A very nice race
Knittelfeld, August 14th
Once again the Austrian Grand Prix followed hot on the heels of the German Grand Prix and while part of the “circus” flew back to England on Sunday evening after the Hockenheimring race, to return to Vienna on the following Thursday, the rest loaded up their transporters, drove to the Osterreichring, unloaded and set up camp in readiness for the start of practice on Friday. The Brabham team salvaged what they could from BT52B/3 which had caught fire under Nelson Piquet in the closing laps in Germany, and shipped out BT52/1 to replace it as the spare car. The Tyrrell team tested their new 012 design in England and then rushed it out to Austria in time to show it to people on Thursday afternoon and have it ready for Friday morning testing. Ferrari rebuilt their C3 cars with new engines and supplemented them with a brand new car (068) which was given to Arnoux, and his German-winning car (066) became Tambay’s spare car. Arnoux’s spare car was Tambay’s old C2 model (065), Tambay himself retaining his usual race car (067).
If all goes according to plan with the McLaren-Porsche project the Woking-based team were preparing their Cosworth V8-engined cars for their last race and the Williams team were fast approaching a similar situation as Frank Williams was announcing a tie-up between Williams Grand Prix Engineering and the Honda Motor Company of Tokyo. The first sighting of a Patrick Head-designed car powered by the V6 Honda turbocharged engine is to be expected at the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch on September 25th. Even that stalwart of Cosworth power Ken Tyrrell was heard to say that the new Tyrrell 012 design was intended to accept a turbocharged engine next year, though he gave no indication of which engine. The Cosworth V8 engine has been a long time a-dying and will go down in history as an engine that fought bitterly to its last gasp, but if any indication was needed that the last gasps were with us it was only too clear on Friday morning.
Testing was barely under way in the warm sunshine when Laffite in a Williams-Cosworth V8 and Giacomelli in a Toleman-Hart came out of the Rindt curve together, ran nose-to-tail down the hill past the pits and as they went up the steep hill towards the Helle-Licht chicane the turbocharged 11/2-litre Hart-powered car pulled out and steamed by the 3-litre Cosworth-powered car with almost arrogant ease; and the Hart engine is the lowest powered of the turbocharged brigade!
The Ferraris and Renaults were really on song past the pits and a speed trap at the finishing line was recording 175 mph and more from both teams, whereas the Cosworth-powered cars were struggling to break 160 mph. Some day it will make a change to record something different or unusual in the way of troubles and reasons for cars or drivers not to be at the top of the lists, but at the moment it is the same old stories.
The turbocharged Honda V6 broke the top gear pinions in its Hewland gearbox, so Stefan Johansson had to revert to the older car, Alboreto did a few laps in the new Tyrrell 012 and then a water leak sidelined the car, de Angelis flew off the road in a big way which put his Lotus-Renault V6 out of action for the rest of the day and forced him into the unloved 93T Lotus, and Patrese was forced to use the spare Brabham when his own car broke its BMW engine. Renault were worried about high temperatures on their engines, and Cheever’s car ruined its turbochargers. The Ferrari team were in good form and were squeezing all the air out of their Goodyear tyres and refilling with nitrogen, as Williams have been doing for a long time now. This is to give a more controlled rise in temperature and pressure as the tyre heats up and allows the driver to start off at 14 psi instead of 11 psi, which means the tyre is much more stable during its initial running. Although one half of Team Lotus was in despair, with a lot of repair work to do, the other half were elated for Mansell’s Renault turbo-engine was running perfectly and the Birmingham lad was really flying, right up with the Renaults, Ferraris and BMWs.
The first qualifying hour started on schedule, at 1 pm on Friday, and the two Ferraris dominated the scene, the only spirit of competition being between the two Maranello drivers Arnoux and Tambay. No one else got a look in, even for a brief moment. Arnoux set a standard by just getting under 1 min 30 sec while Tambay came close, but Prost was half a second away. Speeds were not as high as last year in the “ground effect” era, but they were not far off and the casual observer would not have noticed much difference, for a lap average of over 147 mph is pretty spectacular motoring on the daunting Osterreichring. Mansell was repeating his morning performance and finished up a strong fourth behind Amoux, Tambay and Prost and once again Lauda was fastest of the non-turbo cars, but down in 13th place. Alboreto tried the new Tyrrell 012 again, this time with a conventional rear aerofoil in place of the bizarre one that Maurice Philippe had conjured up for the new car. It looked as though someone had thrown a Brabham delta-wing front aerofoil at the current Ferrari rear “tea-tray” aerofoil and produced something from the resultant mess! However, the Tyrrell did not do much running, even with the conventional rear aerofoil, for the brakes were playing up, so the car was put away until more testing could be carried out and Alboreto returned to his trusty Tyrrell 011.
The Spirit-Honda team were in dire trouble for after repairing the gearbox the new car then broke its engine and the spare car misfired continually, so that Johansson finished up at the bottom of the list, never having done any serious laps. The Toleman team was looking quite good, with both drivers up at the tail of the big manufacturers’ teams and apart from Laffite being down in 23rd place, everything was looking fairly normal and healthy. The Williams number two driver just could not get into the rhythm of the Osterreichring and there was nothing wrong with the car, he blamed himself entirely.
It had been a warm and “heavy” day and by the end of the afternoon the sky darkened and the rain came pouring down, but happily not for too long, just long enough to lay the dust. Next morning all was well again, but the skies were grey and seemed uncertain whether to give may to warm sunshine or stay dull and herald some more rain. Now and then the sun would break through the clouds and it would be blazingly hot, but then it would dull over again. The ravages of Friday were all repaired or rectified and the 94T Lotus was ready again for de Angelis, while Warwick had a new Hart 415R engine in his Toleman containing some internal modifications and a new type of turbocharger was being tried, one made in England instead of California. Ferrari were still very confident and trouble-free, while Renault were still worried by high running temperatures. The Brabham-BMW team were well on the pace, but the Alfa Romeo team were not fast enough. Team Lotus had not looked so good for a long while and both drivers were making the most of the black and gold cars.
In the afternoon qualifying hour it was Ferrari all the way with Arnoux fractionally faster than the day before and more than content with only a few laps, but Tambay was still working away with Mauro Forghieri to make his car even better. This crucial hour had begun 25 minutes late due to the RAF Harrier Jump-Jet having problems after its lunch-time air display, and as there was every sign of rain returning everyone was a bit twitchy about the delay. All was well, however, and it stayed dry so while the two Ferrari drivers vied for pole position on the starting grid the rest of the field sorted itself out.
Within four laps Johansson got the Spirit-Honda well into mid-field, but Laffite still could not find the rhythm for a good lap, even though the Osterreichring is one of his favourite circuits. Mansell was still holding his form, his Lotus-Renault sounding superb and while he could not match the red cars he was ahead of everyone else. Prost was using the spare Renault, his own car being all ready for the race with a new engine installed, and Piquet was in the spare Brabham. Tambay got closer to breaking the 1 min 30 sec barrier and joining Arnoux in the elite class, and after experimenting with different rear springs Forghieri made some detail aerodynamic changes and Tambay responded with 1 min 29.871 sec, to snatch pole position on the grid from Arnoux in the closing minutes of the qualifying hour. He went on for one more very fast lap, well aware that the Goodyears might not last the distance, and as he came down into the centre part of the circuit he had an enormous spin as the tyres lost their adhesion. He kept it all going and returned to the pits — nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The two days ended with a very satisfactory result for Ferrari, first and second on the grid for the third race running, and this time really in a class of their own. Most heartening for the Brits was Nigel Mansell in third place, albeit half a second down on the leading Ferrari, and, of course, using a French Renault engine. Just behind the Lotus driver was a quiet and confident Nelson Piquet, well pleased with his Brabham-BMW and then Alain Prost carrying the worries of the Renault team in the form of engine temperatures still running too high. A radiant little Bruno Giacomelli could be seen in the Toleman pit for he had not only gone faster than Warwick, but was in seventh place on the grid. In the morning Warwick’s new engine had been extremely sharp, but in the afternoon it had lost a bit of power and the Hampshire driver could only manage tenth place, but even so, well among the turbocharged runners. Lauda’s best time of the previous day kept him at the head of the Cosworth V8 brigade, but now down in 14th position on the grid. Just scraping on to the grid were the two Osella-Alfa Romeo V12 cars, which pleased Tony Southgate who designed the cars and also gave great encouragement to Enzo Osella who puts so much personal effort into the team. Failing to make the grid were Boesel (Ligier), Cecotto (Theodore) and Acheson (March).
Sunday was a superb day and the huge crowd was installed in the circuit bright and early, a very large proportion of them having camped overnight. The organisers call this race the Holiday Grand Prix, happening as it does in mid-August and there was indeed a holiday atmosphere about the place. But not for the drivers or the team personnel; Sunday was work day and very serious work at that. Overnight the Renault team had traced their erratic temperature problems to calcium build-up in the intercoolers which was reducing the flow and they stripped them off all three cars and gave them a thorough clean out. The Toleman team found the slight loss of power in Warwick’s engine, and everyone prepared for the 30 minute warm-up period in which the cars are run exactly as they will be raced, especially as regards fuel load, boost pressure, tyre specification and so on.
Just when everything was looking good de Cesaris had his Alfa Romeo engine blow-up and there was a rush to install a new one. Prost was now very confident but Cheever felt that his Renault was not handling quite so well as it might have done. Piquet was quietly confident, the two Ferrari drivers had no problems at all and the newer of the two Honda-powered Spirit cars was all ready to race. Rosberg was satisfied, as far as he could be, with his regular Williams and Lauda had no complaints at all about his McLaren, apart from a depressing lack of power compared to the turbocharged cars. Mansell was really looking forward to a competitive drive from his excellent third place on the grid and Warwick recorded.the second fastest lap of the warm-up session, behind the Renault of Alain Prost.
An air-show filled in the lunch break while final preparations were made, star of the show being the Harrier from RAF Guteslohe in NW Germany. The usual large contingent of Italians, 90% of them Ferrari fans, had invaded Austria and under the warm sun everything was simmering nicely for a good race. At 2 pm the pit lane was opened and the 26 six cars streamed off up the steep hill to make a lap round to the grid, or dive into the pit lane to make a last minute adjustment or merely snatch another lap. As the Spirit-Honda 201C/5 went along the top straight Johansson felt the V6 engine seem to tighten up and he switched off on the downhill bit and coasted down to the grid where he hurriedly got out and ran across to the older car that was in readiness in the pit lane. While he roared off up the hill to do another lap, the car he had abandoned was wheeled off the grid. However, it was not as easy as that for a rear wheel bearing had seized solid as he arrived on the grid and the car had to be taken away on a trolley-jack! The Spirit 201/4 took its place on the grid and everyone was ready to go.
Tambay and Arnoux led them all away on the parade lap and there was excitement in the air as the two red Ferraris led the field back on to the starting grid before the light gantry. Prost pulled up on the right, realised he had made a mistake and moved half over to the left and then everyone was ready. The red light shone, then the green and Piquet made a meteoric start, aiming the arrow-like blue and white Brabham at the tiny gap between Arnoux and the pits wall. The two Ferraris surged away, Mansell’s Lotus hung momentarily, Prost was alongside and then the whole pack stormed off up the hill to the “chicane”. There was a big cloud of dust at the top of the hill and Giacomelli found de Angelis in the second Lotus-Renault crossing his bows sideways and in dodging he hit the guard rail and wrecked the left radiator in the wide nose. The Lotus was off the road and out of the race and in the “chicane” Surer’s Arrows and Sullivan’s Tyrrell collided and were both out, while Watson bent his nose fins on someone’s rear wheel.
Not unexpectedly the two Ferraris led the opening lap, followed by Piquet, Prost, Mansell, Patrese, Cheever, Warwick, Baldi, de Cesaris and Johansson. Down at the back was the unusual sight of the two Williams cars, Rosberg having made an awful start and Laffite being at the back of else grid anyway. After they had all gone by to start lap 2, the unfortunate Giacomelli limped his damaged Toleman into the pits to retire and Watson arrived with his nose fins drooping. A new front assembly was fitted and Wattle roared away to start a rather lonely drive. At times like this, with four cars out and only one lap run it makes you wonder whether the non-qualifying competitors should not be allowed to start the race one lap in arrears, to keep the numbers up. Hardly had these thoughts crossed the mind than the second Toleman came creeping into the pits to retire ignominiously with turbocharger trouble. By the end of the third lap a pattern was forming, with a long line of manufacturers’ cars pulling away from what was left, with Winkelhock’s ATS not able to keep up with them, but able to stay ahead of the Cosworth-powered cars. It was Ferrari, Ferrari, BMW, Renault, BMW, Lotus, Renault, Alfa Romeo, Alfa Romeo, all with turbo-charged engines, then the ATS-BMW, the Honda and Lauda leading the rest in 12th place. This high speed procession settled down until lap 10. no-one gaining or losing very much, but further back there was a little excitement for Lauda had passed the Spirit-Honda and now Alboreto was trying to do the same thing.
Johansson thought he had allowed the Tyrrell sufficient room to pass but underestimated the amount of understeer that Alboreto was suffering and the Tyrrell slid across the front of the Honda and they both spun off into the barriers. The Tyrrell was out with the left rear wheel hanging off, but the Honda was still in one piece even though the engine was stalled and the nose-cone and fins had been broken off. Johansson climbed out to survey the damage, thought it didn’t look too bad, so get back in again and let the car roll down the slope and managed to “bump-start” the engine and carry on round to the pits where his mechanics fitted another nose and fins and sent hirn on his way again.
The race was being run over 53 laps and by quarter distance the four number-one drivers had asserted themselves and the number-two drivers were showing signs of not being able to keep up, so it was Tambay, Arnoux, Piquet and Prost with little to choose between them. then Patrese. Mansell and Cheever, though the Lotus driver’s Pirelli tyres seemed unable to match the Good years or Michelins, and behind them were de Cesaris and Baldi in the Alfa Romeos that had never been much of a challenge all weekend, and Baldi was soon to retire with engine trouble anyway. Rosberg had worked his way through the back-markers to take station behind Laud, bathe could make no impression on the wily Austrian who was driving with all his old style and precision. The routine pit-stops for petrol and tyres were due to start around 20 laps, and Laffite was the first to come in, but his real reason for stopping was that the car was vibrating badly and getting worse. In the first lap fracas at the chicane he had banged wheels with someone and bounced over the kerbs and the chassis must have suffered damage somewhere, which was now manifesting itself. With new tyres and more fuel he set off again, but was back at the end of the lap, this time for good.
Meanwhile there was great drama at the front of the field for Tambay, still in the lead, had caught Jarier and was about to lap him, but the Ligier driver was most unhelpful to his compatriot and refused to concede room, baulking the leading Ferrari all along the far side of the circuit, along the top straight and down through the Bosch Kurve.
This let Arnoux and Piquet close right up and as Tambay was about to go by the Ligier on the short straight after the Bosch Kurve Arnoux flashed by and boxed his team-mate in. Had he done this on a rival competitor it would have been a neat bit of “traffic driving” but on his own team-mate it was unruly and unnecessary. In the “kerfuffle” Piquet also nipped by and a furious Tambay finished lap 22 in third place. Prost peeled off into the pit lane for new tyres and more petrol, leaving fourth place to Patrese, and rejoined the race in seventh place The smooth-driving Thierry Boutsen arrived unexpectedly at the Arrows pit, his Cosworth V8 running on only seven cylinders and a broken sparking plug was discovered. With a complete change of plugs he was back in the race but had dropped to the back of the field.
At the end of lap 26 Cheever came in for his routine stop, the Renault mechanics making one of their best ever times with the car being stationary for 10.77 seconds, and two laps later he was followed by Arnoux and Patrese. The Ferrari stopped for 11.24 seconds and the Brabham team excelled once again with Patrese being stopped for only 10.24 seconds; it would have been a sub-10 second stop had not the left rear wheel baulked slightly on going onto the hub. At the end of lap 30 Tambay was seen heading for the pit lane, but not for a quick fuel and tyre stop, he was in trouble and the stop was terminal. All the oil pressure had disappeared and the Ferrari engine had succumbed, but the red cars were not alone in trouble for Patrese had pulled off the track with his BMW engine blown-up, so now the order was Piquet (yet to stop), Arnoux, de Cesaris (yet to stop), Prost, Cheever and Mansell (yet to stop), with the rest a lap or more behind. Mansell made his routine stop without losing his place and Johansson refuelled and re-tyred the Spirit-Honda.
When de Cesaris made his pit stop it was terminal for the Alfa Romeo clectrics had gone up the slot at the end of lap 31. Piquet at last made his routine stop, nine laps later than the rest, employing the same tactics as at Hockenheim. He was away in 10.51 seconds and roared off up the hill as Arnoux flashed by the pits. Although Arnoux got by briskly there was no holding Piquet and he was back in the lead again before the end of the lap. Of all the top drivers making routine pit stops the little Brazilian can get back on the pace quicker than anyone.
All things being equal the Brabham-BMW looked to have it made, but things were not equal for the fine edge had gone off the BMW engine and it was showing signs of being 200 rpm short at the top end. Normally that isn’t much to worry about, but with a very healthy Ferrari and a very healthy Renault pounding along behind it was critical. By lap 36 the two pursuers were up with the Brabham and on lap 37 they were lining up to go by. As the two headed up the hill towards the chicane Arnoux made his move and took the lead and a very determined Prost followed him through. It wasn’t so much a question of getting by the Brabham as not losing contact with the Ferrari, especially as it was Arnoux at the wheel, for there is no love lost between the two Frenchmen. Realising he could do nothing about the Ferrari or the Renault Piquet eased off and settled for third place, turning down the boost control to ease the load on the engine.
Alain Prost was showing a very aggressive side to his nature, which was unusual for him, and he was hounding Arnoux unmercifully. There was no question of settling for second place and a nice sale collection of points for the Championship, Prost was out to win and to defeat Arnoux in the process. Weighing it all up from behind Prost knew exactly when to pounce on the Ferrari and on lap 48 he took the lead with ease and immediately began pulling away and there was nothing Arnoux could do about it. With four laps to go it was all over as far as the winner was concerned for the Ferrari gearbox was failing and Arnoux no longer had fourth gear available. In third place Piquet was beginning to sweat for Cheever was closing on him rapidly, so he turned the boost control back up again, but nothing happened, there was no more power and he was driving as hard as he could go.
A very happy Alain Press got the chequered flag, his fourth win this season, and a rather disgruntled Rene Arnoux came home second. Piquet scraped home third a few lengths ahead of Cheever arid had the race run for one more lap he would not have kept his third place for Cheever was going splendidly. Also, if the race had been one lap longer Arnoux would have lost second place for the Ferrari gearbox broke on the slowing-down lap. These four were the only ones to complete the full 53 laps, Mansell being a lap behind in fifth place, while Lauda came home sixth but two laps behind the winner, such is the pace of turbocharged Grand Prix racing today. — DSJ