1984 South African Grand Prix


7 April 1984

Despite being moved back, there were still just six months between South African races and with the teams heading straight over from Brazil there were no changes to the entry. The high altitude and long straights would benefit the turbos, but since this was almost everybody now (Arrows and Tyrrell the only normally-aspirated cars on the grid) there was a more-or-less level playing field for the first time in several years.

SAF RosbergDetermined to make up for the disappointment in front of his home fans, Nelson Piquet went out and smashed Patrick Tambay’s 1983 pole time by two seconds to take pole position. Alongside him and just 0.2 seconds behind was Keke Rosberg, still complaining of understeer but apparenlty not too hampered by it. Mansell and Tambay took the second row of the grid, with Prost fifth, his TAG engine misfiring at altitude. Teo Fabi put the second Brabham in sixth place, with de Angelis, Lauda, Warwick and Alboreto making up the top ten. Ferrari had a torrid qualifying, with Arnoux down in 15th place, behind Laffite, Winkelhock, Senna and de Cesaris, while at the back Thierry Boutsen was the odd man out, just bumped off the grid by Ghinzani in the Osella.

SAF GhinzaniSunday morning warmup saw Piercarlo Ghinzani have a huge accident, swapping ends at Jukskei and hitting the barriers hard. The car was torn in two and caught fire while Ghinzani, in shock, calmly removed his helmet and gloves. Fortunately, his survival cell was intact and speedy action by the marshals quickly put the fire out, leaving Ghinzani with nothing worse than moderate burns to the head and neck. Not pleasant, but it could have been so much worse. With the Osella driver clearly unable to race, Boutsen was promoted to the grid for the race.

As in Brazil, there was a stall at the start – Patrese in the Alfa Romeo this time – and a pause, then at the second formation lap it was Prost’s turn to not start. He vaulted over the pitwall and hopped in the spare McLaren (set up for Lauda) and headed off to catch up the rest, but was motioned back into the pits to start from there as he came back round. Finally, when the race got underway, Piquet nearly stalled, getting away very slowly and losing places to Rosberg, Mansell and Tambay. The champion got on the power quickly and got back up to second before the first corner, while Mansell got squeezed over and everyone piled past, putting the moustachioed Brit back down to 12th, while Bellof had another great start and went from 24th to 16th by the end of lap one.

SAF PiquetPiquet, the bit between his teeth, chased Rosberg down and overtook at the end of lap one, with Teo Fabi in the other Brabham following through a couple of corners later, simply motoring past with no problems. The two team-mates then started pulling away from the chasing pack at a rate of knots as Lauda also tried to get past Rosberg who was holding him up, and at the end of the third lap, the Austrian finally slipstreamed past the Finn and set off in pursuit of the Brabhams. Rosberg, still unhappy with the handling of his car, was now holding up a small queue of traffic composed of Tambay, Warwick, de Angelis, Alboreto and Laffite (who was a lot happier with the car than his teammate), while Lauda was steaming into Fabi’s lead and caught him on lap 10. The Italian fought back but blistered his tyres trying to keep up with the McLaren and had to pit early for new ones, which dropped him to 12th, just behind the man he replaced at Brabham, Patrese.

By now, the leaders Piquet and Lauda were coming across backmarkers, and both men carved their way through the field, with Lauda hanging onto the Brabham’s rear wing. By lap 21, having likewise ruined his tyres, Piquet gave up the fight and came in for new boots. The usually-slick Brabham team bungled the stop, taking even longer than they had for SAF ProstFabi, and Piquet returned to the track in 6th place with Tambay and de Angelis ahead of him and Prost coming up quickly behind, having carved his way up the field to 8th in short order after his pit-lane start. Piquet wasn’t to be denied though, and got the hammer down, carving past de Angelis and Tambay, then reeling in and passing Warwick and chasing down Rosberg to pass the Finn for second place. Behind him, Prost was also making up places, also passing de Angelis and Tambay while Piquet tried to make up lost time on Lauda. The Austrian had yet to make his tyre stop, so there was hope, but given how hard the Brabhams had been on tyres, there was also a chance that Piquet might also need to stop again…

In the end it was academic, as Piquet retired with a broken Turbo unit on lap 29 (joining Teo Fabi who had retired with the same problem on lap 18). This put Lauda in a commanding position at the front, with Rosberg plugging away in second place, and such was his lead that he even had time for a leisurely tyre stop and still resumed 10s ahead of the Finn. Rosberg in turn nearly stalled when leaving his pit, dropping him back behind Laffite, Alboreto (both on harder tyres and planning to go non-stop), Prost, Mansell, SAF WarwickTambay and Warwick. Prost and Warwick were both on charges, though, using fresh rubber to move up the field, Prost made his way past Alboreto and Laffite to go second, but Warwick had blistered his tyres trying too hard and had to pit for a third set, leaving himself with it all to do again.

There was a slew of retirements over the next few laps – Arnoux having already disappeared with a fuel feed problem from an anonymous race on lap 40. Mansell’s turbo and Rosberg’s drive shaft both failed on lap 52, SAF WinkelhockWinkelhock’s turbo went spectacularly on lap 54 (three for three on BMW turbo failures in the race). Laffite looked set for a fine third until a wheel fell off his car on lap 60, and Tambay and Alboreto both ran dry, Tambay on lap 66 and Alboreto on lap 70, which was enough to get him classified at least.

SAF PodiumAll of which meant that Niki Lauda took an utterly dominant win for McLaren – his first since Britain in 1982, and Prost an equally dominant second place despite having started from the pit lane. After all his tribulations, Derek Warwick was pleased to make his first podium appearance, in a lapped third place, and then another lap behind was Patrese scoring his first points for Alfa Romeo, de Cesaris scored Ligier’s first

Senna's damaged nose caused him problems
Senna’s damaged nose caused him problems

points since Caesar’s Palace 1982. Sixth was Ayrton Senna, taking a creditable point in only his second race and his first finish. He had damaged his front wing early on and had wrestled with the steering since early in the race, and had to be physically lifted from the car and seen to by the race medics at the end.

McLaren’s dominance had been devastating, and the Brabhams – seemingly the only cars that could stay with them – had both blown turbos. The rest had some catching up to do.

Drivers Championship
1 Alain Prost 15
2 Niki Lauda 9
4 Keke Rosberg 6
3 Elio de Angelis 4
= Derek Warwick 4
5 Eddie Cheever 3
= Riccardo Patrese 3
7 Martin Brundle 2
= Andrea de Cesaris 2
9 Patrick Tambay 1
= Ayrton Senna 1
Constructors Championship
1 McLaren 24
2 Williams 6
= Alfa Romeo 6
4 Renault 5
5 Lotus 4
6 Tyrrell 2
= Ligier 2
8 Toleman 1

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