29 April 1984
To the delight of no-one except the circuit’s owners, the Belgian Grand Prix returned to Zolder as part its new alternating-years deal with Spa-Francorchamps. The historic Spa track had been popular last year and produced a great race, while Zolder seemed a dreary destination, haunted by the ghosts of Gilles Villeneuve and Giovanni Amedeo who had died there in 1982 and 1981 respectively. Nonetheless here they were and on with it they got. Arrows had two BMW-powered A7 cars ready, but elected to give them both to Boutsen for his home race as they were still far from fully reliable. RAM had a second new car too, this one for Jonathan Palmer. In the event, there were no driver changes, but Mauro Baldi had to race to refinance his seat or lose it to Jean-Louis Schlesser, and Piercarlo Ghinzani’s fitness was touch-and-go for a while, which got test driver Jo Gartner’s hopes up. Meanwhile the Tyrrell team showed up with a smart new colour scheme on Bellof’s car, overall black with black-red-gold stripes and prominent sponsorship from German steak restaurant Maredo.
Whatever had been ailing the Ferraris in South Africa had been fixed, and Alboreto and Arnoux were flying in practice, with the Italian taking pole ahead of Rosberg – the Finn once again putting in a great qualifying performance in a car he professed to find hard to drive. Derek Warwick was fourth, then de Angelis and Winkehock on row three. The McLarens, so dominant in Brazil and South Africa, were 8th (Prost) and 14th (Lauda) after again concentrating on their race setup in practice rather than trying to set the fastest times. The Brabhams continued having engine problems and could only manage 9th (Piquet) and 18th (Fabi). The injured Ghinzani did well to qualify 20th with bandaged hands, while the odd man out this week was Philippe Alliot who had managed to break both RAM cars in the process.
When the lights went out, for the third race in a row there was a stall on the grid. The two Ferraris shot away, but Rosberg shuddered, and remained still, with everyone miraculously getting past him and then the marshals sprinting on and giving him a shove to send him off last. Meanwhile, Derek Warwick had taken advantage to slot in between the two Ferraris and Winkelhock was going well in the ATS in fourth, with de Angelis and Patrese chasing. Prost and Cheever duelled over 7th position, which became 6th on lap 3 when Patrese’s ignition failed (he was the second retirement – Cecotto’s Toleman had already broken its clutch), by which time the leading four were already beginning to pull away from the chasing pack. Prost wasn’t far behind, departing from sixth with more niggles from that electronic system.
The first ten or so laps of the race saw a series of ding-dong battles between Alboreto and Warwick, Arnoux and Winkelhock, de Angelis and Piquet. The Brabham got past the Lotus soon enough, while further back Rosberg had sliced his way through the field to be running tenth, just behind Lauda, and the pair were closing on Cheever. Alboreto was pulling out a lead on Warwick, but Arnoux just couldn’t shake off Winkelhock’s ATS until the German’s Pirelli tyres started to fade on lap 22 and he fell back unto the clutches of Piquet, who soon got past and headed off after the leaders.
The two Tyrrell cars had, almost unnoticed, been doing spectacularly well, with Bellof now 7th and Brundle 9th and race leader Alboreto was nearly undone by his old team, getting sideways when lapping Bellof – but luckily keeping it running to only lose a few seconds. By this time, Arnoux had had a terrible pitstop and dropped down the order, promoting Piquet to 3rd, but he was under threat and lost the position to a charging Rosberg, before Warwick’s stop promoted the WIlliams to second. Alboreto then made his stop, and just had enough of a lead that a slick stop got him back out in the lead. Winkelhock’s great first stint had no sooner been compromised by a dreadful stop – ironically for a team whose parent company specialised in changing tyres – than his BMW engine gave out anyway and he pulled to a stop on lap 41. He had already outlasted Lauda (Radiator, lap 36), Cheever (turbo, lap 25), Laffite (spin, lap 16) and Mansell (Clutch, lap 14) among others, but that will have been scant consolation.
Finally, on lap 43, Rosberg pitted and his tyre stop was also a shambles, dropping him to sixth behind Stefan Bellof, with Arnoux nipping at his gearbox into the bargain. Bellof was attacking de Angelis in the corners, but the Lotus had too much power on the straights and was able to keep ahead, and the two were so busy battling they almost didn’t notice Rosberg and Arnoux breezing past almost in formation and disappearing into the distance, on the trail of Piquet, struggling on going-off tyres. With six laps to go, the pair got past Piquet, though Arnoux soon spun back down to fifth. Three laps from the end, Piquet’s BMW expired in another expensive cloud of steam, and then Rosberg’s tank ran dry on the last lap – the first time anyone had simply run out of fuel under the new regulations, without mitigating feed/injection problems. Arnoux was thus back up to third when Alboreto serenely cruised to his third career win, and his first for Ferrari, with Warwick a distant but satisfied second. Rosberg had done enough to be classified fourth, with de Angelis and Bellof making up the points finishers and Senna, Tambay and Surer and Palmer the only other cars still running.
Having not scored in the first two rounds, Ferrari were right back in the fight with 13 points from their afternoon’s work and McLaren having a double retirement.
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