A non-(championship) event
As the 1984 Grand Prix season for the World Championships was not due to start until March 25th with the Brazilian GP, and all the important teams were ready and raring to go by the end of January, the FOCA supreme organised a non-championship race to give them a pre-season try-out. Unfortunately the only country prepared to take this non-event was behind the Iron Curtain and this posed problems for media coverage. No journalists were invited, or even told about it, and television was non-existent, apart from a closed-circuit system that allowed the spectators to see the whole course. Two Italian journalists disguised themselves as Alfa Romeo mechanics and got to the race, but their coverage was very limited and there were no photographs. However, by some means that are best not enquired about, Radio Ticino in Switzerland had quite a good broadcast on the event and we were able to pick it up on VHF and got a good idea of what went on.
The media ban suited Bernie Ecclestone admirably as he has been trying to control the press at Formula One races for a long time; it also suited Porsche and Honda quite well as they are both about to start their first full season of Formula One racing and at the moment they are both a little touchy about publicity in case something goes wrong. It suited BMW’s new low profile, as it is the end of season outcome that really interests them, but Renault were very upset as the Regie’s Public Relations department is geared to maximum publicity for their Formula One team, win or lose. Alfa Romeo thought the two journalists were real mechanics, though the team-manager did wonder about their lily-white hands and beautifully manicured nails. The Ferrari team did not even notice there was no media present, they thought the lack of people in their pits was due to having got rid of Patrick Tambay from the team.
During scrutineering the BMW people were keeping a very low profile in view of the French petroleum industry discovering that Piquet won the 1983 World Championship in his Brabham-BMW running on 102.8 octane petrol, when the legal limit is 102.4 octane. Mr Ecclestone was laughing aside any comments by saying “it was only a little bit over the limit, it was not important”, to which Mauro Forghieri replied “this year our engines are of 1,990 cc capacity, only a little bit over the 1,500 cc limit, it is not important but I think you ought to know Bernie”. When Nelson Piquet was asked about his illegal petrol business he said “don’t ask me, I just drive the car, it could be running on Coca Cola as far as I am concerned”, at which point Bernie zoomed in and said “if it is they can pay me a lot of money for the privilege”. Before practice began the chief topic of conversation was turbochargers. Last year, apart from Brian Hart and Alfa Romeo, everyone was happy with the German KKK turbocharger, but when Porsche appeared with special purpose-built KKK units, the others began to tick about “special treatment”, especially the French and Italian customers. The results of winter test and development programmes has seen Renault change over the Garrett AiResearch turbochargers and Ferrari and Honda to IHI. The Hart engine is still happy with its British Holset unit and Alfa Romeo are stuck with their own turbocharger. Porsche and BMW seem happy with their German KKK units, the former with two small ones on its V6 engine and the latter with one very big one on its four-cylinder engine. Gunther Schmid somehow acquired an even bigger one for the BMW engine in his ATS. Turbochargers are going to be all important this year and just as the top teams really need their own tyre company to keep them one jump ahead of the rest, they are going to need their own turbocharger company at full blast on turbo development.
There were only 16 entries for this race, but if the quantity was lacking the quality was of the very highest order and practice saw everyone getting used to new things. FISA re-allocated race numbers in a more logical arrangement, but have done nothing to improve the visibility of the numbers for spectators. Piquet headed the list with number one and whoever his team-mate turns out to be will be number two. Ferrari are three and four, Williams five and six, McLaren seven and eight, Tyrrell nine and 10, Lotus 11 and 12, ATS is 14, Renault 15 and 16, Arrows 17 and 18, Toleman 19 and 20, Spirit is 21, Alfa Romeo 22 and 23, Osella is 24, Ligier 25 and 26, and RAM 27, and that is all there is at the moment. However, for this non-event here were a lot of scratched entries due to lack of money, lack of engines, lack of drivers, lack of cars and so on. There was only one Brabham, a BT52B for Piquet, the new BT53 not being ready, one Toleman for Senna, and one Ligier for de Cesaris, the Toleman being an updated 1983 car while the Ligier was one of the new JS23 cars powered by the new Renault V6 EF4 engine with alloy block in place of the previous cast-iron one. There was a second JS23 in the paddock but Francois Hesnault had still not obtained his super-licence from FISA so he could not take part. The official Renault-ELF team had three new RE50 models on hand for their new drivers Tambay and Warwick, known already as “Team Nice Guys”, and Lotus had their two new 95T cars powered by Renault with their all-British sponsorship. The Ferraris for Arnoux and new-boy Alboreto were updated C3 models, the new C4 not being ready and the team were smiling confidently about the bench-tests of the new four-cylinder Ferrari engine. For a moment there was confusion, as Ken Tyrrell had not entered any cars, yet here were two Tyrrells with turbocharged V8 engines, or at least they looked like Tyrrells in their green and black Benetton colours. Then it was seen that Patrese and Cheever were preparing to drive them and it was realised that they were Euroracing Alfa Romeos, Benetton having moved their money from Surrey to Italy. Tyrrell had not made any entries as he has neither sponsorship nor drivers, but he was ever present in the paddock, smiling like the cat who had just stolen the cream. As he had Keith Duckworth of Cosworth Engineering and Water Hayes of World Wide Ford with him they may have had something to do with Uncle Ken’s smile. For once Duckworth was not banging on about banning turbos, and Walter Hayes was saying that Ford must put Britain back on the Grand Prix map.
Frank Williams was fairly subdued, having more than enough to occupy his mind with Japanese engine men from Honda and his drivers from Finland and France. Patrick Head was much in evidence crooning over the revised FW09 with V6 Honda power, and his presence gave the team an air of credibility once more. In the McLaren pits the German engineers from Porsche and Bosch were a little uneasy at being on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain and as well as watching each other were watching everyone else as well.
Due to religious protocol the race was held on Saturday, with practice on Wednesday and Thursday; Friday was reserved for sight seeing and the spending of start-money, which was distributed at scrutineering and the practice days took the usual format of testing in the morning and qualifying in the afternoon. Mr Ecclestone had suggested a form of Indy-Car qualifying with cars running one at a time over four laps, but no agreement could be reached among the teams as regard details, so in the true democratic fashion as there was not a unanimous vote in favour the idea was dropped. The organisers were completely baffled by the decision, believing in doing things by “committee” and insisting on the committee containing an odd number of people and saying “three is too many”.
The sounds of practice and qualifying were splendid with totally different noises coming from the various engines, Renault 90-degree V6, Ferrari 120-degree V6, Porsche and Honda 80-degree V6, Alfa Romeo 90-degree V8 and Hart and BMW with 4 cylinders in line. From the word go there was a fierce battle for pole position on the grid, fastest time being bandied back and forth between Warwick (Renault), Arnoux (Ferrari), Piquet (Brabham-BMW), Prost (McLaren-Porsche) and Rosberg (Williams-Honda). In the Ferrari pits there was a certain amount of confusion for Larrousse had lured Tomaso Carletti away from Ferrari to join the Regie team. Carletti was the engineer who looked after Tambay last year, so he was delighted at being able to continue working with the elegant Frenchman, and vice-versa. Unfortunatley they got completely at sixes-and-sevens, fooled by the car being yellow and black instead of red, having the turbos on each side of the engine instead of together in the middle, and everyone talking French instead of Italian. Actually, it was worse than that for they were talking Parisien slang rather than Modenese. The result was that Tambay spent the whole of practice and qualifying in a muddle and ended up in last place on the grid.
Up at the front there was also trouble, for while Prost was challenging for pole-position in his first race with the McLaren team, he over-cooked it and went off in the biggest possible way and injured his right wrist. The car was badly damaged, but they had a spare so Ron Dennis immediately got on the phone to England, having some trouble convincing the operator that there was a place called Bognor Regis. Dear old Wattie happened to be sitting by the phone when it rang and as he started to explain that he was due to make a personal appearance on Radio Solent, Dennis said “I’ll meet you at the airport” and rang off. The wonders of modern travel got John Watson to the circuit in time for a few laps before the final qualifying and though he was complaining of “too much understeer” he had four drivers behind him on the grid.
In the last minute do-or-die effort Derek Warwick snatched pole position from Arnoux, but he admitted that he had shut his eyes on one or two corners and just prayed. When he took his helmet off he had to don the dark glasses that a friend had thoughtfully supplied when he joined the Renault team, for his eye-balls were trying to fall out. With one car in first place on the grid and the other in last place, Jean Sage the team-manager grinned and said “it looks as though we have the whole field sewn up”. Alboreto had done a neat and tidy job in fifth place, just ahead of Lauda and the two Lotus drivers had dead-heated for seventh place. Patrese had suffered a minor excursion into the rough stuff with his Alfa and de Cesaris had written-off his brand new Ligier so took Hesnault’s car for the race. Ayrton Senna was quietly near the back of the grid, well satisfied at surviving practice and qualifying without flying off the track, breaking the gearbox or blowing up the engine.
The race itself ran for two hours and though Warwick leapt away into the lead he was passed by Arnoux after a few laps, but the Ferrari did not pull away and the Hampshire lad was really enjoying being up at the front of the pack. He had to keep one eye on his mirrors for Piquet was right behind him and you dare not take your eyes off the little Brazilian driver. With barely 15 minutes gone Rosberg was into the pits with overheating trouble and a large sheet of newspaper was found blocking the inter-cooler. It later transpired that the Finn had been off the road when trying to pass Piquet and had scooped up a lot of track-side debris. While Arnoux continued to lead, with Warwick hanging on grimly and the cool Mr Piquet just watching, heroic things were happening behind them. In the morning warm-up Tambay and Carletti had suddenly got everything right and the very determined Frenchman had made the sort of start that would have pleased Gilles Villeneuve, even though the car was a Renault. Even before the first corner Tambay had passed de Cesaris, Senna, Cheever and Watson and he was now slicing his way through the field in a smooth and determined fashion that reminded some of the older people present of Jimmy Clark.
Already de Angelis had disappeared in a cloud of smoke from the left-side turbo and Gerard Ducarouge was seen round the back of the Renault pit looking closely at the turbos on a spare works engine and comparing the with the ones on the Lotus Renault engines. Suddenly there were smiles all round as Warwick came by in the lead, still with Piquet in his mirrors and after everyone had gone by Arnoux trickled slowly into the pits with oil and water running out of one of the Ferrari exhaust pipes; his race was run. Alboreto was running in third place and looking very comfortable and Tambay was now up to seventh place behind Mansell’s Lotus-Renault. As the works Renault sailed past the Lotus- Renault down the long straight Peter Warr and Ducarouge looked at each other and said “Hurrump” and Ducarouge went back to the Renault pit with his measuring stick.
Almost unnoticed Patrese spun off the track and stalled and a lap later Cheever’s Alfa Romeo engine stopped dead with a total electrical failure. Laffite was right behind him and had to deliberately spin his Williams to avoid an accident, but unfortunately bounced badly over a kerb. Five laps later a rear suspension member broke as a result of the impact and the Williams-Honda subsided onto the grass. Rosberg was going splendidly in the other Williams, after his involuntary stop, and he was leaning heavily on Lauda, whose Porsche engine was misfiring at 12,000 rpm. While Watson could not match Tambay’s pace from the back of the grid, he was driving a typical smooth Watson-race and moving up the field as others ran into trouble.
Although it was good to see Warwick leading the race it was only a matter of time before Piquet devoured him and sure enough as the race moved into its closing stages the slim Brabham-BMW eased by into the lead. So now the order was Piquet (Brabham), Warwick (Renault), Alboreto (Ferrari), Tambay (Renault), Watson (McLaren-Porsche) and Rosberg (Williams-Honda). Last year when Piquet got himself into this situation he could turn down the boost and cruise home to victory, but not this time for Warwick had no intention of giving up. He knew he was destined to finish second but all his aggressiveness came to the fore and he thought “I’ll make that little Brazilian work for his victory” (shades of Mike Hawthorn) and he drove his heart out. Suddenly a cloud of blue smoke poured out of the back of the Brabham as the BMW engine blew up in a most comprehensive manner and a grinning Warwick went back into the lead, but his grin was short-lived when all his power disappeared and a plume of white smoke in his mirrors told him the worst: a turbo bearing had collapsed.
The implacable Michele Alboreto sailed into the lead, but the Ferrari pit signals were urging him on for Tambay was closing fast and now it was for first place, not third, which made the Frenchman drive even harder. The clock was ticking away and the hands were indicating that two hours were up as the Ferrari and Renault crossed over the line almost touching each other. Alboreto had won by less than one second, albeit a lucky win at another drivers’ expense, but throughout the race he had never been far behind the leaders. Watson finished third with a wry smile on his face, a fighting Rosberg was fourth, a disgruntled Lauda fifth and a wittering Mansell sixth, still niggly about the way the works Renault had gone by on maximum speed. Seventh and last was Senna with the Toleman-Hart, well satisfied with his first Formula One race, but having great respect for the likes of Tambay and Watson who had just disappeared into the distance ahead of him.
After the race a lot of the drivers said “I would not have driven like that if the race had been counting points towards the World Championship”. A number of team-managers said they wished their drivers would drive like that all the time.
FORMULA ONE — East Circuit — Two Hours — Cool
1st Michele Alboreto Ferrari V6 t/c 126C3 1 hr 59 min 59.0 sec
2nd Patrick Tambay Renault V6 t/c RE50 1 hr 59 min 59.1 sec
3rd John Watson McLaren-Porsche V6 t/c 2 laps behind
4th Keijo Rosberg Williams-Honda V6 t/c 3 laps behind
5th Niki Lauda McLaren-Porsche V6 t/c 6 laps behind
6th Nigel Mansell Lotus-Renault V6 t/c 8 laps behind
7th Ayrton Senna Toleman-Hart 4 cyl t/c 10 laps behind
8th Derek Warwick Renault V6 t/c RE50 Retired lap 76 — turbo failure
9th Nelson Piquet Brabham-BMW 4 cyl t/c Retired lap 76 — engine failure
10th Manfred Winkelhock ATS-BMW 4 cyl t/c Retired lap 69 — engine failure
11th Jacque Laffite Williams-Honda V6 t/c Retired lap 62 — accident damage
12th Eddie Cheever Alfa-Romeo V8 t/c Retired lap 57 — electrical failure
13th Ricardo Patrese Alfa-Romeo V8 t/c Retired lap 56 — accident
14th Andrea de Cesaris Ligier-Renault V6 t/c Retired lap 19 — out of petrol
15th Rene Arnoux Ferrari V6 t/c 126C3 Retired lap 18 — engine failure
16th Elio de Angelis Lotus-Renault V6 t/c Retired lap 2 — turbo failure
Fastest Lap: Rene Arnoux (Ferrari V6 t/c 126C3) on lap 5
16 starters — 7 finishers