The 1985 Grand Prix season was a good one and it looks as though the 1986 season is going to be even better. In 1985 we had a lot of interesting developments, and a few unfortunate ones, but the growth in strength of the Honda-powered Williams cars was one of the outstanding features of the season. For a long time it was beginning to look as though the Williams team and its Japanese engine men were not making any progress in all aspects, handling, road-holding, engine power and reliability. Then at mid-season Honda produced what was in effect a Mark 2 version of its turbocharged V6 engine that had grown from the earlier Formula 2 engine. The Germans would call this new Honda engine a “second generation turbo unit” and it soon became obvious that it was only a matter of time before Rosberg or Mansell was going to win a race for the Williams-Honda team. The way they ran first and second in the Italian Grand Prix on the fast Monza circuit until trouble intervened was very impressive, and it was no surprise to see them win the last three races of the season, at Brands Hatch, Kyalami and in Adelaide. Irony of the whole affair was that everything began to “come good” about the time that Keijo Rosberg announced that he was leaving Williams at the end of the season and joining the very successful McLaren International team. In no time at all Nelson Piquet announced he was leaving Brabham, after a seven year sojourn, and was taking over number one spot with Williams. Personally I can’t wait for the 1986 season to get under way to see the results of Piquet working with Patrick Head on the new Williams-Honda project, for now that Honda has adequate power and commensurate reliability it is putting all its knowledge into a new engine for 1986. A “third generation V6 turbo-charged engine”.
Although Nelson Piquet and the BMW powered Brabham had a dreadful season as regards tangible results, they were never far away from the front and when everything was right Piquet showed his usual brilliant form walking away with the French Grand Prix. Everyone was agreed that he would have done the same in the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch had he not clipped the wayward Williams-Honda of the spinning Rosberg. While Piquet was left derelict in the middle of the track the irrepressible Rosberg charged off undamaged and did one of the best drives of his stormy career. Brabham ‘s biggest headache was the team-owner pulling a “coup” which put the team on Pirelli tyres when it looked as though good tyres were going to be short. As it turned out Bernie Ecclestone was a bit too hasty, and he could probably have stayed with the more successful Goodyear tyres, but money was involved so he didn’t lose out financially. However, it did give Piquet and Gordon Murray some headaches until Pirelli got a grip on the tyre scene as it applies to a leading runner. Another problem was that of BMW who was marginal on the fuel consumption stakes, so that Piquet often had to try and race with the turbo pressure held low, so low that he was barely competitive with the mid-field runners, even though he was at the front during qualifying.
Once again Piquet had to carry the Brabham flag on his own, for the season began with Francois Hesnault trying to cope with 850 bhp and 550 kilogrammes rather unsuccessfully, and then his place was taken by Marc Surer. The quiet Swiss from good farming stock, did a much better job and by the end of the season he was almost capable of supporting Piquet as a strong number two A really top driver can usually look after himself against any opposition, but when the opposing teams field strong pairs like Prost and Lauda (McLaren), Rosberg and Mansell (Williams), Alboreto and Johansson (Ferrari) or Senna and de Angelis (Lotus), then a little help is welcome.
With Piquet leaving the Brabham team, the owner once more took a long time to commit himself to new drivers, but it looks as though the Brabham-BMW drivers for 1986 will be Riccardo Patrese and Elio de Angelis. I will refrain from comment about their ability as top Grand Prix drivers, suffice to say that both have considerable talent but it has lobe provoked, it does not pour out spontaneously.
By any standards the overall seasonal performance of the McLaren International team was nothing short of remarkable After the 1984 season when it really dominated the scene it began to look as though it was going to be beaten in 1985, and on occasions it was, but the Golden Book says “Champion Constructor 1985 — McLaren-Porsche; Champion Driver — Alain Prost” and you can’t really improve on that. Niki Lauda decided that 1985 was going to be his last Grand Prix season so McLaren wasted no time in doing a deal with Keijo Rosberg. who starts the 1986 season alongside World Champion Alain Prost. I say “alongside” for there is no way you can describe Rosberg as a number two driver, and a World Champion who has won 21 races in his short career can hardly be number two material. The smooth, fast, regular and calculating Prost is one thing, while the ebullient, superfast, irrational, heroic, hard-charging Rosberg is quite another, and just how John Barnard and his engineers are going to cope with these two disparate drivers will be interesting to watch.
If it hadn’t been for Lotus and or Renault, new boy Ayrton Senna would have won a lot more than two Grand Prix races in 1985. I can’t recall a relatively new driver being so dominant in his first season with a front running team since the days of Bernd Rosemeyer and Auto Union in 1935. Agreed, Ayrton Senna made mistakes, but the season was one of heartbreaks for if the Renault engine in the Lotus 97T didn’t go wrong, then something in the Lotus side of the equation did. Senna was remarkably philosophical about it all though he did show just a suspicion of irritation about mid-season, but he soon recovered his composure. I have seen many drivers blow their top for a lot less aggravation than he received in 1985. If Lotus and Renault can come up with the goods in 1986 then I hardly need suggest who will be out in front. With de Angelis giving up the unequal struggle to match the brilliant young Brazilian, and going to the Brabham team, the number two car was open to offers, but it was made quite clear that it was a number two car, and not an equal number one. After much talk and discussion Derek Warwick is filling the seat, in the full knowledge that Ayrton Senna Is the blue-eyed-boy at Hethel, but if Warwick can overcome the psychological depression forced on him by Renault during 1985. and drive like he did with the Toleman team, he can’t fail to do himself a power of good. If he keeps up with Senna we will all be impressed, if he beats Senna we will cheer loudly, for that will be something to be proud of, for Senna and Lotus are a known standard.
The whole future of Lotus is really in the hands of the Regie Renault, who will continue to supply engines to the Norfolk -based team. The Renault team having pulled out of Grand Prix racing prompted the reasonable thought that it might affect the development work on the French V6 turbo engine, but the Regie has assured Lotus that development work will continue at the normal rate, and they really look upon Lotus as the carriers of the good name of Renault. Certainly 1985 saw Lotus showing that Renault engines were as good as any of the opposition, so all Lotus followers are viewing 1986 with fingers crossed.
To me Ferrari will always be the Scuderia Ferrari, the red cars from Maranello, and Grand Prix racing without them does not bear thinking about. In typical Ferrari fashion the team went through 1985 on a series of highs and lows. When it was up, it was right at the front, when it was down, it was so far back that it was embarrassing. Unlike some teams, it does not stay at the back for long, and 1986 will see the same basic layout with Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson driving for the Scuderia once more. When things are right neither driver is found lacking, but they do need encouragement in the way of mechanical superiority or at least equality. By the end of 1985 the Ferrari factory had been forced to accept the unpalatable fact that its V6 turbo engine was losing out to Porsche, Honda, Renault and BMW as regards sheer power and torque. Engines have always been Enzo Ferrari’s real love and overall his engineers have not made bad engines. But sometimes other people make better ones, as Vanwall did in 1957 and Cosworth did in 1967. One can imagine that long hours are being worked in the Maranello engine research department at the moment.
That then, is the scene at the front of the Formula One world. Five teams full of potential, both known and promised. Ten drivers all capable of claiming pole-position on any starting grid given equal opportunities, indeed ten drivers who could all win a Grand Prix without causing any “Yes, but…” remarks. This means that anyone else in Formula One is going to have a hard time making their presence felt. From the mid-field we have lost the teams from Renault and Alfa Romeo, both withdrawing at the end of 1985. Renault was a fullyfledged manufacturers ‘Works team” but Alfa Romeo was only an engine supplier to the Euroracing Team. While Renault sank ignominiously from a position of power at the top, due to a multitude of reasons, not the least the loss of Alain Prost the driver and later, Michele Tetu the engineer and Gerard Larrousse the team director. Alfa Romeo as represented by Euroracing was never at the top. While it was sad to see the Regie Renault team get left behind by the other industry-supported teams the Alfa Romeo team was nothing more than an unfortunate joke, and the joke had worn very thin. Of the drivers involved, Warwick and Patrese have joined other top teams, and Eddie Cheever would appear to be turning his hand to other forms of racing, while Patrick Tarnbay has joined the Carl Haas Ford-backed team with the new turbo V6 Cosworth engine. As a feeler the team ran a few races in 1985 with a straight forward car powered by a four cylinder Hart engine, with Alan Jones at the wheel. 1986 will see a serious entry into Formula One with a two-car team, driven by Jones and Tambay and powered by Ford. This time the Cosworth tie-up is with Detroit and the Dearborn research centre, and Ford will want its team up among Porsche, Honda, Ferrari, Renault and BMW, for to Ford-Detroit they are the people to beat, not Williams, Brabham or McLaren. Even with equal power and chassis it is not going to be easy for Jones and Tambay to get the name of Ford up near the front, but it is going to be interesting to see them try.
Before the 1985 season had finished there were V6 Cosworth-Ford engines on the test-bed, not just in Northampton, but also in Dearborn. This whole project just has to be taken seriously, regardless of the publicity-machine operated on behalf of the Carl Haas sponsors, the Beatrice group of companies, and also regardless of the fact that the said Beatrice Group of something like 84 different companies, is up for sale or a take-over bid in the financial market place.
With all that high-powered industry-orientated activity it is not surprising that Formula One is looking good, but it does mean that the “amateur teams” like Tyrrell, Arrows, Toleman and Ligier are going to be hard-pressed to keep up. The teams at the back, like Osella, Zakspeed, RAM and Minardi can only keep plugging away and hope that the “mighty” fall now and then and allow them to profit by it
It all starts in Brazil in March but even as these words are being written the first serious test season is taking place on the Estoril circuit in Portugal, as new drivers try old cars and old drivers try new cars, and everyone begins to concentrate even harder on efficiency and engine-management in order to race competitively on even less fuel than they were allowed in 1985. — D.S.J.