From all aspects the Dutch GP at Zandvoort was a good motor race, even if the weather ruined the Saturday activity. Every now and then a feeling arises in the paddock that two days of testing and qualifying is unnecessary and this year the atrocious weather in Northern Europe has virtually forced one day testing and qualifying, and the races have been none the worse for it. The idea of restricting practice to one day before a Grand Prix could arise again, except that the rule-makers at FISA are busy at the moment trying to put a curb on qualifying speeds and to scheme up new rules for the future. There are suggestions that pre-race tyre-testing sessions should be limited and already the idea of reducing engine capacity to 1,200 cc has been abandoned by the engine manufacturers, who are quite happy with the existing 1,500 cc limit for turbocharged engines. Reduced fuel consumption in the hope of controlling power is still on the cards and problems of the inherent dangers of the qualifying hour are under review, so I doubt if the idea of one-day testing and qualifying will get much of a hearing.
The pace and progress of Grand Prix racing at the moment is so furious that there is little time to look over the shoulder. With BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, Renault, Honda and Hart all working flat-out on engine development the chassis builders have their work cut out to keep pace, so it was no surprise that no-one seemed to notice the fact that there was no Cosworth V8 powered car entered for the Dutch GP, from memory, the first time since 1967 when Keith Duckworth’s neat 3-litre V8 production racing engine came upon the scene. The last stronghold of Cosworth power has been the Tyrrell team, but this year at Zandvoort Ken Tyrrell entered two cars powered by turbocharged Renault engines, so the Cosworth DFV and DFY in Formula One has ended after a long and remarkable run, mostly against neglible opposition and with 80% of the entry relying on the Ford-backed power unit. We are now in a much more serious phase of Grand Prix racing and there is no monopoly on powerunits. Although Renault, Honda, Porsche, Ferrari and the new Minardi are using a V6 layout, the similarity stops there, and it is interesting how varied the use of a V6 layout can be, even judged from the outside, for in these days of fierce industrial competition there is not much chance of looking inside any of the engines. In addition to Zandvoort being the anniversary of the Cosworth engine’s appearance, and the scene of its first non-appearance, it was also at Zandvoort just two years ago that the turbocharged V6 Porsche engine appeared. Called a TAG Turbo, in deference to the Saudi Arabian firm of Techniques d’Avant Garde who put up the money for McLaren’s Ron Dennis to ask Porsche to design and build him a Grand Prix engine for his MP4/2 McLaren cars. The Porsche engine has won 17 races since it first appeared, and is now entering its third season of racing with the prospect of winning a lot more races.
During the Dutch GP there were a number of remarkable “happenings” that cannot really be explained, even in the light of after-thought. To have two cars stall on the starting grid when the green light came on, was remarkable in itself, but for no-one to suffer damage and for both cars to be able to be restarted and join in the race was a pure phenomenon. How everyone avoided hitting Piquet’s stationary Brabham we will never know. I was sitting right opposite the start line and was simply mesmerised just waiting for the awful moment when the Brabham was struck by another car, and when they had all gone and Piquet was sitting there, stationary and unscathed, I just couldn’t believe it was true. He joined in nearly a lap behind the leader and it was interesting to see that he was lapping at almost the same speed as the leader, once he got into his stride.
The Brabham-BMW ran perfectly throughout the race, only losing time at a rather slow pit stop due to some indecision about what tyres to fit. In the closing stages when Prost was closing up on his McLaren team-mate, they were both closing up on Piquet’s Brabham, to lap him and you did not need a stop watch to see that it would happen about six or seven laps before the end. As Prost was trying hard to get past Lauda, their little battle could have been spoilt if they caught Piquet at an inconvenient part of the circuit. They could have both been held up, or one or other could have taken advantage of the situation and “out fumbled” the other. The wily old Lauda could see this coming and without it being obvious he eased back very slightly.
If you were only watching the two McLarens nothing appeared to change, they both seemed to be flat-out in a no-holds-barred battle to the finish, but if you took a wider view you became conscious that they were no longer catching Piquet and a study of his lap times afterwards, as given by the Longines-Olivetti people, showed that he was running with uncanny consistency. It was thus they finished; the two McLarens nose-to-tail but still the same distance from the Brabham as they had been six or seven laps before the finish! It’s called “trackcraft” and nobody has more of it than Lauda. I could name a lot of drivers who would have rushed up to lap the Brabham, stumbled at a crucial point, and the slippery Prost would have been by and into the lead. But not Niki Lauda, which is just one of the reasons he has equalled Jimmy Clark’s total of 25 victories. My colleague AH also pointed out that between them Prost and Lauda have won more Grand Prix races than the rest of the field put together! And they are both in the same team.
Another “happening” that wasn’t too obvious until thinking about it afterwards was the performance of Patrick Tambay in his Renault. The whole team had been in a shambles almost from the start of practice and the final ignominy was to see Tambay peel off into the pit lane instead of taking his place on the “dummy-grid”. By this time the pit lane exit was closed so he was destined to start after everyone had gone by from the starting grid. The Renault engine appeared to be still misfiring and the car was pushed down to the pit lane exit. When the race got under way Tambay was allowed to join in after the field had gone by, though actually before Boutsen and Piquet got going. From then on the Renault engine sounded to be running perfectly and Tambay really sliced his way through the back markers in a most stylish manner.
It was lovely to watch and was Tambay at his best, which we haven’t seen much of this season. He streaked his way up through the field until he caught his team-mate Derek Warwick and then he eased off dropping nearly three seconds a lap on what he had been doing. Two laps behind Warwick, holding fourth place, and then he suddenly stopped out on the circuit. The “official” reason was given as “limited-slip differential trouble”, but a lot of people felt it was more likely “out of fuel” for the suggestion was that he started with only half a tank of fuel, and on soft tyres, in order to salvage something from the debacle of their weekend, for he very nearly got fastest lap.
He was only beaten by Mansell and the two McLarens. Prost made fastest lap on lap 60 in his pursuit of Lauda, and Lauda made second fastest on lap 60 while fighting to stay ahead. Joker in the pack was Mansell who had made the wrong tyre-choice, and the Williams team gave him similar ones at his first stop, but then he came in again at the end of lap 39 and on softer tyres he made third fastest race lap on lap 44. Tambay had made the fastest lap on lap 16 and it looked like being his until the closing stages of the race. The odd thing was that he did not retire the Renault at the pits, with nasty noises in its differential, or stop to complain of an uncontrollable rear end, which is normal if a differential gives trouble. Whatever it was it didn’t wreck the transmission for the car was towed in at the end of the race.
The talk in the paddock before the engines started had been about Renault announcing the withdrawal of its racing team, probably after the, Italian GP at Monza. It was actually announced the day after the Dutch GP.
With the unstable weather the crowd figures were not very good, added to which the admission and grandstand prices had been raised dramatically. This was one of seven races in which BC Ecclestone is involved financially, in an effort to keep the fixture viable from the profit point of view. It could be seen by reason of the fact that certain advertising signs had been covered with black polythene, notably the big TEXACO sign in the paddock. TEXACO pay the Zandvoort circuit a yearly rent to have the sign in the pits, but come Grand Prix time and the Ecclestone regime taking over, more money is demanded. A refusal means your sign is blanked out so that it does not appear on television!
Looking around the Zandvoort circuit the amenities are woefully lacking and behind the times, while much of it could do with a new coat of paint, but it all costs money. It would seem that the circuit is about ten years behind the accepted standards and the circuit owners do not have the surplus money to rebuild things. The track itself is fine, with no problems, but there is definite agitation to get the place tidied up. It will be a pity if it slips away into disuse, for everyone seems to enjoy the Dutch GP and it is a nice friendly meeting which invariably produces some exciting racing. Certainly, this year was one of the best. – DSJ.