Racefans Top 20 Greatest Formula 1 Grand Prix of All Time [Part 5]
6. 1989 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix
There are few more iconic photos in the 60 plus year history of the Formula 1 world championship than that of the McLaren’s of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost inter-locked on the final chicane of the Sukuza Circuit on lap 46 of the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix.
Up until lap 46, it was a race in two with the McLaren MP4/9s of Prost and Senna clearing out in front with Prost appearing to have the upper hand on his teammate. For Senna, who had suffered retched luck in a bid to retain the driver’s title, a win in Suzuka was a necessity in order to keep his championship hopes alive. After the pitstops however, Senna found himself behind his teammate by some 7 seconds. On fresh tyres Senna began to close within striking distance of the lead. Behind the McLaren procession up front, the Ferrari’s were struggling with Berger retiring on lap 34 with a failed gearbox and Mansell’s engine failing on lap 43. Both the Benetton Fords and Williams Renaults were no match for the mighty McLarens.
While time was running out Senna was closing on Prost. On lap 46 Senna was definitely closer but rounding the fearsome flat out 130R corner it didn’t look close enough, with time running out though Senna went for the inside line into the final chicane as Prost appeared to leave the door wide open. As Senna went up the inside however Prost went to take the corner, the two cars collided and slid down the escape road. For the split second that Senna and Prost stood still, each glanced at the other, in the days when an opponents hand gestures could be interpreted by the look in their eyes. Almost immediately Prost extricated himself from the car, while his car had not sustained significant damage, he had stalled the engine. Senna had also stalled his engine but needed the win, besides were he to retire he’d have to make conversation with Prost on the way back to the pits. Senna began to gesticulate to the marshals to push him forward down the escape road and in a country where Senna had earned such a cult following that the Japanese waved Brazilian flags, the marshals were more than happy to oblige. As the McLaren MP4/9 rolled down the escape road, the engine howled into life, the rear tyres took traction and amidst the roar of thousands of screaming Japanese, Senna was back!! But not all was resolved. Senna had sustained damage to his front wing in the incident and would have to complete a full lap before having it repaired. Despite having collided with his teammate, being briefly stalled, driven an entire lap with a deficient car, and forced to pit to have his front wing changed, Senna rejoined the circuit only 5 seconds behind Alessandro Nannini, the Italian Benetton driver seeking his first win under the most dramatic of circumstances, with only 5 laps to go.
While a race report could try to heighten the excitement of Senna’s pursuit of Nannini, this is really not possible except to simply say that such was the superiority of the McLaren Honda that Senna covered the gap in under 2 laps, overtaking Nannini at the same place he had failed to pass Prost before. With Nannini clear it was left to Senna to cruise home to a brilliant win and one that would take the title down to the final race in Adelaide. Or so it seemed…
In the intervening laps since the two McLaren’s collided on track, Prost had set to work off it, indicating to stewards that by rejoining via the escape road, Senna had been in violation of the race regulations. Arriving for the podium celebrations and wearing the Goodyear winners cap, Senna was summoned into a meeting room above the pits, in full view of cameras observant enough to have noticed the extraordinary events occurring. The news for Senna was not good, while he had been busy risking his life on the circuit, the arguments had been made, witnesses called, and the verdict delivered. To the dismay and bemusement of fans around the world Senna was disqualified. As Nannini, Patrese, and Boutsen made their way onto the podium, Senna was left to sit and ponder on what might have been and plan on how to make the situation right. A year of mixed fortunes had seen him win six races, but suffer mechanical failures in the USA, Italy and France, and while these failures were a part of racing, for a deeply religious man from a country suffering great hardship, disqualification in Japan was not racing, it was unjust and unfair and cut deeply into the ’88 champion’s psyche. An appeal of the steward’s decision was filed, McLaren arguing that Senna had not attained an advantage by opting to take the escape road. Not only would the appeal fail but Senna would be imposed with an additional 100,000 dollar fine and a sixth-month suspended race ban. The actions of the French President Jean-Marie Ballestre only continued to destroy the Brazilian’s faith in the sport and lack of trust in it’s representatives.
Two weeks after the incident, the circus moved to Adelaide with the events of Suzuka and the decisions of the FIA still upper-most in the minds of everyone in the paddock. At a McLaren media event before the race weekend, Ron Dennis showed the gathered press some footage of the 1981 Austrian Grand Prix where both Gilles Villeneuve and Carlos Reutemann used the escape road after sliding off the racing line into the first corner. While showing the assembled press, Dennis commented that in that instance, no penalties were incurred by either driver who, while not obtaining an advantage from their manoeuvre, had limited any penalty by cutting the chicane. With a great deal of emotion Dennis argued “… and for that he gets disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix. Where’s the consistency? It’s not right!!”
Senna, not one to shy away from a press conference, gave his views on the decision of the FIA upon arrival in Adelaide telling a media conference that since the incident he had been treated like a criminal, blamed for a collision that he hadn’t caused. In fact, as aerial replays showed, it was clear that Prost had turned into the chicane before the apex, suggesting that the Frenchman had tried to close the door on Senna rather than simply take his normal racing line. This fact did not escape the waiting media in Adelaide who put it to Prost that he had deliberately attempted to take out his teammate, something the Frenchman angrily denied.
As we now know, one year later and at the very same venue, Senna exacted revenge upon the former teammate he felt had betrayed him and the governing body that failed to defend him the year before. In one of the more negligent acts ever witnessed on a race track Senna rammed Prost from behind at the opening corner, the two cars rocketing across the sand and into the outside tyre wall. Despite brief but vehement complaint from Prost, Senna was awarded the title despite performing a manoeuvre that he himself was ashamed of but that he saw as just. What Senna never lived to see was the precedent he established by which future title deciding manoeuvres would be justified.
5. 1986 Fosters Australian Grand Prix
When the Formula 1 World Championship ventured down under for the first time in 1985 little was known about what would greet them on arrival. After all, the championship had opted to go with a proposal from the city of churches, Adelaide, the capital of South Australia and not much else. Formula 1 was not unaccustomed to shambolic events, with Dallas in ’84, the on again off-again debacle of New York in ’83 and Las Vegas in ’81 and ’82 and while some were heard to say that “it wasn’t the States” others were not so confident. They needn’t have worried. Even the patriotic Murray Walker has never hidden his thoughts on what greeted him on arrival at the Adelaide Street Circuit saying that it set new standards, undeniably the greatest street circuit ever conceived, but organised in a manner the likes of which put the Formula 1 establishment on notice. Adelaide had arrived. Where Sydney had the bridge, Melbourne had the MCG, Adelaide had the Grand Prix and the promotional signs adorning the city streets said it all ‘Adelaide Alive!’. Layout and organisation is one thing, but every great track needs a memorable race and while the battle between Rosberg and Senna in the inaugural race was a gem, the 1986 edition of the Australian Grand Prix was an absolute classic.
To the dismay and confusion of those in the paddock, Adelaide was by no means warm. The practice sessions had been affected by rain which caught out Patrick Tambay’s Lola and Stefan Johansson’s Ferrari, two cars that while needed for the race weekend, were no doubt being flogged with ample spare parts in the local papers, in a bid to save their teams on the air freight home. Both cars had promised much in 1986 but had delivered very little.
For Alan Jones, driving in the third final race of his career, the Adelaide weekend had looked promising with Ford bringing three new high-compression engines for his exclusive use, much to the chagrin of Tambay. The Frenchman needn’t have worried though as Jones’ race engine blew two days before the race started, the replacement new-spec broke a timing chain, it’s replacement refused to run cleanly and its replacement would blow with purpose on Sunday afternoon after 16 laps. For all present it appeared Ford had gone to an awful lot of time and expense to develop a turbo, only to strap it to a grossly under-developed engine to give it the compression ratio of a grenade, just dying to have the pinned pulled by the application of the accelerator. It came as no surprise that the Lola Ford venture collapsed at the end of the year.
1986 had been dominated by the season-long battle between the Williams Honda FW11s of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell and the McLaren Tag Porsche MP42/C of Alain Prost, a car that many felt had no business competing with the Williams Honda and were quick to point to the performance of Prost’s team mate Keke Rosberg for proof. The dominance of these three was interrupted only by the ethereal Ayrton Senna in the Lotus Renault and Gerhard Berger’s Benetton thanks to a superior tyre strategy and fearsome BMW turbo power last time out at Mexico. Having led the championship for much of the second half of the season, Mansell arrived in Adelaide needing only to finish third to secure the title and the first for a British driver since James Hunt ten years previously.
Race day dawned and the first three-way title showdown beckoned. At the start of the season few could have predicted that the dogged Mansell, who had sold his home in order to keep his motor racing career afloat, could match the speed of his double world champion team mate. Match it he did however, and heading into the final race all Mansell had to do was finish third or better and the title would be his. For Prost and Piquet, if either won the race and Mansell wasn’t on the podium, either would be champion.
Off the line and Mansell took the lead through the opening chicane closely followed by Senna, Piquet, and the determined Rosberg, who had scythed up from 8th on the grid. Out of the chicane and down to the right hand Wakefield bend and Senna was alongside and through to the lead, quickly followed by Piquet and then Rosberg and for a split second it looked like Mansell may have been in trouble. Any thought Senna would run away with the race was quickly extinguished as Piquet lined up Senna down Brabham straight and through into the lead. One lap down and three leaders later, Rosberg began his charge.
While Mansell would be champion if neither Prost or Piquet finished first, to Mansell, Rosberg was Prost because team orders would see The Flying Finn let Prost past if the opportunity presented itself. So it would’ve been with some concern for Mansell to see Rosberg take Senna and Piquet and scamper off into the distance. Rosberg, a driver renowned for saying what he wanted and smoking anything he could, was known for playing chicken with the fuel gauge, a technique contrary to the McLaren team principle Ron Dennis’ favourite saying that “to finish first, first you have to finish”. Despite his frailties, it was rare to find a driver with Rosberg’s speed together with a willingness to sample the sponsors product such that to pay Rosberg in smokes would’ve been financially irresponsible.
While Rosberg led Piquet and Mansell, Prost had taken Senna on lap 7 and began to show his hand, taking Mansell for third on lap 11. Prost, who would go on to be a four-time world champion, was renowned for his use of the famed ‘waiting game’ technique, an allegedly deliberate strategy whereby you start the race fifth drop back to sixth, only to progressively come back the through the field like Bradbury and emerge with the win. Where the waiting game once reaped fame and fortune, modern day exponents find themselves vying for the second seat at Caterham by seasons end. While many today look to complain that the racing in Formula 1 is too focused on tyre management rather than the racing itself, you need only look to the turbo era of the 80s (regarded by Nigel Roebuck as the greatest era of Formula 1), to appreciate that the sport has always been a balance between when to conserve and when to consume. Had the 80s been only about consumption Keke Rosberg would’ve been a deserved world champion rather than just a fortunate one. Time and again Rosberg would run out of fuel half a lap ahead but only half-way through the race. For Prost, who sought to see the chequered flag, conservation was king. In the video review of the 1985 season Prost commentates on his win in the Brazilian Grand Prix making reference to his need to look after the fuel, the tyres, the gearbox, the engine, the car and himself. In a McLaren Tag Porsche that many saw as inferior to the super-fast Williams Honda FW-11s of Mansell and Piquet, Prost had relied on his patience throughout the 1986 season and in Australia it would be no different.
On lap 23 and having lost second to Prost, Piquet spun lapping traffic, allowing Mansell back into that coveted third position. Ten laps later and unseen by the myriad of cameras around the circuit, Prost had clipped the back of Berger’s Benetton while lapping him, forcing The Professor in for a brand new set of tyres and dropping him to fourth, still well behind the rampant Rosberg. While no one knew it at the time, Prost’s unscheduled stop for tyres would prove a defining moment in the race where all drivers expected to go the full race distance without a stop for tyres.
On lap 63 and holding an unassailable lead, Rosberg’s rear tyre tore a tread around the outermost part of the tyre, causing the tread to flail onto the McLaren’s bodywork. While the tyre tread was badly damaged, the tyre remained inflated so it was with some surprise that Rosberg pulled his car to the side of the road, got out, and walked to the back of the car to inspect the problem. It was at this point that Rosberg threw his head back and arms up in frustration. Rosberg, no doubt accustomed to the unreliability of the number 2 McLaren (he had finished 8 out of 15 races to that point in the season) had assumed the vibration was TAG having lunch with Porsche. The riddle for Rosberg at race end: “Where there’s smoke there’s fire. But where no smoke consider a tyre. But just don’t retire!!”.
With Rosberg out, Piquet resumed the lead ahead of Prost and Mansell who was comfortably ahead of fourth placed Johansson. Sitting behind Prost and lapping Rene Arnoux down Brabham Straight Mansell’s rear right tyre let go, exploding at over 250km/h and sending sparks flying into the air. With the Williams bucking and weaving across the circuit, Mansell miraculously kept the car pointing straight ahead and avoiding a sickening t-bone collision at the apex of the hairpin. With the car coming to rest against the retaining wall, it let out a final burst of power, sending the frayed rear tyre rotating like a woman’s hair, graphically displaying the extent of the tyre’s failure. As Mansell removed himself from the car and walked back to the pits, thoughts to 1987 would’ve given him some comfort. Little did he and those who applauded him back to the pits know but it would be almost 6 years later that Mansell would claim that title he so richly deserved.
With 17 laps to go and aware of the tyre problems that had befallen both Rosberg and Mansell, Williams requested Piquet in from the lead for tyres, a decision that would all but certainly hand the title to Prost, but to which the Brazilian duly obliged. The decision spoke not only of Frank Williams’ lack of interest in the drivers title but also Piquet’s lack of determination to win it. On reflection, Piquet’s decision is all the more weak when viewed in light of Raikkonen’s decision to race on for victory at the Nurburgring in 2005 with a tyre resembling that used in Bedrock.
In the final 17 laps Piquet rolled off consecutive fastest laps in a bid to hunt down Prost, showing the sort of disregard for the construction of the tyres, that made you wonder why he agreed to pit. While the gap was down to just over 4 seconds at the end it was not enough, Prost becoming the first driver since Jack Brabham in 1959 and ’60 to record back-to-back titles and only the fourth driver in history to achieve the feat at the time. For the protagonists of 1986, each would have their day in the sun again, for Mansell it was to be the first of a number of championship heartaches before ultimate success in 1992, Piquet would claim the title once more in ’87 and Prost would soon be joined at McLaren by Senna, the pair dominating the end of the decade and taking championships in ’89 and ’88 respectively. As for Adelaide, the once quiet city of churches would emerge from obscurity, forever in the minds of many motor racing fans around the world as the greatest “round the houses” venue in Formula 1 history with the race to prove it.
4. 1967 Italian Grand Prix
Back in 1967, Monza was a track in good shape, lacking the baggage that would come with chicanes and run-off areas, the kind of layout where much like cyanide, first gear was only used once and never again.
The 1967 Formula 1 season is known as being a year of firsts and lasts, non more significant perhaps than being the final year that trackside advertising would be confined to the trackside. At South Africa in 1968 the Lotus 49B would abandon its iconic green and yellow livery in favour of the red, gold and white of Gold Leaf Tobacco. While controversial at the time, Colin Chapman’s decision to abandon the colours he had chosen in favour of the colours of their choosers, is now conventional in modern motor racing. For Formula 1, the introduction of team sponsorship sparked a four decade long addiction between Formula 1 and the all-conquering, all cashed up, tobacco industry, an association that left a bad taste in the mouths of many who viewed the sport. While the cars appearance would never be the same, the cars themselves were continually pioneering new design concepts non more so revolutionary than the epic Colin Chapman designed Lotus 49, the first car to run the Cosworth designed Ford DFV engine and the first F1 chassis to utilise the engine as a stress bearing component of the car itself by connecting the rear suspension directly to the engine mounts in a bid to further reduce weight. The Ford DFV would go on to power 12 Formula 1 drivers championships and 10 Formula 1 constructors championships, none of which were attained in 1967. Ironically, while the greatest performance by a car powered by a Ford DFV would be from its greatest ever driver, it would not be to race victory.
The 1967 Italian Grand Prix was round nine of an eleven round season hotly contested between a number of teams including Lotus, Brabham, Ferrari, Eagle, Honda and BRM. From its introduction at the third round Dutch Grand Prix, the Lotus 49 would never be absent from pole position in 1967. While the 49 could be impervious to the one lap flyer, the race would show that with unorthodox comes unreliability and while Clark was able to record four victories, his bid for the title was thwarted by five retirements , three of which were in the 49 and all while in the lead.
Where the Lotus 49 was a proven innovative masterpiece, the Honda RA300 was simply unproven. Having started the season with the in-house designed RA273, Honda took on the imput of Lola’s Eric Broadley to design the chassis of the new car. The Honda, dubbed the ‘Hondola’ was a promising development, not surprising considering the curb weight was some 200 lb lighter than the rising sun chassis. Despite its improvements, the car was still being fine-tuned through the weekend and was wheeled out of the transporters on the morning of the race in the days when after-thoughts
Qualifying on Saturday was interrupted by rain but Jim Clark played his hand on Friday, putting in a 1.28.5 second lap. Before the rain hit Jack Brabham put in a 1.28.8 lap with McLaren third on a 1.29.3 but neither could touch the Lotus 49 who grabbed his fifth pole position of the season.
Race day dawned fine and following a chaotic starting procedure Brabham took the lead from Gurney with the Lotus’ of Hill and Clark pursuing. Lap 2 and Clark was second, lap 3 Clark led from Gurney and Hill. by lap 5 Gurney’s engine screamed no more, followed soon after by the sister Eagle of Scarfiotti. Out front and the Lotus’ and Brabham’s led the way. On lap 13 Clark came into the pits to replace a flat tyre, returning to the track a lap down in second-last position and with any chance of victory surely gone. What then transpired is best summed up in table form:
Laps 13 – 16: 15th, Lap 17 – 18: 12th, Lap 19 – 26: 11th, Lap 27 – 30: 9th, Lap 31 – 32: 8th, Lap 33 – 46: 7th, Lap 47: 6th, Lap 48 – 53: 5th, Lap 54 -58: 4th, Lap 59 – 60: 2nd.
On lap 61 of 68 Clark was back in the lead, assisted by the retirement of his teammate from the lead on lap 59, recording the fastest time of 1.28.5 with his slowest lap over a 50-lap stint being a 1.31.6. These times are given greater significance when you consider that no other driver recorded a lap time in the 1minute 28 second bracket. Clark took the lead and began to pull away from the surviving Brabham and Surtees, two former champions made to look positively pedestrian by the brilliance of the flying Scotsman. Perhaps symbolic of the performance of Clark’s Lotus 49 on race day, that on a track renowned as being an engine slaughter house, it was the absence of fuel that saw Clark begin to slow. To the dismay of even the locals, Clark faded as Surtees re-gained the lead with Brabham keeping him close company.
So the race-long battle for the minors became the battle for the majors and on the approach to the parabolica Brabham went for it, sliding down the inside of Surtees but drifting wide on the exit and allowing the Honda back into the lead as they emerged into the sight of the awaiting audience. Approaching the line, Brabham made a final charge for the line, slipstreaming the Honda before pulling out alongside and just failing to overcome the rising sun machine. So at the flag it was Surtees, Brabham, Clark and Rindt the only four cars to come home. Minus his heroics, hindsight said Clark had only gained one position, but hindsight is boring and Clark was sublime. The record books would show that the Honda RA300 would attain the rare feet of achieving its only ever win in the first race it contested and on the first lap it ever led.
With the obligatory circuit invasion and ensuing chaos that followed, Surtees was hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd and taken down to the podium in the kind of scene that makes you appreciate why drivers of the era were given hero status. In a country known for its loyalty to the prancing horse the locals had every reason to view an Englishman winning the Italian Grand Prix for a Japanese manufacturer with little fervour, but this was no ordinary driver, world champion with Ferrari in 1964, his victory was greeted with great affection. While Surtees accepted the plaudits, Clark, by now unfazed at a loss in sight of the flag while leading, walked back to the pits and casually sat down on the wall for a cold drink with Graham Hill in whom he may well have said “what was it this time”. It was a sublime performance, and rates as the greatest drive in Formula 1 of all time.
3. 1994 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix
At the 2011 Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix, torrential rain brought out the red flag after 25 laps [Race report found in part 4] the second red flagged race in a row following a late race pile up in Monaco two weeks earlier. At Monaco and certainly not for the first time, talk shifted to the regulations, with fans applauding the decision to enable a race that had been red-flagged after 75% completion, to be resumed rather than declared, but criticised the rule that allowed drivers to take the restart on fresh tyres. In Monaco this had allowed Sebastien Vettel to grab victory, something not so secure prior to the red flag, as the German’s tyres began to disintegrate. With the lessons of Monaco ever-present in the minds of drivers, thoughts in Canada quickly turned to which tyre to opt for at the restart. However, one thing never considered in at both Monaco and Canada was what to do about the time differences that existed between each driver prior to the red flag. What ever happened to aggregate timing in Formula 1?
At the beginning of the 2000 Formula 1 season it was decided that in the event of a red flag and the resumption of a race, the margins would be ignored and considered immaterial. Previously Formula 1 had used an aggregate timing system whereby each cars total time for the race was the addition of the two parts of the race, one from the green to the red and the other from the red to the checker. The problem that this system generated was that cars positions in the second race were not necessarily reflective of their overall position in the race. The system was designed to ensure that a driver had not just risked life and limb prior to the red flag only to be told this had all come to nothing as a result of a driver losing limb, life or both. Perceived downsides to the system were that it enabled drivers to surrender track position in the second leg without losing their overall position in the overall race results, some suggested the decision to remove the system was to make it easier for both the audience and commentators to follow the action on track, a change no doubt welcomed by Murray Walker who struggled to even commentate when the race was dry. The removal of the system was also another method by which Formula 1 could further add to the increasing contrivances that seek to erode the purity of motor racing at the highest level, a philosophy that fails to understand the excitement of the fight before the overtake rather than just the overtake itself. In hindsight it is a wonder why they opted to eradicate the use of aggregate timing because the last time it was adopted, it produced an absolute classic.
The 1994 season had been one of swinging fortunes for the Williams Renault team, widely tipped to be the dominant force of the season, left destoyed by the death of their number one driver Ayrton Senna, but encouraged by the maturity of their former test driver Damon Hill. While Williams had made drastic but essential changes to improve the FW-16 throughout the season, it was the audacity and ego of Michael Schumacher and the Benetton Ford team who, despite achieving 7 wins in the first 8 races, conceded four race wins to Damon Hill thanks two two disqualifications and a two race ban. These infringements all incurred with the allegedly traction-controless Benetton B194, an allegation that was not pursued by their rivals at the time but which continues to gain greater credibility with age now that we know that Flavio Briatore did not only just look like a shonk but actually was. The ramifications of that part of Formula 1 history will have to wait for another day.
Amid torrential conditions, limited visibility, and water standing on it’s toes, the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix was let lose once again.
Following the shock retirement of Hideki Noda on the first lap (few expected him to make the start), Ukyo Katayama and Taki Inoue wiped out the already minimal chance of a Japanese driver completing half distance, with both crashing out on lap 3 on the start/finish line. While many wondered how Inoue managed to get his car facing the wrong way against the pit wall, the rest of his brief Formula 1 career would provide all the answers. For what talent Schumacher had in driving cars, Inoue could make up for in writing cheques. Never one to obtain high rates of interest, Inoue’s taste for the barriers had ensured freely accessible funds were essential. If Formula 1 was the Everest of motor racing achievements, then Simtek were the sherpas, enabling paying customers to achieve incredible feats of bravery regardless of skill level and the safety of fellow participants. Had the local drivers retired in Brazil, a lot would’ve gone home. In Japan however the locals remained, assured in the knowledge that none of their drivers could ruin the race at the front.
Up front it was Schumacher who was leading the way, closely followed by Hill. Even by 1994 Schumacher had earned a reputation for being a brilliant wet weather driver. On lap 13 and with Schumacher pulling out a lead of 7 seconds, Gianni Morbidelli lost control of his Footwork Arrows around the normally flat out left hand Honda turn, slamming into the armco and requiring the assistance of track marshals to retrieve his car. Despite the yellow flags being present Martin Brundle lost control at the same point, ricocheting off the armco and into one of the marshals attending to Morbidelli’s car. Having already been released early from his McLaren contract due to poor performances and with a marshal now lying prone on the ground it was clear the disgruntled Brundle was taking civilian casualties down with him. The red flag was brought out while the track and weather cleared in equal measure.
Leg 2 of the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix commenced under a rolling start, with Schumacher resuming his lead from Hill, Alesi and Mansell. After five laps Schumacher was into the pits, the Benetton team opting for a two stop strategy. While the Benetton team had been renowned for making inspired strategy decisions, it quickly became apparent that their strategy was in trouble as Schumacher struggled to get past Hakkinen’s McLaren, a delay that ensured that when Hill pitted he returned ahead of Schumacher, but still behind in the overall standings. Unable to pass Hill, Schumacher came in for his second pit stop on lap 40 returning back to the circuit a cumulative 15 seconds behind Hill with 9 laps remaining.
Lap after lap Schumacher hunted down Hill, taking seconds out of the Williams’ lead. With seven laps to go Schumacher was 12 seconds behind Hill. With six laps it was 10.1 seconds. 5 laps, 8.3 seconds. 4 laps, 7 seconds. 3 laps, 5.2 seconds. 2 laps 4.2 seconds. With one lap to go the lead was 2.4 seconds as Schumacher continued to minimise the lead through the spray, making all present dependent upon the time gaps being fed through the telemetry. Through the gloom and across the line Hill activated the timing beam which in only a matter of seconds would determine whether he had not only won the battle but was still alive in the war. Out of the last corner came Schumacher and across the line… wait for it… what is it?!?! Hill by 3.3 seconds!! Despite closing on every lap and acknowledged as the superior wet weather driver, Schumacher was unable to reduce the gap on the final lap, ensuring victory went to Hill and that the championship would go down to the wire in Adelaide for the first time since 1986.
A truly thrilling race with a very surprising outcome and fitting way to end the final race of aggregate timing in Formula 1… for now.
2. 1984 Monaco Grand Prix
“Well this is the afternoon that all the drivers at the back of the grid have been waiting for. Here’s their chance to prove they deserve to be up the front”. It’s only logical that wet weather conditions are the great equalizer, reducing the car advantage held by some drivers and forcing them to rely more on their sheer skill to extract the superior lap time. Logic aside, proof has come in many forms but none more emphatic and significant than the most equalizing of conditions on the most equalizing of tracks, welcome to the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix.
Qualifying had seen Alain Prost grab pole with the McLaren with new boy Nigel Mansell alongside in the Lotus Renault. Behind them were the teams that made it all, the two Ferraris ahead of the two Renaults, both yellow cars looking for a strong showing in front of their home fans after a strong start to the season. Qualifying had been dry and Ayrton Senna started 13th on the grid in the unfancied Toleman TG184, 9 tenths faster than his teammate Johnny Cecotto. On race day it rained, so much so in fact that the drivers requested that someone take to the tunnel with a fire hose so as to ensure the change of track conditions entering the tunnel would be as minimal as possible, a drastic manoeuvre made with the certainty that the rain would remain because were it not to the dilemma would have been obvious.
Off the line and into the unknown, aside from the fact the race would go for two hours provided at least two of the drivers wanted it to. Both Renaults had blindingly quick starts, finding considerable space down the left-hand side of the circuit only to find themselves with very little at the first corner. Warwick ran wide, collected the wall and was rammed soon after by team mate Tambay. In one slow turn the Renault team was wiped out quickly, allowing the mechanics to go off and assist their customer engined counter-parts. As Tambay and Warwick got out of their cars, each favoured an injured leg, no doubt seeking sympathy while inadvertently providing their team boss with a reason to employ new drivers for the next round in Canada.
After 3 laps and with Prost taking control up the front, the staggering movement was behind and while Senna had moved up to 8th, it was the young German Stefan Bellof in the Tyrrell that was taking everyone’s attention, the German was 10th after having started 20th and last. After 6 laps and with Lauda moving up to third past the two Ferrari’s, Mansell began to make a charge for the lead. On lap 9 Alboreto spun off, ensuring that the battle for sixth became the battle for fifth. But Mansell was not hanging around, passing Prost on lap 11 to take the lead in a Formula 1 race for the first time ever. For the man who’d sold his personal belongings to fund his early career in the UK, Mansell’s F1 gamble was finally paying out in the casino city.
On lap 13 Senna eased past Rosberg, two laps later he went by Arnoux and began to close on Lauda. Mansell, out in the lead and going faster with every lap soon discovered why this is a perilous exercise as he lost it on the bump up Beau Rivage, the rear drawing inevitably toward the armco, Mansell turning his head in time to feel the inevitable crunch into the armco with the right rear tyre. Mansell drove on but the Lotus had contracted a condition that made it hard to move straight, like a bloke walking away from the pub pissed while trying to find his keys. Mansell spun at Mirabeau, confirmation of incurable bent rear suspension, Prost went by, Mansell’s pay out would have to wait till another day. Senna was now second and Bellof now sixth. For the next seven laps Senna closed the gap on Prost while Bellof carved through Rosberg, Arnoux and Lauda, the two drivers displaying talents well beyond their years and salary.
On lap 24 Lauda lost control on the entrance to Casino Square and came to rest in front of the lunch guests at the Hotel de Paris. Bellof then found his way past Arnoux so it was Prost ahead of Senna by some 31 seconds with a further 18 seconds back to Bellof.
While by no means fully appreciated at the time, the ’84 season would serve to introduce the protagonists that would shape the next 8 years of Formula 1 through the height of the turbo era of the sport and, most importantly, was the first opportunity to bare witness to the commencement of the epic rivalry between Prost and Senna.
With the rain increasing, Senna began to close on the seemingly unflustered Prost. According to the script Senna was expected to hang back, safe in the knowledge that second place would be enough rather than risk spinning off trying to haul in Prost. For about eight consecutive laps Senna consistently took three seconds a lap from Prost to be in striking distance of the McLaren. The performance was certainly not lost on those in attendance with James Hunt commenting during the race that “We are watching the arrival of Ayrton Senna a truly outstanding talent in Grand Prix racing”, “He is catching Alain Prost at something like three seconds a lap and that is a truly staggering performance.”
Prost, no doubt aware that Senna was driving it dry and staying straight, began to wave to the officials on the start/finish line in a bid to have the race stopped. Jacky Ickx, clerk of the course obliged, bringing out the red and chequered flags as Prost came to a halt at the pit exit, Senna flashing past. With the race over Senna’s charge to the lead had been halted and the Brazilian had every right to be disappointed at the decision of the race officials. He didn’t show it though, waving enthusiastically to the crowd on his slow down lap. But at least Senna’s charged had been noticed, for Bellof his pace was even better than Senna’s. Had the race gone the full 76-lap race distance instead of only 31, Bellof would have blown them all away and while the 27 year old German had time on his side one never could be so certain with a fearless driving style. Alas Bellof went for one risk too many. On 1 September 1985 Bellof was racing sports cars for Porsche at the 1000km of Spa when he attempted to overtake Jacky Ickx on the outside on the approach down Eau Rouge, a corner merely daunting to look at, Bellof clipped the rear of Ickx’s car and went straight on into the armco. Despite failing to fulfill the promise he showed at Monaco, Bellof is considered amongst the top 40 greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time and is forever acknowledged as the inspiration of Germany’s modern Formula 1 driving talent.
In an interview following the race, Senna gave an incredibly insightful, if sceptical view on the key to success in Formula 1, stressing that issues of money and politics can dictate the outcome of races in how they are determined. Senna was prepared to wait his turn. Whatever disappointment Senna may have held in the outcome of that Sunday afternoon, the outcome of the 1984 championship would give Senna his ultimate revenge. As it happened, Prost would be beaten to the championship by his teammate Lauda by only half a point, the very half created when Prost instigated the Monaco race be stopped. If Prost finished second in a full race Monaco Grand Prix, his 6 points would have been more than the 4.5 he received and would have handed the Frenchman the title.
Politics and controversy aside, the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix heralded the new era of Formula 1 in a race that may not have even gone half distance but that remains in the thoughts of many associated with the sport. The stage was set, the protagonists were cast and the ten years of driving brilliance that would conclude on the seventh lap of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, would put Formula 1 into the minds of more people around the world than ever before.
Twenty races down and one more to go!! The final part will reveal the Racefans greatest Formula 1 Grand Prix of all time. What do you think it will be? Do you think a race is going to miss out that shouldn’t have? Comments welcomed.