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The 1984 Season

The 1984 Season

Niki Lauda (McLaren).

The 1984 season, my eleventh on the Formula 1 trail, was the first where I experienced comprehensive single team domination, although we have long since become accustomed to such a way of things.

That team was McLaren-TAG with its two superstar drivers – Alain Prost having returned after losing patience with Renault and Niki Lauda, now in the third year of his comeback tour. Between them they won twelve of the sixteen rounds and it was never in doubt that one of them would be World Champion although the season was saved by the outcome not being settled until the final race.

My first race was Monaco, later than usual on June 3rd, its usual May slot having been taken by the French Grand Prix. Four of us motored down and stayed in a static caravan for a week in Mandelieu-la Napoule west of Cannes which we used as a base to explore the beaches of the Riviera between St. Tropez and Monte Carlo itself. But being in the foothills of the Alpes Maritime that area also gets its fair share of rain and race day was probably one of the wettest Monaco has seen.

Having relocated to the West Country in search of pastures new, passes were becoming increasingly hard to acquire although I did manage to wangle my way into the paddock for Thursday practice. For Saturday I had a seat at Casino Square, a spectacular place from which to watch but not willing to pay race-day ticket prices we watched the Grand Prix from atop the ‘Rocher’ in front of the Royal Palace getting a soaking in the rain for our troubles.

This was the race where Ayrton Senna in the Toleman in his first season of Formula 1 was looking the likely winner after having seen-off many of his more-experienced peers. He was closing in rapidly on leader Alain Prost when the race was suddenly and without prior warning or apparent reason, red-flagged. The race had started in pouring rain, had continued in pouring rain and the conditions were no worse. As Ayrton went around on his slowing down lap waving ecstatically to the crowd we all assumed he had won. Prost was, however, declared winner and only half points were awarded. Had the race continued beyond half distance he might have bagged 6 points for second place rather than 4.5 for his victory. He ultimately lost the World Championship by ½ a point. Justice? Although whether he would have held off a storming Stefan Bellof in the Tyrrell who was running third is another matter.

Being an even-numbered year it was Brands Hatch’s turn to host the British Grand Prix. I managed to get a pit-lane pass for Friday practice but watched the race from out in the far reaches of the track. Niki Lauda won by forty-two seconds from Derek Warwick (Renault) whilst man-of-the-moment, Ayrton Senna, finished third. His team-mate, Johnny Cecotto, broke both legs in an accident in Friday morning practice which ended his Formula 1 career. Other notable events were Tyrrell obtaining a High Court injunction to race after being banned by the FIA over allegations of using illegal ballast and the race being suspended to clear an accident involving Jonathan Palmer’s RAM. Alain Prost failed to finish.

In the days before the month of August became an F1 shut-down, amongst other things it meant a trip to the mighty Österreichring for the Austrian Grand Prix. Again we motored down and stayed in the mountains in the only hotel open in an offseason ski resort, also being used by several Formula One associated personnel.

The race saw the first all-turbo starting grid, the normally-aspirated Tyrrells failing to qualify on this power circuit, and the debut of Austrian Gerhard Berger who finished twelfth and last in his ATS-BMW. Niki Lauda won again in front of his delighted home fans and regained the Championship lead with Prost spinning into retirement.

My final visit of the season was to a chilly Nürburgring for the European Grand Prix at the beginning of October. It was the first Grand Prix at the ‘Ring’ since Lauda’s accident in 1976, unfortunately though not at the Norsdchleife but at the newly-built adjoining circuit.

During my latter visits to the ‘Ring’ for F2 races we had seen the plans for the proposed new circuit and it seemed all our fears had come true. It was tight, twisty and characterless with run-off areas so great it was difficult to make out which cars you were actually watching. Although, in the way of modern Formula 1, the spectator areas now seem quite close to the track compared with some newer circuits. It is a pity that they did not take a leaf out of Spa’s book and integrate the new track with the old one, although to be fair considering the size and layout of the Nordschleife, constructing a new link section would not have been easy. It would have been good though to make use of a shortened Sudschleife and so maintain the circuit’s character and legacy.

Ayrton Senna returning for Toleman, having been suspended at Monza by the team for breaking his contract and signing for Lotus for 1985, triggered a first corner accident eliminating himself and four others in the process. Alain Prost won with arch rival Lauda taking fourth to set up a Championship showdown between the pair at the final round at Estoril.

Prost did win at Estoril but Lauda’s second place ensured he won the title by the narrowest of margins possible (half a point). Lauda only won five races to Prost’s seven but consistency (and half-points for Prost at Monaco) saw him home. For the record the other races were won by outgoing Champion Nelson Piquet (Brabham) – 2, Michele Alboreto (Ferrari) and Keke Rosberg (Williams).