again the stage for political games within Formula 1. The year before, in fact, the race was void while FISA and FOCA waged war with each other (now Balestre and Ecclestone seem like friends, so much so that they spend the weekend before the race in Sun City, a South African city, a sort of mini-Las Vegas), this time, it is the drivers' association, the GPDA, led by the returning Niki Lauda, Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve, to jeopardize the smooth running of the Grand Prix. The drivers are lined up against FISA and FOCA for some points of the new sporting regulations agreed by the two federations on December 18th of the previous year, which had to be signed by the drivers in order to obtain the super license.
Some pilots like Piquet, De Angelis and Prost himself, carelessly and without carefully reading the points of disagreement, sign the new regulation, while others are strenuously opposed. The aforementioned points are four:
Drivers cannot sue the organizers of the Grand Prix for any reason;
Drivers must not damage the image of Formula 1, FISA and FOCA in any way;
Obligation to respect all the rules of the World Cup (rather ambiguous article);
Not being able to terminate the contract in order to be able to marry elsewhere, in other words, obligatorily to respect the contract with the team to which they belong until the end.
Niki Lauda is not there, and expresses himself with these terms on the eve of the first weekend of the season:
"I am not willing to give in, I will never let myself be drawn into such an adventure. I do not want to put myself in the conditions of a slave".
Villeneuve is also on the same wavelength, speaking in ironic but frank terms:
"I don't want to have to pay a $ 5.000 fine because I didn't hug Balestre and Ecclestone on the podium. The arrival of Lauda, who is a name with a certain charisma, will certainly give us positive results. super license at the moment, but I don't think they will dare to do anything about it: even those who have signed up are with us".
The pilots threaten the strike, and on Thursday morning they show how serious they are: once they arrive at the circuit, everyone gets on the bus provided by the hotel where they are staying to return. The March manager, John McDonald, tries in a somewhat bizarre way to stop them, placing his white pickup truck across the road, thus blocking the bus, but Jacques Laffite takes care of the unexpected: the French driver gets off the bus, he maneuvers with the truck, taking it off the road, and together with the others he returns quietly to the hotel. The inevitable cancellation of free practice infuriates Balestre, as does Ecclestone, who threatens to sack his two Brabham drivers, Piquet and Riccardo Patrese.
The pilots spend the night in the hotel lobby together, to prevent someone from dispersing and changing their minds and letting it go. Elio de Angelis and Villeneuve delight in playing the piano, while Bruno Giacomelli gives lessons on terrorism and firearms. However, there are two to go to the circuit leaving the company, Jochen Mass and Teo Fabi. The latter is widely criticized by Keke Rosberg:
"He ran away like a chicken, and lost our respect forever. Not because he went away, but because he betrayed us. He went straight to Ecclestone and Balestre, and told them everything we had discussed".
But Fabi replies saying he is satisfied with what the Federation had already granted on Thursday. The situation is released on Friday morning following a meeting between Pironi and Balestre, who agree to discuss everything after the Grand Prix, which will therefore be held on a regular basis, including free practice and qualifying.
After the race, however, no meeting takes place, on the contrary, the fury of the FISA president does not subside: Balestre immediately informs the pilots that he has suspended their super-licenses with immediate effect, with the exception of those who had disassociated themselves from the protest, or Mass, Fabi, Surer and Henton, because they jeopardized the normal course of the race weekend.
Consequently, the chaos continues, the pilots demand the resignation of Balestre, the teams protest claiming that Balestre, alone, did not have the power to make such a decision, and they decide to appeal. The GPDA defines Crossbows:
"A madman who needs medical examinations, no longer worthy of driving the motor sport".
Frank Williams makes his support felt to the drivers, stating that:
"If Williams will race in Argentina, they will only do so with its drivers, Rosberg and Reutemann".
Cornered, FISA opts for fines and conditional suspension races for the pilots, who, through their association, the GPDA, say they have no intention of paying any fines. Some are paid, but not by the drivers, but by their home stables.
Given the uncertainties, the second round of the World Championship, scheduled for March 7th in Argentina, is canceled. The official motivation is attributed to economic problems, although it is clear that the ACA (Automobile Club of Argentina) has slipped away due to the uncertainty surrounding Formula 1.
The story ends when the Court of Appeal decides to reduce the amount of the fine to $ 5.000, to maintain the suspension of a single race with conditionality for six months, and to return the super-licenses to the pilots, albeit harshly criticizing their method of protest.
As for the much more exciting issues on the track, on the Kyalami circuit, the setting for the opening race, during qualifying we witness the festival of supercharged engines, which monopolize the first three rows. Arnoux takes pole by lapping in 1'06"351, ahead of Piquet's Brabham-BMW (during the start of the season the Brabham uses both the new turbos supplied by BMW and the aspirated Ford engines), the Ferrari of Villeneuve, the Patrese's other Brabham, Prost, more than a second away from Arnoux after being the best in free practice, lapping with an amazing time of 1'05"830 with an average of 224 km/h, and Pironi, sixth in the second Ferrari.
In the race, however, nothing and no one can contain Alain, who at the end of the first lap is already second behind his compatriot Arnoux. Taking advantage of the presence of a small group of laps, on the fifteenth lap at the finish line Alain comes out stronger from the last corner, takes advantage of all the wake of the other Renault, and takes the lead in the Grand Prix when braking at turn 1.
Halfway through the race, when everything suggests an easy double from the Renault Turbo, the twist arrives: Prost is forced to the pits by the puncture to his right rear, which remains on the rim. Alain loses more than a minute during the break, returns eighth and lapsed by Arnoux, but immediately begins his exciting comeback, also favored by problems that also afflict those in front of him, above all Arnoux himself, who begins to lap about four seconds slower due to vibrations affecting your car, due to excessive tire wear. Prost splits easily, and in the fifty-fifth of the planned seventy-seven laps he is fourth. But that's not all.
To the sound of fast laps, a few laps later he also reaches and overtakes Reutemann and Pironi, and six laps from the end he returns to the lead, overtaking without any problem Arnoux, who, always in difficulty with his tires, also loses the second position in favor of Reutemann.
Alain wins the first race of the year in an extraordinary way, the fourth in his career, proving once again what a race animal he is. In qualifying he will not be a mastiff, but with races like this, you can also overlook:
"I don't know if I'll still finish first, but I'm sure this will remain in my memory as the most beautiful, the most painful, the most surprising victory. When I stopped in the pits to change the tire, I thought I broke something, I travelled on a rim for hundreds of meters. Normally you don't get out of such a situation healthy, but everything went well everyone. What gave me confidence was the behavior of the car, perfect, attached to the ground in the corners, very fast on the straight. I even broke one of the aerodynamic fins of the bodywork, but it didn't bother me. Evidently it had to be my day".
On March 21th, given Argentina's turnaround, the second race of the World Championship will be held in Rio de Janeiro, where the heat is in the spotlight. To conquer the pole position is Prost, in great shape after the extraordinary victory at the opening of the championship. However, in the race he must succumb to Piquet and Rosberg, who came in first and second position ahead of the Frenchman. On the podium, from the tiredness of Piquet, caught by an illness and unable even to lift the winner's trophy to the sky, one can deduce how physically tough the race was for the drivers. This was further demonstrated by the other Brabham driver, Patrese, who suffered a faint with a consequent spin while he was in third position.
Shortly after the end of the race, weight problems broke out: Ferrari and Renault lodged a complaint with the Federation regarding the weight of the Brabham and Williams cars at the end of the race. The two teams are accused of having topping up water in tanks aimed at cooling the brakes, in order to bring the car within the limit weight of 580 kilos.
While the commissioners tried to prevent Brabham and Williams mechanics from refilling, as prohibited by the regulations, Ecclestone himself would intervene using even physical intimidation to ensure that his mechanics could complete their illegal chore.
The commissioners, however, initially refused the complaint, but the Federation, called into question on April 20, 1982, decided to disqualify Piquet and Rosberg, thus giving the victory to Prost.
Curiously enough, it was Brabham and Williams' own employees who signed their sentences, admitting to the judges that they added a minimum of twenty liters of water in the brake cooling tanks, three of oil in the gearbox and five in the radiators. With a quick and simple calculation, the court found that the offending cars had taken part in the Rio race underweight.
With two victories in his pocket, Alain is the number one favorite to win the title for all insiders. A prediction that, however, is slowly vanishing, given that the leader of the World Championship for seven straight races does not score points, all due to retirements.
At Imola, the fourth round of the World Championship, the road seemed smooth thanks to the absence of numerous teams including Williams, McLaren and Brabham, Renault's direct rivals in the championship, due to the sabotage of the race carried out by FOCA, after the decision to disqualify Piquet and Rosberg from the Brazilian Grand Prix, without the possibility of appeal.
Most of the teams give in to Ecclestone's blackmail to the point of breaking agreements with sponsors, as in the case of McLaren and Arrows. Bernie threatens to exclude from the organization those who choose to take on the track; and the exclusion from FOCA means losing substantial economic aid, which would be difficult for many to deprive of. The official reason, or rather the 'excuse' used by Ecclestone, is the inability of the teams to prepare cars that do not drop below the expected 580 kilos in time.
Only Reanult, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Osella, Toleman, Tyrrell and ATS are running a Grand Prix that is equally valid for the championship (according to the Concordia Agreement it was enough for a single car to take on the track to consider the race valid).
The two Renaults monopolize the front row, but in the race they are both unclassified due to reliability problems with their cars. Prost returns to the pits after six laps, stopped by a malfunctioning valve; Arnoux's engine burns shortly after being overtaken by Villeneuve.
Ferrari now has an open road, proving anyway to be faster than the French cars, and who will face the famous duel between its two standard bearers, Villeneuve and Pironi, with the latter ignoring the order of the team freeze the positions and repeatedly attacks the Canadian, who in the post-race calls his teammate a bandit.
That of Imola is Gilles' last brawl on the track, as two weeks later, during qualifying practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, he will be the victim of an accident that will take his life, and will leave Formula 1 orphan of one of his more crystalline talents.
Gilles' psychological state of mind was inevitably altered by the crime with his teammate, and this is confirmed by Alain himself, who in the week leading up to the Belgian race received calls from the Ferrari driver two or three times a day. Despite Prost's invitations to think of something else, his obsession with beating Pironi will lead him to get back on track during qualifying to complete a fast lap that will prove to be fatal.
Meanwhile, Alain continues his streak of retirements, mostly due to problems affecting his Renault, which make the two pole positions at Zolder and Detroit useless. In the United Sattes he loses the lead of the World Championship in favor of John Watson, winner of the United States race starting from the seventeenth position.
Expert John didn't let the returning Lauda scare him for a second, and with two wins in three races he seriously challenged the hierarchies within the team.
After a sixth place at Brands Hatch which is pure oxygen for him, Prost returns a step away from success in his home, on the Paul Ricard circuit, the same where a few years before he became the new Elf Driver, a fundamental stage for his career.
Denying him the joy of his third center of the season is Renè Arnoux, who disobeys the orders given by the team, who in the last ten laps shows him the warning to let his teammate pass three times. The Grenoble native is in fact in a bad ranking situation, with only four points, unlike Prost who would have concretely relaunched in the title fight with a victory.
The agreement is already established before the race, when sporting director Larrousse, team manager Jean Sage and Renault president Bernard Hanon summon the two drivers to inform them that if necessary, Arnoux would let Prost pass. Renè accepts, but then in the race fails to fulfil his duties, keeping the first position until the end.
The French media report only part of the story, writing stories only on the basis of the pit board exposed by the team in the race, also because Renault does not let anything of the agreement not respected. Consequently, the reaction of the French people, who recognize Arnoux as their idol, is to discredit and insult Alain.
A reaction that can be summarized in an event that occurred immediately after the race:
while driving back to his village, Saint-Chamond, Alain stops at an Elf petrol station to refuel. Getting out of the car to pay, he has a brief but unpleasant conversation with the cashier.
"Oh, I followed the race today and it was fantastic".
He exclaims the gas station attendant.
"No, it wasn't that good".
"No, it was beautiful because that asshole Prost got what he deserves! Why should he have won the race? You showed him how, Monsieur Arnoux".
Embarrassed, Prost pays in cash instead of his Elf card, in order not to show that the attendant isn't really talking to Arnoux, but to the one he just called an asshole. The relationship between the two teammates, already cracked after he accused Arnoux of hindering him in qualifying at Monte Carlo Prost, is definitively worn down:
"If at the end of the championship I am missing three points to win the title, I will know who to thank. After the San Marino Grand Prix I had declared that Didier did well to take advantage of the opportunity. But it was at the beginning of the season. and there was no agreement to establish precedence between the two pilots".
"We, on the other hand, decided that Arnoux should have let me pass. From the garage the sign was displayed to him several times to wait for me and he ignored it. We agreed on the tactics even ten minutes before the race. Now a friendship is over, I have one more rival to beat. At the end of the year Renault will have to decide: either he leaves, or I leave".
Alain immediately issues an ultimatum to his team. Arnoux defends himself by claiming that he was the victim of strong vibrations, and therefore if he had let Prost pass, there would have been the risk for him of being overtaken by Pironi's Ferraris and Patrick Tambay, Villeneuve's replacement. Meanwhile, the great head of the team, Gérard Larrousse, tries in vain to throw water on the fire:
"There are no problems, we will agree the drivers. I would like to have a hundred times the chance to make controversy to decide which of our drivers should win a race".
In the meantime, however, the rumors that Arnoux is in contact with Maranello for the following season are increasingly insistent. In a championship full of changes at the top, Didier Pironi becomes the new favorite and world leader after the race in France. Unfortunately, the next race at Hockenheim not only excludes him from the eligible candidates, but puts an end to his career as a Formula 1 driver.
During the second qualifying session, a tragedy almost identical to the one that involved the other Ferrari driver Villeneuve three months before, and not even two months before Riccardo Paletti in Canada (incident in which Pironi himself was involved, remained at the post at the start and hit by the Italian): in the pouring rain, the thirty-year-old Frenchman goes to unwrap Derek Daly's Williams, convinced that the Irishman is giving him the way. Daly, on the other hand, is making an overtaking maneuver on Prost, which was driving relatively slowly, 220 km/h. Pironi finds himself in front of Alain, hits him and takes a scary flight at an unprecedented speed. Subsequently Alain, desperate and in tears, comments on the incident as follows:
"I felt a violent impact, and I saw a car pass over my head, as if it were about to take off. It was terrible moments. A bullet, a real bullet that flew several meters above the asphalt and began to capsize. brake. But I didn't even have the courage, when I managed to stop three hundred meters ahead, to go and see what had happened. I realized it was Pironi's Ferrari, I saw that Didier was moving his head. I prayed for him".
After an operation lasting almost six hours, Pironi manages to avoid the amputation of his foot, but his career in Formula 1 is irremediably compromised. Although he has missed the last five races of the season, the ranking will see him up there, in second position, a figure that suggests that most likely, without that dramatic accident, that World Championship would have belonged to him.
A bit surprisingly, however, the 1982 championship goes into the hands of Keke Rosberg, good at capitalizing on the inconstancy and misadventures of all his rivals, thus winning his first and only Formula 1 World Championship, with only one seasonal success, in Dijon in the third to last race, but with five podium finishes, and a total of ten finishes in the points zone.
Forty-four points for him, followed by Pironi and Watson at 39, and by Prost at 34.
Watson should have won the last race in Las Vegas and hoped for a zero from Rosberg to be crowned champion; Niki Lauda was also at stake, for whom the disqualification in Belgium hung over his head where he finished third, but void due to the car found underweight by two kilos. In the event that McLaren's appeal was upheld and the Austrian had won the last race, and at the same time Rosberg hadn't finished better than sixth at the finish line, the World Championship could belong to him.
However, the appeal was refused, and Michele Alboreto won the race on Tyrrell. Watson is only second, Lauda even retired. Keke Rosberg is fifth and is World Champion. For Alain, the leitmotiv of the season was almost similar to 1981, with too many retirements that increase regrets in a directly proportional way.
An impressive number of ten withdrawal, almost all caused by the same technical problem with the car, that is a small part of the injection control, costing twenty euros, but which is never replaced with another more reliable because it is supplied by a company owned by Renault.
Two victories that could have been even more with a little team play and even a bit of luck in races such as France, the scenario of the team order not respected by Arnoux; Monte Carlo, where he pays dearly for the arrival of the rain two laps from the end, crashing into the exit of the port chicane and giving Riccardo Patrese his first career victory; in Dijon, for the Swiss Grand Prix (although he raced in France), a race in which due to the damage of a miniskirt on his Renault Turbo, he lost the position on the penultimate lap by Rosberg, also at his first center in Formula 1; or even in Austria, withdrawn a few laps from the end for his engine that goes up in flames.
However, Rosberg’s final victory is an example: consistency is essential to win the championship. A constancy that Alain knows he can have, but to put it into practice he needs to have a team just as ready to bet everything on him.
Therefore, in 1983 we change: Arnoux, as had already been foreseen for some time, goes to Ferrari, in place of him comes Eddie Cheever, who will be careful not to create any kind of problem for the number one of the team.
In any case, the diatribe with Arnoux undermines the relationship with the French press and fans, which will remain a stormy and controversial relationship for the rest of Prost's career. Could 1983 really be a good year for the consecration of Prost and Renault?
The new season begins with the agreement reached between FISA and FOCA for the definitive elimination of side skirts and flat bottoms, accepted by the Federation led by Ecclestone, in exchange for Balestre's promise not to modify the regulations on engines at least until 1985. It comes also authorized refueling in the race, already tested often and willingly by Brabham the year before, although already from the third race it will be declared illegal again for 1984, given the doubts about the actual safety of the mechanics.
The agreement, established towards the end of 1982, causes the postponement of the first Grand Prix of the championship, scheduled in South Africa, as the teams must inevitably adapt their new cars to the recent changes. The South African Grand Prix, in Kyalami, thus becomes the final stage of the World Championship, which instead opens its doors in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, on March 13, 1983.
All the teams present their final single-seater for 1983, including Renault, only when the season is already underway. Under pressure from Prost following the bad race in Brazil, the French team debuts the new RE40 in Long Beach, the second round of the World Championship, with only Alain. In Brazil, he and Cheever drive a mere evolution of the 1982 car, called the RE30C, but the updates don't work very well.
The new car is twelve kilos lighter, has a body entirely in carbon fiber with the exception of the nose, in aluminium, and with enlarged wings to generate more aerodynamic load, but the first two exits are not at all exciting:
In Jacarepaguà Prost is seventh, conditioned throughout the race by problems with a shock absorber, which compromises his excellent qualifying ended in second position.
In Long Beach, after just seven laps the engine seems to show signs of failure, and a dozen laps later Alain returns to the pits to allow his mechanics to take a look. At the same time Eddie Cheever also goes to the pits to make the pit stop, unaware that his teammate is planted on the pitch due to trouble with the turbo engine. As a result, he returns to the track without having to change tires. A disaster for the Larrousse team, with zero points after two races.
All while in Long Beach the two McLarens put on a show, recovering from the twenty-second and twenty-third position to conquer a sensational double, with Watson celebrating his latest career success by setting the still unbeaten record of being able to win starting from such a backward position, behind him there is Niki Lauda, unable in the final to attack the Northern Irishman for cramps that afflict him.
Historic comeback also helped by the not-so-heroic deeds of reigning champion Keke Rosberg, who at the start disrupts and damages the left front rim of Arnoux's Ferrari, therefore forced to a pit stop. Then he completes a three hundred and sixty braking that does not involve anyone, but then tries a risky maneuver at the hairpin on Patrick Tambay's other Red, who was in the lead, causing contact. The Frenchman immediately retired, the Finn had to wait a few more corners, when he was involved in another accident with Jarier's Ligier.
Luckily, the Finn was expelled from the race, because given the bad situation, who knows what else he could have done. A historic victory for Watson, who a short time before has even been one step away from leaving to make way for Alan Jones, whose salary was later missed due to a leg injury after a fall while riding a horse.
Zero points in two races did not discourage Prost and the team, aware that given the great balance that seems to be maintained even this season, it doesn't take much to find yourself there in front of dictating the pace.
After the United States Grand Prix that consecration seems only a mirage, a few months later, precisely in August following the Austrian Grand Prix, both Prost and Renault seem to have reached full maturity: nine races out of nine completed for the one who is already being called The Professor, all finished in points with the exception of the race on the Detroit street circuit, where Prost struggles to find confidence with the car for the whole weekend, qualifies thirteenth and closes eighth.
For the rest, four victories obtained in France, Belgium, Great Britain and Austria, as well as two podium finishes, a fourth and a fifth place, without forgetting the three pole positions.
The first arrives at Paul Ricard, his home track, the third race on the calendar, historically a track favorable to Renault. In qualifying Alain laps in 1'36"672, two seconds and three tenths faster than the second qualified, Eddie Cheever in the other Renault.
An alien lap time, which no one in the paddock can explain, except by assuming that Michelin provided him with a special type of tire. What is special, however, is only his talent, which allows him to easily win the next day's race, avenging the setback suffered the year before by Arnoux, who, judging by the post-race statements, had not forgotten:
"I dedicate this victory to the team, and to Renè Arnoux".
In addition, he also expresses himself on the possibility of fighting for the title again:
"Last year I covered almost two thousand kilometers in the lead and I missed the World Championship. I hope this is the first stone of the ladder that will lead me to the 1983 title".
At Spa-Francorchamps, a circuit absent from the calendar since 1970 and which replaces Zolder for the Belgian Grand Prix, Alain dominates the weekend with pole and victory, curiously put at risk for an event that happened when the race had not even started.
Due to the problems on Marc Surer's Arrows, engaging the gear when the red light came on, there were two starting procedures. After the first false start, the speaker announced that forty-two laps would also be completed as scheduled.
Renault fears that its top driver, who had sprinted at full throttle not realizing the confusion behind him, had consumed too much petrol in that first half lap, and therefore made a lightning refuel shortly before departure. Only after the operation has taken place, the speaker rectifies, saying that the race would have been forty laps.
According to the regulation, refilling of petrol in that context was not allowed, in addition Williams immediately makes a complaint, but the commissioners recognize the good faith of the French team and do not intervene in any way. Prost with 28 points is the new world leader ahead of Piquet. The difference with last year is clear: Alain collected 34 points throughout the season; now, after just six races, he has almost reached the same score.
The Professor took the third success of the season at Silverstone, by forcefully defeating the great favorite after Saturday's qualifying, Ferrari. If Patrick Tambay arrives in Great Britain just three points behind the leader Prost, Arnoux's hopes are hanging by a thread: for the Ferrari driver it is forbidden to make mistakes, and it is mandatory to take advantage of the first position obtained in qualifying in front of his teammate. The new Ferrari 126 C3B is strong, even if only Arnoux is using it for now. Alain's Renault is there following them.
On Sunday there is no story for the Ferrari, and you can tell from the very first stages of the race. Alain sticks to the Arnoux exhaust pipes (bypassed at the start from Tambay) from the first corner. After fourteen laps comes a portentous attack on the Copse by Renault number 15 on the hated ex-teammate, who remains banned and can only follow up. It doesn't take much for Alain to bridge the small gap that formed between him and Tambay, and exactly as he did with Arnoux, he strikes the other Ferrari with great ease.
After that, Piquet passes the two Ferraris, but never manages to really worry Prost, who goes on to win undisturbed in front of the Brazilian and Tambay.
Arnoux is only fifth, even behind Nigel Mansell, author of an excellent recovery from seventeenth place on the grid. For Renè, the twenty points behind Prost now seem unrecoverable, but in Formula 1 never say never. In fact, a few races are enough, and the situation of the two Ferrari drivers is completely reversed.
During the interviews at the end of the race, the curtain that is created between Prost and Tambay is amusing: while Alain is asked if he now has a real chance of becoming the first French World Champion, behind him Tambay with eloquent hand gestures signals no, and points to himself, as if to say that he will be the first transalpine to be crowned champion. It all ends with a laugh and a sporty hug between the two. The other driver arrived on the podium, Piquet, observes in silence and seems indifferent.
The head-to-head for the world championship crown between the Brazilian and Prost begins in Austria, the eleventh round of the World Championship. Tambay, Arnoux, Piquet, Prost, Patrese and Mansell. Six riders in a row monopolize the early stages of the Zeltweg race, without however being able to attempt an attack on whoever is in front. A stalemate that lasts a long time.
Piquet does not pull very well at the exit of the last corner, Prost takes advantage of it and passes him in braking, also giving him a violent spin. The 1981 World Champion immediately returned the favor by recovering the third position at the next braking point. The BMW engine shows extraordinary power, especially when compared to the Renault turbo.
The apex of the chaos is reached with Jean-Pierre Jarier, who at the moment of being lapped, seems to block the Tambay tread almost intentionally behind him, slowed down in such a way as to be overtaken by Arnoux and Piquet in the space of two corners. Only after losing the two positions can Jarier pass, not without making him understand his disappointment with obvious hand gestures. A somewhat ambiguous and incorrect conduct, that of Jarier.
Prost is the first of the leading drivers to stop for tire changes and refuelling, and as soon as he returns to the track he begins to push decisively, recording fast laps, but not enough to allow him to stay ahead of Arnoux when the latter completes his pit stop.
The leading quartet made up of the two Ferraris, Brabham and Renault slowly crumbles: Tambay manages to overtake Piquet to temporarily regain leadership, but shortly after he is excluded from the fight for victory due to a problem with the distribution gears. He returns to the pits for the pit stop with the engine off, and never returns to the track.
Thanks to a delayed pit stop, however, Piquet takes the lead at the expense of Arnoux, second ahead of Prost. The Brazilian's leadership, however, is short-lived, as a sudden drop in power from the supercharged BMW allows Arnoux to easily overtake him, as does Prost, who immediately slips ahead of his rival for the title, unable to react.
Piquet manages his third position avoiding the attacks of Cheever’s raging Renault; up front it is instead an all-French fight. Although Alain has already somehow avenged the setback he suffered the year before at Paul Ricard at Arnoux, snatching the win from under the nose of his compatriot would be a further satisfaction. And that's exactly what happens on the forty-eighth round of the fifty-three planned.
Out of nowhere, almost unexpectedly, Alain rushes on the straight Arnoux, not excellently coming out of the first S. This is due to the loss of fourth gear which the Ferrari driver suffers in the final stages.
With his fourth win of the season, Alain increases his advantage over Piquet to thirteen points, and with four races to go, the little Frenchman seems to have the title in his pocket.
The newspapers begin to praise the 28-year-old as if he already won, praising the great maturity achieved, the coldness shown after a frustrating year like that of 82, marked by many retirements. During the interviews, Alain appears joyful, shirtless and holding a glass of champagne, and a sentence stands out among the various statements:
"If things continue so, hardly the title will escape me".
In fact, Alain just needs a few points. With eight top-six results so far, and four races to go, the discard rule of only the best eleven results is not a big concern. But the Professor, from the height of his ability to analyze situations like no other, noticed something that could jeopardize his world championship victory: the sudden improvement of the BMW engine makes the Brabham practically unsurpassed on the straight, so much so. that only a sudden drop in power allowed Arnoux and himself to pass Piquet in the race. However, his warnings to his team go unheeded.
Warnings that unfortunately for him prove to be well founded. Before the Dutch Grand Prix, Formula 1 travels to Monza in mid-August for a test session. During the second day, among the 20.000 spectators present, some become protagonists of a reprehensible gesture, throwing stones at the cars of Piquet and Prost, the two rivals for the title, as well as opponents of Ferrari, still in the game despite the important gap. In fact, Arnoux must necessarily win to remain mathematically in the game. Same goes for Tambay, who, however, after two consecutive retirements has very little hope, victory or not.
After the incident, during the race weekend in Monza Prost will decide to be accompanied by three bodyguards, after arriving in the paddock by helicopter. On August 28th, in Zandvoort, Alain can add another very important step towards winning the title. But precisely at the most beautiful, the Professor loses the coldness and constancy that have distinguished him throughout the season.
"I can also afford a complete setback, while my rivals know very well that whoever does not get on at least the podium will be irretrievably cut out of the fight for the title. close the conversation, I will not back down".
We are on lap forty-one, Piquet sets the pace with Prost following him a few meters away. Suddenly, at turn 1, the Tarzan, Alain glimpses that occasion he was talking about that he could potentially end the conversation definitively. He lets himself be enticed, he forgets that the 6 points of second place would be equally gold for him, so he throws himself in on braking.
An overly optimistic braking, however, because Prost's car detaches and comes into contact with Piquet's, pushing him into the escape route and therefore against the barriers; a dynamic similar to overtaking at Zeltweg, where, however, everything was resolved with a twist and without consequences for anyone.
For the Brazilian comes a sensational retirement, while a few corners later, due to the damage to the front wing, the leader of the World Championship goes to the blocking of the front left and goes off the track, and like Piquet a few hundred meters before, he crashes against barriers.
Who takes advantage of the double exit from the scene is Ferrari, with Arnoux going to win starting from the tenth position. Tambay completes the double win for the Maranello team, and the World Championship undergoes another shock.
Prost 51, Arnoux 43, Piquet and Tambay 37.
Karma seems to have put them back there on purpose, Alain and Renè, two men who hate each other to death, who have not spoken to each other since July 25, 1982, and who are now playing for the title. Meanwhile, Nelson Piquet, saddened by his retirement, does not give up.
"It's not over yet".
The Brazilian Brabham driver comments after the race, who also goes to the Renault garage to explain himself to Prost. The two are not controversial, on the contrary, they almost seem to compete to take the blame.
In Monza the tide of fans invades the circuit, hoping to be able to celebrate a victory for Arnoux, and Riccardo Patrese pays the price, in a season tormented by the breakdown of his engine, wins pole on the home circuit in a climate of general indifference. The surprising enthusiasm of the supporters of the Red team is thus perceived by the incredulous Arnoux:
"It's madness! I think I can call it that, with admiration and respect. It's an absolutely unique situation, you can't even talk about typhus. I like this environment. I say that Formula 1 and maybe the whole sport should be lived like this".
Prost instead, is greeted with a little elegant by the fans:
To which Alain responds in a provocative way, directing the choir like an orchestra conductor. Inevitable broadside of whistles. In the meantime, Alain also has to deal with his people, the French, who from the controversial episode with Arnoux the year before targeted him heavily and to say the least out of the norm: two cars burned in front of his apartment, threats and insults over the phone or people who yell at him on the street.
All this leads Prost to the decision to leave his country of origin to move to Switzerland, as well as being surrounded by three body-guards upon his arrival in Monza, under pressure from the Renault team.
The enthusiasm of the home fans was only partially dampened by the overwhelming victory of Nelson Piquet, who won the second race of the season after his success in the opening race in Brazil. Arnoux's second place, at the same time as Prost's resounding retirement due to the breakdown of a turbine of his turbo, rekindles the spirits. Alain had passed away in Zandvoort; in Monza, for the first time this season and at the least opportune moment, Renault is missing.
The advantage over Arnoux is now only two points, Piquet is five. The world championship is more open than ever. The first to suffer exclusion from the fight once and for all is Tambay, only fourth and eleven points away from the top.
The penultimate round of the championship takes place at Brands Hatch, where the European Grand Prix is staged, last time on the calendar in 1977, when it was held at Silverstone.
The dominant success in Italy has defined the current supremacy of Brabham, Prost however, in England has his first real match-point: in case of victory, third place for Piquet and fifth place for Arnoux, he would become the new Champion of the World.
The favorite on the eve, however, is not him, but Piquet, who even convinces the bookmakers to quote him as the most likely winner of the race and the World Cup. And in fact the Brazilian wins again, slips the second victory in a row and moves to fifty-five points, -2 from Prost who ends immediately behind him, six seconds behind.
Here Prost's prophecy materializes in all respects, remained unheard by his team: Brabham has become impregnable. Alain tries everything to try to keep up with the BT52 designed by Gordon Murray, one of the geniuses of the environment between the 70s and 80s, but he can't do anything, although at times he also seems to have a faster race pace.
Coming back from eighth place obtained in qualifying to second, passing the other Brabham significantly slower than Patrese, who on the other hand proves to be crucial in helping his teammate to build an important gap on the Frenchman's Renault, who must therefore be satisfied with a second placement that cannot leave him at all calm in view of the last decisive stage for the World Championship to be run in South Africa.
Disaster is consumed for Renè Arnoux, who spun in the early stages of the race, and only ninth at the finish. Kyalami needs a feat for the Ferrari driver to be crowned champion, from the top of his eight points behind Prost.
In South Africa, everyone expects to witness one of the most beautiful and intense races of recent years, with three drivers competing for the title, even if the chances are reduced to a minimum for Arnoux. The attentions are almost all for Prost and Piquet.
The Brazilian driver is considered the absolute favorite, given the eloquent evolution of his Brabham-BMW, which can realistically allow him to go win the race alone.
As expected, the qualification once again confirms the superiority of Brabham and Ferrari. The pole is taken by Tambay, who has not renewed his partnership with Maranello and is leaving after the race, ahead of Piquet, Patrese and Arnoux.
Prost is only fifth, followed by Keke Rosberg's brand-new Williams-Honda duo. The English team, as well as McLaren which has already started testing the TAG-Porsche turbo engine, has completely abandoned the naturally aspirated engines, which over time are increasingly obsolete for the dynamic world of Formula 1, and for the 84 both are candidates to return to the ranks of the main protagonists for the title fight. The difference could be the second drivers, the squires of those directly involved, or outsiders like Rosberg or Nigel Mansell with the Lotus powered by the Renault engine.
Not for Arnoux, as Tambay explicitly states that he does not intend to help his teammate, but that he wants to leave Ferrari with a success. The situation is different for Patrese, who on the contrary is aware that he can run freely only if Piquet were to retire unfortunately. Prost, on the other hand, does not think about alliances or external help, which according to him will not be a factor for the race:
"We will have to do it ourselves. Piquet seems to be the fastest. Renault's only regret at the moment is that we have reached the decisive test with a car that has a lower top speed than the others. So I start in disadvantage, but not beaten".
Alain knows that he is no longer the favorite, which instead seems to escape the many French journalists who flocked to the event, convinced that they are about to celebrate the victory of their compatriot.
The start was a disaster for the two Ferraris, with Tambay surprised by the two Brabhams, and Arnoux slipped out of the points. Prost remained fifth, having overtaken Arnoux but at the same time being overtaken by Andrea de Cesaris' Alfa Romeo.
At the end of the first pass, Tambay also lost the position to de Cesaris and Prost, who climbs to fourth position, but has a real mountain to climb to catch up with his rival for the title, who calmly makes the pace protected by his teammate.
The lack of power to which Alain was referring seems even more evident in the fight that sees him involved with de Cesaris, whose Alfa Romeo has no problem staying in front of him on the straight, despite the fact that Renault can take advantage of the slipstream. This despite some updates brought to the engine by the French team, apparently not enough.
On lap nine comes the overtaking, but Prost has to deal not only with the unrivaled pace of the two Brabhams, but also with Lauda's comeback McLaren TAG-Porsche. The Austrian, encouraged by the turbo engine, overtakes a Prost increasingly distant from the title.
On the thirty-fifth lap the bitter end: Alain returns to the pits, apparently for his pit stop, but once the car is placed on the lay-by, he gets out of the cockpit and drives away; turbo problem, which means retirement, the third in the last four races, for a driver who had always reached the finish line in the first eleven.
A decay of constancy that had distinguished him inexplicable. For Prost, the only hope is that some reliability problems will also affect Piquet's Brabham, otherwise many greetings to the world championship.
The Brazilian does not want to take any risks, and begins to increase his times, to manage his car by lowering the turbo delivery, so much so that he leaves the victory, which he now does not need that much, to his box mate Patrese. He is then also overtaken by Lauda and De Cesaris, demonstrating that he is racing in cruise mode. In the final Lauda has to retire due to battery problems, so Piquet can celebrate his second World title on the podium, from third place.
Fifty-nine total points for the native of Rio, against Alain's fifty-seven and Arnoux's forty-nine, who was also retired at the start of the race due to an engine failure. However, Ferrari can console itself with the victory in the Constructors' championship. A disappointed Prost, but objective in analyzing the situation, declares:
"I immediately realized that it was impossible to fight on equal terms with Nelson, he took me a second per lap and there was never a battle. I don't think it was a defeat determined by a psychological situation. of engine power. The Brabham was clearly superior to us and we were overtaken on a technical level. Maybe the British took some technical risks, but they were lucky. Next year I will be more relaxed, there will be no problems. We had focused on the reliability of the car but it was not enough".
The general manager of the French team Gérard Larrousse appears less calm and decidedly more discouraged:
"It was a big disappointment. We lost by two points, which makes the result even more bitter. We also dominated a part of the season, but not the right one. We must recognize that we were defeated by better opponents than us. aim for a new generation of engines. The thing that hurt me most was being beaten by a turbo engine, the BMW one, managed by the Ecclestone team. The English manager was the one who had fought the most battle against the new type of supercharging, and now he enjoys it the fruits".
A World Cup that after Austria seemed already in the pocket, flown away like this, due to a sensational debacle at the same time as the undisputed rise of Brabham, on which however there are some shadows.
As early as Hockenheim, Renault and Ferrari begun to argue that there was something wrong with the fuel used by Bernie Ecclestone's team. The subterfuge was discovered by FISA during checks during the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. Balestre, however, opted to turn a blind eye and stifle the case.
A problem that arose on the eve of the last race of the year concerns precisely petrol, since the South African government had already banned the importation of hydrocarbons in July, thus forcing the teams to use the rather poor local fuel of 93 octane. However, this would lead to a real disaster, with an abnormal number of broken engines.
The teams thus request and obtain an exemption from FISA that allows them to use another type of petrol, specifically for aviation, with an octane number of 104, higher than those required by the regulation, or 102.51.
A few days before the start of the weekend, Ecclestone discovers that the government has recently begun to allow imports teorically prohibited, wastes no time and has Kyalami bring fifteen hundred liters of fuel produced by IG Farben, all without saying anything to the colleagues of the FOCA. Only later he informed the stewards that the derogation to use aviation petrol is no longer necessary. Its purpose?
Having other cars that use petrol with ninety-three octane, the genius almost fails.
Ferrari and Renualt do not stand by and immediately have their respective suppliers, Agip and Elf, send the necessary petrol to the circuit, while the other teams obtain permission from FISA to use aviation petrol. Brabham is opposed, but as soon as there is talk of not considering the Grand Prix valid, and consequently taking away from Piquet the opportunity to win the championship, Ecclestone is calm and silent.
The controversy, however, returns to heat in December, through a letter sent by Bernie Ecclestone to Ferrari and Renault. A letter of apology, if it can be defined as such, where the owner of Brabham admits to having exceeded the permitted level of octane in the fuel they use, reaching 102.90, while the threshold, as mentioned, was 102.51.
Ecclestone apologizes and states that the mistake was made in good faith, and that it cannot have crucially influenced the outcome of the championship. It is difficult to believe that the mistake is in good faith, especially knowing the character, but Ecclestone is calm, sure of having the support of FISA and Balestre.
Renault could easily appeal, try to have Brabham disqualified and win the World Cup, but the diatribe ends with nothing in January, after the transalpine team's withdrawal from taking the case to court, a decision due to wanting to avoid trouble. with FOCA, and not to see their brand involved in a sports scandal. What is certain is that in all this commotion nobody makes a good impression, above all the credibility of Formula 1.
Immediately after the end of the unfortunate South African Grand Prix, relations between Prost and Renault are at an all-time low. Alain accuses the team of not having developed the engine and the car enough, on the other hand the team reproaches him for the mistake made in Zandvoort, and for an incorrect behavior towards the team, as well as for having secretly dealt with none other than Ferrari.
With the Larrousse team there is already an agreement for 1984, but given the situation it seems impossible to go on together, plus the team seems to want to find Prost at all costs as the scapegoat for the burning defeat.
Before leaving Kyalami, Prost meets John Hogan, director of the Marlboro World Championship Tram, who lets him know that McLaren is looking for John Watson's replacement for next season.
On October 19th, a few days after the end of the World Championship, Renault releases a statement in which it declares that:
"Alain Prost asked Renault to be released for the 1984 season. Gérard Larrousse agreed, believing that it was not appropriate to rely on a driver who no longer fully shares the objectives and means put in place to achieve them. The Renault team wishes Prost the best continuation of his brilliant Formula 1 career".
Larrousse then announced that Patrick Tambay, released by Ferrari, had been hired in his place, who in turn signed Michele Alboreto. In the meantime, Hogan informed Ron Dennis of the possibility of hiring Prost, and the McLaren sports director, who had already approached Alain in South Africa and asked him to be allowed to return to McLaren while they waited in line for the arrival of a helicopter, he is simply ecstatic at the idea of having Lauda and The Professor in the team, considered by him to be the best drivers in the world.
The bad goodbye they gave each other in 1980 is only a distant memory; Prost has changed, but above all McLaren has changed. There is no longer Teddy Mayer, replaced by Ron Dennis, there is instead John Barnard, an excellent engineer who, helped by the V6 TAG-Porsche, has all the intention of building a winning car for the new season.
After a long night of negotiations in Lausanne, Prost, McLaren and Marlboro finally find an agreement on everything: Lauda will be number one of the team, the Frenchman agrees to be number two. However, this is not the role of the classic wingman: Lauda simply takes precedence to try the technical innovations brought by the team, or to have them before Alain in case there are not enough for both.
Therefore, on the track there will be no hierarchies; the order is to be able to fight up to ten laps from the end, and then eventually freeze the positions until the finish line. Lauda himself, having learned of Prost's imminent hiring, immediately goes to Lausanne to speak with John Hogan, while the latter is quietly having lunch with his family at a restaurant. Joining them and after lunch, Niki goes straight to the point:
"Listen, this Prost on the team I don't trust this kid".
The Austrian begins, turning to Hogan:
"I'll tell you right away. It's damn fast. Don't you want to fuck me?"
Hogan tries to reassure him that Dennis and Barnard's working philosophy aims to guarantee the same treatment to both drivers, and Niki accepts Hogan's answer, deciding to return home. Either way, negotiations with Ron Dennis to keep him will be complicated.
Alain changes his career by re-marrying the McLaren project, which this time promises more than it did in 1980. Away from Renault, after three years full of satisfactions but ended in the worst way. Twice Alain seemed on the verge of winning the title, only to find himself with a handful of flies.
Unfortunately for him, fate has designated him a hard career, full of difficulties and atrocious insults, which are not long in coming even during his adventure in McLaren; but like the greatest champions, the Professor will be able to react great.
In 1984 the turbo engines are now peeping out, all the teams have gone in search of agreements with suppliers of the supercharged, and only the Tyrrell is left with the old aspirated Cosworth.
Among the various small changes to the regulation there is the ban on refuelling in the race, with the teams seeing the capacity of the petrol tanks limited to 220 liters, compared to 250 in the previous year. This leads the teams to manage their engines in a completely different way between qualification and race, where you can get to a drastic reduction of horses used in order not to risk remaining on foot before the checkered flag, but also to immediately seek a solution to remedy the problem: through sophisticated freezers, the gasoline is brought to a temperature of -20° C, in this way the liquid decreases in mass and increases in specific weight. In short, the tank can hold 230 liters instead of the pre-established 220.
Furthermore, following the recent controversies with Brabham and fuel at the end of last season, the teams meet a few hours before the start of the first race weekend in Brazil, deciding by mutual agreement to react with the utmost rigidity to any misconduct discovered by the commissioners during the various checks.
The favorite for the final victory is obviously the reigning champion Nelson Piquet, to whom the two McLarens powered by TAG-Porsche will oppose, with the new sparkling duo Lauda-Prost, and with an eye on the Ferraris of Alboreto. and Arnoux, or for the revolutionized Renault driven by Tambay and Derek Warwick, without forgetting Keke Rosberg at the wheel of the Williams Honda.
The total calculation of the times of the two qualifying sessions in Jacarepaguà, however, does not see any of the aforementioned drivers in the lead. Surprisingly, Elio de Angelis in Lotus-Renault sets the best time, recording a time of 1'28"392, half a second faster than Alboreto, second. Prost is fourth in his first qualifying session with the new MP4/2, immediately behind Warwick.
Perfectionist John Barnard's new creature is very similar to the MP4/1, but features a curved hood that gives it a shape vaguely reminiscent of a Coke bottle; in addition, it has a large rear wing associated with two small side flaps. In difficulty Piquet, only seventh almost two seconds behind the poleman; his Brabham at the moment seems to be rather unstable both entering and exiting corners.
Big surprises are expected on Sunday, amidst the heat, the petrol limit, the intense struggle between Michelin and Goodyear, the reliability of all the components and the unknown factor of being disqualified for whatever reason at the end of the race. It is no surprise that Rio turns into a knockout race, at the end of which only eight riders out of the twenty-six on the grid cross the finish line.
The two Ferraris retire due to technical problems, the brakes for Alboreto, the battery for Arnoux. The two-time world champion Piquet, remains planted at the start, is helped by the commissioners and manages to start, but finds himself last and detached from the group.
To reassemble he must forcibly increase the pressure of the turbo, he manages to rise extraordinarily up to seventh place but then he has to pay duty, and goes off stage due to the engine failure. Niki Lauda was also out, fooled by the injection of his Porsche engine shortly after the Austrian had overtaken Warwick's Renault for the lead.
The petrol limit claims only one victim, Tambay's other Renault, which ran dry with three laps to go, while virtually on the third step of the podium. Although, having covered a race distance of more than ninety percent, he is also classified in fifth position.
Who does not have problems of this kind is Prost, who however is the author of a horrible start that relegates him to tenth position. Alain manages to climb up the group by overtaking Cheever, Rosberg, Arnoux, Tambay and Mansell.
Then a slow pit stop of twenty seconds puts him back on track behind Derek Warwick, who has become the leader again thanks to Lauda's problems. However, the Brit suffers from a broken front left suspension, which causes him to spin. Once he has started again he can only return to the pits.
Between comebacks, others' retirements and the infernal heat, Alain wins the first race of the year, his tenth in his career, overtaking Keke Rosberg by forty seconds and Elio de Angelis by one minute. On the podium The Professor is radiant, in the interviews he is even more so:
"Honestly, I wasn't hoping for it, even though we had some positive warning signs. I knew it could be a good race, as well as a good year, because the tests carried out in the winter showed that my car was competitive. At the start I was quite embarrassed, it was the first time I raced with the McLaren-Porsche and I didn't know exactly what the throttle dosage should be. I asked Lauda, and he told me to push to ten thousand laps. I heard the engine packed, I dropped a bit and basically stayed still. It was already a miracle that I managed to get away. When I came back to change the tires, the front left tire didn't want to go into the hub. That's why I feared that the engine temperatures would skyrocket. After that, everything went exceptionally well and three quarters of the way I pulled the oars into the boat to be sure to finish in peace".
After the race, Arrows executive Jackie Oliver files a complaint against Tyrrell, guilty of having refueled illegal gasoline to its driver Martin Brundle, who finished fifth at the finish. The stewards reject the complaint, Ken Tyrrell comments almost amused:
"Let alone if I put some fuel, just me, who is the only one who doesn't need it, with the aspirated engine. We just added water to the radiators".
The ridicule of the big boss will last until the Detroit Grand Prix, when the Federation discovers that during the race the two cars were refilled with lead shot, which enriched the air introduced on the intake trumpets.
In this way the detonation of the engine was delayed, a higher compression ratio was used to obtain more power at the end of the process. The two Tyrrells will be disqualified from the championship, and the race rankings redesigned in order to assign the points of the two drivers Brundle and Bellof to whoever was placed behind them.
There was talk of maximum rigidity, and so it was.
However, the new rules do not seem to exalt the paddock too much. Above all, Renault, the team that most suffered in Jacarepaguà, criticizes the new rules on petrol limits. Patrick Tambay asserts that:
"In these conditions, from tomorrow my little brother could also compete. Electronics, computers, limited petrol, petrol to be frozen, qualifying engines. I think Balestre is understanding the heresy of all this".
What the President of FISA wants to do is not clear to everyone, since while he seems to want to open up to negotiations with the teams, he declares that he wants to bring the limit for 1985 to 195 liters of petrol.
Spared from the massacre of drivers in Brazil, two weeks later Alain returns to where he lost the championship a few months earlier, in Kyalami. And if in Rio he had been exempted from problems, in South Africa he is the first to have to deal with mechanical problems.
Just before the reconnaissance lap that saw him start from fifth position starts, a power problem is highlighted on his McLaren. Prost must therefore go to the pits to use the forklift, a double penalty for him, as he must start from the pit lane, and drive a car set up according to Lauda's instructions.
The South African circuit is not only the place where the disaster of 83 took place, but also one of his most beautiful victories, in 82, when he went on to win after a puncture that had forced him to stop and return to the track with a lap. late from the leader.
The moment is the right one to repeat that exceptional feat.
An undertaking that almost fails, given that there is only Lauda to prevent him from celebrating his success; after only twenty-five laps Alain is already in the points, at the end of the race he is second, behind his teammate, one minute away. The South African race confirms in all respects the clear superiority of the McLaren TAG-Porsche in this championship early stage.
While Ron Dennis’s car flies, his opponents struggle to take off: Piquet is once again withdrawn, as a turbine failure sets him off during the pursuit of Lauda; Tambay once again remains on foot for gasoline; the two Ferraris are both withdrawn due to the same problem, namely a faulty electrical wire in the fuel system.
The MP4/2 is a winning machine: designed by John Barnard, the man who believes only in computers (definition provided by Lauda), with Ron Dennis as an exemplary team manager, and with two elite drivers to drive it.
A car whose strength lies in balance: carbon body, suspension with an attractive design, perfect aerodynamics that perfectly match the cooling needs of the Porsche engine. Having no such problems unlike the other teams, the engine supercharging is higher, and allows very high top speeds. And to top it off, treat Michelin tires with extreme care, regardless of whether the compound is harder or softer.
Niki returns to victory after two years of abstinence, and as a two-time champion as he is, he is seen by public opinion as the number one favorite to win the title. But the steering wheel robot doesn't get out of balance, and he says:
"We are the strongest now, but the next race could be different. We have to keep working, we cannot think that Ferrari, Renault and Brabham will passively accept defeat, on the contrary, they will have one more reason to work hard".
And then he spends words to honey for his designated rival in the title:
"And then there is this Prost, a real devil. If we don't say anything to each other during the tests of the car, in the end we end up with the cars set up in the same, identical way. This means that, even technically, he is very good. me perhaps, he will be the hardest obstacle to overcome".
After the race, a small shiver passes over Dennis' back, as small plastic balls are found in the car's tank at the post-race checks. The reason for the presence of these balls is justified by John Barnard, who admits he had some hitch with the design, and had to fit the tank of the previous year's car, whose capacity was greater than the new one established by the new regulation. To limit this capacity, the expedient of plastic balls was used, while Renault, for example, had used rubber bars to overcome the same problem. Once it was ascertained that there was only air and no gas in the spheres that would have made them shrink in volume, McLaren is declared to all intents and purposes regular.
The coexistence of Prost and Lauda seems to be going well, despite some rumors that see the Austrian give an ultimatum to McLaren, such as 'either me or him'. Rumors absolutely unfounded and promptly denied by Lauda himself, who confirms his excellent relationship with his teammate, specifying that he had only said that racing with Prost would be much more difficult than doing it with John Watson. Obviously some journalists did not miss an opportunity to misrepresent everything and look for the scoop.
The Belgian Grand Prix, the third round on the calendar, turns out to be one of the few occasions during the season in which the clear superiority of the McLarens is lacking. In Zolder, already in qualifying the two MP4/2s are struggling to keep up with their rivals, who in the meantime showed up in the Ardennes full of news about their cars.
Prost is eighth, Lauda fourteenth.
The Austrian claims that the big improvements achieved by rivals, in particular Ferrari which monopolizes the front row with Alboreto and Arnoux, are due to the radial tires supplied by Goodyear. In response, McLaren sends a plane to France to get better-performing tires from Michelin.
And to think that on Friday Ferrari just did not know what to do to recover the two seconds behind the leaders. Thus, inside the garage, the men from Maranello had removed the carbon brakes and electronic control units, replacing them with the long-tested cast iron brakes and mechanical injection. Asking the engineer Forghieri if there had been any changes on these two machines in the last twenty days, he even heard the answer:
"Practically not, if the question aims to know why we still take these gaps, then the answer is this: with the potential we have it is difficult to do better than this. This morning during free practice we dedicated ourselves to endurance tests, that is in race set-up, and we constantly lapped at 1'19"00 which is a good time considering that the race record is 1'29"00. Then with the tires and the qualifying set-ups, the collapse. to hope then that things will go better in Sunday's race, also because tomorrow or Sunday morning new tires should arrive from the United States. The situation, I must admit, is not rosy: we are two seconds slower, one we will certainly be able to recover in tomorrow's practice, the other frankly I don't know".
Even Marco Piccinini, Ferrari's sporting director, had admitted that:
"The situation is really worrying, we are perfectly aware of it. We are not disappointed just because we had not created any illusions at the beginning of the championship where we run in a week. Then we will definitely have to improve but honestly I don't know when".
For McLaren, things are no better in the race, as Alain retires after a few laps due to an unusual distributor problem, while Lauda is out halfway through the race due to water pump problems.
A false step due to the lack of reliability, which takes the British team by surprise.
Ferrari wins despite the pessimism on the eve of the weekend, with Michele Alboreto, the first Italian driver to win with the Red after Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966, at the Italian Grand Prix. On the podium with him the Renault of Warwick and René Arnoux.
A breath of fresh air for the men from Maranello and for Mauro Forghieri, accused of being the first to blame for the poor results of the 126C4 (zero points in the first two races) for having favoured aerodynamics excessively at the expense of speed and fuel consumption.
For the Reds, however, Zolder's one remains the only success of the season, enriched only by a few podiums in subsequent races. The fourth round of the World Championship is held at the Imola circuit, and McLaren is back on track after a weekend break.
In qualifying, Piquet actually took pole position, made chaotic by the drying of the track in the last half hour of the second session, after the rain had stopped. All the drivers set their best times in the very last minutes, and it is the Brazilian champion's Brabham that wins by just one tenth over Prost. Ecclestone's car continues to destroy BMW engines, and the carioca for now is still dry-mouthed; yet another retirement for him could already mean goodbye to the World Cup. The race promises to be an affair between Piquet and the two McLarens, with Lauda sprinting not far from the top, fifth.
Prost, however, does not give anyone a chance to counter him: at the start Piquet passes and greets the company by imposing a pace of one second on the fastest lap of the Brabham, never looking back. Ah, all this with the reserve car, certainly not a minor detail.
The only thrill is created by himself on the twentieth lap, a momentary problem with the brakes sends him into a spin, luckily for him without going outside the limits of the track. The advantage over the second on the track was conspicuous, and nothing has changed for Alain, who set off again in complete tranquillity towards the second triumph of the season, an important one in terms of the world championship given the third retirement out of four races of which Niki Lauda remains the victim, who was put out of the race by a failure occurred in the Porsche engine. After just four races, Alain scored 24 points against Niki's 9.
It looked like it could be the ideal day for Piquet to rack up points, quietly managing his second position behind the Prost tread. In reality, the Brazilian had to invent a ride without the constant use of the clutch from the early stages, then twelve laps from the end of the blue smoke comes out from the rear of the Brabham. Turbo out of order, and still retirement for Nelson. The same fate touches the same lap and for the same exact reason to the other Brabham of Teo Fabi. There is a lot of work to do for Bernie, his own cars are unable to finish a race.
Once again, the consumption issue takes hold: de Cesaris and de Angelis both run dry a few kilometers from the finish, while they were fighting each other for the third step of the podium. The Ligier-Renault of de Cesaris is classified in seventh position, a mocking result for him after an extraordinary comeback started from the pit lane. The Lotus of de Angelis, on the other hand, having resisted one more lap, still conquers the podium, third behind Arnoux. The Ferrari driver is also the only one not to be dubbed by Prost's McLaren.
Derek Warwick, who has also reached the limit with consumption, is decidedly disappointed by the situation, which sees the pilots almost in the role of accountants, unable to push to the maximum:
"Several laps from the end I had to communicate to the garage through the radio in the helmet that the fuel consumption was very high. They ordered me to reduce the pressure of the turbo, and for this reason I was absolutely unable to defend myself from the attacks that were brought to me. It's incredible to have to race like this for a rider, who should always go to the maximum".
On the eve of the French Grand Prix, the teams meet with Balestre to discuss the new rule that will come into force in 1985 regarding gasoline loads. In fact, the FISA President intends to carry out his project to limit the capacity of the tanks to 195 liters, a madness according to the point of view of the teams, who are already struggling to respect that of 220.
The only ones in favor are with good reason Ken Tyrrell, the only one who still has the old naturally aspirated engine, and McLaren. The meeting leads to absolutely nothing, the parties remain distant from each other; the risk is to return to the chaos of 1981, when Formula 1 almost split into two championships.
The French Grand Prix, in Dijon, held two weeks later, is the perfect opportunity for Alain to further increase his lead in the standings, and at the same time make a whammy to his former team, Renault, in the last few editions appeared incontrovertible within friendly walls, winning in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1983.
This time for the Larrousse team, victory is a difficult goal to achieve, especially for the fuel problem, which the transalpine team tends to burn more than the others. Even the team manager Larrousse hypothesizes a temporary farewell to racing to solve the problem, arousing the concern of the other teams that use their engine, Lotus and Ligier. Meanwhile in France, Elf provides them with a new type of fuel, which together with new anti-waste tricks devised by the team, will hopefully limit the damage.
Helped also by the fact that the supremacy of the two McLarens in qualifying is not as evident as in the race, in the first qualifying session Tambay gets pole position, closely followed by another Renault engine, namely de Angelis in Lotus. The rain falling on the track in the second session prevents the riders from improving, so the results remain unchanged.
For the French manufacturer there is some light, the news are working, while at McLaren, three engines broken for the same cause (defective pistons), fuel some concern. Prost fifth and Lauda ninth have serious chances of not finishing the race, and in particular for the Austrian, who already has three, it would be a real disaster.
Although John Barnard is worried about his cars, Lauda is absolutely calm ahead of the race: in the morning he has already told his masseur that he would be the one to win. No sooner said than done.
A good battle with the tough Tambay, who does everything to try to stay in front of him but without succeeding, and Niki takes home the French Grand Prix, leaving the 100.000 spectators who flocked to the circuit to see their favorites with a bitter taste in their mouths. triumph, whether it was Renault, Arnoux or even Prost.
Alain runs into an unlucky day, which began just when he was about to overtake Tambay's Renault for the lead, following a slalom between the five drivers in front of him. After the sprint, in fact, Prost had dropped to seventh position, but it didn't take him long to climb the rankings.
At the end of the 28th lap, at the exit of the last corner Alain ends wide, putting two wheels on the gravel; he immediately realizes that something is wrong and he returns to the pits, where he makes a pit stop for forty-one seconds. The problem that compromises the ride is a loose bolt of the carbon fiber disc of the front left.
Prost returns eleventh, manages to climb up to fourth place, but the McLaren chassis begins to vibrate violently. In order not to risk the tire coming off completely, he enters the pits for another stop of almost a minute, which relegates him back out of the points area, in tenth position. The Professor finished seventh, three seconds from the last place in the points occupied by a Keke Rosberg in crisis with his half-broken turbo. With one more lap he would certainly have caught and passed him, scoring a point in the standings.
Meanwhile, Niki Lauda wins by overtaking Tambay twice, who after the Austrian’s complicated pit stop was back in the lead. With eighteen points in the standings, the Austrian approaches his teammate, now only six points away.
"It was really a disappointment, because we could have finished first and second. I don't know which of the two ahead of the other, but I would have satisfied even the six points. But now I have to start worrying. I lost a lot on Niki, plus I was already in mourning since yesterday".
The joking reference expressed by Prost relates to the relegation of his favorite team, Saint Etienne, to the French second division. Renault is recovering slightly, Ferrari is only in flashes and Brabham is on the high seas (for Piquet five retirements out of five races). McLaren, on the other hand, is increasingly scary race after race, and it now seems official that for the title it will be an internal matter between Prost and Lauda. Everyone else can only stand by, hoping to occasionally fit in when circumstances allow.
In Monte Carlo, at the beginning of June, the outsider is there, but it's not what you expect.
Davide Scotto di Vetta