1985 South African Grand Prix race report

Nigel Mansell driving his Williams FW10 Honda in 1st position.

You wait for one...after claiming his debut win at the previous round, Nigel Mansell doubled up with win no2 in Kyalami

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Kyalami, October 19th 

The fact that the Renault and Ligier teams both made the gesture of missing the 1985 edition of the South African Grand Prix was hardly noticed as 21 cars turned up to contest the penultimate round of the 1985 World Championship series, one of the few major international sporting events left for the South African public to enjoy in the current political climate which has left the country largely ostracised within the international community. We freely admit that Motor Sport is not a political magazine, but we nonetheless note, with a certain degree of wry amusement, that Renault certainly have displayed no such misgivings in recent years and would suggest that the fact that the Regie’s hopeless uncompetitiveness gave it a convenient crutch on which to lean whilst adopting this cynical posturing. It would, perhaps, have carried more credibility if Renault had boycotted the race at a time when they were running competitively, not merely when bidden to jump by the politicians in Paris. It is also ironic that FISA’s President expressed the view that politics and sport should not be permitted to overlap to the latter’s detriment, yet it was the French Government’s intervention which effectively cut across that particular philosophy.

Having addressed ourselves to that aside, it should be recorded that the 1985 South African Grand Prix was an absolutely classic race, fought out beneath sunlit skies and, happily, transmitted to British enthusiasts by the good old Beeb which refused to be cowed into a position of subservience by its European contemporaries who stoically boycotted coverage of the event in quite significant numbers. In that respect, we have to say bad luck to many thousands of European viewers who were deprived of the sight of Nigel Mansell’s Williams-Honda FW10B running for most of the race distance at the head of the field, eventually seeing off his rivals to win his second Grand Prix victory in as many weeks. Truly, it was a memorable occasion.

Stefan Johansson at the wheel of his Ferrari 156/85.

Ferrari’s Stefan Johansson had a poor qualifying session – he started 16th

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Regulars in the Formula business regard Kyalami as one of the most challenging and entertaining circuits of all. Situated 5,700 ft above sea level in the rolling veldt near Johannesburg, the track blends a dauntingly fast main straight with a sequence of breathtakingly quick corners which tax cars’ handling and drivers’ nerve to an impressive degree. This year, the battle for pole position was fought out with some ferocity by the two Williams-Honda FW10Bs and Nelson Piquet’s Brabham-BMW, the Brazilian anxious to make it a hat-trick of pole positions at the South African circuit.

Three years ago, when the Brabham team produced its first BMW-engined turbocar at Kyalami, Nelson Piquet was just brushing the 200 mph barrier in the headlong rush over the crest by the pits down into Crowthorne corner. This year, if you couldn’t top 200 mph, you were just not in the hunt. Piquet’s Brabham BT54 tripped the beam during qualifying at 210.965 mph, but it was Mansell who steeled himself to grab pole position during Friday’s hour-long timed session with a fine 1 min 2.366 sec best with Piquet alongside him on 1 min 2.490 sec and Keke Rosberg on the inside of row two on 1 min 2.504 sec, the generous­minded Finn remarking jocularly, “it seems as though McLaren may have signed the wrong Williams driver next season,” in a rare compliment to his English team-mate’s sheer tenacity.

Bearing in mind the fact that his Lotus 97T was almost 10 mph slower than Piquet’s Brabham in a straight line, the fact that Ayrton Senna managed to qualify fourth a mere half-second away from Mansell was a reflection of his unquestionable ability. But Kyalami is all about sheer, unadulterated, horsepower and, in this high-speed battle, BMW and Honda were making the running with Renault coming in a pretty breathless third. Supporting their respective team-mates very competently were both Marc Surer and Elio de Angelis, qualifying Brabham and Lotus fifth and sixth respectively.

Gerhard Berger in his Arrows BMW.

It was 11th on the grid for Arrows’ Gerhard Berger

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Seventh place on the grid fell to Teo Fabi’s Toleman-Hart TG185, the Witney­-built car handling superbly through the fast Kyalami corners and rather putting to shame the two Porsche-engined McLarens of Niki Lauda (returning to the cockpit following his Belgian Grand Prix practice shunt) and new World Champion Alain Prost. The McLaren team was experimenting with revised turbos and compressors of different sizes, but were still encountering altitude-related problems· in this area, including failures caused by overspeeding. Prost had several turbo problems during the two days of qualifying, eventually lining up behind Lauda for only the second time in their two year partnership.

Further back down the grid the Ferrari 156/85s of Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson were going through a simply appalling time, both drivers complaining about dire lack of grip, acute understeer into the corners and oversteer out. Their inability to get out onto the start / finish straight quickly was only in part responsible for the fact they could only stagger, up to a modest 195 mph before Crowthorne, a staggering 15 mph slower than Piquet’s Brabham-BMW. Both drivers complained of a peculiar “surging” as the engines built up towards maximum revs, and when the two Maranello cars lined up 15th and 16th behind not only both Alfa Romeos but also Piercarlo Ghinzani’s Toleman TG185 there were some uneasy faces in the pit lane wondering how this little fiasco was going to be explained away in the team manager’s daily phone call to the Commendatore.

Ayrton Senna driving his Lotus 97T Renault.

Lotus’ Ayrton Senna qualified 4th

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At the tail of the field Philippe Streiff was competing at the wheel of the second Tyrrell 014, loaned for the occasion by the absent Ligier equipe, although the Frenchman who had qualified so impressively in fifth place at Brands Hatch was not as quick as regular Tyrrell team member Martin Brundle on this occasion. Alan Jones had another outing in the Carl Haas Beatrice Lola-Hart, but the Australian had been feeling unwell with a fever for much of the week leading up to the race and eventually withdrew from the meeting on doctor’s orders the evening before the race, thereby ensuring that he would compete in his 100th World Championship Grand Prix in front of his home crowd in Australia a fortnight later.

Race

Mansell was clearly under a lot of pressure, on paper, at the start of the 75 lap race, but his recent success in the Grand Prix of Europe had clearly given him an appetite for running at the front and, when the starting light blinked green, Williams number five fishtailed away from the line into an immediate lead. Piquet just scrambled into Crowthorne second ahead of de Angelis with Surer fourth, but Senna displaced the Swiss in an audacious lunge up the inside going into the right-hander at Sunset and by the end of the opening lap the second Brabham was already dropping away with an engine that seemed reluctant to pull properly.

Mansell leads at the start of the 1985 South African Grand Prix in his Williams-Honda

Nigel Mansell leads the field into the first corner

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For the first few laps Mansell opened out a healthy-looking advantage over Piquet and the rest of the pack, but Rosberg was really flying as usual and, by the end of lap five, had hurtled past the Brabham-BMW into second place. Running with more turbo boost pressure than Mansell who had turned his right down at the end of the opening lap, Rosberg was waved through by his team­mate as the two Williams-Hondas blared through the pit area to start lap nine.

Unfortunately for Rosberg, he had taken the lead at precisely the wrong moment as far as this race was concerned. By the time he arrived back at the braking area for Crowthorne at the start of lap ten, Ghinzani’s Toleman had suffered a piston failure in its Hart engine, spewing oil all over the racing line into this fast right-hander. Rosberg spun wildly on this swathe of lubricant and Mansell locked up a front wheel, just managing to keep control and duck back into the lead as his team-mate pirouetted in a shower of dirt and sand on the outside of the corner.

Nelson Piquet ;had the pack in his Brabham BT54.

Nelson Piquet stopped on lap 6 with an engine issue

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From that moment onwards Mansell never quite relinquished the lead, holding onto his advantage through a scheduled pit stop to replace his tyres, the wear rate of which was correctly anticipated in the gruelling heat and abrasive track conditions. But to say that he had an easy time would not be telling the full story. Mansell spent much of the race withstanding enormous pressure from World Champion Prost’s McLaren, the Frenchman climbing all over the Williams through the twisty section of Kyalami where the John Barnard-designed chassis could show its superiority, but Honda power told over Porsche on the straight and, by dint of keeping a cool head, Mansell retained control.

From half distance onwards Prost was worried about an electrical warning light blinking in the cockpit of his McLaren and, as the car began to misfire intermittently, it was clear that there was a problem with the Bosch Motronic engine management system. This effectively blunted Prost’s challenge and he gradually slowed to a crawl over the last few laps, staggering up to the finishing line at a walking pace to claim third place.

Philippe Streiff Tyrrell 014 Renault.

Philippe Streiff retired after an accident on lap 16

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His adrenalin mixed with a fair level of sheer indignation over that spin, Rosberg came slamming back into contention in his usual ebullient fashion, but such was the pressure he sustained that he found himself obliged to make a second pit stop for fresh rubber in the closing stages, thereby wiping out any chance of catching his team-mate for the lead. Thus, as Mansell cruised home to a splendid second win, Rosberg, on, fresh rubber, was reeling off a whole succession of fastest race laps, finally leaving the record at 1 min 8.149 sec and removing Alain Prost’s long-standing Renault ground effect best from the history books, this time dating back to 1982.

Behind Prost it was really a case of walking wounded with Johansson nursing his Ferrari home a lapped fourth, one eye on the fuel consumption read-out, the other on other Arrows, the BMW-engined cars running reliably, but slowly, thanks to relatively low turbo boost pressure settings for the race.

1985 South African Grand Prix.

The Williams team are jubilant as their man crosses the line

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Where, you might well ask, were the remainder of the potential front runners? Ayrton’ Senna and Elio de Angelis were hanging on as best they could just behind the leading bunch when their Renault V6s expired in a major way, both BMW engines in the Brabham BT54s suffered valve breakages early on and Niki Lauda relinquished second place with another turbo failure.

Brundle’s Tyrrell was the seventh and final competitor running at the finish, temporary team-mate Streiff having blotted his copybook with a trip into the catch-fencing at Clubhouse corner. What’s more, thanks to the demise of both Tolemans and Martini’s Minardi with engine failure, the result represented a Goodyear grand slam with not a single Pirelli runner still circulating at the end of the afternoon. Bearing in mind the fact that Piquet spent most of last winter pounding round Kyalami testing the Italian firm’s products, this must have been a bitter pill for Pirelli to have swallowed. – A.H.

Nigel Mansell, 1st position and teammate Keke Rosberg, 2nd position celebrate on the podium.

Williams team-mates Rosberg (right) and Mansell celebrate on the podium

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Results

South African Grand Prix – Formula One – 75 laps – Kyalami – 4.104 km per lap – 307.800 km – Very hot

1st: Nigel Mansell (Williams FW10B/6) 1 hr 28 min 22.866 sec – 209.959 kph
2nd: Keijo Rosberg (Williams FW10B/7) 1 hr 28 min 30.438 sec
3rd: Alain Prost (McLaren MP4-28/6) 1 lap behind
4th: Stefan Johansson (Ferrari 156/85-086) 1 lap behind
5th: Gerhard Berger (Arrows A8/2) 1 lap behind
6th: Thierry Boutsen (Arrows A8/4) 1 lap behind

Fastest lap: Keijo Rosberg (Williams FW10B/7) on lap 4 in 1 min 08.149 sec – 216.796 kph