Grote Prijs van Belgie

-- Ferrari fight back
Zolder, April 29th

When the Belgian Grand Prix returned to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit last year, everyone was delighted and full of enthusiasm for a real Grand Prix de Belgique and the general feeling was that there need be no further discussion; the Belgian race was back at its rightful home and there it would stay. However, those who thought that overlooked one small but important point, which was the fact that the owners of the Zolder-Terlamen circuit in the Flemish part of Belgium, had spent millions of Belgian francs on circuit improvements at the behest of FISA and FOCA . The whole paddock and pits area had undergone an enormous and impressive rebuild to bring it up to the desired standards and in 1982 everyone had been very satisfied with the results. No matter how popular the return to Spa-Francorchamps had been, the Zolder-Terlamen people were not going to relinquish their country's Grand Prix as easily as that, and who can blame them, for they saved the event in the early 1970s when Spa-Francorchamps had foundered and the Nivelles-Baulers Autodrome fell flat on its back. Much as we all enjoyed the new Spa-Francorchamps circuit last year when the Grand Prix de Belgique was re-instated in the foothills of the Ardennes, we had to face facts and return to the flatness of Limburg and tricky little Zolder circuit in the woods of Terlamen for 1984.

Skies were clear and blue, and the sun shone brilliantly throughout the three days of the 1984 Grote Prijs van Belgie, making the whole scene almost tolerable and a smoothly run race, trouble-free and well organised, did much to alleviate the sadness at not being able to return to Spa-Francorchamps until 1985. It gives us something to look forward to.

This event saw the opening of the Grand Prix season in Europe , and the third event in the 1984 season and it was with some relief that the mechanics and engineers could pack all their equipment into their articulated "juggernauts" and set off for Belgium, self-contained and complete. With a bare two weeks since the return from the South African race on April 7th (not March 7th as mistakenly printed in last month's Motor Sport), most of the teams had done a vast amount of work and there were nine new cars in the pits, including two of the new Arrows A7 cars with turbocharged BMW power. As is customary since Bernie Ecclestone got the world of Formula 1 organised, everyone was ready to go the moment the circuit was opened for testing at 10 am on Friday morning for the regulation one and a half hours. Nobody was missing and nobody was late and it was particularly pleasing to see the amicable Piercarlo Ghinzani back in action in a brand new Osella-Alfa Romeo after his horrifying accident at the South African Grand Prix.

Usually the Zolder circuit causes anguish over brakes, the on-off, on-off, on-off nature of the circuit playing havoc with the systems, but this year Ferodo, Girling, Lockheed, Brembo and all the others who look after Grand Prix retardation seemed to have the upper hand and the fact that a Grand Prix car can pull 2½-3g under braking says m u c h for the continual research and development done by the brake specialist firms, to say nothing of the rubber supplied by Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli that allows this sort of stopping power. With turbocharged 1½-litre engines giving 650bhp if required, in cars weighing around 620 kilogrammes complete with driver, the performance potential round a stop-and-go circuit like Zolder is nothing short of staggering. With a surplus of horsepower, huge aerofoils can be dragged through the air to give a large downforce that more than makes up for the loss occasioned by banning of under-car "ground effects”.

Throughout the two days of testing and qualifying, engines were the big problem some teams. While Renault and Ferrari were free from engine troubles, Honda , Porsche and BMW were in dire trouble. There were pools of oil, clouds of smoke and derelict cars almost continually during Friday and Saturday. If it wasn't a Honda engine in a Williams that blew u p , it was a Porsche engine in a McLaren or a BMW engine in a Brabham. Even the Hart engines were not devoid of trouble, the Spirit team blowing up an engine, but the most spectacular was the B M W engine in the special lightweight Brabham BT53/3. In Saturday's qualifying Piquet had only just started on his first flying lap when there was an almighty bang and the Brabham stopped abruptly. You could clearly see the crankshaft and one of the connecting rods, and they were still inside the engine! Honda did an equally good job on Rosberg's race-car FW09/4 on Friday afternoon covering the whole of the back of the car with glistening oil so comprehensively that it looked as if it had been spray-painted with shiny black cellulose. Porsche managed to set fire to Lauda's McLaren MP4/2 on Friday afternoon, and excelled themselves on Saturday night (or early Sunday morning to be more precise) when, after installing a new engine ready for the race, working through the night, the mechanics started it up behind the pits and it promptly blew up!

Through all the smoke and oil Ferrari and Renault vied for the best qualifying results, with Derek Warwick making fastest lap on the first day for Renault and Alboreto scoring pole position on the second day for Ferrari, with Arnoux in second place. Warwick might have retaliated had his engine started promptly when he was ready to go out again on his second set of qualifying tyres on Saturday. As it was it was reluctant to start and a precious ten minutes were wasted. He got going with just enough time to do one flying lap but then an exhaust pipe fractured, so he had to be content with fourth fastest lap overall. Just how much trouble the Brabham team were in with their BMW engines can be seen by Winkelhock's position on the grid with the ATS-BMW, and on Pirelli tyres at that.

Warwick had been forced to fight a lone battle against the Ferraris for his team-mate, Patrick Tambay, was in dire trouble throughout both days. He and his ex-Ferrari engineer Tommaso Carletti could not get things right, when the engine stopped misfiring the gearbox played up, when that was cured the brakes gave trouble, when they worked all right the tyres were all wrong, and so it went on from one trauma to another, with T a m b a y ending up on the sixth row of the grid, alongside Cheever's Alfa Romeo. Lauda was just behind Tambay and equally unhappy, though Rosberg on the other hand was surprisingly chirpy about being on row two alongside Warwick, bearing in mind that things were a bit shambolic in the Williams pit. After all the BMW dramas Piquet and Fabi were happy to be on the grid at all.

Among the lesser teams Arrows had their hands full as their new BMW-powered A7 model was making its first appearance, in the hands of Thierry Boutsen as it was his home Grand Prix. A7/01 was in the back of the garage, having been used for initial testing and he was using A7/02, while Surer had to soldier on with the Cosworth powered A6 cars for this race. Team Tyrrell had no option but to soldier on with their 520 b h p Cosworth DFY engines, but both their drivers were putting all they knew into the game and making the best of a bad job, so that they embarrassed Hesnault with his turbo Renault powered Ligier, Surer with his Arrows-Cos worth, Baldi with the turbo Hart powered Spirit and both turbo Hart powered RAM cars by being ahead of them all at the end of the day. This time Palmer just scraped onto the grid and it was the turn of his team-mate Alliot to be "odd man out".

On Saturday evening the whole row of pit-lane garages was an incredible sight with barely a complete or healthy car to be seen and gearboxes and engines all over the place. It really seemed as if the "big guns" had destroyed themselves during the two days of testing and qualifying. There were engineers from Japan, Germany, France, Italy and England all looking very worried and very deep in thought. Apart from the usual worries of tyres, brakes, suspension settings, aerodynamic settings, fuel consumption, race tactics and so on, there were many furrowed brows over petrol specification, inter-cooling, fuel injection, engine management systems, mixture control, turbo boost settings, to say nothing of what was on the menu for dinner! By Sunday morning there was total calm, all the cars were ready to go and looked like new, and the amount of work done overnight by the army of mechanics and engineers of all nationalities would have kept a typical industrial firm going for a year! W h e n you hear about strikes and arguments and lack of production in some of our industrial sectors it gives you hope for the world when you see the world of Grand Prix Racing with its collective back against the wall and fighting hard to recover. A walk down the pit lane showed no signs at all of the scene of chaos there had been at the end of practice.

The half-hour warm-up session at 10.30 am confirmed that the C4 Ferraris were as strong as they had been in practice and that Goodyear's radial construction race tyres were not lacking. BMW had some new petrol sent up from Munich overnight to try to alleviate their engine problems and engineers from Stuttgart and T o k y o were still looking worried, as were some of the English engineers. The Toleman team had a problem when Cecotto's engine suddenly died on him for no obvious reason and the Spirit team were running their 101/1B car and their new one, 101/2B was all in bits. ATS ran their old D 6 car, but the new D 7 was being fettled ready for the race.

Although the skies were clear and the sun was bright there was a cool wind blowing, raising a lot of sandy dust in places along the edge of the track, but nobody was complaining, especially the engine men who greeted every degree d r o p in temperature with pleasure. Before the 26 starters left the pit lane a small gaggle of cars that included Rosberg's Williams, Lauda's McLaren , de Angelis in the Lotus and Warwick in his Renault did a couple of straggly laps in what was supposed to be FISA's idea of presenting the top six in the World Championship league to the paying public. Warwick and de Angelis stopped at the beginning of the final straight to have a private drag race against each other and just as they started off Lauda whistled round the corner onto the straight and nearly collected both of them! After that everyone set off from the pits to drive round to the starting grid, a lot of them diving into the pit lane to sneak another lap before the gate closed. Eventually everyone was in place and ready for the 70 lap Grote Prijs van Belgie, as they say in Flemish. Alboreto was on the left with Rosberg behind him and Arnoux was on the right with Warwick behind him. The rest of the grid was a funny old mish-mash with a lot of drivers further back than they should have been, due to practice troubles, notably Piquet, Lauda, Prost, Tambay and Fabi. In good order they did their parade lap, lined up once more well controlled by the marshals and Derek Ongaro was able to give them a good clean start, the two Ferraris streaking away with Warwick making a real "screamer" and diving between the two red cars as they went into the first corner. Rosberg made a complete nonsense of his start and while he was gathering himself up he was engulfed by most of the rest of the field.

Alboreto led from Warwick and Arnoux, so the Renault was the meat in the Ferrari sandwich, but the Hampshire lad looked superbly at his ease in the situation. At the end of the opening lap Rosberg was in twenty-first place and there then started one of those heroic drives from the back that no-one does deliberately, but when it happens it is something to watch. Out in front Alboreto was doing exactly what everyone knew he could do, leading the race confidently and comfortably, everything about his C4 Ferrari being perfect. When Michele Alboreto made his appearance on the Formula One scene in a Tyrrell it did not need much knowledge to appreciate his very un-Italian like style. He was smooth, polished, effortless and secure and though he was only achieving lowly placing because of the equipment, his natural ability stood out a mile. Enzo Ferrari must have been watching Alboreto's progress at the front of the Belgian GP on the TV with great pleasure back in Modena.

The Ferrari just pulled away lap after lap with no worries from anyone behind, least of all his team-mate, who was not even giving Warwick any trouble. The brave Manfred Winkelhock was striving to keep his ATS-BMW up with the leaders and was a long way ahead of the rest of the field by the time five laps had been covered. Rosberg was up to fifteenth place. Elio de Angelis was leading the field after the first four cars, but he had Prost and Piquet climbing all over him looking for a way by. Prost scrabbled by only to have his Porsche engine stop with electrical trouble and as an oil leak had developed, dropping onto the hot exhaust system, when he stopped the oil ignited and marshals promptly covered the whole car with fire extinguishant.

It was now Piquet's turn to get by the Lotus, which he did on lap nine and immediately began to pull away. On lap 10 Rosberg was tenth. Cecotto retired at the pits at the end of lap two with the Toleman clutch slipping and Patrese stopped out on the circuit with an electrical fault. Mansell was being embarrassed by the two Tyrrells for the Lotus-Renault was suffering clutch slip and couldn't put any real power through the back wheels, so that Tyrrell's young lads were enjoying themselves hanging on to the tail of the Lotus with their under-powered Cosworth engined cars. BMW let the rear Arrows down by suffering valve trouble so Boutsen was out on lap 16, having made a previous visit to the pits and Ghinzani retired the new Osella with no drive to the rear wheels after leading Mansell and the two Tyrrells. Baldi in the Spirit and Palmer in the RAM were bringing up the tail end, the English doctor being lapped by Alboreto on lap 14 just as Mansell gave up the embarrassing struggle and retired. On lap 16 Laffite spun off into the sand at the ess-bend before the pits, due to his Honda engine cutting in at the wrong moment catching him out. Rosberg was now eighth.

Near the back of the field Tambay was having as bad a time as he had in practice with brakes pulling sideways, gears not engaging, tyres not gripping and handling feeling awful and an engine that did not want to pull properly. He could barely keep ahead of the Tyrrells and on lap 24 he headed for the pits for a tyre change, just before he was lapped by Alboreto's Ferrari. Rosberg was now sixth and Palmer had been lapped twice by the leader. On the next lap Arnoux stopped to change tyres and by the time he rejoined the race Alboreto was nearly a lap ahead. All this time Derek Warwick had been holding a secure second place, driving smoothly and tidily for the edges of the track were getting very slippery and a moment's inattention or a few inches off line could spell disaster. Winkelhock's moment of glory in fourth place faded as Piquet caught and passed the ATS after his lowly starting position and on lap 26 the incredible Rosberg caught and passed the ATS, putting the Williams-Honda into fourth place with the race not yet at half-distance.

Lauda stopped for new tyres on lap 30, which proved to be a waste of time as on lap 36 his Porsche engine blew up! Rosberg was now putting pressure on Piquet and as he tried to find a way by the two of them he nearly ran over Baldi in the Spirit, but the Williams was ahead on lap 32, now in third place. When Warwick made his scheduled stop for new tyres on lap 33, Rosberg moved into second place. From 21st on lap one to second before half distance was heroic stuff by any standards, regardless of other people's misfortune, and the leading Ferrari was in sight, but not close enough to challenge. Warwick rejoined the race in a safe third place, knowing he would get his second place back when the Williams-Honda stopped for tyres. Alboreto had just lapped Brundle in the Tyrrell and Fabi’s Brabham when he got on the loose stuff on lap 36 and had a big "moment" off onto the grass, but he recovered and carried on looking completely unflurried. On lap 39 Alboreto headed up the pit lane and a swift tyre change by the Ferrari mechanics saw him back into the race without losing the lead. When Rosberg stopped for tyres on lap 43 not only did Warwick regain second place but Piquet, de Angelis and Bellof went by as well. The young German newcomer to Formula One was really enjoying himself and hanging on to the Lotus-Renault of de Angeiis in a very impressive manner and really putting the Roman's nose out of joint.

Arnoux now seemed to wake up and piled on speed, staying with Rosberg as the Finn caught up with de Angelis and Bellof. On lap 54 they went by in the order de Angelis, Bellof, Rosberg, Arnoux, nose to tail, and next time round the order was Arnoux, de Angelis, Rosberg, Bellof! Then the Ferrari and the Williams began to pull away and menace Piquet who was in third place. Having started everyone off on the pit-stop lark two years ago, Gordon Murray now pulled a new stunt, for Piquet was running through non-stop but with his boost well down and fingers crossed for engine reliability. There was nothing Piquet could do about Arnoux and Rosberg and on lap 64, with only six more to run, Piquet was down into fifth place. Alboreto was serenely in command of the whole affair way out on his own, Warwick was a most worthy second with Arnoux third and the tenacious Rosberg fourth. Hardly had this situation settled itself than Arnoux got off line and spun on the loose stuff, requiring help from the marshals to get going again, but Rosberg and Piquet had gone by.

Although the end of the race was in sight it was by no means over, for on lap 67 Piquet's BMW engine blew up in such a big way that it sent the Brabham crashing into the barriers. The uncatchable Alboreto lapped fifth place man de Angelis and started his last lap with nearly three-quarters of a minute lead over Warwick. In third place was Rosberg and fourth was Arnoux. As the Williams-Honda started its last lap it spluttered and ran out of petrol before the end of the lap, coasting to a stop and handing third place to Arnoux to complete the Ferrari sandwich with Warwick and the Renault as the filling in a splendid and faultless second place, more worthy in some ways than the two Ferrari drivers, who both had an excursion into the rough stuff in the slippery and tricky conditions. Although Rosberg's Williams did not get the chequered flag it was classified fourth and Piquet's Brabham netted 10th place from its position in the crash barriers. As the opening race of the European season the Belgian GP was a most interesting one and if the portents come to pass, we are in for a fine season of Grand Prix racing.

Grote Prijs van Belgie -- Formula One -- 70 laps -- Zolder -- 4.262 kilometres per lap -- 298.339 kilometres -- Sunny and cool
1st : Michele Alboreto ........................(Ferrari 126C4/074)............... 1 hr 36 min 32.048 sec-- 185.430 kph
2nd : Derek Warwick ..........................(Renault RE50/04) ..................1 hr 37 min 14.434 sec
3rd : René Arnoux ...............................(Ferrari 126C4/073) ...............1 hr 37 min 41.851 sec
4th : Keijo Rosberg ..............................(Williams FW09/4) ................1 lap behind -- not running -- out of petrol
5th : Elio de Angeiis .............................(Lotus 95T/3) ........................1 lap behind
6th : Stefan Bellof ................................(Tyrrell 012/1) ......................1 lap behind
7th : Ayrton Senna............................... (Toleman TG183B/05) .........2 laps behind
8th : Patrick Tambay ............................(Renault RE50/05) ...............2 laps behind
9th : Marc Surer ...................................(Arrows A6/4) ......................2 laps behind
10th : Nelson Piquet .............................(Brabham BT53/5) ...............4 laps behind -- not running -- engine failure
11th : Jonathan Palmer ........................(RAM 02/02) ........................6 laps behind
12th : Mauro Baldi ................................(Spirit 101/1B) ..........retired on lap 54 -- defective car
13th : Martin Brundle............................(Tyrrell 012/3) ..........retired on lap 52 -- left front wheel off
14th : Teo Fabi ......................................(Brabham-BT53/2) ....retired on lap 43 -- off the track
15th : Andrea de Cesaris ......................(Ligier JS23/04) ..........retired on lap 43 -- accident
16th : Manfred Winklehock .................(ATSD7/1) ..................retired on lap 40 -- electrical failure
17th : Niki Lauda ..................................(McLaren MP4/2-1) ....retired on lap 36 -- engine failure
18th : Eddie Cheever ............................(Alfa Romeo 184T/3) ...retired on lap 29 -- turbo failure
19th : Jacques Laffite ............................(Williams FW09/3) ......retired on lap 16 -- spun off track
20th : Francois Hesnault .......................(Ligier JS23/02) ..........retired on lap 16 -- mechanical derangement
21st : Thierry Boutsen ..........................(Arrows A7/02) ..........retired on lap 16 -- engine failure
22nd : Piercarlo Ghinzani ......................(Osella FA/1F-02) ......retired on lap 14 -- transmission failure
23rd : Nigel Mansell ..............................(Lotus95T/2) .............retired on lap 14 -- clutch slip
24th : Alain Prost ..................................(McLaren MP4/2-2) ...retired on lap 6 -- electrical failure and fire
25th : Riccardo Patrese ........................(Alfa Romeo 184T/2) ...retired on lap 3 -- electrical trouble
26th : Johnny Cecotto ..........................(Toleman TG183B/3) ...retired on lap 2 -- clutch slip
Fastest lap: René Arnoux (Ferrari 126C4/073) on lap 64 in 1 min 19.294 sec -- 193.497 kph
26 starters -- 11 finishers