After three seasons of utter failure, the management team of Ralph and McDonald finally severed all ties with the March concern and went into business for themselves. After their dreadful 1983, it was perhaps no surprise that they were starting again from scratch in terms of sponsors and drivers, but they did have reasons for optimism. Skoal Bandit – a brand of chewing tobacco – provided money for turbo engines from Hart, and the team hired Williams test driver Jonathan Palmer, who had driven a sensible, solid race in his Brands Hatch guest appearance, and could also provide valuable development aid. His team-mate would be Philippe Alliot, a French sportscar driver who had partnered Mario and Michael Andretti to third at Le Mans in 1983.
Alliot had always enjoyed watching racing as a child, but didn’t step into the drivers seat until after he’d finished his military service and begun his university studies. He joined a racing school in the French south-west and impressed enough to be sponsored into Formule Renault, where he had the misfortune to be competing against Alain Prost, who dominated the series and Philippe found it difficult to get noticed. However, he finally scored a drive for 1978 with the BP Racing Team and won the Formule Renault title, moving up to French Formula 3 with the same team. Finishing third, he headed for the European series, coming fifth overall despite not winning any races. 1981 was better, and he moved to the Martini works team, winning two races to come third overall, and stuck with the team for 1982. After a difficult year with only one win, he was nonetheless promoted to Martini’s Formula 2 team for 1983. He was not too successful in F2, but hit the headlines when he partnered driving legend Mario Andretti and his young son Michael to third place at that year’s Le Mans race.
Dr Jonathan Palmer had done much to develop the Williams-Honda FW09 that the team hoped would be a contender in 1984, and as a reward had had a race with the team at the European Grand Prix. He had impressed, qualifying where Jacques Laffite didn’t and driving a sensible race to bring the car home 13th. There were some who said that he was possibly a bit too sensible, given that it was a one-off race with no reason not to take risks, but a sensible driver who brought the car home was just what a team like RAM needed, not to mention his undoubted testing and development skills.