1984 South African Grand Prix
- Saturday, April 7, 1984
- National Panasonic Grand Prix of South Africa
- F1 World Championship
In the Brazilian race reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet had a troubled time in qualifying at the wheel of his revised BT53, an evolutionary design developed from the very successful 1982 BT52, but at Kyalami the Brazilian ace was bang on his customary scintillating form and qualified convincingly for pole position.
Piquet demolished Patrick Tambay’s previous pole position time with a stupendous lap in 1 min 04.871 sec, beating the Frenchman’s best time on his last outing at the wheel of a Ferrari 126C3 last October by almost two seconds. If this had reflected technical progress over a complete season it would have been quite remarkable, but the fact that the Formula One fraternity’s last appearance at Kyalami was for the final race of the 1983 season and they were now back at the South African circuit barely six months later, was astounding. Piquet, of course, wasn’t in the least surprised. He made the very valid point that most people seemed to have unrealistically high expectations from the team in Rio: after all, in 1983 they’d won the race with an untested BT52 on its race début, and bearing in mind the pace of Formula One technical development it was a little much to anticipate a repeat performance with the BT53. Also, one should remember that the latest Brabham hadn’t made an appearance at the week-long Rio test session in January, so it was to be expected that it would take a short time to get in “the groove”.
With a recorded top speed of over 190 mph on the long Kyalami straight, Piquet’s Brabham BT53 was visibly quicker than its opposition, particularly on that stunning fastest lap when the Brazilian went through the downhill right-hander at Barbecue and into the Jukskei kink in a manner which made most observers close to the track side step discreetly back a yard or two. It was really only a question of seeing who could get closest to the Brabham and at the end of the day the man who managed that was Williams-Honda team leader Keke Rosberg. The Finn had complained about excessive understeer at Rio and although the two race FW09s for himself and the team-mate Jacques Laffite had been fitted with new differentials (with less “locking” effect, intended to allow the rear end to slide a bit more) Rosberg still felt the car wasn’t quite to his taste. The 1982 World Champion freely admits that he can’t handle understeer, his whole driving style being attuned to tail-happy, oversteering machines. Team-mate Laffite, on the other hand, is content with a reassuring touch of understeer. At the end of qualifying, however, Rosberg hurtled round in 1 min 05.058 sec, which was easily second quickest and fastest of the Goodyear radial users. Laffite found himself left to use the team’s spare car during the first qualifying, but found himself unable to break the 1 min 7 sec barrier as this FW09 wasn’t geared correctly. The following day he was back in his regular machine and managed 1 min 06.672 sec to secure 11th position on the grid.